Category Archives: Uncategorized

Life in the Climate Crisis: Going Strong!

The month discussion series, Life in the Climate Crisis– is going extremely well.

Every month about 10-20 people call in, some regulars, some new, to discuss the emotional, personal, and social elements of being alive during this time of crisis. There is a palpable sense of fellowship as we discuss various topics around the climate crisis. We have discussed how understanding the truth of the climate crisis feels, how it affects relationships, and how it makes us feel differently about ourselves.

We have laughed and cried together. Discussants have shared painful feelings– especially the sense of being alienated and that “no one understands”– and found relief in being heard and understood.

I am writing a book, and using the Mobilizer Discussions as a way to workshop and develop it. I have shared some of that writing– which you can see here– and had my writing influenced by the contents of the calls. One Mobilizer Backer called it, “Her monthly joy.”

We have a call coming up this Sunday! The topic is how the climate crisis should influence your relationship to money. I hope you can join us. While the Mobilizer Backer program is for monthly supporters of The Climate Mobilization, you are invited to attend 2 calls before making that commitment.

The Big Short: A Climate Parable

On December 11, 2017, writer and director Adam McKay tweeted that we need a WWII scale climate mobilization to his almost 1 million followers.

 McKay directed The Big Short: one of the strongest climate films to come out of Hollywood.  Ok, I know The Big Short isn’t technically “about” the climate crisis, but hear me out: 

  1. The Big Short confronts the climate crisis more explicitly than most movies do. For example, Brad Pitt’s character, Ben, believes societal collapse is imminent and that “seeds will become new currency.” In the closing credits we see that Dr. Michael Burr, the genius behind shorting the housing market is now trading in just one commodity: water. The implication is that some of the most prescient forecasters in the world are also foreseeing massive environmental collapse.
  2.  But more importantly, the Big Short is basically a parable about the climate crisis. For this reason, it has been on The Climate Mobilization’s “Recommended Films” list for years. A small group of people know that imminent collapse is coming and hardly anyone, and no institutions, believe them. In the “Jenga scene” banker Jared Vennett illustrates how fragile the housing market truly is (as well as how callously racist the culture on Wallstreet can be). When you pull out too many rungs, the whole thing comes crashing down.

    We can imagine a Jenga game labeled with all the things that make civilization possible. Instead of A, B, AA, etc the blocks could say things like,  “wheat yields,” “water access” “public health” and so on. When the climate crisis damages too many of these, the whole tower will fall: civilization itself will collapse.
  3. Finally, The Big Short illustrates how  it feels to understand that a crisis is coming while most people and institutions are blithely optimistic, continuing with business as usual.

Paul Gilding described this feeling in 2009:

It’s like belonging to a secret society. Conversations held in quiet places, in cafes, bars and academic halls. Conversations held with furrowed brows and worried eyes. Conversations that sometimes give you goosebumps and shivers, and a sense of the surreal – is this conversation really happening? This is what it’s felt like over the past few years, to spend time with some of the world’s leading thinkers and scientists on issues around climate change and sustainability. In public this group generally puts a positive, while still urgent interpretation of their views… But in private, often late at night, when we reflect on what we really think and wonder if the battle is lost, it’s a different conversation. The talk goes to the potential for self-reinforcing runaway loops and for civilization’s collapse. We discuss geopolitical breakdown, mass starvation and what earth would be like with just a few hundred million people.

The characters in The Big Short struggle with the social, personal, and professional consequences of predicting collapse. Their jobs are threatened and they are mocked, “They call me Chicken Little, they call me bubble boy,” Vennett says of the professional disdain he experiences for telling the truth about the coming housing crash.

People who tell the truth about the climate crisis and advocate for emergency climate mobilization understand the social costs of being outside the norm. We have made many family members, dinner party guests, and dates uncomfortable. We have experienced alienation, and relief at finding fellowship with others who understand the truth and are dedicated to solving the crisis.

Profiting from vs Preventing Collapse

The characters in The Big Short sought to profit from the coming collapse. Imagine if instead the forecasters had started organizing and getting the best progressive politicians to recognize the danger of the financial collapse and start introducing policies to reign in these financial institutions before it was too late?

That’s basically what we at The Climate Mobilization are trying to do. We could seek personal profit — shorting insurance or agricultural futures, perhaps, or buying land in Siberia. But instead, we are focused on preventing collapse.

After The Climate Mobilization spent  months campaigning for WWII scale climate mobilization in Iowa, in the lead up to the Iowa Caucuses, Bernie Sanders started talking about the need for WWII scale climate mobilization in debates and town halls. Our ally Russell Greene got the need for WWII scale climate mobilization into the Democratic Party Platform.

Now we are working locally, getting resolutions passing in Hoboken NJ, and Montgomery County MA, declaring a climate emergency and committing the city to reaching zero emissions at emergency speed. In Los Angeles, we have supported the introduction of a motion calling for a Climate Emergency Mobilization Department — a city department that would oversee the rapid transition to zero emissions, as well as spread the need for emergency climate mobilization to people and other government bodies.

Seeking personal profit would be absurd, because ultimately the climate crisis threatens us all. The stakes of the housing bubble pale in comparison to the climate stakes. The only safety, the only profit, will come from preventing the Jenga set of human civilization from falling down. We want to cancel the apocalypse, and we know the only way to do that is through an all-hands on deck climate mobilization that brings America, and then the world, to zero emissions at emergency speed, and draws down excess greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Check out The Big Short to get a good picture of the eerie feeling of knowing collapse is imminent while everyone is acting normal. And then please consider organizing with or financially supporting The Climate Mobilization. 

 

 

 

Blueprint for a Climate Emergency Movement

Allies,

After Donald Trump’s election, we at TCM went back to the drawing board. “How are we going to successfully commence climate mobilization under these insane political conditions?!” we asked. We devoted hundreds of hours to reading, conversation and study to attempt to answer this question.

I’m now excited to share some of the conclusions we came to, in the form of our Blueprint for a Climate Emergency Movement, developed collaboratively by The Climate Mobilization and authored by Anya Grenier.

For those looking for an even deeper dive, we are also publishing a 40-page version that includes an extended strategic analysis.

We hope you read this blueprint, share it widely, and talk about it with others. Then, we hope you’ll consider attending one of our newly launched Climate Emergency Movement trainings to learn the specifics of how to work with a local team to put it in action. (Information about our newly launched training program can be found here).

The Climate Emergency & The Election: A Pathway to WWII-scale Mobilization

A message from Ezra on the Election:

Fellow Mobilizers,

I have new article in Common Dreams today about the election. I would be honored if you read it:

The Climate Emergency & The Election: A Pathway to WWII-scale Mobilization

Here’s my bottom line: I think our climate mobilization movement is toast under a Donald J. Trump presidency. With Jill Stein sinking in the polls, I believe our only hope for delivering a climate mobilization within the next year is under a Hillary Clinton administration. A Clinton presidency buys us time to build a mass movement capable of delivering on the promise of our amendment to the Democratic Party platform; a Trump presidency slams the door shut.

We do not underestimate how tremendously difficult it will be to force a Clinton administration to commence a WWII-scale climate mobilization resembling the one outlined in the Victory Plan. That’s why we have launched Climate Year and are ramping up a massive campaign with Russell Greene to create support for the climate emergency summit within every major sector of society in the coming months.

Furthermore, Bill McKibben is now calling for hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets to demand that the Democrats follow through on our amendment to the party platform. Check it out:

And as a result, by staring them down, the platform, at the last minute, turned markedly more progressive. Among other things, there’s a call in there for an emergency climate summit within the first hundred days of a new administration, designed to—and it says this in the platform—mobilize us for something like a World War II approach to climate change. We’ll see if we can hold them to it. Clearly, it will take hundreds of thousands of people in the street, just like there were in New York two years ago this month.

Thanks for considering the arguments in the article. I look forward to further organizing and mobilizing with you all in an America where we maintain some modicum of civil liberties and are free from the shackles of Donald Trump and fascism.

Sincerely,
Ezra

Recruiting for Climate Year: Give One Year to Save Civilization

Allies,

We are thrilled to announce our new Climate Year program.

As part of our new strategy to ensure that the U.S. federal government commences a WWII-scale climate mobilization to restore a safe climate by July 4, 2017, we are looking for brilliant, talented, dedicated people who want to fight for civilization and the natural world on a full-time basis.

Participants in the Climate Year program will commit to volunteering for The Climate Mobilization 30+ hours per week for one year. Climate Year participants will take on significant leadership responsibilities, enjoy considerable autonomy, and continually push the limits of what they imagined possible.  

We already have top-quality volunteers making full-time commitments, including oceanographer Danielle Meitiv and journalist Anya Grenier (read their impressive stories on the Climate Year website). But we need a lot more brilliant, passionate volunteers very soon if we are going to take TCM to the next level and ensure that there is a climate emergency super-summit that charts a course toward solving the climate crisis in the first 100 days of the next administration early next year.

The Climate Year program, on its own, cannot deliver a WWII-scale mobilization by next year. It is one part of a much larger effort that is just now taking shape. We are working with Russell Greene—who helped get mobilization onto the Democratic Party platform in July—to develop a broader umbrella strategy to exponentially grow our movement and get the mobilization started next year.

We are looking for outstanding people ready to dedicate a year of their lives for “all years.” We aim to enlist people from all backgrounds, walks of life, and U.S. regions. We truly need all hands on deck: People of color, of all faiths, of all ages, of all political persuasions, from all sectors (including the fossil fuel industry), women, LGBTQIA, persons with disabilities, and veterans are strongly encouraged to apply.

Apply NOW to Climate Year.

If you can’t afford to volunteer 30 hours a week, but are called to mobilize,  please let us know what level of assistance you would need in order to participate in  Climate Year. We will do our best to meet financial need. (See more information about financial assistance here.)

Please apply or encourage the most talented, energetic, dedicated people you know to apply for Climate Year. Also, make sure to support us with a donation so we can provide financial assistance.

And make sure to share the news of Climate Year far and wide!

Meet me Tuesday in Boulder, CO!

I will be in Boulder, Colorado this week before my cousin’s wedding this weekend in the mountains. There are so many awesome, brilliant allies in Boulder, that I thought having a little get-together would be productive and fun. Come talk about the Climate Mobilization and our upcoming launch,  about living in climate truth, about psychology, and about plans for the People’s Climate March….

