Thursday, January 24, 2013

3 Days On: How the President's Climate Push is Shaping Up (and What it Means for Us)

I just read a couple articles that talk about how the president’s push to save the world from climate change is shaping up, three days after he unveiled it in the inauguration.

First of all, it’s going to be “deliberately paced”, and activists are being cautioned to not expect anything before the president is done dealing with immigration reform, gun control, and the budget.

Duh!  Though climate change is by far the most important and urgent issue, ultimately the political issues of the day will force Obama to deal with the budget first, then gun control (while people are still outraged about Sandy Hook), and immigration reform (because if it wasn’t for the immigration issue we’d have had Romney’s inauguration on Monday). I get it, we can’t expect action just yet, BUT we have to start pushing harder than ever so the president will have wind at his back.  And we know the other side will be screaming "Tyranny!" like they always do, but this time our side needs to strap on a pair and stand up to them.  Nonviolently, of course.

The biggest risk that faces the climate movement right now is that people will assume Obama’s gonna take care of it and we’ll go right back to doing nothing. 

But remember how he finished the speech:
You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.
“You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.
“Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.”
Cool.  I'm reminded of something Charles Stuart Parnell, the great Irish Member of Parliament, once said: “The measure of the Land Bill next season will be the measure of your activity and energy this winter…It depends therefore, upon yourselves, and not upon any Commission or any Government.”

Same thing here guys.  If  you want nonexistent climate reforms, don’t engage yourself.  If you want Obama to pull off great reforms, make lots and lots of noise.  And if you want Obama to pull off the changes that are really necessary but seem impossible even to Obama, then learn how nonviolent struggle works and help us take it to a whole ‘nuther level!

We in the climate movement have been so marginalized and ignored for so long, but the president’s going to be giving us an outstanding platform.  Let’s be ready when that day comes!


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pete Knows Nonviolent Struggle, Do You?

(I can't upload the video tonight!  Here's a link to tonight's video posted on youtube:

As a polar bear, I want to clear up some misconceptions about nonviolent struggle. 

People say to me “Pete!  You’re a hypocrite.  You claim to believe in nonviolence, and yet, you’re a carnivore!”

Indeed I am.  I eat seals, not salads.  But I’m am a disciplined advocate of Nonviolent Struggle. 

Perhaps I can explain best by illustrating what Nonviolent Struggle is not.

Nonviolent struggle has nothing to do with passivity.  We do not believe people should sit back and say “Gosh, I wish they’d do something about climate change!”  First of all, what’s this “They”?  WE.  We’re going to do something about climate change.  THEY are gonna follow. Capice?

Nonviolent action is a means of conflict where you conduct a struggle on your terms.  Those in power WANT you to use violence because they can easily trounce you with the police and the military.  But with nonviolence you emphasize your strengths, which puts them at a disadvantage.  You use people power, or, polar bear power.

Nonviolent struggle does not depend the assumption people are good.  And I can tell you right now people are not always good. Sometimes they’ve even been known to shoot polar bears just to put our heads on their walls!  Gawd!!!

Also, people think to do nonviolent struggle right, you need to be a saint, like Gandhi, or the Reverend Martin Luther King.  How many people are like THAT?!  Not bloody many!   We’ll be waitin’ forever for another guy like that to come around, and climate change needs to be dealt with NOW!

Take me, I’m a polar bear.  I sneak up on seals, maul them, and eat them.  Then with blood staining my face and dripping from my muzzle, I go out and try to seduce lady polar bears.  This disqualifies me from being Gandhi, who never ever mauled a seal or tried to seduce a lady polar bear!  But, hell!  My Arctic is melting!  I’m gonna do the smartest, fastest thing possible to stop that.  Just so happens that smartest, fastest thing is Nonviolent Struggle!

Here’s the main ingredient of nonviolent struggle:  Stubbornness.  “Massive stubbornness can have powerful political consequences”. Well, I, for one, am stubborn.  Once, I even fought off a pack of wolves who were trying to steal a narwhal kill.  You have any idea how hard it is to catch a narwhal?  It’s like wrestling a unicorn!  I wasn’t about to give that thing up.  And I’m not about to sit meekly by as my Arctic melts away and the rest of the world heats up to catastrophic levels, and neither should you!

