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Try Filling Jails Before Blowing Pipelines

By Dave Jones - System Change not Climate Change, June 16, 2021

While the year 2020 saw numerous activist mobilizations, it was the police murder of George Floyd that instantly filled streets around the world with outraged protest. People marched, torched police stations, tore down statues, and confronted police in actions noticeable both for their dedicated persistence and the diversity of participants. There is no question this uprising was effective in certain ways; a much-needed spotlight has been focused on racialized, militarized policing, on the lack of accountability within police unions, and on the basic injustice of the carceral state in general.

And yet. Given the level of outrage, it must be acknowledged that little change has occurred at the policy, much less the institutional level. Commissions are formed, local reforms proposed, and a predictable backlash invigorated, replicating a long-established pattern of protest followed by bureaucratic inertia. Time and again we witness the absorption of movement energy into the grinding processes of the regulatory labyrinth.

As with gun control following school shootings, with climate action following extreme weather events, with antiwar protests in anticipation of invasions, with international trade deals, with Occupy or pipeline blockades, the pattern is clear. I am not saying that protest is dead. My argument is that these particular forms of reactive protest are no longer effective.

What I would like the Climate Movement to consider is a tactic that moves beyond protest as it is now conceived and practiced. This nonviolent, direct action tactic is best described as “fill the jails.”

While the mass civil disobedience of both anti-KXL in Washington DC in 2011 and Extinction Rebellion more recently were steps in the right direction, the historical examples of mass arrest I am promoting have a qualitative difference.

I first learned of “fill the jails” when researching the free-speech fights conducted at the beginning of the 20th century by the Industrial Workers of the World. From San Diego, California to Missoula, Montana, Wobblies defied local ordinances that banned impromptu public speaking. They gained the right to openly organize by calling in masses of fellow workers to be arrested and fill jails until the burden on local authorities became overwhelming. Another historical example is Gandhi’s India campaign, where he vowed to “fill the prisons” in order to make governing impossible for the British.

Perhaps the best-known example of this tactic being applied successfully is the Civil Rights Movement, especially the campaign centered in Birmingham, Alabama (the “most segregated city in America”), in 1963. This is how the large-scale, non-violent direct action was described by historian Howard Zinn:

“Thursday, May 2nd, is ‘D-Day’ as students ‘ditch’ class to march for justice. In disciplined groups of 50, children singing freedom songs march out of 16th Street Baptist church two-by-two. When each group is arrested, another takes its place. There are not enough cops to contain them, and police reinforcements are hurriedly summoned. By the end of the day almost 1,000 kids have been jailed. The next day, Friday May 3rd, a thousand more students cut class to assemble at 16th Street church. With the jails already filled to capacity, and the number of marchers growing, Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety in charge of the police and fire departments, tries to suppress the movement with violence.”

Between April 3 and May 7 roughly three thousand were arrested and booked, filling not only the jails but an “improvised fairground prison … and open-air stockade” as well. This all took place in conjunction with a well-organized boycott of downtown businesses and public transport. Televised scenes of savage reaction by the racist police were broadcast throughout the stunned world and a horrified nation — which was then forced to confront the injustice.

Keystone is Dead!

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, June 11, 2021

On June 9, TC Energy issued a press release announcing that the company, in consultation with the Alberta Government, has terminated the Keystone XL Pipeline project, although it will continue “to co-ordinate with regulators, stakeholders and Indigenous groups to meet its environmental and regulatory commitments and ensure a safe termination of and exit from the project.” The Alberta government had invested over $1 billion in the project as recently as March 2020 , and continued to defend it even after U.S. President Biden rescinded the permit in January 2021. The WCR compiled sources and reactions in January in “President Biden’s Executive Orders and Keystone XL cancellation – what impact on Canada?” A new compilation of Alberta Government statements is here . CBC Calgary describes Keystone XL is dead, and Albertans are on the hook for $1.3B.