When: This Tuesday (8/19), 6pm-8pm   (Mountain Time!)

Where:  Flatirons Coffee:  

Tell your Boulder/ Denver friends! And sorry for the short notice.

 

Your Ally,

Margaret

 

 

 

Rising to the Challenge of Our Time, Together: Introducing the Climate Mobilization

This version, Published in 2/14 is now outdated! Read the updated version, published in 9/14!

 

 

 Climate change presents us each with a fundamental choice. Will we watch passively as our climate and our civilization collapse around us? Or will we mobilize and fight back? To avoid total catastrophe, the United States must respond on a scale comparable only to the World War II home-front mobilization. At present, this is politically impossible. In order for such a mobilization to occur, a social movement must first fundamentally alter the political landscape.

   This paper introduces The Climate Mobilization, a political platform and social movement strategy. The Pledge to Mobilize is an organizing tool that can facilitate a collective awakening. Signers pledge their support to political candidates who have signed the Pledge and, in doing so, publicly supported the Climate Mobilization platform. The Pledge calls on the federal government to commence a five-year Climate Mobilization that both cuts American carbon emissions by at least 25 percent per year for five years and creates a Climate Mobilization Corps, tens of millions strong, to lead the transition to post-carbon energy and agricultural systems and implement adaptation and mitigation measures. It also demands that the U.S. pressure other nations, through nonviolent economic and diplomatic measures, to inaugurate similar climate mobilizations.  

   The Pledge provides structure to an issue that can be overwhelmingly complex and calls on individuals to mobilize their skills, creativity and networks in unique ways. The Pledge does not spread online, but rather from person to person, often in the context of existing relationships. This has the power to bring climate change into living rooms across America, and to the forefront of the national conversation. Variations of the Pledge will launch in other countries, providing a bridge between the hyper-local, the national and the global. The Pledge to Mobilize empowers each of us to rise to the challenge of our time.

PDF Version: Rising to the Challenge of Our Time, Together

Text Version below.

Marching Towards Catastrophe

The climate is changing. The earth has warmed 1.5°F since the industrial revolution, and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the predominant cause.[1] The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that if carbon dioxide emissions continue their unrestricted growth, the earth will warm between 3.6°F to 10.8°F by 2100.[2] These may seem like relatively small temperature increases, but they are enough to cause the extinction of 18% to 37% of the species on Earth and to end the Holocene, the 12,000-year geological era that facilitated the development of civilization.[3]

   Business as usual is ending. It’s easy to think that we exist outside the natural world, but our global food and energy infrastructure — the foundation of the complex system that we call civilization — is utterly dependent on natural resource abundance and climatic stability. Ecological strains much milder than the climate crisis have caused past societies to completely collapse.[4] Droughts, floods, severe weather, wildfires, invasive species, and vector-borne disease are already damaging agriculture and infrastructure, and creating tens of millions of displaced people.[5] These harsh climatic conditions, as well as a historic oil price shock, have sent food prices skyrocketing.[6] [7] Food price spikes in 2008 and 2011 almost certainly contributed to the successive waves of civil unrest that have recently swept the globe, toppling governments and unleashing violent sectarian tensions.[8]

The arrangements that we rely on are unraveling. In the estimation of the U.K. government’s chief scientist, humans face a “perfect storm” of energy, food and water crises by 2030.[9] These crises will be severely exacerbated by rapid climate change. This gathering storm, driven by the explosive growth of populations and economic activity, is homing in on our shoreline. California languishes amidst a historic drought. Superstorm Sandy floods the New York City subway system. The price of gasoline hovers around $3.50. Climatologist James Hansen, the former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, describes the climate crisis in the starkest 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.[10]

   American leadership is failing. In the face of this unprecedented danger, the United States government is paralyzed. The majority of our elected representatives live in a trance of denial, narcissism and complacency. Domestically, the U.S. has failed to place a price on carbon emissions or even end billion-dollar annual subsidies to the big oil companies. As taxpayers, we are subsidizing the destruction of the climate that biologically sustains us. In international negotiations, the United States has modeled how to delay action by shirking responsibility and blaming others. In 2001, our country abandoned the Kyoto Protocol — the only binding international treaty on emissions reductions ever passed — providing cover for Australia and Canada 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. [11]

Our country is becoming a pariah on the international stage. Our leaders have justified their obstruction by contending that “the American way of life is not negotiable.”[12] But responding forcefully to climate change is our only chance to preserve the best aspects of the American tradition. Throughout our history, Americans have treasured our country’s remarkable record of social stability and political freedom. But climate change and resource exhaustion is already damaging those ideals. Instead of confronting the climate crisis head-on, the state, facing a crisis of legitimacy, is launching unconstitutional assaults on whistleblowers, journalists and the American public, at large. We must realize that the logical endpoint of our current energy regime, which increasingly benefits only a small fraction of the global population, is a future of tyranny, catastrophic social breakdown and unprecedented human suffering.

   The future is in our hands. And so the fate of humanity falls to us. As our leaders delay and prevaricate, will we continue to watch passively as civilization unravels? Or will we build a social movement, reclaim our fallen democracy and mobilize our society to fight climate change? The decisions we make in the coming months and years are of momentous consequence for the fate of humanity and the natural world. We must rise to the challenge of our time, together.

The Mobilization Imperative

We have done it before. The Axis powers posed an existential threat to the United States, but Americans denied this threat for years, imagining that we could stay out of the war. Pearl Harbor shattered our collective denial, and woke America up to the truth that we were in terrible danger and had to mobilize immediately. Under the leadership of President Franklin Roosevelt, we did so — with stunning success.

Twelve years after World War II, as part of an official US Army history of the war, Elberton Smith described the 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.[13]

This “industrial and social revolution” that the U.S. underwent after Pearl Harbor was staggering. Conservative business titans joined in common cause with labor leaders and liberal bureaucrats — after ten years of bitter acrimony over the New Deal — to redirect and refocus America’s industrial might against the Nazis. Factories rapidly shifted 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. Young men sacrificed their lives fighting for their country. Women worked in 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.” [14] All hands were on deck. All Americans worked toward a common purpose.

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 conclusion that the United States must mount a WWII-level mobilization to protect ourselves from climate change has support from top scientists, environmental analysts and even national politicians.[15]

A Climate Mobilization would allow our country “to adapt to what we can’t avoid, and avoid what we can’t adapt to.”[16] As in World War II, all Americans would contribute. Industry would transform to maximize energy efficiency and to 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 mitigate the summer heat that grows more relentless each year.

But how do we get there? A society-wide mobilization requires, at minimum, the consent and cooperation of the population. In 1941, Americans were staunchly isolationist, hoping and imagining that it might be possible to avoid the war. The surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, which decimated much of our naval fleet, changed the mood of the country. Isolationism evaporated overnight and Americans threw themselves behind the war effort.

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 droughts across California and the Midwest. No spontaneous awakening has occurred. It is up to us to rise to the challenge of our time. 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 Americans up to the necessity of an immediate climate mobilization.

The Pledge to Mobilize

The Pledge to Mobilize is an unblinking declaration of reality, and a platform for a social movement. It is a tool for spreading the frightening truth of climate change from person to person, as well as a means to reclaim our democracy. Wielding the pledge, citizens can demand that elected officials both acknowledge the scope of the climate crisis and mobilize to fight it accordingly. The Pledge states:

Climate change is already causing immense human suffering as well as untold damage to the natural world. It threatens the collapse of global civilization within this century. Preventing the worst effects of this gathering crisis is the great moral imperative of our time. This mission must be our nation’s preeminent priority.

I call on the United States federal government to commence a five-year mobilization to preserve a climate that is safe, stable and supportive of human civilization. This nonviolent campaign will be waged on a scale comparable to the American World War II mobilization. It will be carried out in accordance with the United States Constitution, and will guarantee that the essential needs of the civilian economy are met throughout this time of transition.

The federal government shall:

§ Enact policy programs that both reduce national carbon emissions by at least 25 percent each year for five consecutive years and ensure that the United States does not emit more than its fair share of the remaining fossil fuel carbon budget.* 

§ Create a Climate Mobilization Corps, tens of millions strong, which will implement adaptation measures and rapidly expand our post-carbon energy infrastructure and agricultural systems.

§ Exert international diplomatic and economic pressure to enlist allied nations in this heroic fight against social, economic and environmental chaos.

I will:

§ Donate time and money exclusively to political candidates on the local, state and national level who have signed this pledge.

§ Vote for candidates who have signed this pledge over those who have not.

§ Mobilize my skills, resources and networks to spread the stark truth of climate change and the hope of this pledge to others.

_______________________________________________________________________

* “Fair share” is defined as a percentage of the post-2013 global carbon budget no greater than our share of global population on Jan. 1, 2014. This translates to roughly 4.5%, or 5.4 billion tons, of the post-2013 global carbon budget, which is approximately 120 billion tons of fossil fuel carbon emissions, according to Hansen, et al. (2013).

Mobilizing Individuals and Communities

The Pledge to Mobilize is designed to spread in a unique way. An individual will not be able take the Pledge online — it can only be taken in person, and it must be given by someone who has already signed it. This requirement will create new ways of interacting around climate change. The Pledge signer will combine the roles of teacher, mentor and missionary.[17] Those who sign the Pledge will approach people they respect and care for, and invite them to sign. When friends and family are dubious, the Pledge signer will engage them in an educational process about the stark reality of the ecological crisis, encouraging them to read articles, watch videos, and attend meetings about climate change. This process is designed to repeatedly disrupt the culture of silence and willful ignorance that allows us as individuals and as a society to minimize and ignore the growing climate crisis.

Though the Pledge must be taken in person, its spread will be registered and tracked through the Climate Mobilization website, which is currently in development. This will allow signers to monitor how many people they have recruited to sign the Pledge, both directly and indirectly.

One of the Pledge’s primary strategic virtues is its flexibility. We hope that signers will use their creative instincts and unique skills to spread the Pledge. Signers can host events at their homes, or in the community. Using Meetup.com, signers can organize local lectures and discussions about the climate crisis and the Climate Mobilization. Religious people can spread the Pledge in their communities of worship, and climate educators can offer the Pledge after their presentations. The Climate Mobilization can have booths at farmers’ markets, staffed by Pledge signers, who will offer frank conversation about climate change, the need for a mobilization and the Pledge as a tool to get us there.

