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Solving the climate crisis — Picking goals, targets and tactics

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UPDATE: A complete list of climate series pieces is available here:
The Climate series: a reference post.

UPDATE 2: A summary version of this post is available here.

To recap, in previous episodes of this series:

  ■ We've taken a walk through the numbers and we know that they aren't good.

We're going to get 1½°C (3°F) warming by 2100 regardless — even if we stop right now. We've gotten only half that already. The rest is in the pipeline, inevitable.

The political elites — for example, the G8 and Copenhagen conference — want to stop at 2°C (3½°F) warming, but no one can agree to start the process, and Obama has recently backed away from that target number.

We know that we're inches away from James Hansen's "game over" at 3°C (5½°F) by 2100 — a mass extinction scenario for life on earth. Up to half the species alive today will disappear.

Even so, we're currently on track for a life-killing 6–7°C (11–12½°F). No change we've made so far has altered that trajectory. Amazing.

  ■ We've looked at what doesn't work. Individual action, while absolutely necessary, is not and will not be enough. Technology alone will not solve the problem (click to see why).

Further, market solutions — for example, a carbon tax — are unlikely answers since (a) modern markets are chaotic and manipulated, not "efficient" and self-correcting; and (b) we simply have no time to wait.

  ■ We know we must act. Yet there's a monster at the gate, standing in the way, and he aims to stop every effort to stop him.

That monster is the carbon industry and the men and women who who use it to aggrandize their own egos and already considerable wealth.

  ■ The answer is inescapable. There's only one way to solve this crisis before it gets much much worse. If we don't put the carbon industry out of business, we're done for; time to pack it in.

But how? The rest of this series will consider that question.

A note about solutions

I don't want to offer just solutions. Though I'll have suggestions, others will have more.

I also want to offer kinds of solutions. I'd like to focus the discussion to avoid dead-end answers and shape it toward effectiveness. Dead-ends and ineffectiveness have been our downfall on the recent left — time to do better. The enemy is strong; we need to be stronger than we've been.

Just one example: Training all of our guns [metaphorically of course] on right-wing deniers is a waste of time. Don't do it personally; don't do it professionally (unless the science is your profession).

Educating (unconfusing) the public matters; it's an important and critical element (see below). But if we don't as a group move past the deniers and deal with the carbon lords and their enablers, directly and forcefully, we're toast. Denialism is not what's keeping us from educating the public — it's the carbon lords and those who do their bidding.

Keeping us engaged with deniers is what they want. If I were a carbon CEO, that's what I would want. It keeps the denier-discussion alive. We need to act like we've won that discussion and move on. Because we have and we have to (won, and move one).

The pieces of the puzzle — how do we solve this problem?

As I see it, the climate-solution puzzle has these pieces:
  • Defining the problem correctly.

  • Identifying the umbrella solution — what high-level goal will solve the problem?

  • Choosing the right "ask" — making sure we don't ramp up our forces, for example, and then ask for something that won't be a solution (a surprisingly common mistake).

  • Identifying the targets of action.

  • Choosing effective tactics and acting aggressively.
Let's begin.

1. Defining the problem correctly

The problem has been characterized throughout this series, and recapped at the top of this post. I want to focus here on just two elements, two numbers. From a solutions standpoint, nothing else matters:
  • If we stop now, global warming will reach 1½°C (3°F).
  • We're currently on track for 6–7°C (11–12½°F).
From a solutions standpoint, no intermediate number is meaningful — not the elite's 2°C, not Hansen's 3°C, not any other midpoint.

Why? Because stopping at "only" 3°C is as difficult as stopping at "only" 2°C, or 4°C, or 5°C. No one in power wants to stop at all. Their solution is delayed action, and that's the 7°C scenario. Getting to any number less than 7°C will take the same monumental effort.

Carbon extraction needs to end, not slow down. The problem isn't how to ramp down to some high number. The problem is how to stop completely. If we don't, as a species, stop completely, it's over. Period.

If I'm right (and believe me, I'm dying to see the argument that shows me wrong), those two numbers characterize the two main parts of the problem. The first is the "best" that we can hope for if we do stop. The last is what we get if we don't.

Bottom line: (1) Picking the number to stop at isn't the problem. Stopping is the problem. Slowing isn't the problem. Stopping is the problem. No more man-made carbon should go into the air, forever.

(2) And we better not lose track of that 1½°C scenario. It's coming, and only a few countries have even begun to prepare for it.

