Civil disobedience is discussed at length in a new book by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, “The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis” (Feb 2020), in careful, focused language that characterizes all of this remarkable book.
“The remarkable rise of Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement is showing us that the world is ready for direct action. Greta’s single, defiant act of civil disobedience—striking from school every Friday—has captured the zeitgeist. She inspired, in a relatively short period of time, a peaceful process for igniting and harnessing the anger of millions of young people in many countries and enrolling them in regular climate activism….”
From there the authors go on to basically update Thoreau, guiding their readers through the arguments in favor of and appropriate behavior during acts of civil disobedience.
My own focus is civil disagreement within universities and institutions. So much of climate activism takes the form of identifying obstacles, a person, office or institution who is getting in the way of all the wonderful things that otherwise would be happening.
And for me, that just doesn’t capture the reality of what the obstacles really are, or the challenges we face in doing more than just calling attention to the problem, important as that necessary first step is.
The following anecdote from MIT is an example of what I mean.
MIT Faculty don’t talk to each other
In the May-June 2018 Faculty Newsletter, two MIT faculty member contribute articles on climate change. One asks why MIT isn’t doing anything about “the most important problem of our time,” and the next provides an update on all the wonderful thing that MIT is doing. Both article are cary and depressing all on their own. But back to back, they provide a perfect snapshot of how MIT talks to itself.
Short answer: It doesn’t.
“I am pleased for this opportunity to share with you some thoughts about MIT’s progress under our Climate Action Plan (CAP).”
Maria Zuber, “An Update on MIT’s Climate Action Plan” (MIT Faculty Newsletter, May-June 2018)
First the scary and depressing
What is scary and depressing about Susan Silbey’s article is that, while quite detailed in regard to the threat that the world faces from climate change, she has no detail or specifics of any kind to offer in regard to what is holding MIT back. She only speaks in generalities. What is scary and depressing about this is that she most certainly knows exactly what is holding MIT back. Not only is she Chair of the MIT Faculty, she was also appointed to the 8-faculty committee that oversaw the development.