The Pledge to Mobilize is a platform for a collective awakening. It is a platform on which conversations can be initiated and the cultural consensus of denial and passivity can be transformed into a culture that expects active engagement from every individual in response to the climate emergency. It does not preclude the use of other tactics, including demonstrations, lawsuits, Internet memes and local adaptation measures. On the contrary, we hope that signing the Pledge can serve as a launching pad to further engagement. Online discussion forums, as well as local groups, will serve as places where Pledge signers can develop creative, humane ways to respond to the unfolding crisis. For example, Pledge signers 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. Once people pledge to mobilize, they will find myriad ways to effectively channel their energy and talents.

Successful Movements Fight Denial and 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 yet 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 solution. 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.[18] 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.[19]

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, civil disobedience, protests and the popular approach of “climate change education” have not 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 willful ignorance, numbing, repression, denial, and demonization of the messenger.[20] 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.

What happens if — rather than continuing its tactics — we adopt the deeper lessons of the Civil Rights movement? What if we build a movement around the knowledge that atrocities persist because people ignore and deny them; that people of conscience must fight this consensus of denial emotionally as well as intellectually; and that the solution — a clear, compelling path to a better world — must be central to the movement itself?

After years of becoming increasingly alarmed and despondent about climate change, I decided to tackle those questions. I decided to stop being a passive victim of climate change, and to mobilize my skills to fight for humanity. A Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology at Adelphi University, with an A.B. in cultural anthropology from Harvard — my entire academic career has been devoted to understanding people and cultures in depth. More specifically, I have focused on processes of psychological change and growth. I decided to develop a psychologically, anthropologically and historically informed social movement strategy that would help us achieve this badly needed mobilization.

I was drawn to pledge-based strategies because of the colossal complexity of climate change. A clear solution, it seemed, must be written down. I was also impressed with the impact of pledges on contemporary American politics. 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![21] [22] I examined past pledge campaigns that had spurred rapid social transformation, such as the anti-foot binding pledge that ended a thousand-year-old Chinese practice in a generation, without the benefits of modern communications technology. Pledges can be effective tools for fighting collective denial because they are public declarations; people courageously put themselves on the line for their cause. The anti-foot binding pledge shifted foot binding from a symbol of nobility and honor to a symbol of backwardness and shame.[23] I also examined Occupy Wall Street. Would it be possible to harness the creativity, passion, and local responsiveness that Occupy brought to bear, while avoiding the pitfall of lacking clear demands and a plan for realizing them?

This Climate Mobilization strategy was borne of this effort. I developed a plan, and published it on my blog, The Climate Psychologist.[24] Other thinkers, scholars and concerned citizens have refined and improved upon this plan. Ezra Silk, a Maine-based reporter and author, has been particularly involved, working tirelessly to help turn these ideas into reality. We aim to launch TheClimateMobilization.org and begin spreading the Pledge to Mobilize in the spring of 2014.

Envisioning the Mobilization

Our most difficult task was to determine the precise content of the Pledge to Mobilize. In order to show the way forward, we needed to outline the solution before launching. Calling for a “WWII-style mobilization” was too vague. A variety of political programs could theoretically fall under the rubric of a climate mobilization. We needed specific demands, and the implementation of those specific demands needed to lead to a safe and stable climate. Furthermore, since we aim to expand internationally, we needed criteria that could be applied to climate mobilization pledge movements in other countries. [25]

After consulting with Dr. Erica Thompson, a climate scientist at the London School of Economics, we decided to structure our pledge demands on the carbon budget released by James Hansen and 17 others in a December 2013 study.[26] The Hansen carbon budget sets a cumulative, global carbon emissions target that would “keep climate close to the Holocene range to which humanity and other species are adapted.” Hansen’s calculations for the post-2013 carbon budget (~120 billion tons) are right in line with carbon budgets put forward by Meinshausen et al. in 2009 (~118 billion tons) and the Grantham Research Institute/Carbon Tracker Initiative (~133 billion tons).[27] [28] We decided to use Hansen’s budget to structure the pledge since it is the most up-to-date and it is justified in a detailed analysis. Yet, our use of the Hansen budget should not imply that we make the same assumptions about rapid carbon sequestration (see Appendix A for a more thorough description of the reasoning behind this choice).

We decided that each country should use, at most, the percentage of the remaining carbon budget equal to its share of current global population.[29] What we found was that a five-year mobilization that reduces emissions by 25 percent per year would reduce American emissions quickly enough to meet the prudent, conservative target set out by the Hansen team. If the United States leads the world with a mobilization on this scale, and other nations enlist in this effort, we can stay within the carbon budget.

This strategy is scientifically and ethically sound and provides a measure of simplicity to an issue that often drowns people in confusing details and exotic jargon. By introducing the concept of “The 99%,” Occupy Wall Street activists concisely captured the problem of inequality, and made a complex, decades-long economic story relatable. The Pledge can accomplish this for the climate change “debate.” Our message is that the United States must lead the world in the heroic fight against climate change. We need a five-year mobilization, like we had on the home-front during World War II. Each year, we must cut our emissions by at least 25 percent. It won’t be easy, but together, we can achieve victory.

There is no question that a reduction target of at least 25 percent per year represents 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.[30] David Roberts has described humanity as stuck “between the impossible and the unthinkable.”[31] A five-year climate mobilization that will transform the United States energy infrastructure, agriculture and foreign policy, while employing tens of millions of Americans, 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.”

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 currently stagnating due to daunting oil supply constraints related to the steeply decreasing energy return on investment for global oil production.[32] The 2008 crisis was exacerbated, at the very least, by the rising cost 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.[33] [34]

A rapid, government-coordinated transition away from fossil fuels offers Americans a chance to actively and creatively transform the economy, while maintaining the climatic conditions to support human civilization. However, the transition will temporarily add to the disruptions in the economy.[35]

The Climate Mobilization Corps will ease and enhance this economic transition.  Americans involved in this historic initiative 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, at the very least. 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 prosperity.[36]

The expenses of WWII were financed primarily through selling war bonds and income tax increases, especially for top earners.[37] 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 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 squabbles that presently consume us.

There are 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 the federal government, under immense pressure from Americans, finally kicks into full mobilization mode, we will have prepared extensive plans to guide them.

Some may agree that we must cut emissions as quickly as possible, but argue that it is poor strategy to advocate for this publicly, particularly when a highly specific plan is not being advocated. Perhaps they might feel that reducing U.S. emissions at least 76.27 percent in five years will sound too drastic, and that many Americans will feel alienated by the Pledge and reject climate action in general.

This, we disagree with. Few Americans would sign the Pledge to Mobilize today, but that is the point. Our culture is mired in denial, silence and willful ignorance.[38] 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.

Nightmarish problems require heroic responses. Too often climate change is presented as a gargantuan problem with a pathetically 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 solution commensurate in scale to the problem itself. To create a social movement, we need to show the way forward, honestly.

Pledge-Spreading as Collective Awakening

When a society’s governing myths 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.[39]  “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 abhor standing apart from the group, especially if we risk being shamed or ostracized.[40] 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 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 collective 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 force people to make a conscious choice: Do you stand with human civilization, or do you favor collapsing into deprivation, war, and chaos?

The Pledge strategy responds innovatively to the current technological and cultural moment, as successful social movements have historically done. Martin Luther utilized the printing press to spread his message.[41] 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.[42]

Today, we are bombarded by information and stimulation from computers, smartphones, video games and hundreds of television channels. This virtual blitzkrieg triggers a trance-like state in which we dissociate and screen out most information. This makes it all too easy to ignore the terrifying reality of the climate crisis and those seeking to draw attention to it through protests, civil disobedience, media outreach and traditional lobbying. The Pledge to Mobilize can break through the high-speed, fragmented media landscape, since it relies on personal appeals between people with pre-existing relationships. These personal appeals will be supported by an online platform where signers can network, discuss strategies and share stories and best practices. The Pledge connects the personal with the technological, and the hyper-local with the global.

The Climate Mobilization campaign can foster networks of highly engaged, articulate and organized citizens that will act as a countervailing force to the fossil fuel lobby and others that 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 for a war-like response to the climate crisis, as they simultaneously implement regional adaptation and resilience measures. As politicians, journalists, and pundits are pressured to sign, 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?”

Launch is At Hand

This Climate Mobilization is almost ready to go. We are now building the website — the final step before launch. There are several ways to get involved in this project, but two are especially pressing at this point. First, we are seeking highly dedicated recruiters and organizers to become involved before the launch. This way, when our website is ready, we will have a small group of original signers who will host local Pledge events and disseminate the Pledge through their personal networks. This group will set the tone of the movement, so each member must be dedicated to fighting climate change with respect, focus, honesty and courage. If you are interested in being an original signer, or in contributing your skills and energy in some other way, please let us know.

We also need financial backing. The Pledge strategy is highly cost-effective. We will be able to launch on a national scale for less than $20,000. So far, I have been funding the initial web design and database steps, and I will match donated funds up to $5,000. Your donation will finance the construction of The Climate Mobilization website and help launch the Pledge to Mobilize. Donations can be made via Paypal. If you are able to support us, it will make a meaningful difference in our ability to launch as quickly as possible.

Climate change is an unprecedented challenge. Never before has humanity marched in such 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.

 

 

 About the Authors

Margaret Klein lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is a therapist turned advocate and organizer. Margaret graduated in 2008 from Harvard and is two months away from earning her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the Derner Institute of Adelphi University. She is the author of The Climate Psychologist and the founder of the Facebook group Climate Change: It’s Personal. She can be reached at Margaret@TheClimateMobilization.org.

Ezra Silk lives with his girlfriend, Amy, in Portland, Maine. In 2010, he graduated from Wesleyan University, where he majored in history and was the editor of The Wesleyan Argus. Ezra has reported for The Hartford CourantThe Bar Harbor Times and The Lakes Region Weekly. His forthcoming book, Carnival of Dissent: The Voices of Protest, from Zuccotti to Athens, relates the story of his travels through the United States, Spain and Greece, at the height of the Occupy movement. He can be reached at Ezra@TheClimateMobilization.org.

