Direct Action and the Climate Emergency

The rapid rise of the Extinction Rebellion movement is bringing the question of direct action to the fore in the climate emergency. There can be no doubt that various actions of this kind are urgently needed due to the failure of the media, our politicians and large parts of the bureaucracy to perceive the dire straits that we are in. With few exceptions they have yet to grasp or understand the diabolical problem we are facing – especially with regards climate inertia, tipping points and feedback loops. Even the Victorian Labor government with its forward policies on renewable energy is still hell bent on destroying the precious carbon store of our native forests or is yet to publicly plan for the forward closure of our brown coal generators. One important question is for activists to decide which tactics and actions to adopt. There is a need to identify those which work decisively in favour of the climate emergency and recognise those which don’t.

For many years various ‘green’ groups have been working in the forests blockading the felling of coupes, mapping the locations of species threatened with extinction, opposing the various outmoded concepts of controlled burns and other local actions – sometimes for temporary and marginal gains. Some of these actions have been poorly targeted. Similarly the blocking of traffic in the city or in the bush will probably create as much reaction as support. Many of these actions are attacking workers (and ordinary citizens) at the ‘coal face’ – people in the main who have no choice in the matter.

Surely it is far better to target the people who are making, or not making, the decisions – the politicians and the bureaucrats; the media which continues to ignore, or even oppose, what best science has been telling us for 30 years; and the large companies who continue to belch greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and use their huge financial resources to oppose any efforts to contain them. Some of the ‘good’ targets are obvious – the politician’s offices (especially those of climate change deniers), the parliaments, the offices of various bureaucracies, and those of the big polluters. One suggestion is for the forest blockades to be brought to Bairnsdale and Orbost – with sit-ins, blockades or even pickets, perhaps depending on the numbers. The first actions of Greta Thunberg, for instance, were in part striking (from school) and another part picketing (sitting outside the Swedish Parliament).

These actions should be maintained as long as possible, be non-violent, have clear statements of purpose (eg to end logging of native forests and preserve them as a carbon store) and be promoted widely in the media and the social media. A wide range of other actions can be found. The three volumes of The Politics of Nonviolent Action by Gene Sharp (Extending Horizon Books, 1973) have been on my shelves for many years. The second, entitled ‘The Methods of Nonviolent Action’ deals with these choices in particular. Above all, whichever method of direct action is chosen, it should be targeted carefully.