The Fight against Climate Change Must Become the New Abolitionism


Activist Greta Thunberg made headlines last week after she traveled to a UN climate summit in a zero-emissions sailboat

The planet continues to fry. Yet, America is pumping more fossil fuel than it has in decades. And the U.S. government does nothing to slow the damage. Just the opposite — Washington is now promoting oil, gas and coal while attacking clean energy.

We’ve fought against climate change for at least thirty years. Yet, it seems that activists have failed to reverse or even slow the flow of the greenhouse pollution that’s destroying the world’s climate.

Why has it taken so long for the climate movement to accomplish so little? And, since the clock is ticking to curb runaway global heating, how can we do better in the future?

To answer these questions, leaders in the fight against climate change from Al Gore to Bill McKibben to Naomi Klein have gone back to history.

They’ve compared today’s campaign to cut greenhouse gas pollution to the trans-Atlantic movement in the nineteenth century to abolish slavery.

It’s about politics, not science.

The idea is that fighting climate change today is going to be as hard politically as it was to free millions of enslaved people in the nineteenth century. So, we should accept just how big a political and social movement we’ll need to save our climate. And then we should learn how the abolition movement attacked the equally big problem of slavery in the past–and how they won against great odds.

For example, in This Changes Everything, Klein writes that abolition was a social movement that “succeeded in challenging entrenched wealth in ways that are comparable to what today’s movements must provoke if we are to avert climate catastrophe”:

The movement for the abolition of slavery in particular shows us that a transition as large as the one confronting us today has happened before — and indeed it is remembered as one of the greatest moments in human history. The economic impacts of slavery abolition in the mid-nineteenth century have some striking parallels with the impacts of radical emission reduction.

Klein recommends a 2014 essay by MSNBC on-air personality Chris Hayes, “The New Abolitionism: Averting planetary disaster will mean forcing fossil fuel companies to give up at least $10 trillion in wealth,

I agree that Hayes’ essay is brilliant and that it should be required reading for anyone who cares about the climate crisis. So let me summarize his argument in some detail below on the assumption that it’s well worth hearing what Hayes has to say.

So Much Goddamn Money

Unlike famous social movements in American history such as women’s suffrage or LGBTQ rights, abolition was about much more than religious values or personal prejudices about people who seemed different from the dominant norm.

For Hayes, what makes climate change much harder to deal with than other social issues is the amount of money that powerful people would stand to lose by abolishing fossil fuels. This makes them fight harder against outlawing their product, just as southern slaveholders fought hard against abolition in the nineteenth century.

When it comes to political economy, abolition was about very big money. That’s the problem.

“So much goddamn money,” as Hayes puts it. Since abolishing fossil fuels is also about very big money, Hayes contends that it’s “impossible to point to any precedent other than abolition”:

The leaders of slave power were fighting a movement of dispossession. The abolitionists told them that the property they owned must be forfeited, that all the wealth stored in the limbs and wombs of their property would be taken from them. Zeroed out. Imagine a modern-day political movement that contended that mutual funds and 401(k)s, stocks and college savings accounts were evil institutions that must be eliminated completely, more or less overnight. This was the fear that approximately 400,000 Southern slaveholders faced on the eve of the Civil War.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” — abolitionist Frederick Douglass

Hayes estimates the value of slave “property” (it’s obscene to refer to human beings as property today, but that was indeed the issue to slaveowners in the nineteenth century) at $10 trillion in today’s money. Just before the Civil War, that represented 16% of the total value of the U.S. economy and fully 50% of the economy in the southern states.

“In 1860, slaves as property were worth more than all the banks, factories and railroads in the country put together,” Civil War historian Eric Foner told Hayes. “Think what would happen if you liquidated the banks, factories and railroads with no compensation.”

Keep It in the Ground

To have any hope of a livable world in the future, according to Bill McKibben’s calculations in “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” the world’s governments must limit average worldwide temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). McKibben published those numbers in 2012, and things have gotten worse since then.

Even more so today, to hope to keep the climate under any safe limit of temperature rise, most of the remaining known fossil fuel reserves around the world will have to remain in the ground, unburned. In 2012, McKibben estimated 80%. Today, the number will surely be higher. Whatever your figure, asking oil, gas and coal companies to take most of their product off the market is going to be a very hard sell, as Hayes explains:

Proceeding from this fact, McKibben leads us inexorably to the staggering conclusion that the work of the climate movement is to find a way to force the powers that be, from the government of Saudi Arabia to the board and shareholders of ExxonMobil, to leave 80 percent of the carbon they have claims on in the ground. That stuff you own, that property you’re counting on and pricing into your stocks? You can’t have it. MORE

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The New Abolitionism

Averting planetary disaster will mean forcing fossil fuel companies to give up at least $10 trillion in wealth.

 

 

Names and Locations of the Top 100 People Killing the Planet

“Making ecocide the fifth Crimes Against Humanity listed by the Rome Statute would assure that individuals with superior responsibility for damaging Earth would have to defend  themselves before the International Criminal Court. Because of the possibility of criminal charges, an ecocide law would also deter individuals, corporations and governments, from engaging in reckless behavior that endangers life.

