Blowing stuff up

How to Blow Up a Pipeline, by Andreas Malm
Verso Books, 2021 — 208 pages, paperback or ebook

from a libraryfrom a bookstorefrom the publisher

Written in what he calls "total despair mode," Andreas Malm, a professor of human ecology at Lund University and a longtime climate activist, presents: How to Blow Up a Pipeline.

The book is almost as blunt as its title, but be forewarned, it does not contain any detailed instructions on how to blow up a pipeline. 

Instead Malm asks a serious, perhaps shocking question: 

Given the known and proven future as climate change progresses — fires burning, flood waters rising, and deadly, extreme weather striking anywhere, any day of the year — why do activists against climate change continue merely carrying placards and asking political leaders to make incrementally improved promises at endless conferences, promises that even if made will be ignored, and even if not ignored will never be enough to matter?

At what point do we escalate? When do we conclude that the time has come to also try something different? When do we start physically attacking the things that consume our planet and destroy them with our own hands? Is there a good reason we have waited this long?

The time is now, Malm argues, for climate activists to embrace violence, and start literally planting bombs, to grind the system to a halt. He asks activists to kindly avoid killing the monstrous people behind climate change, but enthusiastically endorses everything short of that. He wants to destroy the mechanisms that are killing people — and by that, to be clear, he's not talking about people who might hypothetically be killed by climate change in some awful future. The killing from climate change is well underway, now. It's in the news, every day.

In Malm's view, principled and targeted violence should be used as a tool by splinter groups. This, he hopes, would force politicians to take non-violent protests more seriously, like the existence of Malcolm X's "by any means necessary" activism made Martin Luther King's non-violent strategy more appealing to the power structure of their time.

I don't endorse Malm's reasoning, but it ought to be heard. It's difficult to argue that violence isn't justified, and dang easy to argue that acts of violence against the system would be simple self-defense.

The problem is, such a strategy would almost certainly backfire. Here on what's left of Earth, I've attended many peaceful protests and seen the violent response of police, with full backing from all the political powers above them.

Acts of violent protest? Oh, man, that would bring the absolute wrath of the authorities onto climate activists everywhere, violent and non-violent alike. Start committing what would be called 'terrorist acts' against the infrastructure that's terrorizing the world, and police officers everywhere would spontaneously jism in their pants. The streets would be red with activists' blood. 

Maybe that's what's needed, too. I'm reminded of Mario Savio's famous speech, where he said, "There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop!"

Less dramatically, given enough publicity, it's possible that arguments like Malm's — not the violence, but his arguments for violence — might nudge some power-brokers and polluters and other poop-heads toward a Malcolm/Martin moment. Hell of a long shot, but maybe.

Then again, let's get real: Everything else that anyone's done or is doing — from the marvelous Greta Thunberg to the next bullshit climate change conference and anything, everything in between — has amounted to squat.

If we don't find a more effective strategy than politely pleading with politicians to please give a damn, we'll be the last people on earth to know life as we know it.



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