“The Unity of Labour is the Hope of the World.” Climate Change, Trump and the Necessity for Mass Civil Disobedience.

On November 8 2016 the Keeling Curve registered a CO2 concentration of about 402 parts per million in the atmosphere. The Keeling Curve measures CO2 concentration alone, so total greenhouse gas concentrations are around 480ppm.

On November 8 2016 Donald Trump, a climate change denier, secured 306 electoral college votes to become President of the United States of America. Future historians, one of a number of endangered species, may one day with grim irony highlight the CO2 concentration on that fateful day by electing to relegate the electoral college votes to a footnote.

One of Trump’s first acts as President elect was to appoint a noted climate change denier, Myron Ebell, as head of the transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Ebell is head of a neoliberal or “libertarian” think tank funded in part by the coal industry. Trump himself has stated that climate change was “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” a statement on a par with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

It is quite revealing that those responsible for the hollowing out of manufacturing industry are those who are using it to justify climate change denial. Neoliberal ideas and policies are responsible for the hollowing out of manufacturing industry, not hordes of Chinese inspired climatologists. It is also interesting to note the tacit assumption that climatology is somehow not a science but free market economic theory is.

So absurd is this dichotomy that Trump is reported to be “poised” to eliminate the Earth Sciences division of NASA on grounds that it is “politicised science.”

Retooling the economy so that it is based on new forms of energy, and with greater levels of public transportation, is a splendid means of boosting industrial production as a means to support greater employment and higher real wages. But this requires planning social restructuring in the interests of people, which is an anathema.

The problem with climate change, the greatest example of market failure in human history, is that it undermines the rationalist ethos underpinning free market theory. Climate change starkly demonstrates that no rational society would be based on free markets. This matters more than the preferences of the coal industry.

The election of Donald Trump is nothing short of a catastrophe.

According to a report recently published exploiting existing fossil fuel projects to the end of their projected lifetimes would lead to global warming of 2.0 degrees C above preindustrial levels, and exploiting existing reserves of oil and natural gas alone, i.e. excluding coal, would be sufficient to breach 1.5 degrees C.

We are almost certain to breach the 1.5 degree C barrier, scientists warn, despite the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, a recent paper in the journal Nature concluded that stabilisation of greenhouses gases at current levels would result in warming of 5.0 degrees C over the next few millennia. The IPCC has stated that current concentrations of CO2 would lead to warming of 2 to 2.4 degrees C over the next century.

To put the matter into an even more urgent context without a serious effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions we are on track to surpass 2.0C warming by 2050. Current trends are not favourable

The annual increase in CO2 levels varies a lot, but in the 1950s it averaged less than 1 part per million (ppm) a year. It increased to around 2 ppm in the early 2000s as CO2 emissions soared. Then between 2002 and 2014 the annual rise remained fairly constant, at just over 2 parts per million…

…This year we are on track for the largest ever jump in atmospheric CO2 levels, of about 3.15 ppm…

…Between 2002 and 2014, CO2 levels rose fast but global temperatures did not, so the CO2 fertilisation effect dominated. Now global temperatures are shooting up again, we are likely to see a period where plants take up less CO2 than they have been.

It has been pointed out that Trump has a number of options open to him should he seek to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. Trump has stated he will withdrawal funding for developing countries supporting their shift from fossil fuels, which might prove to be the most damaging of his actions.

Since his election Trump has made some remarks that suggest a softening of his stringent denialism, but actions speak louder and thus far his actions portend tough times ahead for climate change mitigation.

To return, for the moment, to the Paris Agreement, Jeremy Brecher has pointed out

Late in 2015, 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement acknowledging their individual and collective duty to protect the earth’s climate – and willfully refused to perform that duty. They unanimously agreed to the goal of keeping global warming “well below 2 degrees Celsius” and to pursue efforts “to limit the increase in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” But they did not agree to a single legally binding requirement about how, or how much, they would cut emissions.

One important reason for this, in fact, was not Donald Trump but the Republican controlled Congress. Climate denial is not an obsession unique to the Alt-Right wing of US politics, it is a staple of the Republican Party at large.

The big question now is; what should we do about all this?

Breacher argues that we need a global climate insurgency because current forms of political action have proven themselves to be woefully inadequate to prevent the race to destruction.

He notes,

In response to the failures of the official climate protection charade, an independent climate protection movement has emerged. This movement is not controlled by any national or special interest. It has broken out of the constraints of lobbying and demonstrating within a legal framework set by governments by instead adopting civil disobedience as an important and legitimate part of its strategy.

I agree with this. Brecher makes the point, correctly, that thus far civil disobedience, although achieving some victories, has not made a sufficient level of disruption to business as usual.

Brecher calls instead for a global insurgency,

A non-violent insurgency, like an armed insurgency, refuses to accept the limits on its action imposed by the powers that be. Unlike an armed insurgency, it eschews violence and instead expresses power by mobilizing people for mass nonviolent direct action.

As some have pointed out the Paris Agreement can act as a pivot for direct action, as business as usual is contrary to its stated intent. The election of Donald Trump adds much more added urgency thus increasing the case for a climate insurgency.

Some surveys indicate that about one sixth of Americans would be prepared to engage in civil disobedience or direct action to prevent acts that make climate change worse. A global insurgency would consist of coordinated actions the world over targeting fossil fuel production and the systems and institutions that support it.

Notice that this strategy, what Naomi Klein refers to as “blockadia,” relies upon disrupting the means of production, which was always the main game of the traditional Left. Social change cannot be and should not be made dependent upon parliaments and electoral politics. Social change cannot be dependent upon the promulgation of new ideas and philosophies. It is about shutting down production in order to hit the capitalist system where it hurts the hardest, at the point of production.

It has taken the climate movement far too long to come to the same realisation made by its working class forebears long ago.

The election of Donald Trump serves as a reminder that saving the natural basis for life requires new modes of political action. Political parties whether green or red will not save us so long as the system of production is allowed to continue unhindered.

So, I agree with Brecher’s strategy but would add one point. A climate insurgency based on mass civil disobedience targets the means of production from without. We need, crucially, to also target the system of production from within through strikes. Direct action without could serve as a catalyst for direct action within.

Only an organised and ecologically conscious working class can do this. Historically, the labour movement has withdrawn its labour for all sorts of reasons. I can think of no other reason more important for mass strikes than preservation of the ecosystem.

To stop and reverse neoliberal globalisation in order to achieve social justice will require general strikes. To achieve an ecological society will also require coordinated mass strikes.

We should work to build toward globally coordinated general strikes that have both objectives in mind. We must strike to save society from neoliberal depredations and we must strike to save the ecological basis of life at one and the same time.

At no time has the old slogan of the labour movement been more apt and more urgent.

“The unity of labour is the hope of the world.”