Featured Panel: What Will It Take to Win?



Featured Panel: What Will it Take to Win?

A Discussion of Bill McKibben, the Climate Mobilization Victory Plan, and the World War 2 Mobilization Idea

The recent almost simultaneously publication of two influential statements calling on the United States government and public to treat the climate crisis as a “war-time emergency” that will require of us a “climate mobilization” equivalent to the country’s World War 2 effort to defeat fascism in Germany and Japan has sparked intense interest in just what it would take to somehow “win” the war against climate change.

The two statements – the Climate Mobilization’s 100-plus page Victory Plan and Bill McKibben’s essay “A World at War” – have led to a healthy and vigorous debate about these ideas and their potential to play a role in the US response to the greatest global challenge of the 21st century.

John Foran will introduce this “Open Panel” will take off from presentations by Bill McKibben and Ezra Silk followed by critical appraisals from Paul Gilding and Chris Williams, and then switch to an on-line discussion open to all conference participants.

Expect fireworks – may there be insight and inspiration as well as light and heat!

A selection of published contributions to the discussion so far.

John Foran

John Foran teaches sociology and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is a member of 350.org, the Green Party and System Change Not Climate Change. He is co-founder of the International Institute of Climate Action and Theory, and of the Climate Justice Project, where much of his writing on the climate justice movement can be found.North Korea.

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben is an author, environmentalist, and activist.  In 1988 he wrote The End of Nature, the first book for a common audience about global warming.  He is a co-founder and Senior Advisor at 350.org, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement, which has organized twenty thousand rallies around the world in every country save

Ezra Silk

Ezra Silk is Director of Policy & Strategy and Co-Founder of The Climate Mobilization. He is the author of The Victory Plan.

Paul Gilding

Paul Gilding serves on the Board of The Climate Mobilization and wrote the Foreword to the Victory Plan. He is a Fellow at University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership, and former Executive Director of Greenpeace International. He is the author of The Great Disruption: How the Climate Crisis Will Transform the Global Economy.

Chris Williams

Chris Williams is an educator, author and activist whose work has been published in numerous media outlets and his work translated into several languages. He is the author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis (Haymarket Books, 2010) and the forthcoming Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation (Monthly Review Press).

Q & A

Have questions or comments? Feel free to take part in the Q&A!

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13 replies
  1. John Foran, UC Santa Barbara says:

    First, I want to thank everyone who has participated in this panel, and everyone who is going to get into the discussion.

    I’m going to focus with some observations raised by Chris Williams, because he and I are closest in our analysis, and openly want to work with Bill and Ezra, with 350 and TCM – hell, I’m already inside both. I also want to applaud Chris’s respectful and open embrace of these movements as allies. Because this is the way forward for the climate justice movement.

    Chris Williams, a tremendous Marxist ecological thinker and an astute strategist of the CJ movement for social justice, makes a number of excellent points, which must be taken forward in this discussion.

    Above all, he reminds us that the main issue is not so much the value of the wartime mobilization strategy and metaphor as the larger question the panel’s title asks: namely, what will it take to win? I hope that critics and proponents alike of the WW2M idea will weigh in on this question, as it is the only reason we are discussing this particular idea at all.

    Some points of partial and dis-agreement:

    I am far less concerned than Chris about the dangers of using war imagery for Americans because it somehow reinforces the extremely damaging foreign policy of the United States, which is, after all, predicated on global dominance by military force in the last instance. I don’t particularly think, as Chris does, that “It is dangerous and counterproductive to frame taking action against climate change as a war, particularly in the United States, and to use World War 2 as an appropriate analogue.”

    I know that I am going to be accused of being full of contradictions, of trying to embrace too broad a spectrum of ideas that won’t go together, and so on. But we are in the time of contradiction, and on some level we require a bit of magical (or is it dialectical?) thinking – and believe me, I see magic, hope, and creativity as real and powerful elements of our struggle – to find our way out of this. Let’s face it, we haven’t figured out a way to win so far!

    There is, as I argue in my talk, going to be a war, and we are going to have to understand who our enemy is and how vicious they are willing to be to preserve their way of life, which leads to the destruction of humanity. I have suggested that the memes of the “warrior” and the “hero” are of use in this struggle – though not unproblematic assumptions and worthy of further reflection, I know.

