Thursday, March 31, 2016

2252. Strategy and Tactics for the Climate Justice Movement: A Critique of “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” Campaign

By Kamran Nayeri, March 31, 2016 leader Bill McKibben (second from left) was among more than 50 activists arrested on March 7, 2016,  for blockading the gates of the Crestwood Midstream gas storage facility on the shores of Seneca Lake in upstate New York. "Today and every day there are places like this where people are standing up," said Bill McKibben. Photo: @WeAreSenecaLake.
1. Introduction
Global warming caused by over 250 years of fossil fuel-powered capitalist industrialization has resulted in climate crisis. is a leading organization in the climate justice movement which has grown in tandem with it since its inception less than a decade ago.  However, the climate justice movement a whole and in particular need a discussion of the scope of the problem we aim to solve, our action program, and strategy and tactics.  The aim of the essay is to encourage and help initiate such a discussion. (see, endnote 1) 

Political consciousness lags reality.  In the late 1970s, scientists at the Exxon corporation discovered that fossil fuel use can cause global warming.  In 1988, climatologist James Hansen told a congressional hearing in Washington, D. C., that greenhouse gases have already caused global warming.  In 1992, the United Nations agreed to form the Framework Convention on Climate Change which began functioning as the Conference of the Parties (COP) in 1994.   In 2000, the first climate justice conference took place in the Hague, Netherlands, in parallel to COP6 (the sixth COP).  In 2007, Vermont-based environmentalist Bill McKibben helped lead the Step It Up campaign in which some 1,400 supporters protested climate change at select famous sites across the United States. This effort led to  the formation of taking its name from James Hansen’s “safe upper limits threshold” of  350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide has been considered the main greenhouse gas which in February 2016 stood at over 404 ppm.  In December 2015 at the conclusion of COP21 summit in Paris, world governments signed a non-binding agreement to adopt policies to mitigate climate change. As Bill McKibben (2015) puts it the Paris agreement is a good one for 1995 but not for 2015. 

Clearly, political consciousness still lags reality and the fight against the existential threat of catastrophic climate change remains before us.  Scientists tell us that if timely decisive action to mitigate global warming is not taken at a certain point in time in near future measured in decades climate tipping points will be reached and global warming will become self-sustaining.  If that happens, there will be nothing in human power to stop the catastrophe. (For the latest discussion of the tipping points, see, Hansen, 2016). The existential threat of catastrophic climate change and the looming global warming tipping points should give us pause to thoughtfully consider the following key questions: (1) What is the scope of the problem our movement needs to resolve? (2) What is our program for its resolution? and (3) What strategy and tactics are most useful to implement such a program? 

2. The scope of the problem: The Anthropocene
The goal of the climate justice movement is to stop and reverse climate change as soon as and as much as possible. shares this goal.  We articulate it as rapid and just transition to a post-carbon economy and society.  But what does such a transition entails?

The answer depends on how causes of climate change are understood. Proponents of capitalism offer a narrow view of climate change: a singular event that can be addressed by technological fixes and/or through market reform facilitated perhaps by regulations (e.g., Krugman 2016; Friedman 2015).  But as Hegel taught us the truth is in the whole.  Climate change is not a singular event. Scientific research show global warming and climate chaos are key components of the planetary crisis.  I just note one source: The Stockholm Resilience Center that published a study  of the planetary crisis in 2009 (Rockström,, 2009) and an extensive update last year (Steffen, 2015) has identified nine planetary boundaries, "thresholds for safe operating space for human societies."  Climate change and biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and species extinction) are designated as core boundaries “because they both are affected by and drive changes in all the others.” (ibid.) The nine boundaries are:

1. Climate change
2. Change in biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and species extinction)
3. Stratospheric ozone depletion
4. Ocean acidification
5. Biogeochemical flows (phosphorus and nitrogen cycles)
6. Land-system change (for example deforestation)
7. Freshwater use
8. Atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms)
9. Introduction of novel entities (e.g. organic pollutants, radioactive materials, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics).

