Film review: Time to blow up a pipeline?!

Another month, and yet another set of news stories that graphically underline the indisputable fact that the Climate and Ecological Crises are continuing to worsen, and are thus impacting negatively on the lives of millions of people around the world: 

Fig. 1 – Canada’s latest ‘unprecedented’ wildfires 

  • A deadly drought in the Horn of Africa – which “would not have happened without climate change” – causing nearly a million children to suffer from “acute malnutrition” and forcing 3.3m people to leave their homes. 
  • A report that predicts that the Arctic Ocean is now expected to be totally ice-free in summers by as early as the 2030s – even if we make drastic cuts in GHG emissions NOW! 
  • Unprecedented global heating-related wildfires in Canada, currently putting New York & many other parts of the US under dense smoke 

Closer to home, we have the Labour Party:  

  • announcing that it’s going to “DELAY” its ‘promise’ to spend £28bn a year on green investment! Instead, it is now ‘pledging’ to spend “up to that amount by 2027”. This coincides with the Labour Lords ABSTAINING on a vote on a Tory amendment to make the new Public Order Bill even more draconian than it already is – just when there is more than ever to protest about!   
  • Fig. 2 – Don’t panic!! This is just a non-alarmist way of announcing that many old and/or vulnerable people are expected to become seriously ill or even die during June’s heatwave! 

    The UK issuing this year’s first Heat-Health Alert – yellow for whole swathes of England & up-graded to amber for London, East & West Midlands, and the East, South East & South West of England, with temperatures hitting 30C.  And it’s only June! 

Green MP Caroline Lucas – in a comment that was something of an understatement – said the government still wasn’t taking climate change seriously enough. While even Andrew Marr said: “…if you think, as I do, that the climate is changing and we are now living inside the story of global warming, then quite soon you’re going to ask what are our politicians doing to help.” 

How To Blow Up A Pipeline 

So this was just the right time to watch the film How To Blow Up A Pipeline, which is partly based on Andreas Malm’s book of the same name (which one of the film’s protagonists is seen reading): 

Fig 3 – Time to get really serious about Climate Crisis action?

This film is directed by Daniel Goldhaber, and its publicity blurb describes it thus: “With the Climate Crisis at a dangerous point of no return, a group of brave environmental activists come up with a daring plan to make their voices heard & disrupt an oil pipeline.” You can see a trailer for the film on:  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSb585bGYmQ 

According to The Guardian, the film is: an “explosively Tarantino-esque eco-thriller…Fiercely watchable…Gripping and ingenious”; while The Observer said: “It’s hard to think of another film as emphatically, passionately and furiously of the moment as this one.”  

The film follows the attempt by 8 individuals who decide to blow up a pipeline in Texas. Each individual has their own personal reasons and motivations for coming to this decision: in one case, it’s seeing her mother die during a ‘freak heatwave’ in an area heavily polluted by the oil industry. However, they have one thing in common, that binds them together in ramping up their climate activism: they all believe, passionately, that because all peaceful attempts to stop the Climate Crisis are clearly failing, it’s now time to resort to the sabotage and/or destruction of property as an eco-activist tactic that might still manage to prevent Climate Breakdown. 

Legitimate self-defence?  

Andreas Malm is an Associate Professor of Human Ecology at Lund University, and his short book – How To Blow Up A Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire – was first published in 2021: 

Fig 4 – A book that rejects ‘climate diplomacy’ – and ‘climate fatalism’ – and instead calls for eco-activists to go beyond nvda.

Malm’s book sees eco-sabotage – which does not risk life or pollution – as the next logical step for serious eco-warriors, and was described by Naomi Klein (author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate and On Fire) as “The definitive deep history on how our economic system created the climate crisis. Superb, essential reading from one of the most original thinkers on the subject.”  While David Wallace-Wells, (author of The Uninhabitable Earth) described it as “A powerful sketch of a political theory for a time of climate change.” 

Malm’s calls for eco-sabotage are not the academic urgings of an armchair activist.  In 2007, he was part of a group of activists – ‘Indians of the Concrete Jungle’ – that targeted SUVs in the most affluent area of Stockholm, and deflated their tyres: “It’s not you, it’s your car!”  https://www.rollingstone.co.uk/politics/features/tyre-extinguishers-suv-4×4-climate-action-campaign-21323/ 

This spread across Sweden and then across Europe, including in the UK, as the Tyre Extinguishers. Also inspired by the book were the German Ende Galende anti-coalmine campaigners in Germany who occupied coalmines, and those XR and JSO activists who attack/damage bank windows. 

Malm sees ‘climate diplomacy’ as “hopeless”, and argues that there is little evidence – or “not a shred of hope” – that governments, which are part of the capitalist states, will ever force capitalist corporations to take the climate actions needed to prevent Climate Breakdown. He can be seen arguing his case, that because the Climate Crisis is violent, activists need to respond with sabotage, on Novara Media:  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clMazbSFdsk 

Full Spectrum Resistance 

While such a step will be a step too far for many of the most committed climate activists, it is clear that the climate movement does need to ramp up its actions. What is currently missing from climate tactics is an approach that targets those most guilty of ecocidal actions/inaction: the fossil fuel companies, the banks and insurance companies that provide financial support, the government that facilitates them, and those sections of the media that aid them by still refusing to report the full truth about what’s happening. 

If we really do think we’re living through Climate and Ecological Crises that are getting worse, AND that the window of opportunity for taking effective action is rapidly diminishing, then surely it is time to ramp up action – and go for ‘full spectrum resistance.’  Not by blowing up pipelines, or carrying out other acts of sabotage, but by repeatedly shutting down their HQs, offices, premises, and outlets. This costs them money – when Greenpeace shut down VW’s HQ in Milton Keynes in 2018, it cost VW £166,000 in one day’s wages that they’d had to pay out to workers who’d turned up at 8.00am, but couldn’t get into the offices. If this were done on a frequent basis, this would begin to increase their operating costs – either by regularly having to pay wages to employees who’re unable to get into work, or by having to employ more security which, most of the time, would have nothing to do. 

The homes of CEOs and government ministers would also be legitimate targets, on the grounds that if these individuals continue to ‘inconvenience’ people via destructive – and often deadly – floods, wildfires, droughts and heatwaves, then they must expect some ‘inconvenience’ themselves. Such actions could be that they find they’re not always able to get into/out of their houses just when they want to. Or that their garden parties are regularly disrupted.  

However, such actions MUST NOT be announced in advance, in the way that many XR and JSO actions are. Neither the companies nor the police should be told where and when such actions would take place. Instead, activists should just turn up unexpectedly, before the working day starts, and implement the blocks before they can be stopped!  

Of course, in addition, the climate movement must continue with a full range of other methods: such as ‘The Big One’, and the current Just Stop Oil actions. Because while this article – despite its title – is NOT advocating that activists should start blowing up pipelines, we DO absolutely need FULL SPECTRUM RESISTANCE! NOW!! 

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Allan Todd is a member of Left Unity’s National Council and of ACR’s Council, and an ecosocialist/environmental and anti-fascist activist. He is the author of Revolutions 1789-1917 and Trotsky: The Passionate Revolutionary – and the forthcoming Che Guevara: The Romantic Revolutionary 



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