Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tim DeChristopher | After Paris Pullout, We Must Spread an Ethic of Love and Cooperation

Protesters demonstrate against Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, at the San Francisco Federal Building, June 2, 2017. (Photo: Jim Wilson / The New York Times)

As we are barraged with constant bad news about climate science and climate politics at the national and global level, the US climate movement has really important opportunities to hold our ground and build momentum through local and state level actions. When Donald Trump announced last week that he was pulling the US out of the Paris climate agreements, 211 city mayors and 10 state governors immediately responded by committing to upholding their end of the bargain. The speed of that response is a testament to the critical value of the local climate organizing that has already been done across the country. This opening for political leadership adds to the many ways that the struggle against global climate change is fought on local turf.

The fight against fossil fuel infrastructure and extraction has always been centered on local organizing. Countless communities have fought off power plants, pipelines, fracking, drilling, mining, export facilities and compressor stations. The combination of these fights has probably been the single biggest factor in the deceleration of carbon emissions over the past few years. Even where these campaigns have failed to stop a project, their fierce resistance helped send a signal to investors and politicians that there is strong opposition to fossil fuels. As front-line struggles like the Standing Rock resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline have demonstrated, these specific fights can also have impacts that resonate far beyond the climate movement. Now that we can virtually guarantee that the federal government will green-light any fossil fuel project for the foreseeable future, those projects will have to be stopped at the local level.

State and local communities have also been the testing ground for climate solutions. From community solar to carbon pricing, states and municipalities have experimented with the kinds of alternatives that will have to become standards for a sustainable energy economy. These small-scale efforts have shown what is possible if we create the political will at larger levels. Not only are these efforts achieving physical and policy gains, they are also often more enjoyable because the campaigns operate at a human scale that builds relationships and communities.
However, we should remain conscious of the larger picture even as we act on a local level. It can be tempting to allow ourselves to focus entirely on local issues as a means of escapism. The news of terrifying national politics and escalating global climate impacts can be despairing and overwhelming. I've been helping to build a community garden here in my neighborhood of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and I'd much rather just do that than tackle seemingly impossible national challenges. I know how to push a wheelbarrow, but I frankly don't know how to overthrow a fascist regime. Neither do any of the organizations in the climate movement, nearly all of which were designed for community organizing or lobbying.
But the fact that we don't know how to solve a problem does not mean that we can ignore it. When we use a local focus as escapism, we lose sight of the ways that our local organizing can build leverage for larger needs. And we can't turn away from the many communities that don't have the luxury of escaping into their local concerns because their localities are directly and immediately under threat from corporate exploitation or climate catastrophe. As Jonathan Smucker writes in his new book, Hegemony How-To: A Roadmap for Radicals, "It is selfish to jump ship when there are not enough lifeboats for everyone. We must conspire to take the helm." 
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