    As an ecosocialist, Chris correctly points out who the real enemy is: capital. But I think that climate change, the dawn of the Anthropocene, and the crises themselves are equally the enemy… No one is saying that “physics” or “nature” are the enemy. On the contrary, they are our allies. Chris’s students can honorably follow his career trajectory and become physicists, chemistry professors, and biologists. Just put the word “climate” in front of each!

    Back to capital. Yes, it is the enemy. So are violence, authoritarianism, and climate change. And yes, a handful of powerful corporations, governments, and wealthy individuals are primarily responsible for all of these. And yes, they, and the system they comprise – capitalism – are the proper target, with its essence being profit, domination of nature, and elimination of critical thought, let alone active dissent and direct action. And understanding this is of crucial importance for thinking about our strategies, the various political cultures of climate justice, and our visions and plans for alternative worlds in 2050. Yes, let’s target and take down those eight companies, the U.S. political parties, and the whole machinery, because they are not going to be the agents of our salvation in the face of climate crisis.

    So Ezra and Bill – I don’t think Paul is up for this – need to think deeply about the defeating the real enemy, and speak about it, not just have it in the back of their minds. Of course, this would put them beyond the pale of political discourse in the United States. Or is that no longer so true? As a Green, I was fully onboard with Bernie Sanders’s campaign, as was, literally, Bill. And that has done some good – we now have a very interesting Democratic Party platform on climate change, and the promise of an emergency climate summit in the spring of 2017 if and when Hillary wins. So, if Bill, and Ezra, and Margaret Klein Salamon want to be at that meeting, they can’t talk about dismantling the Democratic Party and replacing capitalism too openly. I get that, and I do want them to be in that meeting, and I do want Hillary to read the Victory Plan. I guess Chris and I just aren’t going to be on that particular guest list.

    But make no mistake – the Democrats are the problem, not the solution, and Chris is extremely eloquent in telling us how [around minute 14], using MLK to show the direct connections between the violent ecocide that is US foreign policy and the social, political, economic, and racial crises at home. If 350 joined forces for a new politics in this country with the Green Party, the Sandernistas, Black Lives Matter, the Standing Rock indigenous climate protectors, Kshama Sawant’s Socialist Alternative, radical thinkers like Chris Hedges, Cornel West, and Naomi Klein, then we can discuss a broad, movement-driven coalition tasked with taking the political power that would be necessary to redirect our government in the direction of climate and social justice.

    In the end, we are all on board for Chris’s “massive, resilient, powerful people’s mobilization [that] is necessary to force the government to act. The rub, and the reason that differences over capitalism exist has to do with the question of whether, as Chris has it, it has to be organized independent of the state and in opposition to it.

    Because climate change puts us on a tight deadline. Indeed, an emergency situation. So, as Chris knows well, and as I hope we will all agree in the end, we have to have short, medium, and long-term goals and strategies, which means fighting capitalism and using it at the same time are required over the next five to ten years. Somehow!

  2. Sailesh Rao, Climate Healers says:

    I concur with Ezra’s goal of healing the Earth’s climate versus maintaining it precariously in an advanced state of disrepair. At Climate Healers, we have been pursuing this goal for the past 9 years, and we have concluded that this goal is impossible to attain within our current socioeconomic system, since the system is oriented towards endless economic growth with mindless consumption as its organizing value and competition as its organizing principle. As Chris points out, the establishment is clearly not interested in changing this system. On the contrary, as Noam Chomsky points out, “The richest, most powerful societies in world history, such as the United States and Canada, are trying to destroy the environment as quickly as possible.” As in any competition, the ones who are ahead are trying to run out the clock, with catastrophic consequences for the world’s poor.

    Our only option is to formulate an alternate system in parallel that is oriented towards human creativity and not endless growth, with compassion, not consumption, as its organizing value and collaboration, not competition, as its organizing principle. Human creativity, compassion and collaboration are infinitely sustainable characteristics, while growth, consumption and competition are blatantly unsustainable. Such a “Civilization 2.0” style formulation would be aligned with the Buckminster Fuller dictum, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

