Post-429: Declare Emergency!

(2600 words)
[Updated: April 8]

A few days ago near a street corner that I pass frequently, I saw these words:


It was on a sticker adhered to a light-post or the like.

For completeness’ sake, let me quote the full text:

“Scared to death of the Climate Emergency? — We have a plan. — DECLARE EMERGENCY!”

A white skull was in the middle of the sticker, on a black background. The skull’s inclusion creates a visual pun on the phrase “scared to death.” The skull also suggests that the climate crisis will lead to mass death. I think they do intend to mean literal deaths rather than “death” as metaphor. That can be prevented if an “emergency” is declared according to the unspecified “plan.”

Of boldness, this “Declare Emergency!” campaign lacks not. The downside: it sounds shrill. Either way, the stickers have gone up, have stayed up a few days at least, maybe a week, and no doubt have been seen by some thousands in passing. I’ve seen three or four of them, and that’s without looking very hard.

An investigation:

I looked online for an image of the “Declare Emergency!” stickers and came up empty.

Googling the key phrases in text form, I did find one reference. It’s from a surprising place:

Someone writing under the name “Honk R. Smith” wrote that he had spotted the same “Declare Emergency!” message in public, with the same wording as mine, in Australia. That was ten or eleven days ago.

Mr. Honk wrote of his finding at, from which place Google picks it up. In I come, on the other side of the planet, and find they keyword from Google. So the Internet-Wheel turns. An extremely trivial accomplishment for the tech-world of the 2020s, but it’s still something amazing and (on the negative side) unnatural that some passing observation from a total stranger can be had from so far away, at no cost.

The website on which this Mr. Honk wrote of his finding is political blog with a large number of active commenters. It seems more like an old-style Internet discussion forum.

I quote from “Honk R. Smith,” of Australia, message dated March 25, 2023:

“I live in a woke enclave near a major Uni. I was out shopping yesterday. I was struck, slightly unnerved by the vibe. […]

There was a handbill with a human skull[:]

….. “Scared to death of THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY”

But then again, life is good if CLIMATE EMERGENCY is at the top of your list.
And you have the option of declaring it.
Must be nice.” [/end quote from Honk R. Smith]

Mr. Honk suggests he discovered “Declare Emergency!” in “handbill” form on Friday March 24th, 2023, somewhere “near a major Uni” in Australia, in a place where he felt “unnerved by the vibe.” It seems he found a variant of the same campaign as I did. His said: “You are not alone.” Mine said: “We have a plan.”

The “Declare Emergency!” material I spotted was in and around Arlington, Virginia, and was about one week after Honk R. Smith found his. I have moderate-high confidence that the specific stickers I saw were not there — in the exact places I saw them, that is — too long before about March 30th. I imagine I’d have noticed them earlier if they were. This campaign appeared on two opposite sides of the planet within days of each other.


Finding that some person or persons in Australia are distributing the same obscure climate-change flyer makes me think about the meaning of place, of geography.

“Geography” still matters, but it matters in a different way than it mattered in past eras.

As I see it, two changes are driving a change:

  • (1.) The Internet (as a technology/supersystem) and other tech devices and things (as technologies);
  • (2.) concomitant cultural changes, by which I mean not just a normalization of digitally-mediated life but a shift of many people’s lives to much more “online” than “offline,” to the extent that even the words “online”/”offline” are years out of date.

I don’t know for sure if (1.) necessarily causes (2.). The negatives of (2.), though, are increasingly weighing on us and I’ve developed the idea that there will be a pushback before long, an analog life movement. I can see it taking shape.

The world of the early 2020s has distorted a lot of what “geography” traditionally meant. People seek meaningful lives with purpose. If traditional ‘spatial’ geography is on the decline, it likewise means all real-world connections are lessened in relevance. Purpose-seekers in this new world increasingly seek  their “place” in the world (as it were) in “non-spatial geographies.”

The new geographies are hard to define but are in part products of self-sorting, mediated by people who lead primarily digital lives. The new geographies are like “para”-geographies, united more by sociopolitical positions and attitudes, less by organic ties to place or rooted people, seldom to the history of place. The new geographies are are more like psychological-political entities, not physical-spatial. Whoever put out these “Declare Emergency!” flyers in Australia and the USA, they are members of one of these new geographies.

