In a previous and apparently somewhat controversial article I laid out what individuals are likely to do as despair and anger rise over climate inaction. (I have taken it down, as some actions were illegal and potentially dangerous, but people are doing them.) I was not recommending these actions, but some readers interpreted it that way and seemed very threatened by what desperate individuals will do.
We must also consider what nations are liable to do, especially those right on the front lines of climate change. Many nations will be desperate – they are literally in a life-or-death situation – and some are certain to take drastic action.
Also known as symbolic actions, these have no effect on someone who really doesn’t care what you think of him. They apply to nations, too. Some examples:
- Hold an underwater session of Parliament. The Maldives recently did this; Canada and the United States did not change direction noticeably.
- Entreat, appeal to reason, point out the advantages to acting now, etc. The developed countries are locked on their current path by powerful corporate interests, so reason is irrelevant.
- Participate in international conferences, trusting that the rich nations are sincere and will be honourable. How much climate action have these produced? If anything, they are providing cover for inaction by the rich nations.
The actions of the developed nations are predatory in that they will still be talking long after the poor countries are underwater.
Likely Actions: Potentially Harmful to All
Desperate people are likely to take desperate action. Don’t expect them to die quietly for our benefit. Here are actions that could be taken by developing nations concerned about what climate change will do to them; the G77 could band together for self-protection.
- Make an example of an individual denier. I have suggested charging CEOs of oil companies with crimes against humanity They have funded climate denying liars for years, continue to do so, and continue to lie about it. This action would strike at the head of the beast, and may be one of the only ways to move the rich to action. It is also the safest for all of us, though embarrassing that someone else had to take out our trash.
- Make an example of a denier country. Boot Canada out of the Commonwealth, for example. Efforts to do this have actually been discussed. Or, for that matter, charge Canada’s Prime Minister with crimes against humanity.
- Buy land in other nations in order to grow crops to feed your people. China and Saudi Arabia are doing this in Africa, and it seems certain to lead to conflict.
- Demand that rich nations give land to sunken countries for a new home. Something like was done for Israel post-World War II, but this time willingly by the people who caused the countries to sink. The Maldives are going to disappear and countries like Canada and the US are largely responsible; why shouldn’t the US give Kauai to the people they dispossessed? If Bangladesh must relocate 17 million climate refugees by the end of the century, why shouldn’t Canada accept them as refugees?
- Geo-engineering. Yes, it could destroy much human life on the planet if it goes wrong, but if your country is dead anyway…. And if we don’t stop climate change we’re all dead, so certainly some desperate nation will try. It may not work, but it would cost very little for Bangladesh or an African nation to dump a shipload of iron filings into the ocean to try and cool the planet. Or for China and India to inject sulphur into the atmosphere.
- Steal. Divert water for your own nation’s use. The Himalayan glaciers provide water to 40% of the world’s population in Asia, and they are melting fast. When they are gone, someone is not going to get sufficient water.
- Reduce population any way possible. Wars work, as does starvation if you can prevent rioting. Lenin and Stalin starved millions to death, as did Mao. Some sort of influenza would do the trick, assuming a vaccine was developed in advance and given to the favoured few. All this sounds horrifically cruel – and the rich countries are allowing all of it to happen right now. There is enough food to feed everyone, yet children go hungry in places as distant as Africa and the USA. COVID (and now Monkeypox) are running free, with no serious effort by governments in manyu developed countries to contain them.
- Go to war. China could invade Russia to get more land. Or Canada. Unlikely? At the moment, yes. If the Chinese government is facing revolution and economic collapse as millions of residents of their coastal cities are drive from their homes by rising sea levels, then the scenario becomes much more plausible. Or India could nuke Bangladesh if refugees from that country are overwhelming India.
Some of these scenarios will seem more plausible as time goes by, even with concerted action on climate. This is because we have already set in motion climate changes that will result in, for example, significant sea level rise. Gwynne Dyer covers this well in his excellent book Climate Wars which used research from the U.S. Pentagon. The Pentagon considers climate change a much greater threat than terrorism, and for good reason: the United States shares a very long border with Mexico, population 111 million. Mexico is rapidly running out of oil and is predicted to suffer badly due to desertification as the tropics warm.
I would much prefer that we get serious about climate change now, before millions are starving, migrating, and warring – before people and nations are backed into a corner with their life on the line. Getting serious means: stop doing things that don’t work, like candlelight vigils or expecting rich nations to act honourably, and instead to take actual action. Step 1 should be to stab a dagger through the heart of the denier Medusa by charging the CEO of Exxon Mobil, the lead funder of climate denial.
And while any one country could (and may) do this, it would be far more powerful to have developing countries in the G77 band together to do it.
These are individual actions that won’t get you arrested, are important, and are not enough. We have to do these plus some civil disobedience – see the next section.
- Sign an Internet petition urging the Maldives to charge the CEO of Exxon with crimes against humanity. This is a perfect example of a small, risk-free action (for you, not the CEO) that could lead to big results.
- Join a rally Unfortunately the predators who run the world have figured out that they can safely ignore rallies. They know we will go home and complain, but we won’t come back with pitchforks.
- Make common cause. All environmental and social justice organizations should be very concerned about global warming – and should be working together to get action. They are not. The churches should be in there, too. If you are a member of any of these, convince the Executive Director, minister, or whoever is in charge to insist upon this. If they won’t, find a charity or church that cares about your children.
- Take personal actions that set an example. Change those light bulbs, walk places, insulate your house, grow a garden, go meatless on Monday and so on. You’ll want to get used to these things anyway for when the price of oil goes up.
Civil disobedience and beyond
Once again, I am not advocating these actions. They are things that people have done or will do as anger and despair grows. Some are illegal, but then civil disobedience has always been made illegal by those in power to prevent challenges to their authority. The latest attempt to quell disobedience is to label it terrorism and charge you accordingly. All but the first of these go well past civil disobedience, however.
- Join Extinction Rebellion. These brave folks are leading civil disobedience efforts globally. Yes, some are getting arrested. You don’t have to go that far, but sooner or later enough of us have to get arrested that the powers-that-be realise they cannot arrest everyone. As a sign of how dire climate change is, there is even a Scientist Rebellion now.
- Torch a Hummer. Some folks in Germany have been torching luxury cars. They figured out a way to put firestarter briquettes under the cars so that by the time the flames are visible, they are long gone.
- Blow up a gas or oil pipeline. Potentially very dangerous to the bomber, pipeline workers, and innocent bystanders.
- Assassinate an oil executive. Again, I am NOT saying to do this. But as Jim Kunstler has pointed out, the rich in the developed nations live awfully close to the people they are screwing over, making blowback tempting and simple.
- There are lots more, and some are terrifying. Imagine someone blowing up a Liquefied Natural Gas tanker; that could take out a big chunk of Los Angeles. Bombing a Saudi oil refinery would take down the U.S. and world economy overnight.
Lots of innocent people are going to suffer and die because of climate change, primarily in developing countries at first. Not all of them are going to go quietly so we can keep enjoying our gas-guzzling lifestyle; there will be blowback. As the President of Maldives recently said: “Some might prefer us to suffer in silence but today we have decided to speak.”
The time has come that people realize speaking is not enough.