  3. Sue Lovell, Griffith University (Qld., Australia) says:

    First of all thanks to all the speakers for their passion and commitment. This is a new forum for me and I am finding it fascinating. What strikes me immediately is that we are functioning here within a scholarly environment that has set the terms of this debate in that academic tradition of (gentle and genteel) adversarial debate. It seems to me the speakers actually agree with one another more than they disagree: yes, there is a need for mobilization on a massive scale with government involvement (however it is to be achieved); yes, we need to address the position and tenacity of capitalism in 2050 (whether or not we approve of it); yes, we need to understand it is an ecological, economic, production oriented dilemma, not only a matter of climate change; yes, there is (already) suffering and mostly by those who are vulnerable and powerless to the issues just listed.
    If I relate this to the war analogy, it works in the sense that there is a broad common goal and that everyone who has spoken is attempting to derail a bleak personal, social, and economic future. Everyone does that on their own terms just as in the war men went to fight; most women stayed home and worked in ammunition factories or food production or building; lonely wives and girlfriends sent care packages, wrote letters, knitted socks, raised money for the war effort; entertainers kept up morale; writers and artists engaged the moral dilemmas; politicians had a sense of justifiable importance and direction. The war was fought on every front, with every available weapon.
    So, we need John Foran’s organising and synthesizing abilities; we need the optimism of youth and bold ideas like those that Ezra Silk offers – they are wonderful (relatively) long term goals; we also McKibben’s call to take moral responsibility for those who are suffering because of our action in the global north; we can’t simplify, so we need Paul Gilding’s reminder of the complexities and the need for a broad church to respond to those complexities; perhaps most of all, we need the hope that Chris Williams brings when he identifies a very specific target within a range of foes, when he reminds us that the money and the resources exist to make the change if they can only be accessed, and that the very people we rely on to legislate change are those who profit by paying lip service.
    I don’t personally connect to war imagery, or the notion of a definitive victory, but I do recognise the scale of the type of social movement that is required much more fully just from this one panel.

  4. sdlindber says:

    A comment for Chris Williams: Thank you for your tightly argued critique of McKibben’s WWII analogy, which I also found troubling. Istvan Meszaros’ call for multiple anti-capitalist environmental and social efforts that could lead to a post-capitalist, sustainable society seems much more likely to be effective against climate change. The problem, as you powerfully point out, lies in the speed with which anti-capitalist efforts can be pursued and won. One question: are there other physicists who are invested in system change, as you are? If you could share their names and/or titles of articles they have written in this vein, I would appreciate it. I would share this information with my son, whose interest in physics is keen.

  5. Wen Stephenson, independent writer and activist says:

    Here’s just one example of what it will take to win. This is happening now. Not in some imagined future. Right now. Even as I type this, hundreds of militarized police in North Dakota are attacking a peaceful resistance camp on Indigenous territory on the route of the Dakota Access Pipeline:



    #NoDAPL Solidarity
    Support the Indigenous led movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline

    Global Solidarity Campaign

    Here’s an idea. More resistance camps, fewer academic conferences.

  6. Margaret Klein Salamon, The Climate Mobilization says:

    Thanks to all the participants! Very interesting conversation.

    Perhaps a distinction between “capitalism” and “neoliberalism” would be helpful. WWII scale climate mobilization is, by definition, a sharp departure from neoliberalism– a doctrine which idolizes markets and shuns government planning or intervention. Ezra’s Victory Plan includes fair-shares consumer rationing, a 100% taxation rate of income over 500k, and a job guarantee. All of these measures are modeled from very similar measures during WWII, where meat, tires, gasoline, sugar, and other consumer goods were rationed, the top tax bracket was taxed at 96%, and full employment was achieved. This is clearly a huge departure from our current economic system. Chris and John– is the problem that this transition is not enough of a rejection of capitalism? Or is it that you simply think the only way to achieve such a transition will be to directly face-off in a class conflict?

    I think there are major strategic problems with pursuing climate mobilization as a class-conflict primarily. For one, do we really have time to win a class-based/ economic revolution, restructure our economy, and THEN pursue emergency climate mobilization? It seems to me that mobilization has to take precedence over everything, given the acuity of the timeline.

    I do think the climate crisis should transcend class interests (tho that doesn’t mean it will.) Not even extremely wealthy people will be able to survive what is coming. Can we help them see that? That the status quo will bring nothing but violence, suffering, and devastation to the entire human family, and the biosphere? To me, a national-unity strategy seems much more doable than a “revolution, followed by mobilization” strategy. Still a reach, to be sure! But more doable.

    Thanks again everyone for the very smart commentary.

    • Wen Stephenson, independent writer and activist says:

      Hi Margaret, thanks for all you’re doing. I decided to ask this question here, rather than on the Keynotes page (everyone should watch Margaret’s very clear and compelling keynote).