Climate activists in Canada and the U.S. rejoiced at the latest news: “‘Keystone XL Is Dead!’: After 10-Year Battle, Climate Movement Victory Is Complete” , and activist Bill McKibben (and others) are hammering home a message of “never give up, activism works!”. The article from Common Dreams quotes Clayton Thomas Muller, longtime KXL opponent and currently a senior campaigns specialist at 350.org in Canada: “This victory is thanks to Indigenous land defenders who fought the Keystone XL pipeline for over a decade. Indigenous-led resistance is critical in the fight against the climate crisis and we need to follow the lead of Indigenous peoples, particularly Indigenous women, who are leading this fight across the continent and around the world. With Keystone XL cancelled, it’s time to turn our attention to the Indigenous-led resistance to the Line 3 and the Trans Mountain tar sands pipelines.” The National Observer expands on this with “Keystone XL is dead, but the fight over Canadian oil rages on” (June 10). The Indigenous Environmental Network news chronicles the ongoing resistance to pipeline development, as well as the reaction to the Keystone announcement.

Once again on sabotage and climate change

By Lars Henriksson - Climate and Capitalism, May 22, 2021

What should we do when airy political promises amount to little more than excuses for business as usual, and when the friendly climate protests have not prevented the world from heading towards a burning inferno? Submissively accept doom or take the climate struggle to a new level?

That Andreas Malm does not preach resignation will come as no surprise to those who know the author — activist and socialist since childhood and today well-known in the radical section of international academia. For those unfamiliar with him, the book’s title should dispel all doubt.

To stoically wait for doom is not an option for most of us, even if some claim to have drawn that conclusion. The book’s final section is a reckoning with intellectuals such as Roy Scranton and Jonathan Franzen who flirt with that standpoint.

For the rest of us, who either try to do something, or wish we knew how to do something, the question is: what do we do now? It is this question to which Malm devotes most of his book.

The attention given to the book ahead of publication has mostly concerned the question of sabotage as a method in the climate struggle. Despite the book’s provocative title, this is far from an anarchist cookbook but a thought-through — albeit impatient — contribution to the debate about strategy and tactics in the climate movement.

Malm raises a question posed by the British author John Lanchester: Why has the climate movement not resorted to violence? Given what is at stake is humanity’s survival, it is strange that nobody has started blowing up petrol stations or at least started scratching the paint on city jeeps, Lanchester states, in what Malm refers to as Lanchester’s paradox.

In the latter case, the effort is very small and would make these gas guzzling monster cars almost impossible to own in a city like London. Malm himself has a past as an SUV-saboteur of the milder kind, when the group The Indians of the Concrete Jungle in the early 2000s let the air out of gas guzzling luxury cars’ tyres in upper class neighborhoods. He takes this paradox — that the climate movement, despite knowing what is at stake, continues to be peaceful and well behaved — as the starting point for his argument.

Can sabotage stop climate change?

By Simon Butler - Climate and Capitalism, April 28, 2021

Despite the climate movement’s growth, epitomized by Extinction Rebellion and Student Strike for Climate, fossil fuel extraction continues to grow, and a safe climate can seem dismayingly distant. Given a choice between forgoing capital accumulation and tipping the whole world into a furnace, our rulers prefer the furnace.

In How to Blow Up a Pipeline, Andreas Malm asks how the climate movement can emerge from the Covid-19 hiatus as a stronger force. In particular, he questions whether the movement’s until now near-universal commitment to non-violent protest is holding it back. “Will absolute non-violence be the only way, forever the sole admissible tactic in the struggle to abolish fossil fuels? Can we be sure that it will suffice against this enemy? Must we tie ourselves to its mast to reach a safer place?”

To make his point, Malm cites examples of popular historic movements, some of which are invoked by today’s climate campaigners as examples of non-violent change. The overthrow of Atlantic slavery involved violent slave uprisings and rebellions. The suffragettes of early 20th century Britain regularly engaged in property destruction. The US civil rights movement was punctuated by urban riots. As part of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa Nelson Mandela co-founded the armed wing of the African National Congress. The Indian National Congress is known for its non-violent tactics but violence also played a role of the resistance to British rule from the Great Rebellion of 1857 until independence.

Malm absolutely rules out violence that harms people, but he wants the climate movement to include sabotage and property destruction in its plans.

He puts forward several reasons why these kinds of protests might help “break the spell” of the status quo. Targeting the luxury consumption of the rich in this way could help to stigmatize the notion that the rich can blithely condemn the rest of us to ecological disaster. Physical attacks on new CO2 emitting devices might reduce their use and make them less popular options for new investment. He also speculates that such actions could help bring together a “radical flank” of the movement, helping to win partial reforms by making elites more keen to compromise with the movement moderates.

