Climate change. Work to elect or get in the streets?

Joe Romm of Climate Change responds to Bill McKibben of on what the best tactics are for reversing climate change. Should we work to elect candidates who support the cause or get into the streets with mass protests?

Holding rallies about solutions will never replace the need for actually doing the messy business of electing politicians who support tough climate laws and defeating those who oppose them. It will never stop emissions from going straight up.

Rallies certainly helped end the Vietnam War and built huge support for the Civil Rights movements. But they’re a dated and ineffective tactic now. There were huge protests against the Iraq War and nothing changed in D.C. But taking 5,10,20 years to try to elect the right candidates not only takes too long, there’s no guarantee they wouldn’t get co-opted or corrupted by our notoriously venal system.

What we need is a mass change in attitudes and ideas. Then the change will happen. All the armies in the world can not stop an idea whose time has come. How we get there, I don’t know. But working dutifully to elect candidates or protesting in the streets isn’t going to get us there.

We need all of the above tactics and powerful new ideas and approaches too.

What do you think is the best approach?


  1. protests schmotests, all the supporters in the world can’t stop the main problem of corruption in politics which is where the key to accomplishing anything is, the only thing the suits care about is their popularity, power, and the dollar, and since it is likely it took a lot of those things already to get them into that position, they will only ever do what is in accord with those interests, and “to hell with the next generation as long as i have a comfortable life”. No matter how well-intentioned a protest is, it can be either be misinterpreted, or twisted by the media to show them as a dangerous mob (and sometimes they do get out of hand). The protesters may not have the answers themselves, but they are expecting those in power to find the solutions, not gonna happen, a smarter way would be to put their energies into something constructive, and get involved with finding solutions among themselves, then, they have something that will get noticed and if it is is beneficial for the whole of society then they will have a better chance of accomplishing what they want. If Environmental Technology is the next big thing like they say it is, we’ll need all the ideas humanity has before we’re screwed, personally I think it is too late, but I am not known to be an optimist but a realist. However it is better to try and fail than to not try, and in this age of the internet it is easy to get your ideas out there and be noticed, an online wave of following is far more effective than a small rally or protest, that’s the key I believe. having said all that, the main barrier is that the whole world has to adapt, and I see no way to get them to, when many places aren’t even aware theres a problem, so even a local government could be doing their best in one country, while in another, millions are undoing all the effort. and that’s with all the other affairs going on that will be considered more important (currently at least). You would need an incorruptible worldwide government to solve this, and the rest of the mess we’ve gotten ourselves in.

  2. That’s sort of like asking which is the best tool to build a house, a hammer or something else? And just as you need a whole toolbox to build a house, protests are one effective tool when combined with other tools in a comprehensive strategy.

    Let me say that again: strategy. If you try to build a house without a plan, it probably won’t come out very well. But people try to create social change with no real conception of what the real blockages are or what tools to use to change them. Protest this today, boycott that tomorrow. It didn’t fix the problem– but do we have any real idea of whether it changed anything at all? Usually not, because we don’t stop to analyze what we’ve done or what we plan to do.

    “If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

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