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 five years of 25 percent cuts

120 billion ton remaining carbon budget, post-2013. The Hansen team found that humans should not emit more than roughly 130 billion tons of fossil fuel carbon emissions after the year 2012. The Global Carbon Project has estimated that humans emitted approximately 10 billion tons of fossil fuel and cement-derived carbon emissions in 2013.[43] That leaves approximately 120 billion tons of fossil fuel carbon in the remaining, post-2013 carbon budget.

Given that global cumulative emissions continue to increase every year, humanity is on track to exhaust the remaining 120 billion ton budget within eight to nine years, assuming a continuation of current emissions rates. We do not necessarily endorse Hansen’s assumptions regarding rapid reforestation and carbon capture and storage sequestration measures. The Climate Mobilization would allow the United States and the globe to meet the most conservative mainstream carbon budgets, such as Hansen et al., Meinshausen et al., and the Grantham Research Institute/Carbon Tracker Initiative 1.5°C budget. It would also allow us to meet the IPCC’s more lenient 2°C carbon budget with room to spare.[44] When the fate of civilization and the natural world is on the line, we think it prudent to aim high and fight like hell.

Share of budget based on population. In 2014, the United States’ share of global population is approximately 4.5%. Under our framework, the U.S. would emit, at most, 5.4 billion tons of fossil fuel carbon after 2013, or 4.5% of the remaining 120 billion ton carbon budget. Given that our country emitted roughly 1.467 billion tons of fossil fuel carbon in 2013, we are on track to exhaust our national share of the remaining global carbon budget at some point in 2017, assuming a continuation of current emissions rates.[45]

Timelines. If we project that the U.S. initiates the Climate Mobilization on January 1st, 2015, thereby reducing emissions at least 76.27 percent by January 1st, 2020, we would have used up, at most, approximately 4.88 billion tons, or 4.07%, of the remaining global carbon budget — a share roughly concordant with our population. (This would constitute about 4.14% of the Meinshausen budget, and about 3.7% of the Grantham Institute/Carbon Tracker 1.5°C budget.)

A 2015-2020 mobilization would leave us, at most, some 520 million tons of fossil fuel carbon — or, just over a third of 2013 annual emissions — left in our budget. The United States could then decarbonize the economy in 2020 or 2021. Or we could follow a low-emissions path for another five years, emitting an average of 104 million tons per year, and then decarbonize on Jan. 1, 2025.

If the U.S. federal government initiates the mobilization on Jan. 1st, 2016, thereby reducing emissions at least 76.27 percent by Jan. 1st, 2021, we would have used up, at most, approximately 6.36 billion tons, or 5.3%, of the post-2013 carbon budget. Again, this projection is based on the Energy Information Administration’s national emissions forecast.[46] It is clear that the later the mobilization starts, the steeper the reductions necessary.

Possibilities for steeper reductions. Of course, some may argue that the United States should use less than 4.5% of the post-2013 carbon budget. To make up for past emissions, we should cut more steeply, some may say. That is why the Pledge to Mobilize demands that reductions must be at least 25% per year. “At least” leaves open the possibility for more drastic reductions.

The United States was responsible for 26% of global fossil fuel emissions from 1870 to 2012 — the highest percentage of any country or economic bloc (The E.U. was responsible for 23%, and China 11%).[47] Although China is currently the leading emitter in the world with 26% in 2012, the U.S. was the second greatest emitter, at 14%. China was responsible for 23% of consumption-based emissions, while the U.S. was responsible for 17% of consumption-based emissions in 2012.[48]

Simplicity of Communication. The 25% reduction threshold goes beyond Occupy Wall Street’s “We are the 99%,” in that it introduces an easy metric to gauge the effectiveness of the extraordinarily complex efforts necessary to combat climate change. What if Occupy Wall Street had generated a simple metric to assess the effectiveness of various poverty and inequality reduction programs?

For example, many citizens were forced to rely on environmental experts in order to determine whether President Obama’s 2013 Climate Action Plan was “enough.” Leading environmentalists praised the plan, while stressing, rather vaguely, that it was not enough. In some quarters, it was suggested that Obama’s proposed regulations on coal-fired power plants would reduce national carbon emissions by 10% per year.[49]

Non-experts concerned about climate change were forced to consult environmental and progressive experts in order to understand whether President Obama’s plan was “adequate.” If the pledge had been widely disseminated at that time, regular people concerned about climate change could have demanded that Obama provide a clear projection of how much his plan would reduce emissions this year. “We need to cut emissions by a quarter now. Mr. President, how quickly does your plan cut emissions this year?” The widespread introduction of the per annum framework could democratize environmental expertise, and introduce an inclusive, yet scientifically informed, public discussion about the necessary scope and scale of rapid emissions reductions.

Appendix B: Rapid Decarbonization Schemes and Mobilization Plans

The One Degree War Plan Gilding and Randers

Plan B 4.0, Mobilization to Save CivilizationBrown

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 PlanWeber, Lichtash and Dorsey

Governing Rapid Climate MitigationDelina and Diesendorf

Endnotes

[1] IPCC, 2013, summary for policy makers.

[2] IPCC, 2013 The IPCC provides a range because climate is a complex, non-linear system, which means that it is impossible to make exact predictions about how much warming will occur and when.

[4] Ecological problems leading societies to collapse: Diamond, 2004; NASA 2014.

[5]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] Oil and Food Prices. Baffes and Dennis, 2013.

[7] Climate and food supply. Perez, 2013.

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

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

[10] Hansen, 2009.

[11] 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.

[12] Rio Summit.Vidal, 2012.

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

[15] 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, including Jill Stein and Thomas Friedman, who prefer the historical metaphor of the New Deal.

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

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

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

[20] 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.)

[22] No Climate Tax. Americans for Prosperity.

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

[24] The Climate Psychologist. Klein, 2013-2014.

[25] The Pledge can be adapted and utilized in any country with an elected government, and modified to work within countries where citizens are not granted the right to vote. There are already allies planning Pledge to Mobilize campaigns in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

[27] GHG emissions targets. Meinshausen et al, 2009.

[28] Unburnable Carbon; 1.5°C carbon budget. Carbon Tracker Initiative, 2013.

[29] Inspiration for this carbon distribution scheme comes in part from the Contraction and Convergence movement in the UK.

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

[31] Roberts, 2013.

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

[33] Oil price forecast. Fournier, 2013.

[34] Peak oil. Ahmed, 2013.

[35] Certain sectors of the economy will be hit particularly hard. For example, 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.

[36] 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.

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

[38]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.

[39] See Havel (1978).

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

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

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

[43] 2013 global emissions projection. Global Carbon Project, 2013.

[44] Carbon budget comparisons. Climate Nexus.

[45] National emissions data/forecast. U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2014.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Historical cumulative emissions by country. Global Carbon Project. 2013.

[48] Ibid.

[49] NRDC Plan. Chait, 2013.

References

Appiah, A. (2010). The honor code: How moral revolutions happen. New York: W.W. Norton.

Bodroghkozy, A. (2012). Equal time: Television and the civil rights movement. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Brown, L. & Earth Policy Institute. (2009). Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to save civilization. New York: W.W. Norton.

Cohen, S. (2001). States of denial: Knowing about atrocities and suffering. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Collins, M. et al, (2013) Long-term Climate Change: Projections, Commitments and Irreversibility. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Stocker, T.F et al. (eds.) Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press. Bottom of Form

Diamond, J. M. (2005). Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. New York: Viking.

Friedman, T. L. (2008). Hot, flat, and crowded: Why we need a green revolution– and how it can renew America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Nohria, N., & Khurana, R. Handbook of leadership theory and practice: An HBS centennial colloquium on advancing leadership (509-550). Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Press.Gilding, P. (2011). The great disruption: Why the climate crisis will bring on the end of shopping and the birth of a new world. New York: Bloomsbury PressBottom of FormGilding, P. (2012) The Earth is full. CNN.comGillis, J. (2013) Climate Change Seen as Posing Risk to Food Supplies. The New York Times. November 1st.Goodwin, D. K. (1994). No ordinary time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt : the home front in World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster.Hansen, J, et. Al. (2013). Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. Plosone.Havel, V. (1985). The Power of the powerless: Citizens against the state in central-eastern Europe. Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe.Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and Norweigan Refugee Council (2009). Monitoring Disaster Displacement in the Context of Climate Change.Jorgen, R., & Paul, G. (2010). The one degree war planJournal of Global Responsibility, 1, 1, 170-188.McAdam, D. (1988). Freedom Summer. New York: Oxford University Press.McKibben, B. (2010). Eaarth: Making a life on a tough new planet. New York: Times Books.McKibben, B. (2013) Obama Versus Physics. Huffington Post.McWilliams, N. (2011). Psychoanalytic diagnosis: Understanding personality structure in the clinical process. New York: Guilford Press.Morris, A. D. (1999). A Retrospective on the Civil Rights Movement: Political and Intellectual Landmarks. Annual Review of Sociology, 25, 517-539.Bottom of FormNASA Earth Observatory, (2011). Global Temperatures.Roberts, D. (2013) Hope and FellowshipGrist.

Roberts, D. (2013) What would a ‘wartime mobilization’ to fight climate change look like? Grist.

Romm, J.  (2007). Hell and high water: Global warming – the solution and the politics – and what we should do. New York, NY: William Morrow.

Romm, J. (2012) Hell is truth seen too late: WWII and climate change. Climate Progress.

Schneider, S. 2009 Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation. Video of lecture.

Smith, R. E. (1958). The army and economic mobilization. Washington, D.C: Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army.

Standage,  T. (2011) How Luther Went ViralThe Economist. December 17th.

Stein, J. (2012) The Green New Deal.

Thomas, I. & William G. (2004). Television News and the Civil Rights Struggle: The Views in Virginia and Mississippi. DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska – Lincoln.

Thomas, C. et al. (2004). Extinction risk from climate changeNature, 427, 6970, 145-8. Bottom of Form

US Department of Agriculture: Walthall, C. et al. (2013). Climate change and agriculture in the United States: Effects and adaptation. Washington, D.C: Dept. of Agriculture.

US Department of Defense : Gates, R. M., & United States. (2010). Quadrennial defense review report. Washington, D.C: Dept. of Defense.

US Department of Energy: Wilbanks, T., & Fernandez, S. (2014). Climate Change and Infrastructure, Urban Systems, and Vulnerabilities. NCA Regional Input Reports.

Walsh, B. (2008). How to win the war on global warmingTime Magazine.

