Abolishing Fossil Fuels: Lessons from Movements That Won
Author: Kevin A. Young
Series: PM Press / Spectre
Size: 6 x 9
Subjects: Environmental Policy, US History, Environmental Conservation & Protection
Climate destruction is a problem of political power.
We have the resources for a green transition, but how can we neutralize the influence of Exxon and Shell? Abolishing Fossil Fuels argues that the climate movement has started to turn the tide against fossil fuels, just too gradually. The movement’s partial victories show us how the industry can be further undermined and eventually abolished. Activists have been most successful when they’ve targeted the industry’s enablers: the banks, insurers, and big investors that finance its operations, the companies and universities that purchase fossil fuels, and the regulators and judges who make life-and-death rulings about pipelines, power plants, and drilling sites. This approach has jeopardized investor confidence in fossil fuels, leading the industry to lash out in increasingly desperate ways. The fossil fuel industry’s financial and legal enablers are also its Achilles heel.
The most powerful movements in US history succeeded in similar ways. The book also includes an in-depth analysis of four classic victories: the abolition of slavery, battles for workers’ rights in the 1930s, Black freedom struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, and the fight for clean air. Those movements inflicted costs on economic elites through strikes, boycotts, and other mass disruption. They forced some sectors of the ruling class to confront others, which paved the way for victory. Electing and pressuring politicians was rarely the movements’ primary focus. Rather, gains in the electoral and legislative realms were usually the byproducts of great upsurges in the fields, factories, and streets.
Those historic movements show that it’s very possible to defeat capitalist sectors that may seem invulnerable. They also show us how it can be done. They offer lessons for building a multiracial, working-class climate movement that can win a global green transition that’s both rapid and equitable.
“Of the many present crises facing the future of humanity, climate change and its threat of mass extinction appears to be the most daunting. Kevin Young argues compellingly, however, that electoral strategies to fight climate change are a dead end. Rather, his study of past successful movements suggests that radical upsurges, the building of disruptive mass movements, including demonstrations, civil disobedience, and large strikes, are more compelling alternatives for stemming the tide, while ultimately only the end of capitalism will save us. A tour de force! “
—Michael Goldfield, author of The Southern Key: Class, Race, and Radicalism in the 1930s and 1940s
“In Abolishing Fossil Fuels: Lessons from Movements that Won, Kevin A Young makes a compelling and well-researched case for the kinds of disruptive grassroots tactics that are required to address the climate crisis. He dives into the history of several key movements that have succeeded and disabuses the reader of some well-accepted myths about them. Young focuses on the strategies needed to take to take power from the fossil fuel industry, and lead to a livable world. This is required reading for anyone interested in thinking strategically about how to address the climate crisis. Which should be all of us.”
—Cynthia Kaufman, author of The Sea Is Rising and So Are We: A Climate Justice Handbook
“Want to get rid of the fossil fuels that are destroying our future but are baffled about how to do so? Is climate protection an impossible dream? Are the fossil fuel forces just too powerful to take down? If you want honest, realistic, but also hopeful answers to those questions, read Kevin A. Young's Abolishing Fossil Fuels. Young presents a careful analysis of the powers that are purveying fossil fuels—and of how ordinary people can defeat them by inflicting sustained disruption on the elites that are perpetuating climate destruction. If the original Abolitionists could take down the slaveholders—the greatest power in the land—why can't we abolish fossil fuels? Kevin Young's answer is we can. I hope this book will become the strategic handbook for the climate protection movement.”
—Jeremy Brecher, author of Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual
“The climate crisis will continue for as long as combustion capitalism reigns. Kevin A Young’s magisterial Abolishing Fossil Fuels explains how we’ll end that reign. With lucid and thorough historical analysis, Young shows how to win against the oil companies and their politicians. It’s a tour de force, and a gift to anyone lacking faith in the possibility of radical change.”
—Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved
“Kevin Young's Abolishing Fossil Fuels is the kind of book the US climate movement desperately needs. The historic victories against slavery, the auto industry, and Jim Crow offer us the chance to build on more than the moral successes of past movements for justice, but also the wealth of tactical lessons that helped working people wrench concessions out of the clutches of yesterday's elites. Today's activists and organizations must ask not only principled questions about what they stand for, but also practical questions about how to deal with those who stand against progress. Abolishing Fossil Fuels provides a tremendous place to start and should be highly encouraged reading especially for young climate activists.”
—Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, author of Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took over Identity Politics (and Everything Else)
“It's all in the vowels. Capital with an a means money while capitol with an o means law. Capital summarizes economic accumulation; capitol is the location of legislation. Fossil fuel capitalists lead us to impending deaths for the planet and the people, and a ‘genocidal consensus’ in the acceptance of those extinctions. History shows that local strikes, boycotts, demos, and riots against capital succeed while national electioneering and lobbying against capitols do not. This is a powerful argument, densely researched, and entirely convincing to avoid the clear and present danger.”
—Peter Linebaugh, coauthor of The Many-Headed Hydra
“As authoritarian states increasingly criminalize ‘fossil fuel refugees,’ Kevin A. Young provides an abolitionist analysis of the climate crisis. Young not only demonstrates the ‘structural power’ of antiracist, climate justice, and labor movements to confront the fossil fuel industry, but also explores strategies to advance its abolition. An urgent read.”
—Jordan T. Camp, author Incarcerating the Crisis
“Kevin Young’s fast-moving and wise study combines a terrific idea for a book and fine execution of that idea. Abolishing Fossil Fuels calls for just that, and in doing so reminds us that the great abolitions—for example, of male monopoly on political rights, of management autocracy in the workplace, and above all of chattel slavery—have stressed dreaming and acting equally. In inspired moments based on long patterns of direct action, they have won. Young draws the lessons of those victories for climate justice and planetary survival, emphasizing how much success grew from a protest tradition and how little from any simple identification of change with electoral politics.”
—David Roediger, author of The Sinking Middle Class: A Political History of Debt, Misery, and the Drift to the Right
“In Abolishing Fossil Fuels, Kevin A. Young delineates how social movements have unpicked and can defeat the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold not by focusing on politicians but by directly confronting the polluting companies and the financial institutions that support them. He nimbly weaves this analysis together with the history of other social movements, such as the work to abolish slavery, the labor struggles of workers in the automobile industry, the fight against white supremacists and how coal miners fought against air polluters both using and pinpointing limits of federal clean air laws. Young concludes by discussing how to build an intersectional climate movement, one that fights back against racism and engages the working class. A must read for anyone interested in ending our reliance on fossil fuels.”
—Christina Gerhardt, author of Sea Change: An Atlas of Islands in a Rising Ocean
About the Author
Kevin A. Young teaches history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has published several other books, including Levers of Power: How the 1% Rules and What the 99% Can Do About It (with Tarun Banerjee and Michael Schwartz) and the edited volume Making the Revolution: Histories of the Latin American Left.
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