Call for Climate Satyagraha!
The Crisis, The Calling, The Strategy and The Horizon
This document emerged from an invitation to discussion put forward by Ecosocialist Horizons at the first PanAfrican conference on nonviolence in Cape Town, South Africa in July 2014, where delegates and representatives from 34 African countries and over 50 countries from every continent helped give birth to the PanAfrican Network for Nonviolence and Peacebuilding. Refined and revised by participants around the world, this document is a dramatic calling for massive non-violent action in defense of life on Earth. From the birthplace of humanity and the continent which stands to lose the most to climate catastrophe, we must join together in a movement to remake the world.
Catastrophic climate change is coming to a village near you, and it’s coming sooner than you think. It’s not complicated to understand. Africa is going to burn, unless we resist. The numbers are staggering: One half of all the species alive on earth today will probably be extinct by the end of the century; already we are losing them at the rate of hundreds a day. Millions of human beings will soon be refugees, as their homes are lost to the oceans or to the deserts. Already hundreds of thousands perish every year as a direct result of climate change. Africa stands to lose the most, but all life on Earth is at risk.
There is an international scientific consensus: only by containing global warming at less than two degrees Celsius can we prevent the full onslaught of catastrophic climate change. Once this point is passed, earth system feedback loops (for example, the release of methane trapped in melting permafrost and the ocean floor) will overwhelm any human effort at mitigation. To prevent this, according to the same international scientific consensus, carbon emissions must peak by 2015, followed by a rapid and permanent decline. Such words, however, contradict the logic of our economic system, which is based on the imperative of infinite growth. This system has a name: it is capitalism, and it is the enemy of nature.
Decades of international conferences and decades of missed opportunities demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that neither governments nor corporations nor NGOs are willing or capable of bringing about what every doctor has ordered. This is the nature of our terminal crisis – not only ecological and social, but also political. In the 11th hour, we are building more pipelines through the last stretches of pristine land, damming the last of our rivers, and felling the last of our forests. The crisis is absolute, and threatens to consume much of the life and beauty that remains in the world. In our moment of greatest need, we hear a calling to the horizon.
The ticking clock is not in your imagination. It resounds in the ears and hearts and minds of every one of us who is not content to simply wait for the coming storms and the mass graves. We have a duty to resist the exploitative, extractive, unequal and unjust fossil fuel war economy. We need to replace it with a just peace. And we must restore a safe climate, sustainable livelihoods, and food and water security: the rhythm of humanity living in harmony with ourselves and with the earth. To those of you who feel that pulse, we say one word: Satyagraha.
It means “soul force” and was popularized by Mohandas Gandhi against two superpowers that many believed would last forever: one was British colonialism in South Africa, the other was the British Raj in India. Both were overthrown, with mass movements of nonviolent resistance changing the course of history. But satyagraha is bigger than Gandhi, and our movements must move beyond him. Today, we are up against powers that far exceed previous empires in their globalised intelligence and coordinated military power. It is unthinkable to approach them in anything but massive numbers, wielding anything but those weapons identified so many years ago: truth (satya) and power (agraha).
The tireless work of activists, well-intentioned officials and enthusiastic school children have made one thing clear: rallies outside office buildings and conference centers will not turn the tide. The time for symbolic protest and for demands is over. It is too late to speak truth to power. Now we must speak to the power within ourselves, because only we the people of the world can keep the oil in the soil. We must resist the war on Mother Earth with a climate satyagraha; an overarching strategy to end the war on Mother Earth.
If our goal is a carbon emissions peak, we must focus our dignified rage on the parts of the fossil fuel economy which are most vulnerable: the choke-points and bottlenecks through which the vast majority of global production passes on a daily basis. Choke-points are everywhere, from big international ports to your local gas stations, airports, trains, pipelines, or highways. They can be found throughout the supply chain, from the point of extraction to the point of consumption. An alliance of organized labor in the big ports and logistics and distribution centers, together with the support and coordinated local actions of communities around the world, can stop the movement of oil and coal.
By blocking these arteries, defending them, and transforming them, soul-force can bend the arc of history toward climate justice. In particular we call attention and action to those targets that are the biggest perpetrators of catastrophic climate change: coal-fired electricity, the oil industry, industrial agriculture, and the military account for the majority of global carbon emissions. The biggest bottlenecks in the global economy, where all these climate criminals meet, are the logistics and distribution centers through which all supply chains must pass. These are the points at which we can leverage the international revolutionary political change necessary to transform the world economy.
There is an alternative. It is being imagined and created all over the world, and now is the time to realize it. But we cannot move beyond fossil fuel, war, or capitalism without a positive vision of the world we wish to create and care for. Every action to stop the fossil fuel economy, war and capitalism, must embody its goals, must prefigure the world we wish to see. So together with satyagraha, we invoke and honor the history, vision and practices of ubuntu and ujamaa.
IsiZulu for “we are who we are through others,” ubuntu expresses our fundamental interconnectedness. Kiswahili for “unity,” the vision of ujamaa is grassroots cooperation, the spirit of interdependence, and community. Together they mean a new economy and a new humanity, emerging from sustainable and egalitarian productive communities which prefigure a new mode of production. Our calling is for satyagraha, and it calls from the horizon of ubuntu and ujamaa – together these African philosophies are a revolutionary light at the end of the tunnel of capitalism, patriarchy and war.
Gathered together in Cape Town at the first Pan-African conference on nonviolence, hailing from every continent, this is a call for a coordinated global uprising. We share a vision built on beloved communities of care and trust, making use of modern technologies but most of all returning to our ancestral roots of wisdom, unity and ecological balance. This call is in solidarity with every movement for peace and justice, with every people struggling to build a new world in the shell of the old. We believe that a movement of billions, united for climate justice, armed with truth and love, is only a hair’s breadth away. In every place, the world’s peoples are already discussing amongst themselves the necessary tactical plan to make the impossible inevitable. With this common vision, we can rendezvous with victory on a global horizon, in truth and in power.