Friday, August 5, 2011

Mothra at the Tar Sands Action

This blog began over two years ago as a vehicle to share and preserve photographs of the trees I saw dying all around me, and also as an archive for links to research and articles.  Since the decline of trees is so widespread and universal I initially concluded that it must be due to climate change, and so I set out to learn everything I could about global warming, a problem that had previously not overly concerned me.  Somehow even after seeing "An Inconvenient Truth" I still expected its manifestations to occur somewhere far away from my home in New Jersey, and probably not for at least a hundred years anyway.

Upon reading extensively on the topic because of the trees however, I discovered to my horror that catastrophic violent repercussions are inevitable, in fact are already occurring at unlucky locations around the globe.  Indeed with rapidly accelerating amplifying feedbacks, the trees and just about every other species will likely be unable to adapt in time to survive, and will ultimately expire - the only remaining questions to be studied are when and how this will advance.  As an alarmed and despairing citizen the best I can do is to fight the Professional Deniers and Oblivious Ignorers, to try and buy time while more and more people recognize we are in a planetary emergency.  Nothing short of rationing fuel and perhaps other essentials that are being overexploited in an unsustainable and suicidal fashion will make a dent in the converging disasters on the horizon.

As if the prospect of civilization collapse and mass extinctions weren't devastating enough, I swiftly concluded from visual evidence that the most immediate and urgent damage being done to vegetation worldwide, including agricultural crops, is not from increasing temperatures and violent weather (yet) but is actually directly traceable to transcontinental air pollution, most likely tropospheric ozone - an invisible but well-known plant toxin.  I won't get any further into all that in this post - but here is a recent introduction if anyone needs one, and there is more on the "basic premise" link at the top of the blog.  Today I want to explore what form of activism is appropriate for achieving progress on both of those existential threats, climate change and pollution, which are of course the result of identical processes of burning fuel and industrial activity (although they are too rarely tackled together by the scientific and activist communities).
Magnolias are reblooming in August.  Allocating resources into reproduction is something trees do when they are dying, so here are a few pictures of a nearby tree's attempts to procreate, with its odd seed pod and injured leaves.
I heard earlier in the summer that there is a plan for a large civil disobedience during several weeks this month in Washington DC, specifically to influence Obama to reject a pipeline from the Canadian tar sands across America.  This was welcome news to me because my New Year's resolution back in January was to be arrested while protesting in some manner the continuing destruction of the ecosystem - and it is far preferable from the point of view of my timidity to do it as part of a planned group action with less likelihood of unpredictable jail time or a cracked head.  The organizers recommend planning on a minimum of three days for arrival, training, arrest and aftermath - so I happily signed up, and made reservations at a hotel for August 31, September 1 and 2.
The invitation to the Tar Sands Action requests that participants agree to conduct themselves according to the following criteria (red highlight added):

We will do it in dignified fashion, demonstrating that in this case we are the conservatives, and that our foes—who would change the composition of the atmosphere are dangerous radicals. Come dressed as if for a business meeting—this is, in fact, serious business.

And another sartorial tip—if you wore an Obama button during the 2008 campaign, why not wear it again? We very much still want to believe in the promise of that young Senator who told us that with his election the ‘rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet start to heal.’ We don’t understand what combination of bureaucratic obstinacy and insider dealing has derailed those efforts, but we remember his request that his supporters continue on after the election to pressure his government for change. We’ll do what we can.

And one more thing: we don’t just want college kids to be the participants in this fight. They’ve led the way so far on climate change—10,000 came to DC for the Powershift gathering earlier this spring. They’ve marched this month in West Virginia to protest mountaintop removal; a young man named Tim DeChristopher faces sentencing this summer in Utah for his creative protest.
Now it’s time for people who’ve spent their lives pouring carbon into the atmosphere to step up too, just as many of us did in earlier battles for civil rights or for peace. Most of us signing this letter are veterans of this work, and we think it’s past time for elders to behave like elders. One thing we don’t want is a smash up: if you can’t control your passions, this action is not for you.