      The question is this: What is your (and TCM’s) theory of political change, and how does it relate to the existing climate movement, which has grown significantly over the last 6 years or so (post-Copenhagen)? I have to admit I’m a little puzzled that you and Ezra seem to ignore the huge amount of organizing and, yes, mobilizing that has already happened, not least by Bill and 350, but many other groups and organizations as well. It seems obvious to me, as one who’s been reporting and writing about (and participating in) the climate movement for 5-6 years now, that there is a mobilization underway, and one far broader and more authentically grassroots than anything the environmental movement ever managed. Indeed, it’s less an environmental movement than a human-rights and social-justice movement. I’m curious if your lack of acknowledgment of the movement’s existence is intentional, and implies a critique (and if so, what the substance of the critique might be). I’m wondering if your theory of political change involves working as part of the existing movement, building upon on it, or if you see yourselves going it alone and building something entirely new? I.e., inventing a new wheel. And if the latter, how does that new wheel differ from the one we’ve got?

      • Margaret Klein Salamon, The Climate Mobilization says:

        Thanks Wen. I really enjoyed your talk, and your book. Your focus on preserving our humanity in these trying times is a poignant one.

        The Climate Mobilization was in development for about a year, from 2013 – 2014. During that time I tried to understand what was going on in the existing climate movement, and where I could apply my energies to making the greatest difference. Aka, what could I do that would give civilization and the natural world the most chance of survival? So yes, I definitely did develop a critique of the existing environmental/ climate movement. Not because the existing movement is bad but rather because it is up against the greatest, and most important challenge in human history. It needs to be much better than great, it needs to transform our entire economy and society in a matter of months!

        The Climate Mobilization stands on the shoulders of all who have come before, and we are actively involved in supporting efforts like #noDAPL. The climate movement has accomplished many impressive feats, and displayed courage and passion for protecting life. What we are doing, the possibilities we see for victory—none of those would have been possible without the movement before us. One small example—we launched at the People’s Climate March in 2014, basically just a small group of people handing out flyers and writing down email addresses of people who were onboard. The camaraderie and energy that came from that march really propelled us forward. There are surely thousands of instances like that, in the media, in the popular opinion, and more—where the road has been paved by the broader climate movement.

        The climate movement is largely playing defense — trying to narrowly avert catastrophe, to block the expansion of the fossil fuel infrastructure, and trying to be sane and moral in an insane and seemingly amoral world. All of these are important objectives, but it seems that a vision for victory is not clear. Indeed, the very idea of “victory” is suspect in many quarters. I think this is a major reason the vast majority of climate organizations are still advocating “carbon gradualism” — the idea that emissions should be reduced gradually, without disrupting the economy. There is a consensus in the climate movement right now that the US should eliminate emissions (or, emissions from energy sources, as another problem with much of the climate movement is the ignoring of the warming contribution of agriculture) by 2050. That is the consensus demand. But would that, if realized, prevent the collapse of civilization and the natural world? (Many would answer something along the lines of: “No, but its better than nothing”)

        I believe The Climate Mobilization’s role in the climate movement is to bring that strong, even obsessional focus on victory. We envision a world in which Americans experience a collective awakening about the danger of the climate crisis, and enter emergency mobilization with supermajority support. We imagine a world where the US stops emitting by 2025, and leads the globe to zero emissions as quickly as possible, while launching a massive draw-down program, causing the US and the world to become carbon negative by shortly after 2030. In this world, civilization and the biosphere have a strong chance of survival.

        I know this vision of victory sounds far-off and perhaps impossible. Our demands are based in scientific reality and morality rather than political realism. We are dedicated to making this vision of victory happen. We want to play offense. To get all future expansion of the fossil fuel infrastructure banned, and our existing fossil fuel capacity to be phased out in a decade or less, combined with a massive scale up of renewables. (And to transition agriculture, transportation, and every other sector to carbon neutrality at emergency speed.)

        I have written extensively on “emergency mode” — which I think the climate movement, and then the public has to enter and advocate for in order to achieve victory. How we communicate about emergencies, and their solutions, is very important in getting people to take in the threat and respond appropriately — by making fighting the climate crisis core to their identity, values, and politics. It is not credible to say “climate change is a catastrophic threat” and then advocate carbon gradualism. Something doesn’t add up, and the public decides the environmentalists must be exaggerating. In my paper, “Leading the Public into Emergency Mode: A New Strategy for the Climate Movement” I identify 14 communications errors I think the climate movement often makes, that create confusion and slow people from entering emergency mode. They are listed below.

