Think local act global

by | 12 Mar 2011 | Climate strategy | 0 comments

Every catchment issue is set to become more acute.

Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church

Venerable Tradition: Venue of first National Negro Convention, which in 1830 organised one of the first recorded boycotts—of slave-produced goods. Global boycotts could fill the void in global democracy that would otherwise allow practices such as tar-sands oil production to be put to the vote. Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church 1829

Despite the best intentions of the Mahurangi Action Plan, stormier weather will wash ever more soil into the harbour, and higher tides will more vigorously churn and muddy its soft shoreline. Thanks, in the words of Hansen and Sato, to

the predominant scientific, economic, political and moral issue of the 21st century.

Anthropogenic global warming is a far greater threat to the Mahurangi catchment than the 19th century deforestation that turned the harbour into a sediment trap. And globally, warming is a greater threat to civilisation than World War Two, and threatens species extinction on a scale comparable that caused by the Chicxulub asteroid.

The catchcry think global, act local sounds reassuring.

And great local actions are possible and desirable. But a great number of people each doing a little, still adds up to a little, and will count for little against an out-of-control climate. What is called for is action on a global scale.

There was a time when states determined their affairs democratically. But while about 120 of the world’s 196 countries have more-or-less democratically elected governments, multinational corporations have put themselves beyond democratic control. There is, for example, no mechanism whereby the world’s voters can prohibit the extraction of oil from tar sands and oil shales.

A Canadian voter, for example, may be motivated by wanting to see family members benefit from the high wages paid to shale oil extraction workers. A Kiribati voter, meantime, likely wants to see family members spared non-linear sea level rise. Clearly the Kiribati voter is disenfranchised in respect to governance of the international commons—the greenhouse gas ‍–‍drenched atmosphere in particular.

Democracy has been hopelessly out-paced by globalism. If the need for climate action was less acute, the deficiencies in global democracy could be addressed in a considered and orderly manner. However, the glacial pace of change of international law precludes relying solely on that approach. It is difficult, for example, to visualise the United States readily passing legislation that would devolve power to any mechanism that could instantly be stigmatised as world government—‘from my dead and dying hands’ wouldn’t begin to characterise the reaction.

Sadly, had Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Bertrand Russell, Mahatma Gandhi and others been heeded, the United Nations would long-since have morphed into federal world government, and been beyond the control of the multinationals that so readily manipulate Washington.

Gandhi-style direct action is the alternative and is imminently practicable globally, courtesy of the internet.

Nine vessels in Sullivan Bay

Avaaz and Avast: Avaaz has mobilised more than 800‍ ‍000 of its members to e-mail United Nations delegates for a no-fly zone over Libya, to halt aerial attacks on its people. photographer Unknown

Avaaz hints at the way forward. In just four years it has amassed 7.3‍ ‍million members and facilitated about 35‍ ‍million actions. Its current action, urging the imposition of a military no‑fly zone over Libya, has resulted in more than 800‍ ‍000 members e‑mailing United Nations delegates.

Avaaz relies on influencing decision makers:

to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people inform the decisions that affect us all.

It has had its successes:

On the cusp of a critical decision moment in June 2009, Avaaz members in Brazil made 14‍ ‍000 phone calls and sent 30‍ ‍000 online messages in two days to President Lula’s office.

In the 11th hour, public pressure successfully reversed a law that would hand over much of the Amazon rainforest to agribusiness for exploitation.

But while Avaaz figures are impressive, membership is only about 0.37% of internet users. Mere influence is not enough. What is needed is the excitement that comes with the exercise of power—the power that should be available through a global ballot box.

Once the world’s people experience the raw power of being able to directly change it, the world order will never be the same again. Power to immediately impose a carbon tax and ban the most egregious forms of ecocide—mountaintop coal mining, for one.

But while waiting for the long overdue evolution of global democratic mechanisms, direct power is available through the venerable practice of boycott, which includes the 1830 boycott of slave-produced goods.

For a global boycott to work it would need a clearly articulated objective, such as forcing a major oil company out of tar sands oil production.

The reason for targeting tar sand, of course, is that it is the singularly most emission-producing means of delivering energy—up to four times that of conventional oil. The operations also involve expansive tailings dams of oily water, which sometimes become mass graves for migratory birds.

Given the corporation’s current highly deserved unpopularity, BP is a prime candidate for a global boycott.

A concerted effort by ethical shareholders last year to require BP to review its tar sands intentions was supported by only 15% of the shareholding, and was shrugged off by company management. However had the vote been taken five days later—after 20 April 2010 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill—the outcome might have been somewhat closer.

Despite causing by far the world’s largest accidental release of oil into marine waters, BP continues to be gung-ho on tar sands.

But boycotting BP has proved difficult, as aggrieved Gulf of Mexico citizens have discovered. Few BP-branded petrol stations are owned by the corporation, far-less pump its product. The boycott disproportionately hurt service station owner–operators—knowledge of that deterred Greenpeace and others from endorsing the action.

An alternative might be to target BP-branded products such as motor oil, or those of BP subsidiary Castrol:

Say no to tar-sand oil—boycott BP lubricants

Supposing such a boycott bit sufficiently deeply, it is conceivable that subsequent shareholder action would be successful in extricating an ethically mired BP from its tar sands incursion.

And if the giant’s shareholders were persuaded to do the ethical thing and forsake tar-sands oil, boycotters could respond immediately and reward BP by sending sales of its lubricants through the roof.

Forty years of simplistic ‘think global, act local’ has led to global impotence…

From here on in, thinking and acting must be local and global.

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