The Power of the People

The 350.org International Day of Climate Action a week ago was unprecedented, historic, stirring and inspiring. Watching the pictures scroll across the computer screen at www.350.org from literally all over the world, seeing the very concrete evidence of a worldwide grassroots movement for climate justice, was truly unforgettable. It was impossible not to feel that, yes, despite the very long odds, we actually may be able to win the race to prevent looming, catastrophic climate change and to enact climate and social justice.

What is the one thing most needed right now if we are to win this race? October 24th showed us: a visible, growing, mass movement in the streets.

There are some who believed, and still do, that the key to the needed clean energy revolution was the election of Barack Obama. Although it is important to have a President who understands that climate change is happening and that action is needed to address it, it has become very clear over the last nine months of his time in office that this is not enough.

We can see that when we look at what has been happening in Congress and in the international negotiations leading up to the December 7-18 United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. In both cases, the results so far have been very problematic.

In Congress, despite Democratic Party control of the White House and the House and Senate, a very weak piece of climate legislation was passed by the House in late June that doesn’t come close to being what is needed, and it is very possible, if not likely, that when a bill eventually reaches the floor of the U.S. Senate it will be even worse. The target for greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions reductions over the next 10 years, an absolutely critical period of time if we are to have any hope of avoiding world-wide catastrophe, is way too weak, and it is questionable if even this weak target would be met. It contains a huge percentage of problematic “offsets” that will likely allow U.S. corporate polluters to avoid or minimize actual reductions of emissions from their dirty coal plants or oil refineries for 15-20 years or more. Only 15% of the permits to emit ghg’s are auctioned, half of them being given directly to the fossil fuel industry, despite Obama’s call for a 100% auction of permits while campaigning for President. It strips the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate coal plants and other stationary sources of ghg’s. Its cap-and-trade framework allows Wall Street speculators to get into the huge new “carbon market” being created. It is nuclear power-friendly, and it projects giving the U.S. coal industry tens of billions of dollars for carbon capture and sequestration, an unsafe boondoggle that only dangerously postpones the critically-needed, dramatic shift to renewables, conservation and energy efficiency.

As far as the international negotiations, this is what Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, had to say about the most recent meetings in Bangkok, Thailand in early October: “Just two months before Copenhagen, the Bangkok climate negotiations did little to move the ball forward. Bold steps are clearly needed from the world’s leaders to break the deadlock in the negotiations, and time is running short. One key to a meaningful deal in Copenhagen is science-based emissions reduction commitments by industrialized countries… but the slow pace of climate and energy legislation in the Senate has left the United States unwilling to even get on the playing field. And the U.S. reluctance to accept legally binding emissions reduction commitments, together with a meaningful compliance regime, is threatening the entire negotiating process… The other key issue in these negotiations is greatly increasing funding for developing countries to deploy clean technologies, reduce deforestation, and adapt to the impacts of global warming. Here in Bangkok, the United States, European Union, Japan, and other industrialized countries once again failed to put forward a credible finance package. Most of the key developing countries have expressed willingness to take significant action to limit their emissions if such assistance is forthcoming, but they are not getting a serious response from the other side. If industrialized countries don’t start putting their climate finance cards on the table soon, there’s not going to be a card game in Copenhagen.”

Since 2002 I’ve been speaking, taking action and organizing in support of a clean energy revolution. During those seven years I’ve also been active with the peace movement in opposition to the Iraq war. I’ve been struck during that time by one major difference between these two movements when it comes to tactics.

The peace movement, up until the election of Obama, was repeatedly organizing mass demonstrations of tens or hundreds of thousands of people, in Washington, D.C. and many other places. In 2008, for example, 30,000 or so people demonstrated against the war in St. Paul, Minnesota on the day before the opening of the Republican Convention.

The vast majority of climate and environmental groups, on the other hand, have little experience with mass actions in the streets. This is especially true for the groups based in Washington, D.C. Instead, their work is all about lobbying members of Congress, trying to convince them of the correctness of their positions, developing position papers, getting their members around the country to send emails and make calls to Congressional offices, etc.

