Energy Strikes: how you and I can really make a difference in fighting global warming

It seems unstoppable: the world’s getting warmer, bringing climate change catastrophe ever closer.  Carbon levels in the atmosphere keep increasing, and our politicians don’t do a thing about it.  The coalition of big business and embedded political interests wants to keep most people ignorant about the disaster our global society is bringing on itself.

But there’s something we can do about it.  Each of us, as individuals, can join in a global movement which has the power to bring about real, fundamental worldwide political change in a matter of years.  In our lifetimes, we can play a part in turning round the global warming juggernaut.

How?  Through Energy Strikes.  What’s an Energy Strike?  It’s a day of worldwide action, when each of us uses only the amount of energy that would lead to an eventual stabilization of atmospheric carbon dioxide to the sustainable level of 350 parts per million.

Energy Strikes aren’t happening yet.  But the first one could take place in 2012 if you and I set our minds to it now.  How is that?  Because three of the foremost direct action environmental groups in the world are putting their minds together to come up with a coordinated long-term strategy to stop our civilization careening towards climate change disaster.  They’re going to be making decisions this fall about which strategy to pursue.  They’re open to new ideas, and seeking our input.

[Click here for a pdf document explaining Energy Strikes in more detail.]

Gandhi's 1930 salt march catalyzed the successful struggle for India's independence from the British Empire. Energy Strikes can do the same for the global struggle against climate change.

If you think the idea of annual global Energy Strikes could start to make an impact in raising global awareness about climate change and putting pressure on politicians, then please spend 2 minutes to do the following:

1.) Click on this link to send an email directly to the the leaders of the three powerful direct action groups:

Bill McKibben of
Philip Radford of Greenpeace USA
Rebecca Tarbotton of Rainforest Action Network

2.)  Copy and paste the following text in the message (and make any changes you feel like):


Bill, Phil and Rebecca,

I support the idea of building a worldwide movement of annual Energy Strikes, when each of us uses only the amount of energy that would lead to an eventual stabilization of atmospheric carbon dioxide to the sustainable level of 350 parts per million.

An “Energy Strike” would be a worldwide day (or days) when all participants used only the amount of energy, on a per capita basis, that would lead to an eventual stabilization of atmospheric CO2 to 350 ppm.  An energy strike would be an annual event. It could be held any time during the year, but the proposed date would be a “Sustainable Energy Day”: the day in the calendar year when the world has emitted the maximum amount of CO2 consistent with an eventual long-term level of 350 ppm in the atmosphere.

During an Energy Strike, those participants who are taking time off their daily work might congregate and picket at the centers of high CO2 production: e.g. airports, coal-fired power plants, luxury auto dealerships.  The first Energy Strike would be a one-day event. Then, it would be rolled out over a number of years with gradually increasing time spans.

The vision of an Energy Strike arises from the Gandhian principle of non-violent non-cooperation, using powerful symbolic events to catalyze mass participation and raise global awareness.  The novelty and symbolic resonance of a global Energy Strike would have significant media impact. Visually, the sight of picketing strikers at airports or coal-fired power plants around the world could be compelling.  Over the years, Energy Strikes could have a major impact on raising global awareness about climate change and turning around the climate change juggernaut.

Please consider this strategy for a coordinated worldwide response to global climate change that could really make a difference.

3.) Now share this blog post with at least two other friends or associates, and ask them to do the same.  Within a short while, Bill, Phil and Rebecca will see that this is an idea that resonates.  And you’ll have played your part in the first step towards regaining our future for a sustainable human presence on the earth.

If you want to read more about the Energy Strikes idea, click on this pdf document.  Congratulations: you’ve just made a difference!


A Global Ethic for the 21st Century

The End of the Long Summer: Why We Must Remake Our Civilization to Survive On a Volatile Earth

By Dianne Dumanoski

New York: Crown Publishing Group.  2009.

There’s something even more fundamental going on in our world than climate change.  While the world focuses its attention on geopolitical power struggles over approaches to global warming, and the American media gives credence to those who attack the science of climate change to score cheap political points, something far more profound is taking place in our world below the level of public discourse.

This is the crucial point made by award-winning journalist Dianne Dumanoski in The End of the Long Summer.  In the second half of the 20th century, Dumanoski tells us, we passed “a fundamental turning point in the relationship between humans and the Earth, arguably the biggest step since human mastery of fire.”  Our modern civilization emerged as “a global-scale force capable of redirecting Earth’s history.”  The implications of this are enormous, as she describes:

The consequences are not limited to global warming, nor are weather extremes the first evidence of our new status.  Accelerating climate change signals a far deeper problem – the growing human burden on all of the fundamental planetary processes that together make up a single, self-regulating Earth.

And just as the problem is far deeper than global warming, so the solution will require changes in our behavior that go way beyond cuts in carbon emissions.  The changes that are needed go right to heart of our sense of who we are as human beings and our fundamental relationship with the natural world.  “This modern culture,” states Dumanoski, “is not the only or best way of being human… Our civilization is profoundly at odds with the world we now inhabit.”  If we don’t change “the obsolete ideas and practices that underlie our culture, our civilization surely won’t survive.”

