Obama promises action on climate change–will he deliver?

That’s what environmentalists are asking this week, after the President made combatting climate change a  “legacy goal” in his second inaugural address:   “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.” Mother Jones has run three articles in two days gathering responses of environmental groups who are trying to gauge Obama’s intentions to issue executive orders and instructions to agencies like the EPA, since Congress seems too dysfunctional to produce meaningful legislation in the short term. Indeed, Melinda Pierce of the Sierra Club says that Congress “has become a place where good ideas go to die.”  She lists several things Obama could do through executive orders and do” fairly quickly to demonstrate his commitment to the environment: denying the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, finalizing greenhouse gas rules for new power plants, writing rules for planet-warming emission from existing power plants, and improving fuel economy standards for long-haul trucks and other heavy vehicles.”

Lou Leonard, of the World Wildlife Fund, wants Obama to outline a plan for controlling runaway carbon pollution:  “A sustained national conversation isn’t enough. The president should lay out the steps he can and will take to clean up our energy system, help communities prepare for climate disruption and encourage the rest of the world to ramp up action.” We don’t have time for more false starts. The environmental groups and their members are awaiting the answer to this headline’s question: “Does Obama Mean It This Time on Climate?” Let’s make him mean it; we can take the lead and he will have to follow us. Coming soon: How to mobilize for the fight of our lives.


We need a paradigm shift and a new article says “yes, we can”

It’s a huge, even monumental task, but we have to think big, even grandiose, if we are to avoid the “four horsemen” of apocalyptic climate change: global inequality, ecosystem depletion, “constrained depression” (low demand and high debt), and “resilience deficit” (i.e., our existing water, power, and transportation systems can’t handle coming climate disruption). David Roberts in Grist summarizes a very important article in Foreign Policy by Patrick Doherty, called “A New U.S. Grand Strategy,” that insists the U.S. can solve the monumental problems of climate change by designing our major systems–economic, industrial, civic, and political–around sustainability. As Doherty says, it’s more than a matter of  lowering  carbon emissions;  we need a “global transition to sustainability,” and the U.S. can and must begin the transition. As Bill McKibben says, “Between renewable energy and more efficient engineering, the technology already exists to stave off catastrophic global warming.” Doherty outlines the bigger picture, a strategy to create “a larger industrial, economic, civic, and political system that is designed around sustainability,” where sustainability is not just an add-on.

Roberts’ summary highlights the main features of an America leading the way globally, but first domestically, by creating walkable communities, shifting to sustainable agriculture and economics, and engaging in multilateral diplomacy.

  • Walkable communities: More and more Americans want to live in dense, walkable areas; get rid of regulations that hamper them and start building them.
  • Regenerative agriculture: Farmers can produce “up to three times the profits per acre and 30 percent higher yields during drought” with agricultural techniques that also clean water and restore soils. . . .
  • Resource productivity: “Energy and resource intensity per person will have to drop dramatically.” That imperative can drive “innovation in material sciences, engineering, advanced manufacturing, and energy production, distribution, and consumption.”
  • Excess liquidity: Channel all the corporate cash that’s sitting around in funds into long-term investments in America by taxing waste and creating regional growth strategies.
  • Stranded hydrocarbon assets: Figure out how to devalue the immense amount of carbon that’s still sitting underneath the ground without unduly traumatizing the economy.

This last–leaving the fossil fuel in the ground–is the major goal of 350.org’s divestment movement and collaborative efforts to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, both of which campaigns are gaining momentum. And so this proposal is not just a fantasy; millions recognize that we are already beginning to shift the paradigm toward sustainability. Doherty’s article is long, but it’s clearly written and easy to follow; I recommend it. And let’s make sure President Obama and his cabinet know about it. Isn’t that the implication of the photo on the Foreign Policy website article? grandstrategy

Watch this animated video–you’ll never buy another bottle of water!


There are several really good documentaries about the growing scarcity of water worldwide and the boondoggle that is the bottled water industry–Flow: For Love of Water and Tapped come to mind, and you can watch them online–but The Story of Bottled Water lasts only 8 minutes, so you can share it easily. Start it on your iPad or computer at work and friends and coworkers will stop by to watch. Show it to your children or students. Post it to Facebook or Tweet to reach thousands more. It’s from Annie Leonard, of The Story of Stuff Project. In clever animation of stick figures, it explains how “manufactured demand” pushes a product we don’t need and adds mountains of plastic pollution to our environment.


(You can’t even feel good about recycling the bottles, as they are merely downcycled into lower-quality plastic that ends up in developing countries’ dumps.)

It has villains too–look at this quote by an industry executive:


And it has potential heroes: all of those who decide not only never to buy or consumer bottled water but urge others to stop the waste, too. Did you know that buying a $2 bottle of water is the equivalent of paying $10,000 for a sandwich? That’s because of the cost of extracting the petroleum that goes into making the plastic and bottles as well as transporting it and shipping them.

By all means organize screenings of the other documentaries–it is really important to stop the incredible waste of resources bottled water represents and to advocate, as Leonard says in the video, for access to clean, safe tap water for the 1 billion people who do not have it. They are apparently working–despite the millions the industry spends on making us think tap water tastes bad and that bottled water (frequently tap water itself) is safer, sales are slowing. This video probably helped. It’s had over 2.5 million views on YouTube. Watch it there if you want to be counted.

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 Alternet.org 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, 350.org, 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, 350.org, 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, 350.org co-founder
May Boeve, 350.org 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 350.org 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.

The last word on climate denial–in one pie-chart

I’m not going to waste any more time showing why climate change deniers are wrong; I believe we should ignore them and put all our efforts into pressuring President Obama and Congress to take the lead on climate change, which means beginning to reverse the flow of carbon that is warming the planet and causing the oceans to acidify. This post on DeSmogBlog.com ought to be  the final word on denialism; after reading it, no one should believe there is serious disagreement in the scientific community about the reality of human-caused global warming. Post author James Powell writes, “If there is disagreement among scientists, based not on opinion but on hard evidence, it will be found in the peer-reviewed literature.” And so he surveyed the scientific literature over a 20-year period,  distilling his results in “Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility – In One Pie Chart.” The proof is in the pie chart: of nearly 14,000 peer-reviewed articles on climate in science journals in the two decades since 1991, only 24 reject global warming and they are rarely cited. Powell writes, “Of one thing we can be certain: had any of these articles presented the magic bullet that falsifies human-caused global warming, that article would be on its way to becoming one of the most-cited in the history of science.”

Of course deniers won’t be convinced by this evidence; but it ought to persuade those snowed by the blizzard of propaganda–including some mainstream journalists–that they need not give deniers equal time. As Powell says, “Only one conclusion is possible: Within science, global warming denial has virtually no influence. Its influence is instead on a misguided media, politicians all-too-willing to deny science for their own gain, and a gullible public.” If you find yourself in conversation with a gullible member of that public–a doubter rather than a full-blown denier–send her or him this article to read. Or go to the Skeptical Science site, which rebuts in a very organized way the many pseudoscientific claims made by deniers and compiles the many articles providing evidence that humans are causing global warming. Try out some of the rebuttals; make them your own.  There are even smart-phone apps that lay out rebuttals to all the skeptic arguments to have in your hand when needed! Links here.