A Global Movement for Climate Justice
The center does not hold. The weather becomes increasingly erratic and dangerous. It’s long past time for effective action to avoid global climate catastrophe. And yet periodic global climate conferences end with declarations, described by José Manuel Durão Barroso, President of the European Commission, anticipating the latest failure in Copenhagen, as “the longest global suicide note in history”i
Global Movement for Climate Justice
The manifest failure of marginal measures to reform business as usual, to move us from the path to self-destruction, has created the necessity for action by the ostensibly powerless using the tools at hand, the tools of mass citizen action, of democracy and of markets to end business and pollution as usual.
We must consider the essential role to be played by a global movement for Climate Justice in changing the global political balance of power in favor of fundamental and systematic change from self-destructive industrial business as usual toward sustainable ecological democracies.
An ecological democracy is the underlying basis for fundamental global transformation. The definition of an ecological democracy is sustainability in action. Sustainability, fundamentally, is a co-evolutionary process responding to all influences and circumstances to maintain conditions most favorable for life. Life shapes the ecosphere and the ecosphere shapes life. In an ecological democracy, sustainability is not only a biological process, but a social force for healing humanity’s excesses. An ecological democracy pursues sustainability in all aspects of life. It constitutes not merely a political form, but a way, with many potential expressions and manifestations.
Fundamental changes in global energy infrastructure and industrial practices will not be obtained on the cheap whether financially or politically. The enlightened self-interest of polluters will not deliver us from the consequences of too much carbon dioxide in a timely fashion, nor will the invisible hand of markets save us as long existing market rules both allows pollution for free and supports ecological destruction with a byzantine structure of subsidies.
As we have seen, the likelihood of nations under existing conditions agreeing by consensus en masse to a plan that will mean forfeiting the political, economic, strategic advantages of fossil fuel business as usual is not high. Unless.
Unless there is no other choice… But there is already no other choice but prompt action to avoid climate disaster, But even unfolding climate catastrophe is still unable to create the political and economic momentum to move the powerful of the world to action. Under business as usual, decades from now, nations having delayed action sufficiently long enough that the marginal consequences for waiting just another year are so high that they finally agree some action is irresistible. That means, of course, that such action is likely futile. It’s quite probable that we will have unleashed geological forces, for example, melting the Arctic permafrost and methane hydrates that will increase global temperature uncontrollably even if we burned not a single additional pound of carbon.
Today, protecting our families and our future means creating a new reality politically and economically that impels action. The rising of a global citizens movement, in conjunction with the political, economic, strategic and financial power of efficient renewables, can tip the global balance of power toward global change. UN conferences may eventually, in response to a political and economic sea change, catalyzed and driven by a Climate Justice movement, validate an operational climate justice mechanism or codify political and economic realities and inevitabilities.
And it is for this nascent global movement for Climate Justice that we must offer diverse constructive strategies. This movement must be more than a protest movement, or political resistance, or a political party or non-violent-revolutionary movement aimed at seizing state power. As Gandhi recognized , nonviolent resistance and non-cooperation is essential, but so is a complementary constructive program. We need to offer and support the broad range of constructive programs that ultimately will cohere to an effective global program for climate justice and an ecological transformation that will benefit all humanity and the all embracing ecosphere.
And it is part of this movement for Climate Justice to welcome the participation of all, of the skilled men and women of the energy industry, financiers, construction workers, engineers, physicists, advertisers, entrepreneurs of all sorts. This is a task of rebuilding our civilization, of using trillions of dollars in construction of new productive assets, and doing so in a manner that is fair and just. It must, by its nature, by an inclusive and constructive movement. And it is also a movement that must be insistent and unrelenting in the cause of building a sustainable world.
A Global Climate Justice Movement in Action
A climate justice movement, with sufficient political strength to catalyze and impel change, will not march behind the banner of a carbon tax or cap and trade, or any marginal change to business, pollution and injustice as usual. Replacing fossil fuels with efficient renewable energy is absolutely necessary, but it is not sufficient to finish the job of ecological sustainability. Economic growth must come to mean ecological improvement, not ecological destruction. This can and must be done. The movement writ large is one of building a sustainable prosperity employing efficient renewables and restoring and sustainably employing natural capital in a zero pollution, zero waste, high value added global economy.
The global question at hand is building ecological democracies that will transform industrialism ultimately into a diverse and varied global ecological civilization. The mission is first to stop, and then reverse business as usual rushing pell mell toward ecological catastrophe.
