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Necessary but not Sufficient?

Some Green activists, I’ll call them reformists, argue that we can recalibrate our economy by investing in sustainable technological innovation and privileging renewable energy sources over fossil fuels. They argue a War on Climate Change (Bill McKibben) or a Green New Deal (Jill Stein) will drastically cut greenhouse emissions while generating tens of millions of green jobs that will allow for continued economic growth. It isn’t stated explicitly, but the implication is that if we take these actions we can both live sustainably AND continue much as we have been.

Recent articles question these plans.

“[S]imply shifting to no-fossil fuel energy will do nothing about the exploitation of humans and ecosystems that nourishes both capitalism and the global climate emergency. … The climate movement tends to … focus on technical production goals such as achieving 100% renewable energy by 2050. But that’s far from enough; we have to rein in the economy and eliminate net greenhouse emission far sooner and be prepared to deal with the economic consequences.” (Stan Cox, “If there a World War II-style climate mobilization, it has to go all the way - and then some,” 9/22/16, greensocialthought.org)

“It is … contrary to established ecological science for Mr. McKibben to promote a war on climate focused solely upon techno-optimist industrial solutions. First and foremost, climate change is an ecological issue. I [am concerned] that he apparently has little understanding of the ecological systems that maintain a livable earth.” (Dr. Glen Barry, “Bill McKibben’s Ecology-Free Declaration of War on Climate is Dangerous and Wrong,” 10/23/16, ecointernet.org)

McKibben and Stein are mobilizing millions either to vote green or attack the extractionists at their weakest point, pipelines and other infrastructure that no one wants in their back yard. It is necessary for such movements to attract increasing numbers if we hope to stop the removal, transportation, refining and burning of fossil fuels. Doing this is essential if civilization is to survive.

But the articles quoted above raise several difficult questions.
1. Are the demands of the reformist green movement necessary, but not sufficient, to save us?
2. Is the assumption that we can make our current system sustainable without changing its basic nature valid?
3. Does the reformist agenda contain counter-productive elements because it is not scientifically grounded?

Those are valid concerns and important questions. At the same time, I worry that attacking green reformists may be a grave strategic error. We can’t build a mass movement on an unprecedented scale by attacking a major source of potential allies. In the next few blogs I will discuss the three questions posed above and attempt to tackle the thorny challenge of how to work with, rather then drive away, those seduced by the prospect of living sustainably without significantly reducing our current level of consumption.
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