Monday, December 31, 2012

Gene Sharp Illustrates How Important Teachers Can be to a Nonviolent Movement

Day 15 of my analysis of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part One: Power and Struggle, Chapter 2, applied to the climate movement. Reading Sharp’s books are a prerequisite for anyone who wants to help save our life-support system. Please go to Dr. Sharp’s website, buy these books, and study them.

Sharp:  “Significant nonviolent struggles under exceedingly difficult circumstances  also emerged in Nazi-occupied Europe…against a ruthless enemy…The Norwegian teacher’s resistance is but one of these resistance campaigns….[The Norwegian fascist Vidkun Quisling] created a new teacher’s organization with compulsory membership.,,A compulsory fascist youth movement was also set up.

         “The underground called on the teachers to resists.  Between eight thousand and ten thousand of the country’s twelve thousand teachers wrote letters to Quisling’s…Education Department.  All Signed their names and addresses to the wording prescribed by the underground for the letter.  Each teacher said he (or she) could neither assist in promoting fascist education of the children nor accept membership in the new teachers’ organization.

         “The government threatened them with dismissal and then closed all schools for a month.  Teachers held classes in private homes…news of the resistance spread.  Tens of thousands of letters of protest from parents poured into the government office.

         “…about one thousand male teachers were arrested and sent to concentration camps.  Children gathered and sang at railroad stations as teachers were shipped through in cattle cars…On starvation rations, the teachers were put through “torture gymnastics” in deep snow… their suffering strengthened morale and posed problems for the Quisling regime.

         “The schools reopened, but he teachers…told their pupils  they repudiated membership in the new organization and spoke of a duty to conscience.  Rumors were spread that if the teachers did not give in, some or all of those arrested would be killed…the teachers…almost without exception stood firm.”

         “Fearful of alienating Norwegians still further, Quisling finally ordered the teachers’ release.  Eight months after the arrests, the last teachers returned home to triumphal receptions.”

         “Schools were never used for fascist proaganda”.

         I used to be a teacher myself.  And one of my most poignant moments in realizing we needed to do something about climate change came at the end of school one day, when I said goodbye to a class full of just delightful, beautiful 3rd grade kids.  As they walked out the door I thought, “My God, what kind of a future are we dooming them to?”

         In some districts teaching about climate change has been forbidden because it’s “political”.  Good lord, have we really ceded reality away to the point where science can be labeled politics?  Teachers and administrators can be harassed by parents for teaching this stuff.

         But guys, look what the Norwegians stood up to!  What’s a little being harrassed when you’re talking about saving the world?  As teachers, for a few hours every day, we’re surrogates for the parents.  It’s our job to look out for the kid’s welfare, to help prepare them for a successful future.  If we look the other way while climate change is making the planet unable to support our vast numbers in their lifetimes (maybe even by the time they enter adulthood),  are we not concentrating on the little things and ignoring the big thing? 

         Teachers and parents, and students, should be a big part of our push.


This was one story, but Sharp’s books are packed with similar stories.  If we’re going to break the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold you need to read Gene Sharp’s stuff.  Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gandhi’s Example Can Help Guide the Climate Movement

Day 14 of my analysis of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part One: Power and Struggle, Chapter 2, applied to the climate movement. Reading Sharp’s books are a prerequisite for anyone who wants to help save our life-support system. Please go to Dr. Sharp’s website, buy these books, and study them.

Sharp:  “It was Gandhi who made the most significant personal contribution in the history of the nonviolent technique, with his political experiments in the use of noncooperation, disobedience and defiance to control rulers, alter government policies, and undermine political systems.  With these experiments, the character of the technique was broadened and its practice refined.  Among the modifications Gandhi introduced were greater attention to strategy and tactics….”

         To me, nonviolence without a systematic strategy is like football without teams and games.  I love watching football, but not if it’s just some guy tossing a football into the air.  So while it’s true that all the climate organizations are “nonviolent”, if they haven’t taken the time to really educate themselves about strategic nonviolent struggle, they’re not doing it right.

Sharp: (quoting Gandhi) “’In politics, [power’s] use is based on the immutable maxim that government of the people is possible only so long as they consent either consciously or unconsciously to be governed.’. This constituted the basic principle of his grand strategy.

“In Gandhi’s view, if the maintenance of an unjust…regime depends on the cooperation, submission and obedience of the populace, then the means for changing or abolishing it lies in the noncooperation, defiance and disobedience of that populace.  These, he was convinced, could be undertaken without the use of physical violence, even without hostility toward the members of the opponent group.”

Gandhi: “We hold it a crime against man and God to submit any longer to a rule that has caused this…disaster to our country.  We recognize, however, that the most effective way of gaining our freedom is not through violence…The matter resolves itself into one of matching forces.”

“Gandhi had it so much easier than us,” an exasperated climate activist I know once quipped.  Yes, Gandhi’s task was to free a nation of hundreds of millions from the oppression of a few hundred thousand British troops, and yes, most of those hundreds of millions were aware of and not happy about their servitude, but climate change is going to devastate everyone in the world.  India schmindia!  We just need to awaken people to that fact.  Unfortunately, we will have to awaken practically everyone in the world.  But Mother Nature is already spiraling out of control.  People are clueing in.  They just don’t know how bad it can get, or how fast it can happen.  No one’s talking about that.  Anywhere.  That has to be a big part of our job, and we have to do it credibly and doggedly.

It’s also helpful to remind ourselves of the need to not just be nonviolent, but also without hostility.  It’s easy to bear resentment toward those who’ve deliberately manipulated public opinion toward climate skepticism and who’ve giddily high-fived one another with every defeat of proposed solutions.  But this is personally toxic and it fortifies the other side.  In the movie Gandhi he says “we must defy, not with violence that will inflame their will, but with a firmness that will open their eyes.”

