Future Hope column, December 7, 2008
By Ted Glick
“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
My Thanksgiving holiday and the days right after it weren’t the greatest, and it’s not because I didn’t enjoy spending time with my extended family in Pennsylvania. It’s because, literally right before I left home to drive there, I read a couple of emails about the intensifying climate crisis that had a deep personal impact. And then, upon arriving home afterwards, I found a couple more that only added to my feeling of, well, verging-upon-hopelessness, that’s the best way to describe it. Is it really too late?, I kept wondering, all weekend and for most of last week.
One of the articles was a powerful piece by George Monbiot on November 25th (http://www.monbiot.com) focused on summer arctic ice sea melt and its connection to rising emissions of the greenhouse gas methane from melting permafrost in the northern latitudes. Another was a piece in the scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which reported that it looks like the oceans–a major absorber, along with soil, of carbon out of the atmosphere–are acidifying 10 times faster than was originally predicted which, among other things, means that they are absorbing less carbon dioxide. A third article predicted that, primarily because the ocean is “filling up” with CO2, a larger volume of carbon emissions will stay in the atmosphere for a much longer time than has been the case up to now, thousands of years as compared to hundreds historically.
And my mood wasn’t helped by problematic reports from the opening of the International U.N. Climate Conference in Poland. One particularly troubling piece of news was that the leadership of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a well-connected, politically “moderate” group, was expressing public skepticism about, or even the importance of, negotiation of a stronger international climate treaty by the time of the next U.N. Climate Conference in late 2009.
Fortunately, and crucial to my finding the inner strength to keep going, the climate movement, both in the USA and internationally, is very much moving and growing. It’s a movement that may be mourning what is happening in the world because of the power of the oil and coal companies and governments subservient to them, but it is also a movement which is stepping up its tactics. It’s a movement that isn’t just mourning, it’s escalating.
In an article in the November 21st issue of the Christian Science Monitor, Brianna Cayo Cotter of the Energy Action Coalition is quoted, saying, “In the last year it just exploded and went from being a very sizable amount of people, several thousands of very active youth all around the country, to just hundreds of thousands of young people. I feel like the floodgates are about to open. We have the numbers. We have the skills. We have the passion.”
Thank God for the Energy Action Coalition and those who support them.
It is also heartening that this year’s 4th Annual International Day of Climate Action over this weekend saw upwards of 90 countries where actions happened, up from 70 last year (http://www.globalclimatecampaign.org).
Then there is the loosely-connected but concretely-effective no coal movement, made up primarily of local groups around the country that have been fighting to prevent new coal plants from being built. This no coal movement—connected through a nonewcoalplants email listserve—has helped to cut in half the number of new coal plants that were projected as being built in the USA as of less than two years ago.
Representatives of that movement met in Charleston, West Virginia about two weeks after the November elections to develop plans for stepping up—for escalating—its tactics. Out of this inspiring and productive meeting attended by over a dozen Appalachian groups and about the same number of national groups emerged the decision to organize an intensive campaign, “100 Days of Action to Move Beyond Coal Each day, from January 21st to April 30th, one or a dozen or more communities will make a call for an end to dirty coal – from destructive coal mining to dangerous coal waste disposal. Citizens across the US will gather with friends to work for clean energy, demand that their politicians declare coal is dirty, or march in solidarity with communities impacted by coal mining, coal burning and coal waste disposal.”
More information on this major initiative can by found by going to http://www.theallianceforappalachia.org.
Probably the biggest four days of the 100 Days campaign period will be the Feb. 27-March 2nd Power Shift 09 conference being organized by the Energy Action Coalition (EAC) at the Convention Center in Washington, D.C. A year ago, in November of 2007, EAC organized the first Power Shift conference, attended by 6,000 young people from around the country. The organizers of Power Shift 09 anticipate from 10,000-15,000 in attendance at this second youth climate conference.
In addition to speakers, workshops, skills-trainings and other conference activities, there will be two major actions on the final day, March 2nd. That morning conference participants will swarm all over Capitol Hill, demanding that the federal government get serious right now about strong action on the climate crisis. That afternoon 1,000 or more of them will risk arrest in a symbolic attempt to shut down a coal-fired power plant that supplies some of the power to the U.S. Capitol.
