How Can the Climate Movement Force the Billionaires and Corporations to Change Their Ways?

The People’s Climate Summit, Lima, Peru, December 11, 2014 : Marching and chanting (“Change the System, not the Climate!”), an energetic and colorful corps of indigenous people, campesinos, students, union members, and climate activists make our way through the traffic-clogged streets of Lima, from the Campo de Marte to the Plaza San Martin. Today’s “Mega-March,” 15,000 strong, is both invigorating and frustrating. Invigorating to take to the streets with a growing international Movement. Frustrating to realize that we are still losing the battle.

The bad news from Lima this week is that our Movement is not yet large enough, or powerful enough, to force the billionaires and multinational corporations who run the world to change their ways. As thousands of us chant and march in the streets, the politicians and corporate elite meeting across town at COP 20, the official UN Climate Summit, are still arguing over who’s to blame and who will pay the bill.

Meanwhile back in the U.S., the corrupt and fossilized Congress has been completely hijacked by know-nothing politicians who deny there’s a climate crisis at all.

Here in Peru and the Andes, the high mountain glaciers—essential for crops and drinking water—are melting. South America’s magnificent Amazonian rainforests, the “lungs of the planet,” are rapidly being excavated for oil or minerals, or are being chopped down. The oceans, Atlantic and Pacific, rich in marine life, are heating up, acidifying and dying. The continent’s precious agricultural soils, grasslands and watersheds, some of the planet’s most important repositories (known as carbon sinks) for CO2 and greenhouse gases are steadily being destroyed by genetically engineered monocrops, toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Degraded, decarbonized, eroding, Latin America’s farmlands are rapidly losing their capacity to sequester carbon and produce nutrient-dense food for a growing population. Across the Western Hemisphere, North and South, increasingly unpredictable and often violent weather has become the new norm.

The good news this week here in Lima, as in New York City at the massive climate march on September 21, is that public concern over global warming is increasing. We now have an embryonic global climate Movement or “network of networks” that understands that the Carbon Criminals threaten us all, that three-fourths of the fossil fuels still underground need to stay there, and that if we intend to return atmospheric CO2 back down to the “safe” level of 350 ppm, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and global warming must not be allowed to rise from our current 398 ppm of CO2 beyond 450 ppm of CO2 (roughly equivalent to an increase in global average temperatures of 2 degrees centigrade or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Meanwhile a small, but nonetheless growing, segment of the climate Movement understands that regenerative organic farming, ranching, reforestation and land use can literally suck down and sequester (through enhanced photosynthesis) a critical mass of the soil carbon (255 ppm of CO2) that has been plowed up and released into the atmosphere and the oceans over the past seven thousand years.

We all now agree, at least in principle, that in order to avoid climate catastrophe every country in the world will have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible—with poorer, developing nations making the transition to a regenerative, post-carbon economy with hundreds of billions of dollars in financing from the richer, historically most polluting nations.

But to be brutally frank, our climate Movement is neither strong enough, nor scientifically and strategically sophisticated enough, to successfully carry out the world-changing tasks at hand. “Business as usual,” silo-style activism (my issue is more important than your issue, my community, country, or constituency is more important than yours) cannot possibly stop the powerful, ruthless and united Carbon Behemoth of transnational corporations, Wall Street bankers, oil sheiks and corrupt politicians from dragging us over the climate cliff. Our local-to-international coalitions are currently too small and underpowered to reach critical mass in the 20-30 years that remain before we cross the point of no return. Most of the rank-and-file of the global grassroots who should be actively engaged and working together are not doing so.

The majority of the world’s population remains preoccupied, not with the threat of global warming, but rather with the crushing imperatives of everyday survival (money, work, family, health, war). Rather than understanding that we the people, properly organized, can change the course of history, our fellow underclass are paralyzed by the common belief that you can’t fight City Hall, global capital, the forces of repression and the big corporations.

Our communications and mobilization capacities are limited, compared to those of our adversaries. Our political and marketplace clout are woefully inadequate. While trying to “play by the rules” and peacefully change “the system,” most of us are living in oligopolies, dictatorships, or narco-states that are “democracies” in name only.

