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350.org: Right-ish Message, Wrong Method

Posted by keith on October 23rd, 2009

350.org

24 October 2009.

Remember that date, because in the future hundreds of thousands of people who took part in thousands of events worldwide will look back and say to themselves: “Why did I think that would do any good?”

Those thousands upon thousands of people are not the people I am blaming for thinking that by marching, letter writing, lobbying, petitioning and otherwise taking part in all sorts of conventional “actions” great changes would begin to take place. No, I have no problem with those people because, quite frankly, what else are they supposed to do? After all, the environmental groups, writers and high-profile campaigners that are regarded as the leaders of the “environmental movement” (sorry for all the quotes) told them that’s what they needed to do — and promised so much. To quote the website largely responsible for this most recent phenomenon:

To tackle climate change we need to move quickly, and we need to act in unison—and 2009 will be an absolutely crucial year. This December, world leaders will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark to craft a new global treaty on cutting emissions. The problem is, the treaty currently on the table doesn’t meet the severity of the climate crisis—it doesn’t pass the 350 test.

In order to unite the public, media, and our political leaders behind the 350 goal, we’re harnessing the power of the internet to coordinate a planetary day of action on October 24, 2009. We hope to have actions at hundreds of iconic places around the world – from the Taj Mahal to the Great Barrier Reef to your community – and clear message to world leaders: the solutions to climate change must be equitable, they must be grounded in science, and they must meet the scale of the crisis.

If an international grassroots movement holds our leaders accountable to the latest climate science, we can start the global transformation we so desperately need.

To take this at face value, it would be inconceivable to think that by taking thousands of photos and getting them into the media, these leaders (our leaders, we are told) would not make sufficient changes in policy to bring atmospheric carbon dioxide down to that critical figure of 350 parts per million. Why would you think any other way — these people told you it would be enough:

Bill McKibben
Rajendra Pachauri
Vandana Shiva
Abp. Desmond Tutu
Dr. James Hansen
Liz Thomson
Pres. Mohamed Nasheed
Bianca Jagger
David Suzuki
Van Jones
George Monbiot
Sheila Watt-Cloutier
Will Steger
Barbara Kingsolver
Hermann Scheer
Alex Steffen
Mathis Wackernagel
Colin Beavan
Dr. Karl-Henrik Robèrt
Homero Aridjis
Paul Loeb
Deepa Gupta
Ross Gelbspan
Keibo Oiwa
Claudio Angelo
Thomas Homer-Dixon
Bo Ekman
Bulu Imam

Well, perhaps not those precise words, for in the world of soundbites and voxpops, it’s very easy to get carried away and lend your name to something simply because it seems like a good thing to do.

“If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.”

That’s James Hansen, quoted on www.350.org. Where did he say that by taking photos and getting them on the agendas of political high-ups the problem would be consigned to history? It wouldn’t be too strong to suggest that some of these people have been duped by 350.org, and that the people behind the campaign are so deluded by their own concept of “action” that they couldn’t possibly imagine that anyone would think anything different.

I’m not making this up; here is an exchange from way back in May 2008, when the group was first set up, and I found their MySpace page:

From: Keith
Date: May 28, 2008 4:33 AM

Hi 350 (or rather sub-350)

Glad to see someone taking a realistic look at things. I wrote a short article recently on The Sietch, which you might like to look at, based around this subject:

http://www.blog.thesietch.org/2008/04/03/climate-stability-we-have-already-passed-the-
limit-time-to-go-in-reverse/


Keep up the good work, and if you have any radical (not symbolic) ideas for “things to do” then let me know.

keith@theearthblog.org

Best

Keith

Keith,

Thanks for the note. Something radical (not symbolic) that you can do is raise awareness in your community by holding a 350 event, and then make sure everybody calls their elected leaders asking them to push for legislation that has strong enough carbon cuts to get to 350 ppm.

Best,

Phil Aroneanu
350. org

At the time I had nearly completed writing my book, and had come to understand very clearly the huge gulf between the effectiveness of Symbolic and Non-Symbolic actions. Phil’s response demonstrated a level of delusion I had not come across since that realisation: he really thought that by holding an event and appealing to “elected leaders” the 100% cuts in industrial nations’ emissions necessary by 2030 (or earlier) would happen. He really did.

Dear Phil

I need to take this discussion off MySpace, as I think your response (see below) has doomed any chance of 350.org working, and you need to know this as soon as possible.

“Something radical (not symbolic) that you can do is raise awareness in your community by holding a 350 event, and then make sure everybody calls their elected leaders asking them to push for legislation that has strong enough carbon cuts to get to 350 ppm.”

Could you please explain in what way doing exactly the same thing that has repeatedly failed in the past to achieve even modest cuts in emissions is going to achieve the 100% cut required to return to 350ppm? Could you please explain how “holding a 350 event” is radical?

I really thought 350.org was the cusp of something different, yet you still are still trying to convince people that “their elected leaders” will do anything that turns its back on the existing consumer culture (a.k.a. Culture of Maximum Harm) — the very culture these “elected leaders” and the brainwashed public are convinced is the only way to live.

I wish you well with your campaign: I don’t want to say it will fail, but it will. If you want to know how to actually get the carbon levels down adequately then the non-technological, non-political, non-symbolic answers are out there — I have some of them, as do a number of other people who have been ostracised by the environmental mainstream: you only have to ask. Bill McKibben was *almost* there about three-quarters of the way through “The End of Nature” then he seemed to lose his nerve, and has deradicalised considerably in the last few years. The environmental movement has singularly failed to address the root cause of the problem, largely because the environmental movement is a big part of the problem.

Please read this quote from my book (www.amatterofscale.com) and then maybe you will start to understand:

—– Start of quote —–

So, go and protest, make some noise, wave some banners, sign a petition: just make sure you stay within the law. I mean it – protest of some form or another is permitted in most nations, but the severity and the type of protest allowed depends in the legislation that is in place; both standing legislation and the widely used “state of emergency” which, in fact is simply an extension of the existing laws. As the Zimbabweans ponder their electoral fate, the Mugabe regime has imposed “emergency” laws to prevent any form of gathering that may threaten the government. What the Mugabe regime knows only too well is that in Zimbabwe, as with many other African, South American and Asian states, protest often takes an entirely different form to the type of protest the people of the industrial West have become accustomed too. The Mugabe regime know that real protest is capable of overthrowing governments; whereas in the USA, for instance, it almost goes without saying that protest will lead to nothing more than a warm feeling in the hearts of those taking part:

One will find hundreds, sometimes thousands, assembled in an orderly fashion, listening to selected speakers calling for an end to this or that aspect of lethal state activity, carrying signs “demanding” the same thing.and – typically – the whole thing is quietly disbanded with exhortations to the assembled to “keep working” on the matter and to please sign a petition.

Throughout the whole charade it will be noticed that the state is represented by a uniformed police presence keeping a discreet distance and not interfering with the activities. And why should they? The organizers will have gone through “proper channels” to obtain permits. Surrounding the larger mass of demonstrators can be seen others.their function is to ensure the demonstrators remain “responsible,” not deviating from the state-sanctioned plan of protest.[i]

Laughable, isn’t it, that such a well controlled event – and this is the way every official rally I have ever been on works – should be considered a “protest” by the organisers? The laws in each country are tailored to suit the appetite of the population for change: a country full of people that want to fight for change needs to be kept tightly controlled; a country full of catatonic, drip-fed consumers can march all they like, be given a well-controlled soapbox on TV – and the voltage on the tasers can be turned right down.

That is, unless someone decides to break the law.

….

Every day, in all sorts of ways, we hand over the responsibility of our actions to other parties. We entrust religious leaders to act as proxy supreme beings, to give us blessings and pray for the delivery of our souls and, as is becoming more common, the protection of the natural environment. We entrust politicians to justly run districts, states, countries, the whole planet, on our behalf, and deliver whatever is in their jurisdiction from whatever evils we have asked them to deal with. We ask the heads of corporations to use profits wisely, to provide fair wages, allow union representation and listen to their staff and respond appropriately – we ask them not to destroy the planet. We ask environmental organisations to look after the planet on our behalf, to lobby fiercely and petition prudently, to give us a world worth living in.

We are guilty of a mass dereliction of responsibility.

When we vote we hope the politicians will do the right thing after they have been elected. When we buy a product from a company, we hope that company are acting in the best interests of everyone and every thing they impact. When we sign a petition, go on a protest march or write a letter, we hope that it will change things for the better. But it is never that simple.

Voters vote for different things: your hope that a politician will increase pollution controls will be running counter to the hope of another voter that pollution controls will be weakened. Your entrustment of a company that they will act ethically runs contrary to the basic needs of a shareholder in that same company, that demands an increase in profits, which requires poorer labour standards, increased use of natural resources, corner cutting and cost slashing across the board. Your petition or protest march may give you hope that something will change when in fact you have simply channelled your anger and concern into a symbolic action that threatens not a single media executive, company director or head of state. You innocently believed that right would out simply because you placed your demands on the wings of dear hope.

When we stop hoping for external assistance, when we stop hoping that the awful situation we’re in will somehow resolve itself, when we stop hoping the situation will somehow not get worse, then we are finally free – truly free – to honestly start working to thoroughly resolve it. When hope dies, action begins.[ii]

– ——————————————————————————

[i] Ward Churchill, “Pacifism As Pathology”, AK Press, 2007.

[ii] Derrick Jensen, “Endgame Volume I: The Problem Of Civilization”, Seven Stories Press, 2006.

—– End of quote —–

Your campaign seems to be based on the hope that something magical will change through holding “events” and lobbying politicians and corporations to change. This approach has pointedly failed for the last 40 years, and yet continues because it feels like something is being done, even while, all the time, the emissions keep going up. There is not one shred of evidence to suggest such an approach will ever work. The point is, emissions will keep going up all the time industrial civilization owns humanity.

I don’t expect you to understand, though, just as 99% of people brainwashed by this culture do not understand. The answers do not lie within the system, the answers lie within ourselves — people who may be addicted to the system but are still individuals who can decide to step out of the toxic river, and maybe knock out a few shopping malls, power plants and TV stations as they go.

Yours in desperate times

Keith Farnish
keith@theearthblog.org
www.theearthblog.org
www.sub350.org

He never did respond. I didn’t expect him too.

If you are planning to go to a 350.org event, then please go, but don’t go expecting the group’s aims to change anything: go with a view to helping people understand that only by rejecting the system that the group’s organisers are still pandering to, can the atmospheric carbon levels go below 350 parts per million. Either that, or the Earth will reject humanity.

.
.
EDIT: Have amended the title because, as we all know, even 350ppm isn’t low enough, and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for giving anyone a false sense of security.

9 Responses to “350.org: Right-ish Message, Wrong Method”

  1. Annie Youknowwho Says:

    Well, I am going to go to a 350. org event because i want to stand strong with other people who recognize the truly horrendous situation we are in, who are not in denial and doubt. I just want to be near them, and this is a way for me to do it. Whatever you say about 350.org, many of its big names and i’m sure many of its members are working really hard at the community level to make change, to reduce impacts as much as possible as quickly as possible, and to soften blows for the future.

  2. keith Says:

    Hi Annie

    I agree:

    “it’s very easy to get carried away and lend your name to something simply because it seems like a good thing to do.”

    “If you are planning to go to a 350.org event, then please go, but don’t go expecting the group’s aims to change anything: go with a view to helping people understand that only by rejecting the system that the group’s organisers are still pandering to, can the atmospheric carbon levels go below 350 parts per million.”

    Go and meet people, have a nice time, talk – all the things you would do at any gathering.

    K.

  3. keith Says:

    Food for thought here – 350.org haven’t even got the science right:

    350 is the wrong target: put the science first

  4. Phil Says:

    I said much the same back in 2007, in a blog post entitled “Hung up over the Wrong Numbers” (my apologies for the appalling wordplay).

    http://www.rebee.clara.net/blog/archives/2007/02/entry_90.html

    Phil

  5. Peter Says:

    Small efforts often lead to more efforts and sometimes greater efforts. And pretty soon, each of us is a part of the solution in our own way. And best of all, most of the time it’s fun.

    In the course of planning this climate action I have experienced the power of taking action – like a pebble falling in water, the ripples never stop reaching out.

  6. keith Says:

    I used to think that, Peter (I’d rather not call you “Hostelling”), and then I realised it wasn’t true at all – the system puts far too many things in the way, and stops the ripples in their tracks. If on the other hand you create a big splash, you might overtop the obstacles of civilization and even break them – open the floodgates and see what happens…

    BTW: What do you mean “the power of taking action”? What effect has it had?

  7. Auntiegrav Says:

    If they really wanted to make a difference with the “350″ demonstration and get the attention of our ‘leaders’, then the entire demonstration would be canceled at the last minute in exchange for everyone who was going to demonstrate to stay home and turn off everything in their house. If they REALLY want to make a dent in the power structure, they would all do it for 350 days.
    When the nuclear plants dump their excess energy into the cooling towers, it would be seen from the space station. Perhaps, the steam would even cloud the spy satellites for a short time.
    The drop in revenue is the only thing that gets Their attention. We just have to learn how to live, rather than just being corporations ourselves, as Doug Rushkoff points out in “Life, Inc.”

  8. Monthly Undermining Task, August 2010: Crash The Mainstream Environmentalists’ Party | 350.org « NGOWatch | the NGOs & conservation groups that are bargaining away our future. Says:

    [...] and the work they do which has come, in recent months, to define environmental symbolism. I have written about them before, but was moved to write again by the following email that purports to originate from the [...]

  9. GreenHearted Says:

    We keep trying to tell people that the most important number in 350 is that little ZERO at the end! I did an experiment at the Climate Change Learn-In we organized for the 2009 International Day of Action (yeah, sometimes learning can be considered an action). I asked attendees to get comfortable, close their eyes, and try to picture a world of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere…. The looks of confusion and consternation were almost comical. (Obviously, I did not have *my* eyes closed!).

    Then I asked them to try it again. This time, I encouraged them to picture a world of zero carbon, a world of no burning, a world of safe, clean, healthy, peaceful and equitable perpetual energy technologies like solar panels on roofs, wind turbines, tidal and wave energy (we live on an island), geothermal, solar thermal. I painted what Guy Dauncey calls “a compelling vision of a sustainable future” for them — and then I watched the light begin to dawn on their faces. “Ah, yes,” their smiles were saying, “now I see that we can do this. We can create a transformation that ends the Burning Age of Fossil Fuels and ushers us into the Golden Age of Solar and Other Perpetual Energies.”

    Okay, maybe they just smiled and nodded. But you get my point, right? If we don’t aim for what we need, how will we get what we need — which is zero carbon emissions (I’m so glad you edited your headline!).

    Thanks for listening.
    Julie Johnston
    GreenHeart Education
    Canada

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