Why Climate Action Won’t Be Like Civil Rights

by Auden Schendler

Not being served a cheeseburger because you’re African American is about as in-your-face as it gets. Climate change, while increasingly omnipresent, is never quite so personal. And that’s why calling for a civil rights style revolution on climate might not be the best analogy.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve used the comparison myself, and we certainly need to achieve the same scale as civil rights. But how we get there will be different.

When you’re denied service in a restaurant, there’s no questioning the level of effrontery. But when it’s extra hot, or when a corn crop fails, or if disease spreads or food prices go up, or even if you house gets burned down by a wildfire or flooded by a hurricane, it’s still one-off from obvious, even if it shouldn’t be.

That plausible deniability—fires and floods happen; it’s been really hot before—means it’s going to be harder to mobilize at the grassroots than it was for civil rights. Climate science is just too mercurial: it can be greased out of a layperson’s hands too easily; it falls prey to doubt and poor reporting far too readily. The same level of confusion could not be created around, say: apartheid, taxation without representation, or gay marriage. And therefore it’s going to be hard to generate the same outrage, a key ingredient of grassroots movements.

So if the civil rights model won’t work for us, how do we get the change we need as temperature records fall and a year long drought batters our families, food supply and economy?

The revolution will have to be led by those entities that are not being served cheeseburgers, the “lunch counter constituents.” By definition, these are not grassroots citizens, but more like treetrunk elements of society—much bigger, much more powerful. Treetrunk entities are equipped to understand climate, viscerally feel its impact, and drive big scale change. What, or who, are they? In particular, they are corporations—and their CEOs—who are seeing the threat posed by climate to businesses in every realm.

Last week, I had dinner with a friend who works for AT&T, which has great hopes for business development in Sub-Saharan Africa as governments become more stable. Their work there will create jobs, improve people’s lives, and make money. But not if we don’t fix climate change, which has a bullseye on Africa. International telecom is being denied its cheeseburger, and it should be pissed!

Other treetrunk activists include the insurance industry (Munich and Swiss Re have been active on climate for years), snowsports, agriculture, and coastal resorts. As an example, Mammoth ski resort lost $30 million last year and laid off a quarter of its employees, including their energy efficiency guy. The whole U.S. ski and snowboard industry got a taste of a climate changed world last winter. The industry’s hair should be on fire! Starbucks and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters are already quite active because of the threat posed by climate. Nike has been cranking on climate for years now. Other treetrunk mobilizers include professional athletes and celebrities. The Portland Trailblazers, crazily, are outspoken advocates of climate action. Citi has some of the most innovative financial solutions to climate change going, though it isn’t an activist on the issue…yet.

A group I serve on the board of, Protect Our Winters, is trying this sort of activism within the snow sports community (a part of the even bigger outdoor industry, worth some $650 billion) by mobilizing enormously influential and sexy winter athletes who care about climate change (all of them do), as well as the industry’s business leaders and event sponsors, to create pressure for policy change. Town governments are also taking charge, with many municipalities creating their own movements. New York, painting its roofs white, fully groks climate’s threat and key solutions, along with other leading cities like Chicago, Seattle, Austin, and Portland.

As we burn and flood and dry out, it’s time to move beyond the notion that average individuals are going to anchor this revolution. They will play a role, but in the era of Citizens United, they need fire support. In the same way that the Syrian rebels need air backup, the climate movement needs powerful voices and dollars, because right now it’s fighting tanks with Kalashnikovs.

The good news is that something like this happened before in human history, when a revolution emerged not through a grassroots explosion but by the actions of a mighty few. Once, a small group of smart and powerful people (they were sexy too, I guess, at least to me) set out to reform society and advance knowledge. They changed the way we looked at the world; improved lives with new ideas and political innovation, replacing superstition with science; weakened abuses of power by church and state with intellectual dialog; and in many ways helped free large parts of the world from the tyranny of ignorance. Sound familiar? It was called the Enlightenment. And it wasn’t a grassroots movement, not at first. As Karen O’Brien at the University of Oslo has pointed out, it was made up of only 150 or so people who had the power, outrage, smarts and will to remake the world.