I do some of this myself. It’s not that these are bad things, when done in combination with a range of other tactics and activities. But when done in a way which deemphasizes grassroots organizing and “street heat,” it’s of very limited value. Indeed, it’s a waste of resources, because it’s just not going to get the job done.

Fortunately, there’s a new climate movement emerging that gets it when it comes to this issue of tactics. The 350.org network is a major component of it, as is the mushrooming anti-coal movement. In 2007 there were only eight anti-coal demonstrations and 33 people arrested in acts of civil disobedience, according to Source Watch, compared to 49 actions and 266 people arrested so far in 2009. There are the continuing, dramatic actions of Greenpeace and the actions organized by groups like Mountain Justice, Rising Tide, the Rainforest Action Network and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. There are the plans for another big international day of action on December 12th right in the middle of the Copenhagen conference, and some of the groups which mainly do lobbying are part of the coalitions calling for those actions.

Last Saturday, as I marched in the pouring rain with many hundreds of others down 16th St. to the White House, young people leading the march at one point began a chant I’ve heard at many other actions on other issues; “Ain’t no power like the power of the people, and the power of the people don’t stop!” Yes, and we can’t stop until we’ve forced, or changed, the governments of the world so that they act as is necessary if we’re to have a fighting chance for a future we can look forward to.

Ted Glick is the National Campaign Coordinator of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. He can be followed on twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick. Read other articles by Ted, or visit Ted's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Don Hawkins said on November 2nd, 2009 at 12:20pm #

    and adapt to the impacts of global warming. What is it we have done to adapt to the changes we can’t slow? Have we seen just one or heard anyone say anything about this. You are right Ted the climate bill will be watered down and a joke in the first place. I wish you luck as now is not the time to give up. I am sure you already know that in just a month or so the bullshit and stupidity will go to new levels.

    “It won’t be very long before we have to start thinking of the Arctic as an open sea. Man has taken the lid off the northern end of his planet and we can’t put that lid back on again”. Peter Wadhams, Professor of Ocean Physics and Head of the Polar Physics Group

    Very sure many people don’t know who this man is Wadhams and what this means to every person on this planet. It’s going to get tuff to late to slow that but still time to slow the bigger picture the human race if we start now. Get ready the illusion the bullshit is already starting.

  2. Don Hawkins said on November 2nd, 2009 at 3:50pm #

    Senate Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee plan to boycott a meeting Tuesday to debate a potential climate-change bill. Even Democrats are deeply divided, according to The Washington Post.
    When asked why climate legislation faced such an apparently tough road in the Senate, Mellman noted that “by and large congressional opinion tends to run beyond public opinion, sometimes pretty substantially.” He added that, “obviously you get into the details and people have sectoral interests, geographic interests.”
    For Republicans, part of resistance to climate-change legislation is the desire “not be seen as the deciding vote to help a major Obama initiative,” McInturff said CSM

    SPECIAL INTERESTS not be seen as the deciding vote to help a major Obama initiative this is about the whole thing all of us my kid’s and there kid’s all humans on this planet.

  3. Don Hawkins said on November 3rd, 2009 at 4:03am #

    Republicans To Boycott Committee Debate Of Boxer-Kerry Climate Bill
    November 2, 2009 2:34 p.m. EST