The recognition of the planetary crisis and the search for its causes has led to the rapid growth of literature on the Anthropocene (New Man): a geological epoch defined by human impact on the planet’s natural systems.  Ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer and atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen who coined the term and popularized it in the West have suggested that the Anthropocene could be have been started with the introduction of the steam engine in the English Industrial Revolution.  Historically, the Green movement has focused on the industrialization as the culprit while the socialist movement has focused on capitalism.  Economic history, however, teaches us that industrial revolution was the cumulation of processes that joined the dynamics of capitalist accumulation with semi-autonomous technological changes especially those powered by fossil fuel in production and transportation resulting in the Industrial Revolution and consolidation of the capitalist mode of production in England.  Ever since industrialization has expanded across the globe as part of the integration of the capitalist world economy (even “socialist” Soviet Union and China adopted a similar model).  Thus, some ecological socialists have argued that the Anthropocene is driven by 250 years of industrial capitalism.  

What the above definition of the Anthropocene fails to provide is the root-cause of the malignant attitude toward nature, including human nature, in full display before, during and after the birth of industrial capitalist civilization and pervasive in human population.  In fact, industrial capitalism is only the latest, more developed, more massive and intensive form of social organization to dominate and control nature, including human nature. 

 My own view is that the Anthropocene began with the emergence of first farmers and the Agricultural Revolution some 10,000 years ago (See, Nayeri, 2013).  Before that for 190,000 years (for 95% of Homo sapiens existence) hunter-gatherer societies lived with ecocentric world views that did not differentiate humans from the rest of nature. Not only they survived, they also thrived. The transition to farming probably required and certainly caused an anthropocentric worldview in which human superiority is assumed and domination and control over nature pursued.   Through domestication of plants and animals the early farmers created an economic surplus that made it possible for class differentiation to begin creating early civilizations.  Thus, alienation from the rest of nature created human alienation and together with a rising economic surplus all forms of social subordination and exploitation followed.  Civilizations are social structures built of alienation from nature and social alienation for exploiting nature and other human beings. 

If this line of reasoning is broadly correct then confronting climate change must be part of our vision of overcoming the planetary crisis caused by anthropocentric industrial capitalism.  The transition to a post-carbon economy and society to mitigate climate change must be part of an even more profound transition to a fundamentally different human society worldwide to mitigate the planetary crisis.  As I have argued elsewhere
“…in today’s globalized capitalist world to be a consistent naturalist requires challenging the capitalist system as the enforcer of the anthropocentric culture and to be a consistent socialist one has to be a naturalist because the root-cause of the crisis of the capitalist system, like all other class societies before it, is the anthropocentric culture.  To resolve the planetary crisis and the social crisis, it is necessary to revive the intrinsic value of everything, including each human being, by riding our society and culture of values assigned to them by the market and this cannot be done unless we return to ecocentrism and transcend the capitalist system.” (Nayeri, 2013)
To make this more profound transition we must collectively analyze many important issues. Let me briefly note two of them here: human population and overconsumption.  From an ecological point of view, there is simply too many of our species consuming big majority of the Earth resources forcing other species into decline contributing to the Sixth Great Extinction (Washington, 2013, Wilson, 2016).  In each case, of course, overpopulation and overconsumption are socio-geographically differentiated. There are sparsely populated regions and, of course, billions of humans, mostly in Global South, who live in precarious conditions. Still, education about human population and democratic population planning through empowering women must be a central part of the transition.  The planet can tolerate perhaps 2 billion humans with a much reduced world per capita consumption basket and much smaller ecological footprint.  It is also necessary to educate around the need to eliminate all conspicuous consumption in a sense much wider than that used by Thorstein Veblen. Today, Global North with 20% of the world population consumes 80% of world economic output.  It is impossible and undesirable to emulate capitalist consumerism of the Global North in the Global South. The Global North must contract its economy significantly while the Global South should develop more. But everywhere we must replace the culture of having with a culture of being.  Leisure time and human development will make happier and healthier people. (Trainer 2015, Alexander, 2014)  

To ignore these larger issues is to mistake partial reforms with lasting solutions.  Even if we succeed in keeping the big majority of fossil fuels in the ground and transition to clean renewable energy economy by 2050, the planetary crisis most likely will undermine the web of life on which humanity thrives. 