The names ring through history as chimes of freedom: Liebniz, Descartes, Locke, Rousseau, and Voltaire. If we can solve climate change, and realize the profound benefits of doing so, greater than all the rewards of the enlightenment, children might one day view a list of names with similar awe: Munich Re, Howard Schultz, The Trailblazers, Michael Bloomberg, Chicago, Nike.

Auden Schendler is Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company.

53 Responses to Why Climate Action Won’t Be Like Civil Rights

  1. Paul Klinkman says:

    The enlightenment was entirely created by major scientists and philosophers. There were no businesspeople or politicians on that list. There was great input from religious dissenters.

    That said, we’ll take any help we can get.

  2. Robert Green says:

    Climate change can be like civil rights if the assumptions are corrected. Presently, most are fighting ‘for or against’ rather than seeing climate change as scientists do. That is ‘likely, very likely’. Climate change has to be seen as risk, not ‘is or is not.’ Do we fasten our seat belts because getting into a plane accident is likely. If we thought it likely, all air travel would end. So if one looks at climate change as a similar risk, people would see countering the risk with the same gusto as fastening your seat belt.

  3. Mark El says:

    If we’re talking about the USA, I suppose CEOs are the likely leaders for awhile.

    But go global…. where social unrest happens (like Tunisia and the start of Arab Spring) when food prices spike due to climate change, social media ought to be focusing marchers’ attention on that dimension of the problem, in those locales.

    Just like Gandhi said, you can’t lead a movement without social media! (In his case, a newspaper.) You also have to distribute that media to the market audience whose initiative for taking action is already bursting at the seams. This does not describe the Sierra Club’s suburbian membership (no diss intended, I’m one of those people myself). It means the folks who are hungry enough and PO’d enough to drop their usual routine to march in their own hometown streets (not a weekend bustrip to DC, no diss to those folks either, again I’m one myself).

  4. Carol says:

    Obviously climate change is not like civil rights (or women’s rights, labor rights, immigration issues etc). It is not anthropocentric! (or so it seems . . ) It is the “climate”, the “environment”, it may even involve —God forbid—“tree huggers”!

    Perhaps if we shifted military service away from incessant wars and initiated a draft whose sole purpose is fighting AGW induced fires, eradicating invasive species (Asian carp, kudzu, buckthorn, ad infinitum) we would get more action on the streets! Do you think the Romneys/Ryans/Obamas would want their kids to be fighting fires in the West when they turn 18? Then again . . they won’t have to exhibit A: Bush/Cheney.

    All fantasies aside:

    Are you really suggesting turning to capitalism? Nike??? Yikes. I don’t even know how to begin to respond to this.
    By the way, how do you reconcile the ski resorts that you speak of . . they decimate mountainsides, along with the development that accompanies them not to mention air travel to get there . . .
    and Michael Bloomberg?? Is this the same M. Bloomberg that is sanctioning fracking?

    One of the biggest problems I see with climate change is the disconnect between humans and our life support system/our wondrous planet and how to get people to take action when it is not an obvious anthropocentric issue along with unfettered capitalism. Perhaps they are one and the same.

  5. Jim Adcock says:

    Speak for yourself. If MY home burns down due to a forest fire then there bloody well IS going to be a “Civil War” going on because I know D well know who is causing the problem and I am D well going to hold them responsible!

  6. Mike Roddy says:

    This is not persuasive, and I’m not one of those who believe that we have to redesign our capitalist society.

    If corporations wanted to effect change, they would support product boycotts from bad actors like Canadian oil and mountaintop coal, and insist on duties for carbon intensive goods from China. They won’t do it, because Nike, for example, makes its shoes in Asia.

    Munich Re has done some good in Germany, but they have been hands off here in the US. When the insurance companies start including surcharges for companies like Koch and Georgia Pacific, I’ll start to think they are serious.

