When the political system fails to provide necessary reforms, mass movements arise to force political change. The latest climate report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns of irreversible climate impacts, and paints a dire forecast for future generations. Climate activists have come to the conclusion that when our governments are bought and sold, policy shifts must begin in the streets. Compromised politicians will not willingly act to save the ecological balance of the planet.
Seventeen critical years have passed since 184 countries signed the Kyoto protocol, yet the tightening grip over US environmental policy by climate change “deniers” has completely derailed all institutional attempts at containing the crisis, both at home and internationally.
On September 21, a mass rally will be held in New York and other cities worldwide to spotlight the dearth of progress toward mitigating climate disaster. The event is predicted to be one of the largest protest demonstrations since the 1960s. Hundreds of diverse social justice and environmental groups have pledged to join the rally, or take direct action, in the form of nonviolent civil disobedience, in the week prior to the UN Climate Change Summit on September 23. Other mass actions in multiple cities and countries will precede or run parallel with the New York City protests.
Seventeen critical years have passed since 184 countries signed the Kyoto protocol, yet the tightening grip over US environmental policy by climate change “deniers” has completely derailed all institutional attempts at containing the crisis, both at home and internationally. The key impasse is the Republican Party, hijacked by campaign financing from Koch Industries’ empire of Astroturf organizations like Americans for Prosperity and the Donors Trust, a funnel for dark money which, like an iceberg, operates mainly below the surface, shielding a vast network of right-wing corporate donors who raised $400 million in the 2012 elections alone.
Koch-backed “charitable” organizations shuffle money in a shell game that makes it impossible to trace donors or calculate exact amounts spent.
This “dirty energy” campaign kicked into high gear after the 2007 US Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v. EPA that greenhouse gases are pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency may regulate carbon dioxide. Starting in 2008, Americans for Prosperity devised the secretive “No Climate Tax” pledge: By 2011, over 400 office holders nationwide had pledged to oppose carbon tax legislation. Signatories include the entire Republican leadership and a third of the members of the House of Representatives, and a quarter of Senators. Two successive efforts to implement cap-and-trade energy bills died in the Senate, the latter of which was specifically targeted by the pledge.
Koch-backed “charitable” organizations shuffle money in a shell game that makes it impossible to trace donors or calculate exact amounts spent. By some estimates as much as a billion dollars a year is funding lobbying against climate change legislation, and opposing or supporting political candidates based on their climate stance. “Climate denier” candidates are further bolstered by think tanks like the Heartland Institute, and Koch-sponsored right-wing talk shows, which spread the narrative that climate change science is a hoax – a political ploy by socialists and Democrats plotting to control the US and world economy.
Dirty energy’s deadly stranglehold on US politics was supersized by the US Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision sanctioning unlimited corporate “super PAC” expenditures and dark money.
The fossil fuel magnate Koch brothers, with the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Tea Party allies, have been strategically attacking state laws promoting renewable energy, including fabricating and disseminating discredited reports and studies. Solar and wind technologies offer a viable carbon-reducing alternative to coal and are successfully challenging utility and coal-industry dominance in electricity generation in Europe. Solar power also witnessed a 60 percent increase in the United States in 2013 alone. Consequently ALEC, heavily funded by Koch Industries, Exxon, BP and other energy corporations, is now promoting over 130 bills in state legislatures that would roll back renewable energy standards, increase costs for households with solar energy, while promoting coal, fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline.
Dirty energy’s deadly stranglehold on US politics was supersized by the US Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision sanctioning unlimited corporate “super PAC” expenditures and dark money. Therefore, not just energy reform, but democracy itself has been subverted by the endemic influence peddling of money in politics. The flood of corporate cash has artificially swung the political pendulum on climate policy to the far right, despite polls that show a majority of US citizens believe that climate change is real.
