COP21 Fossil Fuel Addiction

A guide for intervention from the climate justice movement

Author’s note: this article is meant to be both deadly serious and parody. It attempts humour and commits unforgiveable psychological reductionism of political issues. It is hoped the reader will discern the message behind the form of delivery.

Fossil Fuel Addiction is killing the planet. The Climate Justice Movement must ready for an intervention before this addiction kills us all. The following is a practical guide to recognize addictive behaviour as well as how to effectively intervene to assist in the Addict’s recovery. In the middle of global climate marches and actions worldwide, climate justice activists would do well to study these tips for an informed intervention.

The earth’s ecosystems metabolize everything human society produces and consumes. Its delicate ecological subsystems have been bombarded by toxic by-products of our industrial systems. Under normal conditions, it may be easy to believe that within moderate amounts, toxic substances can be metabolized to no effect on the planet as a whole.

But there is a pervasive tendency amongst the world’s Fossil Fuel Addicts to underestimate the amount consumed as well as the devastation wrought on systems in their entirety. Units of pollution add-up and like any addictive behaviour, it is easy to forget or hide how much has been consumed, especially true within the licentious atmosphere of extreme and unconventional energy exploitation.

The viability of whole ecosystems is at stake. Atmospheric, oceanic and earth systems globally are becoming corrupted at the systemic level. Arctic jet streams are languishing and becoming lazy. Global thermo-haline ocean currents are slowing down. Climate change is contributing to significantly alter nitrogen cycling processes, in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

The Fossil Fuel Addict will inevitably engage in self-denial about over-consumption, citing lower amounts than is really the case. But when the earth exhibits tipping point tendencies that threaten to “fire the clathrate gun,” dangerous defensive postures on the part of the Addict must be called-out. This is the time to recognize that the Addict has hit rock bottom, that there is an imminent crash, driven by multiple sets of amplified positive feedbacks producing abrupt and runaway climate changes.

Justifying ‘Safe Levels’

With frankenweather as a backdrop, a desperate coordinated effort has been underway amongst industry and the nations of the world to define, justify and reinforce their own notions of “safe levels of global warming.” While it may be obvious to thinking and sober people that in fact there can be no safe levels of global warming, it appears that this realization is not so obvious to people making decisions at the Paris COP21 meetings.

Multiple scenarios are invented, draped in mystifying strings of scientific jargon, tight correlations and mathematical equations such as “30 per cent emissions reductions below 2005 levels by 2020 for a 66 per cent chance of averting 2C rise (which would permit human survival).” High levels of credulity are aspired to by cloaking these numbers in precise terms as if they represent solid, scientifically valid insight into climate and social science.

Versions of these statements are rolled-out to the public by scientists, activists, government representatives in a logical-positivist heuristics of persuasion for maximum saliency and self-efficacy. “Critical” commentators join the fray, commenting on the cogency of the numbers themselves, add their own dimensions to the same questionable logic, and thereby consent/submit to the “authority” of the form in which Fossil Fuel Addict statements are couched as if they represent reality.

Addictive Behaviour Justifying Non-Action

But this collective conspiracy to enable a semblance of solid foundation, all only to justify non-action should be recognized as the desperate call for help that it is. If the equations themselves are analyzed, as well as the frames and conventions in which they are generated, are analyzed – it becomes clear they hardly reflect the reality to which they intend to refer.

The impacts from climate change have always risen at a far faster rate than either scientists and the public can keep up with. We know that IPCC reports have consistently understated the threat and urgency. Recent research by James Hansen concludes that threshold effects of global warming could be kicking in at a global temperature rise of 1C beyond pre-industrial benchmarks. In other words, that means kicking in NOW, not at 1.5C or 2C!