    The Trailblazers, owned by Paul Allen, are an interesting story. I would guess their contribution is things like better light bulbs in the stadium etc. It’s too bad- Allen is smarter and more socially conscious than his old partner Gates, and could do some good here. As for ski resorts, good work, but you are too small a fraction of the economy. And I would be shocked if your telecom friend does anything about what will happen in Africa beyond a little private whining.

    There is a lot that the corporations can do, starting with an alternate Chamber and proactive purchasing policies. They won’t do it, because the law says if they do anything whatsoever to reduce profits they are subject to shareholder lawsuits. CEO’s are now all Romney types, willing to do anything for this year’s gravy. Exceptions tend to be privately owned. This is entrenched in our laws, and differs from, say, Sweden, where corporations bear social responsibility. We need to rewrite corporate charter laws.

  7. John Lemons says:

    A “civil rights” analogy and approach to solving AGW might not be perfect. And such an approach might not work. But nothing else is working now, either.

    It is true that in the US most of the general public probably lacks sufficient moral outrage to be leaders or participants in a revolution. One reason is that the discourse of climate change seldom frames issues in ethical terms (mostly, they are framed in economic terms). Not all people were directly affected by slavery or segregation or lack of rights for women or perceived the risks of radioactive fallout from atmospheric weapons testing. But increasingly as the issues were framed in ethical terms more and more people became outraged and many participated in protests and supported policy changes.

    A revolution to help solve AGW might require the help and involvement of corporations. But there is a risk of concluding that corporations be the primary leaders because their concern is about the economic costs to business, and this concern is not the same as concern for the many ethical implications of climate change and impacts to people distant in space and time. And the concern is not the same for risks to things without economic costs or valuation. Consequently, what is the likelihood of major corporations being leaders in a revolution if the costs to bring emissions down to “safe” levels (i.e., to protect people distant in space and time or the intrinsic value of nature) are excessive from the standpoint of the corporations?

    Finally, many have argued that an insufficiently regulated market and forms of capitalism are significant culprits to fostering AGW. How many large corporations are going to favor sufficient regulation to bring GHG emissions to safe levels?

    A more expanded treatment of the need for nonviolent civil disobedience to help solve AGW can be found at:

    Dr. John Lemons
    Professor Emeritus of Biology and Environmental Science
    Department of Environmental Studies
    University of New England
    Biddeford, ME 04005

  8. Joan Savage says:

    Interested parties in telecom, insurance and outdoors recreation industries are a start, but far from a complete roster of enlightened self-interests. If history repeats itself, they are more likely to be allies rather than leaders.

    The people with fire in the belly are still key to a movement. Gandhi gave us the term ‘satya graha” or “insistence on truth.”

  9. Ben Lieberman says:

    The pot makes an important point: local grassroots environmental interest often lacks focus on climate change.

  10. Auden – I think one of the biggest tree trunks of all is the elementary school population and their parents. That is why I started, designed to work with the 50,000,000 elementary school students and their 20,000,000 parents in the US alone. This population has the biggest stake of all and they just need to get mobilized to help start their parents and teachers to make the changes needed to reduce family carbon footprints by 10% per year for 10 years. The beauty of the program is that elementary students become middle and high school and college students and in a decade we would basically touch almost everyone in the country.

    Just like recycling and seat belt use, major social changes can start in elementary schools. After having tested the program in 17 schools in 5 states I’m ready to train others to present the one-day program, which is funded entirely by the PTAs in the schools. We start in the early AM with a teachers meeting before school, then I move to the gym where I take the kids a grade level at a time for music, movement and learning, all focused on “Youth to the Rescue,” how kids and their parents are our hope for the future.

    Our biggest finding is that it is OK to almost entirely ignore the doom and gloom elements of the problem, and simply assume that everyone agrees that having a clean and green future is important, whether they accept the science of global warming or not. Then we can focus on hope and change.

    To that end the assembly portion of the program at the end of the school day stresses only things that kids and parents can and should do to go green. That same evening parents come to school and work with their kids to create a Family Sustainability Checklist of all the things they promise to do to reduce their carbon footprint, to go down 10% per year for a decade.

