Wishful Thinking: On Al Gore and Civil Disobedience

posted by scott parkin

The bully pulpit is a great thing. It inspires me when someone like Al Gore gets on his soapbox about young people doing civil disobedience at coal plants to stop global warming. Over the past year or so he’s done it three times in the pages of the NY Times, Rolling Stone and most recently, in person, at the Clinton Global Initiative.

In making these comments, he’s communicating some things:

1. To the climate movement, that we need to step this shit up.
2. To mainstream America, that Thoreau’s wisdom about breaking the law for a higher cause is long overdue to avert further climate disaster.

Our wishful thinking about this has been “let’s get Gore arrested” or “we can’t do it until luminaries and celebrities like Gore start doing it.

Besides the fact that he’s yet to volunteer to clip himself into a lockbox, I think, right now, this is less of an option. Al Gore is less likely to cross a line and blockade a coal plant until a lot more of us start doing it. Think thousands of us doing in it for sustained periods of time.

That’s also part of his nuanced message to climate activists- when the people lead, the leaders will follow.

So, then what’s strategic at this moment? Spending time and energy convincing Gore to get arrested or spending time and energy organizing actions and support infrastructure for actions and our movement. It’s obvious to me.

And BTW, he’s right, instead of talking and blogging about it, more of us in the youth climate movement (as well as the elder climate movement) need to get out from behind our computer screens into the streets and into the gears of these coal and oil companies. Global warming is not stopping itself.

Right now, small groups of half a dozen and a dozen (sometimes more, sometimes less) have been putting themselves on the line at corporate offices, coal financiers and coal plants, and risking limb and livelihood to stop climate change. In the UK and Australia, it’s lots more people doing it.

So instead of dreaming up ways to get Gore arrested, more of us need to heed to words of Thoreau by drawing a line in the sand and saying “thus far and no further.