“Forward on Climate” Movement, Fully Ready, Leaves Station

John Kassel

New England, I'm pleased to say, was well represented at the climate rally in DC this weekend.

“People get ready, there’s a train a-comin’.”  Curtis Mayfield.

Before 50,000 committed supporters, from many states and nations and braving frigid wind-chill temps, Bill McKibben announced on Sunday that all of the work he has done for the last 25 years has been in hopeful anticipation of that moment. The moment when the Climate Movement actually took off.

It certainly felt like a fully loaded train with a big head of steam, on a long journey. It was full of people who have gotten more than ready for the trip, and it was a wide-open, broad and inclusive group. Emcee’d by the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, President of the Hip Hop Caucus, speakers ranged from Van Jones (author, former Obama aide and Pres. of Rebuild the Dream) to Chief Jacqueline Thomas (a First Nation Chief in British Columbia) to Maria Cardona (Founder, Latinovations) to Michael Brune (Sierra Club Exec. Director) and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). The crowd was the same – young and old, people of all colors, people of faith and non-believers, northerners, southerners, mid-westerners and westerners, people walking and in chairs.

New England, I’m very pleased to say, was well represented, including large delegations from VT, NH and MA (and I’m sure from RI, ME and CT, but I didn’t find them in the large crowd), and topped off by a rousing address from Senator Whitehouse.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) delivering a rousing address to the crowd.

As Rev. Yearwood put it, “we’re fighting for existence.”

That is not an understatement. Climate models (increasingly showing their accuracy over time, if not underestimation of warming effects) show that unchecked, increasing warming will render large parts of the planet uninhabitable by mammalian life within the next few centuries. If the greater good of humanity (and other species) is not our polar star now, we are failing in our jobs as human beings: to paraphrase Curtis Mayfield again, there is no room among us “for those who would hurt all mankind, just to save [their] own.”

To address a problem that large, it takes a movement. Kudos to Bill McKibben and 350.org, Michael Brune and the Sierra Club, and all of the other groups that have organized, coalesced and launched this train. History will remember them well.

This movement needs to support savvy, well-planned and strategic actions. Sunday’s rally was wisely focused on the Keystone XL pipeline, over which President Obama has unique discretion, under applicable law. While the facts are clear on this one (James Hansen: “game over” for climate if KXL gets built), it is a hugely political game. Circling the White House, calling the President out on his recent commitments to act on climate, playing the political game as it is played, is needed for this vital decision.

But not all vital actions on climate change are like that. We certainly need people in the streets, in villages and barrios, on college campuses and in cornfields and in automobile assembly plants. This is the lifeblood of the movement. But we also need lobbyists and lawyers, economists and highly focused activists, scientists and doctors and investment analysts and progressive regulators – all working the system that shapes our economy.

Shutting down New England’s coal plants, for example, will not happen by marching alone. There is nobody who can do that with the stroke of a pen, as the President can on KXL. Rather, there are many skirmishes and battles to be fought, against extremely entrenched interests who will only succumb when faced with final, non-appealable orders, or when it’s clear they’ll lose more money than their shareholders will accept. The same is true for many fights in the climate campaign: ensuring that any transmission for clean energy is built on the right terms, guarding against overbuilding natural gas infrastructure, fully and properly regulating any fracking activity that is deemed acceptable, adjusting energy markets so that clean energy is favored and dirty energy is disfavored, rebuilding our communities so people don’t need cars as much and can live healthier lives, and many, many more.

“Forward on Climate” is the charge. All the rest is commentary, so to speak. But the commentary – as the Talmudic story goes – is where the work is. We actually move forward by studying and sweating the details, and it takes a long, sustained effort. We’ve been here before. Equal Protection of the laws – what does it really mean? For almost 150 years we’ve been working that out, and paying for it with blood and hopes, dreams and treasure. And lifetimes of effort. Restoring our planet’s climate to some sort of balance – equitable, healthy and just – is another, long-term struggle.

Please join us for this historic journey. Join Conservation Law Foundation. Join other organizations committed to this pivotal fight. We all need your help. And we’ll need it for generations to come. And for their benefit and very survival. “There’s no hiding place” against what we have wrought.

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