Wilson, E. O. (2013). The social conquest of Earth. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp.



 

I’m back, and I have news!

Readers of this blog may have noticed my extended absence. Contrary to how it may appear,  I have not slackened in my dedication to the climate fight! Rather, I have been totally engrossed in the formation of the group The Climate Mobilization, and writing our introductory document, Rising to the Challenge of Our Time, Together.

I am extremely excited to share this with you, in part because I hope that readers might want to join The Climate Mobilization, and help us launch the Pledge to Mobilize! Please checkout our “Launching Soon” Page at TheClimateMobilization.org

All questions, comments, and reactions are very welcome.  I will now let the document speak for itself!

Rising to the Challenge of Our Time, Together

Answering the Question of Our Time: Strategy Proposal and Call to Collaboration

**4/3/14 Update: This document (Answering the Question of Our Time) is now highly outdated. Its greatly-improved sequel, Rising to the Challenge of Our Time, Together, is now available! I highly recommend you read that, instead (Or read both if you are interested in tracking the evolution of this idea!)

 

I have been hard at work, condensing and synthesizing my ideas into this  PDF document:

The Question of Our Time final

 

My hope is that it will make my ideas more accessible to a wider audience. Please share widely, and, as usual, questions and comments are welcome!

 

If you can’t open the PDF, here is a web version:

Answering the Question of Our Time: Strategy Proposal and Call to Collaboration

Climate change poses an imminent threat to human civilization[1]. Droughts, floods, severe weather, wildfires, invasive species, and vector-borne disease are already damaging agriculture and infrastructure, triggering civil wars, and creating hundreds of thousands of climate refugees.[2] Ecological strains much milder than the climate crisis have caused societies to collapse throughout history.[3] The terrible reality is that climate change threatens everything we know and love.

Thus, the most important question of our time — the question of questions — is: How can we most effectively fight climate change? I propose that those of us who grasp the extent, immediacy, and horror of the threat build a social and political movement — a Human Climate Movement — that fundamentally changes the national mood, wakes Americans up to the gravity of the situation, and clarifies the urgent necessity of a war-like, crisis response. [4] We must channel our dedication and coordinate our activities in the most effective way possible.

So far, a vigorous, collaborative and public conversation about how best to build this movement has not occurred.[5] It has not taken place in the media, or amongst scholars. Some environmental leaders have even suggested that such a discussion should not take place in public, implying that the element of surprise outweighs the benefits of collaboration.[6] However the anxiety, terror, and helplessness expressed by environmentalists suggest that the movement is facing an existential crisis; current strategies and tactics are not working to drastically reduce global emissions. We fear that there is no solution, or that a solution would be too drastic or politically unattainable. We hold forth in living rooms and Internet chat rooms on whether we are doomed. As we do so, we ignore the vital question.

In lieu of developing a thoughtful strategy, concerned citizens and activists have responded to climate change reflexively, utilizing familiar strategies.[7] Individuals reduce their carbon footprint. Environmental groups file lawsuits and work to bring modest legislation, like a carbon tax, into consideration. Activist groups stage protests against oil companies and the Keystone Pipeline.

But will these strategies avert the collapse of civilization? Do they even have a chance? Or are they hopelessly minute compared to the scale of the problem? Some argue that the collective effect of these diverse campaigns may lead to victory, but is that really probable, given their lack of coordination? Is it really likely that a diffuse environmental movement will succeed against the fossil fuel lobby, climate change-denying politicians, and other forces of environmental destruction? What would “success” even look like? With no clear, comprehensive strategy, it is difficult to even imagine what victory would mean.

Since the Civil Rights Movement, protests and activism have become nearly synonymous. Instead of asking, “How can we most effectively transform society?” we assume the answer is “Protest!” But protest tactics had an entirely different cultural and psychological meaning during the Civil Rights Movement.[8] African-Americans earned the media spotlight by courageously withstanding racist slurs and violence. During the Civil Rights Movement, the tactics were the message. Protests were declarations of equality and dignity; they clearly illustrated the protestors’ refusal to endure racial subjugation. When African-Americans sat at “whites only” lunch counters, they initiated the process of racial integration, in defiance of the law. These protests fought a consensus of denial; before the Civil Rights Movement, white America minimized and ignored the brutality of the Jim Crow South. Civil disobedience cast a spotlight on the courage and restraint of African-Americans, as well as the brutality of segregation. The Civil Rights Movement was a truth movement, and protests and civil disobedience were highly effective tactics in fighting denial.

In stark contrast, climate change protests do not embody the underlying message: We face a planetary crisis and a breakdown of industrial civilization, unless the federal government takes drastic, war-like steps in order to prevent a climate collapse. While civil disobedience in the Civil Rights Movement was considered brave and inspiring, climate change demonstrations are considered boring and annoying by the general public. [9] Protests are not, in this context, an effective means to fight denial and apathy. By relying on “normal” tactics, such as lobbying and protests, environmental groups have inadvertently presented climate change as a routine political issue, rather than the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. Different fights, different times, and different technological contexts call for different tactics. We are fighting with old tactics, and it isn’t working. It’s time for something new.

Frustrated with the lack of dialogue on how to fight the climate crisis, I searched for an answer myself. I studied the history of social movements. What tactics did previous movements utilize? What cultural, psychological, and technological factors made those tactics successful?[10] I examined the mechanisms of power in modern Washington and how Grover Norquist and the Americans for Tax Reform had achieved such influence over politics.[11] I studied the psychology of climate change denial, and how it functions on a societal level[12]. I developed a plan, and published it.[13] Since then, other thinkers, scholars, activists and concerned citizens have suggested alterations and additions, improving and bolstering it.[14] Nothing is perfect; this proposal can and should be improved through collaboration. Further, I invite others to submit wholly different strategy proposals for consideration and possible hybridization. We must quickly and collaboratively develop the most effective possible strategy to fight climate change. There is no time for territoriality, ego, or infighting. We must answer the question of our time, together.

A Person-to-Person, Pledge-Based Approach

Your phone rings. It’s your old friend. 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? 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, and you are intrigued by his offer.

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 to talk over what you have read with your friend. At the Wednesday lunch, he tells you that he shares your feelings. He argues that climate change will bring down human civilization, if we let it. “We don’t have to be helpless,” he says. “We can fight back.” Your friend tells you that he recently signed something called the Human Climate Pledge. The Pledge has the following components:

The acknowledgement that:

  1. Climate change threatens civilization.
  2. Fighting climate change is a strategic and moral imperative. Reducing the amount of Carbon (and Carbon equivalents) in our atmosphere to 350 parts per million must be our top political priority.
  3. To preserve civilization, we must fight climate change like we fought WWII: With a government-led, society-wide mobilization. Paul Gilding and Jorgen Randers have presented an example of what this type of mobilization could achieve in their “One Degree War” plan. It includes: Closing 1,000 coal power plants within five years; a carbon tax that funds the One Degree War and also redistributes wealth to the global poor, who are the most impacted by climate change; rationing of electricity and gasoline; massive efforts to halt deforestation; changes to agricultural practices that bind carbon in the soil; the development and installation of renewable energy; huge investments in wide-ranging scientific research and development; and much more. As in any War, the United States will enlist as many nations as allies as possible; this is not a war we can win alone.
  4. 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 approximately 5.6 trillion dollars, per year.

A pledge to:

  1. Only give time or money to political candidates who sign the Human Climate Pledge.
  2. 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.
  3. Live in climate truth.[15] Forsake denial, and face the frightening truth of climate change.
  4. Spread the truth of climate change to people you know and love, and encourage them to sign the Human Climate Pledge.
  5. Encourage existing environmental organizations in your area to endorse the  Pledge, helping to unify and coordinate the environmental movement. Work with local groups on publicity, activism, and local climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

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 people who have taken the Pledge, as well as profiles of the friends and family members who he has personally persuaded to sign. The HCP App, officially launched only a few weeks ago, indicates that, in total, 234,000 people have signed on, including 17 political candidates and three elected officials. Your friend has administered the Pledge to eight people: his wife, brothers, and a small group of friends. In turn, his family and friends have signed up twenty other people, mainly their family and friends. The App also indicates that, in your city, local chapters of the Sierra Club and 350 have joined the Human Climate Pledge effort, and are hosting monthly public discussions and Pledge signing sessions.

Your friend explains that the Human Climate Pledge is a way of reclaiming a fallen democracy; a way for citizens to demand that elected officials acknowledge the scope of the climate crisis and fight it accordingly. It is also a tool for coordinating the passion and dedication of the environmental movement. As more and more citizens sign the Pledge, political candidates will feel increasing pressure to sign the Pledge, and begin to publicly acknowledge the scope of the threat. The Human Climate Movement will create highly motivated voter and donor blocs to support and pressure candidates; these vital networks will constitute a countervailing force to the fossil fuel lobby and others who stand against the perpetuation of human civilization. Municipal and state-level officials who sign the pledge will fiercely advocate for a war-like response to the climate crisis, as they simultaneously implement regional adaptation and resilience measures. As politicians, journalists, and pundits are pressured 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 to fight back?” Because the Human Climate Pledge has a viral structure, powered by the hard truth of climate change, it can both spread widely and fundamentally alter the national mood, almost overnight. Indeed, time is of the essence, as we are racing against our own destruction.[16] The goal of the Human Climate Movement, then, is to have Congress declare an official War on Climate Change, 500 days after the first Pledge is signed.

Your friend explains that you can accrue decision-making power within the Human Climate Movement by signing up as many Pledges as possible, or by devoting time to the organization in other ways. “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up,” he tells you. “In the Human Climate Movement, there is no free ride. If you want influence, you have to spread the truth of climate change.”

Your friend tells you that he asked you to talk because he cares about you, respects you, and knows that there are many people who would value your opinion. He tells you he hopes you will join this effort; that you sign the Pledge and spread it to other people. That you will join him, live in climate truth, and fight this war of wars. He asks if you want some more reading, and recommends a few further books and articles, as well as a written copy of the Pledge for you to consider. He invites you, Sunday evening at 8:00, to a gathering at his home, where you can talk more about climate change and take the Pledge, if you are ready.

On Sunday, you arrive with a bottle of wine. You are happy to find some people you haven’t seen in a while, and to meet some of your friend’s neighbors. You discuss the material you have read, and how climate change is affecting 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 carefully explains why only a war-like mobilization can stabilize human civilization. It’s a bellicose call to arms — as well as a friendly invitation to join.

