Category Archives: Strategy

Leading the Public into Emergency Mode: A New Strategy for the Climate Movement

Allies! I am very pleased to share my new paper with you.

Available as an Illustrated PDF or Text Only– below

Cover Page

What Leaders of the Climate Movement are saying about “Leading the Public into Emergency Mode”

With unique skills as a psychologist, social anthropologist and community organizer, Margaret Klein Salamon has ripped the cover of denial and inaction — no more incremental steps. We are in an emergency — the climate crisis has us headed towards catastrophe and we must now recognize that emergency mode is our only hope. But why haven’t we been? Read this and know the WWII mobilization that is growing exponentially and is required to pull us back from the brink. Thank you Margaret for this brilliantly conceived, urgent call to arms.  

—Lise Van Sustern, co-founder of Interfaith Moral Action on Climate and advisor to Harvard School of Public Health, Center for Health and the Global Environment

It’s no wonder so many people are depressed about the climate. Now that extreme weather events are rushing in on us with ever greater intensity and frequency, we realise at last that the issue is real. But, we also “know” that we have left things too late because society always takes forever to put solutions in place and everything that is done always involves unsatisfactory compromises and half-measures. 

Before giving into despair however, there is a new paper by Margaret Klein Salamon that every climate activist should read: “Leading the Public into Emergency Mode.”

This paper shines a light on a mode of action that is available to every person and every society but that most people are not even aware of, and that is emergency mode. To succeed in a world that could often be dangerous and challenging humans had to evolve two modes of action, normal and emergency. Klein Salamon explores how we can trigger emergency mode and how we can deploy it to deliver the needed climate rescue, even at this late stage.

—Philip Sutton, coauthor of Climate Code Red and founder and director of Research and Strategy for Transition Initiation

In her new paper, Margaret Klein Salamon tells us we must go into climate emergency mode engaging our whole beings. Salamon parallels our situation with the 1980s when activists successfully mobilized AIDS response around the slogan, “Silence is death.” Today we must say that promoting gradual solutions to a climate crisis gone critical is a form of silence that will lead to global catastrophe. For the world to take the climate emergency seriously, we in the climate movement ourselves have to do that. We must loudly speak the truth of the critical climate emergency we are facing and the World War II-scale mobilization needed to address it.

—Patrick Mazza, Delta 5 activist, founder and former director of Climate Solutions, author of Cascadia Planet.

Leading the Public into Emergency Mode: A New Strategy for the Climate Movement

Imagine there is a fire in your house. What do you do? What do you think about?

You do whatever you can to try to put out the fire or exit the house. You make a plan about how you can put out the fire, or how you can best exit the house.

Your senses are heightened, you are focused like a laser, and you put your entire self into your actions. You enter emergency mode.

The climate crisis is an unprecedented emergency. It is, far and away, the United States’ top national security threat, public health threat, and moral emergency. Humanity is careening towards the deaths of billions of people, millions of species, and the collapse of organized civilization. States under severe climate stress, such as Syria, are already starting to fail, bringing chaos, violence, and misery to the region and political instability to Europe. America’s political system is also starting to convulse as the two-party system is showing signs of fragility.

How we react to the climate crisis will shape centuries and millennia to come. Given the stakes, and the extremely short timetable, it is imperative that we strive to maximize the efficacy of our actions — from ourselves as individuals, from our nation, from the global community of nations, and from the organizations that are trying to avert this catastrophe.

In this paper, I will introduce the concept of “emergency mode” which is how individuals and groups function optimally during an existential or moral crisis — often achieving great feats through intensely focused motivation. I will argue that the goal of the climate movement must be to lead the public out of “normal” mode and into emergency mode.

This has huge implications for the climate movement’s communication style, advocacy, and strategy. Because emergency mode is contagious, the best strategy is for climate activists and organizations to go into emergency mode themselves, and communicate about the climate emergency, the need for emergency mobilization, and the fact that they are in emergency mode, as clearly and emphatically as possible.

I founded and now direct a national grassroots organization called The Climate Mobilization (TCM) that is based on an understanding of emergency mode, as well as the transformative power of climate truth. We launched in late 2014 and began spreading the Pledge to Mobilize and advocating for WWII-scale climate mobilization at the People’s Climate March in New York City. We are still small and poorly funded, but we are growing all the time, and our supporters are immensely dedicated — they have entered emergency mode! They are busy starting and running TCM chapters across the country and planning for our upcoming National Day of Action for Climate Mobilization on July 10th. We have also been very successful in recruiting elected leaders and candidates for elected office to take the Pledge to Mobilize. In the last week alone 4 new candidates for US Congress have committed to championing a WWII-scale climate mobilization, including Tim Canova, who is running against Debbie Wasserman-Schultz in one of the most closely watched congressional races in the country.

This paper is based on a combination of theory and practice — I have researched social movements, flow states, and more, to develop the concept of emergency mode — and these ideas have been developed and refined through my experience in running TCM and attempting to communicate about the climate crisis to people from all walks of life. I will make specific suggestions for the climate movement in the second half of this paper. But first, we must understand emergency mode.

Emergency Mode: Optimal Functioning in an Existential (or Moral) Crisis

Most psychological and sociological writing about the climate crisis has warned climate “communicators” of the risks of triggering primitive and pathological responses to crisis: “fight or flight”, panic, and the devastation caused by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Because of these bleak portrayals, many political and organizational leaders have dared not convey the horrifying truth of the climate crisis, since they operate under the mistaken belief that the only response to emergencies is panicked chaos!

But aside from panic, individuals and groups can also respond to emergencies with reason, focus, dedication, and shocking success. Emergency mode is the mode of human psychological functioning that occurs when individuals or groups respond optimally to existential or moral emergencies. This mode of human functioning, markedly different from “normal” functioning— is characterized by an extreme focus of attention and resources on working productively to solve the emergency.

We are all, at times, confronted with emergency situations. Children, and adults who are overwhelmed by the situation for whatever reason, enter either panic mode, in which they act without thinking, or are paralyzed and unable to act. Children, for example, will often hide during house fires. However, healthy adults respond to emergencies by entering emergency mode.

  Normal Mode Emergency Mode
Priorities Many balanced priorities Solving the crisis = One top priority
Resources Distributed across priorities and saved for future. Huge allocation of resources towards solution
Focus Distributed across priorities Laser-like focus
Self-esteem Source Individual accomplishment Contributing to the solution

Emergency mode occurs when an individual or group faces an existential threat, accepts that there is a life-threatening emergency and reorients by:

1) Adjusting their hierarchy of priorities so that solving the emergency is the clear top priority

2) Deploying a huge amount of resources toward solving the crisis

3) Giving little priority to personal gratification and self-esteem enhancement for their own sake, and instead seeking them through engagement with the emergency. People seek to “do their part” to solve the crisis and build their skills to contribute more effectively.

Emergency mode is a fundamental departure from “normal” mode of functioning. In normal mode, the individual or group feels relatively safe and secure, does not recognize any immediate existential or major moral threats — either because there is none, or because they are in denial — and therefore:

1) Maintains a portfolio of priorities

2) Attempts to distribute focus and other resources wisely among them

3) Gives considerable weight to personal gratification, enjoyment, and achievement

Long Emergencies

Usually emergencies take hours or days to resolve, but people can and do also enter long emergency modes that last for years. These “long emergencies” include diseases like cancer, which is life-threatening but not immediately curable, acute poverty, in which the person struggles daily with the emergency of meeting basic needs, and war. For these long emergencies, the business of normal life must be integrated into the emergency response. For doctors, nurses, paramedics, crisis counselors, hostage negotiators, firefighters, police officers, soldiers, and (hopefully) climate campaigners, emergency mode is a regular, on-going experience.

There is also moral emergency mode, when an issue—usually regarding freedom or equality—becomes elevated to the status of an existential threat. People in moral emergency mode are the driving force behind most, if not all, successful social movements. These people have decided that nothing, not even survival, is more important than the struggle. They dedicate themselves to it fully and utilize all of their capabilities in the service of victory.

Emergency mode often involves a specific, particularly intense type of flow state. Flow is an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who pioneered the study of flow described it as:

“Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one…your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

In short emergencies such as a fire, individuals stay in an emergency flow state the entire time. If the individual is in long emergency mode, however, these emergency flow states are experienced frequently, but other elements of life, such as rest, recreation, and close relationships, are also maintained. Indeed, balancing one’s intensive work on solving the emergency and all other activities is one of the most challenging elements of facing a long emergency.

On the other hand, living in emergency mode can be extremely rewarding. Flow states in general are sought after, and a key indicator of psychological health. People enjoy being fully engaged in activity — “in the zone” — utilizing their entire capacity, whether they are playing sports, performing musically, studying intensely, or responding to an emergency. As Csikszentmihalyi described the rewards of flow:

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times…The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

I have spoken with Emergency Room doctors, firefighters, and climate campaigners who report being hooked on the sense of purpose, feeling that they are useful, and the relief from self-involvement that their immersive work provides.

People must feel basically competent to handle the emergency in order to enter emergency mode. If people don’t know what to do during an emergency, they may panic, despair, or resist going into emergency mode at all. This is why having structures such as a designated phone number to call in case of any emergency (9-1-1), or a designated place to go (the Emergency Room) during medical crises are so helpful—they provide clear steps for people confronting emergencies, making it much easier for people to enter emergency mode. The more the climate movement can provide structures for people’s engagement — clear directions and support for people who are ready to tackle the climate emergency — the more people will go into emergency mode. Effective, transparent leadership is also critical in enabling people to enter emergency mode. Confidence that leaders and decision makers are competently addressing questions of strategy and policy for the emergency mobilization allow participants to focus on their contribution.

Essential to long emergencies is the human capacity for dedication and commitment – the mind state that brings a person back, over and over, to the emergency issue despite inevitable interruptions and temptation to avoid the issue. It also takes a good deal of courage, and ability to stay calm under intense stress. The famous “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters from wartime United Kingdom addressed this challenge. We could translate them into this framework as meaning, “Avoid Panic Mode and Stay in Emergency Mode.”

Groups in Emergency Mode

In emergency mode, members of groups — such as organizations, or even whole countries — work productively together in a coordinated way to solve a crisis. The vast majority of people contribute their best effort and available resources. People fill different roles and take on complementary projects in order to ameliorate the crisis. While the profit motive and self-interested behavior are not eliminated in a long emergency, working for the common good to create solutions, rather than focusing on their own comfort or advantage, becomes the norm. People gain satisfaction and pride from helping the group or the wider emergency project, and they feel motivated, even driven to do so.

Humans evolved in tribes, and group success was vital to the survival of each individual. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes human nature as “90% chimpanzee and 10% bee” to illustrate our evolved, combination of social but self-interested (chimpanzees) and group-oriented behavior (bees).

We are like bees in being ultra social creatures whose minds were shaped by the relentless competition of groups with other groups. We are descended from earlier humans whose groupish minds helped them cohere, cooperate, and outcompete other groups. That doesn’t mean that our ancestors were mindless or unconditional team players; it means they were selective. Under the right conditions, they were able to enter a mind-set of “one for all, all for one” in which they were truly working for the good of the group, and not just for their own advancement within the group.

By far the most powerful trigger for the “hive switch” is a catastrophic event that clearly signals the arrival of an emergency, particularly an external attack. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor led the United States to “flip the hive switch” and enter emergency mode in an incredibly powerful, productive way.

The United States in Emergency Mode: WWII

After years of stubborn, isolationist denial of the threat and clinging to “Normal Functioning” as Germany swept through Europe, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor ended American isolationism and initiated the example par excellence of America in emergency mode: full-scale mobilization.

Economic mobilization is an emergency restructuring of a modern industrial economy, accomplished at rapid speed. It involves the vast majority of citizens, the utilization of a very high proportion of available resources, and impacts all areas of society. It is nothing less than a government-coordinated social and industrial revolution. Mobilization is what happens when an entire nation enters emergency mode, and the results can be truly staggering.

In Climate Code Red, David Spratt and Philip Sutton highlighted the differences in normal political mode and emergency mode, drawing heavily from WWII:

Normal political-paralysis mode Emergency mode
Crises are constrained within business-as-usual mode. Society engages productively with crises, but not in panic mode.
Spin, denial, and ‘politics as usual’ are employed. The situation is assessed with brutal honesty.
No urgent threat is perceived. Immediate, or looming, threat to life, health, property, or environment is perceived.
Problem is not yet serious. High probability of escalation beyond control if immediate action is not taken.
Time of response is not important. Speed of response is crucial.
The crisis is one of many issues. The crisis is of the highest priority.
A labor market is in place. Emergency project teams are developed, and labor planning is instituted.
Budgetary ‘restraint’ is shown. All available /necessary resources are devoted to the emergency and, if necessary, governments borrow heavily.
Community and markets function as usual. Non-essential functions and consumption may be curtailed or rationed.
A slow rate of change occurs because of systemic inertia. Rapid transition and scaling up occurs.
Market needs dominate response choices and thinking. Planning, fostering innovation and research take place.
Targets and goals are determined by political tradeoffs. Critical targets and goals are not compromised.
There is a culture of compromise. Failure is not an option.
There is a lack of national leadership, and politics is adversarial and incremental. Bipartisanship and effective leadership are the norm.

During WWII, conservative business titans joined labor leaders and liberal bureaucrats — after years of bitter acrimony over the New Deal — to focus America’s industrial might against the Nazis and Imperial Japan. Factories were rapidly converted from producing consumer goods to producing tanks, guns, bombs, and planes — shattering all historical records for war production.

All hands were on deck. Young men sacrificed their lives fighting for their country. Women surged into factories to produce war materiel. Scientists and universities pumped out research on behalf of the war effort leading to huge technological and intellectual breakthroughs. More than 10% of the population relocated, often across state lines, in order to find a “war job,” and more than 40% of vegetables were grown at home, in Victory Gardens.

During this multi-year emergency, the United States also managed to maintain — and in some cases expand — its basic systems including infrastructure, education, health care, and child-care, and in large measure made sure that the basic needs of the civilian economy were met. Soldiers and civilians alike needed to balance hard work with rest and relationships. However, the entire country was suffused with a sense of national purpose, and a great amount of energy.

Citizens invested their available cash reserves in war bonds. Taxes were also increased significantly, particularly on high earners, who paid a steep “Victory Tax,” the most progressive tax in American history. The top marginal income tax rate on the highest earners reached 88% in 1942 and a record 94% in 1944. A tax on excess corporate profits provided about 25% of revenues during the war. The federal government instituted a sweeping rationing program in order to ensure a fair distribution of scarce resources on the home front – and to share the sacrifice equitably. Gasoline, coffee, butter, tires, fuel oil, shoes, meat, cheese, and sugar were rationed, and every American received a fair share. “Pleasure driving” was banned, the Indy 500 was shut down, and a national speed limit of 35 miles per hour was established. Comprehensive wage and price controls were put in place to combat inflation.

By entering emergency mode and mobilizing for total victory, the United States accomplished truly staggering feats. After the attacks on Pearl Harbor, when the United States finally entered WWII, President Franklin Roosevelt laid out terrifically ambitious production targets for tanks, ships, guns, and airplanes. FDR set a goal of producing 60,000 planes in two years. People were deeply skeptical about whether such a feat could be accomplished. And yet, by 1944 the United States had produced 229,600 planes — more than three times the original, highly ambitious, goal! In response to a cutoff of critical rubber supplies in Southeast Asia, the federal government launched a crash program that scaled up synthetic rubber production from under 1% to about 70% of total U.S. production — a 100-fold increase — in about four years. In 1943, reclaimed rubber from citizen scrap drives provided about 50% of domestic rubber production.

 

We also made huge advances in the sciences. The first computer was invented, as were blood transfusion and radar technology. The Manhattan Project successfully built the world’s first atomic bomb in less than three years — a morally catastrophic but nonetheless stupendous feat of planning, cooperation and scientific ingenuity.

Why Hasn’t The Climate Crisis Triggered Emergency Mode?

Emergency mobilization on this scale is precisely what we need if we are to prevent a global cataclysm and restore a safe and stable climate. We need to transition away from fossil fuels and carbon-intensive agriculture as soon as possible, draw down all the excess CO2 and cool the planet below present levels. This will happen only with public planning coordinated by the federal government, global cooperation, massive public investment, forceful regulations and economic controls, and full societal participation.

There is a hidden consensus among experts and leaders in the climate movement that these transformative changes can only be accomplished in time with a massive, WWII-scale mobilization. This metaphor has been used by figures as wide ranging as Bernie Sanders (video), climate scientist Michael Mann, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, Ted Turner, New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman, and Bill McKibben, the Founder of 350.org.

All of these thought leaders agree that we should enter emergency mode and mobilize — but they don’t seem to have a strategy about how to make this happen; they are not actively campaigning for a WWII-scale climate mobilization. Perhaps they don’t understand how emergency mode works, or they don’t believe that they could actually lead such a shift. Or maybe they think it can never happen.

Stuck in carbon gradualism. Most of these thought leaders, like most climate organizations, and most Americans, are still stuck in the stultifying morass of gradualism and business as usual. Politicians argue over whether to cut emissions insufficiently (the position generally held by Democrats), or not at all (the position generally held by Republicans). The crisis is hardly mentioned by the presidential candidates or the media. The established environmental movement advocates for very gradual actions like the Clean Power Plan that will lead to continued fossil fuel use for decades or a revenue-neutral carbon tax that Republicans will be, theoretically, unable to oppose. Even groups like Greenpeace and 350 call for a multi-decade, gradual transition away from fossil fuels.

Furthermore, virtually no mainstream environmental groups call for actions to draw down (or sequester) excess greenhouse gases, which must begin now on a massive scale and are essential if we are to avoid a climate catastrophe and restore a safe climate. Many groups act as though a net zero emissions-only strategy can protect us and that there is a sizable “carbon budget” left. However, CO2 concentrations are high enough right now (~405 ppm) to cause at least 2°C warming above pre-industrial levels, according to Michael Mann. Anyone who has followed the climate science in recent years should know that 2°C of warming would cause a world-historical catastrophe. Furthermore a net zero emissions-only strategy will actually cause a substantial burst of further warming in the short-term, as the cooling effect of aerosol emissions from coal-fired power plants is eliminated. James Hansen calls this humanity’s “Faustian Bargain.” If “all” we do is switch to 100% renewables, the public will surely become very confused and angry with us when the planet starts warming up even faster!