Malm believes such tactics could make for some powerful political symbolism: “Next time the wildfires burn through the forests of Europe, take out a digger. Next time a Caribbean island is battered beyond recognition, burst in upon a banquet of luxury emissions or a Shell board meeting. The weather is already political, but it is political from one side only, blowing off the steam built up by the enemy, who is not made to feel the heat or take the blame.”

Malm’s arguments have been met with alarm in some quarters. In a review posted on the Global Ecosocialist Network website Alan Thornett says adopting the book’s proposals would “not only be wrong but disastrous” and anyone who did so would soon have “armed police kicking down their door.” He calls Malm’s argument an impatient “bid for a shortcut” resulting from “frustration compounded by the lack of a socially just exit strategy from fossil energy.”

James Wilt’s review in Canadian Dimension is even harsher: he says How to Blow Up a Pipeline “veers awfully close to entrapment” — a totally unworthy accusation. More to the point, Wilt says Malm doesn’t look deeply at the likely outcomes of his proposals, failing to mention any “planning for the inevitable backlash” and repression activists would face.

But, as Bue Rübner Hansen points out in a Viewpoint Magazine article, Malm’s “provocative title makes a pitch for viral controversy, but its contents are more nuanced and equivocal.”

When Does the Fightback Begin?

By Andreas Malm - Verso Books, April 23, 2021

Andreas Malm response to critics of How to Blow Up a Pipeline and asks when, and how, will the militant resistance movement emerge.

When writing interventions on contemporary events, one’s best hope is that comrades of all stripes will engage with them closely and critically. I have recently written two –Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency: War Communism in the Twenty-First Century and How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire– and in return received an abundance of such gifts. Some have, naturally, raised serious objections to my arguments. Some of these concern vital strategic questions for the climate movement and the broader left. I therefore feel a duty to respond and elaborate on certain points, and I shall here begin with How to Blow Up a Pipeline. But, first, I should like to point out that the most productive discussions I have had about this book have not made it into text. They have come in talks with comrades in and around the climate movement, very much including, I should like to stress, given that I am rather critical of this organisation in How to Blow, people from Extinction Rebellion, who have struck me as highly astute and lucid in their views of the dilemmas of the struggle. Here I shall focus on critique presented in written form, after having restated and updated some of the basic propositions in How to Blow Up a Pipeline.

Two new reports call for end to subsidies and phase-out of Canada’s oil and gas industry

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, April 19, 2021

Two new reports expose Canada’s continuing financial support of the fossil fuel industry and call for a phase-out. These appeared in the same week as the federal government reported Canada’s latest National Inventory of Emissions to the United Nations’ UNFCC, showing that the oil and gas industry is the top source of carbon emissions in Canada.

The first report, by Environmental Defence, is Paying Polluters: Federal Financial Support to Oil and Gas in 2020 , released on April 15. It estimates that the government has provided or promised at least $18 billion to the oil and gas sector in 2020 alone, including $3.28 billion in direct subsidy programs and $13.47 billion in public financing. Paying Polluters decries the lack of transparency – especially for funding through Export Development Canada – but nevertheless attempts to list the tax subsidies and direct spending programs, in an Appendix at the end of the report. In addition to obvious subsidies, the tally includes loans for pipeline construction, research into new technologies for cleaner processes, job subsidies for reclamation of oil wells, and even policing costs for pipeline construction – think $13 million taxpayer dollars paid to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to protect the construction site of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Environmental Defence concludes with five recommendations, including a call for greater transparency, and for “a roadmap to achieve Canada’s commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies before 2025, and shift these investments and public finance towards supporting a path to resilient, equitable zero-carbon societies.” It should be noted that the government first pledged to phase out these subsidies in 2009. The report is summarized, with reactions, by Sarah Cox in The Narwhal, on April 16.

A second report, Correcting Canada’s “One-eye shut” Climate Policy, was released on April 16 by the Cascade Institute. It summarizes Canada’s history of fossil fuel production, and refutes those who argue that we are a small country whose emissions don’t compare to those of China or the U.S. Calling on Canada to accept its global responsibility, the authors state that “Canada’s 2021-2050 oil and gas production would exhaust about 16 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget. Canada is indeed a “carbon bomb” of global significance.” This is the first of many hard-hitting, frank statements in the report, including a highly critical discussion of the “fool’s gambit” of hydrogen production, and an assessment that “A highly resourced and well-organized “regime of obstruction” has developed in Canada to block effective climate action and ensure increased fossil fuel extraction.”

