Monday morning in Boston, seven people sat down in front of construction equipment, blocking construction of a fracked gas pipeline coming into the heart of the city. That same evening, the Jamaica Plain Time Exchange hosted a spring seed and plant exchange. What do these two things have in common?
In the face of climate change, we have the dual challenge of both resisting new fossil fuel infrastructure projects and building a resilient, sustainable, and equitable economy in the shell of the old.
Both resistance and resilience-building are necessary. Resistance requires a bold assertion of community rights and individual voices to interrupt, block, and prevent encroachment by a politically powerful fossil fuel industry. Resilience requires creativity, resourcefulness and reskilling – along with focusing on the long haul and building institutions.
Mahatma Gandhi believed that Indian independence from Britain required both direct action – think the Salt March – and the constructive program of village economics. Both were aimed at interrupting and non-cooperating with British colonial rule. The constructive program included spinning cloth and building an alternative local economy outside of the empire.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because echoes of this approach are all around us. Greg Sankey, a Transition activist in Rhode Island, articulates the interdependence of these two approaches well: “Without resistance, we simply can’t become resilient,” he says. “Our economic and political structures are working tirelessly to undermine our goals – they oppose basic ecological and community principles. That’s why resistance is as essential to the survival of our species as growing food and eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels.”
Tim Stevenson, author of Resilience and Resilience: Building Sustainable Communities For a Post Oil Age, has also worked to build bridges between approaches, despite what he often sees as splintering of these two movements. “The people who are forming affinity groups to take direct action against pipelines now have the challenge of working in their neighborhoods to ground this work,” he says. “We have to prepare our communities for the disruption that climate change is bringing, including weird weather, food disruption, spread of disease, climate refugees.”
People are usually drawn to one approach or the other, sometimes as matter of temperament. One might be considered radical and political and the other pragmatic and practical. But both strategies are now required – and we must tell the story of their interconnection.
Values, Skills, and Community
Most obviously, activists of both stripes understand the urgent threat of climate change and want to reduce carbon emissions. In order to do this, there are things we must say ‘no’ to, and things we must say ‘yes’ to: yes to biking and public transit, no to new pipelines. Activists take on different pieces of this dialectic, both advancing sustainability in different ways.
For many, social justice is also a core value. The fossil fuel industry must be resisted not only because of carbon emissions, but also because it represents an unjust, corrupt concentration of wealth. To say no to this industry, we must also say yes to a system of decentralized, locally-owned and renewable energy sources.
In addition, both movements are helping individuals find agency in a mainstream culture that does everything it can to keep folks silent and disengaged. “We are working against a really individualistic culture,” says Amy Antonucci, an activist in New Hampshire with the Seacoast Permaculture Group. “To get anything done—from fighting a pipeline to growing more food, we have to work together,” she says. “This is the true challenge of our time. Can we get along with each other in a respectful way to get things done?”
A Community Example
Since 2011, the Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition (JP NET) has sparked a wide range of activities to strengthen community resilience in food systems, energy, and livelihoods. Inspired by the global Transition movement –and its concern about climate change and changing energy realities — we formed JP NET and projects such as Jamaica Plain Time Exchange, a bartering network, and the “Cancer Free Economy” effort to help businesses find alternatives to toxic chemicals. We’ve convened and spun off the Boston Food Forest Coalition, the JP Local First business association and the Egleston Farmers Market. We’ve convened forums, educational events and work days –and brought people together across differences in race, class, language and sub-neighborhood.
JP NET also nurtured a political-direct action program, recognizing that we needed to address the larger energy policy issues that contribute to climate change. We convened dozens of educational programs and teach-ins to understand the math and science of climate change and the urgency of reducing carbon and methane emissions to hopefully prevent catastrophic climate change. We staffed the creation of our Boston node of Mass 350.org to engage in a wide range of activities and recruited hundreds of people to attend the People’s Climate March in September 2014.
In the fall of 2014, we learned that a gas pipeline was planned to bring fracked gas from the Marcellus fault in Pennsylvania to Massachusetts –and that a spur was being built into our community. We understood that folly of building 50-year fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when we should urgently be transitioning to conservation and renewable energy. We organized two teach-ins about the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline. We learned how the Texas-based Spectra Energy was rapidly pushing the project, primarily fueled by an urgent need to get gas to export markets to Europe. Before the community woke up to the reality, the project was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a five-member agency that rubber-stamps most gas infrastructure projects. Against the objection of our city and state elected officials, Spectra sued to take Boston streets by eminent domain.
We co-founded Resist the Pipeline to mobilize protests against the pipeline and prepare people for nonviolent direct action against its construction. When construction began in September 2015, we were ready with vigils, rallies, and blockades, with hundreds of people lining up to risk arrest by nonviolently blocking construction. The work continues: this coming weekend, hundreds of “Mothers Out Front” will be protesting at the site.
Sustainability and Justice
At JP NET and beyond, there is some overlap between the people involved in both resistance and resilience strategies. But for the most part, they are different groups of people. And let’s be clear: both resilience-building and resistance can be time-consuming and emotionally draining. We’re not saying that pipeline fighters should add on resilience work, or vice versa. Folks should continue to do what calls to them.
In some cases, stronger institutional connections are needed: The pipeline protesters add an essential perspective to the institution building of JP NET. And people who are involved in JP NET can show up and support the pipeline protests at key moments.
What will certainly help all of our work, however, is the knowledge that it is part of a larger, interconnected whole. Our openness to seeing each other as allies expands our sense of the movement, grounding us in knowledge that this is bigger than one community, one pipeline, or one person. Together, we can say no to corruption and carbon pollution, while saying yes to sustainability and justice.