        As a still very new organization, it is definitely not our aim to reinvent the wheel. Our hope is to work in tandem with the rest of the climate movement and society-at-large, but to move other groups into ’emergency mode’ and push their demands farther, leading by example (emergency mode, like normal mode, is contagious). By putting forth goals that radically raise expectations, we aim to push the kind of non-gradual action that science and morality demands into the realm of what is considered mainstream politically possible–because it needs to be possible. We have already seen Bill McKibben embrace the WWII scale climate mobilization metaphor (which he was already using, but not as emphatically!)

        We want our ‘victory plan’ to be a living document that inspires people to imagine what could be accomplished if we moved into emergency mode as a nation. We hope to invite organizations within the current movement, particularly environmental justice, front-line and indigenous communities, to participate in the creating of that vision. We believe that a prerequisite for any kind of social or climate justice is to pursue goals that will provide effective protection to vulnerable populations, not targets that are unsafe, unjust, and even genocidal for many. Just this past year there has been so much evidence that we are already in a climate emergency, and indeed pieces of the climate movement entirely independent of us are having their own ’emergency mode’ awakenings (one notable example., as well as specific local chapters of groups including 350 and the Sierra club we’ve been in touch with who have also broken with 2050 targets and begun advocating for emergency transitions locally).

        To address the theory of change: Briefly, TCM relies heavily on the idea of climate truth as a transformative agent (see my paper “The Transformative Power of Climate Truth” for more), and thus frames the battle as more” truth vs euphemism, denial and dissociation” / “emergency mode vs business as usual” than “the movement vs fossil fuel companies.”

        I hope my commentary makes clear that I have great respect for heroic climate warriors— especially the many people who were fighting the climate crisis while I was still in the thrall of denial and dissociation. I think that, given the scale and utter import of the challenge, constructive criticism within our movement will continue to be essential if we are to grow as much as we need to in moral strength and political power. . Thank you for sharing your thoughts and questions.

        Thanks again,

        From “Leading the Public into Emergency Mode: A New Strategy for the Climate Movement” Paper available at: http://www.theclimatemobilization.org/emergencymode
        Let go of False Narratives. Representing the truth, and moving the public into emergency mode means letting go of false or misleading narratives that shield the public (and ourselves) from the frightening truth, such as:

        1.2°C or 1.5°C of warming above pre-industrial levels represent “safe limits” to global warming.

        2.“Our grandchildren” may be in a “climate emergency” sometime in the future if we don’t change.

        3.We still have a sizable global “carbon budget” left to safely burn before things get really out of control.

        4.The transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions can be a multi-decade effort. (I.e., we can continue emitting greenhouse gases for decades longer!)

        5.Extremely gradual emission reduction strategies — such as the Clean Power Plan — are huge steps forward.

        6.Climate justice and other social justice objectives are compatible with carbon gradualism.

        7.It’s not worth solving the climate crisis and saving billions of lives unless we simultaneously create a utopian society.

        8.Ending emissions will be “cheap,” “easy” or “painless” and can be accomplished smoothly but slowly via market-based policy instruments alone (such as an emissions trading system or a carbon tax).

        9.If we only reduce the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold on politicians, the problem will solve itself.

        10. The climate crisis is only a dirty energy or electricity issue that can be solved without massive ecosystem restoration, the transformation of industrial and animal agriculture, and a revolution in land use and soil management.

        11. A zero emissions-only strategy (without drawdown and possible cooling) is all that is needed to protect us from climate catastrophe.

        12. Carbon drawdown approaches and solar radiation management should not be discussed as legitimate options or studied since they will only distract from emissions reduction and societal transformation.

        13. The broader overshoot, sustainability, and mass extinction emergencies relating to exponential global population and consumption growth are not worth mentioning or factoring into our policies as we respond to the climate crisis since they are overwhelming, not widely accepted by the public, and seem far away.

  7. Pace University says:

    Thanks to all who have viewed and contributed, I’ve been enjoying the conference and thoughtful contributions and debates.

    I’d like to respond to Margaret’s questions, which I hope will take up some other issues brought up by other commentators and address some of the questions directed to me. For the time being I will set aside the problems inherent with social justice activists and environmentalists using a war that saw 60 million people slaughtered as the only pertinent analogy for government action to save the biosphere. I will also leave my comments on other components of the Climate Mobilization Plan with which I disagree for another day: identifying population growth as the problem to solve, setting aside other people’s land for non-human species and establishing a US government agency to carry that out for the rest of the world.