“The earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.” – Utah Phillips

Names and Locations

Just 100 companies are responsible for more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. The guys who run those companies – and they are mostly guys – have gotten rich on the backs of literally all life on Earth. Their business model relies on the destruction of the only home humanity has ever known. Meanwhile, we misdirect our outrage at our neighbors, friends, and family for using plastic straws or not recycling. If there is anyone who deserves the outrage of all 7.5 billion of us, it’s these 100 people right here. Combined, they control the majority of the world’s mineral rights – the “right” to exploit the remaining unextracted oil, gas, and coal. They need to know that we won’t leave them alone until they agree to Keep It In The Ground. Not just their companies, but them. Now it’s personal.

Houston tops this list as home to 7 of the 100 top ecocidal planet killers, followed by Jakarta, Calgary, Moscow, and Beijing. The richest person on the list is Russian oil magnate Vagit Alekperov, who is currently worth $20.7 billion.

The map is in the form of a cartogram which represents the size of countries by their cumulative carbon dioxide emissions since industrialization.

Names and Locations North America.png

Closeup of the top 32 North Americans killing the planet.

“Names and Location of the Top 100 People Killing the Planet, 2019” was made by Jordan Engel. It can be reused under the Decolonial Media License 0.1.

SOURCES

The Climate Kids Are Coming

With a Green New Deal and Student Strikes For Climate, will young people save us yet?

Greta Thunberg at Davos 2019
Greta Thunberg speaks at World Economic Forum in Davos. (AP Photo / Markus Schreiber)

If you don’t know who Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg is, you can think of her as an international climate-change counterpart to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Like the rock-star congresswoman from New York, Thunberg is a charismatic young woman whose social-media savvy, moral clarity, and fearless speaking truth to power have inspired throngs of admirers to take to the streets for a better world and call out the politicians and CEOs who are standing in the way.

Ocasio-Cortez, 29, is known for championing the #GreenNewDeal and schooling right-wing haters on Twitter. Thunberg, 16, is known for launching the #SchoolStrike4Climate movement—tens of thousands of high-school students worldwide are skipping school on Fridays until their governments treat the climate crisis as an emergency—and for torching billionaires and heads of state at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week.

Demolishing the convenient notion that we are all to blame for climate change, Thunberg told a Davos panel that included president Trump’s former chief economics adviser Gary Cohn, “Some people, some companies, some decision makers in particular have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money.” She paused before a final thrust of the knife: “I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”

Call them the Climate Kids. Like Ocasio-Cortez and Thunberg themselves, the grassroots activist movements they have roused are comprised almost exclusively of teenagers and twentysomethings. These are not your father’s environmentalists: supplicant, “realistic,” and accepting of failure. These young people are angry about the increasingly dire climate future awaiting them and clear-eyed about who’s to blame and how to fix it. And they seem to have the bad guys worried. MORE

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The Green New Deal: Movements (Finally) Get Visionary Again

‘Momentum is growing’: reasons to be hopeful about the environment in 2019

As we reflect on a year of extreme weather and ominous climate talks, Guardian environment writer Fiona Harvey explains why 2019 could see some much-needed breakthroughs

People enjoying the heatwave on Bournemouth beach in Dorset as the hot weather spread across the UK in summer, marking the driest start to a summer since modern records began in 1961.
 People enjoying the heatwave on Bournemouth beach in Dorset as the hot weather spread across the UK in summer, marking the driest start to a summer since modern records began in 1961. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

There are clear signs of hope on climate change also in the rapidly falling cost of renewable energy technology, which is now competitive with fossil fuels. And the Keep it in the ground campaign has succeeded in encouraging many investors to move their money out of fossil fuel stocks.

Avoiding meat and dairy is “single biggest way” to reduce your impact on Earth

But most of all the civil society campaigns which have ramped up in 2018 and look set to increase their momentum in the coming year are taking effect. Public opinion around the world is that our leaders, governments and businesses should be doing more on this vital issue. This can be seen in some unexpected ways, such as the rise of veganism and flexitarian eating, as people seek to reduce their impact on the climate from eating meat. Through well-publicised and effective movements and actions, more and more people are refusing silently to acquiesce in ignoring the dangers to the climate. SOURCE

‘We Have Not Come Here to Beg World Leaders to Care,’ 15-Year-Old Greta Thunberg Tells COP24. ‘We Have Come to Let Them Know Change Is Coming’

“We can no longer save the world by playing by the rules,” says Greta Thunberg, “because the rules have to be changed.”

UN Secretary General António Guterres seated next to 15-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who explained that while the world consumes an estimated 100 million barrels of oil each day, "there are no politics to change that. There are no politics to keep that oil in the ground. So we can longer save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed." (Photo: UNFCC COP24 / Screenshot)UN Secretary General António Guterres seated next to 15-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who explained that while the world consumes an estimated 100 million barrels of oil each day, “there are no politics to change that. There are no politics to keep that oil in the ground. So we can longer save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed.” (Photo: UNFCC COP24 / Screenshot)

Striking her mark at the COP24 climate talks taking place this week and next in Poland, fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden issued a stern rebuke on behalf of the world’s youth climate movement to the adult diplomats, executives, and elected leaders gathered by telling them she was not there asking for help or demanding they comply with demands but to let them know that new political realities and a renewable energy transformation are coming whether they like it or not.

“Since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago,” said Thunberg, who has garnered international notoriety for weekly climate strikes outside her school in Sweden, during a speech on Monday. MORE