This is a repost of an article I published about two years ago. I’m repeating it now because it is thematically related to the Keystone protests. The next post in the Keystone series will come out next week, either Tuesday or Thursday–there are some current events in development that may require their own article.
Last May two of my grad-school buddies and I were spending way too much time in the library. With too much to write before the end of the semester and not enough time, we had each parked ourselves in front of our favorite computer on campus, and by chance all three computers were in a row. I think it was the third or fourth day that we started getting punchy. Tyler mimicked birds. Brent started “eep”ing. I got the giggles. In retrospect, I suppose it was inevitable the Beatles would become involved.
“All together now!” sang Brent.
“All together now!” I responded, to make sure he knew I got the reference.
“All together now!” he replied.
“All together now!” I continued.
“ALL TOGETHER NOW!”
We repeated this, at intervals, for something like a week and a half. We were trying to cope with the monotony of theses and term papers and internship paperwork that just wouldn’t get finished. We were also, I think, trying to nail down an in-joke, bank the fires of circumstantial friendship against the ending of that circumstance, just days away. This is grad school, and finishing up papers can take years, but classes were over. We’ve scattered now already. I see them on Facebook occasionally.
We are, or will soon be, masters of science, two conservation biologists and a resource manager, respectively, assuming we all get jobs. It would be nice to think of ourselves as girding on the sword-belts of scientific expertise to fight the demons of biodiversity loss and climate change with the Green Ray of Knowledge. That was certainly our intent when we started this, or at least it was mine.
But climate change really isn’t a scientific problem anymore. Oh, sure, there’s details to sort out; how fast, how bad and where, there’s a lot we don’t know—enough to keep thousands of researchers busy forever, if not exactly paid. But we know the basics; carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and several other gases trap heat in the atmosphere, and we are producing these gases in large quantities, making the Earth warmer. All kinds of problems are ensuing as a result. We’ve known that for decades, and the obvious solution has not really been tried, not on a large scale. How much more do we need to know?
No, climate change is a political problem. The collective will isn’t there. Maybe it’s complacency, maybe it’s fear of change, maybe it’s that certain industries have more dollars than sense and can dominate political discourse. Maybe it’s Blue Meanies.
I’ve just finished watching “The Yellow Submarine,” the cartoon Beatles vehicle I’m young enough to have grown up watching. The film opens in the paradise of Pepperland, where the people sing all day, until the attack of the Blue Meanies who turn everyone grey. Occasionally, one of the grey people cries, or notices a butterfly and smiles, only to be bonked by a Bonker-Meanie. A child holds a brightly-colored pinwheel until a Meanie notices and eats the toy in passing. At last, the Beatles arrive and sing, the people become colorful again, and revolt, singing All You Need is Love.
Silly, yes, but how come the people turned grey to begin with? Why did they stop singing when the Meanies attacked, if song makes Meanies go away? All too often, this is what people do; a huge number of people act against their own interest because the Blue Meanies told them to do it, and the Beatles haven’t shown up yet.
But sometimes people don’t wait. They sing and laugh and get bonked for it. Sometimes they win. Sometimes they don’t. Either way, they become the change they want to see in the world.
The Transition movement, for example, consists of towns and cities acting on their own to get off fossil fuel, prepare for Peak Oil, and prepare for the effects of climate change. Steve Chase, a co-founder of Transition Keene, in Keene, argues that the local work of the Transition movement, in addition to being worthwhile for its own sake, could also spark national and international change. To support his argument, he cites the Civil Rights movement, which Steve grew up watching, and which fought for recognition sometimes “one lunch counter at a time” before ultimately winning Federal legal support.
Steve acknowledges that Transition differs from the Civil Rights movement in its organizing model. The American Civil Rights movement was what Ghandi called the resistance program. Although the movement was non-violent, it was also aggressive, a deliberate attempt to stop other people from doing things they wanted to do (murdering with impunity, for example). Non-violent protest and civil disobedience were attempts to stop a moving wheel by calmly, gently, even lovingly, thrusting a stick between its spokes.
The International Transition movement is instead doing what Ghandi called the constructive program; creating the community structures of the new world without waiting for the structures of the old world to go away.
In an unpublished article on the Transition movement, Steve Chase acknowledges that this may not be enough. The Transition movement is, as yet, too small and too young to attract official attention, but eventually Transition Towns will likely be sued, legally reined in, or otherwise threatened. In this country, we are unlikely to be physically attacked, but fear can be effective whether or not the threat is real. Even simple discouragement can make the people go grey.
But we know that can happen. We can prepare. Let’s make up our minds that when the Blue Meanies come, we won’t wait for the Beatles.
All together now.