No one knows how bad climate change’ll be, but if the permafrost melts it could trigger the sixth Mass Extinction Event EVER!  On the planet!  And the collapse of civilization.  Other than that, it’s not such a big deal!

Compromises and mild solutions aren’t gonna save us!  Nature is spinning out of control faster than anyone ever expected.  We need drastic solutions now! 

But the fossil fuel industry and their allies are gonna use every means at their disposal to keep things the way they are.  They don’t want to hurt their profit margins.  They don’t mind putting the entire world on the precipice, but nothing must touch their precious profit margins!

But ya know what?  As powerful as they are, they depend on lots and lots of people to supply them with lots and lots of things.  If we can make it uncool and unacceptable for those people to do that, we can strip away the power of the fossil fuel industry, and save the world from catastrophe.

Which, I would say, is even better than a nice, juicy narwhal.



Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Republicans Gonna Pressure Dem Senators, Let's Pressure BACK!

So the National Republican Senatorial Committee,  or NRSC, has wasted no time in trashing President Obama’s pledge to do something about climate disruption.

(I guess we’re supposed to call it that now, because the climate always changes, but it takes a lot to DISRUPT it, like humans are with your 761 metric tons of carbon emissions every single second!  So I’m going to try calling it climate DISRUPTION, even though it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.)

These NRSC dudes have decided that being against stopping the destruction of the world is a “winner”.


They’re gonna target Democratic Senators in four states: Louisiana, Alaska, Colorado, and Montana, because those states have a lot of fossil fuel sources, to see if they can scare the Senators from voting to save the climate.

Never mind that those four states have been clobbered by climate DISRUPTION already: Colorado’s been boiling hot and burning down, Louisiana has had it’s cities washed away by daily hurricanes (how many hurricanes are we gonna let those poor bastards get clobbered by?!), Alaska’s having all kinds of problems because the far North is heating up faster than anyone else, and don’t even get me started about Montana, Montana and Colorado both are having horrible problems with the bark beetles.

So, those Senators would be doing the right thing for their states by fighting climate DISRUPTION, and we gotta push them just as hard from our side to do the right thing!

And why stop there?!  The farm belt is getting clobbered by drought!  Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas have all been boiling hot for two years now and they all have Republican climate denier senators up for reelection in 2014.  These guys aren’t doing a very good job helping their states if they’re really just helping DESTROY their states!  Scientists are saying that by  2050 permanent dust bowls will extend from  California to Kansas!  Good lord, these people gotta start pushing their senators to do something about climate DISRUPTION, and we gotta help them!  We gotta go to those states and make it okay for people to want to do something about the climate!  

So, listen up NRSC, you’re not gonna gain Senators by fighting Obama on climate DISRUPTION, in fact, you’re gonna lose ‘em, NRSC losers!


Monday, January 21, 2013

Obama Intends to do Something About Climate Change! Climate Organizations Should Table What They're Doing and SEIZE THE MOMENT!

I’m all excited today, I don’t know if you saw President Obama’s inauguration speech, but, here’s  what he said about climate change. 

"We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared."

Wow!  That’s great.  So now we gotta make it easy for him to get all that done!  And it won’t be easy.  Republicans are gonna fight him all the way, but, the Republicans all come from states that are all gonna be effected by climate change, THIS YEAR!  So we should be able to get a lot of people to say “Ya know what, even though I’m a Republican, I agree that we gotta do something about this.”  Because that’s how we’re gonna get it DONE!  So, memo to the climate movement, whatever you were working on, set it aside!  We gotta do reality.  We got an opportunity here.  Let’s help the president get this done.  HE won’t be able to do it, unless WE create a groundswell.  So, hello, we’ll do it.  We’ll create a groundswell!


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Apologies for not posting today. I'm launching into something that's VERY time-consuming and REALLY ambitious, but I hope completely worth it, considering the intent of this blog is to help SAVE THE WORLD.  Check in mid-day Friday!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Pete the Pissed-Off Polar Bear Chimes in on Nonviolent Openness vs. Secrecy

So I wanted to talk about Openness and Secrecy in Nonviolent Struggle. 

It basically boils down to this: Openness is smart, secrecy is dumb.  

Let me elaborate.