Your friend asks if anyone is ready to take the Pledge. Three people say yes. 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 change 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 registers their Pledges in his HCP App. The new Pledges now download the App themselves. They now have the capacity — and the responsibility — to spread the Pledge to others; to induct them into the Human Climate Movement. Your friend tells the new Pledges that he has some buttons, armbands, and lawn signs, if they want to broadcast their affiliation visually.

Your friend says he will be having people over to his house again in two weeks. All are invited back, and invited to bring others. Maybe they will feel ready to sign. People spend the rest of the evening eating and drinking together, enjoying the atmosphere of shared dedication. It feels like hope.

The Benefits of a Person-to-Person, Pledge-Based Strategy

This Person-to-Person, Pledge-Based Strategy is designed to defeat the widespread intellectual and emotional denial that is crippling our society’s response to climate change. Denial is a psychological defense mechanism people employ when they are not emotionally prepared to face reality. The principle benefit of a pledge-based, person-to-person approach is that it helps people contain and process their anxiety and terror, empowering them to understand the truth of climate change, and to fight back. This plan contains anxiety in two crucial ways that protests do not:

1) It offers a comprehensive plan that starts right now and ends with safety for civilization. In threatening situations, the existence of a plan is critical in overcoming anxiety and terror: plans allow people to approach the unknown future in an organized way and to take an active role in shaping their future. Crucially, this plan allows anyone to be part of implementing it, transforming learned helplessness into collective empowerment.

2) It relies on human relationships. By asking people to spread the Pledge to their friends, family, colleagues, and others in their network, this plan allows us to face climate change together. Overcoming emotional denial and facing the truth of climate change is extremely upsetting; if people have to face it on their own, many will simply refuse to do so.

Further, this strategy responds to the shifting technological and media landscape in a novel way, which social movements have historically done. Martin Luther broke ground in utilizing the printing press to spread his message[17]. More than four hundred years later, his namesake led civil disobedience that was broadcast on television, which was, at the time, a relatively new communications technology, just beginning to transform American domestic life. Because television only carried three broadcast channels, a movement that attracted the interest of the networks could bring their message, insistently, to every American home.[18]

The media environment now is radically different; protests have little chance of achieving that level of sustained, focused, exposure again. We are bombarded by information and stimulation from computers, smartphones, video games, and hundreds of television channels; we screen out the vast majority of news and information. This makes it all too easy to ignore the climate crisis and those seeking to draw attention to it through protests and civil disobedience. The Human Climate Pledge has the potential to break through the high-speed, fragmented media landscape, since it relies on personal appeals between friends, family members, and neighbors. Further, the Pledge App will give the Human Climate Movement organizers the capability to communicate with anyone who has signed, as well as the ability to precisely track the dissemination of the Pledge. Using advanced social media software, the Human Climate Movement will be governed through a modified democratic power structure; voting power on financial decisions within the HCM will be awarded according to how many members you have convinced to sign the Pledge. This meritocratic structure will help the Pledge spread rapidly.

This proposal does not preclude the use of other tactics, including demonstrations, lawsuits, Internet memes, and local adaptation measures. On the contrary, a comprehensive, organizing strategy centered on the person-to-person pledge approach would work synergistically with those tactics, creating a foundation upon which they can flourish. Finally, this strategy can be adapted and utilized in any country with an elected government; we can raise our voices, together.

A Call to Collaboration

When people confront an overwhelming reality, they employ various psychological defense mechanisms in order to avoid the pain and anxiety that comes with that knowledge. One way this happens is denial; the truth is too overwhelming, so people reject it entirely. But there are other defense mechanisms that hamper our efficacy — climate change anxiety can spur activists and concerned citizens to avoid the thoughtful contemplation of diverse options, the study of historical strategies, and the challenging process of open, strategic brainstorming. The threat of climate change makes us feel compelled to do something now. But rushed actions will not solve the biggest threat humanity has ever faced. To succeed, we need a thoughtful, comprehensive, revolutionary strategy.

To begin this conversation, I have offered a strategy proposal that was developed with psychological, anthropological, historical, and technological perspectives in mind. I welcome additions, critiques, and counter-proposals. We have a duty to fight the climate crisis, and to keep the world safe for humanity. But first, we need to think together to answer the question of our time. We must conceive the best possible strategy for the Human Climate Movement.

I hope you join me.

 

 

Margaret Klein is a therapist turned advocate and the author of The Climate Psychologist. She is in the final year of her Ph.D. program in clinical psychology at Adelphi University.

You can reach her at Margaret@TheClimatePsychologist.com.  She welcomes messages from all allies, and is particularly interested in connecting with: climate scientists, agricultural scientists, resiliency experts, environmental economists, social movement historians and scholars, anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, programmers, designers, audio and video experts, writers, editors, activists, funders, and those in the media.

Special thanks to Ezra Silk for his help in developing and editing this proposal.



[1] See The Threat  Klein, 2013 for a thorough, sourced discussion on climate change as a threat to civilization.

Also see Hansen, 2009; Gore, 2013.

[2] Damage to agriculture: Gillis, 2013; Bryce, 2013; USDA, 2012.

Damage to infrastructure: McKibben, 2010; US Department of Energy;

Civil wars and climate refugees: US Department of Defense; International Organization for Migration, 2013.

[3] Ecological problems leading societies to collapse: Diamond, , 2004.

[4] Discussion of the phrase, Human Climate Movement, Klein, 2013.

[6] Strategy should not be discussed in public: Romm, 2013.

[7] For elaboration, see: Think before you act(ivism), Klein, 2013.

[9] Environmental protests found boring and annoying: Bashir et al, 2013;

[10] Factors in social movements: Hoffer, 1951; Appiah, 2011; Havel, 1978; Ganz, 2012; Morris, 1999

[11] How Washington works: Lessig, 2012; Peters, 2012 Americans for Tax Reform, 2013

[12] Psychological and cultural aspects of denial: Cohen, 2001; Norgaard, 2011; McWilliams, 2010; Lertzmann,    2012,  Oreskes & Conway, 2012.

[13] For original plan, see Klein, 2013.

[14] For modifications to original plan, see: Klein, 2013.

[15] For a definition and discussion of Living in Climate Truth, see Klein, 2013.

[16]  The necessity of early action: McCracken, 2008.

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

[18] For a thorough explanation of the role of Television in the Civil Rights Movement see: Thomas, 2004.

 

Divestment: A Small Part of Harvard’s Failure to Lead on Climate Change

Last week, President Drew Faust announced that Harvard would not be divesting the endowment from fossil fuel investments. While this is a disappointment, it is a small one compared to Harvard’s broader failure to sound the alarm on climate crisis, and to take an active leadership role in the social movement that must fight back against the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. I agree with Dr. Faust that there are “more effective measures, better aligned with our institutional capacities,” other than divestment that Harvard can contribute to fighting of climate change. Harvard is, after all, an academic institution; Harvard can contribute more to fighting climate change in knowledge, scholarship, and commitment than it could possibly contribute economically. But I firmly disagree with Faust’s implication that Harvard has met, or even come close to meeting, this obligation.

The last time human stability and civilization was imperiled, Harvard reacted with courage and fortitude. Before the Pearl Harbor attacks on 12/7/1941, the national mood was strongly isolationist; Americans were in denial about the magnitude of the Axis threat. They knew that war would involve much sacrifice; so they told themselves that the Axis powers weren’t “that bad” and that it was a foreign war that didn’t concern them. In May 1940, President Harvard President James Bryant Conant delivered a national radio broadcast urging the United States to prepare for war through rearmament and aiding our Allies. This speech earned him harsh criticism from isolationists. That same year, a group of faculty launched the “American Defense-Harvard Group,” advocating US support for the Allies. Harvard scientists shifted their projects to focus on militarily relevant work: radio technology, explosives, and military medicine. This was Harvard at its best, fully utilizing its institutional capacity in the face of a grave threat. The Harvard faculty and administration knew the magnitude of the Nazi and Axis threat, and they stood firmly for that truth in the face of widespread ignorance and denial.

Once war was declared, Harvard transformed itself almost entirely into a war-college, training officers, developing relevant technology, and dedicating itself to victory. Harvard made huge shifts to best facilitate the war effort for example adding a third semester, conducting massive amounts of war research mainly in the sciences, but also through the business school. In 1944, only 19 people graduated from Harvard’s “regular” (ie non military) course offerings.

Once again, civilization faces a great threat, and once again the national mood stands against an effective, appropriate response. We are in collective denial; not able to fully grasp the magnitude not immense of the threat, or the magnitude of the necessary response. Our politicians are hopelessly, laughably gridlocked and our media shamefully minimizes climate change, reporting it as an “environmental problem for our grandchildren” and not an immediate global crisis that threatens all of humanity and is already claiming hundreds of thousands of lives through ever-increasing droughts, floods, failed agricultural yields, superstorms, wildfires and vector borne disease.

Once again, humanity is at a crossroads- facing a fearsome enemy but mired in denial about the scope of the threat. This is no ordinary time.

To actually fulfill it’s responsibility to society in this planetary crisis, Harvard must make fighting climate change central to the institutional mission. Harvard showed courage in the face of the Axis threat. Where has it gone? We used to fight for the truth when society was mired in denial and ignorance. But now Harvard has become part of the Lie, pretending that the our climate is not collapsing, that the status quo can continue, with token changes (for example, hiring a new “vice president for sustainable investing”).

President Faust, how about following President Conant’s example and give a televised speech, as a private citizen about the imminent threat of climate change and the need for a massive US and global response? Or faculty, how about forming a “Human Climate Defense- Harvard Group.” Harvard scientists are already working on projects relevant to fighting climate change, and these excellent projects should be expanded and increased. But Harvard should also engage the rest of the faculty as well in studying and contributing to the scholarly project of fighting climate change. Climate change is a human problem, not a “science” problem; it will affect all of us, and all of us have a responsibility to fight against its threat. Historians, anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, and theologians have important information they can contribute to the question of how humanity should mobilize to fight climate change. The humanities can help us narrate the struggle, and put it in the context of the art and stories of past human struggles.

