The Unsuitablog

Exposing Ethical Hypocrites Everywhere!

350.org say “Hello Business, Goodbye Grassroots”

Posted by keith on February 14th, 2011

For a while it wasn’t certain which side would blink first: the grassroots or the corporate loving heirarchy. Turns out that the grassroots blinked before the heirarchy had even been established. When, like 350.org you have a full time staff of just half a dozen people then you have a pretty easy decision where your loyalties lie: they claim to have tens of thousands of grassroots supporters doing hundreds of, albeit, symbolic activities across the world; they crow about this an awful lot:

World’s Biggest Day of Climate Action Unites 7,000 rallies in 188 Countries

Washington, DC – Just weeks before elections in the United States and climate talks at the United Nations, citizens from Afghanistan to West Virginia joined 350.org’s “10/10/10 Global Work Party” to issue a unified demand that politicians stop dragging their feet and get to work on climate solutions.

Leading by example, citizens in 188 countries joined more than 7,000 climate “work parties” over the weekend to get to work installing solar panels, weatherizing homes, planting trees, and then calling politicians to ask a simple question, “We’re getting to work, what about you?”

That should convince 350.org to stay with the grassroots and capitalise on the momentum they are building.

But then, on 28 January 2011, this happened:

A letter to business-people around the world:

Dear friends and colleagues:

We’re writing to invite you to participate in something amazing — and something a bit untraditional: get your company involved with 350.org.

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you care about making your business green — maybe you’re taking steps to reduce your company’s carbon footprint, or have been educating your colleagues about the environment.Perhaps you started a recycling program at your office, or are building awareness-raising into your product-line. Worthy initiatives, all — and it strikes us that now is the time to join our individual efforts together, to knit together our isolated work into a bigger picture.

That’s where 350.org comes in — it has potential to engage your staff and customers, to complement what you’re already doing by knitting local projects to a global movement. How you participate is largely up to you: maybe your employees could plant 350 trees, or collect 350 bags of trash. Maybe you can put information about what 350 means for climate change on your next green product (like Camelbak). Perhaps you can sponsor an existing local 350 event, put a “Business For 350″ poster in your store-front or a similar badge on your website, or host a mini-rally (with your logo on the banner) like the staff of Keen footwear. The possibilities are endless — this is marketing, which we’re supposed to be good at.

Blinking doesn’t even approach what this is – it’s something more like foot-licking and forelock-tugging. If 350.org wanted to tear a rift between themselves and the grassroots supporters that sustain their efforts and, more importantly it seems, keep their public image flashing across the globe by virtue of sheer numbers, then they could have done no better than appeal to that ethereal entity called “business”.

This is the view of another commentator and activist, Lorna Salzman:

This appeal by 350.org to the business community defines the words “craven” and “capitulation”.

First, assign your first grade students some simple tasks. Make them feel good about it. Pin a medal on them for good citizenship. Announce to the world that you have formed a partnership with business to clean things up a bit (caution: do not mention the fact that business bears the biggest blame for climate change by promoting economic growth and overconsumption since your pupils will have to clean up the mess all by themselves).

Then after your pupils pin a medal on you for not giving them too much homework or anything that would take too much time or money, touch them all up for contributions to your toothless empty campaign that cares more about protecting its Brand (350: The Fun Way to Save the World) than about protecting humanity and the earth. Invite them to a Power Breakfast to thank them for their support.

Take advantage of the “power” image of your Fearless Leader by insuring that his bland content-less message continues to be heard and absorbed by the public loudly enough that other voices with real solutions are drowned out and characterized as cranky contrarians or seething hypercritical activists who resent your Fearless Leader’s rise to fame.

It’s hard to see the move by 350.org as anything less than a volte-face, at least on the surface; but what is the motivation behind such a bizarre move? Why would 350.org want to alienate their grass-roots membership?

If we look at the history of the organization, then the question of funding comes to the fore. 350.org was started using seed money from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Bill McKibben is quite open about this, as he has said in the past; believing them to be sincere and good allies in the fight against global warming. He sees RBF as among the most dedicated funders to action and as such will not have a word said against them.

So Bill sees no conflict between taking money from RBF and trying to hold back the system from which the money originated. And I’m inclined to agree to some extent with his line of reasoning, so long as it stops there. But it doesn’t. 350.org, as I have said elsewhere, is a group that carry out predominantly symbolic, politically-based activities which makes them no more than a bit player in the battle against the forces that are killing the global ecosystem. It seems that if 350.org really wanted to be effective then they would never have followed the likes of WWF, Corporation Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy down the business path.

The logic goes like this:

1) 350.org are set up with the aim of bringing carbon dioxide levels down to 350 parts per million.
2) Climate science dictates that 350 ppm is insufficient to prevent runaway global warming.
3) 350.org refuses to sign the more radical Cochabamba Agreement, calling for a figure of 300 ppm; sticks to its guns.
4) Campaigns focus on working with the system rather than undermining it, further confirming that the 350 ppm figure is influenced by the desire to maintain the status quo.
5) 350.org leadership realise that there is little conflict between calling for 350 ppm figure and working with business, especially as their actions remain symbolic and have no chance of even hitting 350 ppm.

There is also another reason that 350.org feel comfortable working with business, and it’s very much down to the beliefs of the person that 350.org actually is: Bill McKibben. In correspondance, Bill has stated that he is a Christian and takes seriously the idea that people can repent and change – and that people who repent should occupy some of his time.

