So the question arises, how seriously should we be taking the prospect of imminent climate crisis and environmental collapse? How serious is the threat? What should we be doing to meet it?
On the one hand, there are the Deep Green Resistance folks, who advocate a guerilla warfare approach to industrial civilization: sabotage to infrastructure, with the goal of saving the planet from the destructive predation of human society.
The DGR point of view is that the salmon and the frogs and the polar bears can’t wait; if we hesitate, they will go extinct, and there is no coming back from extinction. And by the way, we homo sapiens are next in line.
Well yes but…blowing up bridges, cell towers and power lines is hardly in a day’s work for most of us. I can’t see myself heading for the hills with a knapsack of dynamite on my back! And could such a resistance effort work? As the example of Tim DeChristopher shows, it doesn’t take much pushback to land in jail.
At the other end of the spectrum are the people who just don’t see that there’s any problem.
That’s most of us Americans. Most of my peers really seem to see nothing at all to be concerned about, ecosystem-wise. I often feel paranoid and ridiculous to worry about global warming leading to conditions of scarcity that will destabilize the social order. No one else is worrying about this, why should I?
People who love me warn me not to go too far; my neighbor wonders when the FBI surveillance will start on our block.
Really, am I nuts to be even thinking about all this?
But I can’t forget historical scenarios where the majority maintained a go-with-the-flow, maintain-the-status-quo position, and were stunned when their efforts at conformity landed them in the gas chambers.
This was only a generation ago, my friends.
Today our fear is not so much gas chambers as it is mass poisonings by other means: for instance, fungicide in the orange juice, heavy metals in the well water, or mega-hurricanes caused by global warming.
It is already happening. Of course the powers that be, the powers that are profiting from the status quo, don’t want us to question. They don’t want us to wonder whether saving the salmon is more important than, say, mining for gold in a pristine river. They don’t want us to demand cars that run on hydrogen. They don’t want us to insist on a moratorium on Round-up ready seed and fertilizer.
I’m sorry, but I can’t stand down and go back to minding my own business like a good little girl. I won’t go quietly into the night. I won’t be one of the capos who cooperates and shepherds the others to their doom.
But maybe we don’t have to choose between these two extreme scenarios: conformity or resistance. Maybe we can take a middle route, a resistance movement that works with the conformists to bring about change.
Yes, it’s a reformist hope that refuses to die in me. It’s a hope that I find echoed in the recently published conversation between imprisoned activist Tim DeChristopher and the writer Terry Tempest Williams:
“TIM: Well there’s no hope in avoiding collapse. If you look at the worst-case consequences of climate change, those pretty much mean the collapse of our industrial civilization. But that doesn’t mean the end of everything. It means that we’re going to be living through the most rapid and intense period of change that humanity has ever faced. And that’s certainly not hopeless. It means we’re going to have to build another world in the ashes of this one. And it could very easily be a better world. I have a lot of hope in my generation’s ability to build a better world in the ashes of this one. And I have very little doubt that we’ll have to. The nice thing about that is that this culture hasn’t led to happiness anyway, it hasn’t satisfied our human needs. So there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
DeChristopher says something surprising towards the end of this interview. He says that going to prison was the most freeing thing that could have happened to him.
“TIM: I thought I was sacrificing my freedom, but instead I was grabbing onto my freedom and refusing to let go of it for the first time, you know? Finally accepting that I wasn’t this helpless victim of society, and couldn’t do anything to shape my own future, you know, that I didn’t have that freedom to steer the course of my life. Finally I said, “I have the freedom to change this situation. I’m that powerful.” And that’s been a wonderful feeling that I’ve held onto since then.”
A lot of us are scared and angry and depressed for precisely this reason: we feel we don’t have control over our futures. We are like the salmon and the polar bears and the bats, facing an ever more inhospitable environment, with no way to fight back.
But what if we did have control? What if we have a lot more power than we realize?
This is the lesson of the Occupy movement. Another world is possible. And we can welcome her into existence. We don’t have to go quietly wherever the powers that be lead us.
Not yet, anyway. There’s still time. Let’s seize it.