    I’m looking for help in this adventure, particularly in designing the website where kids can go to brag about their family’s accomplishments. The project is now being mentored by the Venture Lab at University of Central Florida under a micro-grant from Orange County.

    What do you and readers think about this extension of your idea? Might Protect our Winters and similar foundations like to get involved in helping to train others to deliver the program?

  11. Ozonator says:

    There is no longer any concept of civil rights when ~30% of the country has been led to conserve the ideology of the plantation system and ignore inconvenient truths like science. Hurricane Isaac and extremist Republicans and Christians don’t die, they just go to Tampa.

  12. AA says:

    I’m so tired of this trope about the effectiveness of “social media.”

    So I’m going to turn the tables with a deliberate provocation: I challenge anyone to present evidence of a social media campaign that has accomplished anything.

    I will conceding one point: In China (and I assume some other places) mobile phone messaging allows people to spread information that would not be distributed in government controlled press. Our situation in the US/Europe/Australia/etc is not analogous.

  13. Theodore says:

    I’m an abolitionist. I advocate the abolition of the fossil fuel industry. This has a good historical precedent. There was once another abolitionist movement that we could emulate. Some things are worth fighting for.

  14. Darwin's Chihuahua says:

    Climate change IS as personal to me as the situation is to the African American not served the cheeseburger, not to diminish or demean all the African Americans to whom similar things have happened. I fully expect a mass die-off of a significan proportion of the human population within the next 50 – 100 years as the consequence of diminishing resources, failing agriculture,ocean acidification and fisheries collapse, increasing pollution, loss of agricultural land, decreases in available potable water, climate change, and the resulting human conflict. I have three children and two grandchildren, and fully expect this to happen within their lifetimes. That’s pretty personal. Yet economists and economics discounts the costs to future generations. The mantra seems to be “Get yours now and screw everyone else currently living and yet to come”. Rather than being a hard-line survivalist, I am a pretty mild-mannered research scientist working for the Canadian government. Go figure.

  15. Leif says:

    I wrote the following before reading the above comments. Great insights All.

    “It is the same battle, in spades. The ability of the moneyed chosen few to profit from the pollution of the commons and repress the rational thinking of an awakening population to injustices the world over. At the time the answer was “All You Need Is LOVE” and at that time if practiced would most likely relieved the present apocalypse approaching. Now it is going to take LOVE, a whole lot of money, and work. (Think jobs!) I am saddened to say and death is humanities reward for the repression.

  16. Brian R Smith says:

    Auden Schendler,
    I really appreciate this line of thinking. Mapping the paths of influence, key players, collaborations and media opportunities in the climate movement is important if the movement, or let’s say the current 150 thought leaders, are going to develop next step strategy and action.

    You focus on business and cities taking leadership, which is true & good, but I wouldn’t discount the grassroots that are the membership of national voter & conservation orgs, local climate planners, local & national NGOs, etc. Then there is the science community which hasn’t yet, but we hope will soon stake out its rightful territory in the public discussion.

    Can you comment on whether you see potential in higher level strategy & coordination, a role for centralized leadership? Or do you see all these actors acting independently, as they mostly are, as sufficient?

  17. John McCormick says:

    Dave, thank you. A lot to give serious thought.

  18. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Science was ‘natural philosophy’. Today it is a means to ‘make a killing’ in business.

  19. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I’m afraid that the wings have already fallen off the climate jumbo.

  20. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    As you noted obliquely, so-called ‘social media’ is merely a means to sell stuff to the vacuous in the West, and to foment social discord in target countries in the rest of the world, where the USA wishes to achieve regime change.

  21. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    There is, as has been since time immemorial, a global civil war between the parasite caste and their victims. The 1% against the rest. It never ceases and for 99.9% of the time only one side wages this war, but, with human survival at risk, that is inevitably going to change.