The psychological capacity for both normal mode and emergency mode arose over hundreds of thousands of years of human evolutions. Individuals and groups who usually manage broad and diverse interests, but are able to snap into intense focus when in danger, have the best overall survival prospects. The challenge is when to enter emergency mode, when to continue business as usual, and how to trigger a switch in mode.

The factors that trigger an emergency response are also products of evolution. Psychologist Daniel Gilbert argues that humans are wired for a reflexive response to threats that are “intentional, immoral, imminent, and instantaneous.” When threats, such as terrorism, contain all of these characteristics it can trigger significant over-reactions. But if a threat, such as the climate crisis, does not contain these elements and is instead unintended, caused by actions that are regarded as normal and moral, with the worst impacts in the future and the disaster unfolding over decades, then an emergency response will not immediately be triggered and the risk of under-reacting is very high.

We cannot count on people entering emergency mode reflexively. Instead, we will need to use our intellects and power of communication. We must educate people. We humans can use our intellect to understand what is happening and choose to treat the climate crisis as an emergency.

Helplessness. A sense of helplessness is preventing many people from entering emergency mode in response to the climate crisis. Our political system seems intractable, the culture in the thrall of denial, and the scale of the crisis is staggering. Widespread feelings of helplessness also represent the failure of leadership from official climate movement leaders and politicians to offer an honest assessment of the crisis, advocate for solutions that actually stand a chance of working, and invite individuals to take part in that solution.

The Bernie Sanders campaign is a contemporary example of how hope of transformative success, including a credible leader who promises to implement change, can turn mass dissatisfaction, anger, and despair, into mass engagement. To go into emergency mode on climate change, people need to believe that restoring a safe and stable climate is possible — that the political will can be achieved by the climate movement, and that the rapid transition can be coordinated by competent leadership.

Massive dissatisfaction, anger, despair, and fear lie beneath the surface of the American electorate on the climate crisis. A recent poll by Randle and Erkseley investigated how people from the US, UK and Australia evaluate the current threats facing humanity with some staggering results:

Overall, a majority (54%) rated the risk of our way of life ending within the next 100 years at 50% or greater, and a quarter (24%) rated the risk of humans being wiped out at 50% or greater. The responses were relatively uniform across countries, age groups, gender and education level, although statistically significant differences exist. Almost 80% agreed “we need to transform our worldview and way of life if we are to create a better future for the world.”

A quarter of respondents think that humanity has a 50% chance of nearterm-extinction, and almost all respondents agreed that transformative change is necessary — yet we are continuing with business as usual and daily life as usual! This suggests a paralyzing degree of helplessness across society. It also suggests that if the climate movement can offer the public a credible social movement and economic mobilization framework and evidence of credible leadership to prevent the rapidly approaching climate catastrophe, then we can expect passionate and dedicated support.

Both Emergency Mode and Normal Mode Are Contagious

Since climate change does not automatically bring people into emergency mode, the question becomes “How can we effectively trigger emergency mode in others?” The answer is:

1) Going into emergency mode yourself.

2) Communicating that as clearly as possible.

3) Creating a plausible path towards solving the crisis, to which people can contribute.

The way we respond to threats — by entering emergency mode or by remaining in normal mode — is highly contagious. Imagine the fire alarm goes off in an office building. How seriously should you take it? How do you know if it is a drill or a real fire? Those questions will be predominantly answered by the actions and communications of the people around you, particularly people designated as leaders. If they are chatting and taking their time exiting the building, you will assume that this is a drill. If people are moving with haste, faces stern and focused, communicating with urgency and gravity, you will assume there is real danger and exit as quickly as possible.

The concept of “Pluralistic Ignorance” which I addressed at length in a 2014 paper helps to explain this contagion. Psychologist Robert Caladini describes pluralistic ignorance:

“Very often an emergency is not obviously an emergency…in times of such uncertainty, the natural tendency is to look around at the actions of others for clues. We can learn, from the way the other witnesses are reacting, whether the event is or is not an emergency. What is easy to forget, though, is that everybody else observing the event is likely to be looking for social evidence, too.”

Or as researchers Latané and Darley put it, “Each person decides that since nobody is concerned, nothing is wrong. Meanwhile, the danger may be mounting to the point where a single individual, uninfluenced by the seeming calm of others, would react.”

This is a critical point, with grave implications for the climate movement. To evaluate whether we are currently in a climate crisis, the public will look to each other — and particularly to the climate organizations, writers, and leaders. Are they calling it an emergency? Does the tone of their writing and statements convey alarm and a passionate desire for massive action to avert imminent crisis? Are they demanding an emergency response? Are they acting like it’s an emergency? Are they themselves in emergency mode? If the answer to these questions is “no,” the individual will conclude that there must not be an emergency, or that emergency action is hopeless because the leaders are apparently unwilling to coordinate emergency action. This suggests the sad, dangerous conclusion that NGOs who advocate carbon gradualism are actually preventing the public from entering emergency mode.

Let us consider how successful social movements have gone into emergency mode themselves in order to achieve tremendous change. I will then offer specific suggestions for the climate movement.

Successful Social Movements Utilize and Spread Emergency Mode

ACT UP. In the 1980s, HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was decimating the gay communities in New York, San Francisco and other large cities, and it was spreading at a horrifying speed. The government was failing the victims — giving them virtually no help, and failing to research and treat this growing epidemic. The government’s failure to act swiftly and effectively, or even acknowledge the epidemic, was largely due to pervasive homophobia.

Larry Kramer — the now iconic AIDS activist — founded ACT UP because existing AIDS groups had failed to enter emergency mode and were continuing to seek solutions through business-as-usual channels, such as holding meetings with government officials and asking for help — strategies that were not working. Kramer helped found and build the Gay Men’s Health Alliance — but broke with them over disagreements about strategy and tactics. Kramer criticized GMHA as wanting to be “the Red Cross” because they were focused on appearing mainstream and upstanding and “a morgue” because they were helping people die rather than fighting “for the living to go on living.”

Emergency Language. Kramer knew that he was fighting for his own life and the life of his friends. He had no interest in “business as usual.” He wanted the government to act on AIDS now — to start researching the illness, finding treatments, treating the sick, and preventing transmission. Kramer treated AIDS with deadly seriousness and encouraged as much (realistic) fear as possible. He told crowds of gay men that if they didn’t fight back, they would be dead in a few years. Kramer referred to AIDS repeatedly as a “Plague” and the politicians who ignored it as “Nazis” and “Murderers.” ACT UP’s symbol was a pink triangle—symbolizing the genocide of gay men during the Holocaust. He was inviting others, especially other gay men, to join him in emergency mode, focused intensely on solving the crisis.

Silence=Death

ACT UP’s slogan, “Silence=Death” referred not only to governmental and media silence on AIDS, but the entire cultural silence around homosexuality. Many gay people were closeted, hoping to protect their careers and avoid discriminatory, dehumanizing reactions from a homophobic culture.

The silence around gayness — with most people keeping their sexual orientation at least partially private — posed huge problems for the movement. Gay men, including gay doctors, were not able to work together with maximum impact, or communicate the emergency to the public, while still in the closet. Larry Kramer wrote in his prescient, biting, landmark essay 1,112 and counting

“Why isn’t every gay man in this city so scared shitless that he is screaming for action? Does every gay man in New York want to die?… I am sick of closeted gay doctors who won’t come out to help us…. I am sick of closeted gays. It’s 1983 already, guys, when are you going to come out? By 1984 you could be dead.

Every gay man who is unable to come forward now and fight to save his own life is truly helping to kill the rest of us. There is only one thing that’s going to save some of us, and this is numbers and pressure and our being perceived as united and a threat. As more and more of my friends die, I have less and less sympathy for men who are afraid their mommies will find out or afraid their bosses will find out or afraid their fellow doctors or professional associates will find out. Unless we can generate, visibly, numbers, masses, we are going to die.”

The push to come out and live out of the shadows without shame was prominent and incredibly powerful throughout the AIDS movement. How many people came out in response to the AIDS crisis? How many individual conversations were had in families, among friends, among colleagues? Perhaps millions. It had a profound impact as the public learned that people they loved and respected were gay, and in danger.

Education and Advocacy. Because the government was failing to provide answers and effective treatment, ACT UP took on significant educational work as well. The Treatment + Data Committee took on the task of becoming experts in the biology of HIV/AIDS— seeking to understand the virus and various treatment options. A glossary of AIDS treatment terms was created and passed out at meetings. ACT UP also produced and advocated A National AIDS Treatment Research Agenda , which laid out ACT UP’s specific demands for what drugs should be developed and how the process should unfold.

Protest. ACT UP regularly held creative, militant (though non-violent) protests — demanding that the government launch a crisis response to the AIDS crisis. As described by Paul Engler in “This is an Uprising: How Non-violent Protest is Shaping the Century (2016):

Members of ACT UP successfully shut down trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. They chained themselves inside pharmaceutical corporations and blockaded offices at the FDA, plastering posters with bloody handprints to the outside of the agency’s headquarters. They stopped traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge and interrupted mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Using fake IDs to enter CBS headquarters, they jumped onscreen during Dan Rather’s nightly news broadcast, reeling off a string of chants before the network cut to a long, unplanned commercial break. ACT UP draped a giant yellow condom over the Washington home of Senator Jesse Helms, one of the movement’s most ardent and homophobic adversaries. And during a 1992 memorial in Washington, the group’s members held a procession to scatter the ashes of friends and lovers who had died of AIDS onto the White House lawn. Public health administrators disliked by ACT UP members were sometimes hung in effigy at protests.

These events demonstrated the fact that the members of ACT UP were in emergency mode — that they recognized an existential threat, and that addressing that threat was their top priority, channeling their energy, focus, and resources towards resolving the emergency and restoring safety.

By demonstrating their courage and tenacity, ACT UP grew in size and power, drawing more people into emergency mode. New members contributed their skills, resources, and networks to the cause. By keeping their protests non-violent, ACT UP invited participation from a larger group. Erica Chenoweth has demonstrated that non-violent campaigns are much more likely to be successful at involving significant portions of the population, and more successful at accomplishing their overall goals.

(Partial) Success! With its combination of public protest, private acts of courage, and education & advocacy, ACT UP accomplished many of its aims. AIDS patients won the right to participate in every phase of the drug development process. They won major funding for research, which led to the discovery and deployment of antiretrovirals, a class of drugs that is very successful in treating HIV, potentially keeping the disease from ever becoming AIDS. ACT UP’s success laid the groundwork for mainstream acceptance of homosexuality, as well as the continuing struggles for gay rights and equality. It also forever changed the way pharmaceutical drugs are researched and developed.

ACT UP’s work has not been completed, however. AIDS has become a global epidemic, with more than 36 million people currently infected, and 1 million people dying from AIDS every year. There is still no cure and no vaccine, something that Larry Kramer and many others continue to work on.

It took contributions from researchers, doctors, nurses, policymakers, public health officials, journalists, government officials, and more — who worked tirelessly for more than 30 years — to create conditions where more than 16 million people are receiving highly-effective HIV treatment in all parts of the world (though 20 million are not treated). Activists could never accomplish such a feat alone. But what ACT UP did accomplish was to get people and institutions, especially the Federal Government, and also local governments, hospitals, universities and more — to treat HIV/AIDS like the crisis it was.

Implications for the Climate Movement: Lead the Public into Emergency Mode

Like ACT UP, the climate movement is responding to a direct existential threat. Understanding that emergency mode allows individuals and groups to function in an enhanced, optimal way, delivering their peak performance, has critical implications for the climate movement.

 

We must exit normal mode and abandon the gradual policy advocacies and enervated emotional states that accompany it. Instead, we must seek to restore a safe climate at emergency speed. To accomplish this, the climate movement must lead the public into emergency mode. First we must go into emergency mode ourselves, and then communicate about the climate emergency and need for mobilization with clarity, dedication, and escalating assertiveness.

Those of us who have entered emergency mode — who understand the mobilization imperative — need to get talkative and loud. We need to spread our message as far and wide as possible. We must not stay “closeted” and appear that we believe everything is fine, or that the Obama Administration or the Democratic Party are well on their way to containing the crisis, once the Republicans and the Supreme Court get out of the way. Rather we need to “come out” as being in emergency mode and in favor of a WWII-scale climate mobilization that rapidly sweeps away business-as-usual — to our friends, family, neighbors, fellow climate activists, and the public. Like ACT UP we need to spread our message as clearly, loudly and in the most attentiongrabbing ways we can.

Unique Strategic Elements of the Climate Crisis

 Seeking Consensus. While we must seek to learn as much as we can from ACT UP and other successful social movements, we must also recognize that the climate crisis poses a challenge unlike anything humanity has ever faced. Full-scale emergency mobilization requires a higher degree of participation and consensus than treating AIDS, implementing civil rights legislation, or even toppling a dictator.

ACT UP didn’t bring the entire public into emergency mode, but because they entered emergency mode themselves they were able to apply pressure very strategically. ACT UP could be something of a gadfly — alienating many and still achieving their agenda. They were an oppressed minority that needed to move huge bureaucracies, and they did. The climate movement faces a larger task. We must effect change throughout our entire society. We want to “wake America up” to the scale of the threat, and the need for mobilization, as America woke up to the need for WWII immediately following the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Thus we must seek to be as inclusive as possible, while unwaveringly demanding WWII-scale climate mobilization. Our tone must balance emergency-mode, steadfastness, assertiveness, and inclusiveness. Pope Francis calls for people to have an “ecological conversion,” and we must adopt the attitude of understanding and forgiveness for individuals past denial or climate-damaging activity.

Addressing Helplessness. Many people who understand the scope of the climate crisis are paralyzed by fear and helplessness. Empowerment, the solution to helplessness, is a key element of all social movements. Gene Sharp, the author of From Dictatorship to Democracy, a guidebook for non-violent revolution against dictators, advises would-be revolutionaries to spread a version of the “The Monkey Master Fable” in which a group of monkeys are enslaved by a cruel human master who demands that they gather food for him. After years of submission to this, the monkeys realize that there is no legitimacy to their master’s reign. They tear down their cage and escape. They now have more food, as well as freedom, and their former master starves without them. This tale demonstrates the basic principle that dictators are dependent on the cooperation of citizens, and “if enough of the subordinates refuse to continue their cooperation long enough despite repression, the oppressive system will be weakened and finally collapse.”

In the case of the climate crisis, we must educate, or remind people that:

1) Social movements can cause immense, rapid change.

2) During WWII, America mobilized and achieved a transition more rapid and complete than anyone thought possible.

3) We as citizens have the power to change the direction of this country, and if we successfully build political will for full-scale climate mobilization, the results will be staggering.

The Transformative Power of Climate Truth. While the climate movement has many imposing forces aligned against it, we also have a uniquely powerful strategic asset — the truth. The truth is that no human endeavor can succeed on a planet beset by catastrophic climate change. None of our values, joys, or relationships can prosper on an overheated planet. There will be no “winners” in a business-as-usual scenario: Even wealthy elites are reliant on stable ecosystems, agriculture, and a functioning global civilization. For that reason, among others, solving the climate crisis has the potential to be the most unifying endeavor in human history.

Emergency Communication

How can we most effectively communicate the climate emergency to the public? I propose the following strategies, based on my theoretical understanding of emergency mode and the transformative power of climate truth, as well as my experience building The Climate Mobilization.

It is important that we keep emergency communication crystal clear otherwise people will — rightfully — suspect that we are not giving them the full story. Then, I will offer specific communication strategies including: person-to-person conversations, community education, advertising, and protest.

Emergency Threat. In order to lead people into emergency mode, it is critical that the emergency threat is paired with an emergency solution (whenever it is available). First and easiest, the climate movement must fully adopt the language of immediate crisis and existential danger. We must talk about climate change as threatening to cause the collapse of civilization, killing billions of people, and millions of species. These horrific outcomes await us during this century, possibly even in the first half of it if things truly slip out of control. This is not a matter of “protecting the planet for future generations” but protecting our own lives and those of the people we care about. We are in danger now and in coming years and decades. The climate crisis is, far and away, our top national security threat, top public health threat, and top threat to the global economy.

Emergency Solution. Climate groups must match this emergency rhetoric with an emergency advocacy. Suppose that someone told you, “Help! My house is on fire! Can you please pour a glass of water on it? One glass is all it needs!” You would be confused. If we are really dealing with a house on fire, how could a solution be so simple and easy? You would suspect that there was no crisis, just exaggeration. Likewise, when the scale of the necessary response to the climate crisis is minimized, it prevents people from entering emergency mode. We need to “come out” as in emergency mode — climate “alarmists,” as horrified by the crisis, and as ready to make major changes in our life and the economy, for the duration of the emergency.

We cannot be silent about the fact that emergency mobilization can only be coordinated by a “big” government that is granted the power to spend without limit to save as much life as possible. We must acknowledge that gradual approaches that prioritize political expediency and the alleged wisdom of the “free market” over the common good are doomed to failure.

We need to eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions in years, not decades, and remove excess greenhouse gases from the atmosphere until a safe climate is restored. This will take a whole-society, all-out effort. It will also require significant changes in the American lifestyle.

Even if we undertake rapid, all-hands-on-deck mobilization that drives the economy to zero emissions and removes massive amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, action may need to be taken to quickly cool the planet. Solar radiation management interventions — approaches meant to reflect a small amount of sunlight away from the earth and quickly cool the planet — carry very significant risk, and must be researched extensively in a transparent, public program before deployment is considered.

However, the danger of the climate crisis is so tremendously great that it might turn out to be beneficial to temporarily deploy solar radiation management technology in conjunction with an emergency-speed elimination of emissions and a huge carbon drawdown effort if we are to prevent a catastrophic, irreversible “continuous thaw” of the Arctic permafrost and other extreme climate changes. If solar radiation management technologies are deployed to temporarily limit warming or cool the planet, they must be democratically governed in cooperation with the world community, and massive financial resources must be devoted to comprehensively protect vulnerable communities from any adverse effects.

