Auden Schendler: Why the climate change cause needs new Rosa Parks
In studying the broad and deep energy transition that must occur, Auden Schendler has concluded that traditional answers come up short.
Saving energy because it saves money? If profit is the only driver, it will fall far short of what is needed, given that it’s still free to pollute the atmosphere. He also rejects new technology saving the butt of civilization, because of the need for rapid change, even in just the next 10 years.
“We don’t have time to invent new technologies as a primary solution. And energy breakthroughs are slow.”
For other reasons, Schendler dismisses the argument of “it’s the right thing to do,” or, as Schendler identifies it, the values case. He also dismisses the idea that civilization should invest in adaptation to warming temperature and disrupted climates.
The only viable answer that Schendler, the vice president for sustainability at the Aspen Skiing Co., sees is mitigating the risk, by reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases, and that can only be achieved through political action. That action can only occur through grassroots, community organizing.
“Importantly, creating a social movement need not take decades. Miles Horton’s Highlander School trained both Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, quickly and with stunning results. Parks wasn’t just a common citizen who got the notion to buck the status quo, she was a trained activist; she didn’t just happen. She was, in part, made.”
Rosa Parks triggered resistance to segregation laws by refusing to vacate a seat on a public bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1954 when a white person got on the bus. She was arrested, sparking a boycott of the buses, and eventually became an international icon for the civil rights movement.
“To be fair, halting global warming will be harder than past revolutions, because they each addressed visceral issues,” writes Schendler in an article called “Making Rosa Parks,” which was published in the June 2013 issue of Climate Change Journal.
“Climate change, despite mounting physical evidence, is still primarily an intellectual insult, not one that visits you at a lunch counter.”
“Fixing climate,” he goes on to say, “isn’t obscure, but it’s extremely difficult. Pushing civil rights over the finish line required, among other sacrifices, thousands of people to walk, hitchhike, take taxis, ride mules, and wear out their shoes over 381 days during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. King’s house was fire bombed; he spent weeks in jail and was later assassinated.
“Has anyone in the United States sacrificed remotely as much for climate change. Has any one worn out a pair of shoes? A few have. But very few Americans—certainly not thousands—have engaged as activists and made the kinds of personal sacrifices that nearly all civil rights workers did.”
The problem, he says, is that scientists, philanthropists and non-government leaders have treated climate change as a policy problem. It’s not.
It’s a political problem—and a political solution is needed, he has concluded.