Dumanoski’s viewpoint might not win votes in an election, but it’s shared by other thinkers who have watched with alarm as our society accelerates into an unsustainable trajectory.  Before his death last year, the environmental theologian Thomas Berry wrote how “The violence already done to the Earth is on a scale beyond acceptability… We are into a new historical situation.”[1] Berry pointed out how this devastation is normative for our Western culture:

the truly remarkable aspect of all this is that what is happening is not being done in violation of anything in Western cultural commitments, but in fulfillment of those commitments as they are now understood… Our Western culture long ago abandoned its integral relation with the planet on which we live.[2]

And you certainly don’t need a theological perspective to see the magnitude of our predicament.  Biologist Paul Ehrlich writes how we have “permitted enlargement of the scale of the human enterprise to the point that it is destroying the life-support systems on which all our lives depend,” and that as a result this “may be heading us toward the worst catastrophe in the history of Homo sapiens.”[3]

Dumanoski shows how our current crisis is the result of some deep historical drivers.  She points out the uniqueness of Western civilization’s approach to the natural world, characterized by its quest for domination:

While all human societies have possessed and exercised the cultural capacity to shape the world, in the modern era we have pursued power and control – abetted by fossil fuels, science, and industry – with an aggressive intensity that makes our civilization unique.

As I describe in my blog, The Tyranny of the Prefrontal Cortex, I believe that Dumanoski is in fact describing one of the most glaring results of an imbalance within our collective consciousness, one that has led to a view of our human nature as something apart from – and superior to – the natural world.   Dumanoski sees Francis Bacon (1561-1626) as the prophet of the new power-oriented approach to the natural world, a view that’s consistent with most historical interpretations.  But she also traces how this desacralization of nature became imprinted in the Western mindset, quoting Robert Boyle, a pioneer of the Scientific Revolution, on his desire to “banish any reverence for nature”:

The veneration wherewith men are imbued for what they call nature has been a discouraging impediment to the empire of man over the inferior creatures of God.

The depth of this cultural bias, and the severity of the global crisis that has ensued, means that some of the more comforting proposed solutions are really not viable, attractive as they may appear.  On this topic, Dumanoski is refreshingly and unusually candid in exposing some of the prevalent myths.  She attacks the arguments of Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Solow that “our ingenuity will allow the economy to find endless substitutes for depleted resources so ‘the world can, in effect, get along without natural resources,’” showing how he and other economists are “strangely untethered from physical reality.”

She also points out the inadequacies of the “stewardship” viewpoint towards the natural world.  At first blush, the notion of “environmental stewardship” seems benign enough: we humans have a responsibility, along with our great intellectual powers, to act as “stewards” of nature, taking care of it for the next generation.   [Click here for a typical example of this approach.]  But, as Dumanoski points out, this idea “loses traction on the planetary scale.”  It gives us a false sense of security, implying that “we are in a position to take charge of nature and it thus mistakes our position vis-à-vis the larger world.”  Dumanoski convincingly argues that, in fact, we’re too far gone for this approach to work.  We need, instead, to “find creative ways to adjust and redesign our civilization.”

So what is, in fact, the way forward, if we accept this bleak prognosis of our current state?  Dumanoski calls for a “new cultural map” to orient us as we as we grapple with a “profound ‘human crisis’ that cuts to the heart of our civilization.”  Essential to this new orientation is moving away from the dualistic mindset that has entranced our civilization for the past two thousand years.  Here’s how Dumanoski describes it:

If humans are to have any chance at a long-term future, we must give up the persistent and pervasive notion that we do not really belong to this imperfect Earth of mortal creatures.  We must abandon the conviction, which also has deep roots in the Western tradition, that we are some sort of special creation, mortal gods, noble beings in exile.  We must wake from dangerous dreams of escape from the human condition, of emancipation from Earth.  We must reconcile ourselves to the truth that death, suffering, and finitude go with the territory as much as life, joy, and beauty…

This, Dumanoski points out, is both “a journey of self-understanding and a matter of survival.”  Once again, although her diagnosis won’t score high in the opinion polls, she’s in good company with some of the profoundest thinkers of our times.  Environmentalist advocate James Gustave Speth writes of the need for a “new consciousness” in meeting our environmental challenges:

Many of our deepest thinkers and many of those most familiar with the scale of the challenges we face have concluded that the transitions required can be achieved only in the context of what I will call the rise of a new consciousness.  For some, it is a spiritual awakening – a transformation of the human heart.  For others it is a more intellectual process of coming to see the world anew and deeply embracing the emerging ethic of the environment and the old ethic of what it means to love thy neighbor as thyself.[4]

Many people might wonder, at this juncture, what is the form of spiritual awakening required, and how would this translate into our daily practices and values.  In some recent posts, I’ve suggested that we can learn some profound lessons from the Neo-Confucian thought tradition from a thousand years ago, which sees the spiritual aspects of our existence as inextricably linked with the material world, leading to a sense of the interconnectivity of mind and nature.

Perhaps, by arriving at a spirituality which is not at odds with science but actually arises from a scientific view of the natural world, we might become convinced that “our lives are inseparable from our environment, our species, our relations with the stream of all that exists.”  Then, perhaps, we have a chance of developing an ethic for the 21st century, one that might just help us to achieve the survival of the most valuable aspects of our civilization.

[1] Berry, T. (1999). The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future, New York: Three Rivers Press, 108-9

[2] Berry, op. cit.,146

[3] Ehrlich, P. R. (2000/2002). Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect, New York: Penguin, 321.

[4] Speth, J. G. (2008). The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability, New Haven: Yale University Press, 199-200.