Humanity is at a crossroads. Will we go over the cliff of climate change? Will we stay asleep at the wheel, becoming the passive victims of floods, droughts, food insecurity, extreme weather, and disease? Or will we wake up to the terrible danger we are in, and fight back, together? Will we collectively rise to the challenge of our time, creating a social and political movement that demands an emergency, warlike response from policymakers? The stakes are the highest they have ever been. The fate of our species, and our planet, hang in the balance.
After realizing the terrifying reality of our current situation, the next questions are about strategy: What should we do? What should I do? How can we fight this?
Or maybe, we should take a step back and ask a more meta-question:
How should we make the decision about how to fight climate change? What is the best process for choosing both 1) an advocacy and 2) a strategy/ organizing plan, for accomplishing that advocacy?
Where are the scholars? The absence of a social-science consensus (or conversation!) on organizing strategy.
It strikes me that, while there has been a fair amount (though certainly not enough!) of media focus on the scientific consensus that human-induced climate change is real, and a real threat to humanity, there has been no consensus, or even discussion among social scientists and scholars about how humans should respond to the threat of climate change; how we should organize and fight back. Indeed, there has been no attempt to reach this consensus.
While there is certainly scholarship on climate change, from many social science disciplines, this scholarship virtually never is connected with an organizing plan or with a specific advocacy for the Human Climate Movement.
The lack of scholarly engagement is due to several factors: 1) The idea that climate change is a “scientific” problem, and thus all aspects of climate change should be handled by scientists. 2) The reticence of social scientists and scholars to be so practical and political. Its better career-wise, and safer, to dwell within the realm of ideas. Grand theories and out-of-the-box applied political work is regarded with suspicion in many academic fields 3) Society’s recent antipathy towards social scientists and scholars of the humanities. The focus on STEM education and the belittlement of “impractical fields” has demoralized many scholars, making them think (not without reason) that society doesn’t care about their ideas. 4) General societal denial about the severity and immediacy of climate change (The Climate Lie), which keeps many scholars and social scientists from making concerted study of climate change a focus.
The Benefits of Urgent, Collaborative, Applied Scholarship
During WWII, scientists and scholars were asked to put aside “real” science and scholarship, and to focus only on projects that would benefit the war effort. They could resume their “real” work after the war. The irony, of course, is that WWII was one of the most productive scientific and scholastic periods in human history. We imagine science and scholarship to be dispassionate. And yet, passionate, applied scientists and scholars, working collaboratively towards a common goal, appears to be even more productive.
The best known example urgent scientific collaboration during WWII is the Manhattan project. But during WWII there were major innovations in all types of weaponry, in communications technology and code breaking, medicine, and production methods. In the realm of social science, there were major advancements as well. WWII was the first instance that the military and public recognized that combat PTSD was not a defect of character. It became official understanding that “Every man has a breaking point” and psychological knowledge was applied to help soldiers cope with the trauma of combat. Ruth Benedict researched and published the classic study of Japanese culture, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, without setting foot in Japan! Under normal circumstances, anthropologists study cultures by living within them. This was not possible during WWII, and the United States needed to understand the Japanese mentality, which was so different from our own. So she studied Japanese texts and films, interviewed Japanese people living within the United States, and produced a classic work.
A sense of moral urgency can trump other concerns, such as personal advancement or institutional territoriality. It can instigate a rich collaboration; an open sharing of data and ideas, and bring forth new discoveries in all participating fields.
Open Sourcing Human Climate Movement Strategy
Climate change poses an even greater threat to humanity than the Axis powers did. Scientists and engineers have been collaborating and contributing to the solution for years—making huge strides in climate modeling, renewable technology, agricultural techniques, adaptation measures and much more.
We are long on scientific understanding, and shockingly short on social engagement and political will.
Its time for social scientists and scholars to get in the game. Applying their knowledge and theory to the problem at hand. To answer the questions: (most importantly): What is the best strategy to instigate and organize a social movement that will fundamentally alter the national and international mood, making the public recognize the emergent nature of climate change? and (also important, but more frequently addressed): What policies should be enacted, once citizens have mustered the political power to demand transformation?
I tackled these very questions in my article “Fighting Climate Change is Different from Fighting for Civil Rights”, published this week on AlterNet. I argue that civil disobedience/ protest tactics succeeded for the Civil Rights Movement because they countered racism; the movement’s biggest barrier to spreading the truth about African American’s oppression. I argue that they will not succeed for the Human Climate Movement, because the Human Climate Movement’s largest psychological barrier to spreading the truth about climate change is anxiety—people are too terrified of the truth to recognize it and act on it. In Part II of the article, I propose a person-to-person, pledge based” strategy, that utilizes a comprehensive plan (Gilding’s One Degree War Plan) and human relationships to contain anxiety.
