I like reading David Roberts’ stuff on Grist, especially when I disagree with him. Sadly, there’s not a thing I disagree with in this piece rebutting Andrew Revkin on opposition to Keystone. (Perhaps excepting his characterization of Matt Nisbet as a “professional wanker,” which I find overly generous given that I have always found Nisbet sorely lacking in professionalism.)
This weekend, close to 50,000 people gathered for the biggest rally ever against climate change, a threat Revkin acknowledges is enormous, difficult, and urgent. Revkin and his council of wonks took to Twitter to argue that the rally and the campaign behind it are misdirected, absolutist, confused, and bereft of long-term strategy. They had this familiar conversation as the rally was unfolding.
As a result, Revkin suffered the grievous injury of a frustrated tweet from Wen Stephenson, a journalist who has crossed over to activism. This gave the wounded Revkin the opportunity to write yet another lament on the slings and arrows that face the Reasonable Man. He faced down the scourge of single-minded “my way or the highway environmentalism,” y’all, but don’t worry, he’s got a thick skin. He lived to tell the tale.
This is all for the benefit of an elite audience, mind you, for whom getting yelled at by activists is the sine qua non of seriousness. The only thing that boosts VSP cred more is getting yelled at by activists on Both Sides.
Nice line, that last one. Useful in SO many contexts.
Roberts’ casual slam against the Frameinator comes in response to this tweet, in which Nisbet chides 350.org types for not hewing to his own special brand of 13-dimensional chess:
— Matthew C. Nisbet (@MCNisbet) February 18, 2013
What struck me about the thread that tweet came in was the overwhelming criticism of Keystone pipeline opponents for not having an overarching strategy that extends past stopping the Keystone pipeline as they mobilize people to oppose the Keystone pipeline. That criticism isn’t quite true: 350.org, for instance, is full of local student groups putting pressure on their colleges to divest from fossil fuel companies, in much the same fashion as the anti-apartheid divestment movement that hit U.S. campuses in the 1980s.
But there’s also an uncanny similarity between the objections voiced in that thread to Keystone opponents’ lack of a formal program, and objections we heard to the Occupy Wall Street folks way back in 2011. We heard back then that because OWS didn’t have, say, a 13-point program to adjust the schedule of lunches at quarterly SEC hearings, that they weren’t Very Serious People.
Which, of course, essentially translates to “your genuine groundswell of concern and subsequent activism threatens to undermine our position as experts.”
I used to get lots of letters and emails when I worked at Earth Island Institute from helpful people who thought somebody ought to start a campaign to do something. That something varied: take on the issue of overpopulation, plant redwood trees along the shore of San Francisco Bay, teach inner city children about marmots, whatever. The problem was that very few of these missives were phrased in the first person: “I would like to do this work.” It was almost always “…you should do this thing I think is important.”
I roundfiled those letters, but they kept coming.
Which all raises two questions for me:
- What is it with people declaring that movements like the opposition to the Keystone pipeline ought to do things a certain specific way, while notably refraining from offering to do any of the hard work of implementation with the group they’re criticizing?
- How the hell does Matthew Nisbet still have a job?