From Dark Mountain Issue 17
The Blade of Wheat at
the End of the World
SELECTED ARTICLES FROM
Click on a title to jump to the article.
A Global Climate Insurgency
After years of fraught negotiations, we have a climate accord. Just getting 195 countries with different, sometimes conflicting, interests to agree was a miracle of sorts. The document breaks new ground by aiming to hold the average temperature rise below 2C, to 1.5C, and reaching carbon neutrality by the "second half of the century." The road map for how to get there is less clear. The INDCs are not binding, relying upon peer pressure at periodic reviews to curtail carbon emissions even further than current pledges, which would take us down to 3.5C, still well beyond the threshold of climate catastrophe. The current pledges do not go into effect
until 2020, although there will be an opportunity for revising upward in 2018, with the first review in 2023. This is not tough enough or fast enough.
In a recent post at Common Dreams, Jeremy Brecher, a labor historian, noted that the governments of the world accepted no accountability in Paris; rather, they only went on record with a stronger common goal. Because they, and to some degree the U.N., are accountable to the vested interests which put them in power, it is up to the people to stand up and force them to be "accountable to the world’s real owners," the people. In "A Non-Violent Insurgency for Climate Protection" (http://fpif.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/A-Nonviolent-Insurgency-for-Climate-Protection-Foreign-Policy-In-Focus.pdf), Brecher argues that there is legal ground for the people to rise up in multiple acts of civil disobedience to force governments, who are trustees guarding the air, oceans, forests, and potable water, to abide by the laws that safeguard these critically endangered commons in a "global law-enforcing climate insurgency." The foundation for this is called in the US the public trust doctrine, which is based upon the Justinian code of 535 A.D., naming certain areas as res communes, "common things" that are not held by the state; hence the beleaguered notion of the commons. As Brecher puts it eloquently, "The governments of the world may rule the world, but they don’t run the world—that is the common property of humanity."
Fortunately, to defend that common property, an independent climate protection movement has emerged. Brecher dates the start of the movement to the mass International Day of Climate Action in 2009, the most widespread political action day in planetary history. This has grown in recent years into the Blockadia movement, expertly documented by Naomi Klein. Increasingly, these actions are designed as civil disobedience aimed at enforcing fundamental legal and constitutional principles that are being flouted by the authorities they are disobeying. By calling these abuses into question, they are performing their legal duty, planetary citizens mounting what legal scholar James Gray Pope calls a "constitutional insurgency." This insurgency aims to transform the world order, which Brecher argues is more attainable than challenging individual nation-states, and has in fact happened more than once in our lifetimes. Crucially, Brecher notes that the current world order, which protects the global corporations, especially Big Fossils, is "illegitimate but mutable."
As law-enforcing or constitutional insurgents, activists are invoking the necessity defense, which was unexpectedly successful in the case of Friend Jay O’Hara, when he and Ken Ward blocked a coal vessel at Brayton Point, MA with his lobster boat. Defendants who recently blocked an oil train in Washington state are mounting the same defense. We shall see what the court’s response will be. Even if the courts don’t accept their arguments, these actions can "redefine what climate action is all about." If legal actions continue to fail, Brecher envisions civil society tribunals chaired by senior retired judges and other respected figures calling expert witnesses with publicly acknowledged credentials. It’s all about civil society moving into the black hole of accountability which the current world order lacks. We are part of that civil society, Friends, and, as EQAT has shown, carefully strategized and discerned actions can affect the mutable world order.
Since governments serve as trustees of the commons, environmental lawyers are working to utilize trust law to enforce the people’s rights to enjoying the benefits of these commons. It may seem far-fetched— one environmental lawyer calls these kinds of challenges "hail Mary passes" —but successful use of trust law could require fossil fuel companies to pay damages for the colossal waste committed against the public trust. Fair damages would pay most of what is required to transition to a zero-carbon economy and build the global Green Fund to help poor nations adapt to climate change.
Governments of the world need to be made accountable to the world’s real owners. Yes, Jeremy Brecher, according to the Justinian code. But nobody owns the world, as the indigenous peoples will tell us. Ultimately, the world is God’s, and the building climate insurgency is about the people rising up to return the Commons to Her. Or if you prefer, to Gaia, the evolutionary miracle which brought this perfectly-placed third rock to superabundant life. Earth stewardship in these critical times means joining the insurgency to defend Gaia, with whatever gifts we have.