Harvard’s responsibility in this time of peril is much, much greater than divestment.  Harvard must speak the terrifying truth of climate change and mobilize in its name. This is Harvard’s moral obligation as arguably the most respected university in the world—one that claims to value truth above all. The cold, hard Veritas is that climate change poses an imminent threat to human civilization, posing a greater threat than the axis powers ever did.

Come on, Harvard. Enough foot-dragging and responsibility shirking. Gather up your courage; its time to lead.

First Strategy Proposal: Ezra on Movement Organization

I’m very excited to share with everyone the first open-sourced strategy proposal I received for the Human Climate Movement. It is submitted by Ezra (last name: Mystery-man. 🙂 This is a  “partial” proposal; meaning it is an addition to my proposal of “Person-to-person, pledge based approach” which I describe here. Ezra’s proposal addresses an element of the Human Climate Movement that I had not addressed: how the organization itself will be structured; how leadership and power will be divided. Ezra is a freelance journalist who is writing a book on Occupy in the US, Spain, and Greece. In his time with Occupy, he gave a lot of thought to movement organization and dynamics.

My proposal, basically, argues that Civil Rights Movement style tactics, such as protests and civil disobedience are not appropriate for fighting denial, and building a Human Climate Movement. I say that to do this, we must focus on containing anxiety. My proposal says that the basic organizing tactic of the human climate movement should be members working within their networks and amongst their friends, family, neighbors and acquaintances to spread the Human Climate Pledge, which commit citizens to the knowledge that climate change is imminent threat to civilization, that it must be a top political priority, and that we must instigate a World War II style efforts to fight it. The pledge commits the signatory to only donate money or time to politicians who have also signed the Pledge, and in an election in which only one candidate has signed, to vote for that candidate.  The pledge can only be given by an existing member, in person, but is recoded on the Human Climate Movement App. When someone signs, they gain access to the Human Climate Movement smart phone App that, among other functions, tracks how many people you have given the Pledge to, and how many they have given the Pledge to.

I included the HCM App as a tool of communication and empowerment; that HCM central could use it as a platform to communicate with members, and so that members could see their impact grow exponentially, as their numbers grew. Ezra utilizes the App, and the amount of pledges given, in a different, exciting way. But I will let him speak for himself. Here is the proposal he submitted:

The great asset of the Occupy movement was its democratic character, which allowed it to spread across the country with magnificent speed. The great weakness of Occupy was the lack of accountability within the Occupy encampments and organizations. Since no one was officially in charge and decisions were accomplished through consensus, anyone, however involved they were, could stall and obstruct the process of political action.

 If we are to spread the human climate pledge virally, it will take organization and resources. In my opinion, this organization and its use of resources must be democratically controlled by its members. This will help attract exponentially more pledges. If people know they have a say in the movement’s direction, they are more likely to join. At the same time, each member’s voting power on certain matters should be directly linked to their recruitment record, which ideally would be verified through an electronic database.

I propose a system of pledge credits, which could help distribute power within the movement in a way that ideally would spur the movement’s rapid growth.

Here are a few ideas about how a pledge credit system could work:

I propose that you should receive one pledge credit for signing the pledge yourself. You should receive one pledge credit if you convince someone to sign the pledge and you should receive half a pledge credit for your pledge’s pledge. This way, it is in our interest not only to sign up pledges, but to have our pledges sign up more pledges.

I propose that political figures should be weighed differently. You should receive 5 pledge credits for signing up a town councilor, 10 for a state senator, 250 for a congressman or governor, 500 for a senator, and 1,000 for the President of the United States. These numbers are arbitrary, and could be modified.

Let’s say the movement is collectively voting on a major financial decision: Should we give $1,000,000 to Democratic Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren, who has waffled on the pledge but may win the election, or to Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who has signed the pledge but has no chance of winning?

I have accrued 200 pledge credits. The people voting on this decision — anyone who has signed the pledge and decides to participate in the vote — including myself, collectively have 4,000 pledge credits. Therefore, I constitute a 5 percent voting bloc. In the end, 53 percent vote for Stein. Majority wins, and the money goes to Stein.

I propose that this shareholder voting system should only apply to major financial decisions at the national level. There should be other mechanisms of democratic accountability that would aim to wisely distribute power within the organization.

I propose that if you reach a certain level of credits, say 200, you become a member of the organization’s board of directors. This number could be modified on a sliding scale upward year by year, depending on the growth of the movement. Board members would determine personnel matters within the organization and other key logistical decisions, which would be clearly enunciated in a charter. Ideally, board members would seek to make decisions by consensus. If consensus fails, the board should move to a majority-wins, one person, one vote model.

I propose that charismatic movement figures — media spokespersons and political candidates — should be elected or endorsed by a popular referendum submitted to every individual who has signed the pledge. Anyone who has signed the pledge gets one vote, regardless of how many others they have signed on. These charismatic figures should be appealing to the broader movement, not just the dedicated activists who have signed on hundreds of pledges or are on the board. The charismatic figures and the organizational personnel are not necessarily the same people.

I propose that leadership figures — movement staff, spokesperson, candidates — could be impeached by a stringent and robust popular referendum. In order to impeach, over 75 percent of those who have signed the pledge would need to participate in the referendum. Of those 75 percent, at least 2/3 would need to vote in favor of impeachment. Votes would be weighed on a one vote, one person basis — not by pledge credits.

A few questions come to mind. How do we prevent fraud? How do we verify that these people have actually signed on? Should we require that each individual that signs the pledge post their pledge commitment on their websites, social media pages, or the sign-off of their email messages?

How would we organize such a complicated voting system? I imagine we would need highly complex software. I am sure such software is available, however.

Should there be a charge to sign up? A suggested monthly donation? What are the pros and cons of this strategy?

 

There are several things to like about this proposal. First it provides a modified democratic structure for the Human Climate Movement in which activism is rewarded with a stake in decision-making. Second, I agree with Ezra that this type of structure would be very encouraging of the people to join and be active within the movements. Third (and crucially), I greatly appreciate the spirit in which Ezra offered this proposal. He is sharing an idea, based on an area of his expertise and experience, but he is not territorial or defensive about his idea. He realizes that his idea has unanswered questions and needs further refinement; he wants others to discuss and improve on this idea. I think it is a great example of the utility of open-sourcing strategy discussions! (It also makes me realize that maybe I have set the bar too high with my requirements of scholarly citations; Ezra draws primarily from his own experience and imagination, rather than from scholarship, and I think it’s a great contribution, so maybe I should loosen up and encourage less-developed proposals too, knowing that all proposals will continue to develop and grow through open-sourcing.)

So, in the spirit of collaborative open-sourcing, I offer these critique/ comments to Ezra’s proposal:

1)    I think there should be a way of the gaining “points” other than exclusively getting pledge signatories. Otherwise I worry that devoted, introverted members would feel that they were at a disadvantage. There could be a volunteer our conversion such as five hours spend volunteering in some way other than recruiting pledges equals one point. There could also potentially be a donation conversion. Something like donating 1% of your income to the Human Climate Movement earns 10 points. This creates a progressive valuation of financial donations. It is true that tracking/recording number of pledges given is easier than tracking number of hours worked or percentage of income. Those pose more formidable fraud obstacles.

2)    I think that maybe when someone signs a pledge, they should be able to designate more than 1 member who caused them to sign. Though I feel strongly that the pledge should be taken in person, I know that the Internet is a frequent forum for political/ persuasive discourse. So if a friend had began talking with you about the Human Climate Pledge over Facebook, or you had been reading about it on a blog ;), and that is what drove you to seek out an in-person HCP member to give you the pledge, you could credit the online-convincer with ½ a point and the in-person pledge-giver with ½ a point. (Maybe we could break the ‘points’ into finer distinctions, utilizing 1/3 credits or ¼ credits, but I don’t know… perhaps that is too complicated)

3)    I wonder if there should be several levels within the HCM, obtained at (for example): 10 points, 50 points, 100 points, 200, and 500 points, and at each level comes with an increasing level of privilege and power. For example, maybe at  10 points you are included in local leadership meetings, at 50 points you are invited to join local coordination and leadership efforts. At 100 points, you are invited to listen into board conversations, at 200 points you become a voting member of the board, and at 500 points you get to work together to set the board-meeting agenda. I think that having a gradating structure can be motivating and satisfying for people to work hard and ascend.

4)    Crucially, we need an organizational structure that favors qualities that we want in leaders. I think this one does. People who gain power in the organization will have earned it through dedication, hard work, and communicating effectively with people. These seem like important qualities to have in leaders. But is it possible that I’m missing something? Is it possible that this structure would allow for a faction of some kind to gain too much power? Could this structure be undermined by corporate interests some how? Or, as Ezra worries, fraud?

What do you think, readers? Is this organizational structure the right way forward? Do you see areas where it (or any other part of the plan) can be improved? Are you as excited as I am about this? Many thanks to Ezra for the proposal. May it be the first of many open-sourced contributions to Human Climate Movement Strategy!

Ready to Get Involved?

Over the past week I have been contacted by a few readers telling me that they are ready to take the next step and get involved in some way. This is fantastic and extremely encouraging.  I very much want to use this blog to foster and coordinate activism. I have a lot of ideas. To implement them, I need a lot of allies.

The posts  Strategy proposal and Ideas describe some of the things I hope to accomplish with additional reader involvement. Surely these ideas will grow and change, but they give you a sense of the type and direction of activity. Basically, the Human Climate Movement is an anti-denial  movement. The Truth is our weapon, and we must wield it skillfully, creatively, and courageously.

I created an Involvement Form that will help me best utilize your skills and dedication. It is not an application: anyone who wants to fight climate change is my ally, and I will utilize any commitment that is offered.

If you don’t feel the form conveys something adequately, please feel free to e-mail me more information or a CV.

We have so much to do. I look forward to working with you.

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Who Owns the Human Climate Movement? (In which I take another crack at the Romm-Klein spat)

(For the confused, new readers: Naomi Klein and Joe Romm got into a fracas last week over comments Naomi made in an interview, blaming “Big Green” environmental groups for the country’s sorry emissions record. I offered the couple some “couples therapy,” counseling the pair to move past blame and focus on solutions. Romm made me very proud by responding to my intervention, though he wasn’t totally convinced. In this article, I take another crack at it!)