First of all, anything you write in an email, or say on the telephone, might be read by
government agents.  George W. Bush made sure of this with his so-called Patriot Act. 
 “Oh look at me I’m a patriot!  You now have no privacy, just like the founders intended!” 
That naked picture you sent to your boyfriend?  It’s made the rounds at Langley.

Also, if you really were to become a concern to anyone really powerful, like, say, the
richest companies in the history of the world, they would soon have people joining your
organization.  “Hello!  I want to help!  I have money, what would you do to the richest
company on earth if you could get away with it?  Shoot for the moon, dude!  Let’s do
something illegal.  Hee hee hee!  You can trust me, honest!”

So, you should expect spies.  If you’ve got secrets, then everyone would get all paranoid! 
“Is it you?  Are you the mole?”  “I think it’s him!”  “I think it’s you!”  “I trusted you, ratfink!” 
This is no way to run a popular uprising!  Just be open and honest, “Here’s what we’re
 doing?  Ya hear me, Koch Brothers?”  “Hey Glenn Beck, guess what we’re gonna do!”

Now of course if you lived in, say, Kas-beck-i-stan, you’d need to be secret or your
opponents would kill you!  But the U.S. and Canada, are free!  If you’re a human
anyway.  There are some places polar bears can’t go or they’d shoot us with
tranquilizer darts, which is worse than it sounds.  You don’t just fall asleep, when you’re
out they do anal probes and stuff like that, or put big collars on you.  Try sneaking up on
a seal with a big black collar around your neck! 

Anyway, here no one’s gonna kill you unless some crazy Tea Party dude with an arsenal
decides to take matters into his own hands, but that would really make their side look bad
so they’ll try and discourage that, prob’ly anyway.  It’s hard to figure out that kind of

Another thing that’s dumb about secrecy is only the inner circle knows what’s going on
next.  We Pissed-off Polar Bears wanted to help the climate movement with their protests
during the elections last year.  Turned out they had no protests planned.  They’re very
opaque, they don’t do a good job of laying out their strategy, so you don’t know if they
have it handled or not.  These are important things to know!
If you want a lot of people to help you demonstrate, you should be really visible!

The point is, Nonviolent struggle is based on bravery and discipline.  When you’re open
about what you’re doing, you become free from the fear of arrest.

In the Indian Independence Jawaharlal Nehru or whatever his name was, I actually
know a walrus named Jawalrus Nehru, anyway this guy Nehru said that once they got rid
of secrecy their feelings of oppression and frustration melted away.  They actually felt
sorry for the guys who were spying on them because they had no secrets to discover.

This movement needs to get rid of it’s feelings of frustration and start having fun!  Ya 
hear that ExxonMobil!  The party’s over!  Gruuumph!  More tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What to Think About While Organizing Organizations

           Day 9 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.

I have some experience with both well-run and poorly run climate organizations.

A little more than a year ago I was working for a climate organization where nothing worked.  Meetings and conferences never went off as planned, nothing got done on time, and no one was in the loop about what the executive director’s agenda was.  I certainly wasn’t, and there weren’t that many of us.

On the other hand, in April of 2011 I attended the PowerShift conference in D.C.  It was the largest organizer training in history, and it was very well-organized.  Over the course of a weekend, people were able to meet other activists from their own regions, learn effective organizing techniques, brainstorm on solutions, and also have fun!  (The only thing they don’t do right is they don’t hold their conventions in election years, which would provide a great springboard for a summer of organizing and activism.  Instead, over a year passes between the conference and the next campaign season, by which time the conference is a distant memory and attendees have scattered to the winds.)

As PowerShift demonstrated, a good organization provides a framework to make people work more effectively.  Bad organization provides no framework and people end up leaving. 

Last Sunday 60 Minutes did an excellent segment on  IDEO’s David Kelly, who’s design company builds on the ideas of many people.  It could be a great model for a really powerful climate movement.  The movement needs to be creative and democratic, it needs to be outspoken and not secretive about it’s strategies, it needs to encourage initiative, and must have unwavering commitment to nonviolent principles.

That’s what PowerShift’s convention did.  Their framework created a place for ideas to form and grow.  Otpor did it in Serbia, allowing complete freedom for activists so long as they kept the focus on ending Milosevic’s reign and as long as it was nonviolent.  Earth Guardians is attempting to provide the creative structure for youth environmental activists in the U.S. and abroad.

But time and thought need to go into the organizational framework so that the organization will easily grow in the right direction.