Sharp; “Gandhi set out with disciples on a 26 day march to the sea to commit civil disobedience by making salt.  This was the signal for mass nonviolent revolt throughout the country…there were mass meetings, huge parades, seditious speeches, a boycott of foreign cloth, and picketing of liquor shops and opium dens.  Students left government schools.  The national flag was hoisted.  There were social boycotts of government employees, short strikes (hartals), and resignations by government employees and Members of the Legislative Assembly and Councils.  Government departments were boycotted, as were foreign insurance firms and the postal and telegraph services.  Many refused to pay taxes.  Some renounced titles.   There were nonviolent raids and seizures of government-held salt, and so on.”

         Now THAT’S a movement!  We need to be more like that.  To do so we need a lot more people who understand nonviolent strategy.  


I’m including little snippets, but if we’re going to break the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold you need to read Gene Sharp’s stuff.  Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action. You can order it HERE.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

How We Can "Match Forces" With the Richest Corporations On Earth

Today marks day 13 of my analysis of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part One: Power and Struggle, Chapter 2, applying it to the climate movement. Reading Sharp’s books are a prerequisite for anyone who wants to help save our life-support system.

Sharp: “Nonviolent action…is a technique of struggle involving the use of social, economic, and political power, and the matching of forces in conflict.”

         It’s hard for some people to envision just how we intend to “match forces” with the richest companies in the world.  They have all the money and all the political power.  But they’re hugely unpopular and they don’t have a moral leg to stand on.  They’re putting everyone’s kids in grave danger, including their own.  They ‘re basically f***ing up the planet for every other person and every other business in every country on Earth.  And even their own workforce won’t escape the catastrophe that’s coming.  So, if we can get all those other people, including their own workforce and their own families, to stand up and say “No more”, we can very handily “match forces” with them.  It's about figuring out where they're at a disadvantage and playing to that.

Sharp:  “People using nonviolent action do not have to be pacifists or saints; nonviolent action has been predominantly and successfully practiced by ‘ordinary’ people.”

In America the two great nonviolent practitioners we know are Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  So it’s easy for people to think you have to be some kind of religious leader to do nonviolence right.  Not even.  Anyone can do it.  Even you!

Sharp:  “When efforts to produce voluntary change fail, coercive nonviolent measures may be employed.”

         Describes the climate movement’s situation to a “T”.  They have tried and tried to do it the usual way for 30 years and no progress has been made.  So we’ll have to create scenarios where we can “match forces” with the fossil fuel industry.

Sharp: “In nonviolent action there is no assumption that the  opponent will refrain from using violence against the nonviolent actionists; the technique is designed to operate against violence when necessary.”

         “Casting off fear” is a big part of nonviolence done right.    You’re taking a big chance when you step into this arena.  But isn’t it worth it to save the future from an unthinkable disaster?  Humans evolved as tribal creatures, and they would do anything to protect their tribe.  That’s why people will often risk their necks to save complete strangers from gunfire or oncoming traffic or whatever.  It’s hardwired in us. 

Those of us who get it, those of us who understand just how bad this is likely to be, need to willing to take great risks in order to save the world from catastrophe.


I’m including little snippets, but if we’re going to break the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold you need to read Gene Sharp’s stuff.  Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase all three volumes of The Politics of Nonviolent Action. You can order it HERE.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Just Saying "Nonviolence" Won't Cut It, You Must Understand It

Today marks day 12 of my analysis of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part One: Power and Struggle, Chapter 2, applying it to the climate movement. You really do need to read it all to get properly steeped in nonviolent struggle.  There’s so much to know, and all of it will help everyone who wants to help this movement and save our life-support system!

Sharp: “The nonviolent technique operates by producing power changes.  Both the relative power and the absolute power of each of the contending groups are subject to constant and rapid alterations.  This power variability can be more extreme and occur more rapidly than in situations where both sides are using violence…  Usually the results of these complex changes in the relative power positions of the contenders will determine the struggle’s final outcome.”

         This is why it’s so important to be fluid.  A 5-year campaign is not fluid, and gives the opponents plenty of time to work on the best response.  This movement needs to be able to react to immediate changes, like a super hot summer in an election year, and recalibrate their approach for maximum effect.  Not do nothing because they’d already been planning on doing something else after the election.

Sharp:  “The maintenance of nonviolent discipline in the face of repression is not an act of moralistic naivete.  Instead it…is a prerequisite for advantageous power changes.  Nonviolent discipline can only be compromised at the severe risk of contributing to defeat.”

         It’s so important that people read their Gene Sharp.  Actionists need a strong grasp of how nonviolent struggle works most effectively so that, when the rest of the movement doesn’t react to an unfolding situation, they can, and do it in a way that doesn’t make the movement look bad.

Sharp:  “The nature of nonviolent struggle makes it possible for the actionists also to win considerable support even in the camp of the opponent and among third parties.”

         The third parties are everyone else in society who isn’t part of the struggle group or the opponents.  As for inside the camp of the opponents, here’s a quote in Steve Coll’s book about ExxonMobil, Private Empire, from a former Exxon manager: “Don’t believe for a minute that Exxon doesn’t think climate change is real.  They were using climate change as a source of insight into exploration.”  Here’s a guy who worked “in the camp of the opponent” that didn’t like the smell of what they were doing. 
Sharp:  “Victory depends on the strength of the nonviolent actionists…if the group using nonviolent action does not as yet possess sufficient internal strength, determination, ability to act, and related qualities to make nonviolent action effective, then the repetition of phrases like ‘nonviolence’ will not save it.  There is no substitute for genuine strength and skill in nonviolent action; if the actionists do not possess them sufficiently to cope with the opponent, they are unlikely to win.”

