“Here at Exxon, we hate your children.”
The campaign in support of climate change reform recently took a dramatic turn with the latest attack ad on the fossil fuel industry from the grassroots organization The Other 98%. “Making a fortune destroying your kids future? At Exxon, that’s what we would call good business!”, the ad proclaims, in one of the most searing indictments against the fossil fuel industry to date. Using satire to expose the colossal waste of taxpayer dollars used to prop up an industry with no regard for public welfare or personal liberty, the ad went viral almost immediately, having been perfectly timed for release at the height of 2012’s widely publicized “fiscal cliff” negotiations. Hundreds of thousands of views and considerable attention from progressive media outlets successfully managed to ruffle the feathers of Exxon’s higher-ups, compelling them to release the following statement: “Energy use and climate change are critically important challenges facing society that won’t be resolved with media campaigns that rely on provocative language and false allegations.”
It appears The Other 98% struck a nerve. Good.
As you might have figured out by now, speaking truth to power is considered rude. It’s not nice. “Manners are of more importance than laws,” wrote philosopher Edmund Burke, quoted by sycophantic conservative mouthpiece David Brooks in a recent New York Times article regarding President Obama’s sharper tone against House Republicans in recent months. Legitimately challenging the status quo has become something to be patronized by our mainstream media, a place where indignation is met with outrage and appeals to civility are the first defense against appeals to reason. Those who choose not to tow the line with the rest of the political paparazzi are chided as impertinent children or castigated as rebellious upstarts, and it would seem that what’s expected of liberals and progressives in “legitimate” political discourse is to say please, shut the fuck up, and wait until the grownups are done talking, on any subject from the “fiscal cliff” to what some are now referring to as the “climate cliff”.
The time for playing nice is over when it comes to climate change. It’s happening, whether we like it or not. In a recent feature in Rolling Stone called “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”, leading environmental activist and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben states that the fossil fuel industry has “five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn.” He goes on to state that we’d “have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate,” and we’ve got ten years at best to get started shutting down this aberrant vision of “progress” before we begin to be subjected to the full weight of its folly. Simply put, time is running out.
But if you’re reading this, you probably already knew that. The question is: how do we get the world on board?
It’s become abundantly clear that appealing to people’s reason in the discussion about climate change is a lost cause. Companies like Exxon-Mobil, Shell, and BP have done a phenomenal job of sowing enough doubt regarding mankind’s influence on climate change that the subject has become a dead issue in American politics, causing a jaded public to collectively shrug their shoulders and assume it’ll sort itself out. The mainstream media’s not covering it whatsoever; it was almost completely off the table in the 2012 presidential elections. Even when the argument is occasionally rolled out for public display, those that speak on our behalf are derided and disregarded by so-called “climate skeptics”, snake-oil salesmen peddling bogus facts, figures, and empty promises designed to misguide an ambivalent public towards a path of inevitable destruction, both immediate and long-term. All this for the sake of lining the pockets of greedy shareholders so insulated from the consequences of their actions that they literally cannot and will not see not only the destruction they have wrought, but the impending doom that lies ahead for all mankind, including themselves. The tight-knit web of corruptive collusion between government officials, fossil fuel lobby groups, and mainstream media outlets has yanked the soapbox out from under the scientific community, and shoved them into the back of the bus. How’s that for “nice”? How’s that for “politeness”?
But widespread media suppression, corruption and pseudoscience are not the only problems with getting anything done in this arena. One of the biggest problems reformers face is that the issue of climate change itself is an abstraction. It’s not that interesting, because it’s not happening right in front of us at a rate that we can easily perceive. Given mankind’s relatively short attention span and inclination towards high drama over high-brow science, charts and graphs and mild-mannered scientists aren’t exactly “wowing” people. Most of those who have come forward to speak on civilization’s behalf seem either unwilling or unable to capitalize on this behavior, and find new and innovative ways to appeal to people’s outrage as well as their reason. Climate change advocacy needs fire and brimstone; it needs pulpit-pounding stump speeches. We need to make people understand that they have been betrayed by those who they have charged with stewardship over this planet’s resources. We need to start talking about who we’re fighting, not what.
The fossil fuel industry is a hive mind gone completely rogue, a bloated, cancerous growth upon our planet that places the welfare of its shareholders over that of life itself. Unmoored from governmental oversight through rampant corruption, fossil fuel companies and their ilk have tightened their web around the globe, breaking and bending laws with reckless abandon nearly every single day and bribing their way through the advancement of their exploitative agenda, leaving a path of environmental and economic ruin in their wake. They beg, borrow, and steal their way across our lands, into our communities, spewing black filth into our rivers, into our skies, into our soil. It fills our lungs and our bellies, and our bodies grow ripe with decay over every successive generation. And worst of all, they have learned to exploit almost every environmental tragedy, whether man made or not, as an economic opportunity. Not just in the fossil fuel business, but in every business, from education to banking to defense. They are all connected. Our institutions have failed to protect us; they are hamstrung by greed. We must stand up for ourselves and fight.
In the war for the future of mankind, climate change reformers are losing.
A war needs armies. A war needs generals. Most importantly, a war needs tactics; ruthless ones. We have to hit them where it hurts: their reputation, and the machine that supports it. So if we can’t win with the facts people won’t believe, then we have no choice but to fight with the ones they will. We have to tell a new story, one that attaches fossil fuel companies’ crimes against humanity to people’s core values. We need to talk about saving the world of today rather than the world of tomorrow, focusing on almost everything but the science in order to do this, using it only to support our righteous indignation towards willful ignorance and criminal neglect. We need to tell the truth: these people are criminals. They do not care about us. And they must be stopped.
The future is not the only thing at stake; our present is in immediate danger. Groups like The Other 98% and 350.org are leading the charge to starve the beast and take back our liberty from those who would forsake our very lives to raise their bottom line, and behind them we must be. The 11th Hour is upon us, and it’s time for climate warriors to go on the offensive.
There’s no other choice.