“It can be a useful way of practising being a sovereign human, rather than a consumer of manipulative content and the agendas of various globalist factions (whether oil, nuclear, clean-tech or other factions of capital). It is with this understanding and hope that I have kept supporting people’s leadership in this time of disruption and collapse”
Jem Bendell is Professor of Sustainability Leadership, University of Cumbria, UK. He has recently published the book ‘Breaking Together – a freedom-loving response to collapse’
Picture Credit: ‘Blind Liberty’ by Jem Bendell using Midjourney
People around the world are mobilising to protect and restore their environments. Some are doing that in practical ways, with regenerative farms and relocalising trade. Others are campaigning for changes in policies from corporations and governments. This peoples’ environmentalism is a grassroots alternative to the corporate one that has hijacked the environmentalism in recent years. Unfortunately, they are increasingly demeaned by the media, criminalised in law, and prosecuted in the courts. Worse, every other day an environmental activist is murdered, according to Global Witness. That means it is essential for this peoples’ environmentalism to be more widely defended and expanded. However, many natural allies have been turning away from environmental issues altogether. That is because the draconian policies, lies and corruption from governments during the pandemic, has made large sections of the public suspicious of experts and authorities. Think tanks funded by oil companies have opportunistically channelled that suspicion into climate scepticism and resistance to environmental action. They spread the incorrect assumption that the only way to respond to climate change is with draconian policies. Many of my friends now see the situation that way, even those who were previously supportive of environmental policies. Therefore, I have written a public letter to them, which I share below. My aim is for more of them to realise that the lies are coming in from all directions, not just the mainstream media, and that’s stealing our attention from a peoples’ environmentalism which we could all be part of.
Many of my environmental colleagues prefer to ignore anyone who is denying the dangers of manmade climate change. I think that is unwise, as significant damage is being caused by the new wave of scepticism. First, it is splitting opposition to the corporate and authoritarian control of our lives. Second, it is enabling electoral victories for politicians who opportunistically use public concern about freedom, despite continuing to crush people’s rights and freedoms. Third, it is now inciting violence against community leaders who are promoting local environmental initiatives. For instance, the recent accosting of the Green Party Mayor of Glastonbury, in a small British town that has been targeted by fossil-funded right wing think tanks. That is despite her publicly supporting a freedom-loving environmentalism. Fourth, this diversionary spectacle delays the conversations that we must have: how bad is the ecological and climate crisis, what is causing it, and what should we do?
In my conversations and correspondence with friends who have become climate sceptics in the last few years, I have found their warranted suspicion means they don’t listen to the relevant scholarship. Therefore, rather than address the ‘scientific’ arguments of climate sceptics, which I have done elsewhere, my letter covers the topics that they often bring up. As the factual claims I make are referenced to scientific sources within Chapters 3 and 5 of my book Breaking Together, or in my recent essay on climate scepticism, I won’t provide references within the letter itself.
My dear freedom-loving friends,
1) If you are doubtful whether manmade climate change is real, or how bad it might become, but witness the unusual weather events and recorded temperatures around the world and recognise that the future hazards being discussed would be life changing if they did occur, then you must recognise that this isn’t something to remain undecided about.
2) That quite a few people like me are quitting their careers, moving to the country, or moving country altogether, and even starting small farms, shows how some people are taking the climate situation really seriously. We aren’t just posting blogs or making one-minute videos. We are walking away from big salaries, security and status that took decades to achieve. Either we are deluded, or we see something that others do not.
3) There is verifiable evidence now that the aim of the oil industry since the 1990s has been to sow sufficient doubt about the causes and dangers of climate change to create indecisiveness. So, if you remain in limbo on this it would mean that, in your case, they’d succeeded. Instead, this isn’t something to remain undecided about. It is not a philosophical debate. If true, it affects everything you care about.
4) Once you decide to take the climate topic seriously enough to reach some conclusions of your own, the question becomes where to look for valid data and analysis. That requires discernment. The summaries of the situation by spokespersons from institutionalised science can’t be taken as gospel. That does not mean they are devious, but that the kind of conclusions reached through processes within the establishment are unlikely to undermine their power. That does not mean all the research they refer to is wrong, or that all research on the matter should be ignored. Rather, the implication is to identify how processes of institutional bias affect conclusions, and look for the research that is rigorous and might be really significant to society, but could be ignored due to not supporting incumbent power (something I explore in Chapter 5 of my new book).
5) It is clear, therefore, that the communications from groups like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) need to be contrasted with other sources. But what other sources? It can be useful to listen to independent aggregators of the latest science that was published through peer review. For instance, the channels Climate Emergency Forum and Facing Future TV often platform such integrators of the recent scientific findings. It can also be useful to consider the funding or commercial interests of anyone making claims on this topic, as with any topic. For instance, we can recognise that some think tanks, like those in the Atlas Network, are funded by the fossil-fuel sector.
6) When keeping our values in mind, such as human rights and freedoms, we should not blindly accept what we are told about how those values are in conflict with action on any issue, including climate change. That the elites want to profit from any issue, and control us in the process, is not news. That does not mean there are no real issues of collective threat to address. Instead, we can recognise there are games always being played by different factions of capital, associated with different industries and countries, that aim to confuse and divide opposition to them. Therefore, we need to interrogate more deeply what are the real threats to what we care about, including our rights and freedoms.