Let go of False Narratives. Representing the truth, and moving the public into emergency mode means letting go of false or misleading narratives that shield the public (and ourselves) from the frightening truth, such as:

  • 2°C or 1.5°C of warming above pre-industrial levels represent “safe limits” to global warming.
  • “Our grandchildren” may be in a “climate emergency” sometime in the future if we don’t change.
  • We still have a sizable global “carbon budget” left to safely burn before things get really out of control.
  • The transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions can be a multi-decade effort. (I.e., we can continue emitting greenhouse gases for decades longer!)
  • Extremely gradual emission reduction strategies — such as the Clean Power Plan — are huge steps forward.
  • Climate justice and other social justice objectives are compatible with carbon gradualism.
  • It’s not worth solving the climate crisis and saving billions of lives unless we simultaneously create a utopian society.
  • Ending emissions will be “cheap,” “easy” or “painless” and can be accomplished smoothly but slowly via market-based policy instruments alone (such as an emissions trading system or a carbon tax).
  • If we only reduce the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold on politicians, the problem will solve itself.
  • The climate crisis is only a dirty energy or electricity issue that can be solved without massive ecosystem restoration, the transformation of industrial and animal agriculture, and a revolution in land use and soil management.
  • A zero emissions-only strategy (without drawdown and possible cooling) is all that is needed to protect us from climate catastrophe.
  • Carbon drawdown approaches and solar radiation management should not be discussed as legitimate options or studied since they will only distract from emissions reduction and societal transformation.
  • The broader overshoot, sustainability, and mass extinction emergencies relating to exponential global population and consumption growth are not worth mentioning or factoring into our policies as we respond to the climate crisis since they are overwhelming, not widely accepted by the public, and seem far away.
  • We are “fucked” – absolutely nothing we can do will help the situation. Science shows humanity will definitely go extinct by 2030 and all those calling for actions to avert catastrophe are spreading delusional “hopium.”

 

Overcome Affect Phobia. Communicating with this level of honesty will require an emotional shift in the climate movement. Climate organizations are going to have to get more comfortable expressing and inviting uncomfortable emotions.

The climate movement has generally emphasized facts and avoided feelings. This is probably in part because scientists report the unfolding climate crisis to us in their objective, often emotionally detached style. Also, because the emotions that the climate crisis inspires are so intense, the climate movement, it seems, has tried to avoid them as much as possible.

Affect phobia is often official. For example, Columbia University’s popular CRED Guide to Climate Communications contains a section, “Beware the Overuse of Emotional Appeals,” in which they caution presenters to avoid telling the whole truth about the climate crisis, as this would cause “emotional numbing.” So presenters are given strategies including choosing a specific “portfolio of risk” to communicate — such as the link between climate and disease — rather than the whole, frightening truth.

Affect phobia can also be found in almost any discussion within the climate movement about what to say or what to advocate. “Fear doesn’t work as a motivator” so we shouldn’t “make people” afraid. I have had the uncanny experience of advocating that a climate event adopt the ambitious “net zero by 2025” timeline, to be told by others on the planning committee, “We agree with you! We totally agree that is what needs to happen. But we can’t say that — it will turn people off!”

While it is accurate that climate truth overwhelms some people, the climate movement should be focused on turning people on — getting more people to enter emergency mode as activists. Further, some people will be “turned off” by climate truth temporarily, but will process it over time and then enter emergency mode later. With the truth, we give people the opportunity to face the facts and their feelings, and move forward productively. Without the truth, we deny them this chance.

Another critical reason for organizations and leaders to overcome affect phobia is to provide a safe space to discuss the crisis in the fellowship of others who understand. People who understand the climate crisis are often alienated, feeling that they must act “as if” things are OK in order to get along.

Climate advocacy organizations should create a place where people can process the reality and implications of the climate crisis together. This kind of supportive, generative atmosphere can only occur when the truth is embraced, and we are able to tolerate the emotions that the truth inspires. If the organizational culture is to stay perpetually cheerful and stay away from the horrifying truth of our situation, people will not feel free to express their true feelings. A frequent reaction that new people have to joining The Climate Mobilization conference calls is, “It’s such a relief to hear people speaking truthfully, and meet so many people who understand what’s really going on.” Sometimes, people cry on our calls, and we treat it as a normal reaction to an incredibly difficult situation.

If you feel the urge to say, “But people can’t handle the truth,” question whether you may be reacting to your own anxiety and your own difficulty processing the climate crisis. Of course it’s difficult! Of course people will feel afraid, angry, and grief-stricken. Those are rational, healthy reactions to the surreal and nightmarish reality we find ourselves in.

Strategies for Spreading the Message:

The climate movement should leverage the inherent power of climate truth, and the deep human desire to avert a catastrophic future. The climate movement should be shouting the truth of the climate emergency from the rooftops — constantly searching for the most effective ways to amplify this message.

The list below is not meant to be a comprehensive list. The climate movement should be continually testing new methods of communicating the climate emergency, and scaling up the most effective ones. The book “Beautiful Trouble” outlines techniques that activists have used for a variety of projects around the world and is very helpful for brainstorming, as is Gene Sharp’s list of 198 Methods of Non-violent Action, and appendix of Dictatorship to Democracy.

Person-to-Person Conversation:

The most basic, and highly effective, mode of climate activism is talking to people you know about the crisis and need for mobilization. In the same way that ACT UP called on gay men to come out of the closet so that they could build collective power, we should “Come out” as being firmly in emergency mode! We need to talk about the fact that we are deeply alarmed and terrified of the climate crisis, but that a solution is possible! We must tweak ACT UP’s slogan and make it clear that Climate Silence=Death!

If we are silent, our understanding does not become power. 2015 Polling from Yale’s Climate Communication Center found that only 4% of Americans hear people they know talk about climate change at least once a week, and only 12% once a month! And yet the same study shows that 11% of Americans are “very worried” about climate change! It’s time for this group to get talkative and loud.

We must overcome our anxiety about having hard conversations and embrace the fierce urgency of now. Every week we delay mobilization is a month for tipping points to be hit, species to go extinct, and states to fail. Lots of people are already dying on our watch. 1,000 children are dying every day from climate change-linked starvation & disease.

To facilitate these urgent conversations, The Climate Mobilization uses the tool the Pledge to Mobilize, in which citizens agree to support political candidates who support mobilization, and to spread the Pledge to others. One major goal of this Pledge is to provide a structure for conversations about the climate crisis to happen. It is easier to call a friend and say, “Hey, have you been following the climate crisis? I recently took this Pledge to Mobilize and I would be interested in talking to you about it.”

Emergency Education and Outreach. Further, activists who have become expert in the climate crisis and the need for mobilization should give presentations to congregations, professional associations, unions, colleges, and community groups.

Public presentations should be offered regularly in cities across the country on the climate crisis and need for immediate, emergency mobilization. These presentations should be advertised, not as a way to “get informed”, but rather as an appeal to the public’s sense of threat and danger, “How can I protect my family from the climate crisis?” Or “The Climate Crisis: How much danger are we in and how can we reverse it?” These presentations should explicitly invite the participants to take part in the movement to implement an emergency climate mobilization. One of the primary tasks for all interested in getting involved will be spreading climate truth and effective strategies to others.

Advertising and Guerrilla Advertising. Climate groups with financial resources should purchase advertising space in print and TV warning the public about the near-term threat of a collapse of civilization, and the need for WWII-scale climate mobilization. (See above section on “overcoming affect phobia”) Climate groups that cannot afford to purchase ad space should engage in a guerrilla marketing campaign in which the climate emergency (and the need for climate mobilization) is communicated through things such as hanging banners from prominent buildings, opening public advertising displays and replacing them with climate emergency posters, stickers, graffiti, and more.

Further, the climate movement should train rapid response teams across the country to educate and demonstrate after super-storms and other global warming-supercharged “natural” disasters hit. These are important moments — moments where the coming horrors of the climate crisis are made manifest. The media often focuses intensely on disaster zones, and live demonstrations, with banners calling for WWII-scale climate mobilization displayed at disaster sites, have the potential for tremendous symbolic value.

Lobbying and Pressure Campaigns. The climate movement should launch an intense pressure campaign targeting elected leaders, media outlets, universities and thought leaders. The campaign should call on leaders to courageously face reality, enter emergency mode, and protect civilization.

These pressure campaigns should escalate in degrees of assertiveness, all the way to disruptive protest. However, even in a protest, we must maintain an open, welcoming attitude. Thus, while we will need to be quite confrontational and unwavering, we are not “against” our targets of protest. We gain nothing from demonizing them. We need these leaders to do the right thing. The tone should not be primarily angry, but urgent and insistent. Burning figures in effigy, for example, would probably not be helpful.

Rather, the tone should be serious and patriotic. We are calling on America to lead the world in heroic, world-saving action! Protests should involve elements of protestor sacrifice, such as risking arrest or hunger strike, to generate empathy from the public. Maintaining strict non-violence is critical to winning widespread public support and is non-negotiable.

Tactics and demands will differ depending on the particular target — but the basic idea is to challenge powerful people and institutions to:

1) Face the crisis

2) Enter emergency mode, and thus

3) Use their considerable powers and resources to protect civilization from collapse.

Primary Targets of this campaign should be:

Elected leaders and candidates. James Hansen first testified before Congress in 1988 about the dangers of climate change, and for the next 28 years, denial, woefully insufficient gradualism, and paralysis have dominated Washington’s response to the climate crisis. Our elected leaders are failing to protect us. It’s up to us to bring them out of complacency and denial and into emergency mode. These efforts should start with outreach and lobbying, ideally from constituents who tend to be ideologically aligned with the legislator in question, and escalate into pressure campaign and then to protest.

Climate advocates should seek to discuss the climate crisis and need for mobilization with their elected representatives and their staff. Constituents should ask their leaders to take a heroic stand and champion a WWII-scale climate mobilization. The Pledge to Mobilize is a tool that facilitates these interactions. The Pledge provides structure—a concrete set of demands and a clear way that the Congressperson can endorse them—by signing. TCM provides outreach materials, and education materials, so the constituent can be ready to defend the demands of the Pledge. This strategy has proven successful thus far—a growing number of elected leaders and candidates for office have signed the Pledge to Mobilize.

In the event that asking and educating are not sufficient, campaigners should escalate the pressure behind their request. Demonstrating outside of or even occupying congressional offices as well as state houses and city halls, with, sit-ins, die-ins, hunger strikes, mobilization parties, political theater and humorous action, and other disruptive action can be utilized to draw the public’s attention and put increasing pressure on politicians to mobilize.

All elected leaders and candidates, regardless of party, should be targeted, with a focus on Congress. Both Republican climate deniers and Democrat climate gradualists should be challenged to enter emergency mode and informed that we will be interrupting their “normal mode” until they decide to champion emergency climate action.

The media — especially television news — is another critical target for educational outreach followed by pressure campaign and escalating disruptive protests. A Media Matters study found that, ABC spent a total of 13 minutes in 2015 covering climate change. That’s 13 minutes — total — across all ABC news shows, for a year. NBC spent 50 minutes and CBS 45 minutes. Fox News spent 39 minutes, and most of it was skeptical of climate science.

This is beyond pathetic — it is a crime against humanity. A shocking, dismal failure of television news to serve the public interest. These television stations need to be clearly told that their silence and passivity is endangering humanity and it will not be tolerated. The climate movement should demand that television stations give climate change at least 500 hours of climate coverage in 2016. It should be a topic of daily focus and consideration, as well as a regular topic for in-depth reporting. Through its silence, television news is betraying us, and putting us in danger.

Further, newspapers, magazines, and other media should be pressured to do in-depth reporting about the scale of the climate crisis and what an emergency climate mobilization would be like.

Universities will be called upon to not only divest their endowments from fossil fuels and reinvest in renewables, but to openly acknowledge the existential nature of the climate crisis and need for emergency action, and to make the climate crisis the primary focus of curricula, research, and funding. New School University and United College have already taken similar steps. 

Thought Leaders and Leaders of Civil Society. If people in the public eye, and in the public esteem go into emergency mode, they will significantly influence the broader public. Staying in normal mode, however, contributes to inaction and passivity. “It’s not my issue” is unacceptable. Business leaders (e.g. Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos), thought leaders (e.g. Paul Krugman and Ta-Nehisi Coates), community leaders, and religious leaders should also be invited – with an escalating degree of assertiveness – to learn more about the climate emergency and the need for climate mobilization. These invitations to leadership could include public challenges, social media campaigns, and potentially individually targeted disruptive protest.

Fossil Fuel Infrastructure? Currently, the majority of climate protests and demonstrations take place at the site of fossil fuel projects, such as pipelines, oil trains, and export terminals. There is a certain intuitive logic in targeting fossil fuel infrastructure directly. However, I am skeptical about whether this is an ideal strategy for leading the public into emergency mode. These protests send a very clear, “NO!” message, but are unclear on the “Yes!”. Of course, the fossil fuel industry has been a terrible actor in helping to create the climate crisis, and they certainly deserve to be protested against. But if the goal is to bring the public into emergency mode, we need to focus on the way forward. We don’t want to just shut down one pipeline. We need to shut down all the pipelines, and we need to do it at emergency speed. And to do that, we need to engage Congress, the media, thought leaders, and the public.

I assume that many activists will continue to be drawn to fossil fuel infrastructure protests. I recommend to them that they work as hard as possible to communicate the way forward (emergency mobilization off fossil fuels and carbon intensive agriculture, plus carbon drawdown to cool the earth back to a safe level) as much as possible in their verbal and non-verbal communications. This can be as simple as wearing Rosie the Riveter bandanas while protesting, displaying a banner demanding WWII-scale climate mobilization to restore a safe climate, and including the demand for net zero emissions by 2025, plus large-scale drawdown, in press releases and web materials.

Strategic Evaluation: We Can Do This.

 In this paper, I have proposed a strategy for the climate movement based on my psychological and historical understanding of emergency mode. I have shown that our species can perform incredibly well when faced with emergencies, as long as we see a viable solution or a well organized effort to find a solution and feel that we can productively contribute to the solution. I have also shown that emergency mode is contagious, as long as we communicate clearly about the scale of the threat, and the mobilization we need.

I am confident that if the climate movement at large adopted emergency language, the WWII-scale climate mobilization advocacy, and communicative strategies described here, we would successfully lead the nation into emergency mode. Against us are the power of denial and dissociation and the ability of fear and helplessness to paralyze people and nations. Against us also are a wide array of entrenched corporate and political interests and many decades of ideological propaganda about “small government” and “the market.”

But on our side is the extremely potent truth — what science tells us and is becoming more apparent all the time — as well as the human desire to survive and protect other people and species. Another important strategic advantage is the WWII experience with the home front economic and social mobilization, which provides a recent historical example of extraordinary, improbable American success through mobilization. It’s hard for most people to imagine how we could possibly tackle the climate crisis because of the scale and urgency of what must be done — but the WWII-scale mobilization concept makes it much easier.

Part of my confidence comes from The Climate Mobilization’s remarkable success as a volunteer-powered grassroots organization. In the year and a half since launching, we have experienced rapid growth, and exceptionally high dedication levels from our volunteers. We have organizers working across the country to educate their community about the need for climate mobilization; we have held events across the country calling for WWII-scale climate mobilization; we have recruited numerous elected leaders and candidates for Congress; finally, in this presidential election two candidates — Jill Stein (video) and Bernie Sanders (video) — have used that metaphor.

The Climate Mobilization has had significant success with a tiny budget and constrained capacity — we’ve spent less than $100,000 since our launch in 2014 relying heavily on volunteers for all tasks. So imagine what would happen if larger, more established climate groups dropped gradualism, went into emergency mode and started fighting for emergency mobilization with large, experienced staffs and budgets— foundations give more than a billion dollars a year to climate organizations and projects—for major local organizing efforts, as well as advertising, video production, and more. They would experience major, continual growth in highly dedicated membership and power. Groups should invest in old fashioned, off line organizing—training and developing their membership, creating as many community leaders as possible, and working in as many different communities and sectors, as possible. The movement should take on more and more ambitious and large-scale emergency communication projects, continuing to build momentum behind the demand for emergency mobilization to restore a safe & stable climate.

We are now in a time of tremendous consequence. Incredibly, our choices matter a great deal to the future of humanity and all life on earth. It’s time to leave gradualism, business as usual, and normal mode behind until we have solved the climate problem. The time has come to enter emergency mode.

Next Steps:

Enter Emergency Mode with The Climate Mobilization! We have a “Mobilize Yourself: Step-by-Step program that will help you develop your skills and impact.

Support Our Work with a Donation.

 

 

Further Reading:

The Climate Crisis:

Climate Reality Check and Recount by David Spratt

WWII Homefront mobilization

No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Freedom’s Forge by Arthur Herman

WWII Scale Climate Mobilization

The Case for Climate Mobilization by Ezra Silk and Margaret Klein Salamon

Unprecedented by David Griffin

The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding

Striking Targets, Philip Sutton

Climate Emergency

Road to Cop 21 and Beyond: the Missing Lessons of Paris by Michael Hoexter

Climate Code Red by Philip Sutton and David Spratt

Social Movements:

This is an Uprising by Mark and Paul Engler

The Power of the Powerless by Vaclav Havel

From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp

ACT UP and Larry Kramer

1,112 and counting, Larry Kramer

Films:

How to Survive a Plague

Larry Kramer: In Love and Anger.

The Normal Heart (This is a play that Kramer wrote about his break from the Gay Men’s Health Alliance, recently, adapted into a film.)

Flow States:

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Flow Genome Project

 

 

 

Introducing the Emergency Climate Movement

I am very pleased that my article, The Emergency Climate Movement has been shared on EcoWatch more than 600 times. I am working to get it posted on other blogs, too, so why not start with The Climate Psychologist 🙂

Introducing the Emergency Climate Movement

We are living in a state of planetary emergency. To have a chance of averting the collapse of civilization and the destruction of the natural world, we must mobilize our society on the scale of World War II to achieve net zero[1] greenhouse gas emissions at wartime speed. The fact that we have already heated the world to such dangerous levels, and show little sign of stopping, is evidence of widespread institutional failure. We cannot expect anyone else to save us. We must organize to save ourselves.

The Mainstream Environmental Movement: Avoiding Climate Truth. The aforementioned truth—while daunting and overwhelming— has the potential to be utterly transformative, for individuals, and for society as a whole. Yet it has been too often soft-pedaled by environmental organizations and communicators who advocate incrementalism over boldness, vagueness over specificity, and personal behavior change over systemic change. These strategies, in an attempt to be palatable and politically “realistic,” are abdicating the climate movement’s greatest strategic asset: the truth. Embracing the truth was at the heart of Gandhi’s Satyagraha campaign, the Civil Rights Movement, the Velvet Revolution, and the vast majority of triumphant social movements through history.

