No Time for Activism as Usual

“The Weather Makers,” a book by Tim Flannery, is one of the best sources for those who want to understand the global heating process that is seriously destabilizing the world’s climate. In it, Flannery explains the three main ‘tipping points’ “that scientists are aware of for Earth’s climate: a slowing or collapse of the Gulf Stream; the demise of the Amazon rainforests; and the release of gas hydrates from the sea floor. . . There is some geological evidence for all having happened in Earth’s history. . . Given the current rate and direction of change, one, two or perhaps all three may take place this century.”

A climate ‘tipping point’ is a point beyond which it will be very difficult if not impossible to prevent catastrophic climate change, truly apocalyptic climate change.

We may be seeing one unfolding right now. That is how serious the climate crisis is. And that is why, a month from now, on September 4th, the day Congress returns to D.C., a Climate Emergency Fast will be launched which will see some of us go without food for weeks. For me personally, it will be open-ended; there is no set ending date.

A July 24th, 2006 news story by Geoffrey Lean in Britain’s Independent newspaper, “A disaster to take everyone’s breath away,” underlines why some of us are taking this admittedly dramatic—some would say extreme—action. Lean reported that “severe drought is returning to the Amazon for a second successive year. And that would be ominous. New research suggests that one further dry year beyond that could tip the whole vast forest into a cycle of destruction. . .

“The consequences would be awesome. The wet Amazon Basin would turn to dry savannah at best, desert at worst. This would cause much of the world to become hotter and drier. In the long term, it could send global warming out of control, eventually making the world uninhabitable.”

One year later and one week ago, the New York Times carried a major story, “Brazil, Alarmed, Reconsiders Policy on Climate Change,” on page three. They quoted a Philip Fearnside of the National Institute for Amazon Research as saying, in reference to the drying out of the Amazon, “Obviously the uncertainty range is huge, but the momentum is pushing us in that direction, and the fact that it is close is important, because the process is like steering a big ship. People on the Titanic saw the iceberg, but they couldn’t turn in time.”

As I write this column it is four years after one of the most disastrous single climate events this century —the death of 35,000 people in August, 2003 in western Europe as a result of a summer heat wave. Something of this magnitude had never happened before in recorded history. It was this event which forced me to undertake serious study to understand what was happening as far as global heating, which in turn has led to my full-time activism on this issue for the last three years.

In that time I’ve seen a lot of positive developments. There is no question but that there has been a political sea change on this issue here in the USA. Large majorities of the population, Democrat, Republican and independent, support moving rapidly to a clean energy economy. As a result, there is some movement on Capitol Hill involving mainly Democrats but also a handful of Republicans toward the possible enactment of global warming legislation this fall.

The problem is that it is unrealistic in the extreme to expect this Congress, under normal circumstances, to adopt the kind of legislation needed, given the power of the coal, oil and automobile industries over legislators of both parties.

We need to make this fall a very UNNORMAL circumstance.

We need a deep and wide, grassroots political uprising demanding a major course correction on energy policy, a rapid shift to energy conservation, efficiency and clean, safe and jobs-creating renewable energy.

We need to demand that we fight climate change, not wars for oil!

Literally, we need our government to act as if the country was in mortal danger, on a war footing, declaring nonviolent war on behalf of our threatened ecosystem, joining forces with peoples and governments all over the world who will welcome us with open arms if we do.

The U.S. could go from the most hated country on the planet to a very different reality in just a few short years.

This is an issue that transcends politics, and there are many concrete examples of how this understanding is growing among our peoples. One of the most recent is a statement, “Scientists and Evangelicals Unite to Protect Creation,” released in January of this year and signed by 30 prominent scientists and religious evangelicals, including conservatives. It stated:

“We declare that every sector of our nation’s leadership—religious, scientific, business, political and educational—must act now to work toward the fundamental change in values, lifestyles and public policies required to address these worsening [climate and environmental] problems before it is too late. There is no excuse for further delays. Business as usual cannot continue yet one more day.”

But in a war, including a morally just nonviolent war for survival, troops are needed who are willing to make sacrifices, willing to disrupt business as usual, willing to get in the faces of those who have their hands on the levers of power. Those hands must be reversed or removed to enable a great turning of our Titanic-like system which is moving rapidly toward that dangerous iceberg, that tipping point which we must do all in our power to avoid.

Can we do it? Is it too late?

Hard questions, very hard, because a sober assessment of the odds against us is not encouraging. It’s not just the power of the corporate interests dragging the whole world toward the precipice; it’s the uncertainty about if we have enough time to make the dramatic changes necessary, if the global heating process is so far advanced that we have little chance to reverse course.

There are days when I despair over these odds, these realities. But then I remember that there is really no one who knows for sure what the future holds. The vast majority of scientists believe that we do have enough time to avoid climate catastrophe if we move quickly now.

And I think of the lesson of history that, all of a sudden, seemingly from out of nowhere, massive uprisings of the people have ended laws allowing segregation that had been in place for centuries, or overthrown apartheid, or brought down a hated wall dividing the people of a country.

Mahatma Gandhi, probably the greatest nonviolent revolutionary of the 20th century, once said that, “Fasting is the sincerest form of prayer.” Beginning now, deepening on September 4th and for some of us for weeks afterward, let us pray and act not just for future generations but for those living right now.

“There is no excuse for further delays. Business as usual cannot continue yet one more day.”

To join or for additional information about the Climate Emergency Fast, go to