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Would you go to jail in the fight against Climate Disruption?

April 17th, 2011 · 2 Comments

Do you recognize Climate Disruption as — quite likely — humanity’s defining challenge for the 21st century?

Have Russian fires, Pakistani floods, Australian droughts and floods, shifting bird habitation, record high temperatures, melting Arctic Ice, increasingly acidified oceans, or the ever earlier flowering of your garden’s bulbs penetrated your conscience and increased your concerns about today’s climate disruption and the potential for catastrophic climate chaos in the years and decades ahead?

Are you aware of the scientific work which supports increasingly dire forecasts if humanity does not, rapidly, shift to a lower-polluting path?

Over the weekend, someone commented that they, philosophically, are trying to figure out what the moral action would be if they had been alive in 1930 and were able to see a future of World War II with the Holocaust.  With that in mind, the thought continued:

I understand the science.

I have a feel for the dire risks humanity faces.

What is the ethical, moral, and correct path that I should follow?

“What is the ethical, moral and correct path?”  That is a searing question to ask oneself when facing a situation where you understand a serious problem that requires serious action to mitigate or forestall.

In the face of climate disruption’s current havoc and mounting risks, is writing your Senator enough?  Putting a bumper sticker on your car?  Buying organic clothing and food?  On a larger scale, is the “ethical, moral, and correct path” challenged answered with efforts to develop business approaches to reduce pollution or  government policies that will foster energy efficiency?

To a certain extent, this ethical challenge and question ends up driving a highly individual answer as what is ‘right’ does not necessarily transfer cleanly from person-to-person, situation to situation.

One of the keynotes of modern civilization, around the globe, has been the power of civil disobedience where people have risked arrest (or worse) in defense of demanding justice and change. Whether Ghandi, King, or Egyptians quite recently, myriads of people have determined that the “ethical, moral, and correct path” required them to put their own well-being on the line for something greater than themselves.

This is a path that, increasingly, those concerned about fossil-foolish energy policies and climate disruption see as required to help draw attention to humanity’s seemingly headlong and heedless rush toward catastrophic climate chaos.  NASA scientist James Hansen has joined others arrested to draw attention to mountain top removal (even as those creating massive health and other damage through reckless mining practices are laughing their way to the bank).  Tim Christopher has been convicted for disrupting bidding for federal mining rights even as the entire bid was questionable legally (even as no one from British Petroleum has been arrested and convicted for the death and destruction in the Gulf of Mexico from Deepwater Horizon).  Civil disobedience — to the point of arrest — is becoming increasingly important for those concerned about climate disruption who are asking themselves “what is the ethical, moral, and correct path to follow?”

Just this past Friday, youth climate activists took to Congress to raise their voices in song recognizing that they risked arrest.

Oh why can’t you see
It’s my life that’s at stake
When you sell out our world
You are stealing my future

From the spectators’ area of the House chamber, a young voice rang out with this variant of the Star Spangled Banner.

That voice was interrupted by Capital Police making an arrest.

The next voice rang out.

Can you look in my eyes
As you gamble our lives

Another pair of handcuffs emerged as Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), head of the DCCC, looked on in concern and conferred with his Republican counterparts as to what to do in the face of this disruption.

Another young voice sang out a call to defend humanity

When will you stop the lies
So that we can survive?
If you represent me
Not the fossil fuel industry
You  must stop wasting time
Chasing your dollar signs

More police. More arrests.

Yet, additional voices sang out.

Oh, say will you listen  to
Our generation
If you refuse to hear us now
Then we have to shut you down”

All told, nine climate youth activists chose the route of civil disobedience of the point of arrest last Friday. (See CSPAN video.)

In Washington to join over 10,000 other youth impassioned about climate disruption’s challenges and opportunities at Powershift 2011, these eight came from Maine and California and received assistance from the Utah climate-justice action group Peaceful Uprising.