The Emergency Climate Movement: Embracing Climate Truth. In recent months, a new, increasingly powerful segment of the climate movement has been taking shape. A coalition of those who openly recognize the existential threat of the climate crisis and advocate for a solution that is scientifically realistic and morally tenable: emergency mobilization.

The Climate Mobilization (TCM), a one-year old group that I founded and direct, has been a central part of this hopeful shift away from carbon gradualism—slowly reducing emissions while effectively maintaining business as usual. Philip Sutton, a member of TCM’s advisory board, puts this shift in perspective in his excellent paper, Striking Targets:

“Over those last 27 years, while all the research, activism and negotiation has been going on, the climate has actually become dangerous. So, the key goal now must be to provide, at the 11th hour, real protection for the vulnerable people, species and ecosystems of the world. The principal struggle must shift, from the clash between no action and some action, to the crucial struggle between those who want to constrain reform to levels that are not too disruptive and those who want action that will provide highly effective and timely protection.”

In other words, isolated actions such as the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, putting a price on carbon, or even policies aiming for net zero emissions by 2050, are no longer sufficient. Perhaps if we had implemented these measures 30 years ago, they would have been adequate to maintain a safe climate. But that time has passed. Only emergency action—a mobilization of our entire economy and society—will protect us now. We must stop emissions in years, not decades. It is time to align our demands and language with the truth.

In June, Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Jr. and Tom Weis, leaders in the climate movement, and members of TCM’s advisory board, echoed TCM’s call for zero emissions by 2025 by writing in “America’s Zero Emissions Imperative”:

“Some will no doubt call this bold national goal unrealistic, but they would underestimate the innovative genius and social conscience of the American people. America has a long and proud history of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds (consider World War II, Apollo program and Abolitionist movement). What is unrealistic is thinking we can put off for decades action that is desperately needed now to ensure our survival as a species.”

Tom Weis followed up on that article by writing an open letter to President Obama, calling on him to set reducing US emissions to net zero by 2025—through an “all hands on deck societal mobilization at wartime speed” – as the US’s commitment in the upcoming UN climate talks in Paris.

This letter is the single strongest display of public support for emergency climate mobilization that has ever been made. Signers include Lester Brown, Terry Tempest Williams, Mark Ruffalo, Ed Begley, Jr., David Suzuki, Winona LaDuke, Tim DeChristopher, Yeb Sano, Josh Fox, IPCC coordinating lead author Ove Hoegh-Guldberg the former chair of the Australian Coal Association, the founder of the Woods Hole Research Center, the founder of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, the founder of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, the former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, and the four co-founders of The Climate Mobilization.

The Climate Mobilization: Catalyzing the Emergency Climate Movement

 I developed the idea for the Pledge to Mobilize—a denial-fighting, power-building tool—while earning my PhD in clinical psychology and working as a psychotherapist.  Working with a team of co-founders, allies, and consultants all over the world, we turned an idea into a reality, and formed The Climate Mobilization. The Pledge is a one-page document that any American—and, since we have expanded internationally, anyone on earth—can sign, is a tool designed to help people fully face climate truth, and channel the deep emotions that arise into effective political engagement.

The Pledge is a public acknowledgment that the climate crisis threatens the collapse of civilization, as well as call for the United States to initiate a WWII-scale climate mobilization to eliminate our national net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and enlist in an international effort to mobilize off fossil fuels and restore a safe global climate. The Pledge also contains a set of political and personal commitments. Signers agree to support elected officials and political candidates who have Pledged to Mobilize with their vote, as well as time or money, and to spread the truth of climate change, and the Pledge to Mobilize, to others.

The Pledge encourages active hope and political empowerment. Using the WWII metaphor, we illustrate a time in which the United States successfully mobilized against an existential crisis. The Pledge challenges people to grow their awareness, cope with the reality, and become active agents for effective change by spreading climate truth and sharing the Pledge to Mobilize with others.

The Pledge to Mobilize has been signed by more than 2,400 Americans and international allies including Winona LaDuke, Marshall Saunders, the founder of Citizens Climate Lobby; Catharine Thomasson, director of Physicians for Social Responsibility; Randy Hayes, the founder of Rainforest Action Network; Paul Gilding, former head of Greenpeace and author of “The Great Disruption,”

The Pledge has also been gaining momentum with political candidates and elected officials. Recent signers include: Des Moines Mayor Frank Cowie, Iowa Legislator Dan Kelley, San Jose City Councilor Ash Kalra, Des Moines City Councilor Skip Moore, San Fransicso Mayoral candidate Amy Farah Weiss and Florida congressional candidate Alina Valdes. Councilman Ash Kalra and Mayoral candidate Amy Farah Weis can be seen taking the Pledge to Mobilize on video.

We have recently started a Mobilize Iowa campaign in which we take the Pledge to Mobilize directly to the 2016 presidential candidates. Our current nation-wide initiative is the Moral Mobilization, which will run from now—coinciding with the Pope’s visit—through the Paris talks. The Moral Mobilization seeks to amplify and concretize Pope Francis’ message of “ecological conversion.” During Moral Mobilization events, community leaders will read from the Encyclical and publicly Pledge to Mobilize as they call on Congress, the White House, and all levels of government, to do the same.

 The Emergency Climate Movement is just getting started. We understand that everything we love is on the line, and that inaction or insufficient action will lead to unfathomable catastrophe. In response, we are redefining “realistic” to what is necessary and true. We hope you join us.

For a more in-depth version of these arguments, in a beautifully illustrated PDF, see The Climate Mobilization’s Manifesto: The Transformative Power of Climate Truth.

For the scientific case for Emergency Mobilization see RECOUNT by David Spratt and the Case for Mobilization by Ezra Silk and Margaret Klein Salamon.

[1] When I say “Net zero emissions,” I mean that, it may not be possible to eliminate all US greenhouse gas emissions in the short timeline that The Climate Mobilization calls for. If so, the emissions that remain will be balanced out through carbon-negative techniques such as reforestation, permaculture, and biochar. This vision of “net zero emissions” does not include corporate land grabs or schemes in which the US discounts its own emissions through foreign carbon sequestration. Further, it is a stepping stone to the United States becoming net carbon negative, and also eliminating all remaining GHG emissions. For more information, see the Pledge to Mobilize or the Case for Mobilization.

The Transformative Power of Climate Truth: Illustrated (and updated)

I am extremely pleased to announce The Transformative Power of Climate Truth, Illustrated Version!

The main addition here are the beautiful illustrations and formatting are by Katharine Woodman-Maynard, The Climate Mobilization’s lead graphic designer.

Transformative_Cover

This version is updated to reflect recent events in The Climate Mobilization and in the climate movement more generally. The main addition is the description of the recent formation of a new segment of the climate movement, call it the “Mobilization Coalition”—a group of scientists, activists, and religious and community leaders—who are calling for emergency climate action.

I am very proud and excited to say that this essay has helped incite transformation in some readers, helping them become more engaged, more active, more urgent, and more committed to the need for emergency mobilization.

My hope is that this beautiful formatting will draw more readers to this essay, and further spread these personal and political transformations! So please help by sharing with those you care about and respect.

Mobilize Iowa: The Climate Mobilization Enters Presidential Politics

The Climate Mobilization is ready to enter presidential politics, and bring the need for a WWII-scale Climate Mobilization into the national conversation.

Ed Fallon, a former 14-year Iowa state legislator, veteran organizer, talk radio host, and accomplished climate activist, has agreed to lead a Climate Mobilization organizing effort in Iowa!

Ed will use the Pledge to Mobilize to build a grassroots movement in Iowa in the lead-up to the critical caucuses there on February 1st. Ed, who has been “bird-dogging” the Iowa caucuses since 1988, is ready to train 50 organizers to bring the Pledge to campaign events and challenge presidential candidates of all stripes to sign the Pledge to Mobilize.

But we need your help. We have just launched the fundraiser Mobilize Iowa! on IndieGoGo for this effort. Check out this 6-minute video of Ed describing himself and how he can build toward the large-scale national Climate Mobilization we need.

http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSfd1WNRQag

If you are able to support this effort through a donation, or through raising funds from your friends and family (or others 🙂 that would be truly helpful. Below is some information on how you could help fundraise, and an e-mail template that you can personalize and use.

 

Thanks for your consideration!

 

______________________________

Ways you can help us fundraise:

1) E-mail your friends and family, asking them to contribute. Tips:

A) Modify the email template below (personalize it and add your voice and address your audience!)
B) Tailor it to INDIVIDUALS or SMALL GROUPS (i.e., “friends from high school”) rather than to your entire list.
C) Donate yourself, so you can set an example in asking others to support this effort!
D) Create a personalized Recruiter Link and use it to replace the current link to the Pledge to Mobilize in the email template below. That way, when your friends take the Pledge, they will be linked to you in our network!

2) Make PHONE CALLS to prospective donors who you think might give more than a couple hundred bucks. Tips:

A) Don’t be afraid! You can honestly say, “I want to invite you to support something really exciting and special. Your donation could influence the future of our civilization and the natural world.”

3) Share this campaign on social media. Tips:

A) Share a personalized message about why YOU think this campaign is worth funding. Let your personality and values shine through.
B) If your friends or family give, thank them publicly on social media in order to show appreciation. This will also encourage others to contribute!

TCM_IGG_01_Mobilize_Iowa_fullscreen.png

____________________________________________________________

FUNDRAISING EMAIL TEMPLATE (edit and use):

Subject: Help The Climate Mobilization Mobilize Iowa!

Friends! As you may know, I have been involved in recent months with The Climate Mobilization, an organization that is less than a year old, but is already accomplishing exciting things, including organizing the first-ever National Climate Mobilization Day with public actions in 15 cities, and assembling an Advisory Board of top-notch climate scientists, energy policy experts, and environmental movement leaders (click here to see our endorsements to date, including one from world-renowned climate scientist Michael E. Mann.)

The Climate Mobilization has achieved these results through its breakthrough strategy, the Pledge to Mobilize. The Pledge to Mobilize calls for a WWII-scale, full-employment mobilization to eliminate America’s net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. The Pledge also calls on the U.S. to lead an international effort to restore a safe climate. Citizens who sign the Pledge commit to support candidates who have signed the Pledge, with their vote, time, and money, and to spread the Pledge to others. (Consider taking the Pledge to Mobilize from me.)

After ten months of movement building, we now have a very a unique and deeply exciting opportunity: To Enter Presidential Politics!

Ed Fallon, a former 14-year Iowa state legislator, veteran organizer, talk radio host, and accomplished climate activist, has agreed to lead a Climate Mobilization organizing effort in Iowa!

With your help, Ed will use the Pledge to Mobilize to build a grassroots movement in Iowa in the lead-up to the critical caucuses there on February 1st. Ed, who has been “bird-dogging” the Iowa caucuses since 1988, is ready to train 50 organizers to bring the Pledge to campaign events and challenge presidential candidates of all stripes to sign the Pledge to Mobilize.

With your help, this 50-person corps of Iowa Mobilizers will organize their communities and put direct pressure on political candidates to sign the Pledge to Mobilize, catapulting the idea of a WWII-scale, emergency Climate Mobilization into the presidential campaign, the national media, and the mainstream of American politics. Please check out the Mobilize Iowa! Fundraiser, and watch Ed describe himself and the need for a Climate Mobilization in this 6-minute video.

I have donated to this cause (with money, as well as time), because I believe it is a truly incredible opportunity to intervene in American politics for the common good, and we clearly need to do that!

I would be happy to discuss more by phone or email. Please let me know if you have questions, reservations, or if you are interested in getting more deeply involved!

Sincerely,
X_______

 

What Climate Change Asks of Us: Moral Obligation, Mobilization and Crisis Communication

This article was originally posted on Common Dreams 

 Why are we morally obligated to fight climate change?

Climate change is a crisis, and crises alter morality. Climate change is on track to cause the extinction of half the species on earth and, through a combination of droughts, famines, displaced people, and failed states and pandemics, the collapse of civilization within this century. If this horrific destructive force is to be abated, it will be due to the efforts of people who are currently alive. The future of humanity falls to us. This is an unprecedented moral responsibility, and we are by and large failing to meet it.

Indeed, most of us act as though we are not morally obligated to fight climate change, and those who do recognize their obligation are largely confused about how to meet it

Crises alter morality; they alter what is demanded of us if we want to be considered good, honorable people. For example—having a picnic in the park is morally neutral. But if, during your picnic, you witness a group of children drowning and you continue eating and chatting, passively ignoring the crisis, you have become monstrous. A stark, historical example of crisis morality is the Holocaust—history judges those who remained passive during that fateful time. Simply being a private citizen (a “Good German”) is not considered honorable or morally acceptable in retrospect. Passivity, in a time of crisis, is complicity. It is a moral failure. Crises demand that we actively engage; that we rise to the challenge; that we do our best.

What is the nature of our moral obligation to fight climate change?

Our first moral obligation is to assess how we can most effectively help. While climate change is more frequently being recognized as a moral issue—the question, “How can a person most effectively engage in fighting climate change?” is rarely seriously considered or discussed. In times of crises, we can easily become overwhelmed with fear and act impetuously to discharge those feelings to “do something.” We may default to popular or well-known activism tactics, such as writing letters to our congress people or protesting fossil-fuel infrastructure projects without rigorously assessing if this is the best use of our time and talents.

The question of “how can I best help” is particularly difficult for people to contemplate because climate change requires collective emergency action, and we live in a very individualistic culture. It can be difficult for an individual to imagine themselves as helping to create a social and political movement; helping the group make a shift in perspective and action. Instead of viewing themselves as possibly influencing the group, many people focus entirely on themselves, attempting to reduce their personal carbon footprint. This offers a sense of control and moral achievement, but it is illusory; it does not contribute (at least not with maximal efficacy) to creating the collective response necessary.

We need to mobilize, together. Climate change is a crisis, and it requires a crisis response. A wide variety of scientists, scholars, and activists agree: the only response that can save civilization is an all-out, whole-society mobilization.[i] World War II provides an example of how the United States accomplished this in the past. We converted our industry from consumer-based to mission-based in a matter of months; oriented national and university research toward the mission, and mobilized the American citizenry toward the war effort in a wide variety of ways. Major demographic shifts were made to facilitate the mission, which was regarded as America’s sine qua non; for example, 10% of Americans moved to work in a “war job,” women worked in factories for the first time, and racial integration took steps forward. Likewise, we must give the climate effort everything we have, for if we lose, we may lose everything.

Where we are. While the need for a whole society and economy mobilization to fight climate change is broadly understood by experts, we are not close to achieving it as a society. Climate change ranks at the bottom of issues that citizens are concerned about[ii].   The climate crisis is rarely discussed in social or professional situations. This climate silence is mirrored in the media and political realm: for example, climate change wasn’t even mentioned in the 2012 presidential debates. When climate change is discussed, it is either discussed as a “controversy” or a “problem” rather than the existential emergency that it actually is. Our civilization, planet, and each of us individually are in an acute crisis, but we are so mired in individual and collective denial and distortion that we fail to see it clearly. The house is on fire, but we are still asleep, and our opportunity for being able to save ourselves is quickly going up in smoke.

Understanding the gap: The role of pluralistic ignorance. How can this be? How are we missing the crisis that will determine the future of our civilization and species? Dr. Robert Calidini, social psychologist and author of Influence, describes the phenomena of “pluralistic ignorance,” which offers tremendous insight into this question—and into how we can beat the trance of denial and passivity.

In the following passage, Dr. Calidini is not discussing climate change, but rather, the phenomena of emergencies (heart attacks, physical assaults, etc.) that are sometimes witnessed—and ignored— by dozens of people, especially in urban settings. These tragic instances are often ascribed to “apathy”—the hardening of city dwellers’ hearts toward each other. But scientific research shows something very different. Research shows that if one person witnesses an emergency, they will help in nearly 100% of instances. It is only in crowds—and in situations of uncertainty—that we have the capacity, even the tendency, to ignore an emergency.

Very often an emergency is not obviously an emergency. Is the man lying in the alley a heart-attack victim or a drunk sleeping one off? Are the sharp sounds from the street gunshots or truck backfires? Is the commotion next door an assault requiring the police or an especially loud marital spat where intervention would be inappropriate and unwelcome? What is going on?

In times of such uncertainty, the natural tendency is to look around at the actions of others for clues. We can learn, from the way the other witnesses are reacting, whether the event is or is not an emergency. What is easy to forget, though, is that everybody else observing the event is likely to be looking for social evidence, too.

And because we all prefer to appear poised and unflustered among others, we are likely to search for that evidence placidly, with brief, camouflaged glances at those around us. Therefore everyone is likely to see everyone else looking unruffled and failing to act. As a result, and by the principle of social proof, the event will be roundly interpreted as a nonemergency.

 This, according to [social psychology researchers] Latané and Darley, is the state of pluralistic ignorance “in which each person decides that since nobody is concerned, nothing is wrong. Meanwhile, the danger may be mounting to the point where a single individual, uninfluenced by the seeming calm of others, would react.”

These paragraphs vividly illustrate how denial of the climate crisis is cocreated through the effect of pluralistic ignorance. We look around us and see people living their lives as normal. Our friends, coworkers, and family members are all going about their days as they always have. They are planning for the future. They are calm. They are not discussing climate change. So surely there is no emergency. Surely civilization is not in danger. Calm down, we tell ourselves, I must be the only one who is afraid.

This situation creates an intense amount of social pressure to act calm and not appear hysterical or “crazy.” We all want to fit in, to be well liked and to be considered “normal.” As of today, that means remaining silent on the effects of climate change, or responding with minimization, cynicism, or humor. It is taboo to discuss it as the crisis it is, a crisis that threatens all of us, and that we each have a moral obligation to respond to.

Of course, this pluralistic ignorance of the climate emergency is reinforced and bolstered through misinformation campaigns funded by fossil-fuel companies and the hostility of the few. “Better not bring up the climate crisis,” we tell ourselves, “It’s a controversial topic. Someone might really lose their temper.” However, the responsibility for pluralistic ignorance is widely shared. The vast majority of us—including those of us who believe in climate science and are terrified by climate change—are still, unwittingly, contributing to pluralistic ignorance.

How can we meet our moral obligation, and effectively fight climate change?

