How to Save the Planet and OurselvesRoger Hallam, a leader in the international struggle against climate change.
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If you read only one book this year, it should be Roger Hallam's "Common Sense for the 21st Century: Only Nonviolent Rebellion Can Now Stop Climate Breakdown and Social Collapse."
Hallam's lucid and concise book, which echoes Thomas Paine's "Common Sense," says what many of us now know to be true but do not say: If we do not replace the ruling elites soon we are finished as a species. It is a cogent, well-argued case for global rebellion -- the only form of resistance that can save us from ecosystem collapse and human-induced genocide. It correctly analyzes the failure of environmentalist activists in groups such as 350.org to understand and confront global corporate power and thus make a meaningful impact as we barrel toward ecocide. "Common Sense for the 21st Century" is a survival manual for the human species.
"The corrupt system is going to kill us all unless we rise up," Hallam, a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, bluntly warns.
The activism, protests, lobbying, petitions, appeals to the United Nations and misguided trust in "liberal" politicians such as Barack Obama and Al Gore, along with the work of countless NGO s, have been accompanied by a 60% rise in global carbon dioxide emissions since 1990. The United Nations estimates this will be augmented by a 40% rise in CO2 emissions in the next 10 years. Hallam, who has long been a part of the environmental movement, says of his past activism: "I was wasting my time."
We must reduce carbon emissions by 40% in the next 12 years to have a 50% chance of avoiding catastrophe, according to a report last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But the ruling elites, as expected, ignored the warning or mouthed empty platitudes. CO2 emissions increased by 1.6% in 2017 and by 2.7% in 2018. Carbon dioxide levels went up by 3.5 parts per million (ppm) last year, reaching 415 ppm. We are only a decade away, Hallam warns, from 450 ppm, the level equivalent to a 2-degree Celsius average temperature rise.
"Let's be frank about what 'catastrophe' actually means in this context," Hallam writes. "We are looking here at the slow and agonizing suffering and death of billions of people. A moral analysis might go like this: one recent scientific opinion stated that at 5°C above the pre-industrial mean temperature, we are looking at an ecological system capable of sustaining just one billion people. That means 6-7 billion people will have died within the next generation or two. Even if this figure is wrong by 90%, that means 600 million people face starvation and death in the next 40 years. This is 12 times worse than the death toll (civilians and soldiers) of World War Two and many times the death toll of every genocide known to history. It is 12 times worse than the horror of Nazism and Fascism in the 20th century. This is what our genocidal governments around the world are willingly allowing to happen. The word 'genocide' might seem out of context here. The word is often associated with ethnic cleansing or major atrocities like the Holocaust. However, the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition reads 'the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.'"
"It is time to grow up and see the world as it is," Hallam writes. "There are some things which are undeniably real, there are some things we cannot change, and one of those is the laws of physics. Ice melts when the temperature rises. Crops die in a drought. Trees burn in forest fires. Because these things are real, we can also be certain about what the future holds. We are now heading into a period of extreme ecological collapse. Whether or not this leads to the extinction of the human species largely depends upon whether revolutionary changes happen within our societies in the next decade. This is not a matter of ideology, but of simple math and physics." Hallam points out that most predictions by climate scientists have turned out to be wildly over-optimistic. "... Recent science shows permafrost melting 90 years earlier than forecast and Himalayan glaciers melting twice as fast as expected," he writes. "Feedbacks and locked-in heating will take us over 2°C even before we factor in additional temperature rises from human-caused emissions over the next 10 years."
"In short, we are fucked -- the only question is by how much and how soon?" Hallam continues, "Do we accept this fate? I suggest we do not. Many self-respecting people who can overcome the human failing to disbelieve what they don't like, now accept what is obvious looking at the natural science. But they have yet to work through the political and social implications."
Hallam understands that even with reformists in power -- and the political mutations caused by neoliberalism have not favored the rise of reformers but instead right-wing demagogues including Donald Trump and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro who accelerate the ecocide -- any change will be too incremental and too slow to save us from catastrophe.
Extinction Rebellion has the stated aim of bringing down the ruling elites. It organized last month's coordinated series of demonstrations in 60 cities around the globe. Some 1,832 people were arrested in London alone. Additionally, more than 1,000 people were arrested during 11 days of civil disobedience in the streets of London in April. You can see interviews I did with Hallam here, here and here.
"This is not a matter of one's political party preferences," Hallam writes. "It is a matter of basic structural sociology. Institutions, like animal species, have limits to how fast they can change. To get rapid change they have to be replaced with new social systems of policy, practice and culture. It is a terrible and painful realization, but it is time to accept our reality."
It is only by bringing tens of thousands of people onto the streets to disrupt and paralyze the functioning of the state and finance capitalism -- in short, a rebellion -- that we can save ourselves, he writes. He grasps the fact that the protests must be nonviolent and must focus on governments.
"After one or two weeks following this plan, historical records show that a regime is highly likely to collapse or is forced to enact major structural change," he writes. "This is due to well-established dynamics of nonviolent political struggle. The authorities are presented with an impossible dilemma. On the one hand they can allow the daily occupation of city streets to continue. This will only encourage greater participation and undermine their authority. On the other hand, if they opt to repress the protesters, they risk a backfiring effect. This is where more people come onto the street in response to the sacrifices of those the authorities have taken off the street. In situations of intense political drama people forget their fear and decide to stand by those who are sacrificing themselves for the common good."
"The only way out is for negotiations to happen," he writes. "Only then will a structural opportunity open up for the emergency transformation of the economy that we need. Of course, this proposal is not certain to work but is substantially possible. What is certain, however, is that reformist campaigning and lobbying will totally fail as it has for decades. The structural change we now objectively need has to happen too fast for any conventional strategy."
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