Compounding these debilitating weaknesses is the fact that our Movement’s standard gloom and doom message (i.e. the planet’s seven billion people must stop driving cars, heating or cooling their homes, and consuming fossil fuels immediately and completely or else we’re all dead) overlooks the fact that there are practical, time-tested methods (enhanced photosynthesis via regenerative organic farming, ranching, reforestation and land restoration) for safely moving 100 ppm or more excess CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it where it belongs—in the living soil.

This regeneration and revolution in agriculture and land use, in combination with radical reductions in GHG emissions, if carried out globally on billions of acres of eroded, decarbonated, deforested, bare, and exhausted soils will not only reverse global warming, but also qualitatively increase water retention, crop yields and food nutrient density or quality—enabling us to basically eliminate global poverty, hunger, water shortages and deteriorating public health.

We desperately need a new message and strategy. We need a new climate Movement powerful enough to overthrow the Fossil Fuel Empire and move us away from our presently suicidal course of business, consumption, agriculture and land use.

The Message. We need to give people hope, not just try to scare them. We need to broaden the climate discussion from one presently centered almost exclusively on fossil fuel emissions and reductions, to one that is also focused on natural carbon sequestration. Up until now, the discussion surrounding global warming and the climate crisis has been cloaked in gloom and doom. The fact is, we have the power to reverse, not just mitigate, global warming. Or, we should say, the world's 2.8 billion small farmers, ranchers, and rural villagers, with the cooperation of conscious consumers, have that power. 

We know, from a critical mass of scientific data, that the qualitatively enhanced plant photosynthesis which is a byproduct of regenerative organic farming, ranching and land use practices, can remove several hundred billion tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere over the next 20 years and safely store this carbon where it belongs, in the living soil.

If we can implement regenerative agriculture and land use practices on a significant global scale, we can buy the time we need to reduce fossil fuel use by 80-90 percent over the next few decades. At the same time, the recarbonized, qualitatively enhanced soil fertility of regenerative and agro-ecological practices will enable us to reverse rural global poverty, water shortages and deteriorating public health, thereby eliminating the major causes of civil strife, religious and ethnic conflict, and resources wars.

We need to move beyond the dull, disempowering messages of “climate change mitigation” and “climate change adaptation” to boldly stating that we are part of a growing global Movement that has the ability to reverse global warming, rejuvenate soil fertility, restore forests, stop the melting of the polar ice caps, and eliminate rural poverty and malnutrition in the Global South, where the majority of the world’s population live.

Our ongoing task is to spread this profound message of hope and agricultural transformation, framing the regenerative organic solution appropriately for each country, each region, each continent, and ultimately each person. What this means in practice is that most regions, nations and people, including many climate change deniers, will respond more intensely or more positively to different frames or dimensions of our message. 

For instance, those most concerned about global warming will be inspired by the fact that regenerative agriculture and land use practices can avert climate disaster. Others, who are less focused on global warming, but consider themselves to be environmentalists, will respond more positively to our frame or emphasis that regenerative agriculture can preserve biodiversity, forests and the health of our oceans. The capacity of regenerative agro ecology to restore soil fertility, protect crops from drought and other climate threats, is a message that will inspire and activate a literal army of farmers, ranchers, fishing communities, forest dwellers and consumers. Others, in turn will perhaps be more motivated by the message that regenerative agriculture practices can drastically reduce rural poverty, eliminate hunger and malnutrition, and preserve water.

It’s not necessary that everyone, everywhere agree 100 percent on all of the potential benefits of regenerative organics—that level of unanimity is neither practical nor necessary to build the massive international grassroots Movement that we need. What is important is that we identify the different aspects of our message so as to motivate the diverse segments of the global body politic, and then build a mighty global regenerative force utilizing the synergistic power of our shared concerns. Through a diversity of messages and campaigns we can and must build the largest grassroots coalition in history.

Connect the dots, unite the networks. We need a qualitatively larger and more powerful Climate Movement that connects the dots and unites the broadest possible network of networks—local to international, religious and secular, men and women, young and old, rich and poor—everyone concerned with global warming, extreme energy extraction, biodiversity, rural and urban poverty, hunger, public health, agro-ecological food and farming, ocean health, economic justice, land reform, renewable energy, green job creation, and peace. The hour is late, but the necessary pre-conditions for global transformation and organic regeneration are at hand.

For a more extended explanation on how we can build this new Climate Movement, see my recent talk at the Biodiversity for a Livable Climate conference in Boston, Massachusetts.


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