Fossil Fuel Addiction is the inability to see beyond mechanisms of denial or culpability avoidance. The Addict exhibits behaviour that includes: minimizing, rationalizing, forgetting, self-deception, suppression and repression. We have seen these mechanisms at work in multiple instances in the last 20 iterations of United Nations Committee of the Parties (COP) meetings. After 20 years, emissions this year are 63 per cent higher than when “negotiations” started.

Addictive Behaviour is Enabled by the Rest of Us

Because addictive behaviour has been allowed to continue over such a long time, fossil fuel addicts have been given free reign to experience dissociation and a tendency to adopt personality traits governed by self-interestedness, amorality, callousness and deceit. Furthermore, Addicts tend to not suffer from guilt and are able to mimic human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism.

Our toleration of lax social norms and our passivity toward addictive behaviour has encouraged the rapid spread of this disease to the point that it has become endemic amongst the global elite. As a result, the rest of the world endures the destructive consequences and painful relationships with Fossil Fuel Addicts due in part to their own low-self-esteem and co-dependencies of the Addicts.

The world is fed a myriad of self-justifications given to support Fossil Fuel Addiction. At a personal level, these exculpatory rationalizations take on the form of irrational and often vituperative personal attacks on others. Look for some of these admissions that are ‘signs’ of Fossil Fuel Addiction behaviour. The Fossil Fuel Addict may say things such as:

  • the real problem is people judging them
  • their addictions are somehow necessary to the normal functioning of the economy
  • it’s their job and someone else would do it if it weren’t them
  • there are no alternatives to fossil fuel related jobs
  • renewable energy is boring, costly, inadequate and inefficient
  • people who dislike coal, oil and gas are weird and uptight
  • our economy is being ruined by socialists and anarchists and that is why their life is miserable
  • the weather is to blame

But these flippant associations should be juxtaposed to the reality and measured against objective circumstances. Fossil Fuel Addiction is leading to a terminal situation in which human civilization is facing an unprecedented, extreme, intractable and imminently catastrophic threat to life support systems. Even if activists are ‘uptight’, as well as anxious, depressed and morbid, the Addict must be able to concede that it is for legitimate reason.


Treatment begins by coming out of denial. As long as polluters remain in denial, they will continue to pollute and blame everyone and everything else as the cause of their problems. If a Fossil Fuel Addict is able to muster enough honesty, then recovery can begin. If they refuse to come out of denial, the climate justice movement must perform a planned intervention with a professional who helps the Addict to see the truth in their polluting.

It is incumbent upon all those who consider themselves to be part of the “Climate Justice Movement” to step-up, lead the politicians and CEOs and at the same time enhance their own sense of mission and self-worth, by putting any sense of our own weaknesses and emotional vulnerabilities aside, by focussing on helping Fossil Fuel Addicts help themselves!

Major high-risk polluters attending the COP21 conference are a danger to themselves and others; they need to get their problem under control. After seasoned activists have tried suggesting to Committee of Parties over 20 international climate summits that they need to face their addictions but having only been met with resistance, it is time for an intervention. Time to confront Addicts to help them see the danger their abuse is to themselves and others and begin a process of recovery. It is time to show them that we care and that they themselves, as well as others are being hurt by their behaviour.

Intervention Guidelines

Pollution is a disease of excuses, so you must remove all possible reasons for the Fossil Fuel Addict to refuse your help: promises to “meet targets” at some far-off date; promises to privately and voluntarily “pledge” or “commit” to change, rather than submit to more stringent, mandatory, legally enforced carbon targets; promises to reform but not fully transform through devises such as green capitalism, market mechanisms, green taxes and other miraculous cures. Remember that you must deal with the deep causation of the addiction and not the symptoms.

Don’t be fooled. Addiction is irrational, unbalanced and unhealthy behaviour patterning resulting from abnormal obsessions. It could not continue without a distortion of reality and delusional thinking. The Fossil Fuel Addict may swear that s/he is clean and sober when negotiating the addiction, while still under the influence of the profit motive. S/he will try to conceal the amount of nature consumed in the commodification process. S/he will invent alibies for absence at oil spills and methane releases as present these as “mistakes” that anyone could do. They may plead “I promise” and use such phrases as “I know I have been wrong, and this time I have learned my lesson. It will not happen again!”