3. The climate justice movement needs an action program: 
Emissions tax
The climate justice movement is a dynamic combination of many different groups each working on some set of climate-related issues. Thus our collective energy is spent fighting many local battles.  To give an example, our San Francisco Bay Area has the following activities planned for April of 2016: Stop Crude-by-Rail in Benicia, CalSTRS Divestment campaign, and speak out again new natural gas plant proposed for Oxnard.  However, fossil fuels permeate our daily lives.   Petroleum, for example, is used in electricity generation, gasoline, jet fuel and heating oil. Petroleum is also used in making of plastic, toys, computers, houses, cars and clothing. The asphalt used in constructing roads is a petroleum product just like rubber for car tires. Wax comes from petroleum, so does fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, detergents, records, film, furniture, packaging, paints, fibers, upholstery and carpet foundations.  To fight fossil fuels we cannot engage the movement in each of these cases. Even if we win some of these fights we may still lose the war.  Time is of essence and we must use our resources most effectively and to do so the climate justice movement needs an action program.  Just to demand that fossil fuels must be kept in the ground and a just transition to a post-carbon economy completed by 2050 will not get us there. We must have policy proposals to bring these about.  

The action program to fight greenhouse gases pollution must address the root-cause of the problem: for 250 years fossil fuels  prices have not reflected their true ecological and social cost.  Like all other commodities priced in the capitalist market fossil fuel prices have reflected their “cost of production” which include exploration, extraction, refining, and transportation plus an economic rent paid to whoever is holding the title to the land where they are located (For a discussion of oil prices see, Bina, 2006).  However, fossil fuels companies externalize pollution caused in exploration, extraction, refining, transportation and subsequent consumption of fossil fuels.  The most pervasive and damaging part of this pollution is greenhouse gases emitted throughout the life cycle of fossil fuels. (see, endnote 2)  Fossil fuel companies do not pay anything for this pollution although the entire point of the climate justice movement is that society and nature bear a heavy cost from this pollution.  

Thus, the true cost of fossil fuels is: Economic Costs (ground rent, exploration, extraction, refining, transportation) + Ecological and Social Costs (chiefly and for the purpose of this discussion those due to greenhouse gases emission). 

It is crucial that the climate justice movement begins with a firm understanding of this fact and formulate an action program centered on “putting a price on carbon.”  The best way to do this is to charge fossil fuel companies a fee for ecological and social costs of greenhouse gases emissions at the point of production.  Such an emissions tax must account for historical as well as current pollutions from fossil fuels.  That is, a penalty for historical pollution (as in clean up fees) and a fee for current and future damages. 

There is already a number of countries and regions within countries that have tried various schemes of putting a price on carbon.  There are others that are considering such fees. While corporate interests have successfully lobbied for cap-and-trade schemes, taxing emissions at the source is much more effective (see, the New York Times editorial “Proof That a Price on Carbon Works.”)

In the U. S., Charles Komanoff and Daniel Rosenblum have been operating the Carbon Tax Center since 2007.  Their stated mission is 
“…to generate support to enact a transparent and equitable U.S. carbon pollution tax as quickly as possible — one that rises briskly enough to catalyze virtual elimination of U.S. fossil fuel use within several decades and provides a template and impetus for other nations to follow suit.”
Marshall Saunders has founded the Citizens’ Climate Lobby  with the goal of levying a carbon fee that is then paid back in equal amount to the population as a carbon dividend.  The idea of a carbon fee paid back as carbon dividend is to avoid the notion of a tax and state intervention in order to enlist support from the more "free market" members of Congress.  

In all cases, the idea of a carbon fee or emissions tax is to restructure commodity prices by making those that involve more greenhouse emissions more expensive relative to those that have lower or no emissions.  

My own view is that the climate justice movement must educate around and campaign for a greenhouse emission tax at the point of production (See, Nayeri, 2015)  My view differs from those explained above in terms of “scope of the problem” and strategy and tactics for climate justice movement.  While these proposals define climate change as a technological problem that can be resolved by relying on markets and regulations through lobbying effort mine is offered from the standpoint of climate change as an aspect of the planetary crisis and therefore emphasize a perspective of building a massive climate justice movement through consistent education, organization and mobilization. 

4. Strategy and tactics: lobbying, civil disobedience or mass action? 
On September 21, 2014, well over 300,000 people participated in the People’s Climate March in New York City to demand action to stop and reverse the climate crisis.  Organizers reported that 2,807 similar actions took place in 166 countries during that weekend. In New York, besides high-profile environmentalists like Bill McKibben of, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jane Goodall and Vandana Shiva key politicians including U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Al Gore participated.  