    I agree with all the other things that we need to do to reduce inequality, fund and promote socialized transportation and healthcare and building a new energy, agriculture, sanitation, transportation and water infrastructure worthy of 21st century humanity. I’ll work with anyone who wants to work on any of those goals and be extremely happy to do so. I’d go further and get rid of capitalism altogether and try something different (why would anyone want to retain this despicable system except the 1%?), but it’d be a great start. Let’s work together to do it!

    The real question therefore is how will we do those things? The problem is that presenting people at the top with a plan for how all that might work and pointing out to them, (a) we’ll all suffer eventually and (b) it was done before, just look at 1940, is idealistic not only in the utopian sense of the term but also in its philosophical meaning. As I asked in my introductory remarks: where is the evidence?

    What did the president of the United States, someone who says he cares about climate change and understands the issue do about climate change? Yes, there were some new regulations here and there. But these were completely overwhelmed by opening up more federal land to drilling, letting BP solve their own environmental calamity in the Gulf, doubling domestic oil and gas production and boasting of building more pipeline than ever before while actively colluding with mayors and police forces across the country to use force to shut down democratic debate in the squares and parks of the United States in 2011. This was at a time when for two years (2008-10) his party had a super majority in both Houses of Congress and a citizenry who wanted every banker in the land behind bars. He had enormous political capital to do exactly the things outlined in Ezra’s plan. We all know what happened. To quote Occupy: The Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out. Obama then proceeded to unleash the US military overseas and a militarized police force on people of color, allow ICE to deport more undocumented immigrants than all previous presidents combined, spy on everyone in the country and lock up anyone who exposed that practice.

    Now, if the Democrats, the US ruling class more generally and elites across the world didn’t do anything then or since to protect the environment and dial back climate change, please tell me why you expect them to do *anything whatsoever* now? On what basis do you make that prediction? Particularly with a far worse candidate about to come to office. Someone who Bill and Ezra have told us we should campaign and vote for despite the fact she is international fracker-in-chief and told them and us to “get a life”. In point of fact, by environmentalists and liberals unequivocally backing Hillary, she no longer feels any pressure to respond to the voices to her left (the vast majority of the country) and can move rightwards to pander and collect votes from disaffected Republicans. So we’re actually in a worse situation – now neither of the two main candidates even have to bother talking about climate change. She doesn’t even feel the need to say anything about the most pressing and gigantic issue, the heroic and growing resistance against DAPL.

    Waiting around for people at the top to save us and appealing to the idea that we’re all in the same boat is actually far less “doable” than deciding to reject looking to the top for a mobilization and instead focusing on building a mass movement for social change from below through class conflict. Then you wouldn’t need the WWII imagery, which is only used because it looks non-threatening to government leaders. To everyone else war looks and is terrifying because we’re the ones who go to kill and be killed. Conversely, if we look at any time period in human history, from any continent, mass organization and struggle from below is the only thing that has brought positive social change. I have plenty of evidence to prove my contention. To quote Frederick Douglass, power concedes nothing without a demand, it never has, it never will. Have you seen the boats these people swan about in? And now they’ve got so much money they don’t limit themselves to yachts but ‘who can build the bigger rocket ship’. You think they haven’t got an exit strategy if Planet Earth goes belly up?

    They really cared whether they won WWII because it opened the whole world up to US imperialism and disposed of likely competitors. They rearranged the entire economy to achieve victory. But taking on climate change, as Naomi Klein has argued, rather than bolster capitalism would call into question their whole system. Again, the last several decades of evidence speaks for itself: they are not going to address climate change in any meaningful way within the time frame available to us. Let alone the other incredibly negative impacts of an ever-expanding profit-driven system: racism, war, extreme poverty and inequality, biodiversity loss etc. To the extent they will do so, it will be on the backs of the poor and disenfranchised in the US and around the world. Ordinary people will be made to pay an even heavier price if global elites dictate the form of the solutions, which will all be technocratic and market-based. If you think them not taking climate change seriously is bad wait till you see what they get up to when things become so blatantly desperate they’re forced into action (as the US military keeps repeatedly pointing out, and they have far more access to the corridors of power).

