Monday, September 30, 2013



As a species, we are hard-wired for response to immediate threat, rather than deliberations to change behavior to prevent future threat. This makes responding to climate change difficult, since most still do not experience an immediate threat. And even with all the linkage in the press of something like Hurricane Sandy to climate change, we know that the science only predicts trends. We can't say that any particular hurricane is due to climate change, only that these particular storm surges were probably due to it. As for an effective response, the transformation of morality and consciousness happens one person at a time. The hope at the 12th hour (less than four minutes to midnight - to retool the countdown to nuclear Armageddon), is that the noosphere is going to get tight enough and comprehensive enough for a “group mind” to develop that cares for the whole. We have roughly three years in which this needs to happen, for the midnight of irreversible positive feedback loops is late 2016.

We have experienced many shootings in the last decade, and though individual gun murders are down, mass shootings are significantly up. Each time, we think the time is ripe for reform of gun-control laws. Yet even after one of their own struggled to mouth the words after horrific brain injuries, the House failed to respond to Gabby Giffords' poignant cry, “Do something.” After numerous school shootings, malls and movie theater scenes of mayhem, the US still has the most lax gun laws on the planet.

Still more powerful than the NRA is the fossil fuel industry lobby, deeply imbedded in our culture, our infrastructure, and our government. So even if we get it that the threat from global warming is real, and becoming more immediate every day, we have to recognize how powerful the opposition is, how responsive the system is to monied interests. It is not just a matter of a few marches and letters to our editors and congresspeople. It needs to be a full-on campaign, with warriors willing to make a sacrifice, and others ready to take their places when those are carried away in the paddywagon.

My model of the perfect action remains the Children's Crusade in my native Birmingham. Black schoolchildren created a near-flawless civil disobedience action in the parks of Birmingham in early May 1963. These parks were targeted because they had been closed by Bull Connor rather than risk fraternization of the races. Note that this was a campaign, not a one-off event after which they went home and congratulated themselves (I can't help contrast the group of women who went to jail with me at the Keystone action in September 2011, wearing their t-shirts as they posed for a celebratory photo upon release). The planning was covert, with carefully crafted codes signaled by a popular radio dj. The motivation started with the girlfriends of high school football players, with echoes of Lysistrata as they cheered their men on to non-violent action. And the numbers were there: so many kids were arrested that fleet after fleet of buses was barely enough to handle them. The jails filled, and the last couple of thousand were ferried to the pigpens at the state fairgrounds. This successful action got rid of Bull Connor and led to the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

With's move towards non-violent direct action, adopting the element of surprise rather than carefully scripted events issuing from negotiation with the police (like the 2011 Keystone action), the elements of this kind of action are in place, amplified by their brilliant use of the added dimension of the internet, which allows virtually instant communication of simultaneous global actions. Everything is in place, that is, but the numbers. Getting large numbers of protesters in the streets, with trained cadres of those willing to perform civil disobedience, remains the key, and that's where you and I come in.

There are signs the strategy may be working in the case of the Keystone XL pipeline, which has now been delayed for two years at huge expense to an industry whose margins were already thin, thin enough that several venture capitalists have writtne them off as a bad investment. If it were not for the overwhelming support of Steven Harper's conservative government, deep shades of George W. Bush shrouding it all, the effort may well have already failed. But we must remember that numerous pipelines are being built. We are being surrounded, a deep grid of oil distribution being burned into our geography. We are also co-opted because we are the slaves of an oil economy that reaches far beyond the internal combustion engine upon which we rely so heavily.

Keystone XL is an excellent choice for drawing a line against mining and piping that is so dirty that it's massive sludge-pool of oil has the fossil footprint of coal- or worse. James Hansen's statement that this activity alone is sufficient to put us over the edge into climate doom is perhaps hyperbolic. but Bill McKibben's effective "Do the Math" article last summer on the cumulative danger of species endgame represented by known oil reserves makes the broader case for which the Alberta tarsands only stand as the worst example. Not only is it the worst example of the madness of desperate scrambling for new sources in the age of Peak Oil, it represents the most completely stolen indigenous nation in history, for the very ground beneath the Athabascans' feet is being chewed up, swallowed, and regurgitated in a reverse alchemy that turns the gold of a pristine functioning homeland to filthy, contaminated sludge-oil.

Our numbers in the streets need to scale up rapidly, and the focus needs to broaden beyond KXL. We need journalists, footsoldiers, videographers, strategists, and lots of boots on the ground. Boomers who can afford comfortable footwear have a golden opportunity to put them to use. Our generation can still play a big part in preserving a livable society, sustainable because it is not reliant upon fossil fuels. It is the youth who have the most to lose, and thus the most to gain. But we can provide the capital, the emotional support, and several million pairs of walking shoes to back them up.

As I wrote before, the most powerful speaker at the Walk for Our Grandchildren rally at the White House was Mahan Siler, 79 year-old retired Baptist preacher. He took back the image of the keystone as the final piece joining an arch, as a  coalition of young and old awaken and realize that their moment has come. But the Keystone Moment is far more than stopping one monstrous, hideously misguided pipeline; it is the moment when a new keystone of activism can be achieved by reaching our hands high to brace each other, Boomers and the youth of the 21st century. Let us seize that moment, for it will not soon come again – if ever.

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