It started out on Facebook…
In response to this article, a Facebook friend posted, which accuses 350.org of secrecy of their Rockefeller given millions:
How do we know we’re not victims of the “divide and conquer” technique here? The Rockefeller organizations mentioned in the article are generations removed from the original Rockefellers, they’ve even donated to a bunch of left-wing groups like planned parenthood. Bill McKibben opens up about this in his recent book Oil & Honey.
And, sure, there’s a messiah complex, as Greens obsess over McKibben but I think that’s a cultural thing. McKibben wrote about that too, emphasizing a “movement without leaders”.
Holy shit. Look up the author of this article, Vivian Krause. She runs a blog called “Fair Questions” primarily focused on defending Alberta’s tar sands oil industry from criticism.
And here’s an enlightening interview too.
The first hint was that this was written in the National Post, Canada’s propaganda arm. Whenever anything comes out of that, I always look up more to see what’s hidden.
Then someone rebutted my arguments with this article further lambasting McKibben and 350:
Michael Donnelly of CounterPunch accuses McKibben and 350 of “Activist Malpractice.”
To which I responded with this:
First, let me acknowledge my privilege and say I’m a 24 year-old white guy living in a safe, suburban, middle-class home. I’m currently jobless and living of my parents, so I have plenty of free time to write this essay. I don’t experience what many of you do but I hope to continue the dialogue here.
I tried searching that CounterPunch author, Michael Donnelly, but just found more of his articles. They were rather enlightening though. Apparently he actually liked Django Unchained and praised it as anti-racist despite how DiCaprio’s character paternalized Foxx’s character and the movie hyped up Foxx’s character as another messiah-complex and failed to show any black collective uprisings, ignoring and whitening history. I see this as not only evidence of Donnelly’s ignorance of history, but also a failure to critically think and investigate.
Another article of Donnelly’s is a vitriolic ad hominem against Bill McKibben.
Of course, resorting to over-emotional rhetoric doesn’t automatically discredit Donnelly, but it does raise cause for suspicion. To boot, McKibben praised NYC for being green and Donnelly laughed at him without realizing the density of NYC results in high efficiency.
Donnelly then claimed McKibben wasn’t a real environmentalist because he used old growth forests as a metaphor to describe NYC. He thus succumbed to the No True Scotsman fallacy by not realizing there is nothing in the definition of environmentalist that makes such acts impossible. Maybe Donnelly should try using logic and evidence to make an argument instead.
Anyway, let’s start with Donnelly’s “Activist Malpractice” article. I’ll go in order. One, he accuses McKibben/Hansen of activist malpractice. This I address throughout but mostly at the very end, so please wait patiently. Two, regarding McPherson’s claims that climate change is much more severe than is talked about, well, yes, the evidence does suggest we’re completely fucked and will most likely become extinct. McPherson is pretty good at detailing that evidence on his website. But to say McKibben fails to disclose the details isn’t honest because McKibben’s book Eaarth actually covers much of how fucked we’re going to be.
Moreover, McKibben knows that, rather than fear mongering, the best tactic to incite a movement is empowering local communities. He even wrote a book about it!
Also, as he says on page 14 in his book “Oil & Honey”, McKibben taught an entire class called “Social Movements, Theory and Practice,” using Taylor Branch’s classic three-volume biography of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights years, which “might as well be a handbook for organizers.” And to add a personal account, when I met him during his recent book tour I talked to him afterwards and asked if he’s ever read “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire, and he emphatically said that he reads it over and over again. That book is many things, most notable for revolutionizing the field of education, but it’s also basically an instruction manual on how to form a revolution without the oppressed turning into dictators themselves. If you read that book you would know that anybody who reads it again and again is probably sincere in what they do.
Speaking of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire argues that within any revolution critical thinking is of utmost importance. Now, at first glance, it might appear that Donnelly is doing just that. However, critical thinking does not equal dissent from common opinion. Instead, one must thoroughly analyze the logic, evidence, and context. Furthermore, over-emotional rhetoric, witty one-liners, and sound-bites are tools of the oppressor. Even though one may not intend it, this type of communication alienates and impedes critical thinking. Instead, we must come together in love. Dialogue must be firmly grounded in logic and evidence, looking deep into the true context of a situation as a path to liberation. Thanks to the Internet, we can transcend geographic restrictions quickly and debate this matter here. For that, I am thankful for and appreciate your receptiveness and response here on Facebook. Additionally, I will email Donnelly, Pahtoo@aol.com, exactly what I am saying here, as well as openly post this on my blog, in order for discussion to take place.
