important for people to know that climate change is with us now,
and here is what it looks like. Because people will run out of
water, climate change looks like the Flint water crisis. Because
climate change will cause a massive displacement of people, it
looks like the Syrian refugee crisis. Climate change will create
a kind of xenophobic politics that feeds o= the baseless fears of
people who don’t understand what is happening, or do understand but don’t understand how they can take agency in it. That’s
all with us right now.” What do you think?
Leonard: We’re out of time and we can see that there is no hope
that our leaders have the resolve and ability to immediately and
dramatically reduce carbon emissions. If I do nothing, if all the
millions of other American citizens do nothing, our reductions
in carbon emissions, if they ever come, will be too little, too late.
Kathleen: Well then, number four in the necessity defense — do
you have reason to think that your actions might a=ect the trajectory of climate change?
Emily: I believe we’re coming to a moment when years of
e=ort suddenly cohere and people pour into the streets. Then
you, I, and our friends can bring down Exxon and spill its pockets to the people who are trying to rebuild the world. What will
it look like, how quickly will things change, when people understand that we have this power?
If I do nothing but organize, vote, write, speak, I will see hideous things before I die, things that have already begun: countries imploding, hundreds of millions starving and displaced,
entire ecosystems collapsing. We all will. When we are old, what
will we wish we had done?
To be honest, I’d love to be able to lead a quiet life right now.
E. B. White has a great quote about having to choose, every day,
between saving the world and savoring it. But not to work on the
saving at this moment in time would be to shrug o= responsibility for the very world I was busy loving, at its greatest moment
Kathleen: So we come to love. You have said that your team
approached this action with a spirit of love and grief. What does
love have to do with this? Or grief? Or are they the same thing?
Leonard: I have grandchildren. I feel the threat of climate
change viscerally. It’s as though someone is coming into our
house and threatening our children, our loved ones, our community. I can’t do nothing. In fact, that’s the most excruciating
thing, to feel helpless. So finding what we can do is the only
choice we have.
If we don’t take action, everything we love is completely
threatened and ultimately will be destroyed by this system we
have, the system that values profits over everything.
I have come to believe that our current economic and political system is a death sentence to life on Earth. Direct action is
my act of love.
Emily: The French existentialist Albert Camus wrote, “I
understand here what is called glory: the right to love without
measure.” Maybe this is what I am looking for. I deeply love this
world as it exists right now. I feel personally responsible that
other people are su=ering and that other species are su=ering.
And I don’t feel that inaction, looking away, is moral.
Kathleen: I suppose that grief is a measure of that love, isn’t
it? That the more we love the little children of all species, the
spawning salmon, the light through aspen leaves—you can
name whatever you want —the more grief we feel when we witness their su=ering.
Ken: I think it’s important that our approach to empathic
action carries love for the people who are on the other side of it
too and distinguishes the people from the structures they work
in. This doesn’t mean there aren’t evil people who are doing evil
things. But as best we can, we need to carry this forward with an
appreciation of people, with as much love as we can find, for the
people who are opposing us.
Leonard: Yes, it’s really important that we not only be nonviolent in a physical sense, but we also must be nonviolent in terms
of our attitude and our verbal interactions. Respect and dignity
are part of human rights. So when I’m taking direct action, it’s
with respect for those people who are doing the harm that I’m
putting myself in the way of. Compassion is the most powerful
part of this kind of nonviolent direct action. That’s how we can
triumph over corporate greed and remove the fossil fuel industry’s social license to profit at the expense of life.
Kathleen: There are so many di=erent stories we can tell about
Earth’s emergencies. There are economic and moral narratives,
narratives of hope and despair, life and death. What sort of framing is most likely to move people to action?
I know that the appeal to fear is a very strong one, and we have
certainly seen it have a strong e=ect in the last election. But the
appeal to hope is a strong one too, the faith that we can do this,
we can make this turn. In fact, one of your support people said,
“When I started seeing people organizing to stop particular projects, what I saw was an opening of an imaginative space in our
politics and a way of making the argument that we, as people, can
stop and must stop the fossil fuel infrastructure. So for me, that’s
part of the hope —the possibility of concrete actions.”
Ken: Hope is important, hope is vital, but also I think sometimes the dialogue of hope can lead to greater complacency rather
than action. If you’re going to hope for a future, then damn well