I have learned over time that engaging in political struggles is counter-productive to building sustainable communities, that the one undermines efforts at accomplishing the other. Politics is an adversarial process, involving power relationships. As such, it is contrary to building the kind of collaborative relationships that are essential to sustainable communities. Rather than opposing the world we don’t want, and trying to realize the one we do by exerting control over others, a successful transition to the post petroleum world we’ve entered will only happen through a more pro-active approach, one where people empower themselves by creating (being) with each other the world we seek.
But it has also become increasingly clear that this is not enough. It is not sufficient, that is, to building resilient, collaborative, socially just communities if, at the same time, we’re not also addressing Big Oil, the corporate state and their energy policy which, if not restrained and reversed, will drive humanity over the cliff of no return. To have any reasonable chance of living in sustainable communities, we need to stop this insanity. We have to resist the politics of fossil fuel.
This need arises from our present situation. With the increase in the price of oil over the past few years as the existing fields of inexpensive "sweet crude" peaked at approximately 85 mbd, petroleum companies were awash in the cash they needed to engage in previously prohibitive exploration and drilling. They subsequently fracked thousands of feet under the ground, heated tar sands, and drilled miles beneath the ocean’s surface in their efforts to recover unconventional sources. In so doing, they and their allies have jubilantly proclaimed the end of peak oil. Boasted Charles Drevna of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers: "We’re talking decades, if not into the hundreds of years, of supply in North America."
But as the melting Arctic, frequency of catastrophic 100 year weather events, serial heat waves and droughts, and accelerated vanishing of many animal and plant species so graphically underscore, this is suicidal. On the same day that Exxon’s $100,000-a-day CEO, Rex Tillerson, was bragging that he expected renewables would account for just 1 percent of our energy in 2040, and that "My philosophy is to make money," scientists announced that the Earth was now warming 50 times faster than it ever has, and that carbon dioxide levels had set a new record.
In his landmark Rolling Stone article last August, Bill McKibben brought to our attention three critical numbers. First, scientists believe that, if we’re to avoid catastrophic consequences, we must keep the increase in global temperature below two degrees Celsius. As it is, the 1 degree it has already risen has caused far more damage than was expected. Secondly, scientists estimate that humans can put about 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and still hope of staying below two degrees. But the amount of fossil fuel we’re planning to burn is at least 2,795 gigatons. "We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn," McKibben concluded. "We’d have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain."
The Obama Administration’s rhetoric notwithstanding, it’s unrealistic to expect an intervention of this kind from the White House. His "all of the above" energy policy, where oil and gas are as welcome as solar and wind, clearly reveals a President who is either dangerously out of touch with reality, or who chooses to ignore this reality in favor of the trillions of dollars’ worth of oil in Canada’s tar sands and the North Dakota shale, alone, that Big Oil refuses to walk away from.
No, we will have to be that "massive intervention," one that McKibben describes as already building in his latest piece for Rolling Stone, "The Fossil Fuel Resistance." From blocking the Keystone XL pipeline and fracking wells around the country, and closing dozens of new coal plants, to fighting for fossil-fuel divestment on some 323 campuses (as well as in several city governments and religious denominations -- even the Vermont Legislature is considering such a measure!), there’s a growing movement of citizens who are saying, "No, we can’t afford to burn this stuff."
We all need to be part of this resistance. Driving a Prius, changing our light bulbs, and joining a community garden are all great things, but they’re not enough if we don’t stop Big Oil in its mad pursuit of its bottom line. Activists who are fighting the good fight with other causes must now come together around an Occupy Climate Change, the ultimate cause, the one that not only embodies everything we’re all fighting for, but also that which, if we don’t win, will render moot anything else. Much as it is when our lives are endangered by a thief invading our home, or a predator stalking our neighborhood, we need to become a community of resistance to Big Oil’s threat to our existence.
And, yes, we need to do so within the values of the sustainable communities we’re trying to create at the same time. Engaging in a political struggle does not necessitate adopting a political practice of power-over. Non-violent resistance involves disarming, restraining, and pacifying, not injuring or killing. Just as we oppose the efforts of those who endanger our lives, so, too, do we do so by refraining from similar behavior. We just want to live, and let live.
Tim Stevenson is a community organizer with Post Oil Solutions and can be reached at 802.869.2141 and firstname.lastname@example.org.