” … for me, one frustration of the coronavirus pandemic is that it’s temporarily interrupting the movement-building that is necessary to beat the fossil-fuel industry.” (McKibben, below)
Some of us went to jail, in January, to launch the campaign, which was going to crest [this Earth Day] with a wave of acts of nonviolent civil disobedience…. But now we can’t … as the potential for community spread of COVID-19 became clear…. (McKibben, below)
In his weekly commentary for the New Yorker (see yesterday’s post), Bill McKibben speaks to “The Coronavirus an the Climate” (March 18, 2020). His 500-word analysis about climate and the current pandemic speaks a book.
Here it is:
My daughter… asked me the other day, “Do you think we’re going to go on having crises like this my whole life?” Probably not quite like the coronavirus (pandemics are fairly unique among disasters, in that they attack the whole world at the same time), but I’ve long feared that the result of heating the Earth will be an ongoing, accelerating series of disasters, eventually overwhelming our ability to cope. The pace of those events has been increasing in recent years, and our ability to keep them at something like a manageable level depends, above all, on the speed with which we transition off of gas, oil, and coal.
That’s why, for me, one frustration of the coronavirus pandemic is that it’s temporarily interrupting the movement-building that is necessary to beat the fossil-fuel industry. Just as basketball and Broadway have had to take a break, so have some forms of protest. Greta Thunberg asked school-strikers to go digital for a while: “We young people are the least affected by this virus but it’s essential that we act in solidarity with the most vulnerable and that we act in the best interest of our common society,” she told her four million Twitter followers. The Sunrise Movement—the inspiring young people who made the Green New Deal into a cause célèbre—asked organizers “to avoid mass physical gatherings,” saying, “as a generation shaped by the Internet and social media, it’s time to innovate, esp. digitally.”
When not writing this newsletter, I’ve been volunteering as an organizer for Stop the Money Pipeline, which has been trying to persuade banks, insurance companies, and asset managers to cease their funding of the fossil-fuel industry. (My interest grew out of a piece that I wrote for The New Yorker last fall.)
Some of us went to jail, in January, to launch the campaign, which was going to crest with a wave of acts of nonviolent civil disobedience with the occupation of hundreds, or thousands, of Chase Bank branches, on April 23rd, the day after Earth Day’s fiftieth anniversary. (JPMorgan Chase is the world’s single biggest funder of fossil fuels.)
But now we can’t—as soon as the potential for community spread of COVID-19 became clear, so did the cruelty of perhaps introducing it into the correctional system.
I’ve spent just enough time in jails to know that they’re usually dirty, overcrowded, and full of people (many of whom do not need to be there) in constant motion between holding cells, prisons, and the courts. It’s going to be hard enough to keep inmates healthy without additional germs making their way inside from unknowing protesters. And people really should not be gathering in numbers now, anyway.
Digital activism is rarely as effective as in-the-flesh nonviolent action, but, for the time being, that is what people can engage in. On Monday, Paul Engler, one of the best strategists of nonviolent action, wrote that “we should draw both on the possibilities of new technology that allow for decentralized action and some time-honored lessons from past social movements.” And when the pandemic passes? Here is how Extinction Rebellion U.K. put it: “Nothing will feel the same and we need to be ready”—ready for resuming civil disobedience “when the time is right.”
And elsewhere in the same report:
Someday, people may look back in wonder at a moment when bankers thought it proper to profit from damaging what the report calls ‘part of the Earth’s natural ‘thermostat’” in order to extract hydrocarbons that would wreck the climate system.
Do not believe that, losing the war against fossil fuels, the religious zealots of climate alarm will stop complaining, pleading, and disrupting. What will come after the ‘peaceful’ protests? Get ready for uncivil disobedience.