There was considerable hesitancy by some left organizations and personalities to embrace the opportunity to build the New York mass march (see, Nayeri, 2014).   A group organized the Flood the Wall Street civil disobedience action on September 22.  About 3,000 (or less than 1% of the massive march of the day before) participated. While the People’s Climate March will be remembered as a proud achievement of the climate justice movement, Flood the Wall Street civil disobedience action has been forgotten.  Those who staged disobedience were arrested and the protest ended quickly (for an excellent critique of the Flood the Wall Street action see, Smucker and Premo, 2014).  

At the time, this is in part what I wrote about the Flood the Wall Street civil disobedience campaign:
“[T]he so-called ‘escalated tactics’ of the Flood the Wall Street march could not have served the movement well because it was not a mass march contrary to idea of “flooding” in its name.  It remained an elite action because it would have been much larger only if the communities that organizations claimed to represent participated in it. Furthermore, blocking the traffic and holding ‘capital’ responsible for climate change do not advance our movement.  Raising consciousness and organizing on a daily basis do.   And I submit the latter is much harder to do than the former—to patiently explain, educate, agitate and organize. These will require close collaboration with many other groups currently led by reform-minded leaderships, especially the environmental groups, especially  The bulk of those who came to the People’s Climate March came because of the work of these organizations and that is more reason why instead of ‘escalating tactics’ we need to spend more time working with them building future protests.” (Nayeri, 2014)
Today, it must be clear that the People’s Climate March contributed to the process that led to the Paris Agreement as insufficient and inadequate as it is.  As Bill McKibben (2015) put it in his assessment “…[W]hat this means is that we need to build the movement even bigger in the coming years, so that the Paris agreement turns into a floor and not a ceiling for action.” (my emphasis)

Then how is it that the leadership has spent a lot of its time and energy to promote the May 4-15 Break Free from Fossil Fuels campaign that is centered on “escalating  tactics” of civil disobedience? (see, endnote 3) Here is what they say on their website:

Break Free actions will involve increasing levels of risk and pressure appropriate to the local context. We need to be bold to translate the growing urgency and despair about the climate system into collective hope. Time is up for governments to slowly, gradually shift away from fossil fuels – it is now necessary that we, the people, stand up to dramatically accelerate the just transition from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy and an economic system that is not based on the exploitation of people or the planet.” (my emphasis)

What do they mean by “increasing levels of risk and pressure?” Risk for who and pressure on who? What parameters are considered for determining “local context?”  What does being “bold” mean?  Whose “growing urgency and despair” and how can it be translated into “hope?” Who determines when the “time is up for governments to act?” If we can decide that at will why have we waited until now?  What political leverage can we use to make governments act? How local actions can impact world governments?  

None of these questions raised by this paragraph is answered adequately or at all.  How do the authors of the statement define the scope of the problem of climate change? Narrowly? Or do they see it as part of the planetary crisis?  Do they have an action program? What is it if they do and if they don’t what particular policies they wish the government to enact? Who are the enablers of their preferred policies: the mass movement or politicians, "responsible" corporate leaders, technocrats and bureaucrats?  

As prominent as is in the climate justice movement, it is not yet a mass movement that has won the confidence of the American people to act on their behalf.  Yet the leaders still declare: “it is now necessary that we, the people, stand up to dramatically accelerate the just transition from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy and an economic system that is not based on the exploitation of the people and the planet.”  Thus, they confuse themselves and their own present consciousness with that of “the people” and their current level of consciousness. Further, they are now calling not just for transition to a post-carbon economy and society but an economic system free of exploitation of people and the planet!  Nothing less than a world social revolution can hope to attain such a goal (even when the goal itself is adequately clarified). Can anyone with both feet on the ground believe that the American or world political situation provide a basis for an easy transition to a post-carbon economy let alone an exploitation free society simply by a campaign of “escalated” civil disobedience actions in six locations in the United States and 10 other countries?  But just two and half years ago, we had solidarity actions with the People’s Climate March in 166 countries. Are we losing anyone in building the May actions?   Of course, and its Break Free coalition partners include references to mass action.  However, they are hoping for “tens of thousands” not hundreds of thousands to participate.  Why?  Is it because they think the bulk of those who participated in 2014 are not supportive of the May “escalated actions” focus? 

Perhaps because neither nor the climate justice movement as a whole have a program of action based on a full appreciation of climate chaos as part of the planetary crisis they tend to vacillate between lobbying campaign and “escalated actions” with some street actions mixed in from time to time. 