In Waging Nonviolent Struggle, Sharp shows four categories where organization is necessary:

-       “The public: publicizing the facts and grievances; promoting sympathy; disseminating solid information about the nature and requirements of nonviolent struggle."

This is huge for us, not just publicizing how serious of a crisis climate change is, but also how effective nonviolent struggle can be!

-       "The volunteers: recruiting; training and incorporating participants into the movement; promoting commitment."

The CANVAS website gives more details on how to recruit and train.  Otpor had an action, recruit, train triangle, where street actions doubled as recruitment opportunities.  The new recruits would then be trained, and would often themselves be doing the next street actions.

-       "The leadership: preparing replacements for arrested leaders of the movement; setting the procedures for further selection of leadership; supplying information to the leaders."

Again, I personally think this movement would be stronger with many leaders empowered to lead fun groups in their towns.  It would make it very hard for the fossil fuel industry to effectively combat us.

-      "The movement in general: supporting morale and discipline; preparing participants to act without leaders in times of severe repression; maintaining communications.”

A big thing we need is simple morale, a belief that we can indeed save the day before it's too late.

In The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Sharp concludes: “Strong commitment of the volunteers to participation and adherence to the campaign’s plans and standards remain crucial...In preparing the volunteers and the general population for the struggle, extreme attention must be given to three closely related qualities of this technique: fearlessness, nonviolence, and…openness or nonsecrecy.”


Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

Monday, January 7, 2013

We’ve Got 40 Million Supporters, Let’s Turn Them Into Quality Actionists

           Day 8 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.

Anybody see Moyers and Company Friday night?  His guest was Anthony Leiserowitz from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.  In a fantastic interview, Leiserowitz identified “six Americas”, each with markedly different perceptions of global warming.   I want to look at one of those groups. 

“The first group that we’ve identified is a group we call alarmed.” Leiserowitz said.  “It’s about 16 percent of the public.  These are people who think it’s happening, it’s human caused, that it’s a serious and urgent problem and they’re really eager to get on with the solutions.

“But they don’t know what those solutions are.  They don’t know what they can do individually and they don’t know what we can do collectively as a society to deal with it…[they] feel relatively isolated and alone.  They say, ‘I feel this way, some of my friends and family feel this strongly.’  But they have no sense that they are part of over 40 million Americans that feel just as strongly as they do.”

“They’ve never been properly organized, mobilized and directed to demand change…that’s what the political system ultimately responds to.  If you basically have a vacuum of people who are demanding change…I mean, there are of course many great organizations that have been advocating for change for a long time.  But it hasn’t been a broad based citizens movement demanding change.  In that situation a relatively small but well-funded and vocal community that says no can absolutely win the day.”

So the good news is there are 40 million of us!  If this movement can stand up as one with 40 million people, we’ll be able to save the world.  The bad news is the movement’s leaders haven’t been doing it right.  We have to change that, and we have to demand that these organizations actually do it right, or they don’t deserve our time or our money.

This crisis cannot be seen as just another political cause.  The organizations of the movement, when they got started, must have looked around at the political landscape and decided to model their strategies after what all the other advocacy groups were doing.  This wasn’t an inherently bad idea, but after a couple decades now with no results I’d say it’s time to try something else.

Enter Nonviolent Struggle.  If we are committed to doing it right, and really learn how it works, we can do great things here.

Gene Sharp makes the case that, as much as you need to have many activists to make noncooperation effective, nothing is more important than the maintenance of high quality in those activists.  “Quality would be contagious and multiply; the number of nonviolent actionists enrolled under Gandhi’s leadership in South Africa, for example, rose from sixteen to sixty thousand.  In contrast, undisciplined numbers would fade away…Even if it were possible for a single individual or a few nonviolent actionists by their own actions to achieve the desired change, it would be wiser, Gandhi felt, for them to use their abilities to educate the masses of the people in the means by which they themselves could right their wrongs…Large numbers not able to maintain the nonviolent discipline, the fearlessness, and other necessary standards of behavior could only weaken the movement, but large numbers capable of maintaining the necessary standards and discipline become ‘irresistable’.”