Certainty dispels pluralistic ignorance. Fortunately, the research on pluralistic ignorance and crisis response provides excellent guidance for how to overcome this trance of collective denial. The research shows that humans are actually strongly motivated to act in a crisis—as long as they are sure that there is a crisis and that they have a role in solving it. As Dr. Calidini describes,

Groups of bystanders fail to help because the bystanders are unsure rather than unkind. They don’t help because they are unsure of whether an emergency actually exists and whether they are responsible for taking action. When they are sure of their responsibilities for intervening in a clear emergency, people are exceedingly responsive!

Dr. Calidini provides a vivid example of how to apply this knowledge to a personal emergency—if you begin experiencing the symptoms of a stroke in a public place. As you start to feel ill, you slump against a tree, but no one approaches you to help. If people are worried about you, they look around, see everyone else acting calm, and decide that there is no emergency and no need to intervene. People are taking cues from each other to deny and ignore your crisis. How can you call forth the emergency intervention you need?

Stare, speak, and point directly at one person and no one else: “You, sir, in the blue jacket, I need help. Call an ambulance.” With that one utterance you should dispel all the uncertainties that might prevent or delay help. With that one statement you will have put the man in the blue jacket in the role of “rescuer.” He should now understand that emergency aid is needed; he should understand that he, not someone else, is responsible for providing the aid; and, finally, he should understand exactly how to provide it. All the scientific evidence indicates that the result should be quick, effective assistance.

Humans contain a great capacity to help each other, to dutifully respond to the needs of others, and to improve the world around us. We also have a need to feel good about ourselves, and that includes fulfilling our moral obligations. When it is clear there is an emergency, and we have a vital role in responding to it, we respond vigorously.

Climate change is a crisis, and it is your responsibility. Effectively intervening in pluralistic ignorance should be considered the primary goal of the climate movement. Climate change is a crisis that demands a massive collective response. This truth will become crystal clear if we overcome the forces of denial and pluralistic ignorance.

To call forth an emergency response from people, we have to put them in the role of rescuer. We must make clear that (1) an emergency is unfolding and (2) YOU have a critical role in responding to it.

Breaking from standard climate communications.

The environmental movement has not yet made either of these points clear. Indeed, the dominant school of thought in climate communications that says we must underplay the severity of the climate crisis to avoid “turning people off,” and we must emphasize individual reduction of emissions in order to provide people a sense of efficacy.[iii]

Avoiding or finessing the frightening truths of climate change is not only ethically dubious, it is also bound for failure. If we want people to respond appropriately to the climate crisis, we have to level with them, and if we want to claim the moral high ground, we cannot distort the truth just because it’s easier.

A major reason that climate communications have been so milquetoast is that they have lacked a large-scale social movement and political strategy that individuals can be a meaningful part of. Instead, individuals have been addressed as “consumers” who should strive to minimize their individual carbon footprint or environmental impact. This approach is nonsocial and nonpolitical and casts individuals as perpetrators who should attempt to reduce the amount of harm they are causing, rather than rescuers who can make a meaningful contribution to a collective solution.

This point deserves emphasis, as it is so often misunderstood in our intensely individualistic culture. Our moral obligation to fight climate change is to build a collective solution, not to purify ourselves as individual consumers. This common response to the climate crisis can even be counterproductive in several ways: (1) it keeps the burden of responding to climate change on the individual, implicitly rejecting the idea of a collective response; (2) it perpetuates the message that there is no crisis by demanding only slight modifications to “business as usual”; and (3) it is often perceived as “holier than thou,” which can create the perception of barriers to entry to the movement. For example, a person might be deeply concerned about the climate crisis but feel they lack “standing” to voice their feelings because they eat meat or fly to Europe.

We must create an atmosphere in which active engagement in the climate crisis is considered a fundamental part of living a moral life. To accomplish this, we have to give people opportunities to be a meaningful part of the solution; we have to give them the opportunity to be rescuers.

The Pledge to Mobilize: A tool that creates rescuers.

I have worked for the past 18 months with The Climate Mobilization—a growing network of teammates, allies, and consultants to develop a tool intended to help individuals intervene in collective denial and pluralistic ignorance and call forth the all-out emergency response needed to protect civilization and the natural world.

The Pledge to Mobilize is a one-page document that any American can sign. The Pledge is several things at once— it is a public acknowledgment that the climate crisis threatens civilization, an endorsement of a World War II–scale mobilization that brings the United States to carbon neutrality by 2025 (by far the most ambitious emissions reduction goal proposed), and a set of personal commitments to help enact this mobilization. When someone signs, they pledge to (1) vote for candidates who have publicly endorsed the Climate Mobilization platform over those who have not; (2) only donate time and money to candidates who have endorsed the mobilization platform, and (3) mobilize their “skills, resources, and networks to spread the truth of climate change, and the hope of this movement, to others.”

The Pledge provides a bridge between individual and collective action—the actions that Pledgers agree to are all social and political in nature: things that one person can do to influence the group. Most important is personal commitment: #3— to spread the truth of climate change, and the Pledge itself. This is a strategy to reverse pluralistic ignorance and social pressure, which is supported by psychological research.[iv] People who take the Pledge start conversations with their friends and family about the climate crisis that include realistic solutions. This means that talking about climate change doesn’t mean just bearing bad news—but also showing the way forward—helping to channel the panic and despair that climate truth can evoke.

Since we started spreading the Pledge to Mobilize two-and-a-half months ago, we have seen many positive indicators of the Pledge’s ability to fight pluralistic ignorance and put individuals in the role of rescuers. Many (though not all) people who take the Pledge to Mobilize have continued to deepen their involvement from there, speaking more about climate change, reaching out to friends, family, and even strangers to discuss the topic. Mobilizers have educated themselves more deeply about climate change, fundraised for The Climate Mobilization, and taken on a variety of organizing and administrative tasks. Some have even gone as far as to rearrange or reduce their work schedules to have more time available to contribute. These are individuals who have left the fog of pluralistic ignorance, accepted the certainty that there is a crisis and that they have a moral obligation to act as a rescuer. Now they are attempting to spread that certainty to others. [v]

Conclusion: Don’t wait for Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941, the United States experienced a sudden, collective exit from pluralistic ignorance. Before Pearl Harbor, the country was mired in the denial of isolationism. “The war doesn’t concern us,” we told ourselves. “Lets stay out of it.” With one devastating surprise attack, that pluralistic ignorance transformed into a culture of mobilization, in which every citizen had a role to play in supporting the war effort—every American became a rescuer—a critical part of a shared mission.

Many scientists and scholars who recognize the need for a World War II–scale climate mobilization believe that some catastrophic event—a super-storm, a drought, or an economic collapse, will similarly jolt us out of our collective climate denial. There is reason to doubt this, however, given how much more complicated climate change is than a surprise attack. Further, we have a moral obligation to achieve this collective awakening as soon as possible.

Talking about the climate crisis candidly and our moral obligation to stand against it— whether using the Pledge to Mobilize, or not—helps prepare people to see the crisis. Conversations that seem unsuccessful may alter how the person processes climate-related disasters in the future, or make them more likely to seek out or absorb information about the crisis.

Give it a try. Talk with five people about the climate crisis this week. Talk about how afraid you are, and how you feel it is a moral obligation to spread the fact that we are in a crisis. Consider taking the Pledge to Mobilize—it will provide you with a tool to help you intervene in pluralistic ignorance, as well as a community of individuals who are committed to this approach. It takes courage to face climate change honestly, and discussing it with other people puts you at risk of rejection and hostility. But morality demands we do what is right, not what is easy. We must rise to the challenge of our time, together.

 

[i] Selected advocates of a WWII scale climate mobilization: Lester Brown, 2004; David Spratt and Phillip Sutton, 2008; James Hansen, 2008; Mark Deluchi and Mark Jacobsen, 2008; Paul Gilding, 2011; Joeseph Romm, 2012; Michael Hoexter, 2013; Mark Bittman, 2014.

[ii] Rifkin, 2014. “Climate Change Not a Top Worry in US.” Gallup Politics.

[iii] For example, “Connecting on Climate” created by Columbia University and EcoAmerica which is widely considered an authoritative applied synthesis of the psychological work on climate. This 30-page document does not contain the words “crisis,” “emergency” or “collapse.” It encourages communicators to emphasize the benefits of solutions, rather than the severity of the problem. It also emphasizes behavior changes that individuals can make in their own homes and lives, rather than explicitly political solutions.

[iv] As psychologists Roser-Renouf, Maibach, Leiserowitz & Zhao (2014) put it “Building opinion leadership on the issue – e.g., by encouraging those who are concerned about the issue to discuss it with their friends and family, and eventually with other more socially distal people – may be one of the most effective methods of building public engagement and political activism.”

[v] For a fuller description of The Climate Mobilization’s strategy, read our strategy document, Rising to the Challenge of Our Time, Together.

First Video! Introducing The Climate Mobilization

What a weekend! The People’s Climate March was an absolutely outstanding, beautiful experience, and The Climate Mobilization had a great launch! Here is a brief update on our March activities. We talked with tons of Marchers about the Pledge, gained many allies, and received an exciting, if surprising, amount of press attention! 

But since this is The Climate Psychologist, I want to share the psychological, social movement strategy talk I gave on Saturday night.

I gave this approximately hour long  talk “Presenting the Climate Mobilization– a Plan to Save Civilization” to a about 50 people at the William Alanson White Institute in Manhattan– the psychoanalytic institute where I worked last year as an intern. The talk, is divided into 5 parts due to camera limitations. Watching it (the first climate video I have been in) I am basically pleased. It conveys my ideas of psychology and the climate well, I think. I also see room for improvement in my public speaking, (But there is always room for improvement!)….  enjoy and let me know what you think 🙂

Many thanks to Dani Zaviceanu for filming, and to the White Institute for the meeting space!

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

You can also watch Co-founder Ezra’s talk about his involvement in TCM part 1 and part 2, Co-founder Ryan Brill’s talk  and (part of) our Q and A. 

 

 

Rising to the Challenge of Our Time, Together: Introducing the Pledge to Mobilize

Below is Rising to the Challenge of Our Time, Together–the strategy document for  The Climate Mobilization. (Or read it as a PDF) It was written by myself and Ezra Silk, with help from several allies especially Phillip Sutton, who basically wrote the appendix. It is an update of Rising which was published in February. We came a long way as an organization since then, so I encourage you to read this version, even if you read a previous one. If you like what you see, sign up to help take part in our 9/21 launch at the People’s Climate March. Or, visit us at TheClimateMobilization.org

Thank you and onward!

Margaret

Climate change presents us with a fundamental choice. Will we watch passively as our climate and our civilization collapse in the coming decades? Will we consign young people and future generations to lives of hunger, thirst, and violent conflict over dwindling natural resources? Or will we mobilize our entire society and economy to save civilization at wartime speed?

   As individuals, these questions may strike us as beyond our purview. The scope of the climate crisis, and the scale of the necessary response, feels overwhelming and out of reach. It is easy, and even comforting, to feel helpless in the face of humanity’s mounting and inter-connected environmental, social, and economic catastrophes.

Because our leaders have postponed the inevitable reckoning with the consequences of our unsustainable energy system for so long, we now face an uncomfortable, yet clear-cut moral choice: Either we, as individual Americans, demand in concert that our leaders take the necessary steps to save civilization, or we stay silent, and condemn the young and the unborn to an unspeakable fate.

The broad steps needed to save civilization are as clear as they are seemingly unrealistic. To avoid total catastrophe, the United States must rapidly develop post-carbon energy and agricultural systems, establish a new foreign policy that sets the emergency elimination of global net greenhouse gas emissions as our highest national priority, and deploy a comprehensive system to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere until a safe climate is restored.

The necessary scale and speed of these efforts can only be compared to the American home front mobilization during World War II. To triumph over fascism, we rapidly restructured our society and economy to produce vast quantities of war materiel. We conducted scientific research on a grand scale, and once the war was over; undertook an emergency reconstruction of the international order.  In order to triumph over climate change, we must mobilize on this scale once again. All hands must be on deck for an all-out fight against collapse.

But how, in the face of political paralysis and a deteriorating international geopolitics, can we possibly accomplish this?

The Pledge to Mobilize is our answer to this predicament. It is a one-page pledge that every American can sign. It is a political platform and social movement strategy that empowers every individual to participate in a heroic and effective fight against climate collapse. It is our chance to take a stand against the great evil of our time.

The Pledge is an unblinking declaration of reality. It is a tool for spreading the frightening truth of climate change, and the hope of the Climate Mobilization, from person to person. It is a means to reclaim our democracy and to save our nation from ruin.

When you sign this pledge, you commit your support to political candidates who have also signed it, on the local, state, and national level. The Pledge calls on the federal government to commence a heroic, WWII-scale social and economic mobilization that reduces our national net greenhouse gas emissions 100 percent by 2025, enlisting tens of millions of Americans in efforts to rapidly overhaul our fossil fuel-dependent energy system. The Pledge also demands a new foreign policy that prioritizes the reduction of global net greenhouse emissions to zero at wartime speed as our foremost national imperative.

In signing, you join forces with other mobilized Americans in this campaign to save civilization.  You agree to spread the pledge to people you respect and care about — including friends, family, neighbors, and political candidates.

The Pledge is designed to be a significant event in the lives of those who sign it. One cannot just “take” the Pledge. It must be given by someone who has already taken it. This person vouches for you, affirming that you will spread the pledge with respect, focus, truth, and courage. They also agree to support you in your efforts to mobilize.

Because of this person-to-person structure, the Pledge has the ability to focus dinner table discussions, and the national conversation at large, on the near-term threat of a civilization collapse as well as the massive, concerted effort needed to prevent it. Variations of the Pledge will launch in other countries, providing a bridge between the hyper-local, the national, and the international. The Pledge to Mobilize will empower each of us to reject denial and passivity in favor of effective political and social action. It allows us to rise to the challenge of our time, together.

 

Marching Towards Catastrophe

The climate is changing. Our planet is in the early stages of a severe warming that, failing a massive human intervention soon, will last for centuries.  The warming — .8°C above pre-industrial levels to date — is set to accelerate in the coming decades. The predominant cause is greenhouse gas emissions caused by fossil fuel burning.[1]

Despite decades of warnings from the scientific community, global greenhouse gas emissions are setting new records every year. A worst-case scenario is unfolding before our eyes.

During the 12,000 years in which human agriculture and civilization have developed, the climate has been stable — staying within a 1°C temperature range. But scientific projections suggest that, unless we alter humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions trajectory drastically in the coming years, global average temperatures could increase 4°C above preindustrial levels at some point between 2060 and the turn of the century.[2]

This seemingly small temperature increase would exact a horrific toll. According to Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research and an adviser to the British government, an increase of 4°C — which could arrive by the time today’s children are reaching middle age — would cause “mass death” and would be “incompatible with an organized human community.” Anderson projects that only “half a billion” people could survive warming on that scale. [3]

   On our current trajectory, the planet is expected to far exceed 4°C of warming. In 2009, James Hansen, the former head of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies, described our predicament in the starkest of terms:

Planet Earth, creation, the world in which civilization developed, the world with climate patterns that we know and stable shorelines, is in imminent peril. The urgency of the situation crystallized only in the past few years…The startling conclusion is that continued exploitation of all fossil fuels on Earth threatens not only the other millions of species on the planet, but also the survival of humanity itself — and the timetable is shorter than we thought.

The arrangements that we rely on are unraveling. We have already gone too far. The early effects of climate warming are already destabilizing civilization, even though, due to the inertia of the global climate system, we are only now suffering the consequences of greenhouse gases that were emitted between thirty and fifty years ago. The signs of disastrous climate change are everywhere. Extreme droughts, floods, and wildfires, as well as quickly migrating invasive species and vector-borne diseases, are already damaging agriculture and infrastructure, and creating tens of millions of displaced people.[4]  The total number of reported severe weather events has increased nearly five-fold since the 1970s.[5]

These harsh climatic conditions, combined with the end of cheap oil and the growth of corn-based ethanol fuel consumption, have sent food prices skyrocketing. Historic food price spikes in 2008 and 2011 contributed to the successive waves of civil unrest that have swept the globe, toppling governments and unleashing violent sectarian tensions.[6] The Institute for Economics & Peace found a 5 percent decline in its Global Peace Index between 2008 and 2013, with 110 of the countries surveyed becoming less peaceful.[7]

In the estimation of the U.K. government’s chief scientist, humans face a “perfect storm” of energy, food and water scarcity crises by 2030.[8] This gathering storm, driven by climate change the explosive growth of populations and resource-intensive economic activity, is homing in on our shoreline: California withers, beset by a historic drought. Miami is inundated by floods. Our cities and croplands are being pummeled by hurricanes, wildfires, blizzards, flash floods and drought on an unprecedented scale.[9]

America is failing. In the face of this unfolding catastrophe, the United States government is paralyzed. Our elected representatives live in a trance of denial, narcissism and complacency. Domestically, the U.S. has failed to even end billion-dollar annual subsidies to the big oil companies. American taxpayers are directly funding the destruction of the climate that biologically sustains us. Internationally, the United States has modeled how to avoid action by stalling, shirking responsibility and casting blame on others. In 2001, our country abandoned the Kyoto Protocol — the only binding international treaty on emissions reductions ever passed — providing cover for Canada and Australia to opt out of the treaty, as well. Today, more than 25 years after Hansen’s groundbreaking discussion of the greenhouse effect in the Senate chambers, no binding international treaty limits global emissions. [10]

Our leaders have justified their obstruction by contending that the American way of life is not negotiable.[11] But responding vigorously to climate change is our only chance to preserve the best aspects of the American tradition. On the brink of WWII, President Roosevelt enumerated four freedoms that were quintessential to the American way of life: Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Did our parents and grandparents protect these freedoms from fascism, only for us to squander them as we yield to a new dark age of climatic disruption and societal breakdown?

Climate catastrophe poses a clear and present danger to the American experiment. A massive drought lasting from 2006 to 2010 directly contributed to the chaos that has engulfed Syria since 2011.[12] It was the worst drought in Syria’s modern history. Impoverished farmers suffering from the drought migrated to urban areas shocked by high food prices and helped to ignite the revolt against Bashar al-Assad. The ensuing civil war destabilized the entire region. Into the breach has stepped ISIS, a brutal group known for persecuting and murdering religious minorities, beheading American journalists, and using dams as weapons of war.[13] The logical endpoint of our current trajectory is tyranny, catastrophic social breakdown and unprecedented human suffering. Freedom and democracy have no future in a collapsed civilization.