Mass mobilization strategy and civil disobedience
Civil disobedience is a tactic that is appropriate in certain situations.  For example, when on December 1, 1951, Rosa Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake's order to give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger, after the white section was filled, she engaged in a civil disobedience action that became a symbol of the civil rights movement.  However, Parks’ action was neither the first or the only one and the reason that it became such a powerful symbol of black resistance to racial segregation was the existence of a growing mass civil rights movement.  Had that mass movement not been built or had it been destroyed we probably would not have known about Parks’ heroic action today.  As an active, professed refusal to obey the existing order civil disobedience can help a growing mass movement if in fact that movement is growing and has reached a certain degree of maturity and the existing order has become increasingly indefensible in public consciousness.  While civil disobedience is a tactic that may be useful in some context, it is the strategy of building a mass movement that bring about radical social change for the simple reason that to change society’s value matrix in a fundamental way we need to win over almost everyone.  The problem is not simply fossil fuel companies and capitalist governments, but the anthropocentric capitalist culture. That is why civil disobedience is a tactic not our strategy.  Unfortunately, in every social protest there are currents that tend to emphasize lobbying or civil disobedience either because they think mere winning over of some politicians can solve a social problem or because of their own impatience with the slow growth of mass consciousness Instead of the hard work of educating, organizing and mobilization the public, they end up substituting themselves for the necessary mass action. 

In “Which Way Forward for the Climate Movement” Christine Marie (2016) provides an excellent discussion of this issue in the context of the current discussion in the U.S. climate justice movement.  Drawing on the history of the labor movement, Marie  points out that mass movement necessarily is built from bottom up 
“by the assembling of local, regional, and national coalitions around demands hammered out in meetings that can involve increasing numbers of representatives and activists from many different milieus, is, historically, the kind of operation that creates political spaces habitable by those taking their first steps into climate action. They are the kind of actions that have the most potential to bring new social layers, more powerful social layers, into motion.”
The challenges and opportunities facing the climate justice
The good news is that a majority of the public in the U.S. and around the world seem to have become more aware of the reality of the climate crisis and relatively clean renewable energy has become increasingly more economical compared to some fossil fuels (mostly coal).  

The latest poll by the National Surveys on Energy and Environment reported in October 2015 that 70% of Americans “believe there is solid evidence of global warming over the past four decades.”  While this is encouraging, it must be noted that the same poll found 72% of respondents stating the same in 2008.  The polls found that percent of population in denial of the reality of climate crisis dropped by 1% from 17% in 2008 to 16% in 2015.

PEW Research Center that conducted an international poll reported in November 2015 that “there is a global consensus that climate change is a significant challenge." In the 40 nations polled a global median of 54% considered it a very serious problem while a median of 78% supported the idea of their country limiting greenhouse gases emissions as part of an international agreement in Paris (12% disagreed). 67% agreed that people had to make major lifestyle changes while 22% thought techno-fixes alone would be enough. 54% said the rich countries must do more while 38% believed the poor countries must do as much as the rich countries. 

These statistics make it abundantly clear that the climate justice movement has the opportunity as well as challenge of reaching out to the public through a consistent campaign of education, organization and mobilization around an action program to stop and reverse the climate crisis.  

However, even if a majority believe human-caused greenhouse gases have caused global warming and action must be taken to stop and reverse this trend it does not mean that they automatically change their personal and political choices to affect such a transition to a post-carbon economy and society. 

Consider the following natural experiment:

In Sonoma County where I live, a renewable energy option called Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) has been offered since 2014.  While PG&E still owns and operates the transmission of energy, its customers were placed in the Clean Start option that has 36% renewable energy sources (average monthly cost of $116.25). Any household could opt out to remain with PG&E that has 27% renewable energy sources (with an average monthly cost of $117.33) or sign up with Ever Green that is 100% renewable (average monthly cost of $134.11).

In 2014, there were 207,232 housing units in Sonoma County. Of these about 17,000  (8.2%) of housing units opted out to remain with PG&E even though it will cost them slightly more and is more polluting.  Only slightly more than 1,000 households (half a percent of households) signed up with Ever Green, 100% renewable energy that adds a mere $17.86 a month to the household expenses.  The vast majority of some 189,000 households remained in Clean Start which is less polluting than PG&E and slightly cheaper. 