The Kaleidoscope of Catastrophe: On the Clarities and Blind Spots of Andreas Malm

By Bue Rübner Hansen - Viewpoint Magazine, April 14, 2021

The course of history, seen in terms of the concept of catastrophe, can actually claim no more attention from thinkers than a child’s kaleidoscope, which with every turn of the hand dissolves the established order in a new way. There is a profound truth in this image. The concepts of the ruling class have always been the mirrors that enabled an image of order to prevail. - The kaleidoscope must be smashed. 

- Walter Benjamin, Central Park1

Recently, I announced my intention to write a long essay about Malm to a circle of degrowth communists. One, a researcher and activist of US pipeline struggles, was exasperated at Malm’s apparently contradictory embrace of a strategy of pushing the capitalist state to do the right thing in Corona, Climate and Chronic Emergency (2020) and his stringent support of sabotage in How to Blow up a Pipeline (2021). Another friend, who is a veteran leader in the climate justice movement, responded that Andreas Malm has “single-handedly saved Marxism from irrelevance over the past few years”. High praise for Malm and a harsh reproval of Marxism.

The frustration with Malm’s lack of clarity and the praise for his ability to bring together Marxism and environmentalism are of a piece: they both attest to the enormous expectations generated by his work, and his willingness to place himself in a position of intellectual leadership. More substantially, they testify to the difficulty and importance of the synthesis he is working towards. 

Among environmentalists, a deep disillusionment with Marxism is common. The critiques are by now familiar: Marxism’s commitment to the unfettered development of the forces of production is attached to the idea of human domination over nature. Malm, as we will see, comes out of a very different tradition of Marxism, and one that has done much to demonstrate that Marx - unlike most of his 20th century readers - was an ecological thinker. Malm extends the theoretical and philological groundwork of John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett, and more recently Kohei Saito2, into a more empirical engagement with contemporary ecological problems, profused with a profound sense of political urgency.3

Malm is one of too few Marxists to center the question of what needs to be done in the climate crises, and certainly the most prominent. In short, Malm presents as a man of action, both in theory and in practice. His books detail organizing for the 1995 COP1 climate summit in Berlin, deflating SUV tires in Southern Sweden in 2007, and occupying a German coal mine with Ende Gelände in 2019. For Malm the academic, the question of action is also front and center: 

Any theory for the warming condition should have the struggle to stabilize climate - with the demolition of the fossil economy the necessary first step - as its practical, if only ideal, point of reference. It should clear up space for action and resistance (The Progress, 18). 

Malm’s practice may be described with a paraphrase of Gramsci’s old formula: optimism of the will, catastrophism of the intellect. “The prospects are dismal: hence the need to spring into action” (FC 394). It is this approach that has made his name as more than a scholar, but as a militant thinker, and it is this reputation that frustrates readers looking for strategic clarity. Is Malm a Leninist (and therefore authoritarian) or is he a movementist who is ready to try anything from lobbying the capitalist state to blowing up pipelines? The work of any prolific and wide-ranging writer will contain ambivalences, even one as committed to clarity and decisiveness as Andreas Malm. Not all these ambivalences are Malm’s alone: In our current ecological predicament unanswered questions abound: How can we come to want the abolition of the energetic foundation of our everyday life? How do we feel about the end of growth and progress? Is the state part of the solution or the problem? Such questions entail ambivalence because of the gap between what needs to be done, and what we want to do - given our attachments to the present state of things.

Malm develops a method designed to abolish ambivalence: herein lies the clarity of his work. His approach may best be described as kaleidoscopic: it orders the heterogeneous shards of history through the mirrors of his theory of history, while a singular eyepiece provides focus, and the basis for a unified political perspective. But this method only avoids ambivalence in theory. When it comes to practice, ambivalences reappear – but in the blindspot of theory. Reviews of Malm’s individual works may miss these blindspots and ambivalences, but once we read them side by side, we can begin to understand that they are structural to his work.4

Pipelines, Pandemics and Capital’s Death Cult: A Green Syndicalist View

By Jeff Shantz - LibCom, March 29, 2021

We can see this within any industry, within any capitalist enterprise. It is perhaps most clearly apparent, in an unadorned fashion, in extractives industries like mining, logging, or oil, where the consumption of nature (as resources) for profit leaves ecosystems ruined, where workers are forced to labor in dangerous, often deadly, conditions, and where it is all is carried out through direct dispossession, invasion, and occupation of Indigenous lands and through processes of mass killing, even genocide. And when it is all done, little remains except the traces of profit that have been extracted and taken elsewhere.

