Day 5 of my analysis of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part Three: The Dynamics of Nonviolent Struggle, applied to the climate movement. Reading Sharp’s books are a prerequisite for anyone who is serious about stopping climate change. Please go to Dr. Sharp’s website, buy these books, and study them.
Sharp: “Careful planning and preparations are essential. Gandhi’s careful attention to detail in laying plans for satyagraha and in solving organizational problems has been acknowledged as one of the reasons for his effectiveness.”
Satyagraha was what he preferred to call his particular brand on nonviolence, instead of passive resistance. “Passive resistance,” he wrote, “does not necessarily involve complete adherence to truth under every circumstance. Therefore it is different from satyagraha in three essentials: Satyagraha is a weapon of the strong; it admits of no violence under any circumstance whatsoever; and it ever insists upon truth. I think I have now made the distinction perfectly clear."
Sharp: “Few things can weaken such a movement as much as the revelation that the actionists did not really know the facts nor have accurate information on the situation they were complaining about.”
This has become the prized tactic of the climate deniers. As long as there is a shred of doubt about what’s causing climate change, whether it’s responsible for any particular weather event, or how bad global warming can be, they will throw that in the activists’ faces to make us look bad. It’s a real quandary for us because no one knows how bad climate change will be or when exactly it will really kick in, there are too many variables for anyone to know.
The activist must be as informed as she can be (the climateprogress website has a good overview here), but she also can’t let the scientific uncertainties keep her from being active. That’s what they want us do to. To me, we need to know the worst-case scenarios and stick resolutely to them. Because, again, no one knows.
The Japanese built the Fukushima reactor to withstand an 8.3 earthquake, the one that hit was 9.0. The sea walls were built to hold back 30 feet of water, but the quake dropped coastal sea level by 6 feet, so the walls were too short. If you don’t prepare for the worst-case scenario, nature will overwhelm you in a hurry.
So, admit that no one knows, but be adamant that its foolish to underestimate just how bad climate change can be.
Sharp: “After the information has been gathered by investigation or other means, the widest possible publicity is to be given to the facts of the case, the grievances, and the aims of the nonviolent group.”
Quick, what exactly is the worst-case scenario for climate change? When could it kick in? We need to put together and widely distribute a look at those worst-case scenarios. Until we do, no one will understand what we’re so worked up about.
Sharp: “Representatives of the nonviolent group will make clear their minimum demands…Once the demands are set, it is generally recommended that they be kept unchanged during the struggle.”
I think the movement needs to agree to a uniform set of demands, so we all know exactly what we’re demanding. James Hansen, the scientist with longest-running visibility about climate change, has recommended a world-wide six percent reduction of CO2 each and every year. Sounds good. He also says we need to initiate massive campaigns to re-forest the planet and plant new grasslands, so that needs to be a part of it too. But it’s tough to find his prescription easily online. It shouldn’t be. It mustn’t be if we’re going to do this. What are we demanding of our president and world leaders? This should be easy for every activist to find.
And there can’t be any wiggle room here. In his excellent book Eaarth, Bill McKibben talks about the oft-cited notion that "you can’t let perfect be the enemy of good”, then makes the point that when it comes to solving the climate catastrophe, perfect is the only solution that will be strong enough to save us.