Sonoma County has median household income and per capita income slightly higher than California as a whole. Clearly, these statistics do not jive with the poll outcomes I just cited above.  Why would 17,000 household opted out to remain with a more polluting and slightly more expensive PG&E?  Isn’t that perverse behavior? Why only about 1,000 or 0.05% of households chose 100% renewals?  Certainly, many more households in Sonoma County can afford a slightly higher energy bill to get 100% renewable energy.  Why 87% of households stayed with Clear Start? Was it a lack of inertia or lack of climate consciousness?  There was a mass mailing to urge people to sign up for the Ever Green option. Of course, some of those households are low-income so the county should design a program of subsidies for them financed by taxing greenhouse gases emission.  A big chunk of our energy bill is for infrastructure to transmit it. Should we have a more distributed form of energy production? 

The Sonoma County natural experiment matters because it demonstrates unless the American people are convinced about the true cost of greenhouse gases pollution they will not be actively involved in the process of transition to a post-carbon economy. Why is it that we regularly purchase home, car, health care, and life insurance to protect ourselves and our loved ones.  Because it is a cultural habit enforced by economic incentives and in most cases backed by legal requirements. That is why we need emissions taxes to reflect the true cost of fossil fuels, an energetic local and national educational campaign to explain why such a “tax” or “fee” is good for individuals and families and demand legal action accordingly. 

The Sonoma County experience shows that no amount of lobbying or civil disobedience can do what our movement needs to do—to win over every citizen of the world to understand why fossil fuels must stay in the ground and the entire economy, society and culture that is built upon must be transformed to enable us to coexist with the rest of nature. 

Climate tipping points and the road to power
We know from climate scientists that if decisive action is not taken the planet will reach one or more tipping points that will make global warming self-sustaining.  After the tipping points are reached human intervention cannot stop catastrophic climate change.  We do not know when the tipping points are reached (Hansen, et. al. 2016)  Should this knowledge (or lack of it) make us attempt disparate actions? 

The answer is clearly no. We still need to educate, organize and mobilize the public on the basis of an action program that we know will make the transition to a post-carbon economy and society in the shortest possible time.  Now, I want to argue that it can be done if and only if we can have a climate justice movement united around this perspective.  

Suppose in September 2014, each one those who came to the People’s Climate March was educated in the root-causes for climate change and how our action program is designed to stop and reverse it (I am setting aside climate actions elsewhere in the U.S. and the world).  Further assume, that everyone who came to the march would commit to educate, organize and mobilize a family member, friend, neighbor, coworker, fellow student, etc.,  as part of the climate justice movement.  Assume this process is repeated every six month—each person in our movement would recruit a new person over the course of the next six month.  Watch how the number of climate justice activists grow over time.

September 2014 300,000 participants in the People’s Climate March
March 2015 600,000 climate justice activists or active supporters
September 2015 1,200,000 climate justice activists or active supporters
March 2016 2,400,000 climate justice activists or active supporters
September 2016 4,800,000 climate justice activists or active supporters
March 2017 9,600,000 climate justice activists or active supporters
September 2017 19,200,000 climate justice activists or active supporters
March 2018 38,400,000 climate justice activists or active supporters

In four years and six months the climate justice movement can have close to 40 million activists or active supporters each of which understands the root-causes for climate chaos and how it is related to other planetary crisis, why our action program can address the root-causes of the crisis and shares the values needed for a post-carbon economy and society.  Needless to say, the climate justice movement would be able to stage massive street actions in all major cities of the United States every year or on occasions deemed necessary.  Similarly, the climate movement can demand that Congress and the President carry out its action program, including an emissions tax and if they refuse run and elect its own candidates who would comply. 

But why is it that this hypothetical exercise does not seem to match our experience. Why after the power shown in the People’s Climate March we are back to planning civil disobedience in May 2016.  The Northern California Climate Mobilization which I participate in mobilized by the most optimistic estimates about 3,000 people last November. The same number participated in our September 2014 rally.  Why did not we grow at least twice in size?

The truth is that educating, organizing and mobilizing broad array of people is much more difficult than organizing civil disobedience actions by of a “vanguard.” It is also much easier to lobby politicians than organize working people to take our own lives into our own hands.  Participatory democracy is much more difficult to bring about than representative democracy either of capitalist politicians or of some vanguard organization. 

Thus, I would be the first to admit that my hypothetical number above cannot be easily emulated in practice.  However, allow me to share a historical experience where my hypothetical example actually did come true in practice. It can be done! 
A little background is necessary.  