Mutual Aid & Local Food Sufficiency
in the Era of COVID-19
STMA brings together members of Celo Community, Celo Friends Meeting, and “Greater Celo,” a group of like-minded folks. Prior to the current crisis, our main activity has been work parties, which have been extensive and mostly successful. STMA has three sub-groups, the largest of which is a food sovereignty group.Inspired by the self-sufficiency of hardscrabble mountain families, Celo Community leaders experimented with cooperative farming. The first Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA), where consumers buy a season-long subscription for a farm’s produce, in our county began in Celo Community in the early Nineties. I now garden with five families on that land, certified organic before we inherited it. Three CSAs now serve the Valley, and market in Asheville.
Two years ago, a group of us petitioned Celo Community for permission to plant a permaculture orchard and berry patch in an underused field.
Our idea was to provide more food security for a future made uncertain by the climate crisis. The one- and a half-acre plot (with room to expand as needed) is designed as a demonstration site, augmented by a nursery area across the river on another area of cultivation in Celo Community. Four members of Celo Meeting are part of both the mutual aid effort and the Miles Food Forest, supplemented by three other members of CCI and a cast of young volunteers from Greater Celo.
With the advent of Covid-19, we are quickly repurposing the greenhouse nursery area to growing medicinal plants with anti-viral capabilities. This resource combines with our incredibly mushroom-rich forests and Mountain Gardens, the principal source on the East Coast for Chinese medicinals, to provide materials for local master natural pharmacists to create antiviral tinctures. These folks work with a gifted acupuncturist, trained in Chinese medicine. Every one of these groups has been engaged in preparing for a future that we knew was coming. With the novel coronavirus, that future has arrived, and these groups have quickly joined in a more active network for which the ground was being laid for decades.
This spring, during the week right after the coronavirus began to take hold, I participated in two workdays which were outgrowths of this collaborative network. The first was a compost-building demonstration, attended by the usual partnership of septuagenarians and thirty-somethings whose product was destined for the Miles Food Forest nursery.
The second work party was at the orchard site, where we have already planted pecans, walnuts, mulberries, blueberries, and raspberries. We planted 18 young paw-paw trees (native to this area, cultivated by the Cherokee) donated by a master gardener in Celo Community. These were supplemented with mulberries provided by the youngest member of Celo Community, the Miles Food Forest, and Celo Friends Meeting. It is noteworthy that this young man, Matt Riley, was the key voice at the conclusion of the 2016 FWCC World Plenary Meeting, passionately redirecting the body to try one more time to achieve unity on the Pisac (Peru) Call to Sustainability. The clerk had just tried to close the conference, apologizing that there was insufficient time for this document, which many of us present felt was the most important item of the week-long agenda.
We are gifted here in Celo not only with a rich diversity of forest resources, but with a strong tradition of human expertise, consensus-based community, and leadership qualities that Celo Community founder and Friend Arthur Morgan, Matt Riley, and many others have demonstrated. I am humbly grateful to live here.
Bob is a charter member of STMA and the Miles Food Forest, and a member of Celo Community and Celo Meeting. He is the outgoing Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting (SAYMA) Representative to QEW and the rising clerk of SAYMA.
South Toe Mutual Aid is an organization of people in the South Toe/Celo, North Carolina area who are collaborating in a variety of activities with intent to strengthen our community’s capacity to meet our resource needs for overall well-being. As a hub of Co-operate WNC, a regional mutual aid effort, South Toe Mutual Aid (STMA) is focused on creating the organizational structures and skill/resource-sharing strategies necessary for our community to support each other going into an uncertain future.
SHOCK AND AWE
FROM MY PERSPECTIVE as a climate journalist and activist, the ascension of an outright climate denialist as the President, with cabinet choices of a half-dozen more, completes the campaign of disinformation mounted by the fossil fuel industry, aided and abetted by virtually the entire Republican Party. The rest of the world stands in absolute disbelief that the world’s leading power, with a strong postwar history of helping the recovery of defeated nations and development of the Third World, has turned its back on the future of civilized order on this planet.
The tragic irony is that this is occurring after a reluctant U.S. finally was party to a successful climate accord in Paris in December 2015, the culmination of decades of agonizing diplomacy. Trump appears to be preparing the way for pulling out of the Paris Accord. Legal experts point out that doing so formally would require almost an entire presidential term. But prominent among the executive orders from his Gatling-pen is a wholesale attack on government scientists, with gag orders issued for all agencies. His leaked memo about dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency may simply be rumination, but he has fulfilled virtually every promise, a feat even the best of politicians could not match. The U.S. has the best tools for data collection and analysis in the world (NOAA, NASA, DOE, EPA), and these tools are being mothballed by executive order. As one government scientist put it with respect to climate data, “We are flying blind.”