    Just because the planet will end as we know it is not enough of a compunction for the dynamics of capitalist development to change. Hence however difficult it may seem, the alternative to depending on US elites and acting against their interests is nevertheless the most realistic and likely to win. We are left with only one alternative: to fight, organize and mobilize against the people at the top to force through genuine reforms. And use those to make our lives better in the here and now, to buy time for the planet and as organizational and motivational stepping stones on the way to revolution.

  8. Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa says:

    Very engaging exchanges! Having listened to all the talks on this panel, I would like to add a few points, that others have also already engaged.

    Theoretically, i would suggest the question might better be “What Would It Take To Be on a Path to Winning?” (I think framing things in terms of “done” or “won” is itself very problematic. WTO Seattle phrase “We are Winning” was appropriate for this and other reasons.)

    Politically, there are always struggles to engage and we should be on the look out for what they are and how we can engage or help. As to strategy, I lot of excellent questions have been raised about the use of WWII, by Chris, and others above. And I very much agree that it is worthwhile to consider the implications of using the terms of WWII, in particular, and military metaphors, in general. (Much more could be sd. on this topic.)

    But I appreciated the gesture Chris makes above of unpacking where that image does and does not put the focus in terms of who is involved in bringing about solutions. That is, how are we organizing to address climate change? It is an invaluable question to have raised. And I appreciate also Wes’ comment above, calling attention to the ongoing mobilization, since 2009, to be sure, and, I would argue, since the 1980s, when some first brought climate change to attention: James Hansen’s 1988 Testimony to Congress; Bill McKibben’s 1989, The End of Earth – first bringing global warming to a global warming. I agree with the sentiment of Wes’ point, that it is important to acknowledge the work of one’s elders or predecessors, and to acknowledge what movement one is joining and what points one is contributing, to avoid re-inventing the wheel, as it were.

    To that end, I’ll cycle back to the question of how we are organizing to address climate change. I think the talks above and Chris’ last intervention raise very key concerns and questions. I look forward to hearing further thoughts about them.

  9. Wen Stephenson, independent writer and activist says:

    Thank you, Margaret, for that response. Keep up your good work. What I’m about to say is not intended as a reply to you personally or the Climate Mobilization, but to everyone reading.

    To repeat something I said in my talk:

    “What I most fear losing is our humanity… Donald Trump’s rise makes unavoidable what many people I know in the climate-justice movement, most of them young, have been saying for some time: namely, that even as we fight to keep carbon in the ground, if we care at all about justice — if we care at all about what kind of a world we’re going to have in 2050 — we have to fight just as hard for democracy and human rights and social justice, economic justice, racial justice.

    “Because we face a social and political catastrophe every bit as real as the climate catastrophe—and in fact, they’re converging.

    “It matters all the more what kind of a government, what kind of a democracy, what kind of a society we have, what kind of a people we will be, as we head into this future together.

    “We have to face the facts, which means facing scientific realities, political realities — and moral realities.

    “We have to face the fact that we’ve already lost the ‘climate fight,’ if that means ‘solving the climate crisis’ and saving some semblance of the planet humanity has known. That fight was lost before it began, because it got started so late. The best we can — and must — do now is fight to keep enough carbon in the ground to avert utter collapse and chaos. That’s the scientific reality.

    “Which means we can’t afford to lose the other fight — the fight against everything that Trump and the forces that created him and support him represent… It’s going to take a political revolution. That’s the political reality, and the moral necessity, of this historical moment.

    “Because it’s time now to fight like there’s nothing left to lose but our humanity.”

    I know those aren’t the kind of words one normally hears at an academic conference. Well, fuck academic conferences. We all need to be in the streets. In the jails.

    I really don’t have anything more to say here. There’s real work to be done.

  10. John Foran, UC Santa Barbara says:

    What Will It Take to Win? One More Round, Anyone?

    I’ll keep this short, but I hope it leads to more exchanges of our theme, which I am now shortening to “What Will It Take to Win?”

    It’s interesting to observe that the last post to this discussion was made on November 9, the day after the election, when all talk turned to asking how did Trump win, what is he going to do now, and what can we do about it?

    This community rightly framed the question in terms of the worlds we have said we want in 2050, and went into a kind of collective mourning and healing process.
    Suddenly it seemed evident that we were not going to have anything remotely resembling a “World War 2 Style Mobilization” leading the way to a longshot but perhaps achievable “Victory Plan” in the long war that has begun against the planet and its people.