         That to me is the biggest problem with this movement.  Stunning lack of strength and determination.  It’s like even they don’t understand how bad climate change could be.  Sure, all the groups say “nonviolence” all the time, but that seems to just mean they’re not going to hurt anybody.  Nonviolence done right is meant to “provoke a response”, it’s not standing next to a fence away from the action holding a sign.  Some of the groups in the movement get it.  Many do not.

Sharp:  “Considering the widespread ignorance of the nature and requirements of nonviolent action and the absence of major efforts to learn how to apply it most effectively, it is surprising that it has won any victories at all.”

         That’s why, yet again, people need to invest the time and energy into reading Gene Sharp’s books.       


I’m including little snippets, but if we’re going to break the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold you need to read Gene Sharp’s stuff.  Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action. You can order it HERE.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Chris Parenti’s Excellent Rx to Save the Planet

         How did I miss THIS?  What was I doing on November 29th?  Rachel and I have been lone voices in the climate wilderness that expressed doubts about Bill McKibben’s battle plan from his Do the Math tour.  Nothing against Bill McKibben, who is rightfully revered in this movement, but it’s our planet too, and if we feel like his big plan will fall short, we feel compelled to differ.

Apparently Chris Parenti feels the same way.  In this excellent article Parenti points out serious flaws in McKibben’s plan, but also comes up with a very impressive plan of his own.  First of all, he points out that in the Supreme Court’s Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency decision, the laws are already in place to start fixing the problem immediately.  President Obama’s EPA is sitting on 30 rules it must issue as a result of that decision.  As Parenti points out, “the (climate) movement has not pressured for action on this front.”  (Note to Chris Parenti: we weren’t even aware of said decision, but, as part of the movement, the Pissed-Off Polar Bears will see what we can do to pressure for action.)

Parenti continues: “Another tool that the government could use is to reorient government procurement away from fossil fuel energy, toward clean energy and technology -- to use the government's vast spending power to create a market for green energy. After all, the government didn't just fund the invention of the microprocessor; it was also the first major consumer of the device. For most of its first three decades of activity, IBM-- which lead the creation of computers -- got more than half of its business from federal contracts.
‘In other words, government consumption (not just its R&D investment) is a powerful force that has created whole markets and new technologies.

Elsewhere I have called this strategy the Big Green Buy. Consider this: Altogether federal, state and local government ("total government expenditures") constitute more than 38 percent of our GDP….
A redirection of government purchasing toward wind, solar power, etc., plus robust action by the EPA - that is, imposition of a de facto carbon tax (if you emit too much you pay a fine) -- would create massive markets for clean power, electric vehicles and efficient buildings, and would simultaneously drive private investment toward that market.
“This strategy -- call it cap and buy -- could and should happen at the state and local level as well. I hope that 350 campaigners and others will add these ideas to their strategy. Activists can pressure their universities, churches and towns, as well as their state and local governments to buy clean power and electric vehicles, retrofit buildings for efficiency, and pressure the federal government to allow the EPA to do its job and enforce the clean air act, very vigorously.
“Let's be honest. The only force on earth that can really control Exxon is the U.S. government.”

         Well done, Chris Parenti.


For Love of Country, for Love of Planet Earth, We Need to Make Some Noise

Today marks day 11 of my analysis of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part One: Power and Struggle, Chapter 2, applying it to the movement to save the world from man-made global warming.  As you can see I’m moving ahead to chapter 2.  Here’s the thing about these books: they’re huge!  The three volumes of this book alone are nearly 850 pages.  When I started reading I perused the table of contents and thought “I’ll need this, not that, etc.”, but I kept reading, and ended up so grateful that I’d read it all  You really do need to read it all to get properly steeped in nonviolent struggle.  There’s so much to know, and all of it will help everyone who wants to help this movement save our life-support system!

Sharp: “Subjects may disobey laws they reject.  Workers may halt work, which may paralyze the economy.  The bureaucracy may refuse to carry out instructions.  Soldiers and police may become lax in inflicting repression…When all these events happen simultaneously, the man who has been ‘ruler’ becomes just another man…The ruler’s military equipment may remain intact, his soldiers uninjured, cities unscathed, the factories and transport systems in full operational capacity, an the government buildings undamaged.  But everything is changed…When people refuse their cooperation, withhold their help, and persist  in their disobedience and defiance, they are denying their opponent the basic human assistance  and cooperation which any…heirarchical system requires.  If they do this in sufficient numbers for long enough, that…heirarchical system will no longer have power.  This is the basic political assumption of nonviolent action.”

         Our opponents are the fossil fuel industry and their allies in our government, media, and society.  These people are forcing inaction on climate change and basically putting everyone in the world’s future in grave danger. They’ve done a magnificent job of marginalizing people who want to do something about this before it’s too late.  That must stop, so we must be really, really smart about how we do this.  Nonviolence by itself won’t do it, there needs to be a grand strategy, and ultimately most of society must be on board.  Big challenge, but if you read your Gene Sharp, it all becomes doable! 

Sharp:  “Nonviolent…actionists conduct the conflict by doing – or refusing to do – certain things without using physical violence…Nonviolent action is not passive.  It is not inaction.  It is action that is nonviolent…Whatever the scale of the conflict, nonviolent action is a technique by which people who reject passivity and submission, and who see struggle as essential.”

         If you have done nothing more to stop global warming than changing your light bulbs, you’ve been pretty damned passive, haven’t you?  In the meantime nothing has been done about climate change.  Struggle, my friends, is essential.

