by Charlie Mountain / Deep Green Resistance Santa Barbara
The Environmental Status Quo
Mainstream environmental organizations have largely praised the Obama administration as environmentally friendly. Ed Chen, the national communications director for the National Resources Defense Council, described Obama as “the greatest climate change-fighting president in history.” The Environmental Defense Fund hailed Obama as “a leader committed to clean energy, climate progress, and protecting our natural heritage” who “leaves a better, cleaner, more sustainable world for all of our kids.”
Examples of Obama’s environmental legacy include: the Clean Power Plan, Paris Agreement, the promotion of “renewable energy,” and enhanced fuel efficiency standards for vehicles. Most people already know that the Clean Power Plan is not ambitious enough to keep total planetary warming below even the alarming 2 °C mark. The Paris Climate Agreement has the same shortfall, in addition to the fact that the emissions reductions outlined in the document are not legally binding.
Even increased energy production from renewable technologies and higher fuel efficiency standards, which may sound like positive achievements, are not all they’re cracked up to be. There’s a phenomenon known as the Jevons Paradox, which explains why increased energy efficiency paradoxically does not lead to lower emissions, because the higher efficiency is offset by an increased usage of energy due to the lower cost of energy. Renewable energy technologies can also lead to the same kind of situation where a larger total amount of energy means that all the energy is consumed, rather than renewable energy displacing energy produced by fossil fuels. The worst effect of producing renewable technologies is the pollution that comes from mining, manufacturing, and discarding of the hazardous waste, which is so harmful that no sane person can argue these technologies are beneficial to the planet. On the contrary, mainstream “environmentalists” view renewable energy as the means by which we will be able to continue this destructive way of life.
Obama’s true legacy is one of imperialism, capitalism, and extractivism. He boasted that “more oil [was] produced at home than we buy from the rest of world” in 2014, “the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years,” while opening up more US land for oil and gas drilling. Any of the Obama administration’s “claimed [greenhouse gas emissions] reductions are attributable mostly to a weak economy.” And the fact remains that the United States had its biggest increase in oil production in history during Obama’s terms. While many liberals’ rallying cry under the new administration is to “protect Obama’s legacy,” radical environmentalists are opposed to all ecocidal policies, regardless of who is behind them. Obama’s policies would lead to a planet no less dead than if Trump’s agenda is enacted.
Liberals’ Responses to Trump
As many other leftists have stated, Obama’s threat to the planet (and human rights) was largely ignored by liberals, likely because of his “feel-good rhetoric.” In stark contrast, Trump is openly ecocidal (and misogynistic, racist, and so on) which makes it easier for large numbers of Americans to realize how insane his policies are. Trump’s all-around vileness has led to increased resistance from the general public to the new administration, taking the form of the Women’s Marches on January 21st, demonstrations at airports, protests against cabinet picks, and more.
Mainstream environmental organizations openly hold Trump in contempt and vow to fight him. I’ve received emails from Sierra Club California with tips to “help the resistance to Trump’s policies,” which include how to contact your representatives and get involved in local protests & other events. After the election, the Center for Biological Diversity launched a nationwide #Earth2Trump campaign demonstrating the extent of the country’s resistance to Trump’s agenda. They plan to participate in a variety of legal methods to fight environmental destruction and uphold the rights of oppressed groups. The People’s Climate Movement is organizing a “march for jobs, justice and the climate” on April 29th in DC.
Radical Environmental Organizing in the Era of Trump
In many ways, Trump is continuing Obama’s legacy of extractivism—one important example is the Dakota Access Pipeline. Construction of the pipeline began under Obama’s watch, and water protectors were being attacked with tear gas and water cannons in freezing temperatures before Trump took office. The most Obama did to stop the construction was ordering an environmental review, which probably wouldn’t have made a difference even if Trump hadn’t allowed construction to continue without the review.
Because the opposition to Trump is so large and widespread, it is easy for radicals to find groups and individuals to ally with in the fight against his policies, unlike how it was under the Obama administration. It’s very important for us to take advantage of this fact. In a general sense, mainstream liberal activists are fighting on the same side as us—and we should be building alliances where we can, for there is strength in numbers. We must also show that Democrats are just as threatening to life on this planet as Republicans are, and encourage others to fight against Trump outside the paradigm of the two-party system.
Leftist organizations like the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) are opposing Trump in this way by protesting his policies directly and presenting an alternative to the dominant system of capitalism. Refuse Fascism also calls for mass resistance against the Trump administration’s agenda “for the future of humanity and the planet,” without encouraging collaboration with the Democratic Party.
Kshama Sawant, who sits on Seattle’s city council and is a member of Socialist Alternative, recently helped to pass a bill in Seattle that would completely divest the city from Wells Fargo, one of the banks financing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Following Seattle’s legislation, the City of Davis also voted unanimously to move their banking services from Wells Fargo elsewhere by the end of the year. Santa Monica made the same decision last month.
The unique political and environmental analysis put forward by Deep Green Resistance (DGR) is resonating with more people in these scary times, with the organization seeing an influx of new member and volunteer applications. When asked how she found DGR, one volunteer wrote that she “searched what I can do to stop Trump from hurting the environment.” The silver lining in Trump’s rise to power can certainly be to radicalize people who could not see the ecocidal state for what it is until such a deplorable man was elected to rule it. DGR’s apt response to the November election was that “we’re left with direct action. Those of us serious about protecting present and future life on the planet must leverage our small numbers to shut down fossil fuels, polluting industries, and nature-destroying machines.”
A wonderful example of this kind of direct action is the Valve Turners, part of “the biggest coordinated move on US energy infrastructure ever undertaken by environmental protesters.” Five activists shut down pipelines carrying tar sands oil into the US in Washington, Minnesota, Montana, and North Dakota in October 2016. The first trial for one of the valve turners, Ken Ward, was recently declared a mistrial, a surprising victory in the age of Trump. Ward encourages others to participate in similar actions: “it is the obligation of every thinking person to find a way to stave off climate cataclysm, and there is no effective, legal alternative to personal direct action.” Successes from groups like the Movement for the Emancipation for the Niger Delta (MEND) and the Indian Naxalites show Ward’s words to be true.
I agree with PSL’s assertion of Trump as just a symptom of the larger problem. This is exactly what liberals have yet to understand, and we need to help them get there. Capitalism, industrialism, racism, and misogyny are all diseases than can only be cured by a global revolution. Radical environmentalists must do the work of bringing in activists from all across the political spectrum to fight for a common goal—a living planet.