Joe, during our session you made an interesting comment. You stated that your argument with Naomi Klein (no relation, by the way) was relevant because it was “really a proxy for who we should listen to going forward.”  And that Naomi was attempting to discredit Big Green/ old-guard environmentalists’ ability to lead the Human Climate Movement.

Ahhh I thought. They are not only a couple who is casting aspersions on each other, as they struggle to cope with the overwhelming pain of their child’s suicidality (or in this case, ecocidality) they are also having a power struggle.

Well, psychologists don’t like proxy arguments. We know that frank discussions, though they can be tough, yield better results. If you want to have an argument over leadership, let’s have it in broad daylight. Who should we listen to going forward? Klein? Romm? Big Green? New Green?

Naomi believes that the failure of the Big Green groups to effectively combat climate change, particularly due to corporate partnerships and an inside-the-beltway mentality,  necessitates radical changes in Human Climate Movement leadership and direction. The Human Climate Movement should reject the old guard environmentalists, ceding intellectual leadership to progressive intellectuals such as herself. She thinks that people should listen to her going forward because climate change is fundamentally a problem of global capitalism, about which she is an expert, and because she is a forceful speaker and writer who can captivate a crowd. Naomi is relatively new to working on climate change, but she views this as an asset. The movement needs revitalization and redirection!

Joe believes that we should listen to him because of his track record. Joe is a scientist, a PhD physicist. For more than 20 years, he has worked on energy and climate issues. Joe has served in government, and knows how politics works from the inside; he is a realist. He has nearly gone hoarse from all the shouting he has done, trying to raise awareness of the dire climate change scenarios facing us. Joe is proud of his career of service and of his current intellectual leadership position in the Human Climate Movement.

Its easy to imagine why Joe would feel angry at Naomi when she criticizes the environmental establishment and their handling of the climate crisis; that’s some pretty brazen Monday-morning quarterbacking! Naomi was virtually ignoring the climate for years while Romm and the leadership of “Big Green” were dedicating their careers to it. They made some mistakes, sure.  But only when climate change becomes tangibly acute does she comes waltzing onto Green turf and starts making pronouncements, criticizing past decisions. She is a new comer and a non-scientist, yet she has the gall to blame the environmental movement for the not averting the climate crisis!

Joe, it must feel like Naomi is wantonly disrespecting you, your career, and even your values.

This clash of values and personalities is occurring with increasing frequency in the Human Climate Movement. As climate change’s impacts become more palpable, more people, including scholars and activists, are waking up to its terrible threat. They are New Green; and they bring new perspectives and values to the climate fight.  They look at Big Green and see a failed strategy, and a need for change. Not surprisingly, the environmental establishment feels offended by that. The reward for all of their efforts, the reward for having been right is to be criticized for not have handled climate change better? Where do these Johnny-come-latelies get the nerve? They seem to have no concept of how difficult the fight has been, or how hard environmentalists have worked.

Now that we have ditched the proxy and addressed the heart of this conflict, we can address the real problems and look for real solutions.

The better angels of all participants of this debate: Romm, Klein, Big Green, New Green—know that they are all on the same side. We all want a climate that supports human civilization. We know that in order to get there, we need people get out of intellectual and emotional denial, to wake up to the terrible threat of climate change. We know that everyone is welcome in the Human Climate Movement, and that the more people making diverse contributions, the better. We know that climate change is not merely a scientific issue, but a human issue that involves every single one of us. We know we should relentlessly seek the best organizing strategy, no matter its source.

To be most effective, the movement must incorporate all comers, and to take their ideas seriously, while those new to the party should be appropriately respectful to those who came before. (Let he who has successfully solved climate change cast the first stone!)

A forum is needed to turn disagreements into collaborative discussions rather than disputes. We should open-source Human Climate Movement Strategy and undertake a process of considering, discussing, and evaluating Movement strategy proposals. This will allow for collaboration and hybridization of plans and will facilitate the formation of relationships and trust between Big Green and New Green. Most importantly, undertaking a process of reflection and collaboration around strategy will lead us to the most effective final plan.

Any social and political movement will have different factions, personality clashes, and territoriality. But we cannot let these differences derail us from out most critical mission. Let’s discuss strategy and leadership issues collaboratively, respectfully, and publicly. No more proxies.

OK. Times up, Good progress! I’ll see you guys next week.

The Moral Imperative of Hope and the Wasteland of Climate Cynicism (W/ Glory Clip)

Since making The Climate Psychologist public a few days ago, and publishing my article on Living in Climate Truth on Alternet, I have been extremely pleased with readers’ responses. People have engaged in several ways: commenting, emailing me, and sharing articles on Facebook and Twitter. One reader even offered to help design the App that I describe as part of a strategy proposal! So thank you to everyone for that. It has been a lovely way to kick off.

So far, there is only one type of disturbing response I have received: cynicism. Several people have told me that I am naïve for thinking that climate change can possibly be solved; that there is no hope, and thus no point in trying. The climate is too damaged, the State too fascist, the problem too intractable. I am wasting my breath; the only thing to do now is count down to the apocalypse.

Climate cynicism is all too common.  In casual discussions about climate change with friends and acquaintances, cynicism is frequently expressed. “We are fucked,” people say, which pretty much ends the conversation, short-circuiting any discussion of organizing, or fighting back.

Climate cynicism is an extremely dangerous attitude (in part because is can be both seductive and contagious); it is important to understand how to evaluate cynical claims, what drives cynicism, and how we can fight it in ourselves and others.

Evaluating Cynical Claims

Are the cynics correct? Are we “fucked?”

The only honest answer is: I don’t know. No one knows. There is no way to know, with certainty, what the future holds.

Scientists offer a range of predictions about the impact of climate change. Some of them are incredibly bleak. The most horrifying prediction I have ever read is James Lovelock’s Revenge of Gaia. Lovelock claims we have forced Gaia into a “hot state” in which the earth’s carrying capacity will be reduced to only a few hundred million people within decades.  That would mean the death of more than 5 billion humans. Its pretty horrific.

And it is possible that this damage is already locked in, and nothing that humans can do now can change it. This is a possibility that must be admitted.

But I fundamentally disagree that it is the only possibility, and that what humans do now will have no impact on our fate. Human induced climate change has never happened before; there is no test case. No one, not the IPCC, nor James Hansen nor a climate denier nor a climate cynic can know, with certainty, what the future holds. The future is unknown and unwritten.

This gives us a huge responsibility. In all likelihood (and according to most scientists), what we do now will have a fundamental impact on the fate of the climate, and on humanity. Though we cannot stop climate change in its tracks, if humanity acts with focus and urgency, we can prevent the worst damage, and thoughtfully respond to the changes in the climate we have already caused. The question is how to achieve the political will necessary to fight back. As David Roberts puts it, we are stuck between the impossible and the unthinkable. It seems impossible to muster the level of societal change that we need to protect our collapsing climate, but the alternative—the collapse of our climate and of human civilization— is unthinkably terrible, and must be avoided at all costs.

It is likely that a WWII level effort against climate change would save human civilization from chaos and ruin. This is a critical period. Our actions, and our attitudes, may be decisive in the scope of human history. That is a huge responsibility, and a terrific opportunity to do good in the world.

David Orr, discussing the climate crisis, said that “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”  Our situation is indeed grave, but the hopeful, moral response is to work, to fight, not to give up. Cynicism is a noun sitting on the couch. It is our moral responsibility to get off the couch, find hope, , and roll up our sleeves.

What Causes Climate Cynicism?

Cynicism is a defense mechanism. The cynic has been hurt, and is attempting to protect him or herself from further disappointment.  Do you know people who are cynical about romantic relationships? These people say, “All men are pigs” or “Women just cause trouble, who needs ‘em?” or something along those lines. People adopt this attitude make because they have been badly hurt, disappointed by love, and are afraid to risk having their hopes dashed once again. Instead of admitting their desire, and their vulnerability, (ie. “It would be great to meet someone new, but I’m frightened that it wouldn’t work out”) they pretend to have neither. Cynics are trying to pack their broken hearts with ice to numb their pain.

It is understandable that people would be cynical about climate change. The pain of reality is very great. It makes sense that people would pack their hearts with ice; numbing their fear and despair.

This also explains why climate cynics get angry at people, such as myself, who carry a message of hope. Hope threatens the defense. Some of the ice starts to melt, and raw emotions start to come through. “You are naïve!” They tell me, trying to maintain the safe, numb feeling “You are a fool.” People cynical of romance are similarly negative towards those in love; its painful to be reminded of what you have forsaken, so they attack the reminder.

The Moral Imperative of Hope

The terrific 1989 film Glory contains one of the greatest scenes I have ever watched, and an excellent lesson on hope and courage. Glory chronicles the 54th of Massachusetts, an all African American regimen that fought during the Civil War. The campfire scene takes place the night before the 54th was leading the charge on Fort Wagner, which was heavily defended. The men knew they would  likely die the next day. But tonight, they gathered around the campfire, singing, praying, sharing hope and mustering courage.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzUUFwbPaE4

 

Our attitude and our actions are the only things that we can control.

When Denzel Washington’s character says, “Ain’t even much a matter what happens tomorrow, ’cause we men, ain’t we?” he is expressing a courageous moral stance. He is saying, “To fight with you all tomorrow, is the best that I can do. I am giving my all, risking my life, everything I have, for the cause I most believe in.  This is what gives me honor, what makes me a man.  The outcome, what happens tomorrow, is irrelevant, it is out of my hands.”

None of us caused climate change, none of us chose to be born into this world, or this era. But here we are. This is our challenge. We have a responsibility to fight back. Declaring defeat at this point is abdicating any and all responsibility. Climate cynicism violates the most basic of social contracts. It says, “Even though I recognize calamity is upon us, I will not fight back. I will not fight for myself, or my family, nor for you or your family. The odds are against us, and so, I will give up.”

A more moral, hopeful, honorable stance is one that says, that Morgan Freeman describes:

“(God, if we die tomorrow)… we want you to let our folks know that we died facing the enemy! We want ’em to know that we went down standing up! Amongst those that are fighting against our oppression. We want ’em to know, Heavenly Father, that we died for freedom!”

As we face the terrifying, unknown future, we have a moral imperative to maintain hope; to keep our sleeves rolled up and keep fighting. We might lose, that is true, and it would be a terrible thing. But if we should fail, let us die facing the enemy; let us go down standing up.

Some people call this naïve. I call it hope. And it takes plenty of courage.