The old sort of geographies are now held in disdain by the most self-assured, evangelistic, or activist members of the new “para-geographic” class. The confusing thing is that the neo-geography people still exist in specific places where many people with the new attitudes congregate or accumulate. The key is that those places themselves are not nearly as important to the emergent class I am talking about as are the imagined spaces, the digital spaces, the amorphous “neo-geographies.” One way of phrasing this is that the (so-called) “online” world is colonizing the “real” world, and the natives have no wherewithal, or will, or leadership with which to resist. It is exactly in these “neo-geographies,” anyway, that something like this “Declare Emergency!” campaign would spring up.

Wherever circumstances align to make this new “para-geographic” class come to dominate a place and its institutions, a tendency or tension is created by which the new power-barons or their excitable supporters and hangers-on stand on edge, ready to allow trigger events to let them start thrashing about and in righteous anger bashing the “old geography” and all its symbols. To the demoralized members of the “old-geography” community around, this can be demoralizing.

In 2020, a group of “Red Guard” types threatened to attack down the Confederate statue in Alexandria, Virginia, as people were doing in Richmond at the time, where every statue on Monument Avenue was attacked, damaged, and finally removed by the city to unknown fates, except one (the sole survivor, Black tennis player Arthur Ashe). The Alexandria city government was delighted when a historical group moved it to a secure location. The city government promptly said “And don’t come back!” and removed all traces of wwherethe statue had been and all references to it, paving over its former dignified post in the middle of the street, where it had stood 140 years in a little traffic circle, one of the quaint little things that define the charming Old Town Alexandria, an “old geography.”

There are powerful psychological-ideological commitments behind these kinds of actions. The clash of “geographies” causes real resentments, the ascendant class ironically perhaps more driven by outrage than those on the defensive (the “old geography” supporters or nostalgists.

(This thematically overlaps a lot with some of what I recently wrote in “The office-space vacancy problem and Arlington, Va., local politics.”)

Some time ago, I heard about a 2018 book called The Road to Somewhere, by a certain David Goodhart of England. I have not read this book yet, but from what I understand he makes the points I’ve made  here. He divides Western people into two camps: the “Somewheres” and the “Anywheres.” The Somewheres are rooted in place (the old geographies). The Anywheres are digital people committed to a different vision of life. The people behind the “Declare Emergency!” group seem likely to be Anywheres. That is not a commentary on the rightness or wrongness of their views on the climate, just a marker of their place in this emergent new quasi-class system. They would counter that the climate is a global problem. Okay, but that would seem to just prove the point even more. Climate activism seems to be natural ally of the Anywheres, and both might be expected to rise together.

In considering the surprising fact that the only two ‘mentions’ online of the specific material I found from the “Declare Emergency!” political campaign are somebody’s forum post in Australia and my own account on the other side of the world, the most salient “geography” at play is not the “inter” (international) but the “intra” (within the nation). Social, cultural, political elements.

The kind of area that Honk R. Smith described finding the “Declare Emergency!” material sounds similar to my own. They are areas separated by a huge distance but united by the new kind of geography.


On QR codes:

The words and the accompanying skull were not the only things on the “Declare Emergency!” sticker. There was also a QR code. Other than the QR code, there was nothing to identify the people behind the “Declare Emergency!” plan. No group name. No website. (I later learned that “Declare Emergency!” itself is the group or movement’s name.)

QR codes mean scanning something with a phone-camera that triggers a link opening. In the USA still as of 2023, I think the QR code is really shibboleth for the “digital-lifestyle set.” In situations for which the QR code is vital for proceeding with a task or vital for getting any real info (rather than purely supplemental), a “medium-is-the-message” thing is going on, to this effect: “this is for people who lead primarily digital lives. In the 1970s, frequent travels by airplane were labeled the “jet set.” We have no such common term for the people leading highly digital lives. The concept of the “Anywheres” in the Road to Somewhere book are necessarily people like this, but that term covers more ground.

Some people are fond of pointing out that “communication” is much more than the sum of a string of dictionary-denotations in some set of words. Most communication occurs in ways we don’t even realize is happening. This is why speaking coaches or the like put emphasis on good “body language.” A thousand other examples, large and small, can be had.

