“Does it Matter if we fight coal export?” – Part 2: Fighting the 3Fs

When last we left our intrepid heros, we were in full combat with The Question “Does It Matter if we fight coal export terminals?” (The Question DIM).    We had dissected the question into 2 parts:

1)  Will stopping coal export from the Northwest have any effect on emissions?  Tom Power’s analysis demonstrates that it does.  And David Roberts drives it home here.  I will explore this question more in future posts.

2)  Can we stop it?

The answer to 2) is “YES, DAMMIT.”  (Now you try it!).

But it’s a heavy question, huh?  … pregnant with all our fear and doubt about the prospects for climate stabilization and democracy generally.

Go lay down on the couch…..it’s time for some unlicensed therapy on the psychological underpinnings of The Question DIM – the 3 Fs:  Frustration, Futility, and Fatalism.

Frustration Over 20 years after Jim Hansen delivered ample evidence of a climate crisis in the making, we still have no national climate policy and no effective, binding international agreement.  One of our two political parties seems to have abandoned reality altogether, and the other doesn’t seem to think that “climate” polls well enough for them to talk about it (incorrectly).  Meanwhile, the physical reality of the crisis is manifesting itself more rapidly and dramatically than the models predicted.  Our kids are suing us!  (…as my kids warned!)

We have every right to be frustrated.  Believe me, I can mope with the best of them about all this.  But what are we going to do — cry in our IPAs and wave at the coal trains screeching by?  Our political institutions may be too broken to deal with a problem this big, but our communities are not too broken to say “No” to wreckless fossil fuel infrastructure expansions, and “Yes” to a clean energy future.  And as you look around the Northwest right now, that’s exactly what we’re doing – from King County to Mosier, Oregon, to Edmonds, WA to Sand Point, ID (…and more). It’s a great antidote to frustration.

FutilityWhen thoughtful, policy-oriented people hear the climate case for opposing coal export terminals, they think:  “Gosh, that’s not a very satisfying, effective way to deal with climate change. You need a national policy framework and a binding international treaty if you’re really serious about tackling this beast.”  To which I can only respond:  Amen!  (and where were you when we beat our brains out for the last decade trying to get it done?)

There are few people more apoplectic than I about the fact that we have to confront coal export without the benefit of a rational climate policy.  It’s pathetic.  It’s criminal.  It’s insane.  We can whine about this miserable situation all day, and I’ll lead the chorus.  But come supper time, here we’ll still be, with fateful decisions in our region’s hands about one of the biggest expansions ever in the global commercial infrastructure for fossil fuel dependence.

Futility isn’t an objective state; it’s a slumped posture – a losing stance toward the future.  We can’t have that.

FatalismSome pretty scary climate impacts are already in the pipeline – indeed, they are already occurring, as 350.org dramatized so powerfully on May 5.  Some thoughtful observers have been writing about the need to acknowledge and constructively process these losses.  I’m down with that.  Fear, sadness, “solastalgia” — we can be stronger if we face these more squarely and honestly. But fatalism — “the acceptance of all things and events as inevitable” — is not our friend.  The moral challenge of climate change is something close to the opposite of fatalism:  accepting that we have the power and responsibility to change things and events.  The knowledge that we can’t change everything, or as much as we need to, is no excuse.  Fatalism is exactly what King Coal needs.  And it’s exactly what we must not offer.

Think of all the arguments that opponents of climate action have ever come up with:  Climate change is not happening; it’s happening but it’s not human-caused; we can’t act because China won’t; unilateral action is futile; technology will save us… They are all variations on a theme:  “We are not responsible.”

The 3 Fs are subtle, passive variations on the same theme.  They are understandable reactions as we try to cope with our epic collective failure to take responsibility for climate solutions to date.  But wallowing in them can’t deflect our responsibility to change the game going forward.  No matter how FFF’d up we feel, the only redemption is in the actions we take next.  And none of our actions will have a more profound impact on the climate than the decisions our communities and states make to allow or stop coal export.

Not feeling better yet?  Try a little of what I take in the morning:  We need a real climate policy, but when we’re fighting for cap and whatever, nobody knows what the hell we’re talking about. People get coal export.  They know in their gut it’s wrong.   It contradicts their values and identity.  And this powerful aversion can be cultivated into much stronger affirmation of real climate solutions.  Our close and vivid encounter with What We’re Up Against is teaching us a lot about What We’re For, and helping us build the muscle to go get it.

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