After the Tea Party essentially occupied the US House in 2011, all the House Energy Committee’s Republicans voted down a proposed amendment to an energy bill that merely acknowledged the threat of climate change to public well-being. Democrat Ed Markey was moved to say: “I rise in opposition to a bill that repeals the scientific finding that pollution is harming our people and our planet. However, I won’t rise physically, because I’m worried that Republicans will overturn the law of gravity, sending us flying.”
Experts estimate that the true cost to society of global warming pollution is between $30 and $300 per ton of carbon dioxide, so the potential liability the Kochs face for knowingly destabilizing the global climate system, and funding a political bribery network, represents practically the whole of their personal wealth, currently estimated at $44 billion.
At a number of recent Koch-sponsored events, GOP presidential and Senate candidates as well as party leaders lined up to pay homage to the Koch’s formidable electoral machine. In Iowa, key candidates nearly fell to their knees praising these billionaire bribe makers, whose blatant conflict-of-interest interference in public policy has created one of the most despicable and far-reaching political corruptions in history.
Koch Industries is one of the largest private companies in the world, and its operations encompass refining, pipelines, chemicals, fertilizer, cattle and forestry. The company is directly involved in up to 5 percent of the entire United States 7-gigaton carbon footprint. Experts estimate that the true cost to society of global warming pollution is between $30 and $300 per ton of carbon dioxide, sothe potential liability the Kochs face for knowingly destabilizing the global climate system, and funding a political bribery network, represents practically the whole of their personal wealth, currently estimated at $44 billion. We suggest that the Kochs be tried for crimes against humanity for their corrupt use of dark money to control and obstruct democracy, directly blocking any clear path to climate change policy in the US Congress and derailing international agreements.
A report published by Greenpeace exposed how increasingly the anonymous intermediary Donors Trust is part of the shell game helping mask direct contributions to ALEC and 91 think tanks and industry groups that have distributed over $120 million to 100 groups involved in climate denial since 2002.
Mass Action: The Only Course to Climate Justice
Throughout the 20th century, we have witnessed examples of the power of mass political mobilizations, from the civil rights and Vietnam antiwar movements, to the movements for ending apartheid in South Africa and colonialism in India. Now the climate movement has started a broad-based organizing effort, recognizing that massive protests, in numbers too large to ignore, can put effective pressure on politicians to refocus attention on climate change legislation. Mass rallies can act as education tools that both invigorate the environmental movement and expose the corruption of the political process.
Some activists believe that protest is not enough, and that direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience is the only recourse.
“We don’t need to figure out how to keep me out of jail,” said activist Tim DeChristopher. “We need to figure out how to get more people into jail.”
Activist Tim DeChristopher was convicted in 2011 of sabotaging a controversial auction of ecologically sensitive government land to oil companies, despite the fact that the auction was later deemed illegal. Many decried his two-year sentence, but he urged activists to take the long view and be prepared to go to jail to defend their principles and their cause. “We don’t need to figure out how to keep me out of jail,” he explained to a concerned supporter. “We need to figure out how to get more people into jail.”
During the antiwar and civil rights movements, peaceful mass protests and marches engaged large numbers of moderate middle-class citizens, students, clergy, people of color and the elderly. Smaller groups amplified the struggle through dramatic non-cooperation and nonviolent civil disobedience deliberately aimed at attracting political and media attention. Eventually the two modes began to function in tandem, and mass civil disobedience became a major deterrence to continuation of both the war in Vietnam and racism at home. The joint strategies of mass protest and nonviolent resistance succeeded in changing public perception and policy.
Fighting together against systemic racism, exploitation and political corruption is how we grow a deeply rooted, interconnected mass movement even remotely capable of protecting global ecosystems from ultimate collapse.
Many activists today realize that an alliance of the environmental and climate movement with other social, economic and democratic justice movements is absolutely essential. Breaking out of our “issue silos” and fighting together against systemic racism, exploitation and political corruption is how we grow a deeply rooted, interconnected mass movement even remotely capable of protecting global ecosystems from ultimate collapse. Whether the crisis is the Keystone pipeline, police violence, minimum wage laws, pension theft or water shut offs and corporate “emergency management” in Detroit – it must be seen as integral to our broad moral struggle for justice, human rights and a livable future.
