SAbolishing fossil fuel infrastructure can be a form of self defense or humanitarian intervention. According to climate science, fossil fuels are projectiles that are fired at humanity primarily towards the Global South. The question isn’t whether we have the right or not to destroy them. It is why people havent acted on this imperative.
The plot of two recent big novels centers on the destruction and exploitation of fossil fuel properties. How beautiful were we?By Imbolo Mbue. A protest by an African village against an oil company that is destroying its lands and threatening its children with pollution. The Ministry for the FutureKim Stanley Robinson: Young Indians respond to a heat wave that has become too severe by attacking fossil fuel infrastructure. Both books seem to suggest that this would be a sensible decision. This form of resistance has been the subject of a lot of thought in relation to its actual implementation. It is obvious why: If governments are unable to rein in fossil fuel producers but instead continue to aid them, then those outside of the state apparatuses will eventually attempt to do it instead.
However, the strategic argument is stronger than the moral one. These objections are: Will it save us, or expose you to dispersal? December The GuardianIn an editorial, the group stated that eco-sabotage could make it harder for states to respond harshly to climate-sceptic views. Let’s start with the first part. It suggests that climate-sceptic, which is denialistattitudes, can be softened if climate activists proceed gently. I’m not sure why we should expect such an amazing miracle. The past decades have not shown that denialists are open to persuasion. This could be due to the politeness or the blows of natural disasters. The United States, considered the most important example of denialism, is perhaps the most compelling. Donald Trump will not be persuaded by the movement and it should not design its tactics accordingly.
The goal of fossil fuel property destruction is not to educate denialists, but to inflict cost on the enemy: fossil capital. This is where the Global North movement has utterly failed. Marches of one million children, divestment campaign, parliamentary initiatives court cases, square occupations and road blocksades have all been good. They have brought us to the point we are at in early 2022. But there is more.
What about the second part? Does tactical diversification bring down state repression? This requires us to be sensitive to the timeframe of this crisis. It will get worse, which shouldif there’s any reason left in the worldmean the public appetite to destroy fossil fuel property will increase. It would be absurd for humanity to plunge headfirst into these deadly fields without anyone fighting back against the responsible party. Only by intensifying the struggle against a crisis that is only going to get worse can we keep our relevance and win over people. Our task is making the impassive part realize that fossil fuel property does not have an indestructible value like the moon. Once people realize this, mass unrest is likely to occur as long as fossil fuel property is not considered untouchable by climate movements.
Activists will, naturally, end up in prison. It is happening already, even before there was any major shift toward militancy. This is part of any struggle against entrenched, material interests. We are challenged to be historical pioneers in achieving our goal to abolish fossil capital without any form of confrontation with the government. Is there any historical movement that achieved something like this without having its cadres spend time in jail?
This doesn’t mean that we should be naive about repression. We must work to minimize its damage. This begins by breaking the civil defiance protocol, which considers it moral and strategic to be arrested. It was recently promoted to new heights with Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion. Activists must stop giving in and surrender to the police. Instead, we should aim to break through their barriers, run away from them, and escape them to the best of all our abilities.
None of these are to suggest that we should act recklessly, indiscriminately, commit to proven errors or be open to criticism. Nor is it to suggest that fossil fuel property loss is a panacea. It should only be one component of a larger tactical strategy. It is not to be said that property destruction should be done by secret cells. Imagine a crowd of angry people taking over the headquarters of a fossil fuel company and burning it to the ground. Who could possibly object to such a thing? These were the same people who drove into Black Lives Matter demonstrations in their cars. It could be extremely inspiring for many other people. It would be a great example of how these forces can be overcome! It may seem like the climate struggle is over. However, from another angle (including the history and context of social struggle), it seems like it has yet started.
TTo determine whether the climate movement should embrace sabotage we must first get rid of the moral question. The biosphere is being destroyed by coal, oil, and natural gas. 8 million people were killed by air pollution from fossil fuels in 2018, and that does not count the millions who were displace, displaced, pummeled, bankrupted, and forced to flee their homes because of climate disasters. If fossil fuel corporations continue to heat the planet, it could lead to civilizational decline.
There is little moral controversy. It would be morally right if it were possible to reduce the average global temperature by just a few tenths. Andreas Malm said it before: If someone has placed a time bomb inside your home, you have the right to remove it. Those who deny that this metaphor is real are either unaware of climate science or unwillingness to accept its implications.
The question that the climate movement must really ask is not whether sabotage can be ethical. If the tactic will work to lower temperatures. At this moment in history, it seems unlikely. If climate activists were to blow up pipelines in 2022 it would likely backfire on them and weaken their ability to win policies to lower temperatures.
Let’s imagine the scenario in the United States. This is the political terrain I am most familiar with. A campaign to devastate power plants and pipelines would be condemned by both sides of the political spectrum in 2022. The condemnation would rise tenfold if an accident resulted in any injury. If the sabotage was linked to an increase in energy costs for working families then the climate movement would alienate exactly the people it needs. Even if the link between higher prices wasn’t true, Fox News would make it so for millions US voters.
The climate movement, whose popularity has increased steadily over the past decade and its political power has been steadily growing, suddenly found itself without any defenders and with a declining influence. The right would cheer Ecoterrorism! These fears would be used to fuel their growing fascism. Tucker Carlson would call all climate advocates Green ISIS and the MAGA crowd would mobilize machine gun-toting vigilantes for patrolling their local pipelines. Most Democrats believe their constituents now associate climate change with instability, radicalism or bombings. Policies like the Green New Deal will be out of reach. Even if the rest the climate movement were not to speak out against the saboteurs, it is unlikely that this would overcome the narrative gravity and opportunistic efficacy the right-wing propaganda machine.
Many other climate activists, many of whom are young and have a long history of organizing, could be held in prison for decades. The resultant lawsuits could create legal precedents that would make fossil fuel companies even more protected from public protest. The state would immediately take action against acts of destruction. Given the sophistication of the US intelligence apparatus it seems unlikely that a grassroots sabotage campaign could reach a scale that could impact overall emissions or even the decisions of energy investors.
To succeed in sabotage, it would be necessary to increase the political pressure. To make this happen, large sections of the public would have to see the saboteurs as heroes. They are more likely to be seen, however unfairly, as terrorists within the current Overton window.
Some left-leaning individuals argue that we should not base our strategy on the response of our opponents. We should, of course. Politics is chess. If you don’t anticipate the countermoves, you will lose badly.
This kind of strategic decision is not easy. However, it is worth recalling that in 2009, our business-as usual fossil fuel consumption was putting us on track to 6 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2100. We are now on track to reach just below 3 degrees thanks to a combination government action, movement muscle, and technological advancement. While this is an unacceptable result, the trend line does not justify fatalism. Instead of risking everything on a long-shot tactic which could bring the climate movement back a decade, we should be focusing more on the nonviolent levers.
Regardless, I believe that this is a worthwhile discussion for the movement. The fact that this conversation is now public could prove to be a useful tool. Politicians should take it as a warning: If governments cannot protect their citizens from fossil fuel oligarchs, then those citizens will turn to other means of self-protectionregardless of their strategic merit.