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Time for an insurgency

In a world where ‘self-preservation’ is often regarded as ‘the first law of life,’ solidarity is a form of action in which mutual aid serves as the means for realizing individual interests. Solidarity is the practice of pursuing individual ends by realizing mutual and common ends. The process by which solidarity emerges is what, echoing the seventeenth-century Digger Gerrard Winstanley, I call “common preservation.”

Common preservation is the process by which people shift from strategies based on greed and self-aggrandizement to strategies that pursue self-interest by promoting common interests. Solidarity and common preservation are likely to emerge where people discover that they are powerless to realize their ends by themselves, but that they may be able to do so by cooperation with others. New common preservations and solidarities generally develop when people are presented a common threat or problem that can’t be solved by individuals and limited groups. They experience the necessity to build new solidarities that cross national and other boundaries.

This doesn’t happen automatically, but through an active process of constructing links among people and groups who have been isolated, divided, and even antagonistic.

Such movements have repeatedly transcended national borders and established transnational cooperation, loyalty, and solidarity. But they have not yet transmuted the nations and the nation-state system that prevent global human cooperation to address global problems like climate change, nuclear holocaust, and injustice. How can nation-states be not only penetrated by global forces, but also have their most destructive aspects metamorphosed by them? Consider today’s most urgent and devastating threat: climate change.

The nation-state system has helped cause and perpetuate climate destruction. National sovereignty gives states the authority to determine what can or cannot be emitted into the atmosphere in their territories; it is states that authorize the emission of climate-destroying greenhouse gas emissions.

The sovereignty of nations ensures that common human interests are trumped by the authority of states – allowing governments to destroy the global atmospheric commons without restraint from higher authority or their people. The system of sovereign nation-states generates a competition in which each state must encourage the exploitation of nature’s resources or face loss of power and wealth within the competitive world order.

The direct and indirect dependence of states and their officials on dominant economic actors – notably, industries that produce and use fossil fuels – often makes governments subordinate to those with an interest in perpetuating climate destruction.

To overcome these limitations, the climate movement needs to become what I have called a global nonviolent constitutional insurgency.

Excerpted: ‘Time for a Climate Insurgency?’

Jeremy Brecher, "Time for an insurgency," The News. 2021-12-22.
Keywords: Environmental sciences , Climate change , Global warming , Climate movement , Atmosphere , Greenhouse , Nature