Non-Compliance and Radical Climate Action: Log Lunch with Eban Goodstein ’82 and Masha Zabara

On April 14, the Log Lunch community gathered to learn from Eban Goodstein ’82 and Masha Zabara about their experiences in climate activism. Eban worked as an economics professor for 20 years, at Lewis & Clark and Skidmore Colleges, led the National Teach-In on Global Warming Solutions at over 2500 educational institutions across the country from 2006-2009, and now serves as the director of Bard College’s Center for Environmental Policy. Masha is a filmmaker and entrepreneur, and is the cofounder of Thrift 2 Fight, a thrift store and community space that sells secondhand fashion to fund grassroots social justice initiatives that fight for racial and disability justice and queer liberation.

Eban kicked off the talk by noting that Log Lunch started the year before he came to Williams, in 1977. “A lot of very powerful activists have come out of Log Lunch, and hopefully there will be more,” he said, describing the coming years as a “hinge moment” in human history, with an urgent need for climate action.  “Regardless of what we do to the planet, there will be people living here in ten thousand years,” he said. “People will be looking back at these 3 decades to see what we did or didn’t do.”

Eban described activism as a question of one’s personal relationship to injustice. Many people have the privilege to simply ignore injustice, while others engage with it passively, donating some money to charity and occasionally engaging in volunteer work. Activism, Eban said, entails making engagement with injustice central to one’s life, and activating others to do the same. As someone who has decades of experience with this kind of engagement, he encouraged audience members not to wait to do the same. “Activists are the scarcest resource on the planet, and perhaps most important,” Eban said, emphasizing that Masha is one of these rare and important people.

Like Eban, Masha noted that Log Lunch recently reached its 45-year anniversary — but still, this week, temperatures in the Williamstown region reached 90 degrees, an inescapable sign that despite similar efforts to engage people in environmental action, climate change continues to run its course.

Masha said that they believe this is due to maladaptation, or people automatically adapting to the system that creates the problems they want to fix and trying to create change from within, which only perpetuates the issues. While they said that they celebrate the work of individual non-profits, the non-profit structure as a whole is an example of this. Double pocket investing, Masha explained, refers to the pattern of people investing in things that cause destruction, such as the fossil fuel industry, and then donating money to a non-profit that “fixes” what was destroyed, such as a group working to fight climate change. Furthermore, wealthy people engaging in this cycle are able to write off their donations to nonprofits on their taxes, worsening the cycle of wealth inequality. Masha stressed that, according to the most recent IPCC report, a scenario that continues business as usual will have catastrophic consequences — and business as usual includes the current system and levels of activism. “We have institutionalized how to make change so much that it is benefitting people who are the problem,” they said. “The nonprofit system is operating on the idea that if we all put in our hours, follow the rules, and get all these rich people to care then of course change is going to happen.”

Masha had to reckon with these ideas when they started Thrift 2 Fight in June 2020. It was originally supposed to be a one-time sale, as they could not participate in the Black Lives Matter protests that summer due to the fact that as they were applying for a green card, an arrest for civil disobedience would result in their deportation. However, people kept on donating clothes, and eventually, they and their business partner had raised over $60,000 and gone on tour to nine different cities.

They originally planned to make Thrift 2 Fight a nonprofit to continue their work, but some experienced nonprofit leaders they consulted with actually warned them against it, saying it would make the initiative dependent on funding sources that could pull out if their actions became too radical.

While the road ahead may look daunting, Masha and Eban offered some suggestions for small ways to start, encouraging people with the means to do so to participate in mutual aid and donate to bail funds. These things offer a source of support for people outside of mainstream systems, enabling them to participate in more radical action that could put them at risk of losing jobs, healthcare, childcare, and other institutional supports. Masha also highly recommended the book How to Blow up a Pipeline by Andreas Malm, which examines the current climate and offers suggestions for how it can make a more radical shift.

The best first step, Masha said, is to talk about radical action more directly, creating a more mainstream discourse that does not allow people to pretend like nothing is happening. “The system only exists because we comply with it,” they said.

The Log Lunch chefs prepared a delicious spring meal of lemony orzo stew with chickpeas, spinach, and dill, Greek olive bread, shawarma-roasted parsnips with yogurt, and baklava.

Log Lunch is a CES program hosted every Friday at noon. During Log Lunch, a vegetarian meal prepared by Williams students is served, followed by a talk on an environmental topic. Speakers are drawn from both the student body and faculty of Williams, as well as from local, national, and international organizations. Learn more here.