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Individual Action or Total Revolution? The New Climate Change Debate

Two arguments are making the rounds in the debate over how to reverse climate change. Deniers don’t enter into it. This argument is about scale: How far should we go, as citizens, as individuals, to reverse the trend toward irrevocable and catastrophic climate change?

On the Bill McKibben side, a growing international movement is taking shape. People are taking action by organizing events and rallies, bringing the issue to prominence and (hopefully) convincing the goverments of the world it’s time to act.

On the Derrick Jensen side, nothing less than total revolution can save us. Dismantling the corporate power structure. Revolting against fossil fuels’ stranglehold on the world’s energy. A De-industrial Revolution.

First, an excerpt from a piece by Bill McKibben:

From Mt. Everest to the Maldives, people worldwide are turning an arcane number into a movement for a stable climate. Bill McKibben asks: Will you join them?

Let’s say you occasionally despair for the future of the planet. In that case, the place you need to be this week is the website for

Every few minutes, something new arrives at our headquarters, where young people hunched over laptops do their best to keep up with the pace. News that activists in Afghanistan—Afghanistan—have organized a rally for our big day of action on October 24. They’ll assemble on a hillside 20 kilometers from Kabul to write a huge message in the sand: “Let Us Live: 350.”

Or news that there’s all of a sudden a 350 website in Farsi to help organize the rallies taking shape across Iran. Or maybe a short story exactly 350 words long from the great writer Barry Lopez. Or the news flash that the World Council of Churches has endorsed the 350 target, and is urging its 650 million members to ring their bells 350 times on October 24. Or…

But wait—what’s 350? It’s the most important number in the world, though no one knew it even 20 months ago. When Arctic ice melted so dramatically in the summer of 2007, scientists realized that global warming was no longer a future threat but a very present crisis. Within months our leading climatologists—especially the NASA team led by James Hansen—were giving us a stark new reality check. Above 350 parts per million carbon dioxide, they wrote, the atmosphere would begin to heat too much for us to have a planet “similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.”

And from Chris Hedges of Truthdig:

We can join Bill McKibben on Oct. 24 in nationwide protests over rising carbon emissions. We can cut our consumption of fossil fuels. We can use less water. We can banish plastic bags. We can install compact fluorescent light bulbs. We can compost in our backyard. But unless we dismantle the corporate state, all those actions will be just as ineffective as the Ghost Dance shirts donned by native American warriors to protect themselves from the bullets of white soldiers at Wounded Knee.

“If we all wait for the great, glorious revolution there won’t be anything left,” author and environmental activist Derrick Jensen told me when I interviewed him in a phone call to his home in California. “If all we do is reform work, this culture will grind away. This work is necessary, but not sufficient. We need to use whatever means are necessary to stop this culture from killing the planet. We need to target and take down the industrial infrastructure that is systematically dismembering the planet. Industrial civilization is functionally incompatible with life on the planet, and is murdering the planet. We need to do whatever is necessary to stop this.”

The oil and natural gas industry, the coal industry, arms and weapons manufacturers, industrial farms, deforestation industries, the automotive industry and chemical plants will not willingly accept their own extinction. They are indifferent to the looming human catastrophe. We will not significantly reduce carbon emissions by drying our laundry in the backyard and naively trusting the power elite. The corporations will continue to cannibalize the planet for the sake of money. They must be halted by organized and militant forms of resistance. The crisis of global heating is a social problem. It requires a social response.

Read the whole article here.


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