So if you’re one of the 40 million, understand that there is indeed hope and we can do this.  But also understand that the climate movement as we’ve known it hasn’t known how to go about it.  Don’t just assume they’ll be able to pull this off.  Instead, educate yourself first, become knowledgeable about nonviolent struggle and devoted to its principles.  Become yourself a “quality” actionist, and demand it of others.  That way you’ll much better able to help whichever group you engage with, or you’ll be able to lead your own group in a way that will be more effective than what this movement has yet seen.

It all starts with you buying Gene Sharp’s books and reading them.


Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Need for a Phased Strategy and Cause Consciousness

        Day 6 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:  “Nonviolent action…participants are able to advance their cause in proportion to the degree that the opponent’s desire and ability to maintain the objectionable policy are weakened, and that the nonviolent group is able to generate the will and power to give it the internal strength  to effect the change.  The skillful choice of the point of attack is important in this connection.”

         We Pissed-Off Polar Bears saw the 2012 election, on the heels of this disastrously hot summer, as a breathtaking opportunity to get a lot of people talking about climate change and demanding action.  We considered an international treaty to be the best, fastest framework for change (still do), so we wanted to elect as many climate-friendly senators as possible to ratify such a treaty.  The rest of the movement did not show up for the fall campaigns at all, so our strategic thinking was for naught.

         Bill McKibben, in fact, started his Do the Math campaign the day after the election.  As best as I can tell, the divestment campaign he’s calling for are designed to hurt industry’s bottom line (although some doubt that it will have that effect), and to attack a key fossil fuel weakness: they’re jeopardizing young people’s entire futures.  This could, in fact, weaken industry’s ability to maintain the objectionable policy by rousing a lot of protest on campuses across the country.

Sharp:  “The planners choose the point of attack…which symbolizes the “evil” which is least defensible by the opponent and which is capable of arousing the greatest strength against it.  Success in such limited campaigns will in turn increase the self-confidence of the actionists and their ability to move effectively toward the fuller achievement of their larger objectives as they gain experience.”

         We Pissed-Off Polar Bears had a “staged campaign” in mind, but we couldn’t get past the first hurdle, getting the movement on it’s feet, so we’re back to square one:  How to get a movement up and at ‘em.  Whether McKibben or Gore or any other organization in the movement has a staged campaign in mind is unknown to me.  It would actually help the movement quite a bit if they could come out with an overall plan.  I, for one, am not comfortable just assuming that they are with the fate of the world at stake.  They haven’t had one before now, why should we assume they’ve got one now?

Sharp:  “It is necessary to publicize the facts, the issues and the arguments advanced by the nonviolent group…The need for such a period of motivational preparation has been long recognized as important to a well-supported and sustained nonviolent movement.  For example, in 1769, in correspondence with George Washington…his neighbor James Mason argued it would be necessary to publish ‘something…to warn the people of the impending danger and to induce them to the more readily and cheerfully to concur in the proper measures to avert it.'”

         Here’s where Bill McKibben and Al Gore have done a better job than anyone else in the movement.  Still, though, as a society we’re a long way away from completely coming to grips with how bad climate change could be. It’s very important that this movement does a much better job of publicizing the worst-case scenarios, which most Americans are completely unaware of (because they get no air-play), and which happen to be highly plausible, by the way.

Sharp:  “Inform the public in general of the grievances, encouraging people to feel that nonviolent action is needed to correct them, and finally to enlisting participants for the coming struggle.  A very important part of this activity is aimed at arousing the feeling that something can and ought to be done.”

         People who think that the president will handle it don’t understand how little political will there is to implement something on a scale that will be necessary to really make a dent in the advance of climate change. Nonviolent action, in the streets on a massive scale, is the only thing that will create that kind of political will. 

Sharp:  “A properly conducted journal can be of immense help in such a campaign…’Cause consciousness’ must be placed on quality rather than speed or quantity, and strict efforts must be made to avoid exaggerations, distortions, or falsehoods.  Neither should feelings of hatred or intolerance be aroused…’Many people are only looking for an excuse not to support the movement.’”

         With the need for action on climate change being so urgent, it’s tempting not to put anything before speed, but nonviolent action is most effective because it can work so quickly.  Remember what Ivan Marovic of Otpor said, “If it is carefully planned, by the time they start, everything is over in a matter of weeks”.  


Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Homework for a Movement: Know the Science, Know the Worst-Case Scenarios, and Know Your Demands

         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.

Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Climate Movement, In Order to Lead, You’ve GOT to Read!

         Day 4 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.

         Today we’re looking at “Leadership in Nonviolent Struggle”.  The book we’ve been examining came out in 1973,  For this topic I want to start by skipping ahead to another Sharp masterwork, Waging Nonviolent Struggle, which came out 32 years later, in 2005.  I feel his analysis of the requirements of leadership had developed by over time, and the updated version is a little more appropriate to the needs of the climate movement.

Sharp:  “Leaders need to become experts on nonviolent struggle.  Knowledge about nonviolent struggle also needs to be spread widely.  Greater knowledge and understanding of the nonviolent technique throughout the population will increase the difficulty for the opponents to “behead” the movement by imprisoning or killing the leaders.  Leaders serve as spokespeople and offer, organize, and can implement solutions to problems.  Leadership can be by group, committee, individual, or a combination of these.”

         A big reason why I’m blogging everyday about Sharp is I’m convinced that the climate movement needs him.  The leaders of the climate movement, and every impassioned activist, need to immerse themselves in his books.  I’m hoping that, by blogging on that, it will resonate with people, or at least impress upon someone with a louder megaphone than my own that this needs to be universally studied.

         The leaders of the movement need to push their followers to read this stuff too.  Everyone needs to know this!  We want a democratic movement, right?  Our movement will be so much more effective if we’re a multi-headed hydra popping up here, there and everywhere.  If people read these books, then our leaders need not worry about people doing something to embarrass the movement.  That won’t happen if people know how nonviolent action works.  It’s frustrating for me, knowing that the leaders of the movement aren’t taking the time to study this.  They could be so much more dynamic and effective!

         Okay, back to The Dynamics of Nonviolent Action.

Sharp:  “Socially significant nonviolent action does not just happen,,,Frustration at the blocking of conventional channels of change, or at least their uselessness in certain situations, may finally have led people to think of unorthodox ways of acting.  The situation itself may have become unbearable or threatening, thus requiring radical action…An example of nonviolent action in some other place or time may suddenly be seen as relevant.”

         Orthodox methods to get action on climate change have gone nowhere, so we do need to take it to another level.   Why not study movements that have accomplished the impossible?

         But you really need to immerse yourself in the stuff.  Reading a list of the 198 methods Sharp has identified has all the impact of a really long grocery list.  But reading his 326 page book that describes those methods in detail is inspiring (The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part Two: The Methods of Nonviolent Action). 

         Sharp also has pointed out that you can’t do this with one guy who’s an expert on nonviolence, another who’s an expert on climate science, etc.  The leaders all need to be experts on all of it.  There’s no easy way out. But, hey, it’s to save the world.  Qualify yourself to help lead!  Buy and read the books. 


Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Power Shifts in Nonviolent Movements are a Roller Coaster Ride

            Day 3 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:  “The variations in the respective power of the contending groups [in nonviolent conflict} are likely to be more extreme, to take place more quickly, and to have more diverse consequences…The nonviolent group may, by it’s actions and behavior, control the increase or decrease in the relative strength of the opponent group.”

         That’s why you do nonviolent struggle.  It’s obvious by now that the conventional political activism route has had zero effect upon the power of the fossil fuel industry and their allies.  If you want to seriously make an impact, you have to be willing to go “all-in” with a completely different technique.  I think Bill McKibben is well-poised to do this.  His supporters always astound him with their tremendous response to his calls-to-action. But he and his lieutenants don’t seem to have broken completely free of the regular political activism model.  In their Do the Math presentation they asked for everyone to text them so that then they could reach out to us when needed, but only with the promise that that they won’t be annoying about it.

         I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t be worried about annoying us.  The fossil fuel industry is what annoys us, we’ll do anything you ask, so don’t hesitate to ask as often as is needed!  And if you don’t ask often enough you’re probably not doing enough.  Don’t hold back on our account, remember how astounded you always are and give us some credit!

Sharp:  “The conflict is therefore not one between two clear-cut groups of fixed composition and strength.  Instead the  power of both groups varies…The strength of the nonviolent group will be strongly influenced by the people who are actually carrying out the action…If they participate fully, and persist despite the punishments meted out to them, the nonviolent movement is likely to be strong."

         The struggle group needs to be fully committed.  The leaders and the participants.  It’s actually a sin to be shy about "annoying" us.