    So this particular panel’s concerns would now be relegated to the dust heap of utopian schemes that had briefly flickered in the night and started to warm us around the fire when “reality” (the Trump show) was mistaken for what’s really real. Well, Trump now is really real, so I guess we are going to have to get really really real to deal with the crises.

    But two points are in order, the first being that the questions that spurred the emergence of the WW2 mobilization idea in the first place remain not just relevant, but pretty much (along with basic salvage and survival operations) at the top of the list: “What will it take to win?” and of course, “What does winning look like, anyway?
    Expect no answers here, but I do think we could productively go one more round of everyone’s current thoughts on this, as the start of the long conversations we’ll all be involved in as we enter further into the era of Trump.

    So the first is a call to write the first draft or notes for that conversation before we part ways.

    Secondly, it may surprise some that I will not be among those who are laying WW2 mobilization thinking to rest, and for a variety of reasons, beginning with the fact that it was never (or should not have been) purely a top-down government-planned strategy in the first place.

    Governments don’t mobilize, people do. And we need to build the big-time climate mobilization (lower case for me, dear friends Margaret and Ezra) that has been on the agenda of the climate justice movement anyway now for the past several years.

    So, dear comrades and allies, let’s hear from those among us who feel we owe each other a turn around the question “What will it take to win, NOW?”
    Wen? Bill? Ezra? Margaret? Anyone who have come this far?

    • Ken Hiltner (UC Santa Barbara) says:

      HI John,

      Since you also posted this comment to the panel on “Making Sense of the 2016 Presidential Election,” I am taking the liberty of also posting my response to it over here.

      I agree that it no longer seems likely that we are “going to have anything remotely resembling a ‘World War 2 Style Mobilization.’” However, at the risk of varying the war imagery – I am bracing for the predictable retort on this ground, even though I am preparing to invoke an antiwar image – perhaps what we need is a “Vietnam Style Mobilization.”

      To quote CNN, “If millennial voters had their way, Hillary Clinton would be president.” This doesn’t mean that millennials were thrilled about Clinton. As many as 1 in 10 voted for third-party candidates, like the Green Party’s Jill Stein, or wrote in their own choices, making clear just how frustrated they were with the either/or choice of Clinton or Trump. Consequently, I suspect that if Bernie Sanders had been on the ballot instead of Clinton, his would have been a landslide victory if it had been up to millennials. Nonetheless, as CNN also noted, it was “older, whiter demographics…[that]…led the charge for Trump.”

      In the week since the election, I have been talking to my classes about it. Since I have quite a few students this term, thanks to a 400-student lecture, their views provide an interesting insight into what younger millennials (at least the coastal variety) think. Because I use an anonymous i>clicker device to poll the large lecture, they are free to express unpopular opinions. For example, although it was fewer than 10%, when asked how they felt about Trump’s election, some selected “elated.” Another small block wasn’t sure how they felt. Nonetheless, nearly 4 out of 5 were either “horrified” or “very worried.”‘

      In my smaller, discussion seminars, one thing came across loud and clear: they are angry, really angry. Angry that they did not select this president or future, yet after he and the people who put him in office are dead and buried they will be dealing with the global disaster that they hastened and amplified.

      The world in 2050 belongs to millennials, especially the younger of them, as they will then be in power and dealing with the policies of the past, like Trump’s, that brought about their world. And make no mistake, they already know it. In this sense, it does welcome a comparison to the Vietnam era, as this younger generation is horrified that it is their lives that are at stake and not those of the aging powerbrokers who, to their mind (and let’s face it, they are obviously right in both cases), are bizarrely committed to an outrageous and shameful course of action.

      That said, I think that we should indeed hope for a “Vietnam Style Mobilization.” In other words, that on campuses and other locales across the U.S. (and world) both planned and spontaneous protests erupt among the generation that will be most impacted by the Trump administration. And not just in physical locales. As this is the same generation that gave us social media (Mark Zuckerberg is just 32), they have the opportunity to reinvent protest for the 21st century.

      The job that they are tasked with is to not only draw attention to the horrific policies of the Trump administration, but to defiantly stand in the face of them with blockadia and other tactics. In short, they (and we) need to make this war against the planet and humanity’s future that Trump is intent on waging every bit as unpopular as Vietnam. Imagine a million people converging on Washington for days, with the National Guard launched down our capital’s streets in response. I wonder if the powerbrokers would have the stomach to continue on in the face – and media spectacle – of anti(climate)war backlashes of this sort. They didn’t 45 years ago.


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