2. What's the umbrella solution?

We mentioned that above, and we dealt with that here. To repeat:
Put the carbon industry out of business.
The goal of the carbon CEO class is to make as much money as they can regardless of the destruction they cause. Their greed is as monumental is their inhumanity.

These are pathologically sick and dangerous individuals. Our goal is to stop them.

Yes, I know this will cause convulsions. Consider the alternative. We're going to get convulsions. The point is to make sure we get the right convulsions.

Is carbon-lord behavior really pathological? Yes; I can prove it with one illustration:

According to the Forbes 2012 billionaire's list, Charles Koch and David Koch each own $25 billion, for a combined fortune of $50 billion.

Each alone is the 12th richest man in the world. The combined $50 billion makes the Koch Bros together the 3th richest on the planet — just behind Bill Gates and slightly ahead of Warren Buffett (poor fellow; he slipped).

Yet these two men (just two of 7 billion humans on this planet) — these two carbon lords — are prime financiers of climate denialism. As much as anyone alive, they're why we're headed for 7°C; they and their peers are pushing in that direction just as hard and as fast as they can.

The Kochs re wealthy beyond anyone's dreams; they have the third largest fortune on the planet; yet they want more. Worse, to win they're putting our species at risk, putting the world on course for mass extinction.

This is beyond criminal — it contemplates murder on a planet-wide scale, for the sake of mere pride, mere greed. Monstrous. Used to be, only the villains in a Star Trek movie would act this evil.

I'm serious. No one with a conscience would do what the Koch Bros are doing; what Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, is doing; what Barack Obama will be doing if he approves the Keystone Pipeline.

No one with a conscience.

Bottom line: The only solution is to kill the carbon industry. If we don't do that, we're toast. Any scenario that includes adding carbon to the air adds to the problem.

3. What's the right "ask"?

History is filled with successful movements that asked for the wrong thing and got it. I'll give you one example from just last year.

The environmental movement shook down the thunder to delay Obama's approval of the Keystone Sludge-Bearing Pipeline. They succeeded — Obama announced a delay until after the 2012 election — and the movement disbanded, left the streets and went home.

That was a monumental effort, really heroic and courageous stuff. I applaud everyone involved. Now they have to do it twice.

I know I may be in the minority here, but I'd have asked for something different the first time. How about this:
Dear sir,

Please cancel the pipeline now and forever.

Your friend, the entire rest of the world
Think I'm joking? The arguments for delay were correctly and consistently presented in "death of the planet" language. If protecting life on earth is the problem, why ask for delay? Cut out the middle man and ask for the real solution. Zero pipeline ever.

With that in mind, what's the right "ask" for us — the thing we need to shoot for to put the carbon lords out of business? Read these devolution scenarios and pick one.

The answer — and thus the "ask" — are obvious:

  ■ The only devolution scenario a sane person picks is the first one — the 1½°C we're already stuck with. No one would choose any of the others.

  ■ If that's true, there's only one ask:
Stop Now.
Stop at the earliest possible second.

Obvious, right? Consider:

1. If you could magically stop now — which would easily end up being two years or more from today — would you go for it? Of course you would. Why not? If the carbon lords knew they really had to stop, they'd be all over alternate business plans in a heartbeat. Most would involve energy.

(I'll have an example of a Stop Now scenario in a few days. Want a preview? Assume that FDR were in the White House, FDR's Congress was on Capitol Hill, then ask yourself what he would do. I know the answer, because he's already done it. And it worked.)

2. No matter what you ask for, you'll get something worse. There's zero downside to asking for what you want.

3. "Stop Now" is the only moral request. Do you really want to be the person asking for the consequences a 2°C ceiling — which no one can get to anyway — when your very argument says even that will be terrible?

Given the moral imperatives and what's at stake, you end up looking like you don't take your own rhetoric seriously:
I'll die within minutes if I don't eat now. But I'll settle for later tonight if that works for you.
No; if we need to Stop Now, say so.

4. Finally, given the way the other side is playing — delay is their trump card — only two numbers matter. The 1½°C (at least) that's baked in, and the 7°C we're headed for. It will take a Stop Now effort to keep us anywhere below that second number.

Bottom line: There's only one "ask" — Stop Now. Stop at the earliest possible second. That's the only way we'll stay under 6–7°C. In my opinion, of course.

4. Who are the movement's targets?

If the goal is to apply leverage to people whose actions matter, I see two broad courses of action:
  • Lean on the perps.
  • Unconfuse the people.
Other actions are fine; all hands and minds are welcome. But this is my contribution for leveraged action.

