Can Mass Civil Disobedience Save Our Planet?
A quiet revolution is taking place: it’s happening on the streets around us, why, it’s even being televised into our living rooms.
Last night, the UK’s main broadcaster aired “Climate Change: The Facts” during prime time TV. Starring the country’s “natural treasure” David Attenborough, the veteran broadcaster solemnly warned that “our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change,” is upon us.
After tiptoeing around the subject for years, both Attenborough and the BBC took off their gloves and threw down the gauntlet: “It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we do not take dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies. What happens now and in these next few years will profoundly affect the next few thousand years.”
In fact, so terrifying was the narrative that the Financial Times felt that “Attenborough might as well be narrating a horror film.” But, let’s hope that the terror will spur people into action, doing to climate change denial what Blue Planet II did to single-use plastic.
According to one study, 88% of people who saw the series and its heartbreaking images of plastic pollution altered their behaviour.
In many ways, this may be Attenborough’s last Swan song for the planet he so clearly loves. After being criticised for not doing enough to highlight the issue by Guardian columnist George Monbiot, the 92 year old is now putting global warming front and centre of everything that he does.
Last October, he stood before world leaders at the UN climate talks in Poland calling for action. And, he recently narrated a 6 part climate change series for Netflix. Widely considered to be the face of the natural world, if anyone can highlight its plight, it has to be him.
Last night’s show coincided with several days of climate protests in London, coming weeks after 1.4 million children bunked off school to strike against the demise of their futures. Inspired by 16 year old Greta Thumberg who started protesting alone outside Swedish parliament last August, the climate moment is now being lead by the youth of today. After all, it is them who will inherit this mess. And, what a spectacular mess it is.
Last October, the United Nations released its most harrowing report yet: it warned that an apocalyptic world plagued by blistering heatwaves, raging wildfires, punishing super storms, and catastrophic food shortages will be unleashed within our lifetimes.
In a bid to avoid such a horrific fate, the world’s leading scientists say that global warming must stay under the 1.5 degrees celsius target enshrined in the Paris climate treaty. They call for dramatic transformation of the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”
Although this may sound rather daunting, the alternative is far worse. According to the World Meteorological Organisation, world temperatures may rise by up to 5 degrees celsius by the end of this century. And whilst that may not sound like much, the last time the planet warmed to that extent 252 million years ago, it ignited a carbon time bomb which ended up killing 97% of all life on earth.
How? Permafrost in the Arctic alone contains 1.8 trillion tons of carbon dioxide. That’s twice the amount of CO2 already trapped in our atmosphere from burnt fossil fuels. And, when it melts, it will evaporate as methane, a greenhouse gas over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of cooking the planet.
According to scientists, this is the future we are fast heading towards. Yet, even though our planetary alarm bell is ringing at a deafening volume, the vast majority of world leaders seem almost indifferent to matter. Much like how Nero fiddled whilst Rome was razed to the ground, they are carrying on with business as usual.
It certainly doesn’t help that the president of the most powerful nation on Earth has turned his back on the issue. After describing climate change as a hoax invented by the Chinese to make the US less competitive, Donald Trump pulled America out of the hard won Paris climate treaty in 2016.
With all life on Earth literally hanging in the balance, the cynicalness of this move can not be overstated. After all, if the US, the world’s largest historical polluter isn’t going to honour its side of the deal, then why should anyone else?
In the words of climate author Bill McKibben: “It is our duty to make sure that history will judge Donald Trump’s name with the contempt that it deserves. Not just because he didn’t take climate change seriously, but because he didn’t take civilisation seriously.”
However, as Martin Luther King once said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” So, during this 11th hour of our destruction, we must rise up to be the “light” that saves the natural world that provides us home.
According to historian Erica Chenoweth, it only takes 3.5% of the population to be engaged in a peaceful social moment for any meaningful action to take place.
Moreover, systems always look impregnable until they finally collapse. Yet, in retrospect, their ruin seems almost inevitable.We only have to appeal to the recent past to see that.
The abolition of slavery, the end of apartheid and the spread of universal suffrage, all took place when brave men women stood up to shatter the status quo. After all, as abolitionist Frederick Douglas knew only too well: “Power concedes nothing without a fight: it never did and it never will.”
This time however, our children will lead the way, and let’s hope that it’s not too late, for as Victor Hugo once wrote: “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Indeed, nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time is Now.