A later message advised:
Appropriate clothes. We want our appearance to reflect the seriousness of the problems we're facing - for the demonstration, dress as you would for a serious meeting or other businesslike event.
Although I agreed to the above admonishments about attire and demeanor, the language bothered me in a sort of subliminal way.  My instinctive impulse is to be obedient and so I suspected I was being silly and petty...but finally out of curiosity I mentioned my hesitations to various fellow doomers with whom I regularly consult online.  I fully expected them to tell me to adhere to the wishes of the organizers, which would been a welcome outcome because I could have then put my quandary to rest - and was therefore quite surprised that they unanimously encouraged me to defy the restrictions.
This is no doubt because I have a history of resorting to drama to make a point.  After all, there is very little an insignificant person with few resources such as myself can do to influence the trajectory of corporate-dominated public policy, particularly because my concerns about ozone are about as welcomed by climate scientists and career foresters as they are by deniers.  Plus, being a doomer can get quite depressing.  It's important to have some fun along the way.  And so Wit's End has also been a chronicle of various escapades in my attempts to garner attention for a dangerously neglected topic.  Most recently I was tossed out of the Heartland Institute's conference where a cupcake was deemed objectionable - which I wore because climate change in baked in the cake.
Then there was the time I was evicted from the Pricing Carbon conference at Wesleyan University because I brought a taxidermy fox to the proceedings to go with an outlandish tree costume.
Most vociferously my virtual internet correspondents felt that the ever popular climate zombie  message would be effective, since it was sufficiently annoying to David Koch that he specifically mentioned it in his long complaint published in the Weekly Standard (so far one of my finest achievements).
In truth I never like to miss an opportunity to hand out the Koch Bucks, which explains on the reverse just how corporate interests have derailed democracy and now own our government, all three branches, and a frightening portion of academia as well.
This reminiscing brought to mind the now-defunct antics of the Billionaires for Bush, whose refreshing snark is no less pertinent today.  Briefly, it will be instructive and entertaining to digress from the Tar Sands for a trip down memory lane with some photos and copy from their manifesto, which is still alive in the dim recesses of cyberspace history...because, why not?
For much of the 20th century, democratic notions like "opportunity for all" and "public services" dominated American public policy, seriously threatening the privileges of wealth all Billionaires depend on. Government taxed the rich, regulated corporations, protected the environment and the average person felt increasingly entitled to share in America's prosperity. Ordinary people were educated for free and over 50 media companies helped give them a balanced picture of what the government and corporations were up to. They were dark days.But we Billionaires fought back. We used our money to beat democracy at its own game. In the early 70s, we created think tanks like the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation. We paid scholars top dollar to come up with theories explaining why increasing our wealth was in everybody's interest, like our favorite, "trickle-down economics" — helping the rich get richer will eventually help the poor. Brilliant!
Next we found the right performer to sell our ideas — Ronald Reagan. One of our own General Electric employees, not a great deal going on upstairs, easily controllable, totally in our pocket, and charming with the masses. Perfect! Finally, we focused on buying up the media to ensure that Americans know and think only what we want them to.
We had a good run of it in the 80s. Unions were broken, industries deregulated, media relieved of the legal obligation to provide balanced news coverage, public services slashed and debt skyrocketed along with expenditures on our defence companies. Billionaires boomed!
But Reagan was a hard man to replace. We went a decade without a true champion. Then we found George W. George is more than the perfect puppet Reagan was; he's truly one of us. We don't have to convince him of the benefits of helping out the rich and powerful - he's known them all his life.
Billionaires bought him the education his brains couldn't — Andover, Yale, Harvard — then bailed out his failed business ventures, and paid his way into politics. As a result, George is as dedicated to realising our vision for America as we are! But like Reagan, he's got a common touch. Democracy, baby — play the game!
George has done a fantastic job so far. And he's set things up nicely for the long-term, carefully appointing Billionaire-friendly judges to the bench, redrawing congressional district boundaries to favor our boys the Republicans, and even letting our companies count the votes at election time!
In fact, we think we're only one Presidency away from winning our long battle to ensure that America will always be a place where corporations come first, where no billionaire is left behind, where social services are a freak of history. In the end, the public is convinced that this is the best way to run the country, because we own the ideas, we own the media, and best of all, we own the politicians!

Truer words were never spoken, and I have always felt that the brutal sarcasm they exemplify is far more effective communication in many ways than more soberly restrained analysis...

Anyway all the discussion caused me to reconsider my reluctance as not being as trivial as I had assumed, and warranting further exploration.  I understand the rationale that Fox news will seize any chance to marginalize the protest, and of course I agree a "smash up" is to be discouraged - but that hardly equates to dictating individual garb.  (As an aside it strikes me as ironic that  Tim DeChristopher's "creative" protest is mentioned approvingly when it hardly meets the requisite standards.)

So my objections at the moment boil down to two.  First, it is fundamentally discriminatory.  The proscription is there to wear "serious, business" attire.  But exactly what businesses are included?  If you're a lifeguard you work in a bathing suit, if you're a farmer you are in overalls and a battered straw hat, if you are in the circus you might wear a clown suit and if you are a ballerina you would be clad in a tutu.  Even famous research scientists at universities tend to wear worn-out jeans and t-shirts, I've seen them!  So unless I'm mistaken, by business we are meant to take it they are talking about WALL STREET and K STREET business suits.  And that's just inherently wrong, because it implies that those are the "serious" businesses and everybody else that works with dirt or ideas or animals as opposed to primarily money is somehow less "serious" by which I infer means, important and respectable and powerful.

