What will it take to turn things around?
That’s a very good question that gets asked more and more frequently as climate change accelerates. A surprising and encouraging answer is coming into focus, which can help guide the multi-faceted climate movement in choosing the right ways to be most effective in turning things around and getting to the victory that everybody needs.
Let’s take a look at where we are now, the forces that are in play, and what we need to do to achieve that victory.
Paul Gilden, in his excellent article Victory at Hand for the Climate Movement?, argues that the climate movement is on the point of complete victory because:
- The Climate Change argument has been won conceptually and is largely accepted in the essential business and government hierarchies throughout the world.
- The economics are turning in favor of the transformation to a climate-friendly, carbon-constrained economy because energy efficiency, wind, and solar are cost competitive with fossil fuels right now (even with all of the fossil fuel subsidies) and financial institutions have begun to recognize the reality of the multi-trillion dollar multi-faceted carbon risk inherent in the old system.
It’s clear that what’s needed is the dismantling of the whole fossil fuel industry – leaving the current reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas in the ground – and replacing fossil fuels with an energy industry based on efficiency, wind, solar, and other climate-safe sources.
This sustainability revolution will be the greatest transformation of economic wealth and power in human history and there is a certain inevitability to it.
The only issue is whether this will happen quickly enough (within the next 20 years) to hold climate temperature rise to 2°C and prevent the 4°C rise that even very conservative institutions like the International Energy Agency, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and almost every other responsible commentator have recognized as catastrophic.
It’s clear much of the fossil fuel industry, arguably still the leading industry in the world, will fight hard in a rear guard action against this transformation. Therefore the multi-dimensional climate movement needs to formulate its political, economic, and cultural strategies carefully.
In the end, victory comes when the sustainable economy has replaced the unsustainable carbon-intensive economy. Nothing else is victory. So strategies all need to be evaluated on the basis of whether they contribute to or detract from that objective.
There are two great strategic lessons that can be drawn from the history of past movements.
(1) We need to put as much energy into what we are building as we put into what we are fighting. (2) We need to mobilize our base and split the opposition at the same time.
Any strategy that opposes the fossil fuel industry in a way that hurts the evolution of the sustainable economy is a mistake. For example an implacable anti-corporate stance is not very helpful. In this struggle, there are some mostly bad corporations and some largely good corporations. (See Philosophy of Capitalism.) We need to oppose the bad and support the good.
Firmly but respectfully, we need to take every action necessary to keep fossil fuels in the ground and create an economy that operates within relatively narrow climate tolerances necessary for human civilization to survive and thrive.