Sharp:  “Conciliation and appeals are likely to consist of rational or emotional verbal efforts to bring about an oppenent’s agreement to do something, while nonviolent action is not verbal – it consists of social, economic, and political activity of special types…Nonviolent action is so different from…milder peaceful responses to conflicts that several writers have pointed to the general similarities of nonviolent action to military war.  Nonviolent action is a means of combat, as is war.  It involves the matching of forces and the waging of ‘battles’, requires wise strategy and tactics, and demands of its ‘soldiers’ courage, discipline, and sacrifice.”

         So you can see how, by Sharp’s reckoning, nonviolent action is a means of last-resort, only to be used when all other means have been exhausted.  We’ve been trying to stop “The Greenhouse Effect” and “Global Warming”, and “Climate Change” for three decades now.  I’d say all other means have been exhausted.

Sharp:  “Nonviolent action must not be confused with anarchism.”

         This country’s history is full of extraordinary acts of nonviolence, from the Tea Boycott at our nation’s founding to the Abolitionist Movement to the Women’s Suffrage Movement to the Civil Rights Movement to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.  They recognized the need to go to extraordinary lengths to make a more perfect union. 

         For love of country, for love of the planet earth, we need to make some noise.


I’m including little snippets, but if we’re going to break the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold on our democracy, you need to read Gene Sharp’s stuff.  Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What if People Knew They Could Prevent Unwanted Policies?

Today marks day 10 of my analysis of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part One: Power and Struggle, applying it to the movement to save the world from a changing climate.

Some of the nonviolent scenarios Sharp writes about aren’t terribly relevant to our situation in trying to save the climate, others are more so.
One of my favorite nonviolent struggles defeated the Kapp Putsch in 1920.  A right-wing coup d’etat was defeated "principally by the general strike of the workers and the refusal of the higher civil servants to collaborate with their rebel masters".  When the bad guys took over people all over Berlin simply refused to do their work for days on end.  Even the banks refused to turn money over to the new government.  The coup collapsed within a few days.

Of course it won’t be easy to crack the internal system of Exxon-Mobil.  They’re famous for their corporate discipline and for hiring true-believers (and probably climate deniers as well).  But they’re also part of our culture at large, and, again, they are living in “drought central”.  Yes, they work in air-conditioned offices, but they watch the news and weather reports, they must have nagging doubts about climate change.

Another inspiring nonviolent struggle fought for Indian Independence.

Sharp: “Jawaharlal Nehru’s experience with noncooperation in the Indian struggle led him to conclude:  ‘Nothing is more irritating and, in the final analysis, harmful to a government than to have to deal with people who will not bend to its will, whatever the consequences.’  Gandhi wrote: ‘If we are strong, the British become powerless.’”

         A major difference between their struggle and our struggle was they basically had all the time in the world to get it done.  Climate change is rushing upon us like a tsunami, and our time to break through is very limited. 

         That said, Gandhi was a tactical genius, always testing his movement’s capacity for larger actions and working toward making it stronger and stronger.  Our movement is, at this point, small and weak.  But that can change.

Sharp: “What would happen if people…on a wide scale, knew that they could prevent the imposition on them of unwanted policies and regimes, and were skillfully able to refuse to assist, in open struggle?”

Remember, all of our futures, including the futures of the fossil fuel industry’s families, hinge upon whether we are able to this successfully.

Sharp: “Generalized obstinacy and collective stubbornness are not effective enough.  General opposition must be translated into a strategy of action, and people need to know how to wage the struggle…They will need to understand the technique based on this insight in to power, including the methods of that technique, its dynamics of change, requirements for success and principles of strategy and tactics.  The implementation must be skillful.”

         Read your Sharp, people!


I’m including little snippets, but if we’re going to break the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold on U.S. Energy Policy you need to read Gene Sharp’s stuff.  Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action. You can order it HERE.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

“Powers Are No Guarantee of Power”

 Merry Christmas!  It’s a white Christmas in Denver!  Beautiful!  

Today marks day 9 of my analysis of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part One: Power and Struggle, applying it to the movement to save the world from a changing climate.

Sharp: “Noncooperation and disobedience must be widespread and must be maintained… The ruler’s will is thwarted in proportion to the number of disobedient subjects and the degree of his dependence upon them.  The answer to the problem of uncontrolled power may therefore lie in learning how to carry out and maintain such withdrawal despite repression.”

         I don’t think for a second that there will be repression.  I know from my reading that tactical people within the fossil fuel industry have studied nonviolent struggle too.  They have to know that the stupidest thing you can do, at least in a free democracy, is repress the opposition.  More likely they’ll smear the opposition, and make life difficult in covert ways (remember, these guys have a lot of money).

         But noncooperation must indeed be widespread.  These corporations are publicly traded, and in many ways they have to keep a good public face.   But if the problem becomes too big for them, and too many people are springing up here there and everywhere to protest their stonewalling on global warming, they’ll have to change their business model or risk losing their energy empires completely.

         I read somewhere that “We need to quit oil before oil quits us”.  These men are determined to make sure we stay addicted to dirty energy until the last morsel is taken from the earth and spewed back into the sky.  That can’t happen.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: “the great truth that the many, if accordant and resolute, could control the few.”

Sharp: “The classic problem for the man on top of any political system: how to be on top on fact as well as name…It is a problem also for…corporate presidents…’Half of a President’s suggestions, which theoretically carry the weight of orders, can be safely forgotten by a Cabinet member.  And if the President asks about a suggestion a second time, he can be told that it is being investigated.  If he asks a third time, a wise Cabinet officer will give him at least part of what he suggests.  But only occasionally, except about the most important matters, do Presidents ever get around to asking three times’…’Powers are no guarantee of power’”.

President Harry S. Truman (on General Dwight D. ‘Ike’ Eisenhower becoming President):  “He’ll sit here and he’ll say ‘Do this!  Do that!  And nothing will happen.  Poor Ike – it won’t be a bit like the Army.”

