Monthly Archives: December 2012

Why is it so hard to rouse people to action on climate change?

As recent posts have pointed out, the evidence of climate warming is everywhere and people are worried. Why are they not taking to the streets, then? I offer these three reasons from my reading and conversation. The first is a poem by Jean Hirschfield, titled “Global Warming.”

When his ship first came to Australia,
Cook wrote, the natives
Continued fishing, without looking up
Unable, it seems, to fear what was too large to be

Is that our problem? Shouldn’t we have developed ways to confront the unimaginable in the last few hundred years?

The second comes from an article on by George Monbiot, first published in the Guardian (U.K.), about “the remarkable collapse of children’s engagement with nature,” which he calls “The Great Environmental Crisis No One Is Talking About.” After listing the latest news about loss of British songbirds and threats to certain popular tree species like ash, oaks, pines, and chestnuts,  the author asks,

So where are the marches, the occupations, the urgent demands for change? While the surveys show that the great majority would like to see the living planet protected . . .  few are prepared to take action. This, I think, reflects a second environmental crisis: the removal of children from the natural world. The young people we might have expected to lead the defence of nature have less and less to do with it.

After tracing some of the causes for children spending more and more time indoors and citing studies that show a correlation between outdoor play or time spent in wild places and enhanced creativity and ability to focus (ADHD drops when children are outdoors in green spaces compared to concrete playgrounds, for example), he gets to the environmental crisis of his title:

Most of those I know who fight for nature are people who spent their childhoods immersed in it. Without a feel for the texture and function of the natural world, without an intensity of engagement almost impossible in the absence of early experience, people will not devote their lives to its protection.

The third reason is anecdotal, without much evidence so far. A friend who teaches first-year writing at a local university said she has read two recent papers in which the students say they are burned out on the environment, having been made to feel that it’s their responsibility, and it’s  overwhelming, so they distract themselves. They try to shut out the news of systems collapse and species extinction, for it’s terrifying to read the news presented in terms of a catastrophe that is not that far off.

What do you think explains why environmental leaders have to work so hard to create a truly mass movement to fight carbon pollution? In the meantime, get those kids outdoors and into the woods!



3 Groups Plan Presidents Day Action to Stop the Keystone Pipeline

The Sierra Club,, and the Hip-Hop Caucus have joined together to call for a huge action on Presidents Day weekend. The plan is to form a massive human pipeline in the streets. The goal: to stop President Obama from approving the Keystone pipeline that would bring dirty, hard to extract, unneeded oil from the tar sands of Alberta Canada, through the U.S. heartland, to Gulf refineries and ultimate export. That’s right–not only would it create only temporary jobs for US workers, as the builder admits, it won’t help the U.S. move toward energy independence. (For my May 2012 post explaining why the oil should be left in the ground, click here.)  As someone suggested, if Canada is so determined to extract the oil, why don’t they build the pipeline west toward their own refineries? The reason is that Canadians have stopped it; they don’t want the pollution and spills that will inevitably occur. So why should we allow it to pass through our country with no benefit to us?

Here’s the email from these three groups (I belong to the first two, and I’m going to join the Hip-Hop Caucus if they’ll have me). It includes a link where you can sign up to participate

The last time we stood up against Keystone XL, thousands of us surrounded the White House – and it worked. Right when every political and energy “expert” said the tar sands pipeline was a done deal, we beat the odds and convinced President Obama to take a year to study it.

Now that year is over, and Mother Nature has filed her public comments: the hottest year in American history, a horrible ongoing drought, and superstorm Sandy. And still Big Oil is pushing as hard as ever for their pet project, looking for even more private profit at public expense.

There is also good news: Together, we’ve proven time and time again that grassroots voices can speak louder than Big Oil’s dollars. So this Presidents Day, the Sierra Club,, and other environmental groups are working with our partners across the progressive community to organize the biggest climate demonstration yet.

Our goal for Presidents Day is to form a massive human pipeline through Washington, and then transform it into a giant symbol of the renewable energy future we need – and are ready to build, starting right away.

You can make this a Presidents Day that the president can’t ignore and won’t forget – sign up to join the rally, bring your friends, and stop the climate-killing Keystone XL pipeline.

We’ll have more details soon about the rally and how you can make your voice heard, but for now, start making travel plans and circle Presidents Day weekend on your calendar. Together, we can show the president that the year’s delay didn’t lull us to sleep. Instead, we’re more fired up than ever, and determined to help him do the right thing.

See you in February,

Allison Chin, Sierra Club President
Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director
Bill McKibben, co-founder
May Boeve, Executive Director
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Hip-Hop Caucus President
Liz Havstad, Director of Civic Engagement and Strategic Growth for the Hip- Hop Caucus

President Obama Should Earn the Peace Prize by Leading on Climate Change

Let’s not allow the momentum from cleaning up after  Superstorm Sandy to dissipate. Let’s use it as a catalyst to turn into a truly mass movement. One campaign could be to put pressure on President Obama to earn his Nobel Peace Prize by taking the lead on climate action. Solving the Israel-Palestine dispute isn’t enough—this is the planet he’d be saving. How can we convince the president to act now? What should be his first priority? Here’s what I think: For starters, he should:

Refuse to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. Then, insist that  Congress end subsidies to fossil fuel corporations and put a price on carbon.

What do you think will prompt Obama to take action? More in upcoming posts about the movement that is building.