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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