That brings me to the second and more profound level on which I find it unacceptable.  Restricting protest to a homogenous approach based on regulation and legislation has been ineffective.  Playing by their terms has been a failed strategy, which has doomed the earth to a dangerously destabilized climate, and Obama to ignominy.  I don't object to civil disobedience to stop the pipeline.  But to deliberately exclude other, supportive gestures seems to me to be both wrong on moral grounds, and self-defeating.  It fractures the movement and discourages involvement.

If we aren't demanding "system change not climate change" which the young demonstrators chanted at Copenhagen, then we are wasting our time.  Why should protestors be restricted from demanding more than stopping one pipeline?  Is it just an exercise to make ourselves feel good...or to enhance the prestige of the organizers?  Or are we really trying to make the essential changes towards sustainability that would include reducing the exponential growth of the human population, which is creating a terminal strain on the resources of earth.  The capitalist system as it is practiced is fatally flawed, because free markets will never protect the commons, and endless growth on a finite earth is impossible.

So finally I see this comes full circle to the same dispute that has gotten me ridiculed on climate blogs too many times to count.  The scientists aren't being sufficiently dire in their cautious predictions, and the activists aren't being realistic about the extent to which consumption patterns must be scaled back and people must sacrifice if any semblance of civilization is to survive.  It isn't enough to stop the tar sands pipe.  We have to change everything.  The two flyers I distributed - at the Wesleyan conference, and at the Heartland, linked to earlier - describe the total inadequacy of current climate strategy to address the magnitude of the problem.  It's not going to be solved because we wear nice suits and meekly plead for cooperation.  That's like begging Mothra to save  us.  It's a fantasy!

It's just pandering to the same crowd and culture that brought us to this precipice, an imminent  great convulsion, in the first place!

Did anybody tell the people in Tahrir Square that only suits were welcome to the protest?  No - and their message wasn't, please, please, we'll negotiate politely on your terms for what we want.  They said, we're going to kick your asses out of office and overthrow the government if you don't stop the bullshit.
So yeah, I'm thinking I will wear a Mothra costume for the Tar Sands Action - because I do mean business.  Something along these lines...

Here's the charming song I will have in my head as I flutter down to Washington DC:

Look, even Al Gore - not known as a hotheaded radical - thinks we need a Tahrir Square in America!

Following is one of the online responses to my query - from Climate Connections:

Good points you make. Goodness knows, passion has no place in a protest (?!?). And if they are going to go back and use history to justify their lack of passion, I think they should take another look at the abolitionist movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the Anarchist and workers’ movements of the early 20th century, I could go on… These were all highly passionate (to say the least!). They used many different tools and tactics to achieve their goals, including civil (and uncivil) disobedience. I don’t think we’re going to get where we want to go if we only act “respectably.” And if people are going to bring their “Obama buttons” to the protest, I hope they throw them back over the fence as the Vietnam Veterans Against the War did with their medals in protest of the devastation that war caused. And as one who is proud to wear the moniker of “radical” I will remind us all that “radical” means to get to the root (of the problem)–in which case, you could hardly call the people polluting the climate “radicals.”


  1. Madness and passion and theater must keep a tenuous connection to rationality. (minimal) Yours is a brilliant reason to wear a cupcake outfit. Like there is a reason for a Jack-in-the-Box puppet in the fast food line, or a yellow clown, or a big eyed animal on the cereal box. We are connecting and delivering a message.

    Wearing a suit, being boring- LOOKING BORING - guarantees invisibility and assures defeat.

    I have taken to watching a mad man on YouTube - Kevin Blanch
    He puts stuff out almost every day.
    Not many views... but I like the passion

    More musical... I think Hendrix expressed the horrific beauty of the machine... the machine gun Beautiful and dark power during the insanity of the VietNam war. What was crazier back then - tunnel jungle warfare with napalm, or wild action and music in the streets?

    What is crazier? - Now we have an enemy that is our climate - slow hot weather will kill us all, and the allies of this enemy are the men in suits and plundering corporations trying to sell more carbon. What is crazy about this situation ??

    We are crazy with the heat.

  2. I don't entirely agree. At least in the UK, protests which have included obviously middle-class educated people -- at least in their dress -- really shocked the Powers that Be. The people marching weren't just having a day out in London, or hoody-wearing anarchists, or in fancy dress to play to the media. They were serious about the issue(s), and showing up as they would in their own real lives.

    I'd ditch high heels, however! You never know when you might have to run...


  3. Somewhere I saw a commenter use the word 'Villianaires' to describe people like the Koch Brothers.

    There's only a thousand of them.

  4. Yeah. But they have legions of stupid, venal minions to do their bidding.

    Serinde...I think the number of people who protest is probably more important than what they are wearing, so it seems like a poor idea to actively discourage a segment of supporters from participating.

    Also, the UK and European style is much more theatrical than the US generally, where more people are stodgy and conformist (look at all the creationists!) So it's almost the reverse. In England when people see costumes, they go, ho hum. In this country it's more unusual.

  5. Fair enough!


  6. Good point about the heels though...


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