Responding Personally And Powerfully To The Climate Catastrophe – OpEd


Amid the ongoing sequence of horrendous news articles reporting one environmental disaster after another, with dire consequences for the planet and all its species (see, for example, ‘Global Extinction within one Human Lifetime as a Result of a Spreading Atmospheric Arctic Methane Heat Wave and Surface Firestorm‘)

I can now read accounts of the recent and predicable catastrophe that took place in Doha, where the 18th UN Climate Summit was held (see, for example, ‘A Carbon Tsunami in Doha‘ ). I can also read many articles by people who respond to the ongoing climate catastrophe by urging us to lobby governments, UN organisations or others to change their
policies and practices in one way or another.

In my experience, organisations such as the United Nations and governments cannot respond meaningfully to any of the major crises we face as a species for the simple reason that they are controlled by elite interests, including those multinational corporations that profit from wars, the use of fossil and nuclear fuels, the destruction of ecosystems and the exploitation of indigenous peoples (see, for example, ‘The Global 1%: Exposing the Transnational Ruling Class‘).

Consequently, lobbying these organisations is more than a waste of time; it is an act of disempowerment (because you have submitted to ‘participation’ in a process that they already control). Of course, these institutions are also the ones that tell us that lobbying is ‘your democratic right’ and thus they encourage us to lobby them as the most effective way of absorbing and dissipating our dissent. They also have many agents, including some that are called ‘activists’ and ‘activist groups’ that encourage us to lobby as well.

But if lobbying to change the behaviour of the elite and its agents is ineffective, what can I do instead? Well, I devote considerable time to changing myself and, in doing so, give others the opportunity to consider my example. In addition to this, I take principled and strategic nonviolent action to directly confront those elites who are harming constituencies, including nonhuman species, which I love. This means that I cop a lot of criticism, some prison time and other forms of violence.

But I am far more powerful and effective than I would be if I spent my time lobbying someone who is paid well to ignore me.

One way in which I take action is by participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth’ . The Flame
Tree Project outlines a fifteen year strategy during which participating individuals are encouraged to reduce their consumption in each of seven vital resource areas by 10% per year for each of 15 successive years while increasing their self-reliance in sixteen key areas by 10% per year for 15 successive years. By doing this, participants automatically noncooperate,

in a strategic manner, with elite-controlled structures and processes while simultaneously creating alternative, local structures that allow them to self-reliantly meet their own needs, at a much lower level of consumption. This provides a basis for sharing the world’s resources equitably with the peoples of Africa, Asia and Central/South America while living in an ecologically sustainable manner. Moreover, individuals can participate as part of their household, street, neighbourhood or community but powerful individuals also have the option of setting an example when others they know are not yet ready to respond.

The Flame Tree Project also identifies action that can be taken by businesses, community groups, farmers, scientists and governments but it does not depend on the participation of any of these for the scheme to succeed. The scheme depends on powerful individuals. And because it depends on powerful individuals, participants are given the option of
ignoring any aspect of the project with which they do not agree.

A second feature of The Flame Tree Project is that it offers the option for individuals and groups to participate in the planning and implementation of sophisticated campaigns of nonviolent resistance to prevent/end wars, end economic exploitation and save threatened ecosystems, as well as strategies of nonviolent defense to liberate Palestinians, Tibetans and other oppressed populations in those circumstances in which elite violence must be directly confronted (see Robert J. Burrowes ‘The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense: A Gandhian Approach’, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996 and Gene Sharp ‘The Politics of Nonviolent Action’, Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973). Not everyone will choose to participate in this way but, again, this is a choice for powerful individuals to make.

A third feature of The Flame Tree Project is that it challenges participants to ask searching questions about the nature of human society: for example, why are human beings violent? If we do not understand, and address, the fundamental cause of violence, then all of our efforts to survive by tackling the symptoms of our violence – including those that impact on our planetary environment – will ultimately fail. Understanding the cause of violence has profound implications for the nature of the institutions we must create if violence, including ecological violence, is to be eliminated. How do we raise our children? How is their education undertaken? How do we respond to dysfunctional (including violent) behaviours? Do police, legal and prison systems have any role to play in creating and developing cultures in which violence simply has no part? How do we defend ourselves without using military violence (which kills
people, consumes vast quantities of natural resources and generates vast quantities of radioactive and other toxic wastes)? And what of structural violence? What organisations and institutions, of what size, are best able to meet the biologically inherent needs of humans?

Fundamentally, The Flame Tree Project is an invitation to ask the deep questions about how we go about creating a new and higher phase of life on Earth: a shift from violent civilization to nonviolent planetization. You are welcome to consider joining.

Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?‘ . His email address is [email protected] and his website is at

Robert J. Burrowes

Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?‘ . His email address is [email protected] and his website is at

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