  22. AA: I’ve also been pretty annoyed by social media as the big change agent. I still kind of am, but I’m also more open to the idea since I met a woman who was in the Egyptian revolution. I asked her how it started, and in a nutshell, she told me there was an incident of one person being treated terribly by the police, and a facebook page was created to support him. Within days it had millions of followers, and from there, at least in part, the revolution started, with calls to get out in the streets in part coming over social media. It blew my mind. That’s not to say that could or would happen in the US, where it needs to, but it surprised me how powerful it had been in Egypt.

  23. I’m not saying business leaders are the ONLY tree trunk group to lead change, I’m saying they are one of them. Along with, yes, someone like Bloomberg who, while not perfect, had done more on climate than probably any mayor and more than many large philanthropists, and who really understands the challenge and some solutions. The points wasn’t that we turn to capitalism, rather, that this revolution will not happen at the grassroots, so who then will drive it?

  24. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    After the civil rights victories in the USA the pathocrats reversed everything by criminalising being a young black male. Hence your prison system bursting at the seams with black men, millions more on parole or ex-cons, and millions disenfranchised by Republican electoral laws to remove voting rights from ‘felons’. Between 2007 and today the median wealth of black households in the USA (always less than the average) fell by 50%. The only way out for many is joining the military to enforce the global rule of just those elites who oppress them at home. The system is unreformable-it always oppresses the many for the benefit of the few-always.

  25. I definitely think we need high level coordiation of the tree trunk elements. Some groups have taken a run at that–BICEP, for example, which is part of CERES–but I think there’s room for more and possibly even more activist and radical, on that front…maybe a new NGO. I’ve noticed that the NGO community is FLOUNDERING trying solve climate. (I’m floundering too, no offense intended.) So maybe an org like 350 (which is working at the grassroots) but working at the trunk level, is as good an idea as any…Protect Our Winters is trying to do this in their small industry, but we need bigger than that….

  26. Dave: I applaud and laud your work and your idea, but it’s what I’d call grassroots activism. It’s really the definition of it. We need that to happen on a parallel track with the higher leverage stuff. Protect our winters isn’t doing much funding of stuff these days, unfortunately, instead focusing on mobilizing the snow/outdoor industry on climate at the treetrunk level.

  27. Mark El says:

    @AA, Of course, I was not speaking about the US, Europe, or Australia…. In those countries, higher food prices might mean people eat more root vegetables and cook dry beans at home. Gee how awful for them.

    Meanwhile, in much of the rest of the world, there’s no such thing as “disposable income”. People are already living on root vegetables and dry beans they cook at home (or equivalent). For them, there is no slack in their family budget to just buy quantities of less expensive nutrition. It is THOSE places I was speaking of, because it is THOSE places where global warming will first be sufficiently in-our-face that people will quit going to work, quit taking vacataion, and simply march… and march… and march…. right in their own home town.

  28. Schoolmarm says:

    Absolutely! People who most strongly think of social media (ie, typing on computers) as a form of revolution are most likely to actually treat it as a replacement for revolution.

    The social media technology I see most effectively making change is the bicycle.

  29. Mark El says:

    Not to suggest I advocate violence, but…. why wait?

  30. Mark El says:

    Hopefully before anyone engages in nonviolent civil disobedience they will first, as Gandhi expected his own Satyagrahis to do, take a heap more action in their personal lives.

    At a big anti-oil bicycle rally in Boulder years back a speaker cajoled the crowd for a show of hands how many had driven their bikes to the event…. there was a very high % of hands.

    Likewise, hopefully all AGW arrestees will have gone fossil-fuel vegetarian and the like first. Its not just the AGW impact, but the cultivation of the special-forces level discipline need for a genuinely nonviolent practitioner.

  31. Brian R Smith says:

    Hearing agreement on this is encouraging. Thanks also for a) the useful tree trunk / trunk-level tags and b) coming back for some follow up with your readers.. adds a lot to getting where we’re going.

  32. AA says:

    Thank you for your article and responding to my comment.

    It appears that “social media” had a role in Egypt, but I think it was smaller than what was breathlessly reported in US media. Besides, it was crowds of people in the streets, not messages on the internet, that really made the difference.

