Three Kinds of Climate Strikes: Drone, Labor, and Peaceful
July 29, 2020 3:00 PM   Subscribe

On September 20th, 2019, millions of people around the world took to the streets in the youth-organized and youth-lead Global Climate Strike, protesting against political inaction around the climate crisis. It was the largest environmental protest in history. And yet, it was not even the most impactful action against fossil capital which took place that week.
Six days prior, a squadron of armed drones struck oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. These unprecedented strikes caused massive damage to the Abqaiq refinery, the world’s largest oil processing plant, and infrastructure at the Khurais oil field, the second largest in the country. The immediate consequences were spectacular: 5.7 million barrels per day – nearly 60% of Saudi Arabia’s oil production, and 5 per cent of global production –shut down; global oil prices jumped 20 per cent. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Houthis, a populist Shia Yemeni movement engaged in a five year-long resistance against the brutal military intervention by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and their Western allies. Negotiations were sparse prior to the Houthi attacks, even as the conflict fell into stalemate and the Saudi-UAE coalition pivoted into a bombing campaign and naval blockade pushing Yemen into a famine of genocidal proportions. The September 14th drone strikes brought the war to the Saudis’ doorstep, forcing them back into negotiations with the Houthis.
Another kind of strike, this time in Ecuador:
Two and a half weeks later, transportation workers in Ecuador went on strike, blockading the roads and highways in protest of scrapped fuel subsidies. The transportation strike rapidly escalated into a civil insurrection, as La Confederacion de Nacionalidades Indigenas del Ecuador (The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIE) organized tens of thousands of its indigenous constituents to travel to Ecuador’s cities and join the barricades. Government buildings were occupied and ransacked, police officers were taken hostage, and street crowds met the security forces’ tear gas canisters and rubber bullets with molotov cocktails and petrol bombs. Meanwhile, in the Amazon, indigenous militants carried out sabotage operations against oil infrastructure, forcing a near-complete shutdown of Ecuador’s oil production. After nearly two weeks of riots, occupations, and blockades, the government relented, reinstating the fuel subsidies and agreeing to discuss alternative tax and spending plans.
The conclusion:
Elements of a working-class decarbonization program have already been mainstreamed, under the banner of the Green New Deal, which in turn has inspired more radical programs like the Red Deal. However, even modest reforms, let alone revolutionary changes, require a militant mass movement. We need a movement which can cohere and coordinate existing networks (tenant associations, unions, direct-action collectives, student groups, environmental justice advocates, left-wing gun clubs) and different segments of the working class (nurses, teachers, truckers, taxi drivers, coal miners, fast food workers, IT technicians), and which dispenses with any illusions that we can peacefully and politely ask the elites to undermine their own wealth and power. The struggle for climate justice and decarbonization must ultimately be a manifestation of class struggle, and a leading front in the battle to overthrow the rule of capital.
The author's notes:
And this is not a separate issue from that of building a working-class climate movement; if the left is not present, then popular reaction against neoliberal decarbonization initiatives will be the fuel that feeds the rise of fossil fascism. I had to cut this analysis out of “The Three Climate Strikes”, but we saw a glimmer of this potential future recently in Oregon, when an armed bloc of rural workers and paramilitary groups, in conjunction with the Republican Party, blocked a cap-and-trade bill from being voted on. The popular sentiment at the time was that this was an undemocratic and cynical attack on legislative norms – which is true – but the hidden undercurrent is that this was precisely a case where a neoliberal solution galvanized unrest among a largely working-class population, which has long suffered under neoliberal austerity, and accelerated its fall into the clutches of far-right/neo-fascist bloc revolving around rural extractive industries. And the main reason this process seems so smooth is because the left is absent from the field, restricting itself largely to the coastal metropoles, and content to tag along behind Democratic Party politicos and operatives in the non-profit-industrial complex.
posted by Ouverture (11 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
The bit under "Another kind of strike, this time in Ecuador:" seems to have the wrong quote (a repeat of the quote above that)?
posted by eviemath at 4:00 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


[Got that fixed up now.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:45 PM on July 29


Is it generally believed that the Houthis performed the strike vs the substantially more capable Iran? The Houthis don't have a reputation for being able to pull off pinpoint drone attacks...
posted by BungaDunga at 5:01 PM on July 29


The struggle for climate justice and decarbonization must ultimately be a manifestation of class struggle, and a leading front in the battle to overthrow the rule of capital.

I vehemently disagree with this, even as an ardent lefty. The framing that addressing global heating can only be achieved through momentous change and ruction is one frequently used by the denialist cohort to scare people of change. In actuality, we have the tools and technology, and regulatory and legal frameworks to address global heating right now.

The issue yes, is willpower, but the idea that militant revolution is easier is nuts. Indeed the most effective action on climate change to day has on fact come through a market mechanism (carbon trading), which is actually very effective, we just need more.

Attempting to link the geopolitical manoeuvrings of Iran and Saudi Arabia in relation to Yemen as part of a climate change struggle is not realistic. Positioning the Houthis as a band of scrappy working class rebels is also grossly oversimplifying the situation and history in Yemen as well.