These intersections have come to the forefront with particular clarity under conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic. The death cult of capital on full display in all its variety of ways.

LNS Calls for Climate-Safe Infrastructure Not Line 3 and Dakota Access Tar Sands Pipelines

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2021

The Labor Network for Sustainability calls for a halt to the Line 3 Pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline and other climate-destroying fossil-fuel infrastructure of the past. It calls instead to start creating the jobs of the future building the climate-safe infrastructure of the future.

The U.S. is already building extensive new fossil-free energy infrastructure and is creating more jobs than a similar investment in fossil fuel facilities. Rather than spend a penny more on new fossil fuel infrastructure, it is time to invest in a massive, jobs-rich conversion to a fossil-free energy infrastructure.

The U.S. government, the people of the world, and even major oil companies recognize that the climate emergency requires us to move rapidly to a fossil-free economy. President Joe Biden recently recognized this by cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline. It is time to halt other new fossil fuel infrastructure—urgently, the Line 3 and Dakota Access Pipelines—and use our precious resources for a just transition to climate safety.

A 2013 LNS study compares jobs created by the Keystone XL pipeline to the jobs that could be created by water, sewer and gas repair projects in the five states the pipeline crosses. It finds that meeting unmet water and gas line repair infrastructure needs in the five states along the KXL pipeline route would create:

  • More than 300,000 total jobs across all sectors;
  • Five times more jobs, and better jobs, than KXL;
  • 156% of the number of direct jobs created by Keystone XL per unit of investment.

See the full report: “The Keystone Pipeline Debate: An Alternative Job Creation Strategy”

Workers should not have to pay the price of protecting the climate—they deserve a just transition to a climate-safe future. Cancelation of fossil fuel projects like the tar sands pipelines should be paired with a program to see that every worker whose job may be threatened by climate policies has access to a new job creating the economy of the future.

President Biden’s Executive Orders and Keystone XL cancellation: what impact on Canada?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 1, 2021

Incoming U.S. President Biden exceeded expectations with the climate change initiatives announced in week 1 of his term, and many have important repercussions for Canada. The most obvious came on Day 1, January 20, with an Executive Order cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline and taking the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement. Also of potential impact for the Canadian clean tech and auto industries – the Buy American policies outlined in Executive Order on Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers (Jan. 25). On January 27 ( “Climate Day ”), the Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at home and abroad (explained in this Fact Sheet ) announced a further series of initiatives, including a pause on oil and gas leases on federal lands, a goal to convert the federal government’s vehicle fleet to electric vehicles, and initiatives towards environmental justice and science-based policies. Essential to the “whole of government” approach, the Executive Order establishes the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy to coordinate policies, and a National Climate Task Force composed of leaders from across 21 federal agencies and departments. It also establishes the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, “to be co-chaired by the National Climate Advisor and the Director of the National Economic Council, and directs federal agencies to coordinate investments and other efforts to assist coal, oil and natural gas, and power plant communities.”

The New York Times summarized the Jan. 27 Orders as “a sweeping series of executive actions …. while casting the moves as much about job creation as the climate crisis.” A sampling of resulting summaries and reactions: ‘We Need to Be Bold,’ Biden Says, Taking the First Steps in a Major Shift in Climate Policy” in Inside Climate News (Jan. 28); “Fossils ‘stunned’, ‘aghast’ after Biden pauses new oil and gas leases” in The Energy Mix (Feb. 1); “Biden’s “all of government” plan for climate, explained” in Vox (updated Jan. 27) ; “Biden’s Pause of New Federal Oil and Gas Leases May Not Reduce Production, but It Signals a Reckoning With Fossil Fuels” (Jan. 27) ; “Biden is canceling fossil fuel subsidies. But he can’t end them all” (Grist, Jan. 28); “Activists See Biden’s Day One Focus on Environmental Justice as a Critical Campaign Promise Kept” and “Climate Groups Begin Vying for Power in the Biden Era as Pressure for Unity Fades” (Jan 21) in The Intercept , which outlines the key policy differences between the BlueGreen Alliance (which includes the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and the United Steelworkers in the U.S.) and the Climate Justice Alliance, a national coalition of environmental justice groups.

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