    And Egypt appears to have been the exception: Syria and Libya had (are having) all-out civil wars. In Iran, “social media” was at best irrelevant to the protests there; it may have been detrimental.

    As you say in your article, a small group of dedicated and thoughtful people can create change. “Social media” cannot provide that level of influence.

  33. J4zonian says:

    It seems pointless to me to talk about whether climate catastrophe is like or unlike civil rights (especially at this late, post-Occupy I stage) but how it is like other movements and how it is unlike them, so we know what strategies, tactics and frames to use and what not to, and in what ways and when and where.

    1. It is not as obviously about immediate self-interest, especially for some groups.
    2. It is not as visibly obvious and does not exist so strongly in the distant past. (ie, it doesn’t have a clear, delineated 300 year history.)This means defenders of the status quo will depend more on outright denial and less on rationalization. Scapegoating and projection? Eh, could be attributed more to either one, militating for the simultaneous rise of education and action.
    3. It is more global and less local, both in causes and solutions.
    4. It thus causes outright fear and denial more, immediate rage less. That is, it triggers the “stages” or functions of grief differently, in a way that may encourage action less.
    5. It is much more clearly in the interest of every human on Earth to solve. (This is not changed by the fact that some don’t know this yet.) While some are being affected more up front, those with the most have the most to lose, and thus in the end the greatest motivation to act. They also have the greatest inner and outer resources to act and succeed.
    6. Those with the most will similarly use their power and wealth to isolate themselves from the harm, so action is best accomplished by moving society toward equality. While it may seem as though there is less inequality now, just the opposite is true in most meaningful ways. (Power and wealth, for example, are the ways one gets more power and wealth, and also how one gets political consideration (kinda redundant) You could call it political overconsideration.
    7.Attention and education feed each other. Both are served by peaceful direct action. Peaceful direct action is designed to a. get attention, b. educate, c. stop the machinery of destruction immediately and directly, d. provoke either agreement to terms by those in power or a violent response to further illustrate the differences between the sides, and the legimacy of one, the corruption and illegitimacy of the other.

    And so on.

  34. J4zonian says:

    You mean it always tries to.

  35. Leif says:

    The military is thinking Green and climatic disruption is a National Security issue. How will that play out as they realize that the failed capitalistic paradigm that the military they themselves depend on for over $500 billion dollars each year is the cause of the very need of the military in the first place. The military is sworn to defend the Nation and its people, a pledge that they nobly will die for. As the rank and file realize that their deaths work against the best practices of their families long term survival will they put down their guns and install distributed Green Technology hither and yon? That is my hope.

  36. AA says:

    I believe the potency of “social media” is exaggerated.

    I do not believe that it is powerful enough to be a tool of colonialism.

    As a marketing tool, “social media” seems to fail as often as it succeeds.

    I disdain “social media,” but my reasons are different from yours.

  37. AA says:

    I think we agree that it’s the marching that’s important.

  38. I’m afraid we don’t have 50-100 years. When the Arctic ice cap goes–and this summer it’s breaking the 2007 minimum extent record, not to speak of its record thinness–the atmosphere and jet stream will experience something like fibrillation. Seasonal weather patterns which ag depends on will be profoundly upset. We’re getting a mild foretaste this year, with the wacky March weather and the summer drought in the US. I think we have 20 years, maybe less, before we see some very disturbing phenomena on a very alarming scale.

    And once the deniers and obstructionists see that happen, that will scare them more than the prospect of using the government for large-scale social cooperation scares them. That fear has the potential to drive them to back a strongman demagogue, and to impose or acquiesce to the very sort of all-empowered central government they claim to oppose.

    It will be like the civil rights movement at that point–we will have perpetrators of oppression to point to. They will have caused the disaster. That will deepen their fear. They know they will be blamed. On top of that, their dominionist worldview will have been shattered. Their god will have abandoned them. They are likely to strike first. Think of the ultra-rightist militant Christian tone in the Colorado Springs area, centered on the Air Force. Those guys are not going to sit still for broad social unrest triggered by massive crop failures and livestock die-offs right here in the US. Martial law, complete with armed confrontation with citizens, is almost inevitable.