So many people calling for revolutions, they have never lived through one. The history of revolutions is that they are generally pretty terrible to be in, whatever side you're on. Far from the only and definitely not the best way to achieve change.
posted by smoke at 5:47 PM on July 29 [14 favorites]


Far from the only and definitely not the best way to achieve change.

May a hundred flowers bloom.

(Yes yes I know Mao most likely did this to chop the heads off the poppies, but still, our heads are on the block anyways)
posted by lalochezia at 6:18 PM on July 29


Is it generally believed that the Houthis performed the strike vs the substantially more capable Iran? The Houthis don't have a reputation for being able to pull off pinpoint drone attacks...

Complicated. The team on the Arms Control Wonk podcast thought that probably it was launched from Iran rather than being Iranian supplied missiles fired by the Houthis because of the distances, precision, number, and size of the drones but weren't 100% sure.

The Saudis will likely know for sure because they must have seen something on their radar systems but may not want to acknowledge that it was Iran even if it was because then they would be under pressure to respond militarily.

I would dispute though that this had any material impact on emissions for the year. Oil prices fell again by the end of the month, no-one's supplies were affected, and any deficits in production were absorbed by storage capacity around the world.

Obviously the image of the inherently preposterous Justin Trudeau protesting against himself is laughable and the point about the difference between lobbying and taking power is correct, the author seems to have missed the reason why one of these groups is an armed military force, one is a popular movement, and one is people marching down the street with puppets. In the former case, the Houthis fight because they face essentially a genocide if they do not. The best they could hope for is for the Saudis to oppress them the way they oppress the Shia in the Eastern province which is not particularly attractive so of course they mount an armed resistance.

I don't know nearly as much about Ecuador as I do about the middle east but from reading this at least it seems that CONAIE was protesting measures that they felt would immiserate them even further and production shutdowns by local groups who face environmental catastrophe because of the extraction industry is also an unsurprising use of mass force as an alternative to misery and death.

People who feel largely safe and comfortable on a day to day level and see climate change as a distant and diffuse danger will simply not be able to motivate themselves sufficiently to carry out organised violence. That has nothing to do with differences between the "Global South" and "Global North".

I actually think the point in the author's notes, that imposing climate change mitigation as an additional cost on the poorest in society will lead to a dangerous reaction is a much better one than the article. Most conventional technical and economic analysis of the actions required to prevent the worst effects of climate change operate at the levels of:
1) Technical feasibility - can we construct an energy system that maintains our standard of living without emitting a catastrophic amount of CO2 (yes, we can)
2) Economics - once you account for all costs, including those imposed by climate change, is this a net benefit (obviously yes, but in many cases you get pretty close even without pricing in climate change!)

And then sort of stops. There are two further levels of distributional analysis required though that are important to carry out.

First, the damages from not mitigating climate change, the cost of mitigating it, and the capital base accumulated while contributing to the problem thus far are far from evenly distributed. No-one wants to incur the cost of mitigating and then suffer the impact of climate change anyway because nobody else bothered.

Second, how these things are funded has a pretty big distributional effect within a country. Carbon taxes are conceptually simple and there is a tendency to fixate on them as the easiest way to get at all emissions but they do end up as a tax on consumption of a highly inelastic good which means they are regressive. It is often better to fund things from general taxation (or to make offsetting changes to taxes for the lowest earners from carbon tax revenues)
posted by atrazine at 2:22 AM on July 30 [9 favorites]


I vehemently disagree with this, even as an ardent lefty. The framing that addressing global heating can only be achieved through momentous change and ruction is one frequently used by the denialist cohort to scare people of change. In actuality, we have the tools and technology, and regulatory and legal frameworks to address global heating right now.

As an ardent leftist, I vehemently disagree with your conclusion :)

Calling carbon trading "the most effective action on climate change today" in 2020 reveals everything about just how effective it actually is. Moderate steps that rely on the "wisdom" of the market, like carbon trading, may have been useful in stopping ecological collapse if we had started on them 40 years ago when the people in power knew what was coming, but it is far too late for that.

Was it because the moderate actions weren't moderate enough? Or because the systems responsible for knowingly destroying the world had no interest in relinquishing even a basis point of profit and power?

We have about 10 years to significantly decarbonize human civilization; as evidenced by last September's protests, that will not be possible with polite requests to the most powerful, entrenched interests in human history.

I don't think anyone is saying militant revolution is not easier, but only that it is the only possible way to avoid activating the tipping points and feedback loops that will destroy our world.

Attempting to link the geopolitical manoeuvrings of Iran and Saudi Arabia in relation to Yemen as part of a climate change struggle is not realistic. Positioning the Houthis as a band of scrappy working class rebels is also grossly oversimplifying the situation and history in Yemen as well.

Do you have more information that addresses this unrealistic and oversimplifying analysis?

So many people calling for revolutions, they have never lived through one. The history of revolutions is that they are generally pretty terrible to be in, whatever side you're on. Far from the only and definitely not the best way to achieve change.