Though I believe that my article offers an important analysis, and the strategy I propose is innovative and has real potential for efficacy, I am not egotistical enough to believe that it should be the last word in Human Climate Movement organizing. Quite the opposite. My hope is that for other scholars and social scientists to improve upon it, and offer their own organizing and advocacy ideas, which can be further refined and combined with each other.
Benefits of Open- Sourcing
Inclusion: Publishing strategy proposals in an open forum allows anyone to enter the conversation and contribute. Any scholar, graduate student, auto-didact, or concerned citizen can be involved. It allows for a public debate on what should be a public issue: how to proceed with fighting climate collapse. People can utilize and expand on each other’s ideas. Proposals can become hybrids. Humanity can function as a hive-mind, ultimately selecting the best plan.
Accountability: Open sourcing strategy also adds a level of accountability for Environmental organizations and advocates. Groups that ask for your support should tell you their strategy and their plans, and admit if they do not have a comprehensive plan for fighting climate change. What is 350’s long-term organizing strategy? What is their long-term plan for success? What policies would they implement if they succeed in creating a social movement? How about the NRDC’s organizing strategy? How about the Sierra Club? The Democratic Party? The Green Party?
Similarly, well known movement leaders and commentators have generally not put forth specific plans. Joe Romm, for example has a WWII advocacy, which I share. But he does not have an organizing plan for bringing it about. This is disempowering to readers. Someone could read Joe Romm’s blog, completely agree with him, and not know what to do next; how to put his values into practice. Commentators and leaders should propose or endorse specific organizing strategies, and explain their choices.
Organizations, leaders, and commentators should play their cards face up. Don’t ask me to donate money or attend protests, and not tell me the rationale, the strategy behind the action. Let the public in on the plan, or lack thereof. Let the plan improve and evolve through critique and hybridization. The stakes are too high for individuals or institutions to act in their own best interest, at the expense of frank and honest discussion about strategy.
Unification: Another major benefit is that a process of considering and evaluating open-sourced proposals would give the Human Climate Movement a greater sense of unity, which it sorely needs. Currently, every environmental group pursues their own agenda (coal, Keystone, fracking, renewables, etc). Hopefully, through a process of discussion and strategy proposals, a consensus can be reached on both organizing strategy and advocacy. Unification would help the movement tremendously.
If we get a critical mass of proposals, they could be organized with a Reddit-style voting system. The more people endorse a proposal, the higher it moves towards the top. Where it will be read by more people. If this idea really gets going, a voting system might be endangered by trolls, and different methods of curating proposals can be explored.
Until then, I can publish proposals on my blog. Perhaps a larger news organization or environmental group would like to partner with me on this open-sourcing project.
I call for 2 types of papers:
1) Comprehensive Proposals. These include both a political advocacy (how we should fight climate change once we muster the political will to do so) and an organizing strategy in order to create a social movement/ muster the political will in order to enact the advocacy.
2) Partial Proposals. These approach one element of organizing strategy. This could include, for example, ideas for how to target certain groups or types of people. Pure-advocacy proposals (ie, we should institute a carbon tax, or we should cap emissions at 350) would not be accepted as these are commonly discussed in the environmental movement/ blogosphere. Advocacies must be proposed with organizing strategies behind them.
Both types of proposals should demonstrate why their approach will be effective. This can be done using the history or theory of social movements, politics, psychology, anthropology, sociology, gender studies, economics, media studies, evolutionary biology… all perspectives are welcome, but proposals should be well researched and argued (Proposals should have a minimum of 5 cited sources). Proposals can, and should, build off of each other.
(My Person-to-person, pledge-based strategy is a comprehensive proposal, though I use Gilding’s One Degree War Plan for the advocacy portion. I demonstrate the efficacy of my plan through a mix of psychological, anthropological and historical arguments, largely based on an examination of the Civil Rights Movement.)
Participation will also occur through comments/ discussion.
Scientists and scholars during WWII were funded by the government. Fighting our current crisis does not have many economic incentives. But we can appeal to author’s sense of honor, scholarship and humanity. We can issue a call for papers that is open to anyone, as well as specific invitations to brilliant individuals. I, for example, would love to see proposals from scholars E.O Wilson, Tanya Luhrmann, Nancy McWilliams and Marshall Ganz, for example. As well as from activists and commentators including Bill McKibben and 350, Naomi Klein, Joe Romm, David Roberts, Jill Stein, and Al Gore.
Scientists have made it clear that we need to fight climate change with everything that we have. That question is answered.
The question that remains is HOW to do it. How to build a social movement. How to muster the political will. In my mind, this is the most important question in the world.
7 billion heads are better than one.
Let’s figure it out, together.