Sharp: “In a given nonviolent campaign the active participants are usually a relatively small percentage of the whole population…The attitudes and activities of that wider population associated with the nonviolent struggle are, however, highly important: its approval or disapproval of the nonviolent campaign may influence the morale and hence the behavior of the active participants.  If sympathetic, the wider group may provide funds, facilities, and supplies, take less dangerous symbolic actions of support, or provide new volunteers.”

         This is a big problem for the movement.  While a majority of the population at large gives lip-service to the problem of global warming, very few think it’s worth getting worked up about.  Our peers don’t seem all that concerned.  To them, we seem a little crazy, misguided, or even unrealistic.  Right now I’d argue that this is our opponent’s greatest source of strength.  As long as the wider population is largely unmoved by climate change, industry's strength shall remain unchallenged.  Awakening the wider population is job one.

Sharp:  “The importance of national and world opinion to the outcome of the struggle varies considerably and can be highly exaggerated.  Such opinion may…influence the morale of the respective groups, and hence the outcome of the conflict.”

         In our conflict world opinion will play a key role.  True, world opinion will not factor as importantly as does American public opinion toward creating political action in this country, but this is a global problem and will require global action.  We need the citizens of the world on our side.  We need them to be every bit as active in pushing their governments to act as we must be here.


I’m including little snippets, but if we’re going to break the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold upon our government's climate  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.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

To Make the Climate Movement Great, We Need to Cast Off Our Fear

Day 2 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 wants to help save our life-support system. Please go to Dr. Sharp’s website, buy these books, and study them.

Sharp:  “Nonviolent action is not a safe means of struggle; there is no such thing.   People are liable to be hurt and to suffer in various ways, including economic loss, physical injury, imprisonment, and even death….There are, of course, risks in passivity.”

         Like, for instance, having the world overheat to the point that rivers run dry and civilization can’t feed itself.

Sharp: “A high degree of courage is required of nonviolent actionists.”

         There are those in the movement who think we can win with “slacktivism”.  That somehow by clicking “like” on a facebook page people are doing their bit to help defeat the forces of industry.   These people are steeped in the old paradigms activists have been using, unsuccessfully, for the past thirty years.  Until people really start putting themselves on the line, this movement will continue to be ineffectual.

Sharp:  “The coward seeks to avoid the conflict and flees from danger, the nonviolent actionist faces the conflict and risks the dangers involved in pursuing it honorably.  ‘Cowardice is impotence worse than violence,’ concluded Gandhi.

“The nonviolent actionist must have confidence in the right and strength of his cause, in his principles, and in his technique of action.”

         That should not be hard, when you’re attempting to save the world.

Gandhi:  “The Government takes advantage of our fear of jails.”

         In America, businesses refrain from hiring people who have any kind of a criminal record.  Think of it, fighting to save the world can give you a “criminal” record.  We cannot be afraid of that! We can not let a system designed to do something else work against our saving the future for everyone, including the very businesses that supposedly won’t be hiring us. 

In his Do the Math tour, Bill McKibben correctly pointed out that older Americans, especially tenured professors, can be the first ones to be arrested, jail fodder, as it were.  But younger Americans can make a great statement by fearlessly being willing to risk jail.  During the Freedom Rides, Mississippi’s jails became flooded with idealistic young people from all over the country who flocked to the state to take on segregation laws, until Mississipi’s system couldn’t handle it anymore and the Freedom Riders won a change in the unjust laws.  During the Otpor struggle, it became a point of pride to be arrested, as it was in Montgomery, Alabama, during the bus boycotts.

Martin Luther King, Jr.:  “Those who had previously trembled before the law were now proud to be arrested for the cause of freedom.”

We can’t be afraid of jail guys, just remember to be nice to the police, we’re fighting for their futures too.

Sharp:  “Gandhi repeatedly emphasized the importance of this inner psychological change from fear and submission to fearlessness and self-respect as a necessary prerequisite of real political freedom… Gandhi wrote: ‘We have to dispel fear from our hearts.’…Also, participation in nonviolent action often seems to lead to a loss of fear….

         “Courage in this technique is not simply a moral virtue; it is a practical requirement…Courage is required if the nonviolent struggle is to…lead to the increasing strength of the nonviolent group and an undermining of the opponent’s power.”

