Over the last couple of years there have been three books published, or about to be, which have dealt prominently with the question of whether violence against fossil fuel CEO’s and/or sabotage of fossil infrastructure is warranted. The case is made in all three that it might be given the absolute criminality of those CEO’s as they fight the shift away from fossil fuels and onto truly clean renewables, doing so despite certainty that unless we make that shift, and right now, the world’s ecosystems and its many life forms are in very deep trouble.
The first book was Kim Stanley Robinson’s “The Ministry for the Future.” In this very important fictional book, a massive heat wave in India that kills tens of millions of people in 2025 leads to the emergence of an organized underground group which begins executing CEO climate criminals, with drones being the primary means of doing so.
The second was Andreas Malm’s “How to Blow Up a Pipeline,” from which a movie has been produced and is about to hit the theatres. The first 2/3rds of the book is an argument in favor of property destruction: “Damage and destroy new CO2-emitting devices. Put them out of commission, pick them apart, demolish them, burn them, blow them up. Let the capitalists who keep investing in the fire know that their properties will be trashed. If we can’t get a prohibition [of all new CO2-emitting devices], we can impose a de facto one with our bodies and any other means necessary.”
Then, two-thirds into the book, he seems to have serious second thoughts.
He writes that “strict selectivity would need to be observed. . . It will be states that ram through the transition or no one will. . . [With] a Green New Deal or some similar policy package, property destruction would appear superfluous to many.” In addition, sabotage carries political risks. “In the eyes of the public, in the early twentieth-first century and particularly in the global North, property destruction does tend to come off as violent. . . Because of the magnitude of the stakes in the climate crisis, negative effects could be unusually ruinous here.”
Which brings us to the third book: Altar to an Erupting Sun, a novel by Chuck Collins, to be published next month. The shero in this book, 69 year old, longtime activist and organizer Rae Kalliher, suffering from terminal cancer with not long to live, is introduced at the beginning of the book arriving early one Easter morning at a compound with a mansion set back from the road behind an eight foot high wall. Clearly having done some scouting, she stops a Humvee as it drives out from behind the walls. When she recognizes her target—“the Oil Baron”–inside the car, she pushes a button on her vest, killing her, him and two members of his family.
The book then shifts back 50 years to 1973 and the awakening of a young Rae to issues of oppression and injustice. Much of the book is a recounting of the life experiences of a young person who becomes a dedicated progressive activist and organizer in the New England region of the USA and how, through those experiences and a commitment to helping to create a better world, she ends up doing what she did. Those experiences included:
-active involvement in the 70s with the movement against nuclear power, including the toppling by Sam Lovejoy of a huge tower part of plans to build a nuke plant in Franklin County, Massachusetts, and the Clamshell Alliance campaign which fought against plans for a nuke plant in southern New Hampshire;
-involvement in the 80s with Vietnam war veteran Brian Willson and the movement in support of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the FSLN in El Salvador in their efforts to overthrow military dictatorships and build more just societies;
-involvement in the 90s with Fr. Roy Bourgeois and the campaign to close the School of the Americas in Georgia, as well as groups in Boston working in support of the rights of tenants and against unjust evictions, into the 2000s;
-and in the latter years of the 2000s into the 2010s, helping to develop Mutual Aid groups, taking up permaculture in Vermont, followed by a growing understanding into the pandemic years of this decade of the seriousness of the climate crisis, learning about FERC and pipelines and taking action accordingly.
At one point author Collins has Rae exclaiming, “Get this: around 1978 Exxon’s own internal scientists studied climate change to analyze the risks to their business. They knew! Fifty years ago. . . The fuckers. This is the face of evil. There is a special ring in Hell for those who knowingly profit from the destruction of a habitable Earth.”
In 2022, after learning that she has terminal cancer, she tells Reggie, her lover/husband, one night, “I want to go out in an action. I want to make a statement about climate disruption, taking one of those fossil fuel CEOs with me. One of the guys who knew for decades about the harms of their business, but covered it up so they could grab more money.”
The closing chapter of the book is about a celebration in the community on what would have been Rae’s 76th birthday in 2030. Reggie, speaking about Rae, makes clear that seven years later, as deeply as he loved and respected her to the end, “what she did was wrong.”
In his book Collins raises up the issue of elders in their final years taking risks or even deliberately giving their lives for Mother Earth and future generations. He does not write about Rae’s action being repeated by others. Instead he “reports” on a group of six grandmothers “calling themselves Good Ancestors immolating themselves in the lobby of ExxonMobil, capturing the attention of the world with their sacrificial witness. In the last year, there has been a steady stream of individual actions, most additional self-sacrifices.”
What Collins did not “report” on was massive, sustained, essentially nonviolent mass actions involving hundreds and sometimes thousands of people, for days and weeks on end, disrupting the operations of the fossil fuel industry or the banks which finance them.
These were the kinds of actions that took place in the repressive, racist USA South in the 50s and 60s. These actions broke the back of deeply-rooted Jim Crow segregation. Martin Luther King, Jr., a primary leader from the beginning of these actions, has written persuasively in Stride Toward Freedom, Why We Can’t Wait and Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community?, about this tactic as THE tactic which, he learned from experience, has the power to bring about substantive and transformative change.
Collins’ book is an important contribution to our urgent, existential battle for the future. It is a good read, thought provoking, informative history and inspiring. Thank you Chuck Collins.
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist, organizer and writer since 1968. He is the author of the recently published books, Burglar for Peace and 21st Century Revolution. More info can be found at https://tedglick.com.