Sharp: “Even as late as 1958 President Eisenhower still experienced ‘Shocked surprise that orders did not carry themselves out’ and that the assistance of others had to be deliberately cultivated in order to produce ‘effective power’.”

         The culture must change.  It must become terribly uncool for these companies to keep blocking political solutions on climate change.  This must be felt in their communities, and ultimately within their own workforce.  This can happen a lot sooner than people think.


I’m including little snippets, but if we’re going to break Dirty Energy’s stranglehold you need to read Gene Sharp’s stuff.  Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Power is Based on Consent, Which Can be Withdrawn

Our 8th day of examining Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part One: Power and Struggle, and connecting it to our need to stop climate change:

Sharp: “All government is based on consent…Consent can be withdrawn… Power ‘can never be exercised without…the direct cooperation of large numbers of people and the indirect cooperation of the entire community’…The attitudes and beliefs of the ruler’s agents are especially important here.  Destroy the opinion of the supporting intermediary class that it is in their interest to support the ruler, ‘and the fabric which it is built upon falls to the ground’… The reasons for obedience are variable and may be strengthened or weakened….An army…may be influenced by the opinions and sentiments to the people at large.”

         We need to convince the populace in places like Dallas, Houston, and Wichita, that climate change is a crisis which demands urgent action.  Then, it would follow that the fossil fuel industry’s employees, as well as the legislators who do that industry’s bidding, would begin to be less supportive of the men who are running these corporations.  Sounds impossible, I know, but, again, this region of the country has been crippled by devastating heat and drought for two years now.  The climate is ripe, so to speak.

         But first, of course, we need to convince the population at large that this is an urgent crisis in the first place.  I had two conversations with friends yesterday, people who say we should do something about climate change, but it was obvious that they had no idea how bad this could get, or how soon.  One said that global warming couldn’t be stopped, and that it wouldn’t really impact people’s lives in a noticeable way, and would take several generations.  This appears to be how most people see it.  People really need a dose of the entirely plausible worst-case scenarios, triggered by impossible-to-predict natural feedback loops, to awaken them to what’s at stake here.

Sharp:  “Gandhi…emphasized the importance of a change of will as a prerequisite for a change in patterns of obedience and cooperation….He argued a need for; 1) a psychological change away from passive submission to self-respect and courage; 2) recognition by the subject that his assistance makes the regime possible; and 3) the building of a determination to withdraw cooperation and obedience.  Gandhi felt that these changes could be consciously influenced, and he therefore set out to bring them about.  ‘My speeches,’ he said, ‘are intended to create disaffection as such, that the people might consider it a shame to assist or cooperate.’”

         Of course we have a conundrum here in that anyone who fills up their car’s gas tank is, in a way, cooperating.  We live in a modern society that was planned around the car, so it’s very difficult to get around without one. So we need to push to create great mass transit systems in our cities, and transition to electric vehicles in a hurry.  The fossil fuel industry does not want this, so they have fought it all the way, and will continue to.  We need to shame them, and force these companies and our government to invest the capital needed to transition to cleaner energy.  And fast.

Sharp:  “Changes in the attitudes of workers in factories or of citizens…which result in withdrawal of obedience and cooperation can create extreme difficulties for the system.  It can be disrupted or paralyzed. The sheer difficulties of maintaining the normal working of any political unit when its subjects are bent upon an attitude of defiance and acts of obstruction are sufficient to give any ruler cause for thought.”

Again, we must withdraw our consent.


I’m including little snippets, but if we’re going to break Dirty Energy’s stranglehold you need to read Gene Sharp’s stuff.  Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Only Thing We Need to Do is Get Everybody REALLY Riled Up!

        Happy Sunday!  As soon as I get a little time I’ll start livening up the blog with polar bear videos and the like, but for now I’ll continue to examine Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part One: Power and Struggle, and connect it to our need to stop climate change.

Sharp: “Obedience is not inevitable…The most powerful ruler receives only the habitual obedience of the bulk of his subjects…People are generally law abiding, except when ‘unmoored by catastrophic events or by social convulsions’.  At any point in a given society there are limits within which a ruler must stay if his commands are to be obeyed.”

         Think of the “ruler” here as the fossil fuel corporations, and how, by funding climate denial and using their political influence for twenty years to stop action against climate change, they have strayed beyond those limits. 

Sharp: “Obedience is essentially voluntary…although highly influenced by various social forces…The will or opinion of the individual is not constant and may change in response to new influences, events, and forces.”

        Consider the stranglehold the National Rifle Association has had on American politics for decades now.  Columbine didn’t have any affect on their power, Virginia Tech didn’t either, nor did Aurora, but the horrific slaughter of all those little kids at Sandy Hook suddenly has the NRA very much on the run.  Just like that, a political titan is on it’s knees.

Sharp: “In certain situations the subject may even conclude that it is in his self-interest to disobey a regime – especially if he foresees its collapse.  The degree of his lack of self-confidence also varies and may be influenced by changes in the attitudes of other subjects.” 

         The biggest hurdle we face is not the fossil fuel industry, it’s actually getting everybody riled up enough to stand up to that industry.  Once that happens, the fossil fuel industry will be on the run in a hurry.  But what will it take to make that happen?

Sharp: “Even in sanctions, there is a role for an act of will, for choice.  The sanction must be feared and its consequences be seen as more undesirable than the consequences of obedience.”

         I think this could be a huge motivating factor, because nothing’s worse than the consequences of climate change.  Nothing.  So what are we waiting for?

Sharp: “Gandhi, on the basis of his efforts to produce large-scale disobedience and voluntary acceptance of imposed sanctions, observed that feelings must be very intense to make possible the acceptance of such sacrifice.”

