Abolishing Fossil Fuels: Lessons from Movements That Won

Regular price $ 22.95

by Kevin A. Young

PM Press

5/14/2024, paperback

SKU: 9798887440330


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.


"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)

"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

About the Author:

Kevin 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.