In his most recent novel, The Ministry for the Future, cli-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson imagines the moment – in 2025 – when a devastating heat wave strikes the Earth, killing 20 million people in India. Among many things that arise from this all-too imaginable disaster is a social movement, The Children of Kali, dedicated to stopping greenhouse gas emissions by any means necessary. Throughout the novel they appear via news flashes of astonishing actions, which include downing airplanes and taking an entire Davos meeting hostage. The Children of Kali are a fictional version of the extreme climate protests now advocated by the academic and climate activist Andreas Malm, in his book How to Blow Up a Pipeline (2021). Who can doubt that young people growing up under the shadow of mass extinction will take the law into their own hands?
Cut to the backwoods of northern Minnesota, among the marshes and rice lakes of the Mississippi headwaters, where over the past several weeks hundreds of water protectors have put their bodies on the line, jumping fences, locking down on equipment and resisting increasingly violent assaults by the authorities. On the other side of that dividing line, local police departments have bounded together to form a “Northern Lights Task Force” whose handcuffs, tear gas, rubber bullets and endless court procedures are directly paid for by the pipeline constructor, the Canadian multinational Enbridge. There’s no terrorism happening right now in northern Minnesota, no explosives, no sabotage – but non-violent resistance to fossil fuel infrastructure has taken a giant step forward this summer.
An online map of the Line 3 pipeline route shows both the infrastructure and the people opposing it, with embedded videos and live feeds from the protest camps:
This movement is led by Indigenous women, whose voices emerge from an astonishing intimacy with the natural world. Since the dead of winter, these women and their many allies have stood in the path of the bulldozers and the directional drills, facing the police and enduring arrest after arrest. But now, over the last month in particular, what you see in the videos are seemingly endless fresh faces – youth who’ve decided that the only way to live in a desperate and terrible time is to overcome passivity and face the corporate state, which “communicates” endlessly about reducing emissions while pressing forward with pipelines to carry climate-wrecking Tar Sands crude to the market and the atmosphere.
In his book, Malm recounts the street theater of climate protests past: “Dressed up as trees, flowers and animals, we laid down on the tarmac to be run over by a vehicle built of cardboard and wood to symbolise business-as-usual. Striding through the flattened crowd, protesters in UN delegate costumes carried signs saying ‘Blah-Blah-Blah.'” Malm and his friends secured a meeting with their climate minister and implored her to ratchet up her climate ambitions. “The science, after all, had been clear for a long time now.”
That was at COP 1 in 1995. The only things that have changed since then are a devastating surge in emissions and a sickening plunge into nihilistic denial. The science is clear like the rare blue sky, but the politics are murky like leaking oil. The events in Minnesota contribute to a dangerous polarization, that’s for sure. But what exactly are people supposed to do? If we were waiting for the droughts and floods and forest fires, they’re already here. The heatwave that kills twenty million could easily happen on KSR’s timeline, tomorrow or in 2025. If you are not ready to take non-violent direct action, then think about all the other things you can do, personally and politically. But definitely leave the flower costumes aside. This is going to be a whole-of-society effort – and for the moment, half of society is not going along for the ride. Ask yourself, who do I support? How can I bring that support into the public space? And above all, who’s really throwing oil on this fire?
Brian Holmes is a writer, cartographer, artist, living in the crepuscular city of Chicago. His accomplishments, like yours, dear reader, are relatively meaningless in the face of present times. He loves his friends and allies.