Paul Messersmith-Glavin: Organizing Against Climate Catastrophe

Organizing Against Climate Catastrophe

Paul Messersmith-Glavin, The Hampton Institute, April 22nd, 2015

The forces responsible for changing the climate and endangering the future of humanity have names. Names such as: Chevron and Exxon Mobil, Saudi Aramco and Petroleos de Venezuela. They are the predominant groups responsible for playing havoc with our collective future. In fact, two-thirds of historic carbon dioxide and methane emissions can be attributed to exactly ninety entities. They are based in forty-three countries and extract resources from every oil, natural gas, and coal rich region in the world. They process the fuels into products that are sold to consumers in every nation on the planet. Of the top 85 emitters, 54 are in industrialized countries and 31 are in developing nations. [2] Knowing who and where they are demonstrates that an end to the problem is within our reach. In order to stop global climate change all we need to do is put pressure on these isolated entities, right?

Wrong. While these are the primary economic forces responsible for climate change, it would be a mistake to think if we stop these particular companies from conducting business as usual, we can solve the problem. They are only the most public faces of a system that goes much deeper.

Naming the responsible parties should not lead to a reformist strategy of regulating or even abolishing these companies. That would not be ultimately effective because they operate within a system that rewards their behavior. Very similar groups would emerge to fulfill these roles. What must be addressed and confronted is the social and economic system of capitalism that makes their work possible. This is the true enemy. The driving force of climate change is the capitalist profit motive and confronting this effectively will require massive grassroots local organizing with an international perspective. It will require developing an extra-legal movement, one that does not play by the rules of established power. It necessitates a revolutionary focus, and attention to how the systems and structures of racism, patriarchy and the nation state intersect with and reinforce capitalist social relations. It will require working with a broad cross-section of the population, learning from folks outside established radical circles, educating ourselves and others, while moving with hundreds, thousands, and ultimately millions of people to fundamentally transform society. The civilization that gets us out of the climate crisis will be different than the one that has gotten us into it.

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Also, hear more about organizing against climate catastrophe from Lara and Paul Messersmith-Glavin in a video of their talk at Oregon State University on October 22nd, 2015.

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