There are four groups of perps whose behavior I'd target for change — the top predators who are driving the show, and three groups of important enablers. The fifth group is the people, who need to hear the truth:

  1. The carbon CEO class. Any individual making obscene money from personal participation in corporate carbon extraction. These are the "carbon lords" I've been referring to, the top predators. They really are feeding big.

We could broaden that out, but let's keep it simple. This gives us about ... what? ... 20 or 30 individuals to make the face of mass extinction? In my opinion, that's plenty.

We could start with four or five to focus initial action, but I'd develop the whole list first. It wouldn't take that long, and it makes a nice newspaper ad and reference list.

  2. Their "friends" in the political class. Political enablers give the carbon lords enormous leverage and reach. If the political class ever turned against the carbon CEOs, we'd be playing a different game.

So target the carbon politicians. Imhofe is an easy one. So is Obama the minute he won't say No to Keystone. But there are quite a few others. We could probably add about 100 names in the U.S. alone. That's more than enough. If we started with just three and really pushed, the rest will take notice.

(How about it, Barack. Just say No. Do you really want to be the face of mass extinction? How's that for a legacy?)

  3. Their "friends" in the media. If it weren't for the top media enablers, the people would be unconfused by now. It's not just Dancing Dave ("One Live Crew") — we could list maybe 10 in his business and do just fine.

Again, if you target just two or three, the rest will take notice. Does nice David Gregory or smiling Brian Williams want to be the face of mass extinction? I can think of several ways to make them say Yes or No — on camera. Just takes the courage to ask.

  4. The important denier "scientists". I thank Mike Papantonio for making this suggestion. Yes, these people are "whores" (to quote Mr. Papantonio) and need to be punished, taken off the board as actors.

For starters, how much easier would Michael Mann's job be, if he didn't have to fend off the top deniers in his profession? How much more good work could he get done?

Help Michael Mann and all who work with him. Help make the top deniers the face of extinction. I'll bet if we took two or three of these folks to serious task — destroyed their professional reputations — the rest would soon crawl away.

  5. The people. Unlike the other four groups, the people should be unconfused only, not punished or threatened.

True, some are right-wing rubes and will never be "unconfused." But most are not; most are genuinely perplexed.

A campaign of education — not aimed at the deniers (lost cause), but messaged around "the data is in and here's what it says" — is the only next step.

We have to talk like we know, because we do, and get the message out in a way that's easy to grasp. This series of posts is an effort in that direction.

Now combine that education effort with actions that publicly target the CEO class for their greed, the way abortion haters target clinics with signs showing fetuses. (We could make signs too, don't you think?)

Combine it with an attack on two or three prominent politicians — I'm looking at you, Mr. Obama — that challenges them directly, personally and morally. Combine it with a parallel attack on one or two billionaire news-blond(e)s — on camera.

As the enablers begin to fall, as they're starting to do, the messaging becomes easier, self-reinforcing. Education of the broad population isn't enough by a long shot; but it's critical.

Bottom line: Who are our targets? The perps and the people. Lean on perps as individuals who are making immoral choices. Be bold, aggressive, persistent. Unconfuse the people with easy-to-grasp explanations. Don't apologize, don't speak to deniers, and don't stop.

5. Tactics and action

I'll leave this for a future post, but regular readers know my thinking already.

I always recommend using leverage and timing, being aggressive and courageous, rejecting violence, and following the rules for effective coalitions.

For two examples of leverage and timing that work, read this post. Focus on what Color of Change did to ALEC and why they succeeded.

Then scroll down to the Joe Sudbay–Barack Obama story. That was leverage. All it took was one man, a one-time-only situation, and courage. Joe changed the history of gay rights on that afternoon.

Again, I'll have much more on this in the future. I'm certainly not the only source of tactical suggestions (god help us if I am). But I think I'm one of just a handful who thinks this way. We need to up our game; a movement based on mass demonstrations alone is not going to get the job done, as I see it.

Bottom line: A variety of tactics are needed, but my preference includes focused "asymmetrical" actions that use few resources and take advantage of leverage and timing. Think Tim DeChristopher; think out of the box.

But all tactics, in my opinion, should focus on the two actions mentioned above. Again:
  • Lean on the perps.
  • Unconfuse the people.


Because this is already long, I'll save the summary for a future post. It's easy to devise — I'll just extract the bones of this post — and I don't want to bury the simple version of what's here by placing it this far down.

When that summary is written, I'll link to it in this space. [Summary is here.]

If you want to see all posts in the Climate series, I've created a reference list. I'll be updating it continually until we're done. Hope it helps.

As always, thanks for reading this far.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

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