         So our challenge is to find how to arouse those intense feelings.  I know we Pissed-Off Polar Bears feel them, but few others do, even within the climate movement.  We have one great ally that will really get people’s attention: Mother Nature.  With the incredibly mild December we are having, it’s virtually certain we’ll face another scorching summer. 


I’m including little snippets, but if we’re going to break Dirty Energy’s stranglehold you need to read Gene Sharp’s stuff.  Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Why Do Men Obey? Gene Sharp’s Observations Applied to Climate Inaction

Continuing my analysis of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part One: Power and Struggle, and how it all applies to the movement to save the world from a changing climate.

Sharp: “Higher standards of living…in highly industrialized countries may contribute significantly to political obedience and positive assistance for the system….”

This is another huge problem we face as a movement.  People in the fossil fuel industry are basically comfortable, and not eager to rock the boat (in spite of the disaster climate change will ultimately bring to their families).  Combine that with the oft-promoted notion that the brunt of global warming’s effects will hit only the developing world.  (I know people who cite that as a reason people don’t get involved.  To which my response is “How do they know?!  No one knows how bad this is going to be or when it’s gonna happen.  If the mountain snow pack vanishes and there’s no melt water to feed our rivers and our crops dry up there won’t be enough to eat, no matter where you live.”)  (Since the climate is unravelling much faster and with much more severity than scientists had predicted, it’s just foolish not to consider worst-case scenarios.)

Sharp: “Psychological identification with the ruler…People often need something or someone to believe in…the triumphs and successes of the government are felt as personal triumphs by it’s subjects, its defeats are experienced as personal.”

This is basically branding and party affiliation, particularly among the Republicans.  Global warming should be something we’re all working to stop, but since the fossil fuel industry has been a strong supporter of the Republican party,  and since they have a ton of money, they have been able to successfully brand climate change as a hoax within that party.  So lots of Republicans, many of whom are very smart people, consider it a matter of personal pride to dismiss the warnings of 98% of climate scientists.  With these ideological blinders on, a lot of good people vote to stop any progress on the climate.

Sharp: “Many people do not have sufficient confidence in themselves, their judgement and their capacities to make them capable of disobedience and resistance….One consequence of the lack of self-confidence is a tendency to avoid responsibility, to seek to delegate it upward and to attribute greater authority to superiors in the hierarchy than is in fact merited.”

Wait for the president to do it.  Wait for Greenpeace to do it.  Wait for Bill McKibben to do it.  What can I do?”

Or people look around at society and see no one paying all that much attention to the problem (what was it, the #20 issue during the campaign season?), so they doubt themselves and think maybe they’re taking it too seriously.  

Sharp:  “Every ruler uses the obedience and cooperation he receives from part of the society to rule the whole.

Sadly, the role our friends and family who deny climate change play in all this cannot be overstated.


I’m including little snippets, but if we’re going to break Dirty Energy’s stranglehold you need to read Gene Sharp’s stuff.  Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Why Don’t People Rise Up to Save the Climate?

More notes from reading Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part One: Power and Struggle.

Sharp: “Obedience is the heart of political power…Many people often assume that the issuance of a command and it’s execution…is an entirely one-way relationship…such an assumption is not true…The orchestra, if dissatisfied with the conductor…through deliberate noncooperation and hostile agitation…may get him fired.”

Noncooperation.  We cooperate with how the fossil fuel industry shunts action on climate change by not changing our lives.  I’m not talking about giving up your car here, that by itself wouldn’t do much.  I’m talking about getting involved and standing up to the fossil fuel industry.  If multitudes of us rose up against them and said “Enough!”, we could save the planet.  I’m talking about forcing them to acknowledge that we humans can no longer use fossil fuels, we need to transform where we get our energy from, which is entirely possible, and it must be done anyway because we’re running out of reserves.

Sharp:  “Why do large numbers submit…and obey…even though it is clearly not in their best interests to do so?”

This is the classic climate paradigm.  We’re destroying our life-support system, and yet we collectively do nothing to stop it.  Sharp has some ideas on why:

Sharp (quoting the philosopher David Hume): “Men ‘never think of departing from that path in which they and their ancestors have constantly trod, and to which they are confined by so many urgent and visible motives’…The ruler’s ‘secret of success’ then becomes the subject’s mind…The degree to which the…regime is identified with the common good will help to determine the degree of loyal obedience.”

People think we need that energy so much they don’t consider the ultimate consequences.  And there are viable alternative energy sources that could be deployed on a mass scale.  But the Dirty Energy companies and their allies in congress are determined to stop large-scale deployment of these sources (which at this point need a boost from our governments to become viable) because it would hurt their profits.

Sharp: “Economic self-interest may be an…important motive for obedience among a larger percentage of a population.”

Looking at the larger population, this is a major reason why people aren’t devoting everything to this.  I wish I could work on this full-time, but I can’t keep up with my bills if I do, so I have to get up at 4 a.m. every day to work on the blog and then other climate-related stuff (I tried doing it after work every day, but I found it was better to devote my time to this early).  But at least I’m working on it every day! 

What I think this movement needs is people working on it full-time.  We’re at a huge disadvantage with the fossil fuel industry here.  They can hire people (or perhaps we should call them goons) to work on casting doubt on climate change round-the-clock. 

But I bet we could outnumber ‘em.  Because there are in fact loads of people who could work on this full-time.  Think of all the people out-of-work right now.  It sucks to be out of work, but it is an opportunity to spend your time saving the world!  For real.  Or twenty-somethings, just out of college, who understand the risk poised to their own futures, some have parents who could cover their expenses while they worked on this full-time.  Finally, you’ve got retirees, or people who could afford to retire, or take a sabbatical, to work on something more important than anyone’s ever worked on. 