Environmental activists are already linking arms with indigenous communities, people of color, women, immigrants, retirees, service workers and other constituencies who daily bear the worst brunt of bigotry, greed, ecological degradation and fraudulent government. All of us should be organizing together to stop the staggering waste of our shared resources on wars (driven by fossil fuel and military profit interests), and the subversion of our democracy through dark money, rigged elections and the suppression of black votes.
We can and must make changes in our lifestyles to lower our carbon footprint and build local alternatives to exploitative systems. However, only by instituting truly democratic government, controlled by and accountable to people and communities, can we redirect our vast resources and implement sustainable, sane and just development.
Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina Moral Mondays movement powerfully affirmed the need for a morality-based, fusion politics movement – one willing to use civil disobedience – in his galvanizing speech in Detroit at the Netroots Nation conference. On July 18, over 2,000 demonstrators marched to protest the racist shut-off of water to Detroit’s African-American community. Nine protestors were arrested for physically blocking the trucks heading out to shut off residents’ water. The action garnered internal attention and forced Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to suspend the shut-offs.
“Some days we go to jail; some days we go to court; some days we march; some days we put up solar panels. It’s a fight with many fronts, many strategies,” said environmentalist Bill McKibben.
Climate change could become a catalyst in the emerging broad-based, radical political movement that Reverend Barber describes. However, we should be clear that the New York march is not being publicly promoted as a civil disobedience action. Bill McKibben told Truthout, “The march is one more day in the long fight to try and force action on climate change. Some days we go to jail; some days we go to court; some days we march; some days we put up solar panels. It’s a fight with many fronts, many strategies – and hopefully many more people than we’ve ever seen before.”
The Keystone pipeline and fracking will certainly be major protest targets. National activists have made Keystone a test of Obama’s climate promises. The pipeline would enhance production of crude from the Canadian tar sands, a type of oil production that will greatly increase greenhouse gas emissions.In February 2013, between 35,000 and 40,000 protesters from 30 states converged on the White House in an action coordinated with protests in 18 cities from Boston to Los Angeles. Fifty protesters were arrested at the White House for committing civil disobedience. In March 2014, the largest youth civil disobedience at the White House in a generation took place to protest the pipeline, with 398 students arrested after a march and rally of more than 1,200 participants.
In his first years in the White House, President Obama promoted “green energy,” and last year threatened to unilaterally use the EPA to force carbon reduction. However more recently, he has publicly lauded the increases in US fossil fuel production through new extraction technologies that could make the United States a net energy exporter by 2030: the new holy grail of US “oil independence.”
Mobilization and protest must be amped up to confront tar sands, deep-ocean drilling and fracking. Extremely dangerous, particularly to irreplaceable fresh water reserves, fracking is a massive contributor to climate change through exploitation of oil deposits previously unreachable. But fracking also represents huge energy industry and Wall Street profits, which adds considerable pressure on the already cowering political class.
One of the groups calling on activists to “take direct action for climate justice” is the Climate Justice Alliance, which has set up the Direct Action Support Hub (DASH) in New York as a space where autonomous groups can meet for coordination and inspiration, and to access a larger network to get support for their actions. According to their website:
(DASH) is designed to support groups taking direct action for climate justice. DASH connects action groups with working groups in the areas of media, medical, legal, research, art, outreach, and tactical coordination.
The New York rally could potentially be a watershed political event that could help set the stage for a return to ecological sanity.
Organizers have urged all environmentalists and social justice activists to link arms and help grow the movement to reduce pollution, protect global ecosystems and preserve a stable climate for the sake of generations to come.
Activists who wish to join the march in New York City have been directed to assemble on Columbus Circle, Sunday, September 21 at 11:30 am. Those considering other actions should check with organizations and groups contemplating alternative actions during the week before the UN Climate Summit at these websites: