Bert Olivier
Bert Olivier

Will “Blockadia” help, or “Is Earth F**ked”?

One of the most revealing threads running through Canadian investigative journalist and tireless anti-capitalism activist, Naomi Klein’s rivetting book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), concerns what she terms the “new climate warriors”, or in one word, “Blockadia”. This unlikely-sounding word names a movement which has arisen in the shape of a diverse array of groups of people who share one thing: to save what’s left of life on the planet from the tireless onslaught of agents representing the dominant economic system, neoliberal capitalism. This is how Klein describes it, specifically as far as corporate attempts at extracting fossil fuels are concerned (p. 254-255):

“Blockadia is not a specific location on a map but rather a roving transnational conflict zone that is cropping up with increasing frequency and intensity wherever extractive projects are attempting to dig and drill, whether for open-pit mines, or gas fracking, or tar sands oil pipelines.

“What unites these increasingly interconnected pockets of resistance is the sheer ambition of the mining and fossil fuel companies: the fact that in their quest for high-priced commodities and higher-risk ‘unconventional’ fuels, they are pushing relentlessly into countless new territories, regardless of the impact on the local ecology (in particular, local water systems), as well as the fact that many of the industrial activities in question have neither been adequately tested nor regulated, yet have already shown themselves to be extraordinarily accident-prone.

“What unites Blockadia too is the fact the people at the forefront — packing local council meetings, marching in capital cities, being hauled off in police vans, even putting their bodies between the earth-movers and earth — do not look much like your typical activist, nor do the people in one Blockadia site resemble those in another. Rather, they each look like the places where they live, and they look like everyone: the local shop owners, the university professors, the high school students, the grandmothers…

“Resistance to high-risk extreme extraction is building a global, grassroots, and broad-based network the likes of which the environmental movement has rarely seen. And perhaps this phenomenon shouldn’t even be referred to as an environmental movement at all, since it is primarily driven by a desire for a deeper form of democracy, one that provides communities with real control over those resources that are most critical to collective survival — the health of the water, air, and soil. In the process, these place-based stands are stopping real climate crimes in progress.”

For make no mistake – these extreme extraction activities are nothing less than “climate crimes”, or crimes against life on the planet, even if they are protected by laws which are designed to benefit oil companies, among others. The aim of such companies’ “lobbying” of lawmakers in the legislative assemblies of many nations is well-known. And the time is coming when such “climate criminals” will face a reckoning of sorts.

In the meantime the “deeper form of democracy” that Klein is talking about will expand apace – her further discussion of its growth leaves one in no doubt that people, including the young, are increasingly fed-up by the inability or unwillingness (or both) of so-called world leaders to tackle the bull by the horns, the recent news that China and the US have ratified the latest climate agreement notwithstanding. Whatever international agreements are arrived at, it remains business as usual for “climate criminals” like the oil companies. Here in South Africa, too, indications are that fracking will be going ahead in the beautiful and fragile Karoo. Who knows, maybe Blockadia will show itself there, too.

People who are uninformed about all of this might wonder what all the fuss is about. If you are one of those, allow me to enlighten you (and I would advise you to read Klein’s book, referred to above – it is freely available online). This is where the other part of this post’s title comes in, namely: “Is Earth F**ked”? In the concluding chapter of the book Klein emphasises how serious the current situation on the planet is (although one might be forgiven for not knowing this, if all you take note of is mainstream news media such as the daily television news) by informing her readers as follows (p. 388-389):

“In December 2012, Brad Werner — a complex systems researcher with pink hair and a serious expression — made his way through the throng of 24,000 earth and space scientists at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. That year’s conference had some big-name participants, from Ed Stone of NASA’s Voyager project, explaining a new milestone on the path to interstellar space, to the filmmaker James Cameron, discussing his adventures in deep-sea submersibles. But it was Werner’s own session that was attracting much of the buzz. It was titled ‘Is Earth F**ked?’ (full title: ‘Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism’).

“Standing at the front of the conference room, the University of California, San Diego professor took the crowd through the advanced computer model he was using to answer that rather direct question. He talked about system boundaries, perturbations, dissipation, attractors, bifurcations, and a whole bunch of other stuff largely incomprehensible to those of us uninitiated in complex systems theory. But the bottom line was clear enough: global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient, and barrier-free that ‘earth-human systems’ are becoming dangerously unstable in response. When a journalist pressed Werner for a clear answer on the ‘Is Earth f**ked’ question, he set the jargon aside and replied, ‘More or less’.”

This rather depressing answer from a complexity theorist, no less, who is in a position to understand the interactions among thousands of planetary processes that escape the attention of most of the rest of us, to arrive at his unsettling prognosis, was mitigated by the fact that he did note the possibility – if not probability – that the entropic process might just encounter a certain resistance along its trajectory (p. 389): “…movements of ‘people or groups of people’ who ‘adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture.’ According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes ‘environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by Indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups.’ Such mass uprisings of people — along the lines of the abolition movement and the civil rights movement — represent the likeliest source of ‘friction’ to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control”.

The time is overdue for ordinary people to take note of this, and to resist the daily anaesthetic dished out by television sports, soapies and the like, which function to divert their attention from what is really the most attention-worthy process happening under their very noses. It beggars the imagination that, every time one witnesses a report on economic matters, or listens to a discussion of the daily economic indicators, there is no indication at all that economic “growth” is actually a life-threatening problem: the more capitalist economic growth is encouraged and valorised, the less people are made aware of the fact that this is the biggest problem threatening their and their descendants’ very existence. (Governments would do better if they set up training courses for people to learn permaculture, which would teach them how to feed themselves.) Even a primary school pupil is able to understand the statement that: “Infinite economic growth is impossible in a finite eco-system”.

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    • TheRealMidnite

      It’s unlikely, in my opinion. No matter how many “assaults” get blocked, the initiative will still rest with neolib profiteers and their minions.

    • Maria Marquez

      Timely post! For those who missed it, here is a link to an earlier, more panoramic piece that was posted soon after Klein’s book appeared:

      http://thoughtleader.co.za/bertolivier/2014/11/17/climate-change-we-have-passed-the-11th-hour/

    • Rushka Johnson

      Thankyou for this. I came to your talk at the poetry evening and thoroughly enjoyed it! would you consider doing a talk at the International Monsanto tribunal peoples assembly – South Africa Port Elizabeth extension? 16 October 2016
      As Im sure you are aware that South Africas Staple diet is sadly GMO Roundup ready Maize and the effects on our people and environment are devastating.
      Here is a link to a talk by Dr Margo De Kooker and the link to our events page.

      As you said last night at the talk and in this paper – blockade is the only way forward – (i will have to agree and will definately lie infront of those fracking drills with you if need be. I have an organic veg farm using permaculture principles in life and farming so resonate with your examples above.
      This peoples assembly, is another way that speaks volumes and is making a difference with regards to these large corrupt chemical corporations owning patents on life and controlling the seed in ourbeloved country and earth).
      link to talk – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EL3OIdIEY4&index=2&list=PLBchLJVJvs0xFSBx8IJnktLCI_malsL8X
      Link to international tribunal page – http://www.monsanto-tribunal.org/why-a-tribunal/
      link to the Port Elizabeth event page – https://www.facebook.com/events/744777215625596/

    • johnbpatson

      Funny, the planet Earth I live on is far, far less polluted than it was 60 years ago and has many more happy, healthy and wealthy people on it. And as they get happier, healthier and wealthier, they take better care of the planet and the living things on it.

    • Waxfoot

      Depressing indeed, Bert.
      I find Naomi Klein’s writings great for supplying context, making connections and defining the problem, but generally woefully short on solutions and I am left wanting.
      To quote Trish Khale : “Naomi Klein’s incisive critique of capitalism is blunted by her unwillingness to point to its replacement”.

      Local resistance is all very well and morally justifiable in an attempt slow down the economic machine in the fight for eco-justice, but it’s the machine itself that needs replacing.
      Where is the cogent vision for this New Order?