There are plenty of excuses why not to devote your best energies to saving the world, but at the end of the day they’re just that: excuses. 


I’m including little snippets, but if we’re going to break Dirty Energy’s stranglehold you need to read Gene Sharp’s stuff.  Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Question for Employees of Exxon and Koch: Do you have kids?

More thoughts on Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action: Power and Struggle.

Sharp: “Contributions to the ruler’s power will range…from the specialized knowledge of a technical expert, the research endeavors of a scientist, and the organizational abilities of a department head to the assistance of typists, factory workers, transportation workers, and farmers….The ruler’s power depends on the continual availability of all this assistance.”

Obviously mega-corporations like Exxon-Mobil have legions of people working for them, and I would imagine that they have been fed a line about how global warming is a hoax (the ones I’ve talked to in Colorado certainly have). But if they live in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas (as many of them do), they’re seeing firsthand the devastation of the early manifestations of this catastrophe.  And they have kids!  At what point does their current paycheck pale in comparison to their children’s entire adult lives?  There will be no refuge from climate change.  It will devastate humanity everywhere.  The employees of these corporations will not be spared.  When will they realize their work helps bring about the collapse of civilization?   

Once these employees “get” the urgency and severity of global warming, they won’t want to cooperate anymore.

(Note:  By far the scariest thing about climate change is the natural feedback loops that atmospheric warming will trigger, particularly the melting permafrost and the release of vast reservoirs of methane gas.  There’s twice as much methane waiting to be released as there is heat-trapping CO2 gas already in the atmosphere.  And methane traps 72 more effectively than carbon over the first few decades.  No one knows when it will happen, but the Arctic is heating with a rapidity that is shocking to scientists.  We could live in a world that is much, much hotter in a decade or two.)

Sharp: “No complex can carry out a superior order if it’s members…will not enable it to do so…If the multitude of ‘assistants’  reject the ruler’s authority, they may then carry out his wishes inefficiently, or take unto themselves certain decisions, or may even flatly refuse to continue their usual assistance.”

This not only applies to the industry’s own employees, but also to government bureaucrats, such as in the Department of the Interior, tasked with granting industry permits, leases, and cooperation. 

Sharp: “Because of dependence on other people to operate the system, the ruler is continually subject to influence and restriction by both his direct assistants and the general populace.”

These government bureaucrats can frustrate industry’s progress even within a fossil-fuel-friendly administration.

If the legions of industry employees become aware of the damage their corporations are doing to the fate of humanity, they can create real problems for the executives who have chosen to put profits over people.  Once their efficiency starts to falter and their internal “machine” slows, profits will stagger.  Then they’ll be receptive to change.

Now, the worker who on his own decides to gum up the works runs a huge risk of getting fired.  This is another form of sanction.  But what if a bunch of ‘em begin to do their jobs not quite as well?

Sharp: “The effectiveness or ineffectiveness of sanctions…depends on the the response of the subjects against whom they are threatened or applied…The greater the voluntary obedience, the greater the chances of detection and punishment of deviations….The weaker  the compliance pattern, the less effective enforcement.”

Final thought:  So far I only have a small number of daily readers, but I always imagine some of them are hired by industry to keep an eye on bloggers like us.  First, as I’ve stated before, we have no secrets.  Second, if you’re that person, do you have kids?  What if your bosses are wrong and 98% of climate scientists are right?  What if the feedback loops kick in within a decade or two?  What will your kids think then of how you’ve made your living?


I’m including little snippets, but if we’re going to break Dirty Energy’s stranglehold you need to read Gene Sharp’s stuff.  Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Examining Some of the Sources of Fossil Fuel’s Power

Using Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, here are some of my thoughts on what the fossil fuel industry depends upon to fortify it's position of power.  If I’m wrong about any of it, or missing anything, feel free to comment.

Sharp: “A ruler’s power is affected by the number of persons who obey him, cooperate with him, or provide him with special assistance…the ruler’s power is also affected by the skills, knowledge, and abilities of such persons."

The fossil fuel industry’s workforce is key here.  Most of these people are living in regions already hit by devastating heat and drought.  Even if they have bought in to climate denial all the way, they see what’s going on with the weather, that’s got to nag at them.  They see how it’s affecting their communities, that has to give them doubts.  And they have kids who will have to live their entire lives with the depredations of climate change, if that doesn’t give them second thoughts, maybe their kids will insist upon it.

Sharp: “Psychological and ideological factors…affect the power of the ruler in relation to the people.”

The climate denial machine is well-funded and sophisticated and its message is repeated frequently on Fox News, talk radio, and go-to right wing websites.  Climate change shouldn’t be a political issue, we should all be pitching in to save the planet, but this denial machine has deliberately made it a political issue.  Hardcore conservatives consider climate denial a major part of their identity, so even though Mother Nature has forced many on the right to believe climate change is underway, there are plenty out there who can never accept reality.

Sharp: “The degree to which the ruler controls property, natural resources, financial resources, the economic system, means of communication and transportation helps to determine the limits of his power.”

This is the big one.  These guys not only control our power sources, they’ve worked with allies in our government to undermine the development of alternative energy sources such as wind.  They have us by the balls.  But we must stop them or our civilization will collapse.  We must break the stranglehold. 

They also frequently have sanctions on their side, depending which judge hears the case.  The Bush administration packed the courts with right-wing ideologues, so if an activist goes before a judge, there’s a decent chance he will be tried unfairly.  When climate activist Tim DeChristopher went before federal judge Dee Benson, the judge forbade his lawyers from presenting Tim’s motive for his actions, so the jurors were to judge only on whether he had done what he was charged with, which he’d already admitted he had.  So he spent over a year in prison, and will not be free until next June.  Those sanctions have worked.  DeChristopher has been silenced and hated the experience, and people don’t want to go to prison and have that on their record.  