I have spent my entire life living under the three revolutions of carbon capitalism, neoliberalism, and imperialism and yes, they have been quite terrible to live through! But the revolutionary acts required to save our world from ecological collapse will be a lot less terrible than the reactionary revolution of a world with billions of climate refugees struggling to survive and dozens of major climate conflicts erupting across every part of the world.

I believe in a multitude of tactics and strategies are necessary, but incremental reformists have had decades to demonstrate that their singular approach is the best way to achieve change. Staring at the 413.72ppm today, just how well has that worked for them?
posted by Ouverture at 10:28 AM on July 30


While much of the politics of this issue are over my paygrade, the urgency of the matter is not. I agree that there's no longer time for carbon-taxation to be a solution.

Understandably, the fossil-interests (with their massive subsidies) want to hold onto a source of revenue. Manifestly, the problem needs to be addressed worldwide, very soon, on a massive scale. That must happen, quickly, with or without their cooperation (their choice, but it must be made clear that they will be very unhappy with the wrong one) ... worldwide.

Clearly 2040, 2050 timelines ignore the evidence. Don't be fooled by questions like "what will it do to the economy" - they're irrelevant for obvious reasons.
posted by Twang at 1:59 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]


There certainly seems to be a lot of naïveté on the part of advocates of militant revolutions. These conflicts almost always end up up making life far worse off for most people, especially those they purport to help—the French Revolution, the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the 1949 Chinese Communist Revolution, and the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, among many others come to mind. The result of such violent upheavals are very rarely democratic governments with good human rights records and benign environmental policies.
posted by haiku warrior at 4:05 PM on July 30


Militant =/= military
posted by eviemath at 7:16 PM on July 30 [2 favorites]


I vehemently disagree with this, even as an ardent lefty. The framing that addressing global heating can only be achieved through momentous change and ruction is one frequently used by the denialist cohort to scare people of change. In actuality, we have the tools and technology, and regulatory and legal frameworks to address global heating right now.

So I'm not an ardent lefty and I disagree with you and agree with Ouverture somewhat, although probably not for the same reason. I don't think we need a revolution to solve climate change but I do think we have to take pretty seriously the social democracy angle and make sure that no group of people is structurally worse off.

What convinced me that we can't just follow the path of dealing with the climate change and inequality problems separately is what happened in France with the gilets jaunes. The taxes they were protesting against were exactly the kind of thing "we" on Metafilter and in other places where climate change is taken seriously are always advocating. An increase in petrol and diesel taxes (particularly diesel), a reduction in speed limits on many roads. Great, right?

Except that by increasing an almost totally inelastic cost which is disproportionately incurred by the upper working / lower middle class, we put a lot of burden on people who already felt squeezed by changes to French society. The poorest people in France live in the suburbs and don't have cars at all. The middle-middle and up often live in urban areas and don't need to drive as many miles a year, they also have more money so as a % of their total outgoings these taxes affect them much more.

So the idea that we can deal with climate change "first" and then deal with inequality later (or not at all) doesn't work because we won't be able to mobilise people enough for long enough to deal with climate change if they are materially disadvantaged by those measures.

That being said, I don't think it's empirically correct that current measures structured on basically "traditional" lines (mix of direct intervention, subsidies, taxes, and emissions trading) aren't working at all.

The EU reduced its total emissions by 23% from its 1990 levels by 2018. Just rolling those programs forward at current levels gets us to a 30% reduction by 2030, implementing programmes (largely along the same lines) already announced by the end of 2019 gets us to 36% by 2030.

UK grid carbon factor went from over 500g CO2e / KWh to 200 between 2014 and 2020 and on existing policies alone will reach 100 by 2030 (as of this moment, the instantaneous intensity is 127 in the UK vs 300 in California, 55 in Ontario, and 75 in France). Total power station emissions have reduced by 60% since 1990 in the UK.

I accept that the target of 40% by 2030 isn't as ambitious as we might want it to be and that being able to almost meet a target that was a political compromise is not the same as saying that we're on the right track. Clearly we do need to do more, the question is this: on the basis of the available evidence, is it possible to achieve our climate change goals:
-Through current programmes and ones which are broadly similar but more of them
-As above but with more attention paid to redistributing climate taxes as additional income to the poorest
-Only through revolution

I do not think that the evidence supports the last option. When the broadly social democratic but by no means socialist governments of Europe are delivering credible and substantial emissions reductions, surely the evidence is on the side of just doing more of what is already working?

I would be interested in people who are not by natural inclination revolutionary socialists but who have nonetheless come to the conclusion that it's the only option for dealing with climate change.

My view is that countries need to use the models they already have for measuring impact of climate change policies to redirect substantial parts of the extra costs imposed on the public back to the public and they need to do so in a way that understands distributional impacts.

For example, ring-fencing extra fuel taxes into EV subsidies may be a good idea from a purely climate change point of view but there is a substantial risk that you are in fact taking from the lower middle class people of France périphérique and giving to urban bobos with enough capital to buy an EV. In this case you need to draw your ringfences more tightly, for instance by giving a substantial grant to people who scrap an old diesel to buy an electric.

My preferred solution is to pump at least part of the money directly back to people by reducing the effective tax rate on the lowest paid.
posted by atrazine at 4:19 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]


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