Wednesday, August 24, 2011

If you believed in climate change, would you engage in civil disobedience? #tarsands

This week, concerned citizens are protesting outside the White House to prevent the extraction and transport of tar sands from Canada. This protest could represent the start of a shift in the mindsets of people who are concerned about climate change: a shift towards making it acceptable and expected for us to engage in civil disobedience and passive resistance (in order to change the behaviour of politicians and corporations).

A couple of days ago, I wrote about how the London riots may have spread so effectively because disaffected and unemployed people saw that rioting was something that people like them did. In other words, being able to riot became an acceptable part of the way they saw themselves.

There's currently a two week protest involving passive resistance and civil disobedience occurring outside the White House. One of the organisers, Bill McKibben writes, in a Washington Post editorial (A watershed moment for Obama on climate change - The Washington Post):

Already, more than a thousand people have signed up to be arrested over two weeks beginning Aug. 20 — the biggest display of civil disobedience in the environmental movement in decades and one of the largest nonviolent direct actions since the World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle back before Sept. 11.

This is exactly what identity decisions involve: people who share a strong enough belief create an expectation amongst each other about what sort of behaviour is appropriate for people who have that belief. As those expectations become more publicised, the belief (and expectations) have the opportunity to spread.

McKibben describes the belief here:

The issue is simple: We want the president to block construction of Keystone XL, a pipeline that would carry oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta down to the Gulf of Mexico. We have, not surprisingly, concerns about potential spills and environmental degradation from construction of the pipeline. But those tar sands are also the second-largest pool of carbon in the atmosphere, behind only the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. If we tap into them in a big way, NASA climatologist James Hansen explained in a paper issued this summer, the emissions would mean it’s “essentially game over” for the climate.

I note that these protests haven't gotten much media coverage yet.  I'm fascinated to see what happens if they do.

You can view some interviews with the protesters here:

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