Their voices, ringing out with pleaful words sung to the Star Spangled Banner and also We Shall Overcome, sought to bring attention to the Congress’ dominance by fossil foolish interests seeking to deepen the hole that we need, desperately, to stop digging and start filling with energy efficiency, clean energy, and a raft of other policies and approaches that build on the science to help turn the tide on catastrophic climate chaos.

As one commentator put it,

They are participating in non-violent civil disobedience as a result of frustration that congress and the Obama administration are working counter to the needs of a livable future. To them, the unwillingness of our representatives to prevent the coming climate catastrophe is a war on the young.

As the New York Times blog post concluded

one arrested woman, who looked to be in her early 20s said, “We just want our government to protect the earth.”

The Climate 8’s actions, however, were marginally, at best, reported in the national press. What news broadcast led with this? What newspaper put this on the front page?

Imagine what might have happened if this were eight Tea Party youth activists protesting unemployment insurance funding or the ending of a tax subsidy for deepwater drilling? At Faux News’ Beck and call, essentially every media outlet in the nation would have given it attention. And, Republican members would have, it seemed, swarmed to the cameras to call them heroes as opposed to what happened last Friday with calls to “clear the Chamber“.

Earlier today, a much larger group chose civil disobedience as a flash mob shut down a BP gas station near the Powershift 2011 convention.

Tulane University student Stephanie Stefanski explains why she drove 20 hours from Louisiana to the 2011 Power Shift conference to help to shut down BP and make them pay to restore the Gulf:

There’s still oil on our coast. I saw it two weeks ago, I touched it, I smelled it. It’s still causing massive die offs with dolphins, sea turtles, crustaceans and fish. It’s causing public health issues. I’m here to tell everyone this problem is still here one year later. The beaches are still oiled. They’re trying to “make it right” by paying off the community, but it’s still destroyed. The fisheries are damaged. There’s no money in, people still don’t trust the seafood. They’re not paying up for their damages.

Stefanski is with the Gulf Restoration Network, which has a national petition to hold President Obama accountable and implement the Oil Spill Commission recommendations to ensure Louisiana and its sister states come back stronger.

While not facing the stern regard of those running the House of Representatives, those participating in the flash mob also put themselves on the path of civil disobedience, also risking arrest. At some point, as seen in movements across the world over the past century, those ready to sacrifice of themselves turn from isolated players to representative of the soul of society.

And, when discussing soul, one returns to the question: “what is the ethical, moral, and correct path to follow” in the face of climate disruptions increasing havoc and mounting future risks?

From the 2009 Australian Powershift, another flash mob:

This past weekend, Australian youth gathered for PowerShift Australia. And, they ‘flashed’ Sydney’s Opera House.


Monday, PowerShift-ers will protest in front of the White House, then the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with 1000s planning to lobby Congress.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Cherri Foytlin of Gulf Change, and co-founder Bill McKibben will speak to more than 5,000 young voters, at a rally in front of the White House this Monday to demand that the President and Congress stand up to Big Polluters, protect the Clean Air Act, and make corporate polluters like BP pay for their pollution. They’re calling on President Obama and Congress to end handouts to corporate polluters, make them pay their fair share, invest in a clean energy economy, and create good jobs. Rally participants will then move on to protest at the US Chamber of Commerce, which serves as a front group for Big Polluters, the DC headquarters of BP, and the headquarters of the electric utility Gen-On, which continues to burn coal in Virginia. Young people will then have hundreds ofvisits to Congressional offices to demand that Congress protect the Clean Air Act and stop taking money from corporate polluters.

On the anniversary of Deepwater Horizon, PowerShift-ers plan to shut down BP stations nation wide.

It’s been one year since the BP Drilling Disaster, but BP hasn’t cleaned up its mess and the Gulf is still suffering.

On the one-year memorial, we will stand in solidarity with the Gulf and call on President Obama and Congress to make big polluters like BP pay for their recklessness, and shift dirty energy handouts to clean energy investments.

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