Why we need to blow up pipelines, and why people will hate it
In his book How To Blow Up A Pipeline, Andreas Malm asks "when do we start physically attacking the things that consume our planet and destroy them with our own hands? Is there good reason we have waited this long?"
Well, there is a good reason. We don't fucking wanna. We wanna have our climate cake and eat it too. It's not just elites, ordinary people will not give up power. Just cut people's fossil fuel supply and see.
Last week we had a 6-hour power cut in Sri Lanka and journalists were crying to bring the military out. It was nuts. People were saying that armed men should go round up the trade unionists. As Martin Niemöller said of the Nazis,
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
You could overthrow any government in the world with a one-week powercut, and the masses would protest for fossil fuels. In France, Myanmar, and Iran masses of people have turned out in the streets when gas prices went up. Any state that loses electrical power is perilously close to losing actual power. People don't actually care that much where the power comes from as long as it comes.
The argument, of course, is that we could just switch to renewables. Sri Lankan electricity is historically at least 50% renewable (hydro) and God knows we get enough sun. However, we're still building coal power plants and working with the dodgy Americans on natural gas. And people don't really care. People fundamentally don't care where power comes from as long as they have it, and the same goes for governments. We are all part of the same hypocrisy.
Malm's book is called How To Blow Up A Pipeline, and he's absolutely right that we need a revolutionary movement to actually destroy fossil capital, but the fact is that such a movement would be wildly unpopular. The heroes of the future would be terrorists today, as it always has been.
Right now the climate change movement is so popular because it's so fucking toothless. It's a house pet, and the house is on fire. Fossil fuel companies use climate wokeness in their advertising campaigns. BP is literally 'Beyond Petroleum'. Climate adaptation is just another consumer choice, not the upending of the entire capitalist system that's required. As Elton John said, "it's no sacrifice, No sacrifice, It's no sacrifice at all".
The popular climate movement is all about having your climate and eating it too. You can save the polar bears... by driving this car. You can be a good person by reducing emissions. The truth is we need a social shift towards public transport and we need to eliminate emissions completely. We can't just change our consumption patterns, we have to change the world. Instead we're getting sold climate adaptation like any other self-indulgent product.
It's all an ad campaign. It's all a comfortable, comforting choice ($1 dollar of the $100 you're spending goes to climate programs and nevermind where the $99 is going). Everybody wants a first-class ticket to the Revolution and it simply won't work out that way. Either voluntarily or involuntarily, there will be blood.
Malm is right that there needs to be property damage and militant resistance on the scale of anti-colonial resistance throughout history. I would go further and say that actual violence against property-owners will be required. In the history of the world, no one has ever made an omelette without breaking eggs. I'm not calling for violence, I'm just calling it the way it is.
The truth is that the gods demand sacrifice. The sooner we make it the sooner they'll be appeased, but humans are lazy and comfortable and we just won't do it until the last minute. And so the gods of air, water, and earth will rise up and take their due themselves. That's what climate collapse is. The holy wrath of the Earth.
Either we sacrifice capitalist infrastructure now or storms will devour all infrastructure indiscriminately. Either we adapt our cities or the oceans will simply swallow them up. If human don't choose revolution, evolution will be foisted upon us. Either we change or the climate changes us.
And yet there's no appetite for mass revolution yet. There's just an appetite for destruction delayed, dumped on our children so we don't have to give up anything today. The rich would rather see the end of the world than a bad quarter. The West would rather make pledges than give anything up. Even the masses are so caught up in daily survival that they can't think of tomorrow.
The fact is that in order to get a livable climate we are going to have to sacrifice of our lives right now and we don't fucking wanna. Any revolutionary climate movement would be hated by the present and respected only by generations yet unborn. The truth is that old people simply don't want to pay our climate debts and we're going to make Lord Shiva come knocking down our children's doors.
Changing power supply will mean changing power, and that never happens peacefully. Changing power is, by definition, disturbing the peace. Read any history, it's not written in pledges and promises, it's all written in blood. As Mao said, the revolution is not a dinner party. What makes you think a climate revolution would be any different?
In that sense it's not even enough to blow up pipelines. Even that would be too little too late. We're going to have to blow up our entire world. What this means is a revolutionary climate movement, damaging property and, yes, even lives. Malm calls his book "learning to fight in a world on fire" and when the world is on fire, sometimes the kindest thing you can do is light a match. This is in fact how we manage forest fires, through controlled burns.
When you're talking about a controlled burn across an existing society, however, people will rightly be enraged. The bigger counter-movement will be to fuck the future to indulge another day. This is basically the premise of the film TENET. A CIA agent furiously resists people fighting climate change from the future so some white lady can pick up her kid from school.
For climate resistance to actually resist anything, it will have to become repulsive even to itself. It will have to go from a marketing tagline to marginalized, it will have to go from popular to persecuted, it will have to go from peaceful to disturbing the peace. The fact is that destruction is inevitable. That's just the cycle of history we're in. The only choice is whether Shiva does the destruction for us, or if his children offer a fitting sacrifice to blunt our fate.