The future is in our hands. And so the fate of humanity falls to us. Will we continue to passively watch our leaders delay and prevaricate as civilization unravels? Or will we reclaim our fallen democracy and mobilize our society to fight climate change? The decisions we make in the coming months and years will have momentous consequences for the future of human civilization and every other species on this planet. We have reached our hour of decision.

The Mobilization Imperative

We have been here before. In the late 1930s, the Axis powers of Japan, Italy, and Germany threatened our freedom, stability, and safety. Americans denied the truth of this threat for years, imagining that we could somehow stay out of the war. But the Pearl Harbor attacks shattered the nation’s denial. Isolationism — a bi-partisan phenomenon — collapsed overnight. Suddenly, Americans awoke to the truth that we were in terrible danger and that we had to mobilize for war immediately. Thanks to the visionary leadership of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had warned of a coming international conflagration since 1937, we did so — with stunning success.

Twelve years after World War II, as part of an official U.S. Army history of the war, Elberton Smith described the economic mobilization that allowed the Allies to prevail:

The task of harnessing a nation’s economic potential for war has come to be known as “economic mobilization.” Its basic purpose is to insure the procurement of finished munitions — the sum total of equipment, supplies, and services required by the armed forces — while at the same time supplying the essential needs of the civilian economy. The demands of modern technological warfare, when suddenly thrust upon a nation lacking the specific equipment for war, are so novel, so complex, and of such magnitude that their fulfillment requires a nationwide industrial and social revolution. Such a revolution does not automatically “occur” when a nation goes to war. It must be planned, directed, and carried out in a manner which will accomplish its objectives with a minimum of hardship and dislocation.[14]

This “industrial and social revolution” that the U.S. underwent after Pearl Harbor was staggering. Conservative business titans[15] joined labor leaders and liberal bureaucrats — after years of bitter acrimony over the New Deal — to redirect and refocus America’s industrial might against the Nazis Factories rapidly converted from producing consumer goods to producing tanks, guns and planes, shattering all historical records for war production. Scientists and universities pumped out research on behalf of the war effort — leading to huge technological and intellectual breakthroughs.[16] Young men sacrificed their lives fighting for their country. Women surged into factories and planted “victory gardens” that supplied 40% of America’s vegetables during the war. More than 10% of the population relocated, often across state lines, in order to find a “war job.” [17]All hands were on deck. All Americans worked toward a common goal.

This is precisely the level of focus, cooperation and planning that we need if we are to counter the destructive force of climate change. Smith’s comments regarding the novelty, complexity, and magnitude of the demands of modern warfare absolutely apply to the challenge posed by the climate crisis. The need for the United States to mount a WWII-level mobilization to protect ourselves from climate change has support from top scientists, environmental analysts[18] and even national politicians.[19]

A Climate Mobilization would allow our country “to adapt to what we can’t avoid, and avoid what we can’t adapt to.[20]” As in World War II, all Americans would contribute. Industry would transform to maximize energy efficiency and produce the hardware needed for our post-carbon energy infrastructure. Universities would research methods to improve existing renewable and post-carbon energy technologies, increase energy efficiency, and maximize the resilience of our energy, transportation and agricultural systems in anticipation of the coming ecological disasters. Farmers would bind massive quantities of carbon into the soil and learn to implement techniques that are more resistant to floods, droughts and invasive species. Existing government agencies, including the military, would shift their focus toward this super-ordinate goal. Citizens would plant trees, reduce energy use at home and take part in community adaptation and mitigation projects. We would grow community gardens, install solar panels and prepare low-lying areas for increased flooding. We would build bike lanes and paint roofs white to diminish the effects of extreme heat waves.

But how do we get there? A full-scale mobilization requires both inspired government leadership and the consent, cooperation, and enthusiasm of the population. Before the Pearl Harbor attacks, the vast majority of Americans were staunchly isolationist, imagining that we could avoid the war. The surprise attack at Pearl Harbor decimated much of our naval fleet and fundamentally changed the mood of the country. Isolationism evaporated overnight and Americans threw themselves behind the war effort. The vast majority of Americans were dedicated — even enthusiastic — participants in the WWII home front mobilization.

Various writers have held out hope that a catastrophic natural disaster will be the “Pearl Harbor” of climate change. Yet we have already been struck by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, and ravaged by wildfires in Colorado and momentous droughts across California and the Midwest. No spontaneous awakening has occurred. Indeed, denial and apathy reigns. A 2014 Gallup poll surveying American anxiety about national problems ranked climate change second to last, below such concerns as terrorism, illegal immigration, and drug abuse.[21] Although the government must coordinate the mobilization, the social momentum needed to drive the mobilization onto the agenda will not originate in Washington. Those of us who grasp the extent, immediacy and horror of the threat must build a social movement that wakes America up to the enormity of the climate threat and the necessity of an immediate climate mobilization.

The Pledge to Mobilize

The Pledge to Mobilize is designed to catalyze the emergency response we need. It plainly describes the crisis we face, as well as the steps we must take, both as individuals and as a society, in order to confront the challenge of our time. It reads:

Climate change is causing immense human suffering and damage to the natural world. It threatens the collapse of civilization within this century. Confronting this crisis is the great moral imperative of our time.

I call on the United States federal government to immediately:

1) Commence a social and economic mobilization to restore a climate that is safe, stable, and supportive of human civilization. This heroic campaign shall be carried out in the spirit of the American World War II home front mobilization. As in WWII, this mobilization will require hard work and shared sacrifice from all Americans.

2) Reduce our country’s net greenhouse gas emissions one hundred percent by 2025 and deploy a national system to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere at emergency speed.

3) Enlist tens of millions of Americans in efforts to rapidly expand our carbon-neutral energy and agricultural systems, conduct groundbreaking research, and implement large-scale adaptation measures.

4) Conduct this mobilization in accordance with the Constitution and ensure that the essential needs of the civilian economy are met during this time of transition.

5) Establish the following imperatives as our nation’s top foreign policy priorities: A one hundred percent reduction of global net greenhouse gas emissions at wartime speed, and the deployment of an international system that removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere until a safe climate is restored.

To realize these demands, I will enlist Americans from all walks of life in this campaign to save civilization. I will ally with other mobilized Americans and enter the political arena with tremendous power and strength.

I will:

I) Vote for candidates — on the local, state, and national level — who have signed the Pledge to Mobilize over those who have not.

II) Donate time or money exclusively to political candidates who have signed the Pledge.

III) Mobilize my skills, resources, and networks to spread the stark truth of climate change and the hope of the Climate Mobilization to others. When I spread the Pledge, I will do so with respect, focus, truth, and courage.

Thus, I pledge to call forth a WWII-scale mobilization to save civilization from the devastation of climate change. 

How the Pledge Spreads

The Pledge to Mobilize is designed to spread in a new way. An individual cannot just take the Pledge — it can only be given by someone who has already signed it. Since every signer promises to spread the Pledge to others — every Pledge signer becomes a Pledge giver. The giving and taking of the Pledge creates new ways of interacting around climate change. The Pledge signer can play the role of teacher, mentor, missionary, and friend.[22] Those who sign the Pledge approach people they respect and care for to discuss the climate crisis and the Climate Mobilization. The Pledger, as part of their recruiting efforts, can share articles and videos or invite their friend to attend presentations of local Climate Mobilization groups. By spreading the Pledge, you disrupt our culture of silence and willful ignorance.

There are nearly infinite ways to use the Pledge as a tool to catalyze an emergency response to climate change. Pledgers can leverage their unique talents, expertise and relationships. They can host events at their homes, or in the community. Religious people can spread the Pledge in their communities of worship, and climate educators can offer the Pledge after their presentations. Mobilizers can spread the Pledge independently, or create informal Pledge spreading groups. Some Mobilizers will want to bring the Pledge to their community in a more structured way. These individuals can start or join local Climate Mobilization groups. Formal Climate Mobilization groups will offer a weekly public presentation on the climate crisis and the Climate Mobilization. They will also identify prominent and well-respected individuals in their community — politicians, business people, labor leaders, university deans, clergy, etc. — and approach those individuals with the Pledge. If those individuals decide to sign, the local group will publicize this event in local media.

Signing the Pledge does not preclude the use of other tactics, including demonstrations, lawsuits, internet memes and  other measures. On the contrary, signing the Pledge often serves as a launching pad to further engagement. Pledgers can coordinate actions amongst each other. For example, a Pledge signer could combine political demonstration with direct relief in areas hard-hit by storms; coordinate social media campaigns to pressure journalists to cover climate change with greater seriousness; or plant community victory gardens. A mobilized citizen could persuade their city council to pass a resolution calling for ta WWII-scale climate mobilization. Follow-up on the resolution could include local efforts to install renewable energy systems, localize agriculture, and implement a community adaptation plan.

The function of the Climate Mobilization website is to help make every person who signs the Pledge be the most effective advocate that they can be.  To this end, we offer a series of frequently asked questions and frequently raised objections, guidelines for effective and ethical Pledge spreading, and discussion forums where Pledge signers can meet, form or join groups, share tips, make plans and provide encouragement. The website also tracks and displays how many people each Mobilizer has recruited, how many people their recruits have recruited, and how many people their recruits have recruited, showing each Mobilizer their cascading impact.

Successful Social Movements Show the Way Forward

In the face of political paralysis, many environmental groups have invoked the Civil Rights movement and resorted to tactics of protest and civil disobedience in opposition to fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Although these admirable and heroic efforts have led to significant victories and captured the imagination of many young people, they have not succeeded in mobilizing the country for immediate action.

Civil disobedience was a powerful tactic because it fought denial of a terrible status quo while simultaneously demonstrating the way forward. Before the Civil Rights Movement, the majority of white Americans minimized and ignored the brutality of the Jim Crow South. This consensus of denial was facilitated through racist beliefs, such as the idea that African-Americans were violent and needed to be controlled. When African Americans sat at “whites only” lunch counters, they courageously withstood slurs and violence. These confrontations, which were televised nationally, demonstrated the protestors’ dignity and restraint while highlighting the brutality of segregation, striking repeated blows against the culture of racist denial.[23] Through these acts, African-American protesters also initiated the process of racial integration and equality. White protestors bolstered these efforts by demonstrating a different way of relating to African-Americans — as equals and allies. [24]

Inventor Buckminster Fuller wrote, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” The Civil Rights activists demonstrated the need to make the Jim Crow system obsolete, while enacting the new way of life — integration and equality — that could replace it. White Americans could no longer pretend that race relations did not concern them. They were given a choice between the brutal past and a future that, because of civil disobedience, they could begin to visualize.

So far, neither civil rights-era tactics, nor the popular approach of “climate change education” have offered a clear way forward for the individual or society. When confronted with a huge, complex problem that appears to have no solution, most people feel terror and helplessness, and unconsciously insulate themselves with a variety of defensive techniques, including dissociation, willful ignorance, numbing, repression, denial, and demonization of the messenger. [25] When information about the climate crisis is not paired with ways that individuals can participate in heroic and effective political action, many of us feel helpless and overwhelmed, and fail to integrate the startling reality of climate change into our everyday lives.

The Pledge to Mobilize provides a clear, comprehensive way forward for society and for individual signers.  Pledges have become a powerful force in American politics in recent decades, especially within the conservative movement. Grover Norquist has achieved substantial influence over the Republican Party through his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge”, and the Koch brothers have persuaded 169 Congressmen and women, including the entire Republican House leadership, to pledge not to institute a tax on carbon![26]

Historically, pledge campaigns have spurred rapid social transformation. The pervasive Chinese practice of foot binding was overturned in a generation through the spread of an anti-footbinding pledge among noble families.[27] Pledges can combat denial so effectively because signers publicly pledge their allegiance on behalf of a cause.

Planning the Mobilization

The Pledge to Mobilize does not specify precisely how the Mobilization will be accomplished. Given that we were designing a tool for a social movement, rather than a governmental policy, we decided not to lock ourselves into inflexible policy prescriptions. This allows us to focus attention on the crucial issue: The need for an emergency response to climate change. We hope to avoid a situation in which people of good faith are pitted against each other over traditionally divisive issues; such as whether the future energy mix should include nuclear power, or whether economic growth is an outdated model. The Climate Mobilization should encompass people with a range of viewpoints, and differences can be explored through ongoing discussion. We stand a chance only if we allow our shared purpose — fighting for humanity’s future — to transcend the divisions that presently distract us.

There is a wealth of partial and comprehensive mobilization and decarbonization plans that we can draw upon in the months and years to come (a non-exhaustive list can be found in Appendix B). As the Pledge to Mobilize spreads, experts across many relevant fields as well as active citizens will take part in mobilization discussions, refining existing plans and offering new ones. When local, state and federal governments, under immense pressure from their constituents, finally declare a climate emergency, extensive action plans will be available to guide them.

Some people may agree that the United States must cut emissions as quickly as possible, but argue that it is poor strategy to advocate for this publicly, as the stark truth of climate change, and the necessary economic and social transformation, will overwhelm and “turn off” most Americans. This, we disagree with. Our culture is mired in denial, silence and willful ignorance.[28] The process of spreading the Pledge will create a sea change in the public perspective. Successful social movements fundamentally alter how a society understands and, ultimately, governs itself.

There is no question that eliminating America’s net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 is a tremendously ambitious, soaring goal. Current U.S. energy policy calls for our national emissions to be reduced by only 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.[29] David Roberts has described humanity as stuck “between the impossible and the unthinkable.”[30] A mobilization enlisting tens of millions of Americans to transform the United States energy infrastructure, agriculture, and foreign policy, is our answer to this predicament. As Winston Churchill put it, “It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.”

 

Mobilization Economics

Some will argue that such reductions in emissions would devastate the economy, but this argument ignores the fact that the American carbon-powered economy is stagnating, in large part due to daunting oil supply constraints related to the steeply decreasing energy return on energy investment for global oil production.[31] The 2008 crisis was exacerbated, and possibly even driven, by the spiking price of oil. Since the financial crash, millions of Americans have suffered from the devastating consequences of layoffs, stagnant wages and foreclosures. This process is almost certain to continue. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has forecast a doubling in the price of crude oil by 2020 — an event that would devastate the world economy if we try to continue our reliance on oil.[32]

A rapid, government-coordinated transition away from fossil fuels offers Americans a chance to actively and creatively transform the economy[33] while maintaining the climatic conditions to support human civilization.

A well-executed climate mobilization would lead to full employment in America. Americans enlisted in the mobilization will work together to install renewable energy systems, transition and localize agriculture, construct public transit networks, conduct research, insulate homes, plant forests, manage wetlands and provide assistance to other national energy transitions abroad. The jobs created during the mobilization will boost the prospects of tens of millions of struggling Americans. World War II demonstrates that structuring a massive labor mobilization through a combination of direct hiring and public-private partnerships can lead to widely shared economic security. [34]

But how will we fund this mobilization? The precise answer will be determined by the American public, mobilization planners and political leaders. Defense spending during WWII, which increased from about 3 percent of the gross domestic product in the late ‘30s to approximately 41 percent at the peak of the war effort,[35] was financed primarily through the sale of war bonds, temporary taxes on excess corporate profits, and income tax increases, especially for top earners.[36] The Climate Mobilization could be financed through various measures, including mobilization bonds, a carbon tax, a financial transactions tax, Superfund payments or tax hikes on large corporations and high earners.

The Pledge Strategy

When a society and its governing policies become too deeply estranged from reality, the truth holds tremendous transformational potential. But to transform society, this truth must not merely be known. It must be lived. That was Vaclav Havel’s key insight — a message that guided the people of Czechoslovakia through a bloodless revolution against the Soviet Union. Czechs had long been cynical about the Soviet state, privately believing that the government was corrupt. Still, they outwardly complied with state rituals and ceremonies for years, fearing social isolation and state persecution. It was only after citizens started to live their values outwardly — by refusing to display Soviet propaganda, vote in sham elections or self-censor conversations — that they caused a revolution.[37]

“Living in truth,” as Havel called this strategy, derives its power from humanity’s social nature. We evolved in tribes, and developed brains that are highly attuned to the attitudes, emotions, and appraisals of others. We generally abhor standing apart from the group, especially if we risk being shamed or ostracized.[38] By acting publicly on their political convictions in their day-to-day lives, Czechs implicitly invited others to join them in challenging the state. They drew strength from each other.

The Pledge to Mobilize invites and challenges ordinary citizens to engage meaningfully and publicly with the greatest issue of our time. Civil disobedience brought the issue of civil rights to the forefront of the American consciousness. Every American had to decide where they stood on civil rights, and many activists made their involvement central to their identity. Through the vessel of the pledge, we can accomplish this for climate change. We can impel people to make a conscious choice: Do you stand with human civilization, or do you favor collapsing into deprivation, chaos, and war?

Nightmarish problems require heroic responses. Too often climate change is presented as a gargantuan problem with a bizarrely inadequate solution: “Want to prevent the collapse of civilization? Turn off your lights when you leave the room.” This is experienced as inauthentic and can cause people to emotionally disengage. Americans ought to be addressed as citizens, not electricity consumers. To bring our country out of denial, we need to offer a response commensurate with the scale of the problem itself.

The Pledge strategy responds to the current technological and cultural moment, as successful social movements have historically done. Martin Luther made use of the printing press to spread his message.[39] More than four hundred years later, his namesake coordinated civil disobedience that was broadcast on television, bringing the struggle for civil rights into almost every American home. [40]

We are bombarded by information and stimulation from computers, smartphones, video games and hundreds of television channels, making it all too easy to enter a trance-like state  and avoid thinking about the climate crisis. The Pledge to Mobilize can break through the high-speed, fragmented media landscape, since it relies on personal appeals within existing relationships. Further, the Climate Mobilization is using the awesome power of the Internet and social media to spread our message.

The Pledge strategy can be adapted and implemented in every country. As the Pledge spreads in the United States, it will draw the attention of allies all over the world, who can adapt the Pledge to their own country’s unique context. An extraordinary group of Australians is already exploring ways to make the pledge strategy work in their country. Small groups of Canadians, Britons, and South Africans are starting to get on board, as well. We will attempt to translate the Pledge and its supporting documents into as many languages as possible, allowing the strategy to spread far beyond the English-speaking world.

