Extinction is no joke. Climate scientists say we have ten years, at most, to make a massive transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. If we do not, climate change will signal lights out for the human species.
I am thirty-one years old. Climate change and global warming have been making headlines since I was ten. I have witnessed mass deception, outright lies, and utter inaction by our leaders for my entire lifetime. Just as my parents grew up in the shadow of the atomic bomb and nuclear warfare, I came of age under the looming death threat of climate change.
Like many of my generation, I am disillusioned and cynical about traditional politics. I doubt that institutional change will adequately address this issue. To me, it appears that our power-mongers are maneuvering us into a crisis, then preparing to profit from the emergency. This behavior does not surprise me. It is nothing new.
Instead, I find myself searching for a realistic plan of action. History is chock-full of inspiring examples of nonviolent struggles, but Gandhi’s Salt March during India’s struggle for self-rule stands out as particularly relevant to our current issues. In 1930, the British prohibited the making of salt to ensure the profitability of their monopoly of this essential preservative ingredient. When Gandhi and his allies began making salt despite the ban, they neatly combined constructive action and civil disobedience to the unjust law in a symbolic, practical, and economically effective manner.
Today, we face a tyranny that far outstrips the British monopoly on salt. The stranglehold of the fossil fuel industry threatens the continuation of life on Earth. One aspect of this is our electric utilities, which were granted legal monopolies by the power of our governments, and have colluded with industry and the wealthy elite to stifle the development of renewable energy. As catastrophic climate change hurtles ever closer, we can no longer wait for politicians to save us. They have failed a thousand times and will fail a thousand times again. The actions of conscientious citizens must escalate to a level of nonviolent force commensurate to the severity of our crisis.
The tools of nonviolent struggle can – and should – be used to propel the sudden, massive shift to renewable energy. We must use them to set the timeline, the terms of the transition to renewables, and the change in political power that this shift requires. We, the people, must wield these tools strategically, placing our actions on the pivot points of change. The efforts of 350.org to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and their fossil fuel divestment campaign are tremendous endeavors, and we can support them by waging civil disobedience on another front.
Just as 350.org used the Pledge of Resistance to the KXL pipeline to send a clear, unequivocal message of our opposition to the pipeline and to organize nonviolent actions if needed, so can we use a Declaration of Demands to warn our utilities of the economic necessity of providing renewable energy. With the financing rates for solar and renewable energy installations dropping down into the range of the average monthly utility bill, we can now say, “we want renewable energy or we will leave the utility and install individual and community arrays by the thousands.”
Stating our intention to engage in effective acts of civil disobedience to the unjust laws restricting the growth of local renewables, we can prepare a powerful campaign of constructive programs to install local, renewable power in our communities.
In such a campaign, these are some of the laws that must be broken:
- We must form local, distributed small-scale utilities, despite the legal status of current monopolies.
- We must install solar and renewable energy for our community, despite contractual restrictions by our utilities.
- We must install off-grid energy sources, despite the prohibitions on off-grid living in certain places in the US.
- We must carefully analyze the ordinances that are used to prevent the development of renewable energy in our communities . . . some ordinances rest on sincere health and safety rationales; others are merely excuses to continue the stranglehold of the fossil fuel industry.
The breaking of the law in order to further renewable energy development is an action that steps far beyond the forms of civil disobedience that occur when protesting outside the White House. It goes further than acts of protest and persuasion. It undermines the economic viability of the utilities, builds community self-reliance, creates local energy sovereignty, and propels climate justice tangibly forward.
This style of civil disobedience is on par with Gandhi’s Salt March. It stands to go down in history as a Great Movement of ordinary Americans in clear rebellion to the tyranny of our elite; a courageous struggle of our citizens on behalf of the world. In supporting this movement, we send a clear message that we, the governed, no longer consent to be ruled by greedy, destructive power-mongers. We do not consent to the extinction of humanity through the use of fossil fuels. We do not consent to the destruction of the Earth.
Instead we are courageously saying that, in this time of great change, we will rabble-rouse for our future. We will make beautiful trouble on behalf of all peoples. We will roil this continent with upheaval for justice. We will rock the foundations of our nation with coordinated nonviolent action. We will disobey with great love the systems of destruction. We will wage struggle until the legal and social structures that lead us toward disaster are changed. We will be modern-day Gandhi’s, King’s, Chavez’, and Jesus’. We will be active, engaged, and above all else, we will be kind, be connected, and be unafraid.
This essay was inspired by interviewing Bill Brown, earth scientist and speaker for the Climate Reality Project on Occupy Radio (listen here). Bill also serves as a consultant for Renewable Taos, a Northern New Mexico advocacy group for local, renewable energy.
Author/Actress Rivera Sun is a co-founder of the Love-In-Action Network, a co-host on Occupy Radio, and, in addition to her new novel, The Dandelion Insurrection, she is also the author of nine plays, a book of poetry, and her debut novel, Steam Drills, Treadmills, and Shooting Stars, which celebrates everyday heroes who meet the challenges of climate change with compassion, spirit, and strength. www.riverasun.com