“How to Blow Up a Pipeline” by Andreas Malm, reviewed: the climate dossier for the destruction of properties
To reprimand this reading of history, Malm examines the use of violence and destruction of property in a series of emancipation movements. These range from the massive liberation of slaves during the Haitian Revolution at the end of the 18th century, to the struggle of the suffragettes of the beginning of the 20th century, “to send hundreds of well-dressed women into the streets to break every window that ‘they were happening’), the ANC’s anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa, among other instructive cases. He quotes a Nelson Mandela different from the familiar figure of sanitized official commemoration: “Our policy of achieving a non-racial state through non-violence has yielded nothing,” Mandela said in 1964. In his 1994 memoir , he recalled his thought: “Our strategy was to make selective incursions against military installations, power stations, telephone lines and transport links; targets that would not only hamper the military effectiveness of the state, but frighten supporters of the National Party, scare away foreign capital and weaken the economy … But if sabotage did not produce the results we wanted, we were ready to take the next step: guerrilla warfare and terrorism. “
Malm’s contention is not that property destruction should replace peaceful protest as the climate movement’s primary tactic, but that almost all successful social movements have used both peaceful and destructive means, and that ‘There is no reason for the climate movement to be an exception to this rule. to reign. Indeed, violence (at least against property, rather than against people) and nonviolence are, typically, the symbiotic characteristics of a movement, as in the American struggle for civil rights. Malm quotes sociologist Herbert Haines: “Nonviolent direct action has struck at the heart of powerful political interests because it could so easily turn into violence.” Not only the sit-ins in the South, but also the highly destructive urban riots of private property across the United States prompted the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. As Malm puts it “Beside the threat of the black revolution, the Black Power, the Black Panther Party, the black guerrilla groups – integration seemed a tolerable price to pay. Without Malcolm X, there might not have been a Martin Luther King (and vice versa). “
As eloquent as Malm is (in a second language, no less), his memoir for “ecotage,” as he calls it, gives rise to some natural objections. The first is: would it actually work? Particularly for an American audience, the specter of ecological sabotage is likely to call for images of the ill-fated green outfit campaigns as radical as Earth First! and the Earth Liberation Front in the 1980s and 1990s. While peaceful protests, on behalf of Malm, proved unable to redirect the flow of events in the first two decades of this century, the eco- sabotage of the last two decades of the previous century surely equaled and surpassed it for uselessness. The activists involved stabbed trees, destroyed SUVs, wrote graffiti, and (excitingly, from my perspective at the time) torched a ski lodge in Colorado County where I grew up. But this delusional monkey wrenching has done next to nothing to derail the heavyweight of ecocidal capitalism or to convert the electoral public to the cause. Its main result has been long prison terms for some activists, a federal government bent on labeling the vandalism “terrorism”, and exile abroad for others.
It is not that a piously reformist American environmental movement did not imply from the beginning a logic of destruction of property, if its own lobbying initiatives proved to be in vain. In Ecocentrists (2018), A Superb History of Radical Environmentalism in the United States, Keith Makoto Woodhouse quotes a speech given in 1971 by Sierra Club President Phil Berry: “No responsible conservationist advocates violence and certainly not me, but it should be noted that if we fail in our efforts, others who might assume leadership in the field of conservation would not be willing to work with existing institutions. Traditional environmental organizations may have succeeded in setting aside stretches of virgin land for preservation as ‘desert’, but they have failed to rally the general population to a new tenure ethic, nor to convince the government to take climate change seriously. In this sense, their shortcomings provided the rationale for more radical environmentalists. And yet the saboteurs of Earth First !, the Animal Liberation Front and the ELF have not launched a mass movement against the theft of land any more than the statesmen responsible for the Sierra Club.