7) Please compare the claims over the last few years that you have seen, and often shared with friends, about the plans of some globalists to be ending aeroplanes/cars/ gas-stoves, with the reality of spiralling fossil fuel emissions (highest ever), air travel (highest ever) and higher-than-ever government subsidies for fossil fuel use (in the trillions, per annum). Compare the politicians’ public commitments to achieving Net Zero emissions in decades to come with the reality of their current decisions for new oil drilling licences, new wars and subsidising the oil industry. Contrast what independent environmentalists say must be done to address the ecological crisis with the government subsidies of enterprises that are not supported by those environmentalists, such as carbon capture technologies and nuclear energy. Also compare the clear need for policies that target the profligacy of elites and corporations, with the efforts of finance and tech firms to reduce the climate issue to each of our personal ‘carbon footprints’, no matter how poor we might be. Set aside what politicians say and look at what is happening, right now, and which factions of capital are being served. Unfortunately, the fake environmentalism of the corporations is winning while you exit the debate entirely by dismissing the existence of environmental problems.
8) As we are concerned about rights and freedoms, let’s pay attention and allow our shock at how an environmental activist is killed every other day worldwide. Meanwhile, the criminalisation of protest is growing around the world. Many of my friends face jail in the UK next month for up to two years for their peaceful protests about the environment. The media, the politicians, the police, and the legal systems are responding to the efforts of the fossil-fuel industry funded efforts of ‘think tanks’ of the Atlas Network to demonise them (and me). Do you see how this is a form of fascism that has already arrived, and it’s backed by the oil industry and is misleading people like you, who want to protect our rights and freedoms?
9) I am concerned about the authoritarianism that exists amongst many privileged environmental commentators. I am disgusted about their vilification of people who rejected the corporatist orthodoxy on the pandemic (me included). However, we are not being locked in our homes by local governments adopting pro-local policies. The Atlas Network of think tanks is behind the demonising of such green initiatives as a new kind of lockdown. If we want better bus routes as we can’t afford to run a car, or want more cycle lanes, or for the local school gym to be open to the public as well, we could welcome such efforts by our local councillors. Clearly, these initiatives from some elected local governments are neither fascism or communism! Our rights and freedoms need better informed defenders than people who like to share ‘easy outrage’ online.
10) Without a critical understanding of the recent history of capitalist exploitation and manipulation, you risk becoming a mere cheerleader for one camp of globalists or the other. For instance, people cheering on Elon Musk don’t realise that he is seeking further global domination of our financial lives by private monopolies and that he markets the lie that renewables will power high consumption lifestyles. Those cheering for his opponents don’t realise they are also seeking global domination of our lives by their own favoured private monopolies. Both camps are promoting what Yanis Varoufakis terms ‘technofeudalism’ and most of us are going along with it as it is convenient (eg. me, typing this letter out on googledocs).
11) We all know from our personal lives that we can get angry as a way of avoiding painful realities that stimulate our fear and sadness. The way we justify that anger to ourselves is through feeling self-righteous. It is incredibly painful that our personal world is breaking down because the systems supporting that world have been destroying life on Earth. Therefore, for some years, environmentally-aware psychologists have predicted that there will be a general derangement in society, as people find many ways to deny reality and suppress their anxiety. That means that collectively we lose time to face reality and explore changes to our lives. You need to allow yourself to experience some fear and sadness about the environment if those emotions arise from giving the situation your fuller attention.
12) You know what can happen if calm, kind and thoughtful people do nothing in a time of public derangement. Like anyone, you are capable of reading, assessing and provisionally concluding what’s happening in the world. You are capable of spotting irrational arguments, divisive stories, and ideas which lead nowhere, or worse, into potential violence from those with mental instability. You can appreciate that if the current evidence and best science is to be accepted, even if in part, then we are facing the most dangerous threat to our communities, country and world that we have ever seen. Yes, it is even worse than the risks of nuclear Armageddon, as at least a few leaders could choose not to go nuclear in any conflict. With climate change the warheads are airborne already, we just don’t know how many, or where they are headed first (please see Chapter 5 of my book on why this is the case). You know you need to make up your mind on something so huge, and then avoid being a mere bystander.
13) If some of this makes sense to you, then you need to make time to analyse things further to come to a conclusion. That is because this issue is so important to the rest of your life. I recommend reading or listening to Chapters 3, 4, 5 and 6 of my book ‘Breaking Together’ on the environmental predicament. Then also my essay responding to the new wave of climate scepticism. You could then consider what a combination of your dual interest in freedom and ecology might look like, and consider the political philosophy of ecolibertarianism.
14) I write this letter because I have been trying to meet these times of collapse and change with connection, resistance and forgiveness. I don’t know how else to be, or try to be, in such a momentous situation. After digging into this, I hope you find your own path of helpful and peaceful surrender to the predicament we find ourselves facing. As your ideas evolve, you could go back to the WhatsApp, Telegram and Messenger groups where you once welcomed content that dismissed climate change and, instead, invite a better conversation. But there is something more than that which we could do. We can join a political party or campaign to advance an ecolibertarian understanding of our times. We don’t need to go full time on that, but it can be a useful way of practising being a sovereign human, rather than a consumer of manipulative content and the agendas of various globalist factions (whether oil, nuclear, clean-tech or other factions of capital). It is with this understanding and hope that I have kept supporting people’s leadership in this time of disruption and collapse.
Thank you, Jem