That’s 350.org‘s estimate of how many people attended the Forward on Climate rally in DC on Feb. 17 . The Sierra Club, another core organizer, says there were at least 40,000. Either way, that’s a large number to brave the cold weather to demonstrate, and it’s a sign of how committed people are to stopping the Keystone Pipeline. A million more showed their support for the action online, and polls show that a majority of Americans are eager for real leadership on climate change. President Obama was the focus, because he will make the crucial decision on Keystone very soon, and many in Washington lofted signs reminding him that his legacy will be defined by his actions on the climate, beginning with this all-important decision. (See previous posts on why tar sands oil must be left in the ground and the pipeline must be stopped here and here.)
People tend to avoid facing huge problems requiring years of planning and dramatic changes in systems, so of course we’d rather not think about climate change, by all accounts humankind’s biggest challenge. But it’s impossible to ignore in the short term, given news about the havoc climate change is causing worldwide. The world’s people are being plagued not only by heat and drought but extremes of flood, wind, and fire. Hurricane Sandy is now seen as a harbinger of super storms to come. An article in Rolling Stone refers to “the End of Australia.” Climate Change is a topic everywhere you look–on the cover of news magazines, TV specials, podcasts (see Best of the Left, an anthology of progressive voices, on 12/5, 12/8, 1/14), and alternative weeklies (the Honolulu Weekly headline was “Climate Change: Now Showing on an Island Near You“). And although we were holding our breath in fear that President Obama would ignore the problem in his second inaugural address so as not to offend Republicans whose votes he needs for other items on his agenda, he did put it front-and-center. We’re waiting for action to follow closely on those words.
In the meantime, we can take heart from the fact that most Americans are convinced that climate change is real and must be dealt with. In a January 24 Times Opinionator column on how out of step Republicans are–they’re labeling Obama’s inaugural address and his policies “liberal” as though it were a dirty word–Timothy Egan counters with evidence that if Obama’s positions on immigration, gay marriage are liberal positions, then liberalism is winning. What’s more:
On climate change, a Pew poll at the height of last’s fall’s election found strong bipartisan support for taking steps against many of the effects of global warming. There was a significant increase in those who say the storms, fires, droughts, record-high-temperatures and ice-melting of the last decade or so are human-caused. Only 12 percent — and here’s where the talk radio and Fox wing of the Republican party are glaringly out of step — believe it’s some kind of hoax.
Only 12 percent have swallowed the deniers’ propaganda! And people from both sides of the political spectrum want their leaders to solve the problems associated with climate change. That’s a reason to celebrate in the short term, before turning our energy to working toward long-term solutions.
All it took was a $50 billion “super storm” and hundreds of blog posts, articles, and columns–and, let’s face it, a presidential election with the right outcome. Already on November 7, calls for Obama to put climate change high up on his agenda abounded. One that struck me: In a letter to the New York Times editor Peter Kalmus of Altadena, CA, called for the President to make climate change his legacy: “A Green New Deal would be America’s ticket to jobs, security, economic recovery and renewing our position of global leadership. . . . Here’s hoping that Mr. Obama finally finds the courage to stand firm against the oil and coal barons and lead us, our children and future generations away from the brink of climate disaster.”
What an excellent idea: a new New Deal for the environment, with climate change as the focus. I planned to post links to many other calls for the President to make slowing global warming a priority, by celebrities, columnists, and politicians, even some conservative ones, But Grist beat me to it by listing and quoting the highlights of the most important bandwagon-riders in a post by Lisa Hymas on November 12 titled “Climate should be Obama’s No. 1 priority, say lots of people who aren’t tree-hugging enviros.” Those quoted and/or cited include The New Yorker‘s editor, David Remnick; Republican and former EPA head Christine Todd Whitman; former Obama official Cass Sunstein; and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Hymas ends by asking, “Might climate change break out of the environmental ghetto for good this time?” We can help to keep it front and center.
A positive sign is that even conservatives are discussing the idea of a tax on carbon. See the AP story entitled “Global Warming Talk Heats Up, Revisits Carbon Tax,” which includes this news: “On Tuesday, a conservative think tank held discussions about it while a more liberal think tank released a paper on it. And the Congressional Budget Office issued a 19-page report on the different ways to make a carbon tax less burdensome on lower income people.” Stay tuned. And do what you can to keep the pressure on Obama–insist that he reject the Keystone Pipeline for starters.
Just as I suspected, the Frontline documentary “Climate of Doubt” was a little out of date. In its zeal to drive home its main claim–that a massive propaganda campaign by climate change denialists convinced the public that global warming was nothing to worry about–the program neglected the findings of a recent poll. According to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication it seems that the severe weather events of spring and summer 2012 woke people up: for the first time a majority of Americans believe that our actions are causing the planet to warm. The report says, “more than half of Americans (54%) believe global warming is caused mostly by human activities, an increase of 8 points since March 2012.” Furthermore,
Americans’ belief in the reality of global warming has increased by 13 percentage points over the past two and a half years, from 57 percent in January 2010 to 70 percent in September 2012. At the same time, the number of Americans who say global warming is not happening has declined nearly by half, from 20 percent in January 2010 to only 12 percent today.
So the skeptics and deniers are a shrinking minority. See the “Climate of Doubt” website for related articles that provide context and evidence supporting the documentary’s claims. The hundreds of comments on the program come from the usual mix of deniers and scientific realists; it is dispiriting to see how many of the former persist in sharing their willful ignorance in absolutist terms. But one commenter helpfully shares the name of a new group you can join to take action: Citizens Climate Lobby. Another group everyone should support is 350.org.
A third big court ruling this week that you may have overlooked in the drama over the Supreme Court decisions on the Affordable Care Act and Arizona’s immigration law: a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on June 26 upheld the right of the EPA to control greenhouse gases as pollutants and harmful to Americans’ health. Industry groups and 14 states had sued, hoping to not be bound by regulations put in place by the EPA in desperation at Congress’s foot-dragging over any effective climate legislation. But really: if legislators were doing their job in protecting the people, the executive branch would not have had to step in. The brilliance of the EPA’s regulation is revealed in labeling global-warming emissions “pollutants”; the fossil-fuel industry thus became polluters. In more formal language, the basis for the rules that emissions were pollutants and could be controlled is the agency’s finding that “carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions constitute a danger to public health and [can] thus be regulated under the Clean Air Act.” And so by supporting the EPA’s authority to regulate emissions, the court dealt what a New York Times editorial called “a devastating blow to polluters.” Science and rational thought were also victors, as the federal court found that “the agency had based its case on careful research and sound science.”