Local activist protests carbon emissions in indefinite hunger strike
|June 1, 2012||Posted by John Zangas under News, Stories, Web Only|
On the brown stone sidewalk in front of the Canadian Embassy, a longtime activist is nearing his goal of ending his life with a hunger strike to raise awareness about climate change. He calls himself Start Loving, though he was born Jay McGinley, and as of Thursday, May 31, he is on his 37th day with only water, salt, and electrolytes to sustain him. A sign he displays next to his sleeping bed reads, “Till enough are seen dying for it CO2 and methane wreckage won’t stop.”
Loving keeps himself occupied during his fast by working on his laptops to finish a book and post online videos about his experience and his cause. “In history, the two things that have reliably broken this insanity [of greed] are the attitudes ‘I am going to kill you unless you stop,’ or ‘I am willing to die unless you stop,’” said Loving in a press release about his strike.
In a later interview he made it clear that only the latter is a real option in his view. “Radical unviolence is what is needed because if we become violent, then we become a real police state and this kind of action fails then the clock runs out.” He said he is offering his own body as his final statement of dedication to the CO2 cause.
Loving’s “death strike” is intended to raise awareness about the three decades of science that support the global warming theory, its relationship to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and its effects on weather patterns.
Canada is his particular target partially because of their renunciation of the Kyoto protocols. The UN adopted the protocols in 1997 when concerned international scientists spoke of the earth’s forests and oceans inability to absorb increasing amounts of carbon released into the atmosphere. Previously, the US had been the only nation not to ratify the treaty.
Canada renounced the protocol last year as it began development of the tar sands in Alberta, a tract of land with over 65,000 square miles of petroleum-rich sand that have already begun to be mined. While protesting the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which was supposed to be a key part of the export of this “dirty” oil, more than 1,200 protesters were arrested outside the White House last September.
Loving believes that a greater commitment is necessary on the part of climate change activists. “Any earth rescue will come from activists’ willingness to give their lives for this cause; [it will come when] a thousand are seen dying from it,” he said.
His strategy has had a profound effect on the activists of Occupy DC, who have supported him in his strike by bringing him water and taking his laptops for charging while he sleeps at night.
“Knowing that someone in front of me is going to die makes me feel sad,” said Anne Meador, an occupier and blogger. “I want to know if what he’s doing is really going to help this terrible problem we’re facing, or is he just throwing his life away.”
Loving is retired from Unisys as a software engineer. He worked for the school system in West Chester, Penn., and specialized in special programs for children. He became interested in activism ten years ago and has assisted Concepcion Picciotto with the permanent nuclear proliferation protest in front of the White House. Later he chamioned the rights of individuals as a hunger striker for awareness of the genocide in Darfur. He has two sons.
The press has also taken interest in covering his protest. Univision and the L.A. Times have visited and interviewed him and several bloggers have posted videos of his statements. His message to all is simple yet urgent. He says, “The science is crystal clear: if we don’t start reducing the carbon output this year it will be too late to stop.”
James Hansen, a scientists for NASA at the Goddard Institute for for Space Studies, has come out recently in the New York Times making a similar claim, and is particularly critical of the use of tar sands. Hansen has said that the carbon stored in those sands could raise the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere from 393 parts per million (ppm) to over 500 ppm all on their own.
“If we turn to these dirtiest of fuels, instead of finding ways to phase out our addiction to fossil fuels, there is no hope of keeping carbon concentrations below 500 ppm – a level that would, as earth’s history shows, leave our children a climate system that is out of their control.”
Loving expressed admiration for scientists like Hansen, who has “put his job on the line year after year.” Based on his reading of this climate science, Loving said, “we must ‘reduce CO2 emissions by 6% each year going forward’ or we’ll be paying for failure to do so with flooding of 30% of the coastal cities and many island countries.”
Though for Loving such extreme climate outcomes justify extreme protest measures, some of his supporters and other activists express ambivalent emotions about the action.
“I’m proud of him because he is very giving of himself, on the warrior level,” said Lewise Thundercloud, a spokesperson from Occupy DC’s Indigenous People working group, and a supporter of Loving’s strike. “On a personal level it makes me sad that he is giving away his life … when I hug him I feel all his bones.”
But there is a question as to whether his strike distracts from the message of the cause by offering his body as a sacrifice. Loving has fasted in the past, for example, to raise awareness about the genocide in Darfur. But even on the PreventGenocide.org website, an essay by Jim Fussell about the appropriateness of fasting, in which Loving himself is thanked in the acknowledgements, highlights the tensions involved.
“Fasting confronts people with the dilemma of how to respond. In fasting in response to genocide the gravity of the response begins to suggest the magnitude of the crisis. Public fasting causes spectators to become witness to nearby suffering, reminding them of the far greater suffering occurring at a distance. Fasting has the power to rouse the onlookers from apathy to action.”
But Fussell seems to draw the line at the sort of death strike Loving has planned. “Fasting until death is not a method of nonviolence but instead a form of suicidal martyrdom, especially if food as well as fluid is refused. In effect this is the slow-motion equivalent of self-immolation.”
Occupy DC protesters employed the same tactic in December 2011 to call for D.C. voting rights. The hunger strike by four young men lasted about one month and brought much new awareness to the issue and energized many in the movement. But all the hunger strikers did eventually resume eating.
Loving’s condition has started to deteriorate. “I am not as clear thinking as I was at the beginning,” he said recently. “My physical stamina is slipping and my strength of mind and it worries me that I’m running….”
Still he continues on through rain, hot summer sun, chilly nights, and the distracting noise of nearby traffic, oblivious to the strange gazes of passersby. He has only left the site twice, once to recharge a laptop and once when a salt intake error spurred a trip to the hospital. He continues as if he alone will stop the “global armageddon,” as he calls it, that is certain to change the climate if scientists are correct in their calculations.
“His body is now rejecting even water, but I intend to support him in his last days,” said Thundercloud.
Loving often cites the words of Mahatma Gandhi when discussing his strike with curious visitors. In particular he mentioned the words on the base of the statue of the non-violent leader outside the Indian Embassy: “My life is my story.”
UPDATE 6/2/12 (via coolrevolution.net): McGinley has announced that he will suspend his fast to finish the books he is working on: “Unless I consume moderate calories the books will not get done. The books must get done. I’ll be taking roughly half rations, about 800 calories per day until the books are done. Weight loss will continue, but moderated, and my mind and strength should stay sharp and strong enough to finish.”