This action was initiated by Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network and is being co-sponsored by a growing number of other groups. The call for this event explains that “the aim is to turn a new corner for the climate movement – we have already won the battles showing that climate change is real and that politicians and industry/people must act; now we are reflecting the urgency and depth of the required responses. Civil disobedience has played a vital role in every social movement for justice, and echoing the recent calls of people like Al Gore, James Hansen, Wendell Berry and others – we feel it is time to escalate our tactics and our demands, and show the new administration that the American people are demanding and taking action in response to the urgency and seriousness of the climate crisis.”
To find out more and to get involved, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Then there are developing plans for major actions in the fall. On an international level, there will be major demonstrations around the world during the 2009 U.N. Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Groups in Europe have already begun meeting to plan large-scale nonviolent direct actions in Copenhagen, and it is likely that similar actions will develop in the USA and elsewhere.
There are also discussions beginning among U.S. climate activists about the idea of a national march on Washington that would involve hundreds of thousands of people, in either late spring or the fall.
As important as all of this escalated climate activity is, it is also important that the climate movement escalate its demands in response to the growing scientific evidence that dangerous climate change is speeding up.
Over the past several months, a number of individuals and organizations in the climate movement—James Hansen and Bill McKibben among the most prominent—have gone public calling for a system of carbon emissions reduction other than the “cap and trade” system. Cap-and-trade is currently supported by most established environmental organizations and almost all Congressional advocates of climate action.
“Cap and dividend,” or “cap and cash back,” or a revenue-neutral carbon tax—these are the different names for a similar system supported by Hansen, McKibben and others. The primary difference between this system and cap-and-trade is simple: there’s no trading involved, no opportunity for gaming the system. Instead, a steadily increasing price—a tax—is put on producers of oil, coal and natural gas, and the revenue raised from that tax is then either returned in total by way of dividends or rebates to individual taxpayers to help them deal with the rising costs of carbon-based fuels, or there’s a mix of dividends/rebates and government investments to help the shift to a green-jobs-creating, renewables-based economy.
This growing doubt about cap-and-trade is based upon hard evidence—the problems with the Kyoto Protocol and the European Union’s system, both of which are cap-and-trade—as well as the very real difficulties of generating enough political support in the U.S. Congress to pass cap-and-trade.
A December 2nd Reuters article by Timothy Gardner summarized the results of a recent General Accounting Office study:
“The GAO report said some carbon offset investments—a central feature of cap-and-trade–went toward projects that probably would have happened otherwise. A key tenet of emissions markets is that such offsets help fight global warming only if they would not have occurred.
”’Some offset credits were awarded for projects that would have occurred even in the absence of the [the offset program], despite a rigorous screening process,’ the report said.
”The GAO report urged Congress to consider that carbon offsets can undermine the integrity of a cap-and-trade system, ‘given that it is not possible to ensure that every credit represents a real, measurable and long-term reduction in emissions.’”
The climate movement also needs to get behind the general goal of Al Gore’s proposal that the U.S. undertake an initiative to get 100% of our electricity from renewable energy within 10 years, by 2018. Gore has put forward a specific set of plans for how this objective can be achieved (http://www.repoweramerica.org). Of political significance, a poll of hunters and fisherman this summer found that ¾ of them supported the goal of a 100% renewables electricity system by 2018.
Finally, and critically, the climate movement needs to do very broad outreach to a wide range of constituencies and groups. At the same time, those groups which do not see themselves as primarily climate groups need to realize that, in a very real sense, if we don’t get moving right now to solve the climate crisis on the scale needed, we’re going to be overwhelmed with an escalating series of climate disasters that will make forward progress on other fronts virtually impossible. The climate issue is literally everyone’s issue.
As importantly, the process of mobilizing the human, political, economic and spiritual resources to solve the climate crisis can lead us toward a very different kind of society, one in which social, economic, racial and gender justice is increasingly widespread, oil and resource wars are a thing of the past, and human solidarity and connection to the earth replaces competition and power-seeking as the root ethic of our culture.
Ted Glick is the Policy Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network/U.S. Climate Emergency Council. More information can be found at http://www.tedglick.com.