To return to the article in question, Donnelly criticizes McKibben for flying planes around. That’s an absurd criticism, let’s stay in reality. How else do you organize a widespread movement in the hyper-connected world we live in? Should us environmentalists avoid using any fossil fuels? No cars, no gas heat, no computers that use electricity powered by fossil fuel? The rich and powerful are POWERFUL. In order to effectively fight them we need to use every tool available. Moreover, fossil fuel is so systemic that it’s impossible to stand up for social justice without it using it. Every facet of our society is, unfortunately, dependent on fossil fuel. I guess we could run away, ignore it all, and live in caves, but I’d rather fight as hard as possible.
With respect to the following, [I’ll respond in brackets]:
"collecting mailing lists [Without consent? I need evidence.]; engaging in vanity protests [Please. It brings attention to an important matter.]; sending out narcissistic tweets [Go ahead, read through McKibben’s twitter stream and tell me he’s not selflessly linking to others.]; endlessly spamming inboxes with “the sky is falling/send us money” missives [Earlier, you were saying 350 isn’t telling the truth of how bad it is and now you accuse them of saying the sky is falling? I already responded to this above. Their emails are much more than what you claim.]; and, most importantly, never bringing up Northern Hemisphere consumption levels [What? As if divesting from fossil fuels has nothing to do with consumption?].
Regarding McKibben’s and 350’s alignment with Democrats, McKibben even acknowledges this in his recent book, “Oil & Honey”, on page 47. He describes how, right now, he’s not speaking out against Obama as a *political tactic*. In a conversation with Jon Carson, who at the time was the director of the Office of Public Engagement, McKibben writes:
"Here’s what were going to do: Follow the president wherever he went, making sure that the pipeline message became ubiquitous. And we were going to round up every big donor we could think of, using them to get the message back to the White House that this pipeline was now the measure of his environmental commitment — that it was the first environmental cause in thirty years that had filled the jails.
"More to the point, though, was what we *weren’t* going to do. ‘We won’t do you guys the favor of attacking the president.’ I explained. ‘If we do, we’re angry extremists, easy for you to marginalize. Instead we’re going to pay you the much more dangerous compliment of taking your words seriously.’ I showed Carson some of the presidents’s quotes from the campaign he’d run. ‘It’s time to end the tyranny of oil,’ for instance. Or, more powerfully, the close of the speech Obama had given the night he clinched the nomination.
'I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth.'
'[Obama] shouldn't say stuff like that if he doesn't mean it,' I said. 'If this is the moment when the planet is going to start to heal, you don't get to tap the tar sands. We will say a thousand times in the next few months that we're confident the president will do the right thing, because he said he would. We're going to refuse to be cynical. We're going to be deliberately naive. And if, in the face of that, you approve the pipeline, you're going to take a hit. You'll have to decide if the hit is worth the grief you'll get from the oil industry. You're the political professionals — you'll be able to make the calculation. But you can count on us to do our part.'
"We shook hands and left, heading back to Lafayette Square where the police were busy hauling away that day’s protestors. I had no idea if we would keep our promise."
This is 350’s political strategy. Now you know the context of why they are doing what they are doing. Support this choice or not, I don’t see a good reason to think that 350 is corrupt. Continue to question and research their ideas and actions, no doubt, but to blindly assume malpractice (or good practice) is ignorance.
I suppose, though, Obama and the Democrats have figured out the politics and have been busy tip-toeing around 350. At what point will 350 begin to criticize Obama, the Democrats, and neoliberalism, I don’t know. Hopefully an intelligent strategy comes to fruition and enough people wake up and demand climate justice.
Traveling East to Appalachia, Donnelly claims 350 doesn’t speak out against mountain top removal yet their Summer Heat campaign supported the protests at the Brayton Point coal plant in Massachusetts, which gets their coal from West Virginia (I was there, by the way).