Sharp: “All rulers require an acceptance of their authority, their right to rule and command…Just as subjects may accept a ruler’s authority because they believe it is merited on grounds of morality and of the well-being of their country, subjects may for the same reasons at times deny the ruler’s claims to authority over them.”

This is HUGE.  The fossil fuel industry wants us to believe they are supplying us with a needed service,  They want us to accept their position of power as a good thing.  But what they are supplying us is killing the world. They’re like heroin dealers, feeding our addiction.  We need to, on the “grounds of morality and of the well-being of our country”, strip them of their capacity to keep forcing this dirty energy upon us.

Sharp:  “If the subjects deny a ruler’s right to rule and command, they are withdrawing the general agreement, or group consent…This loss of authority sets in motion the disintegration of the ruler’s power."

That’s what we all have to do.  REMOVE OUR CONSENT.  It's unacceptable for them to destroy the climate that's sustained us.


I’m including little snippets, but if we’re going to break Dirty Energy’s stranglehold you need to read Gene Sharp’s stuff.  Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Understand: Fossil Fuel’s Stranglehold is Fragile! We CAN Break it!

Like Cesar Chavez or Martin Luther King, we are not trying to supplant our government.  The power Chavez and the United Farm Workers faced was a consortium of growers, the power King and the Civil Rights Movement faced was a system of unfair state laws and a culture of intimidation.   The power we face is the fossil fuel industry and their allies within our government and institutions.

Their control over our nation’s energy policy seems unbreakable.  They have so much money and many tailor-made laws that favor their position (remember, the oil corporations have been running the show since the Standard Oil Corporation of Ohio started throwing around it’s weight in the later 19th century).  We see global warming kicking in.  We know it will be catastrophic in our lifetimes and ruinous for future generations.  We want to stop it but feel powerless in the face of the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold.

In the first pages of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action – Part One: Power and Struggle, we learn that our impression of their power is wrong.  It is we who have the power.  Some highlights:

 “An erroneous or inadequate view of the nature of political power is unlikely to produce satisfactory and effective action for dealing with it.”

“One can see the people as dependent on the good will, the decisions, and the support of their government, or of any hierarchical systems to which they belong.  Or…one can see that government or system as dependent on the people’s good will, decisions and support…One can also see power as self-perpetuating, durable, not easily or quickly controlled or destroyed.  Or political power can be viewed as fragile, always dependent for it’s strength and existence upon a replenishment of its sources by the cooperation of a multitude of institutions and people – cooperation which may or may not continue.

“Nonviolent action is based on the second of these views: that governments depend on its people, that power is pluralistic, and that political power is fragile because it depends on many groups for reinforcement of its power sources.”

All power “can be weakened and shattered by the undermining of its sources of power”.

So the first step toward breaking Dirty Energy’s stranglehold is to understand that it can be broken.

I’m including little snippets, but if we’re going to break Dirty Energy’s stranglehold you need to read Gene Sharp’s stuff.  Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Before You Start a Nonviolent Struggle, Read Your Gene Sharp

It’s amazing how few climate organizations have read Gene Sharp, therefore it’s also no wonder so many of them are so clueless.  Nonviolent movements have a great history.  They haven’t all been successful, but considering that virtually all of them were making things up as they went along, it’s astonishing how successful these movements have been.

Some 50 years ago Gene Sharp dedicated his life to studying nonviolent struggle groups, and he’s amassed an incredible body of knowledge regarding just how these groups have been able to succeed and what tactics they’ve used.  His pamphlets have helped train not only nonviolent struggle groups, but also were instrumental in helping tiny Baltic states with histories of being occupied draft into their constitutions methods designed to make their nations more unconquerable through noncooperation.

Next summer in Turkey, will be training youth from around the world in how to successfully create a movement.  In Sharp’s latest book, Self-Liberation (read it yourself here), he and his assistant Jamila Raquib note that “groups that received…lectures, courses and workshops have remained themselves unable to plan grand strategies for their conflicts.  Those groups have usually been unable even to to prepare strategies for smaller limited campaigns intended to achieve modest goals.”

(I recognized I’ve been a little hard on Bill McKibben and of late, but we’re running out of time to SAVE THE WORLD, and if I see them moving too slowly or proposing things that people with experience say doesn’t work, I will call them on it.  In McKibben’s Do the Math presentation, he includes a film clip of Van Jones saying McKibben's activists “did not come to Washington to pull the president down, but they did come to push him to be who he said he could be”.  I’d say we Pissed-Off Polar Bears have the same attitude toward McKibben, we’re rooting for him, and pushing him as best as we can to be a more effective leader.)

The analysis in Self-Liberation continues “The training the trainers approach is highly questionable for advanced purposes…this approach trivializes the amount of knowledge needed by a person who attempts to plan strategies. It also assumes that the necessary knowledge and understanding can be successfully trained verbally twice and then applied in strategic planning.”

What does work?  “Careful study of printed presentations and analyses…Printed materials can be studied slowly when needed, repeated, and reviewed…Significant study is required of selected printed studies of the operation of nonviolent struggle and the analyses of its potential…wide dissemination and study of the recommended public texts on nonviolent action is encouraged.  Such wide dissemination and study can counteract any possible tendencies toward elitism…This alternative route to knowledge, if followed carefully, should eventually enable persons and groups to become capable of self-reliantly preparing a grand strategy for a major conflict.”

So buy your Sharp and read it, all of it.  It’s thousands of pages and his writing doesn’t always jump off the page, but the ideas are sound and we’ve got a world to save, so do it!  

In the coming weeks and months, I will share stuff I’ve highlighted from reading his canon, not as a substitute, but hopefully as inspiration for you to buy the books yourself!