I do know, however, what it is to care deeply and urgently about an issue — a cause — of enormous magnitude, morally and politically, even spiritually, only to find myself at once attracted and repelled, fascinated and frightened, by a voice of radicalism.
The first time I recall reading about Tim DeChristopher, it was in the spring of 2011, around the time of his trial. In the months between his conviction that March and his sentencing in late July, a number of stories and interviews popped up, and I came across a Q&A in the socialist UK magazine Red Pepper. "We are at a time in our movement," DeChristopher said there, "where we need to be honest" — that it's "too late to stop a climate crisis," and that averting unthinkable catastrophe will now require deep, urgent, transformative changes. "We should not try and hide our vision about what we want to change, of the healthy, just world that we wish to create. We are not looking for small shifts: we want a radical overhaul of our economy and society."
Now, you have to understand, I'm not exactly a lifelong lefty. I've never been much of a leftist at all. I spent two decades in the mainstream media, where I considered myself a thoughtful, centrist independent. I've never registered for any party. I was heavily influenced, I admit, by Bill Clinton's winning triangulations (if not his deceptions). I'm a climate activist now, but with my house in the suburbs, my two young children, and my spouse with her marketing MBA, I'm an unlikely radical, to say the least.
So when I read DeChristopher in Red Pepper, my first reaction was, "No. What are you doing? You can't say that stuff. This sort of talk, if it goes too far, has consequences. People are listening to you now. If the movement radicalizes, we'll alienate people, we'll be marginalized, we'll never get anything from Congress — we'll sacrifice genuine, if incremental, progress for the sake of some kind of moral, or ideological, purity. And we don't have time for that. We have to take whatever progress we can get."
I was still trying to fit my ideas of what needed to be done inside the suffocatingly cramped quarters of the politically "possible" at that moment. I had yet to fully face the facts of the situation in front of us. I wasn't as far along as DeChristopher.
But that fall, the news from the climate front was unrelentingly grim: global emissions set new records, extreme weather and melting ice caps showed accelerating climate impacts, the IEA told us we're on track to blow past the 2-degree limit on our way to 6 degrees, Oxfam reported that climate change is already threatening global food security . . . and it went on. Meanwhile, a presidential campaign got going under the influence of the fossil-fuel funded Tea Party, pushing Republicans ever further into denial and obstruction. It became clear that even modest, incremental steps — much less comprehensive, economy-wide national measures, leading to binding global commitments — were a pipe dream in Washington.
By late December, I bottomed out — in despair for the planet and my children's future. "We're fucked," I realized. "Now what?"