Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
The climate summit in Durban, South Africa, does not appear to be making great strides. The United States is dragging its feet, blocking any binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gases.
Along with Washington, businesses are trying to turn the whole Durban process away from urgent emissions cuts and toward an increasingly perplexing and sophisticated array of non-solutions. These include large-scale biofuel plantations, genetically engineered “supercrops,” synthetic biology, unworkable yet lucrative carbon offset schemes and something called geoengineering, whereby scientists would turn the globe into a giant experiment by injecting newfangled materials into the atmosphere to try to counteract global warming.
Such technological quick fixes all assume that global warming can be tackled without changing entrenched patterns of production and consumption in industrialized societies. Even worse, they assume that the multifaceted ecological and societal crises that we face today can be addressed without confrontation, sacrifice or trade-offs. They assume that the free market can solve the climate change crisis when, in fact, it created the crisis.
The suits who are in Durban and elsewhere trying to sell us these technological fixes and free market fallacies are in the environmental act to make money.
But turning this into a business is simply not right. The Freedom Riders, the 19th century abolitionists, conscientious objectors against wars past and present, and the crusaders who risked life and limb for women's suffrage and workers' rights were not in it for the money. They would have regarded the idea of turning their brave struggles into business opportunities as comically obscene.
The major movements for social change, including the U.S. civil rights movement, well understood that power concedes nothing without a demand, that they could not afford to live in a make-believe “win-win” world in which freedom and progress are attained without a price.
For a way out of the climate crisis, proposals are not enough. We can talk all we want about local sustainable economies, organic city gardening, recycling, solar energy and steady-state post-growth economics, but we need action. We simply cannot continue along the path we’re on. It is literally destroying the planet.
And when it comes to action we should look to the example of activists who have physically obstructed the extraction of oil shale and tar sands and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
These protesters are politically close relatives of the everyday folks who camped out in the Wisconsin state capitol earlier this year and the anti-Wall Street occupiers who are protesting all over the country right now.
This kind of activism holds out the most promise, as the late historian Howard Zinn taught us.
We need civil disobedience and massive non-collaboration with illegitimate authority if we are to reverse course on global climate change.
To save the environment, the last thing we should do is turn it into a business venture.
Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican author, essayist, investigative journalist and environmental educator. He is a research associate of the Institute for Social Ecology.
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