Rachel pointed out in her Save Face or Save the Planet post that the biggest roadblock we in the movement face is simply putting ourselves out there, for the world to see, as very visible activists.  That does take courage. Don’t hide behind “slacktivism”.  Get fearless and get active.


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.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Nonviolent Struggle is a Formidable System That Climate Leaders Must Take the Time to Fully Understand

        To start the New Year we’re moving on to an analysis of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part Three: The Dynamics of Nonviolent Action, applied to the climate movement. For my money this is one of the two most essential Gene Sharp books for climate activists to read.  Reading Sharp’s books are a prerequisite for anyone who wants to help save our planet. Please go to Dr. Sharp’s website, buy these books, and study them.

Sharp:  “An understanding of how nonviolent action “works,” of its dynamics in struggle, and of its mechanics of change is of extreme importance.  Without that insight our extensive catalogue of its methods (which I skipped but I’ll get to in the future) will lack the vitality which is characteristic of social change and political conflict, and the view of power upon which this technique rests will remain an exercise for specialists in political philosophy.  But with awareness of the dynamics…we can understand the operation of this technique in society and politics, and evaluate intelligently its potential utility in various types of conflict situations." 

         This book is essential for anyone who wants to give more than just lip service to the term “nonviolence”.  It goes from being vague term to being an enthralling and tremendously powerful system. 

Sharp:  “It is essential to remember that the operation of nonviolent action in struggle is always a dynamic process.  It involves continuous change in the various influences and forces which operate in that process and are constantly influencing each other….Also, the process is very complicated...more complicated than conventional military warfare or even guerrilla warfare.”

         In other words, it’s a moving, living beast.  The activists’ actions are just a part of it, the opponents actions are another part, as is society at large, the media, and, in our case, the weather.  Any person or group who decides to play a role in helping lead the climate movement had better have an eye on all these factors, and be willing to engage and evolve on an every-day basis, otherwise they’ll be ineffective.  It’s like a football team that goes into a game with a game plan, but doesn’t make any adjustments to react to how the other team is playing during the game itself.

Sharp: “If nonviolent action is capable of wielding power, it must be able with its power to act upon the power wielded by the opponent.

         “The opponent is frequently a government; where it is not, the opponent often has the support of the state machinery…in strategic terms, the nonviolent group counters the opponent’s power indirectly..weaken the opponent’s relative power position rather than strengthen it by, for example, alienating existing support and undermining the opponent’s ability (and at  times weakening his will) to continue the policy…Instead of meeting him where he is strong, nonviolent actionists rely on a totally different technique of struggle, or “weapons systems,” which is designed to operate to their advantage…Given an extensive, determined, and skillful application of nonviolent action, the opponent is likely to find that the nonviolent actionists’ insistence on fighting with their choice of “weapons system” will cause him very special problems which will tend to frustrate the effective utilization of his own forces”

         Near as I can tell, our opponents are the fossil fuel industry and the right-wing think tanks, media outlets, and government officials that work so hard to prevent action on climate change.   They’re very well-funded, sophisticated, and smart.  They’ve mastered the politics of this.  They know just how the process works, they know how many senators and representatives they need.  They know the state, federal and local laws, they know the constitutional issues, the international treaties.  They know what they want to change and they know what absolutely must not be changed.  They have friendly judges and justices sitting in courtrooms across the country. They know how the media works and how grassroots political action works and they have the money to pull the strings they want to pull.  They’re also completely ruthless.  They’ll play hardball in every aspect.  We mustn’t fight the fight they want to fight.

Sharp:   “Napolean wrote…’Never do what the enemy wishes you to do’.”

         “Nonviolent action is capable of striking at the availability of the sources of political power of the ruler; authority, human resources, skills and knowledge, intangible factors, material resources, and even sanctions themselves…Through various processes which take place in a large-scale nonviolent struggle, the supply of those sources may be threatened, curtailed or cut off.”

         The key term here of course being “large-scale nonviolent struggle”.  At this point the only leaders of the movement who could direct something on a large-scale don’t seem to fully understand how nonviolent action works.  They really need to read their Sharp to see how it’s done.   Otherwise this movement’s actions will continue to be little more than desperate darts thrown at a wall, rather than a formidable system that could overwhelm the oppenent’s capacity to respond.


I've included 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.