We Don’t Need a 'War'
on Climate Change
We Need a Revolution
By Eric S.Godoy and Aaron Jaffe
In the United States, we are familiar with war metaphors; and they are often politically useful. We have been through wars on poverty, drugs, cancer and even Christmas. In these cases, metaphors are understood as metaphors, but when McKibben points to territory ceded, space invaded, cultural loss and human suffering, he intends to be taken at face value: “It’s not that global warming is like a world war,” he writes. “It is a world war.”
War rhetoric serves a valuable function. It stresses the seriousness of the harm, its structural nature and the need to struggle against it. Wars require people to sacrifice and to share responsibility for a joint effort larger than individual preferences and comforts. They can also motivate solidarity: The goal of defeating the enemy orients all activity, and whatever may divide or distract us from achieving that goal must be put aside. In the rhetoric-bag of political discourse, “war” is a forceful weapon.
McKibben is one of the most visible and motivating climate activists in North America... Our goal here is not to attack McKibben so much as the rhetorical strategy that he, along with others, have made increasingly popular.
The idea that climate change is a war is inaccurate, and a potentially counterproductive frame for organizing the resistance needed to secure a habitable planet. By stressing existential threat, war tends to divide the world into allies and enemies, against whom we need to risk all. McKibben insists that climate change is “a world war aimed at us all.” But aimed by whom? It is variably polluting industries, tepid or two-faced politicians, our own political passivity, and even the laws of physics. McKibben often writes as if nature itself was a bellicose agent.
This approach ignores the environmental movement’s earlier rhetorical and organizational strengths. As a political force, the movement grew from roots in the nonviolent soil of civil rights struggles, and was radicalized in antiwar protests and resistance against nuclear weapons. This legacy is not merely historical: it is alive and well in the language and action of ongoing resistance at Standing Rock. ...
One thing we all share is that we secure existence in and through a relationship with our environment — all living things do. In recognition of this fact, Marx thought of the human body as part of the natural world and called nature an extension of our bodies. Following Marx, contemporary theorists like Jason Moore and John Bellamy Fosterdescribe our changing, and dangerously unstable metabolic relationship with nature...
However, if we understand that the enemy is not our physical environment, but the unjust social relations that allow some to gain at the expense of and risk to others, then technological solutions can be a part, but only a part, of the plan. Crucial to this plan is gaining social control over the private, exploitative and even irresponsible direction of the human-nature metabolism.
For this reason, Naomi Klein has called for solutions that go beyond the technological...We want to follow Klein’s lead in shifting the conceptual focus from technologies of power to relations of power. ..
We urgently need to motivate action, but given the ambiguities and dangers surrounding war rhetoric, we need better orienting language. Perhaps, as some have suggested, “revolution” is the better path...
Climate change demands not only a race to develop and deploy new energy technologies, but a revolution to democratize all forms of power — fossil fuels, wind, solar, but most important, economic and political power."