    20 years. Maybe sooner.

    Avoiding this would require a radical, World War Two-style mobilization immediately. But until we can put a face to the catastrophe, until we have a climate Hitler, it’s simply too hard for people to imagine, and too hard to work up civil-rights-style indignation and outrage.

    But of course by then it will be too late.

    I wouldn’t count on the corporations. They will do what is expedient, just as German corporations did what was expedient.

    Our real hope is to help people play out this sort of thought experiment. Maybe at some point we’ll get our Enlightenment critical mass. This site is a real boon in that regard. A lot of good thinking and awareness here.

  39. The military is at the forefront of the green movement. I’ve worked peripherally on energy efficiency projects for them. It distresses me that that fact carries no weight with our “conservative” (better: “regressive”) brethren.

    That makes me think that the support for deep green action in the military is thin. The Pentagon is still about internal career fiefdoms and geostrategy. Greening the military is more about reducing logistical problems to enhance combat readiness and flexibility. The Pentagon definitely does not view it in and of itself as a national security strategy.

  40. Ernest says:

    Climate change is primarily a scientific, technological, and economic issue. Too many people in the world. Too many people who want the same living standards as the US middle class. Energy sources still predominantly based on carbon. Renewables still too expensive (though I have hope solar PV and wind will drop down to be competitive with natural gas in most markets in the long run). Finite atmosphere as a dumping ground for CO2.

    I’m not saying this is not a moral issue. But if you treat it like a moral issue, it will be balkanized into a few groups of exemplary well meaning people or communities, but won’t fundamentally solve the problem on a world wide. (This is barring a major change in human consciousness.)

    For it to really scale in terms of change, you have to treat it like an economic issue. This either means a price on carbon, and/or non-carbon sources of energy becomes so cheap that fossil fuels become uncompetitive. Right now it seems unlikely, but it is not impossible (at least not as impossible as political movement on this issue in the US). (Maybe solar PV, a breakthrough on algae biofuels, innovation in nuclear such as what Bill Gates is proposing, or thorium LFTR’s?) Also, the economics of efficiency promoted by RMI can also help in this direction.

  41. BobbyL says:

    Whomever the leaders turn out to be there better be a lot of them in China. China now accounts for about a third of all emissions and their proportion is rapidly growing. There also better be a lot of these leaders in India. They are on track to eventually pass the US and become number 2 in emissions. Our proportion has dropped to about 17% and is shrinking.

  42. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The reasons the US emissions have dropped is because your industry has moved much of its base to Asia to cut wage costs and evade stricter environmental regulations, and you are in recession. Per capita, the USA is still about top of the heap with China and India far behind. Historically also, the USA is responsible for a huge fraction of the GHGs already out there for which it refuses to pay. China in particular is doing everything it can to go renewable and get cheap solar for example on world markets. For this, the USA has slapped trade sanctions on it. Guess who really needs to take ‘leadership’? ME

  43. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I seem to remember that the French revolution happened before the advent of the phone or the bicycle, as did many before it. People simply use whatever technology is available to them even it means (gasp) actually talking to each other face to face, ME

  44. Richard says:

    Hats off to your idea, Dave.

  45. Jed Bickman says:

    This moves us in the wrong direction. I rarely comment on the internet, and this is my fist comment on this blog, which I read frequently, but I am move to do so to correct what I consider a very serious misstep in our movement. I am very convinced by Naomi Klein that we need to use climate change as a platform to work towards economic justice. There’s a natural affinity between the powerful movements against the injustices of wealth inequality etc (Occupy) and climate activism, and it’s an affinity we need to use on both sides to create a stronger, unified front.

    For every corporation that is hurt by climate change, there’s another one that’s helped by it. Corporations make bad allies because they don’t care about people, they aren’t capable of empathy.