The “Declare Emergency!” campaign, with its extreme spareness of info about itself except via QR code makes an appeal to the self-conscious digital-lifestyle milieu, much like the way slang can function in a given subcultural milieu.


I am unable to use QR codes even if I wanted to because of lack of a phone camera. The camera died died some time about late summer or fall 2022. The phone still works, but the camera doesn’t.

My lack of QR code pariticpation gets me thinking on my own place in the new world of aggressively and onerously “digitally mediated” lifestyles, engagement with the world, place in the world.

The idea(l) of a low-tech life has been a consistent interest of mine. A watershed moment was the final week of 2013, when a “smartphone” was given to me for the first time. I was sick with flu at the time so didn’t get it activated until on or about January 1st, 2014, and had ambivalent feelings about using it, but many aspects of the 2010s could not be done without it. (Did the “2010s” therefore really start for me as late as 2014?).

In the nine years since I entered the “smartphone” world, I have often found occasion to go low-tech, fighting personal skirmishes with the digital-Leviathan, in many cases only known to me (and I’ve learned that people who inhabit the “digitally mediated reality” will tend to forget about you completely if you are not popping up in one or another aspect of that world). On some of my stays in Korea of shorter length, I decline to get a SIM card and used Wi-Fi only for communication. This limited my ability to be “online” and forced me to adapt and pushed me to solve problems using acquired skills or new, improvised ones.

Likewise, when my camera broke last year I took the loss with good humor, as far as I remember it. One reason is that phone-taken pictures are generally “unnecessary,” the ubiquity of these cameras means photos are not as interesting as they used to be. More philosophically, the very existence of a pocket-camera has distorting effects on us that we don’t realize. The pocket-camera itself is one part of the digitally mediated reality I am thinking about here. That the “Declare Emergency!” people assumed that their supporters would be QR-code people ready, willing, and able to scan and dive in to learn the mysteries of the Emergency doctrine, again points to their membership in this class.

As for my phone, I will eventually get a new one. In the meantime, I don’t generally take pictures. If I really need to take picture(s) for some specific reason, I have a wifi-only old phone, and a still-working digital camera. The digital camera is an interesting case: while “high-tech,” it is, as far as I know, not connected in any way to Internet. To get the pictures you need to upload them to a machine via USB cable. To today’s instant-instagrammers, that is almost as quaint as going to develop a roll of film.

Neither of my camera back-up options — old wifi-only phone and digital camera — allows use of QR codes. For the world of QR, one needs a working smartphone camera, a real-time Internet connection on the same device, a QR-reading app, the philosophical willingness to submit to the QR world, and the risks of QR’ing into malware or getting tracked by malicious QR-creators out there.


Alas, it was not hard to leap over the QR code hurdle in this case. The website behind “Declare Emergency!” is, online since November or December 2021.

Something I clicked on the website led me to something else called “Action Network,” “an open platform that empowers individuals and groups to organize for progressive causes.”

Action Network looks to be an incubator for small activist groups like “Declare Emergency!” and helps the small groups with everything to get their operations started and keep them running. A lot of people have ambitions to do political campaign of some kind, but most lack the wherewithal or guidance. An August 2022 “staff” group photo suggests that Action Network has at least twenty employees. Little about Action Network is very transparent or readily findable to me, though. Where is their office? Do they have an office? Where their funding comes from? What is their ‘editorial’ policy; do they just help any group that asks? Surely not; then how do they decide? The ambiguity of it all leads back to the point about clashing “geographies,” the clash that sort of defines our time. Because here is the blunt answer to my own first question: It doesn’t much matter where Action Network is (or “is based,” as they say); it could by anywhere!


As best I can guess, the “Declare Emergency!” sticker and leaflet campaign is to soften the place up before a coming offensive of activism.

The “Declare Emergency!” website currently says this:

“Join us in D.C. — April 2023.”

Something else on the website suggests that this group is planning to organize targeted disruptions to traffic to protest the climate problem, including cadres that drag things out to point of allowing themselves to get arrested. The way these groups operate, I expect they have lawyers waiting in the wings to make sure the arrestees are released promptly.


(See also: Post-430: “Declare Emergency, Part II.”)


Comments are closed.