The Climate Mobilization campaign is fostering networks of highly engaged, articulate and organized citizens who will act as a countervailing force to those who stand against the safety of human civilization. As the Pledge spreads virally, political candidates will feel increasing pressure to sign the Pledge and begin to publicly acknowledge the scope of the threat. Municipal and state-level officials who sign the pledge will fiercely advocate a war-like response to the climate crisis, as they simultaneously implement regional adaptation and resilience measures. As politicians, journalists, and pundits begin to sign the pledge, the media discourse will shift from, “Does this candidate believe in climate change?” to “Does this candidate have the courage and strength of character to face the climate crisis and fight back?”

The Pledge strategy is not dependent on election cycles, because sitting politicians are encouraged — and, if necessary, pressured — to sign. Mobilizers will call their Representatives to say, “I have supported you for 10 years with my vote, time, and money. But I recently signed the Pledge to Mobilize and I will no longer do so unless you sign it as well.”  However, elections are the most basic and forceful instrument of democracy. We must focus our strategy on the huge national election two years away. If we elect a Mobilization Government in 2016, then our next President will have eight years to eliminate national net greenhouse gas emissions and build an international coalition to drive global emissions to zero. This gives us two years to build a momentous social movement, to spread the Pledge far and wide, and to place relentless pressure on political candidates to fight for civilization. This will take a tremendous amount of effort, to be sure. But armed with the truth, the Pledge, and the spur of dire necessity, we can transform our culture and reclaim our democracy.

Climate change is an unprecedented challenge. Never before has humanity marched in lockstep towards the destruction of our global civilization. We have the opportunity, and the moral duty, to make a meaningful difference in the course of human history. We must face this growing crisis with courage, dedication and resolve. Let us first mobilize as individuals who will transform our culture of silence and denial into a culture of active emergency response. Only then can we mobilize as a society to fight climate change, itself.

*************************************************************************

A number of generous allies provided extremely helpful and honest feedback on this paper. Special thanks to Philip Sutton for his sage advice and painstaking research on the latest science and safety standards.

The Climate Mobilization logo was designed by Katharine Woodman-Maynard.

The header photo, “Raising Sustainability On America,” was designed by Joseph Durago.

 

Appendix A: Reasoning behind 100% net reductions by 2025.

Our call for zero net emissions is based on a simple premise: The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today is unsafe for humanity. Since it is unsafe, we must first halt net emissions of these heat-trapping gases. Then, we must remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere until concentrations are stabilized at safe levels.

Since we have already gone too far, we must drive net emissions to zero at wartime speed.

Risk, Safety and the 2º target

The international negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change currently operate on the assumption that global mean temperatures should be stabilized no higher than +2 ºC above the pre-industrial level and, until recently, a 50% probability of success was assumed.[1] In the IPCC 5th Assessment report, however, data was provided on three probabilities of success: 33% (1 in 3), 50% (1 in 2), and 66% (2 in 3).[2]

These probability assessments are completely out of line with modern safety standards. Over the past 250 years, the conception of industrial safety shifted from an acceptance of an elevated risk, to aspiring to low levels of danger with modest risk of failure (1 in 1000 to 1 in 10,000), to today’s view that the target safety standard should be zero harm, the risk of failure should be negligible, and the design process should constantly pursue zero failure objectives. Today, industries, such as the airlines, pursue failure rates well below 1 in 1,000,000.[3]

The current official approach to climate change corresponds with the industrial safety approach prevailing about 200 years ago – that elevated danger must be accepted and that, by 2050, climate conditions will be stabilized well outside the pre-industrial range e.g. at 450 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the air (compared to the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm) with a 50% chance of failing to achieve the temperature stabilization goal of no higher than +2 ºC above the pre-industrial level. COconcentrations recently surpassed 400 ppm, far above the levels now considered safe for civilization.

Unfortunately for humanity, 2ºC of warming would cause dangerous, irreversible impact and trigger positive feedbacks that further accelerate warming. A temperature increase of only 1.5ºC will melt the whole of the land-based permafrost in the Arctic, affecting about 1500 billion tons of stored carbon — 3 times the carbon released to the air so far by fossil fuel burning.[4] A temperature increase of 1.6ºC is likely to be enough to melt most of the ice in Greenland.[5] The ice sheet losses from the West Antarctic and Greenland caused by a +1.6ºC warming would be enough to cause at least 33 feet of sea level rise.

Applying Safety Standards to the Climate

If modern industrial safety standards were applied to the earth’s climate, then the climate goals and the acceptable risk of failure would have to change dramatically: The target climate conditions would be set within the range that existed during the Holocene era (the 12,000 years before the industrial era) – because these are the conditions known to be safe for civilization and for humanity and the 20 million or so species of life on the planet, and there would need to be a negligible acceptable risk of failure.

When a suitably stringent safety standard is applied to our current situation — in which the climate is already too hot[6] — our response to climate change needs to be driven by five principles:

  1. The warming needs to be stopped at emergency speed[7]
  2. The earth needs to be cooled urgently
  3. Net[8] emissions need to be cut by 100% (as there is no carbon budget left)[9]
  4. The large amount of excess CO2 in the atmosphere needs to be removed as quickly as possible (while protecting food supply and species habitats). The earth cannot be cooled naturally without removing excess CO2 from the atmosphere. [10]
  5. These climate goals can only be achieved fast enough if the economies of the world are restructured at wartime speed. [11]

The Pledge Demands a Safe Climate

Climate science tells us how quickly our emissions will cause the earth to warm. It cannot tell us, however, how much risk we should tolerate, or how highly to value human life. That is a personal, ethical, and political decision. The Pledge to Mobilize demands the highest level of safety possible. We do so because we view civilizational collapse, the consequent mass death, and the decimation of the natural world as a fate that must be avoided at all costs. We do so because the risk of these horrors is not an “acceptable level of risk.”

Appendix B: Rapid Decarbonization Schemes and Mobilization Plans

The One Degree War Plan Gilding and Randers

Plan B 4.0, Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Brown

Global Climate Stabilization Studies, Clean Air Task Force

Post Carbon Pathways: Towards a Just and Resilient Post Carbon Future, Wiseman, Edwards and Luckins

The Solutions Project, Jacobson

U.S. Climate Plan, Weber, Lichtash and Dorsey

Governing Rapid Climate Mitigation, Delina and Diesendorff

ENDNOTES

 [1] Kokic, Crimp, & Howden, 2014 A probabilistic analysis of human influence on recent record global mean temperature changes, Climate Risk Management, Volume 3, 2014, Pages 1-12.

[2] Betts et al., The UK Met Office, 2009. “When could global warming reach 4 degrees Celsius?

[3] Manning, 2011. “Too hot to handle: can we afford a 4 degree rise?” The Sydney Morning Herald.

[4] Damage to agriculture: Gillis, 2013; US Department of Agriculture, 2012. Damage to infrastructure:McKibben, 2010; US Department of Energy; Civil wars and climate refugees: US Department of Defense;(International Displacement Monitoring Center, 2009); International Organization for Migration, 2013.

[6] Food prices and unrest. Lagi, Bertrand, and Bar-Yam, 2011.

[7] The Institute for Economics & Peace, 2013 “2013 Global Peace Index Report”

[8]  “Perfect storm” of crises. Beddington, 2009.

[10] The 2009 Copenhagen Accord, a non-binding international agreement, commits the United States to a very weak target that would have us reduce emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.

[11] Rio Summit.Vidal, 2012.

[14] Army and Mobilization. Smith, 1957.

[15] Herman, A.  (2012).  Freedom’s forge: How American business produced victory in World War II.  Random House: New York.

[16] The Atomic bomb was the most ambitious—if morally suspect—of the these breakthroughs. Though destructive, violent, and morally suspect, the Manhattan Project illustrates the incredible things that are possible when the scientific community focuses on a common problem.

[17] For more on the inspiring history of the mobilization on the home-front during WWII, see Goodwin, 1995.

[18] Indeed, in 2011 the executive directors of the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network, and Friends of the Earth, among others, signed a letter to President Obama and Chinese Premier Hu Jintao calling for a “wartime-like” mobilization to reduce global carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020.

[19] A WWII Mobilization is advocated by Al Gore,  Bill McKibbenLester Brown, Joe RommPaul GildingDavid Roberts, and many others. Hillary Clinton alluded to the WWII mobilization in a 2007 campaign speech on climate and energy issues, saying “For this generation of Americans, climate change is our Space Race. It is our home-front mobilization during World War II and it is our response to the Great Depression.” Bryan Walsh of Time published a cover story in 2008 that called for a WWII-style “War on Global Warming.” There is also a contingent of climate writers and advocates, includingJill Stein and Thomas Friedman, who prefer the historical metaphor of the New Deal.

[21] Rifkin, 2014. “Climate Change Not a Top Worry in US.” Gallup Politics.

[22] See Ganz, 2010 on the importance of building relationships and encouraging engagement for the success of social movements.

[23] See Morris, 1999 for a thorough discussion of denial-fighting power of civil disobedience andBodroghkozy, 2012 for the role of television in particular.

[24] See McAdam, 1988 for a vivid demonstration of this process.

[25] For an elaboration of how psychological defenses function on an individual level, see McWilliams, 2011; for how cultures and societies defend against overwhelming information, see Cohen, 2001.

[26] No Climate Tax. Americans for Prosperity.

[27] See Appiah, 2010 for a case history of the anti-foot-binding movement, and an examination of how shame and honor shape social movements.

[28] See McWilliams, 2011 to understand how denial operates among individuals, for how cultures and societies deny see Cohen, 2001.  For a discussion of how denial functions specifically in climate change, see Norgaard, 2011.

[29] U.S. 2020 emissions target. Spross, 2014.

[30] Roberts, 2013.

[31] EROI and growth prospects. Murphy, 2013.

[32] Oil price forecast. Fournier, 2013.

[33] Fossil fuel corporations will be encouraged to rapidly shift into producing post-carbon forms of energy and relinquish their efforts to subvert the democratic process. If they refuse to move into the future, the government will serve as employer of last resort for their laid-off employees.

[34] During WWII the government directly hired millions of people—most prominently in the Armed services. However these direct hires were supplied through networks of private enterprise that partnered with the government, often utilizing “cost plus profit” contracts.

[36] See Goodwin, 1995 or the National WWII museum’s America Goes to War.

[37] See Havel (1978).

[38] For an outstanding elaboration of humanity’s social nature, see E.O. Wilson’s (2013), “The Social Conquest of Earth.”

[39] For more on Luther’s innovative use of the printing press, see: Standage, 2011.

[40] See Thomas, 2004 and  Bodroghkozy, 2012 for the role of television in in the Civil Rights Movement.

Endnotes to Appendix A

[1] The Copenhagen Accord

[2] IPCC, 2014. Fifth Assessment Report.

[3] Sutton, 2014. A Review of the History of Safety.

[4] Vaks, A., O.S. Gutareva et al. (2013) “Speleothems reveal 500,000-year history of Siberian permafrost”, Science 340: 183-186.

[5] Greenland ice sheet melt has an uncertainty range from +0.8 ºC to +3.2ºC).

[6] Spratt, 2013. Is climate change already dangerous? Climate Code Red.

[7] Many extreme weather events which have been made dangerously worse by climate changes such as alterations to the Jet Stream –  including Superstorm Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan and extraordinary heat waves (eg France in 2003 and Russia in 2010) and floods (eg. Pakistan in 2010) – and poleward shifts in the major atmospheric cells thus causing huge local impacts through shifts in the location of low and high rainfall patterns. Tang, Q. et al.  (2013).  “Extreme summer weather in northern mid-latitudes linked to a vanishing cryosphere”, Nature Climate Change 4, 45–50.

[8] Net emissions refers to any residual gain in emissions from a technology after total emissions and total withdrawals of greenhouse gases are balanced out.  For example it would be possible to have a net zero emissions transport system if cars burned methanol in their engines, provided the methanol was synthesized, for example in fuel cells, out of CO2 and water and the energy used to drive the synthesis came from renewable energy (eg. wind or solar electricity).

[9] Unless CO2 is actively taken out of the air and stored (eg. in soils or geological formations) or other cooling methods applied (eg. solar reflection) “the combination of a 2°C warming target with high probability of success (eg. 90% or more) is now unreachable”.  This means that, with a safety standard that is adequately stringent, there is no carbon budget left for any country.  As a consequence the only appropriate emissions target is now a 100% cut for all countries. Raupach, M. R., I.N. Harman and J.G. Canadell (2011) “Global climate goals for temperature, concentrations, emissions and cumulative emissions”,  Report for the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. CAWCR Technical Report no. 42. Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, Melbourne.

[10] Achieving a net zero emissions economy is not enough to cool the planet as a whole in any meaningful time scale.  Many research teams [Meehl et al. (2007), Mathews & Caldeira (2008), Lowe. et al. (2009), Solomon et al. (2009), Gillett et al. (2011)] have examined zero CO2 emissions scenarios and have shown that, due to complex dynamics strongly influenced by the thermal inertia and CO2buffering of the oceans, dropping emissions to zero stops the warming trend (provided there are not already very strong positive feedbacks from the natural carbon cycle) but does not lead to a significant fall in the temperature in less than several thousand years.

The global temperature occurring at the time the zero emissions policy is applied is approximately the temperature that is maintained over the long term (if zero emissions is the only climate measure adopted).  Given that we are clearly some years off the possibility of fully applying a zero emission strategy globally, the temperature that would be maintained at the point of full deployment of a zero emissions strategy would be a little higher than at present. If the zero emissions policy was fully implemented by 2020 then the temperature at the time might be approximately +1ºC and if completed by 2030 the temperature might be about +1.2ºC.

The Gillett et al. (2011) study concluded that although zero emissions translates to essentially a stable temperature – for in excess of a thousand years – in the simulation runs different zones of the earth react rather differently.  The northern hemisphere cools significantly bringing some relief to the Arctic, but over the 1000 years of the model run heat continues to build up in the Southern Ocean putting stress on the stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet and the sea level also rises over the entire time because of the heat build up in the Southern Ocean.  This hemispherically differentiated response suggest that much of the northern hemisphere would benefit from cooling with a zero emissions policy in place, but in the absence of any additional measures, continued heating in the southern hemisphere would cause conditions to continue to deteriorate for humans, ecosystems and species in the oceans and on the land masses.

Gillett, N. et al..  (2011).  ‘Ongoing climate change following a complete cessation of carbon dioxide emissions’  Nature Geoscience.  pp. 83–87.

Lowe, J.A., Huntingford, C., Raper, S.C.B., Jones, C.D., Liddicoat, S.K. & Gohar, L.K.  (2009).  ‘How difficult is it to recover from dangerous levels of global warming?’  Environ. Res. Lett. 4 014012 (9pp). 9326/4/1/014012

Matthews, D. & Caldeira, K. (2008).  ‘Stabilizing climate requires near-zero emissions’. Geophysical Research Letters Volume 35, Issue 4. doi: 10.1029/2007GL032388

Meehl, G. A. et al.  (2007). in IPCC Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (eds Solomon, S. et al.) 747-845: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Solomon, S et al.  (2009).  ‘Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions’. PNAS.

[11] A 2009 report to WWF calculates that global warming can only be held to a too-high +2ºC (if all major economies in the world have, by 2014, geared up all the needed industries to grow very fast by conventional standards to deliver the required emissions cuts by 2050.  Given the world’s current level of mobilization, the required conditions cannot be met with conventional fast economic reform.  The report indicated that if these industrial conditions are not met, more than +2ºC of warming can only be avoided if the global economy goes onto a war-footing.

 

Demands for the People’s Climate March and Beyond: Introducing the Pledge To Mobilize

TCM & PCM

A Movement and a March: Full of Possibilities

The People’s Climate March September 21st will likely be the largest march for climate action that has ever taken place. We should be grateful to the organizers and sponsoring organizations for putting so much time, energy, and resources into persuading tens (or hundreds!) of thousands of people to come to New York City. The march will bring passionate people together from across the world, to demand a response to climate change, and to make connections with each other, creating a  broader movement going forward. The march has already accomplished a good deal in terms of raising awareness– and people’s spirits– while focusing on inclusivity and diversity. There is much to be proud of here.

However, the People’s Climate March has faced sharp criticism in recent weeks.  Christopher Hedges charged that the march will be nothing more than a “climate-themed street fair,” given that it will lack formal demands and speeches and will adhere to the demands of state authorities.

The only answer, Hedges writes, is direct action: “This resistance will be effective only when we refuse to do what we are told, when we turn from a liberal agenda of reform to embrace a radical agenda of revolt.”

While Hedges passion is to be admired, his proposed strategy is vague and unpersuasive. What are the revolt’s demands and how will they be accomplished? He calls for marchers to “disrupt” the machinery of corporate capitalism, and to establish self-sufficient local communities. But how, precisely, will disruption and local action lead to drastic and rapid emissions reductions? How could it usher in the war-time mobilization widely regarded as necessary to stave off catastrophic climate disruption? Hedges barely goes there. Direct action is a tactic, but not, in itself, a comprehensive theory of change.

Hedges argues that if “we play by the rules, we lose.” Fair enough. “The rules” as they currently exist are destroying the climate and placing all of humanity in peril. But breaking the rules is thinking too small. We need to rewrite the rules.

We face the prospect of billions of people starving to death within this century. Each and every one of us has a profound moral responsibility to ensure that this horrific fate is averted. We need to stop wringing our hands and pointing fingers. It’s time for all of us to get to work on serious, constructive movement building.

In the coming months and years, we must forge a powerful campaign that encompasses large swaths of American society. This movement will necessarily include Americans of all creeds, colors, classes and political affiliations. Its primary demand is clear if success is to be assured: The federal government must lead a social and economic mobilization to save civilization from climate change. This movement will enlist allies in the press, the universities, the foundations, and the non-profit sector. It will move with tremendous power into the political arena.

How do we even begin to approach this challenge? This is the question that The Climate Mobilization, a new organization— staffed entirely by volunteers and funded by individual donations—has begun to tackle. For the past year, we have developed a strategy to address the predicament that Chris Hedges has so eloquently described in his numerous books and articles. Now, on the cusp of the People’s Climate March, we are ready to launch. Yet unlike Hedges, we do not believe that the coming march is a lost cause. On the contrary, we believe that the march holds extraordinary promise. It is the march’s very lack of demands that is the source of its potential.