I was born three years before the 1953 CIA and M16 coup that overthrew the democratically elected liberal nationalist government of Mohammad Mosaddegh and reinstalled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran.  The Shah began a process of consolidation of his absolute power.  In 1957, CIA and Mossad helped organized the SAVAK, the much feared secret police that imprisoned, tortured and executed alleged political opponents.  When I was growing up it was considered dangerous to “talk politics” even in one’s own home.  

The repression drove radicalized youth to organize guerrilla movements (Fedayeen was a socialist group and Mujaheddin an Islamic one).  However, the regime was able to isolate, murder, arrest and torture and execute most of these courageous young people.  By early 1970s, it appeared that the Shah had effectively suppressed all opposition, oil prices had quadrupled, and his majesty declared Iran to be at the “gates of a great civilization.”

And, yet, by 1976 shantytowns in Tehran rioted and intellectuals began to raise their voices.  In February 1978, a million people demonstrated in the city of Tabriz shouting “Down with the Shah.”  By December 10 and 11, 1978 millions of Iranians took to the streets of key cities, including Tehran chanting “Down with the Shah.”   (One source claims 17 million people participated in those demonstration, see, Moin, Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah, p. 196).  At the time, Iran had an estimated population of 35 million. 

It is misleading that many historians of the Iranian 1979 revolution call it Islamic Revolution and focus their attention on Ayatollah Khomeini and his Islamic Republic regime which consolidated itself through massive repression, including arrest, torture and mass execution of its political opponents.  A people’s history of the 1979 revolution would focus on the organization and mobilization of Iranian working people.  Take, for example, underground organization of strikes committees in the key oil industry that staged a general strike in October 1978 that broke down the martial law and helped prepare for the departure of the Shah in January 1979 and the February 1979 revolution.   After February 1979 workers strike committees turned into workers councils. Peasants, oppressed nationalities, soldiers, and students and neighborhoods also organized their own councils.  The network of councils made it possible to form a government of the working people, for the working people and by the working people (for a discussion of why this movement failed see, Nayeri and Nasab, 2006) . 

Thus, although my hypothetical example above seem out of reach history tells us it can be done.  We just need to began to beleive in ourselves and give up illuions in the existing order. 

5. Summary conclusion
The climate justice movement is taking on an existential problem which is a key part of the planetary crisis caused by 250 years of anthropocentric industrial capitalism powered by fossil fuels.  A post-carbon economy and society will require a radical change in what and how much we produce, how er produce them, and a new culture of being instead of having. It requires a new way of relating to each other and to the rest of nature—instead of trying to dominate and control nature, including other people, we must live in harmony with them. 

None of these can be achieved through lobbying, civil disobedience or any vanguardist actions. Only mass education, organization and mobilization of working people in their millions can make the transition. 

It is high time for the climate justice movement to engage in a discussion of our action program and assumptions it is based upon and of how we can democratically and collectively work together to ensure life on Earth continue to thrive in all its beautiful manifestations. 

Alexander, Samuel. “Life in a ‘Degrowth’ Economy, and Why You Might Actually Enjoy It,” The Conversation, 2014.

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Friedman, Thomas L. “Paris Climate Accord Is a Big, Big Deal,” The New York Times, December 16, 2015. (republished in Our Place in the World asThomas L. Friedman: To Fight Climate Catastrophe Put a Price on Carbon.” 

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-------------------. “People’s Climate March Was a Huge Success; What to Do Next?” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. October 1, 2014. 
————————-. “The Climate Movement Should Demand: ‘Tax Greenhouse Gases Emissions With Subsidies for Low-Income People.’” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. June 26, 2015.
————————-. “After Paris: To Succeed the Climate Justice Movement Must Lead.” Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism. January 4, 2016.  

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 1.While this essay offers a sharp criticism of the Break Free from Fossil Fuels campaign, May 4-15, it is by no means meant to discourage participation in the planned actions and stands in solidarity with climate activists that participate in them.  The point of criticism is to urge all of us to discuss key questions raised in this essay that to my knowledge are not yet discussed in or climate justice movement as the whole. 
2. I am setting aside other ecological costs of fossil fuels such as oil spills, mounting top coal mining, or polluting of underground water sources by hydrofracturing for shale gas or oil as well as public health hazards from non-global warming effects such as smug, etc. 
3. In this essay, I use civil disobedience and non-violent direct action as synonymous.