And why does Donnelly leave out 350’s efforts in the Fossil Free campaign to divest from fossil fuels? Nor does he mention the many 350 campaigns abroad. And he forgets about 350’s support for countless local movements all over the world like the ones near me, DC Divest and Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
Yes, what Donnelly’s article says about Democrats (read: rich and powerful ones, not average joe registered Democrat) is true. They’re all talk, hyping up climate change in order to appeal to environmentalists while not actually doing anything about it and being puppets of the fossil fuel industry and its peers, e.g., the Koch Brothers. But I don’t see sufficient evidence that Bill McKibben and 350 is similarly in bed with the fossil fuel industry. McKibben is even in a documentary illuminating the corruption of the Koch Brothers.
In McKibben’s book, “Oil & Honey”, he responds to financial criticism on page 105:
"I received polite applause — but the first question I took was about the Rockefellers. They’re oil barons, and aren’t you an agent of them? I patiently explained that yes, 350.org has taken money from the Rockefeller Family Fund, which is where some of the heirs, many generations removed from John D. and his derricks, have put their money to philanthropic use, funding everything from Planned Parenthood to Clean Air Watch to MomsRising to the Alliance for Justice to Citizens Against Voter Intimidation."
Also, criticizing 350 as evil because it uses capitalism is absurd. We live in a capitalistic society. It’s the system that is fucked up, not every person who uses it. And given its systemic nature it works its way into every corner of society, so that in order to have a big movement it is hard not to use capitalism. Noam Chomsky, the biggest critic of the United States there is, has received similar criticism too but, again, it easily falls apart given its absurdness. Just because someone gets a lot of money doesn’t mean they’re inherently corrupt or their arguments are automatically invalid.
Oh, McKibben did the Do The Math tour with Naomi Klein, who decried United States capitalism in her book The Shock Doctrine, praised A Companion To Marx’s Capital, Volume 2, by David Harvey, one of the leading experts and critics of capitalism, and is writing a book about global warming being exploited by capitalism and militarism.
Do you really think that someone who is buddies with Naomi Klein is in cahoots with the fossil fuel industry?
Before I end, I want to clarify that I am not excusing oppression within environmental organizations. What happened at Power Shift, for example, was reprehensible.
(If I may copy and paste this blog post I found, I think it aptly elucidates what I want to say)
But, “[a]s bell [hooks] illustrated through stories from her personal life, … “communities of resistance” aren’t always free of conflict. She shared stories about the people in her life who have acted in ways that are harmful to her and to her views, all the while doing good by supporting her in her work, or by making great strides towards promoting racial equality. She called this contradiction “multiple intentionalities” – when people or groups do both harm and good. How do we cope with these contradictions? Do we ignore the good in someone’s actions because they have also done wrong? Do we overlook the unpleasant qualities so we can continue to idealize them as saints and angels? We live in a binary culture that has no place for contradictions. The inability to deal with multiple intentionalities can become an impediment to building communities of resistance. Even when the goals are the same, it’s easy to be divided by our differences.
"This message of importance in building communities of resistance seems to resonate deeply with everyone in the [climate movement]. It’s no secret that [climate activism] has been the battleground for a number of contentious political issues in these past couple of years. The actions of ["green capitalism"] have given some [climate activists] a particular reputation for intolerance, one that conflicts with our values and commitment to social justice. The very act of getting together to discuss these issues is a step toward building a community here online and wherever our movement spreads. Although we are mired in ideological conflict, it’s important to remember to act with loving-kindness, as bell points out. No one is black and white; no one acts in only one direction. The concept of multiple intentionalities is particularly applicable to the current cultural climate in climate activism.
"… [I]t is our job to tackle these contradictions in life. The human tendency to do good with the right hand and harm with the left is, perhaps, the very thing that drives us to create. How else can we make sense of ourselves and our world with all its contradictions if not through art [and dialogue]? Communities are what give us the strength to live our convictions even in the face of hostility. I’m thankful to be a part of the community here where we are all committed to making sense of our crazy, convoluted world."
Edit: This interview with Bill McKibben helps explain the ideas and actions of 350.org