Mass Mobilization, Direct Action Needed Locally & Nationally to Stop Climate Change

climate change protest photo

photo: Takver via flickr

Bill McKibben and friends are in a biodiesel van making the symbolic journey to the White House from the Maine college where Jimmy Carter's solar water heating panel has been residing for the past three decades, ultimately pressing the President to install donated solar PV panels, all as part of an effort to reinvigorate the environmental movement. But symbolism is only part of what's required.As McKibben also points out, along with the heads of Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network, as well as Tim "I punked Utah's oil exploration lease auction" DeChristopher, we need a mass mobilization, we direct action to bring about a true transformation in the US.

In a new piece over at It's Getting Hot In Here, DeChristopher laments that a "disturbing" amount of activism around climate change takes place along, online, in our homes, and not enough takes place face to face, in the streets, in the mountains of Appalachia.

Nobody wants to put his or her ass on the line for something that won't make any difference, and we all know that the actions of a lone, isolated individual seldom make much of a difference.  Many brilliant writers have commented on how our hyper-individualized society exacerbates our biggest problems.  In the case of the climate movement, hyper-individualism causes potential activists to feel alienated from the incredibly powerful force of a united movement.

The more I advocate for stronger and bolder action from climate activists, the more I see the need for real human connections.  No amount of social media can match the empowerment of being in the streets with thousands of other people who share our passion. That's why mass mobilizations that engage in bold action are so important for our movement.

Indeed--as anyone who's spent any time in marches, protests, mass civil disobedience knows. But beyond the group action, just the physicality of the act, the walking itself even, has a unique impact on the individual and the situation that no amount of online activism can replicate--even if that method is useful, it is not fully sufficient.

We need to move. We need to physically do, to get out of our fingers, our heads, and our browsers and into our legs, our arms and our hearts.

Towards that, DeChristopher wants you to join him from September 25-27 in Washington DC for the Appalachia Rising mobilization to end mountaintop removal coal mining.

As Bill McKibben says in a new Yale e360 piece, this physicality takes a number of forms, local and national:

Some of that [reinvigorated environmental movement] will go on at the local level, as we transform cities and towns and show what can be done. Some will be done on college campuses like Unity College, or Middlebury where I teach, which are showing the way forward. Some of it will be done in jails--I'd be very surprised if civil disobedience doesn't become a bigger part of this battle in the years ahead, if only because it's the tool we use to show our society how urgent, morally and practically, this crisis really is.

The first part McKibben alludes to is exemplified in's 10-10-10 Work Party campaign--taking action locally to create practical change. The second part is pretty obvious and is probably what most people think of when the words direct action are mentioned.

In another new piece over at Grist, McKibben adds his byline to those of Greenpeace's Philip Radford and Rainforest Action Network's Rebecca Tarbottom, in saying (emphasis in original):

We're making progress, but not as fast as the physical situation is deteriorating. Time is not on our side, so we've concluded that going forward mass direct action must play a bigger role in this movement, as it eventually did in the suffrage movement, the civil-rights movement, and the fight against corporate globalization. Even now, environmentalists in places like the coalfields of Appalachia have been putting these tactics to good use, albeit in small ways. (In the spring of 2009, our three groups worked with others to pull off a large-scale action outside the congressional power plant in D.C. that resulted in a promise that it would cease to burn coal.)  History suggests, in other words, that one way to effectively communicate both to the general public and to our leaders the urgency of the crisis is to put our bodies on the line.

And they want your ideas (send them to:, within these guidelines:

  • Our actions must be infused with the spirit of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and other peaceful protesters before us. No violence, no property damage.
  • We need large actions, with many members of the general public. Think hundreds and thousands. So don't concentrate on the kind of tactics that only a few hardy specialists can carry out; we're not going to have hundreds of people rappelling or scuba diving.
  • We don't think for a minute that we can actually physically shut down the fossil-fuel economy for any meaningful period; it's too big. We need to aim for effective symbolic targets -- say, dirty, old coal-fired power plants -- and use them to make clear the need and opportunity to cut carbon fast.
  • Our actions must be rooted in the communities where they are held and be organized hand in hand with local groups and activists.
  • Our tactics need to engage onlookers, not alienate them. We have to have effective ways of keeping provocateurs and incendiaries at a distance, and attracting the kind of people who actually influence the rest of the public. Discipline will matter.
  • Our tactics need to engage onlookers, not alienate them. We have to have effective ways of keeping provocateurs and incendiaries at a distance, and attracting the kind of people who actually influence the rest of the public. Discipline will matter.
  • Beauty counts. We're fighting for the beauty in the world that's being stolen by our adversaries, and at the same time we're aiming for hearts and minds.
  • We don't have unlimited resources. The cost and complexity of these kinds of actions can mount quickly. As with all things environmental, frugality and simplicity are virtues.

Bringing it back to delivering a 30-year old solar panel to the White House: As tempting as it may be, we cannot simply sign an online petition, click Like on Facebook for our favorite organizations, or just install some CFLs or bamboo flooring and think we've done our part to create a more environmentally sustainable world, to combat climate change. We must embody the change we seek and take actual, real-world risks; we must push ourselves. We must strive, strive in every moment both personally. And we must strive communally.

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More on Activism:
Only Public Grassroots Activism Will Force Governments to Act on Climate: Dr James Hansen
Greenpeace: In Defense of Our Recent Activism Tactics
Why Bill McKibben is Willing to Get Arrested to Stop the Burning of Coal

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