This is not the embrace of stringency, but rather the global practice of sustainability and the profitable retooling and reconstruction of much of the productive infrastructure. What limits are there on the trade in information in a renewable–powered cyberspace? An industrial ecology can make the waste product of one process, the input for another. The market price system under ecological consumption taxation can send price signals for sustainable goods to gain market share and be more profitable than polluting alternatives. New investment mechanisms, such as Advanced Energy Performance Contracting, can combine the income from renewable energy and efficiency to allow market based investment in building the new energy economy. A global per capita energy entitlement in sustainable energy can be the basis for transferring needed income for renewable development from rich to poor within nations and between nations based on a simple cent per kWh consumption tax on large energy users. We can build continental scale efficient renewable electricity grids to provide reliable and affordable energy to heat, cool, light our homes, run our factories, power our vehicles. Trillions squandered on war and on financial subsidies for polluters can be applied to building a sustainable, prosperous and peaceful world.ii
As the American colonists in the 1770s found themselves on a path that led to a fundamental, transformative, and unpredictable challenge to imperial power, we citizens of a global fossil fuel imperium must discover that we all have much in common, share common risks, have broadly similar aspirations for our families and future. We find ourselves in a position much like the concerned citizens of the 1770s, impelled to take corrective action, craft our own healing responses to excess for the sake of a sustainable, peaceful, and prosperous future. And we are also alike in that while we have visions of change, we have no clear road map to the future. This is a call for a fundamental political, economic, social and nonviolent movement to transform fossil fuel business as usual to a sustainable ecological future.
Globally, we are different, but alike in many ways. When the workers at the Gdansk shipyards on strike moved the lever that quickly helped unbalance and topple the Soviet imperium, we did not wonder why. It was clear what the Egyptians meant in Tahrir Square as they called for the tyrant to step down and why they stood up to the gunmen and thugs on horse and camels in defense of their revolution. It was clear, except to corporate media, when the Occupy movement on Wall Street in defense of the 99% chanted, “Banks got bailed out, We got sold out.”
A global spark has been lit, and that, as it has in the past, healing change in response to excess will swiftly and surprisingly be expressed for the cause of Climate Justice. Regularly, I travel past the Battle Green in the center of Lexington, MA where, in 1776, embattled farmers confronted an empire for the sake of freedom and their futures. We too, in the 21st century, find ourselves at a similar moment. The impositions of a global empire threatening not just ourselves, but a global posterity for millennia to come. And like those Patriots, we too need to stand up to the enormous power of empire because we must, and make common cause with a global community whose present and future is endangered by a continuation of pollution as usual. It’s time for us globally to stand together and sign a declaration of climate justice and freedom to which as Tom Jefferson wrote in 1776, “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”iii
The fossil fuel imperium seems impervious to change. But it is an illusion that there is no alternative to tyranny and abuse as usual. History teaches us otherwise. Slavery, for example, seemed irresistible to many abolitionists in the 1850s. The future prospect was for a slave empire in the Western hemisphere extending from the Southern cotton kingdom to Brazil. And yet, slavery soon crumbled. In the 1980s, the Soviet empire seemed a fact of life that would continue to dominate a huge swath of the globe indefinitely. In less than a decade it was a sad memory. Who predicted that Nelson Mandela would leave decades of imprisonment and become President of a democratic multiracial South Africa? Who foresaw that the suicide of a desperate street vendor in Tunisia would unleash the democratizing forces of the Arab Spring successively toppling the regimes of tyrants and continuing to challenge the status quo across the Arab world.
Global civil disobedience, non-cooperation and political action from below, in response to the demands and self-destructive actions of fossil fuel business as usual, is almost certainly to be an essential ingredient to any effective climate solution. Unless fundamentally challenged, business as usual will not cede its privileges and plans for future profits, however mad, while leading us toward ecological catastrophe.
Fredrick Douglass reminded us that, “Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the full roar of its mighty waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.iv
There are fundamental questions of justice and equity, between the rich and the poor, between those responsible for 200 years of carbon pollution and those recently industrializing states. A climate justice movement will attempt to address these issues based on justice and fairness, the transfer of assets and skills to enable the growth of a global ecological civilization, and examine specific mechanisms applicable to a wide range of nations, from the historic polluters of the industrialized world, to the rapidly industrializing, to the billions of the global impoverished.
The fossil fuel bosses of the United States, China, and Europe will not reach an agreement on a fair global deal anytime soon unless, unless humanity in the presence of a global social movement has a seat at the table whether directly or indirectly. The definition of what is both politically possible and politically necessary in our era of climate emergency must change.
It’s time for us to craft a truly global movement for climate justice as an essential step to protect all our futures. Such a movement must be inclusive, participatory, and democratic and call forth the best from us all. It’s darkest before the dawn. And then, without fail, the sun rises.
Roy Morrison is author of Ecological Democracy. He was a long-time organizer for the Clamshell Alliance, co-founder of the American Peace Test, and member of the National Committee of the Nuclear Freeze Campaign. Currently, he works on building solar farms and on energy efficiency.