350.org/1Sky:The Thinking Person’s Nightmare
April 11, 2011
by Lorna Salzman
Two items appeared on my screen a few days ago. The first announced the merger of 350.org and 1 Sky, two mass movement organizations claiming to be dedicated to stopping climate change. The first was founded by writer Bill McKibben. The second was long an affiliate of the first so an official merger is no surprise, nor is their Rockefeller funding. Nor is it a surprise that this merger won’t make any significant difference to resolution of the climate change issue. 350.org already unveiled its philosophical alliance with big business, overtly admitting what it had already done: abandoned grassroots resistance in order to curry favor with corporate money and power. Rest in peace, 350.org; we never believed in you anyway.
While 1Sky has taken some official positions on what needs to be done, 350.org never did. My open letter to McKibben in the May 3rd issue of The Nation last year laid out what I and other rather more militant activists decried: the refusal of the organization to articulate specific policies, taxes, incentives, and legislation to bring about their objective of reducing atmospheric CO2 concentrations back down to 350 parts per million (they are now about 390 and growing). Of course one does not get corporate or foundation grants by espousing climate change solutions that rock the boat, hence the unfocused generalizations and political side-stepping characteristic of 350.org from the beginning.
For a short period McKibben and I exchanged emails, until he cut me off, with him defending the raising of public consciousness as the primary goal and dismissing the notion of political action and lobbying as essentially useless. Though McKibben is far from being a leftist, this position – throwing weight behind mass organizing, demonstrations and direct action – has long been an article of faith on the left. This is what suppressed the birth of an American Green Party for seventeen years and can be found routinely in leftist journals. It is the very old "movement vs. party" argument that the US Green Party underwent in the 1980s and which persists today on the left. Who comprises this movement and who makes policies are unanswered questions as are the definition of democracy, legitimacy and internal accountability. These fundamentals are very likely to be stumbling blocks to the mass movement envisioned by 350.org, if it ever can get off its duff and actually propose policies for the public to support. Meanwhile, they are on extended sabbatical from the fight.
Which brings me to the second related point: the accession of leftist journalist Naomi Klein to the board of 1 Sky. Her announcement of this explicitly rejects appeals to "the elites", that is, in Congress, in favor of mass organizing. So the leftist article of faith has now been officially incorporated into the pro-business doctrine of the new entity comprised of 350.org and 1 Sky. Some of her pronouncements are little more than rhetoric: attacking "stalling tactics like action plans that get serious only in 2020"…the losing strategy of "lobbying elites behind closed doors", followed by a determination to "build the kind of mass movement that politicians cannot afford to ignore". Unfortunately it is their electoral constituency that they cannot afford to ignore, but Klein and 350.org are pretending otherwise. A million-person march on Washington to demand a reduction down to 350.org translates into exactly nada unless those million people confront their elected officials in ways they cannot ignore. This is not now in the cards at 350.org‘s table, and even less so with corporate partners holding the aces.
Left unsaid here is a back story about the whole Democratic Party and its supposed liberal wing who supported ineffective and ill-advised energy legislation and the large, wealthy Washington-based groups who have pushed the grassroots groups out of the nest, monopolize foundation grants, and transfix the mass media into thinking they speak for the whole movement, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, who long ago abandoned their base constituency in order to curry favor with the elites Klein refers to. The other back story has been that the smaller and poorer groups have been crowded out but put up little resistance anyway. This became clear in the battle over cap and trade, where the Democrats seduced or bludgeoned many liberals into thinking this supremely capitalist tool had anything to do with reducing CO2 emissions. The opponents of cap and trade dithered too long and too late, as did McKibben himself, in exposing the real function and intent of cap and trade, which was to allow indefinite burning of coal so as to hamper energy efficiency, slow up a transition to renewables and make profits for brokers in the process.
How has it come about that the very thing that has allowed socially reactionary groups in this country to achieve notoriety has been adopted by groups purporting to oppose everything these retrogressive movements stand for? How has it become not only acceptable but praiseworthy to celebrate citizen apathy and civil disengagement from the political process? How has leftist cynicism been able to implant itself on middle of the road progressive movements, to the point where they can shamelessly boast about the inutility of involvement in politics and the reform of civil society institutions? And how can someone like Klein deplore the "deeply anti-democratic influence " of major polluters, while in effect telling the rest of us that we should abandon all avenues offering democratic participation and influence in favor of street theater and rallies?
There’s nothing like rejection of something you never tried.
Were these attitudes prevalent in the 1970s, it is likely that no environmental movement would have arisen. If one truly believes that governmental corruption is all-powerful to the point where one throws up one’s hands, only two stark choices remain: a stoic resignation to the forces of evil; or bomb throwing. Thus, 350.org/1Sky has literally gone on indefinite moral and intellectual vacation, where it will meet and commiserate with those on the left who can now say: See, we told you so; there is nothing else to do but rant and take to the streets. Thus, they are effectively shutting out the vast majority of people who long for strong principled leadership to push for political and electoral change.
The greens and left in this country have abandoned the climate change issue, not only for the above reasons but also because they have some peculiar and unsubstantiated notions about building coalitions of disparate interest groups to address comprehensive economic and political change. In this venture they will also meet head-on with other brick walls. But that’s another story for another time.
This just in:
Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben have just come out swinging and punching, calling for an invigorated mass movement of "bodies, passion, creativity"…..but to do what? They still won’t say.
What does this reluctance to announce an agenda mean? Does it mean they have none? Does it mean they are still figuring it out? Does it mean that they think that people shouting "stop global warming" is all we need? Or does it mean, as some of us think, that they are afraid to take strong positions commensurate with the threat out of fear of alienating their funders and the elites and the mass media?
Are they afraid to stand in front of us and say that we have to drastically and speedily reduce energy consumption across the board by raising prices through carbon taxes and an end to subsidies? Are they afraid to lead the mass movement they claim they have activated because they realize that reduced energy use on the scale required will profoundly affect the economy, changing the scale and purpose of production, jobs and consumption? In other words, are they afraid to look the capitalist growth society in the face, to say what they know full well must be done, and to do what is needed? Give us a clue, folks.
at 3:49 AM