The Pledge to Mobilize

On Sept. 20, we will launch the Pledge to Mobilize in New York City. We invite all those coming to New York City to sign this pledge, which contains demands powerful and honest enough to propel the march into the history books, and the climate movement on the road toward victory. Once the march is done, we hope those who sign it will take the Pledge back to their home communities to begin the hard work of local movement building.

The Pledge to Mobilize is a political platform and social movement strategy. It is a one-page document that every American can sign. The Pledge is an unblinking declaration of reality – a chance to take a stand against the great evil of our time.

When you sign this pledge, you commit your support to political candidates who have also signed it, on the local, state, and national level. The Pledge calls on the federal government to immediately:

1) Commence a social and economic mobilization to restore a climate that is safe, stable, and supportive of human civilization. This heroic campaign shall be carried out in the spirit of the American World War II home front mobilization. As in WWII, this mobilization will require hard work and shared sacrifice from all Americans.

2) Reduce our country’s net greenhouse gas emissions one hundred percent by 2025 and deploy a national system that removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere at emergency speed.

3) Enlist tens of millions of Americans in efforts to rapidly expand our carbon-neutral energy and agricultural systems, conduct groundbreaking research, and implement large-scale adaptation measures.

4) Conduct this mobilization in accordance with the Constitution and ensure that the essential needs of the civilian economy are met during this time of transition.

5) Establish the following imperatives as our nation’s top foreign policy priorities: A one hundred percent reduction of global net greenhouse gas emissions at wartime speed, and the deployment of a comprehensive international system that removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere until a safe climate is restored.

In signing the Pledge, you join forces with other mobilized Americans in an urgent campaign to save civilization. You agree to spread the Pledge to people you respect and care about — such as your friends, family, neighbors, and political candidates.

This Pledge has a unique structure. It is not another example of alienating internet “clicktivism.” It is designed to be a significant event in the lives of signers. One cannot just “take” the Pledge. This Pledge must be given by someone who has already taken it. This person vouches for you, affirming that you will spread the pledge with respect, focus, truth, and courage. They also agree to support you in your efforts to mobilize yourself.

Because of this person-to-person structure, the Pledge has the ability to focus dinner table discussions, and the national conversation at large, on the near-term threat of a civilization collapse as well as the massive, concerted effort needed to prevent it. Variations of the Pledge are set to launch in other countries, providing a bridge between the hyper-local, the national and the international. The Pledge to Mobilize empowers each of us to reject denial and passivity in favor of effective political and social action. It allows us to rise to the challenge of our time, together.

The Pledge and the Climate Movement

The Pledge to Mobilize allows us to stand firm on what is non-negotiable while also serving as an umbrella organization that engages a wide variety of people and perspectives.

What is non-negotiable is written into the text of the Pledge: We must commence an all-out effort to eliminate GHG emissions as quickly as possible, and continue to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. If we are to restore a climate that is safe for humanity, this is what science and ethics demands. It is our only moral option.

While the demands of the Pledge are unshakeable commitments, there is much room for discussion and debate. Issues that have historically divided the environmental movement such as nuclear power, capitalism, reformism vs. radicalism—cannot divide and hobble us any longer. If we agree that a climate mobilization is necessary to save civilization, then we must work together towards that goal, as we discuss and debate how precisely the mobilization will unfold.

The scale of the Pledge’s demands are commonly recognized as necessary among the leading lights of the environmental movement as well as prominent economists. A WWII mobilization has been advocated by Joe Romm, Paul Gilding and James K. Galbraith, among others. In 2011, a host of leading environmentalists signed an open letter to Barack Obama and Hu Jintao, calling for the United States and China to reduce their emissions 80% by 2020 through a “wartime-like mobilization.” Signatories included: Bill McKibben, Lester Brown, Ross Gelbspan, as well as the executive directors of the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network, and Friends of the Earth.

But the Pledge’s demands, as well as its tone, have broad appeal far outside of the environmental movement. We have witnessed a wide variety of Americans react positively to the Pledge, including people who are politically disengaged, deeply religious, and politically conservative. This crossover appeal is necessary to achieve the kind of supermajority necessary to call forth a WWII-scale climate mobilization.

We crafted the specifics of the Pledge in consultation with a network of allies, including scientists, leading activists, and citizens of conscience. Philip Sutton, the co-author of the highly acclaimed book, “Climate Code Red,” was particularly helpful in making sure that our demands were in line with the latest science and safety standards.

We understand that this platform will be perceived as unrealistic in our current political climate of paralysis and despair. That’s why the Pledge to Mobilize is also a social movement strategy, designed to overcome our culture’s widespread denial and passivity and leverage massive public support for these scientifically necessary demands.

The Pledge is a psychological tool that allows individuals, and our culture at large, to overcome the denial, dissociation, and passivity that keep most Americans from truly taking in the scope of the climate threat. The basic psychological premise is that the experience of helplessness is a key factor in denial and inaction. If we are to get hundreds of millions of people to grasp the horror of the threat, and to demand an emergency climate response, we need to truthfully tell individuals that 1) a comprehensive response exists, and 2) they are an essential part of that response. In order to get people to face the truth of the crisis, we need to empower them to participate in the solution.

Signing the Pledge does not preclude the use of many other tactics, including demonstrations, lawsuits, internet memes and local transitional measures. On the contrary, signing the Pledge can synergistically enhance the use of other tactics. Imagine, for example, if media reports of direct action at the UN or White House contained a paragraph reading: “The protesters demanded that the United States government immediately initiate a WWII-scale mobilization to halt climate change. This 21st century economic mobilization, organizers said, would enlist tens of millions of Americans in efforts to overhaul the nation’s energy infrastructure, and would reduce net greenhouse gas emissions 100 percent in ten years.”

The Pledge strategy is not dependent on election cycles, because sitting politicians are also invited— and can be pressured— to sign. Mobilizers will call their Representatives to say, “I have supported you for 10 years with my vote, time, and money. But I recently signed the Pledge to Mobilize and I will no longer do so unless you sign it also.”  However, elections are the most basic and forceful instrument of democracy. We must focus our strategy on the huge national election 2 years away. If we elect a Mobilization Government in 2016, then our next President will have eight years to lead the mobilization and bring the United States to carbon neutrality. This gives us two years to build a momentous social movement, to spread the Pledge far and wide, and to place relentless pressure on political candidates to step up. This will take a tremendous amount of effort, to be sure. Armed with the truth, the Pledge, and the spur of dire necessity, we can transform our culture and reclaim our democracy.

Our Presence at the People’s Climate March

The People’s Climate March is an amazing opportunity to launch this new strategy. Marchers who sign the Pledge will return to their communities and begin spreading it there. They will leave the march with a historic mandate to save civilization from climate change.

The Pledge to Mobilize also creates a remarkable opportunity for the People’s Climate March. In not providing demands, the organizers of the PCM have allowed the marchers to speak for themselves — to make the march, and the actions that will follow it— their own. We offer the Pledge to Mobilize for this task. Some marchers have already told us that they want to sign the Pledge pre-march, and spread it to others during the march.

If thousands of marchers make this decision, it would make a statement exponentially more powerful than if the march’s organizers undertook an opaque process that determined the march’s demands. The organizers of the march understand this. Indeed, two of the organizing principles that the People’s Climate March has endorsed are: “Emphasis on bottom-up organizing” and “Let people speak for themselves.”

Instead of seeing the lack of demands at the People’s Climate March as a fatal flaw, consigning the march to the dustbin of history before it has even occurred — we must view it as a golden opportunity. We, the marchers, can determine the demands of this march. By selecting clear, heroic, achievable demands for ourselves, and Pledging ourselves to them—we will invest both the Pledge and the People’s Climate March with tremendous significance and power.

Logistics

We will be begin offering the Pledge to Mobilize in the week preceding the March and throughout the march itself.

Our ground team will be identifiable through their Climate Mobilization T Shirts saying “I Pledged to Mobilize, ask me why.” Marchers who Pledge at the march will display stickers read “I Pledged.”

We will also have multiple events throughout the weekend:

9/20 20 W 74th St, 5:30 presentation, 7:00 discussion and training.

9/21 8:30-11:15 Public Pledge Session in Central Park Near Columbus Circle

9/21 2:30-5 Public Pledging in Pier 84 in Hudson River Park. @44th st

Join us!

To make this happen, we need help! Let us rise to the challenge of our time, together.

Sign up here to be part  of our ground team, or attend a Climate Mobilization event, or take the Pledge at or preceding the PCM!

For more information visit our Brand New Site: TheClimateMobilization.org

*For a fast, visual explanation of this strategy: See the slideshow at the top of the homepage.

 *For a more thorough discussion, read our strategy document “Rising to the Challenge of Our Time”

This Article was written with Ezra Silk.

Yale Poll: Millions of Americans Would Take a Climate Pledge!

Ever wonder: “Who would sign the Pledge to Mobilize? Could such an idea ever get mainstream traction?”

This is a crucial question, that Yale’s Climate Change Communication team has helped answer! Their just-released poll shows that:

“Millions of registered voters* would sign a pledge to vote for, would work for, or would give money to candidates who share their views on global warming – if asked to by a person they like and respect.”

* 7% of Americans said that they would DEFINITELY sign such a pledge and 20% said that they PROBABLY would!

Did these pollsters know about the Pledge to Mobilize, or did they come up with a very similar idea on their own? I guess brilliant minds think alike 🙂 Either way– there is no doubting the efficacy that Pledges have had on political campaigns throughout history– from the Pledge to end Chinese foot binding that ended a 1000 year old tradition in a generation, to the “Commitment Card” written by Martin Luther Kind JR,  in which signers “hereby pledge myself—my person and body—to the nonviolent movement.” and agreed to ten stringent commandments on their behavior, to the “No tax Pledge” created by Grover Norquist which has effectively put a straitjacket on our political process.

We hope that the Pledge to Mobilize, with its psychologically and technologically savvy features, will be the most effective pledge yet. And what great news to learn that millions of Americans are ready to sign!

In other news, TCM is now ready to start spreading our message in the twitter verse! Follow us @MobilizeClimate

Or visit our facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/TheClimateMobilization

Or homepage: TheClimateMobilization.org

Help us launch by:

*Donating or sharing our IndieGoGo Campaign

*Will you be in NYC for the People’s Climate March? We will be spreading the Pledge in a major way during that weekend. Get in touch and you can be part of our action team!

*Are you a climate policy nerd (or an energy/ agriculture/ refugee/ medical policy nerd?) TCM cofounder Ezra Silk is starting a Mobilization Plans Working group. We have a great lineup of experts– both self taught and institutionally trained– and think the process of developing specific mobilization plans will be an exciting experience.  Get in touch and tell us about your interest!

“Launch The Climate Mobilization” Fundraiser (and slideshow!)

Allies-I have exciting news. The Climate Mobilization is very close to launch. Only one hurdle stands in our way from having TCM website built and beginning to spread the Pledge to Mobilize: we need to raise approximately $20,000 to pay for the design, programming, and other miscellaneous launch expenses.

To accomplish this, we have begun an IndieGoGo campaign: Launch the Climate Mobilization.  If you could consider contributing and spreading the word about The Climate Mobilization, and our fundraising campaign, that would be terrific.  The campaign will only run until 7/22, so act now!

We have also developed a slideshow, which provides an overview of The Climate Mobilization and the Pledge to Mobilize.   You can watch the slideshow below, or view on full screen (It looks better on full screen!). So let me know what you think and thank you very much!

[slideshow_deploy id=’662′]

Think Before You Act(ivism)

An important goal of many therapies is for the patient to develop the capacity to reflect before acting. This may sound easy, but when people are overwhelmed by emotional distress, to act is a natural response. The key, then, is to make emotional distress less overwhelming. Psychologists talk about “Affect Tolerance” which means the ability to tolerate powerful, often painful feelings. If a patient doesn’t have good affect tolerance, they will do things like quit their job because they become angry at their boss, book a vacation because they are sad, or have sex with a stranger because they are lonely. These actions don’t even feel like choices, the person is driven to dispel their painful feeling. In therapy, we work towards separating out the feelings from action. Sometimes, it’s the right thing to do to quit ones’ job, book a vacation, or have sex with someone new, but its always better to think the decision through, first.  There must be a moratorium period for reflection and consideration that goes between the emotion and the action. Often, if one stops, thinks, discusses with others, the action becomes unnecessary, or a different action arises as a better solution.

The importance of delayed action, commonly called “delayed gratification” was captured in the “Stanford Marshmallow Experiment” conducted by Walter Mischel in the 1960s. It was a simple experiment: give a child a marshmallow, and tell them that you must leave the room. If they wait to eat it until you come back, they can have 2 marshmallows. Then, measure how long the children can bear the pain of waiting. Can they wait? Or must they act now? The results are striking. The length of time a child can wait for gratification is correlated to a wide variety of future outcomes more than a decade later: SAT scores, ability to maintain friendships, and body mass index, to name a few.  (Here is a cute video of children taking this test, struggling not to eat the marshmallows)

Simply put the ability delay action is critical for humans. Without it, we are slaves to our emotions; totally at their whim. The ability to stop, reflect, and take considered action gives us a huge degree of power and control over our destiny.

So how does all this relate to activism and the Human Climate Movement? Quite a bit, I would say.

The reality of climate change is horrifying. When people intellectually and emotionally accept Climate Truth, a formidable psychological achievement on its own, they become acutely emotionally distressed. How could they not? We are careening towards civilizational collapse! So, often, they feel impelled to do something NOW. A protest! A boycott! Something! The question of what to do, how to do it, who to do it with, and so forth—questions of strategy and planning, become secondary to the emotional need to act.

The preference of activists for acting over thinking and reflecting is, of course, enshrined in the name. Activists are  do-ers. They are  do-gooders, and they deserve our gratitude for their efforts. But sometimes a focus on action can come at the expense of thoughtfulness.

In this acute species-wide, planet-wide crisis, we need more than action. We need to think this through. We need to stop and reflect.  The question is: what do we do now? How can we act to optimize humanity’s chances of survival? How do we build a social movement that fundamentally changes the national and international mood and incites drastic, coordinated action? What is the best strategy?

These are the most important question in the world.  We must treat them with the respect, and the patience that they deserve. We have to talk about movement strategy. What are the best plans and how can we combine them and improve them?

This is not a conversation that should occur behind closed doors. It should happen publicly, openly. We must open source Human Climate Movement strategy. I have offered a comprehensive plan for a social movement that is based on psychological, cultural, and historical analysis. It is a “person-to-person, pledge based” approach that utilizes a “Human Climate Pledge App” for smartphones. You can read more about it here.

Though I believe that my proposal 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, social scientists, activists, and climate writers will improve upon it, refine it, or offer their own strategy proposals, which can be further refined and combined with each other.

This open-source, collaborative conversation is already starting to happen. People are starting to contribute ideas, which I am going to begin publishing very soon. But the conversation needs to grow exponentially. We need to hear from historians, artists, activists, economists, and climate writers. We need to hear from the great minds of our time, and those who have devoted their lives to study or activism. To emerge with the best plan possible we will need to integrate many perspectives.

This is our task at the moment. Not fighting climate change, but deciding how to fight climate change. Call it… thinktivism.

Some will say, “The situation is too dire! We must act now, we don’t have time for a discussion.”

 I would remind them of the saying, “Take your time. Especially when you are in a hurry.” When we rush, we are error prone and often counterproductive. Impulsive activism has no chance of saving civilization from the ravages of climate change.

So here is what to do when you feel the terror of climate change in your gut, when you are seized by despair at what humanity is facing, and you feel impelled to act: try thinktivism! Join the discussion or advocate for the discussion.  Embark on a course of study. Read about the history and theory of social movements, about psychology or religion or politics or anthropology or some other field or and utilize that information for creating and critiquing strategy proposals. Or help promote the conversation. For example, college students can advocate that their institution make saving civilization from climate change its top priority and demand that professors and departments submit proposals for the Human Climate Movement open-sourced strategy discussion. Non-students can promote the conversation in other forums.

Climate change is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. We must act to stop it. But first, we must decide how. First, we must think, together.  I hope you join me.

State of the Blog: Request for Reader Assistance!

The Climate Psychologist opened to the public one week ago  with the publication of my article  “Living in Climate Truth”/  (alternatively titled) “Our Society is Living in a Massive Lie about the Threat of Climate Change—Its time to Wake Up.”

It has been an exciting start. Living in Climate Truth has been shared on FB over 1000 times! I am very pleased to see the blog so alive with  insightful and kind discussion. I have enjoyed hearing personally from several readers, several of whom have expressed great enthusiasm for my message. It is invigorating to have so many allies.

So thank you for the participation, the engagement, and the warm welcome.

I have a favor to ask. (It will not be the last!)

Can you help me expand my readership?

Not surprisingly, I have found running this blog to be very time consuming. There are so many things to do: writing, editing, responding to reader comments and e-mails, staying current with the blogosphere, continuing to read and discuss psychological/ political/ theoretical work, and one of the most time-consuming tasks: sending pitches of stories to editors and publications, and otherwise trying to expand my readership.

If the readers of this blog could assist me with getting my pieces published and distributed, that would be tremendous. It would allow me to devote more time to research, writing, and all of the other blog tasks.

I want to spread my message as far as possible. Here are the actions that would be particularly helpful:

1) Utilize your personal or professional network in order to introduce my work (or me) to editors, bloggers, or others who may be interested in publishing my articles.

2) Or, submit my work for me! Several of my blog posts are freestanding articles, and anything is fair game to publish, for free.  No venue is too small, and certainly none is too large 😉   If possible, avoid venues that will send climate denying trolls this way. Though I expect that is inevitable at some point. Feel free, and encouraged, to post my work on the DailyKos or similar user-generated blogs.

Some venues where particularly I aspire to publish: Salon, Grist, Rolling Stone, The Nation, Climate Desk, The Atlantic, Think Progress, and the New York Times. Please let me know other places I should try to publish.

 3) Discuss and link to my work in Comments on other climate blogs/ articles. You can also request that the website publish my work.

4) Facebook and Twitter!

5) If you have other message-spreading ideas, I would love hearing them!

It has been great to connect with so many allies through this blog. There is a really lovely energy here. Please help me spread the word far and wide. I would greatly appreciate it.

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.

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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