Book Review: Common Sense About Climate Change — The Need to Hit the Streets

By Ed Meek

In this valuable call-to-action, Roger Hallam says we have to recognize that climate change is an emergency and rebel against our extinction.

Common Sense for the 21st Century
by Roger Hallam. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2019. $9.99

Roger Hallam, the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, thinks we are on a direct course to becoming extinct unless we act immediately to confront and begin to reverse the causes of climate change.

Hallam has been an activist for over 20 years. Like a number of others in the environmental movement—Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and organizations like Greenpeace, The Sierra Club, etc.—he found that it is very difficult to actually get anything done. Companies such as Exxon and BP (who can draw on considerable resources) are very good at confusing the public, putting out the idea that they are diversifying their sources for energy when they are doing nothing of the kind. Meanwhile, right-wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson are happy to dispute the science; and there is always a scientist or two willing to question causality when they are pocketing funding from the oil companies. Donald Trump goes so far as to question the facts themselves. “Don’t believe what you are reading or seeing,” says Trump at a rally. As a result, according to Pew Research, “most Americans believe in climate change but consider it a low priority.” Hallam has concluded that reform from within the system does not work.

His short, accessible book, Common Sense for the 21st Century, refers to Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, “Common Sense.” Hallam is a firm believer in nonviolent revolution, which puts him in the same camp as Naomi Klein, Greta Thunberg, and The Sunrise Movement. But Hallam, like Chris Hedges and others outside the mainstream on the left, insists that the concerned need to make a real commitment to protest (like the citizens of Hong Kong, France, and Puerto Rico). Hallam is convinced that we have to pour into the streets and disrupt everyday life in order to make changes. The Extinction Rebellion stopped traffic in Washington, DC. They shut down Heathrow airport and blocked bridges in London. Hallam is willing to be arrested and believes we should be too. “The most effective act of mass civil disobedience is to have a significant number of people (at least 5,000-10,000 initially) occupy public spaces in a capital city for several days to several weeks.” If enough people protest, Hallam claims, momentum will shift against fossil fuels and the many other causes of climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that we need to cut our carbon emissions in half by 2030 to have “a 50% chance of avoiding catastrophe.” Meanwhile, carbon emissions continue to increase. Hallam puts it this way: “We are looking here at the slow and agonizing suffering of billions of people.” One of the surprising (and dismaying) developments in the past year is that it now appears that scientists have underestimated how quickly our climate is changing. The permafrost in the Arctic is melting faster than expected. Insects are disappearing. Bees and butterflies are dying off. The weather is becoming more extreme. Rains are heavier, droughts are longer, heat waves in summer, cold snaps in winter, floods in the Midwest, fires in the far West.

Hallam wants us to protest until the government gives in. He then wants what he calls a “People’s assembly” of citizens who will step forward to force the government to make industry move away from fossil fuels. What must be developed instead — solar power, wind turbines and other forms of green, sustainable energy.

So far, there have been a number of protests since Trump was elected, but they have had, as Greta Thunberg has observed, little effect. What will it take to prompt the masses to pour into the streets? We’ve had flooding in Boston, New York, New Jersey, and New Orleans. We’ve had raging fires in California and floods in the Midwest. We’ve seen a category five hurricane devastate Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, climate refugees line up at our southern border. What’s to be done? In this valuable call-to-action, Hallam says we have to recognize that climate change is an emergency and rebel against our extinction.

Ed Meek is the author of Spy Pond and What We Love. A collection of his short stories, Luck, came out in May. WBUR’s Cognoscenti featured his poems during poetry month this year.

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