5 min read

You Can't Fight Extraction With Extraction

You Can't Fight Extraction With Extraction
"Greed" illustration by Rolf Dietrich Brecher

There is SO much happening in climate news at the moment, and on top of that I haven't put a newsletter out in a couple of weeks (sorry about that, our new podcast season plus various ongoing investigations has been keeping me extremely busy—on the plus side, I'll have some exciting news to share soon about growing our team). But instead of delving into the key talking points in the lead-up to COP, or the relentless flood of extreme weather events, or the latest fossil fuel propaganda efforts, I feel compelled today to address a massive issue I keep butting up against, one that I think will ultimately render the climate movement unsuccessful if left unaddressed. I'm talking about extractivism, and no I don't mean drilling for oil and gas.

I've been a climate journalist for more than 20 years and during that time I have had window into all the various corners of the climate movement, from the activists and campaigners to the comms folks, the litigators to the philanthropists, the politicians to the journalist. As climate has risen in awareness (a good thing!) the funding and cache attached to it has also increased, and that has not only brought out the usual grifters who try to attach themselves to whatever the cause celebre happens to be, but has also had a really unfortunate impact on the whole ecosystem of folks pushing for a solution to the climate crisis. Over the past few years, I have seen a massive increase in really unethical, transactional, extractive behavior amongst folks in the climate space. Just this year I've personally seen climate folks fundraise on the back of other people's unpaid labor, credit hog, gatekeep, steal information and ideas, plagiarize, and generally compete in a transactional, Hunger Games sort of way that reminds me a lot of how oil executives behave. I understand that everyone needs to pay their bills (let's talk about my negative account balance, it's stressful!). I also get that, unfortunately, the competitive, winner-take-all nature of grant funding drives a lot of this behavior. What I don't understand is how anyone can possibly believe that they are going to change a system built on extraction by behaving in exactly the same way. And sorry, but no, the ends don't justify the means here; on the contrary, the means ensure that the ends will never come.

The conventional wisdom on this stuff is generally "the other guys are worse, we've got bigger fish to fry, this is just how things work." Has anyone ever materially changed anything with that kind of spinelessness? Climate folks talk a lot about "moral clarity," and frankly it's time to apply that lens inward. What peer-reviewed research tells us time and time again is that while no, it isn't fair to blame the climate crisis on individuals' willingness to recycle more or fly less, the behavior of those who are either part of the world's wealthiest 10% or who are advocates for climate action—and in the case of the vast majority of folks in the climate space, it's both—makes a real difference on the willingness of others to change. Maybe it's time we think beyond carbon footprints there and think about extractive behavior more broadly.

For my part, I'm a journalist, and I run a small media company, so the way I try to model non-extractive behavior is by being collaborative rather than competitive with other journalists, open-sourcing our reporting and documents, helping the freelancers I work with to find other work and/or jobs, paying people fairly, and not stealing other people's work or ideas. I don't always get it right, so when I fuck up I try to own that and fix it. Wow, what a hero – this is called basic human decency, folks, and I don't know how the hell anyone thinks they're going to slow or stop the climate crisis, never mind survive it, without it. Which is not to say that it's necessarily easy; it's certainly not rewarded in American society, for example, but who said anything worth doing was easy?

A lot of climate advocates I know believe that community activism and community resiliency are key to both addressing and surviving the climate crisis. Whenever anyone asks me the age-old "what gives you hope on climate" question, my answer is usually focused there, too--the communities that have banded together to fight for their survival. It would be great to see those who are trying to understand the climate crisis and develop solutions to it behave that way too, rather than fighting each other for money, fame, power and influence.

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This (Past Couple) Week's Climate Must-Reads

A slightly longer list than usual since I've failed to get the newsletter out for a couple of weeks!

  • [study] Why Is the World Bank Funding More Coal? The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private lending arm of the World Bank is indirectly funding dozens of new coal plants in Asia, according to a report from Recourse, Inclusive Development International and Trend Asia, released this week in the lead up to the World Bank's annual meetings taking place in Marrakech next week.
  • [podcast] We Don't Talk About Leonard - Fantastic podcast series collaboration between ProPublica and WNYC on the man who's been pulling the strings on America's judicial system for years, Leonard Leo.
  • [study] Prevalence and Predictors of Wind Energy Opposition in North America – this fascinating study from Dr. Leah Stokes at the University of California at Santa Barbara finds that opposition to wind energy is increasing in the U.S. and Canada but that it's being driven by a remarkably small number of people. Over at Heatmap, Robinson Meyer wonders...what is it about the permitting and review process that allows such a small number of people to have such a large impact?
  • Climate California — The Los Angeles Times has launched a whole new climate-focused section including multiple reporters and columnists who will cover climate change, the natural world, health and science.
  • Not a story or a study, just a cool new project, Green 2.0's Environmental Experts of Color Database, features over 150 people of color who are experts on environmental topics in an effort to address the lack of diversity in Congressional expert testimony.
  • A Dangerous Debt-Climate Nexus - In this report for NACLA Report on the Americas, Ketaki Zodgekar, Avery Raines, Fayola Jacobs & Patrick Bigger chronicle the limits of technocratic climate fixes, particularly for Caribbean countries.
  • Shell's Fortnite Islands – Meant to write about this when I saw it last month, but yes, Shell is sponsoring various artists to create islands in the game Fortnite. Richard Luscombe has the whole story in The Guardian.