Recognize half-truths. Like cigarette addiction, Fossil Fuel Addicts (FFAs) may express sincere desire to convert to cleaner forms of technology, but they accomplish little to achieve
that outcome. Addicts may try to focus attention on meagre attempts at promoting conversion to a greener economy on a particular day and use this as evidence that they have control over their polluting. They will ignore other aspects of their life that do not support their polluting behaviour, using half-truths along with their denial to support continued substance abuse.

Avoid Stigmatizing. When unduly threatened in an uncontrolled environment Fossil Fuel Addicts may react to the stigma associated with this disorder causing addicts to close ranks in private foras such as the G20 or the G7 where new ways fossil fuel addictive behaviour is legitimized and codified into international agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Cornering of the FFA may lead to this kind of institutionalization of neurosis, working into the very infrastructure of society the malfeasance of the Addict and should be avoided at all costs.

Confront the problem head-on by facing it in direct actions. Choose a time such as the COP21 meetings when the polluter attempts to be sober and transparent about their condition. Remain calm and corner the polluter while exercising non-violent civil disobedience in a situation where it may be a surprise. It may take place on the streets, in an office, at home or within a neutral place, like a restaurant or country club of their choice.

Be as firm and specific as possible by telling the FFA how his/her behaviour affects you personally and those around you. Give personal examples such as “my house burned down from forest fires,” “my island is disappearing from sea level rise,” or more large scale examples such as “this year you caused the polar ice caps to melt causing untold mayhem world wide.” Tell them “I won’t let this happen again. I know you love your children, but polluting makes you a different person.” Tell them how his/her addiction makes you, your friends and family feel!

Show them you care. Let your combined lifetime of existential angst over the damage caused by big fossil fuel, big pharma, big agro, big armament, etc. etc. well-up and spill into their consciousness. Tell them how your neighbours and co-workers have noticed their psychopathic behaviour and have lost respect for them. Expect hostility from a possible paranoid reaction that you are part of a growing movement to overthrow the foundations of their established order in the global hierarchy. Meet this antagonism with firm and calm resolve. Show the Fossil Fuel Addict in no uncertain terms that you care about him, but that you simply will not tolerate his paranoid behaviour any further.

Keep your eyes on the ball. All of the sophisticated science still knows virtually nothing about the complexities of deep ecosystems dynamics. The unspoken and mysterious truths contained with the notion of the precautionary principle presently loom large. At the edge of global climate precariousness, we might as well adopt a “primal reference” immediately as an obvious and deliberate “new” benchmark which the Addict can lean on; that the average population dose from human-made radiative forcing should be no greater than that which the population already receives from “natural” causes, or from pre-industrial levels. “Zero tolerance” are the new code-words!

Linear thinking is the enemy. Addicts tend toward linear and concrete dissociative thinking. Remind them we are now living amidst abrupt climate change. When severe distortions are introduced and become systemically disruptive, eco-systems become defined more by chaos theory and complex dynamics – characterized by lack of predictability. Excessive input levels of anthropogenic carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone, water vapor, unsettle complex chemical compositions and structural balances in delicately balanced ecosystems. Old epistemologies and ontologies for navigating complex bio-chemical and thermodynamic principles don’t apply!

Don’t let the Addict slip into old behaviours. Intruding into the assumptions behind the mainstream discourses of Addicts are biases generated within cultures of commodity production in which perpetual energy and material throughput are system requirements. This provides a deceptive escape valve of projected “carbon budgets” extended into the future with continued production of externalities within which countries and corporations can still massively pollute. To prevent recidivism, isolate and obstruct Addicts from contact with the ghettoized language of their homies.