    Kris Alingod – AHN Contributor
    Washington, D.C. (AHN) – The GOP plans to boycott the first day of panel debate on a climate change bill crafted by Senate Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). Boxer has urged Republicans, who say the legislation would harm families and small businesses with a new energy tax, to return to work, but also said that her panel will proceed even without their cooperation.
    The Environment Committee is scheduled to begin markup of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act on Tuesday. The top minority member of the committee, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), had repeatedly made clear that markup should only be held after Republicans had received a chairman’s mark, a score of the legislation from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, and a complete economic analysis from the Environmental Protection Agency.
    Boxer released a chairman’s mark two weeks ago, but has yet to provide a full EPA analysis or estimate of costs from the CBO. Last week, her committee held hearings on the bill over the course of three days, with 54 witnesses testifying, including Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn of the Military Advisory Board, Peter Brehm, vice president of Infinia Corporation’s business development and government relations, and Barry Hart, chief executive of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.
    The bill, proposed by Boxer and Kerry aims for a 20 percent reduction of carbon pollution by 2020 from 2005 levels, and 80 percent by 2050. The reductions will be done through a cap-and-trade system that will allow companies to buy and sell vouchers according to whether they want to pay for the right to keep polluting or gain the incentive for reducing emissions.
    The system exempts all farmers and 98 percent of businesses, covering only the largest emitters in the nation — initially about 7,500 facilities that account for three?quarters of nationwide carbon pollution.
    In contrast, the climate bill passed by the House, dubbed the Waxman-Markey bill, requires most companies to buy carbon permits from the federal government. It seeks to reduce emissions by 17 percent in 2020, by 42 percent in 2030, and by 83 percent in 2050.The measure was passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in May by a vote of 33-25. The full House approved the measure a month later by a narrow 219-212 vote.
    The National Farmers Union had voiced support for the Waxman-Markey bill — which has the backing of BP America, Caterpillar, Conoco, Johnson & Johnson, Shell, Siemens, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club –[ after the Agriculture Department, and not the EPA, was made overseer in the measure’s offset program providing credits to farmers who use environmentally sound practices.
    But the group said in testimony before Environment Committee last week that the Senate bill “lacks the robust and flexible agriculture offset program necessary for America’s farmers and ranchers to be able to mitigate increased costs that will occur as a result of a cap and trade program.”
    The American Farm Bureau Federation opposes both legislation.
    “The principal bills in the House and Senate would…. cap emissions of greenhouse gases by limiting the use of fossil fuels. However, there is little in either bill that would provide an alternative source of energy to the fossil fuels that will be lost,” AFBF President Bob Stallman told the panel.
    Senate Republicans are pushing an alternative proposal that aims to build 100 nuclear powerplants over two decades, electrifies half of all vehicles over the same period, and uses oil found off-shore for the remaining energy needs of the nation. Boxer has included provisions on nuclear energy in her bill, but the GOP has said a cap-and-trade measure with or without nuclear power is still an energy tax.
    “I have no problem acknowledging the problem, but I do have a problem with the proposed solution,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a senior member of the committee, said in a floor speech last week. “The National Academies of Science of 11 major industrialized countries, including the United States, have said that climate change is real and that humans are causing most of the recent warming.”
    “If fire chiefs with the same reputation said my house was likely to burn down,” Alexander continued, “I would buy some fire insurance. I would buy fire insurance that worked. But I wouldn’t buy insurance so expensive that I couldn’t pay my mortgage or I couldn’t pay my hospital bill.”
    Inhofe, who believes global warming is a hoax and who was chairman of the Environment panel under the Bush administration, announced the boycott of the markup early on Monday. Boxer had responded with a statement, urgin him “with the utmost respect, to bring the committee Republicans back to work.”
    “We will give them the opportunity, as we proceed this week, to reconsider their decision,” Boxer added. “We look forward to working with them if they decide to participate, but if they do not, we will move forward in accordance with the rules of the Senate and of this Committee.” AHN
    ———————————————————————————————————————————————————-
    Senate Republicans are pushing an alternative proposal that aims to build 100 nuclear powerplants over two decades, electrifies half of all vehicles over the same period, and uses oil found off-shore for the remaining energy needs of the nation. Boxer has included provisions on nuclear energy in her bill, but the GOP has said a cap-and-trade measure with or without nuclear power is still an energy tax.
    Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction. Einstein

    And you see the thinking is not even close to what Einstein wrote as they are not trying the name of the game is illusion better known as bullshit. Two decades the thinking will change the question is just how it will change. In Asia or Europe, India this boycott will they think it is a show of courage? So far

    What will be our gravest dangers? “Not from climate change itself, but indirectly from starvation, competition for space and resources, and war.” (16)

    Warlords? Yes, of course. “Despite all our efforts to retreat sustainably, we may be unable to prevent a global decline into a chaotic world ruled by brutal war lords on a devastated Earth.” James Lovelock

  4. Don Hawkins said on November 3rd, 2009 at 7:15am #

    c-span 2 right now the mark up on the climate bill the men with the courage to do nothing didn’t show up. Such wisdom.