Quite how a business can “repent” is beyond me and anyone who understands the nature of religious belief. Repent is a completely inappropriate word with reference to a faceless business that exists solely to make money from the exploitation of people and the wider environment. Yet Bill clearly extrapolates the facility to repent to such non-human entities, otherwise 350.org would not countenance working with businesses at all. The fact that Bill McKibben has moved from being a writer and activist, to a writer and high-profile public persona, has distorted his vision for 350.org. The fact that his personal philosophy, as reflected in his book “Eaarth” is one of coping with change instead of undermining the systems that are causing the change (we need to do both) – a philosophy he shares with the increasingly eccentric James Lovelock – has allowed him to embrace the system he should be focussed on taking apart.

The next stage is inevitable: 350.org will become just another mainstream environmental organization, shedding a host of grassroots supporters in favour of a host of PR hungry businesses and sycophantic enviro-celebs.

In my view this is a good thing. Those thousands of people who have been led to believe that forming absurd shapes out of their bodies on beaches and writing fawning letters to politicians have a chance to get out of the symbolic game, and they should do so as fast as possible. Grassroots is not about being told how to make a difference; it is about going out and deciding for yourself how to make a difference.

10 Responses to “350.org say “Hello Business, Goodbye Grassroots””

  1. Tim Says:

    You make some good points here. I very much appreciate your critical views on the movement, particularly in the last paragraph. However, I am curious about what is the ultimate goal of your criticisms: to undermine 350 as a movement, or to change the world? Though I know you are interested in the latter, the former bleeds through too much as an end in itself. But 350 is just one of many valid ways to achieve the latter.

    Your vendetta against business and also Bill come through a bit too strongly. Specifically, you utterly misread the 350 appeal to business by hammering their letter through your belief systems about professional environmentalism and the way change is made. They are just appealing to businesses to use the 350 idea internally, not for the businesses to give 350 funding. Lose the conspiratorial flavor and your posts will be much more valuable.

    I’m interested in what your positive solutions for making a difference are and I think that your energy would be much more wisely spent in this direction rather than criticizing people for doing what they think are great things. The 350 movement has raised awareness massively, which is one of the things it set up to do.

    Yeah that’s not enough, and yeah it’s lame to continuously appeal to politicians who are just pawns to the industrial system, but these angles are much more conceptually interesting and practically important than trying to defame individuals or movements that ultimately share your common goal of making massive positive change as quickly as possible. In short, how can The Unsuitablog be inspiring, positive, and constructive rather than conspiratorial, counterproductively critical, and negative?

  2. We can Stop the Global Elite – We can Win! – By Naomi Klein & Bill Mc Kibben (350.org Funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, the Very Elites He’s Trying to Bring Down? Really?) | Sovereign Independent Says:

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  6. Ross Says:

    What garbage!!!! Just who is behind this web site – big Oil / Coal?

    Sheesh give us break!

  7. keith Says:

    Interesting accusation, Ross. I’m behind this website – search me.

    Interesting because whenever someone attacks the environmental mainstream there are always statements to the effect that the mainstream cannot possibly be deluded in its constant pursuit of change through symbolism and attachment with the industrial status quo, and it must be some kind of industry-led attack. The irony is that the environmental mainstream are far closer to industry than non-symbolic environmental activists are to the environmental mainstream. By all means jump the gap, Ross, but you’ll have to break the cords attaching yourself to the industrial mindset first.

  8. keith Says:

    It’s a balancing act between positive and negative, Tim, but what is critical here is what you perceive as “negative” and “positive”. If we see them as different things then perhaps this is not the place for you…yet.

    “Vendetta” is the right word for my attacks on business, and that will continue – given that commerce is what drives destruction then it can never be too strong. I don’t have a vendetta against Bill, as such, more a constant knawing frustration and genuine anger at how he is portrayed (often by himself) as some kind of messianic figurehead for the environmental movement, when in fact there is no “movement” and there can be no messiahs; and even if there were, Bill would be poorly qualified to lead given his determination to maintain industrial civilization.

    K.

  9. dvd Says:

    Tim,

    You challenge the Unsuitablog to make a ‘positive contribution’ rather than negatively criticise 350.org. If you look at the content of the site you will find many articles on how to take real constructive action that go beyond symbolic action – for example, the monthly undermining tasks and the guides to exposing greenwash. Perhaps you haven’t had a look around yet before saying that the Unsuitablog isn’t constructive; I suggest you take a good look.

    As Keith suggests, the positive and negative are relative to one’s own viewpoint. To supporters of 350 positive may be a day of action, a march or a petition – to others though that’s actually negative as those actions are not effective to the extent that is required. The effective actions that are proposed instead are then denounced by the mainstream as either too negative or idealistic in turn, despite from our viewpoint 350′s positive actions being the idealistic ones for not being able to achieve what is proclaimed they can.

    The trouble with the positive/negative or optimistic/pessimistic dichotomy is that quite often what is offered as ‘positives’ are very often impossible or very unlikely, making fantasy perhaps a better term for them. I get portrayed as negative or a pessimist by saying as such, despite a better term for that being realism.

    I think that underminers are actually optimistic realists – people who understand the true nature of the problem we face and focus their actions on what will make a difference – as opposed to the hyper-optimistic fantasists becoming prolific in the mainstream of environmental campaigners in the form of groups like 350.

    So in future when reading material from underminers, Tim et al, bare in mind that our goal is to take real constructive action – it’s just that we think that what groups like 350 are doing just aren’t effective and need to be labelled as such.

    @Ross – you really think this website is backed by big oil/coal? It would only take a minute of looking through its contents to see that this is patently incorrect. Interesting to see the raw knee-jerk response to debate and criticism in the ‘movement’ though – all naysayers are from the Man! We are the chosen ones! All who oppose us oppose the Environment(TM)! Just don’t mention that what 350 is doing isn’t really challenging big oil&coal much at all…

  10. dvd Says:

    P.s. I’ll probably be writing an article on the issue of positive/negative vs. fantasist/realist soon, will link when it’s done.

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