So what can we do? The purpose of shock and awe is to make such a gargantuan show of force that the opposition is overwhelmed and collapses. That has not happened, and I don’t think it will. The Women’s March was one of the largest marches ever, with simultaneous marches all over the country, in Canada, and abroad. The attenders I talked to said they were so crammed that marching was not possible; everyone was smushed together, inching along, or marching in place. The overall estimate of three to four million marchers across the country definitely sends a message. But the Trump Resistance involves much more than a one-off day of marching.
Before the election, a retired pacifist Baptist preacher, Mahan Siler, wrote an op-ed for the Asheville Citizen-Times, inviting readers to join his passion: working for social and ecological justice. One person responded. After the election, dozens have joined Mahan and Steve Kagan, the founding pair of Elders Fierce for Justice, now deep into strategizing a series of actions joining elders and Millennials. Some of these actions will involve civil disobedience. After taking my cues from 350.org for many years, I now plan to join this vibrant regional group as they move from planning into action. I was with Mahan in the 2013 March for Our Grandchildren, which went from Camp David to the White House over nine days. At 77, he was the oldest member of the group, and his granddaughter Leigh (11), the youngest. At the rally’s finale in Lincoln Park, Mahan was the most eloquent speaker, orchestrating a rainbow bridge of those over 65 with the youngest marchers to create a visual icon of the most important political alliance of our day, between Boomers and Millennials. He called this symbolic bridge the real Keystone, urging us to “take the word back.”
The surge of activism that I observe all around me contains more newbies than veterans. Here in my North Carolina conservative mountain county, many collaborative, overlapping groups have sprung up. I am a co-sponsor of Surviving Climate Change, one of the largest. We focus on making a strong, highly-networked community even more resilient. But as one person said at our first meeting, we still need to work on ways to not only adapt, but mitigate the problem, which means getting rid of Trump and his anti-environmental agenda.
The most focused response to the Trump Coup has come from Indivisible Yancey-Mitchell, with groups in Burnsville, South Toe, and Spruce Pine. Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda is a sophisticated, highly organized plan for emulating the Tea Party strategy that emerged out of revulsion to Obama’s election. Congressional staffers who understand how things work in Washington wrote it, with the whole strategy focused upon pressuring Members of Congress in every possible district as relentlessly as possible, especially at publicized events like town halls. On the Indivisible site map, I note eight to ten Indivisible pods across Western North Carolina. Senators Burr and Tillis and Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows, our slick congressman, held no town hall meetings during the recent recess, and our local group is pressuring them to change. Meanwhile, a Republican congressman from Alabama commented that his constituents are putting up such a fight on repealing the Affordable Care Act that he doesn’t think a wholesale repeal is politically possible.
The faithful opposition has already won the first court challenge to Trump’s initial “Muslim Ban.” The fact that it was a unanimous ruling indicates that the courts may be our bulwark against fascism, with the federal system of checks and balances eking out the survival of our system of government, albeit grievously damaged.
But our biggest legal avenue will be to push the limits of freedom of assembly, crossing the line into trespass and blockage of egress to provoke arrest and a day in court to publicize our cause. Many people I have talked to in this new year, rent by its disruptive politics, have said that they expect they will be going to jail before the year is out. I expect to be among them. Potential targets of these actions are manifold, increasing with every new round from Trump’s pen: federal lands on the giveaway list, Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines, the Marcellus terminus pipeline heading down the Atlantic Coast, not to mention immigrant detention centers, abortion clinics, banks who fund Big Fossil–name your cause. We need to quickly train a non-violent militia to be deployed widely, ready to stand up to what could devolve into a police state.
As events are moving swiftly, panic beckons. But we each need to take the necessary time to discern our priorities, our role in what could become a confused patchwork of actions, rather than a coordinated campaign. These are indeed trying times, but perhaps we are made for these times.
Bob is a Quaker who trains, teaches, and writes at the intersection of ecology and spirituality. He is a steering committee member of North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light and the ecojustice committee of the North Carolina Council of Churches. He lives on a land trust in Southern Appalachia.