Ask others for help. If you don’t succeed as a small affinity group, plan more interventions. This time, invite friends, family, co-workers, flash mobs, Facebook groups… anyone from the 99% who has been personally affected by the polluters insensitivities. Tell them all how to be prepared to share specific examples of how the polluter has hurt them and our non-human friends through their sustained abusive behaviour. Each person should be given an opportunity on the streets and with the blow-horn to offer her/his sensitive thoughts.

Don’t be afraid to say how you really feel. A non-violent, direct-action, civil disobedience intervention will not be effective if you worry more about the Addicts’ feelings than you do about the future of the planet, or those immediately immediately impacted. Coax polluters to face their victims such as the “Vulnerable 20” or the “Alliance of Small Island States,” the many indigenous communities. Don’t exaggerate, but tell the polluter how they are actually murderers and that their actions are killing life on the planet, its wonderful species, and any prospects for our civilization to survive. Suggest some prefacing nightmare stats of lives being lost to the Fossil Fuel Addicts. Convince them that they need to show some humility and remorse for the past. Now is the time for them to make sincere apologies and making amends, not more excuses.

Get professional help. If you are still not able to convince the polluter to seek treatment, ask a seasoned professional agitator to assist you.

Set consequences for the problem. Let the Addict know you mean business. If his pollution affects your consumption patterns, tell him you will divest from companies that supply his products. If his company sponsors events or public institutions, tell him you will campaign with others to boycott those venues. If he pollutes in your home, tell him you will change the locks on your door, or move out, until he is sober. Threaten civil and criminal lawsuits! Seek compensation! Tell them their actions will haunt them all there life – suggest possibilities of “deferred prosecution.” Make the consequences something the polluter will not be able to live with. But be sure you don’t use empty threats – you must have the persistence to campaign on the polluters’ behalf until the addiction is resolved.

Offer hope in solving the problem. If at the COP21 meetings, hold the polluter within the conference centre and restrict his freedom until s/he is cured. Don’t allow any actions that enable the polluters addictions – such as “voluntary INDCs.” Don’t allow visitors. This may frustrate the polluter – and you – but remember, rules are in place in the interests of sobriety, as well as no less than the averting of catastrophic climate change. Let the polluter know you will stick with him/her on the long road to recovery and eco-socialist revolution.

Find Alternatives. Losing an addiction is like losing a body part. A big empty space will be left by the losses caused by the “cure.” Addicts tend to live in the future, hoping the continued addictions will be paid handsomely in quarterly reports and bottom-lines. To avoid the problem of filling these spaces up with regrets, if-onlys and could-have-beens, ensure that a new personal and political vision re-occupies these spaces, one not based on private property, the growth and profit imperative, inequality and class division, etc.

Now Celebrate. Remember what Jean Paul Sartre says… real encounter with the “other” contains the potential for mutual liberation. When you help a friend to overcome their addictions you are also liberating yourself and the world from capitalism. You deserve a great big pat on the back, and the right to form new lines of governmental authority based on socialist and anarchist principles. A new day will dawn!

Finally, remember there is no cure for FFAs. Once a Fossil Fuel Addict, always an FFA. Can this disease be kept within remission with treatment? Even with the potential for sobriety, polluters think they can pollute again, without same devastating consequences.

When corporations and their state enablers admit they have a problem with Fossil Fuel Addiction – that is when the real work begins. Recovery is not a single event, but will require a process of permanent revolution in multiple areas of life. Learning how to cope with these changing circumstances is a lifelong process – requires strong commitment and support.

Admittance to the COP21 opens the door for climate justice to enter a polluter’s life and radically transform them from inside out. The personal acceptance of the guilt, shame – give the polluter the power to pollute or not pollute – one day at a time. Help them to learn to live without! •

Brad Hornick is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at Simon Fraser University. He is active with System Change Not Climate Change – an Ecosocialist Network, and the Vancouver Ecosocialists. Follow his tweets at @bradhornick.