    Climate change is happening, and it will bring with it more disasters on the scale of Katrina. For communities to be able recover from those disasters, they need to be empowered and empathic. Help will come from families, friends, communities–but they need the economic and political equity to share with those in need. Folks like your friends at AT&T and the 1%ers who use your ski resort are working to take away that equity and centralize it in their bottom lines. This needs to be unacceptable.

  46. Enlightenment-enabled scientific knowledge is a complex, dynamical nonlinear information system imbedded in human society (prone to both occasional Khunian revolutions and more prevalent Whig evolution), which is addressed in Adrian Bejan’s new, disruptive, and yes – paradigm-shifting Constructal design law of nature and culture.
    It is in the former revolutionary category because it explains (as a classical-scale mechanics and thermodynamics-based theory of everything), how all systems, given freedom and in seeking equilibrium towards increasing entropy, animate and inanimate, evolve to flow currents of energy, matter and information more easily, with greater flow and power, often with consequent increases in system complexity.
    The fractal morphologies we often see in nature and in computer simulations as residues of these dynamical processes are explained in the geometrical analogue of Constructal law, the Asynsis principle, which is more in the latter evolutionary category because the geometries involved are canonical tenets of aesthetic beauty in geometry, art, design and architecture and have been since the Greeks.
    The difference being that they were all spatial statics, whilst the Asynsis principle geometries are all temporal, dynamical symmetries that reveal nature’s inherent economy and elegance in the use of energy, matter and information. That aspect is actually Khunian and revolutionary.
    The fact that they reveal that beauty therefore also equates to sustainability …is of civilisational import in promoting planetary environmentally sustainable design and development.
    Positively disruptive, paradigm shifts are exactly what we need to ensure the recognisable survival of our civilisation within a viable, ecologically diverse planetary biosphere. Join us to ensure it happens:

    My own work in the field has now been peer-reviewed by Emeritus Professor Vera de Spinadel of Buenos Aries University and revised to make some original 1995 transcription amendments, plus extended to cover recent developments in science and architecture:

  47. Chris Winter says:

    If you mean “commercial social media,” I’d agree that currently they are for the most part reinforcing the status quo, not bringing change.

    But there was a thing called Samizdat that proved quite effective in the Soviet Union. There’s nothing that precludes that happening again.

  48. Chris Winter says:

    Mike Roddy wrote: “…I’m not one of those who believe that we have to redesign our capitalist society.”

    Well, I believe some redesign is needed. But a radical redesign — a specter of the sort that status quo corporations love to raise — is not necessary. Marjorie Kelly makes this case very well.

  49. BobbyL says:

    The international climate meetings have shown that there has been a political realignment. There are now three main groups, the West (rich developed countries) led by the United States, the BRIC countries (rich developing countries) led by China, and the poor developing countries. The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) account for the majority of emissions and they will not follow US leadership. Somehow leadership to has to emerge in these countries, particularly in China. China continues to build coal plants like crazy. India is charting its future using the same strategy. Coal burning now accounts for a higher percentage of overall energy use then it has for decades. The US is getting in on this coal-burning binge by shipping coal to China and making plans to ship far more. Coal is very plentiful, China can get it from many places. Even if the US does take leadership there is no guarantee China will follow. Politically it is a new world. The old ideas based on Western domination will no longer cut it. We must wake up to the emerging power of China and adopt new strategies.

  50. Merrelyn Emery says:

    “will not follow US leadership”? There hasn’t been any yet – resistance to a global effort is not normally defined as ‘leadership’. New strategies? Yes, the USA could start putting the long term common good above its short term individual self interest, ME

  51. AA says:

    Would you dare pass Samizdat off to someone you didn’t already know well? Samizdat was a way of moving information around in existing social circles.

  52. J4zonian says:

    Well, not so much “marching” per se, as marching to coal plants and peacefully blockading them, taking them over and shutting them down, surrounding and isolating corporate offices of fossil fuel companies, the houses of CEOs, keeping by whatever peaceful means necessary the oil from flowing and the coal from being dug and burned… Direct action seems to be the only way things will change enough, fast enough, accompanied by education but not replaced by education.