Tens of thousands of protesters rallied this past Sunday in Washington DC, USA, to demand action on climate change. Organizers estimated that around 40,000 people took part in the demonstration, making it the largest climate rally in US history. The rally, intended as a show of force and unity for the environmental movement in the US, called on President Obama to move “Forward on Climate” and to stop the Keystone pipeline project.
“For 25 years our government has basically ignored the climate crisis: now people in large numbers are finally demanding they get to work. We shouldn’t have to be here – science should have decided our course long ago. But it takes a movement to stand up to all that money,” said 350.org founder Bill McKibben in a speech.
Protests from environmentalists against the Keystone pipeline, and Obama’s inaction on the matter, project have been going on for over two years now. The Keystone XL pipeline will transport dirty crude oil from the tar sands fields of western Canada down through the Midwestern region of the US, often dubbed the breadbasket of America, and then processed and shipped overseas through the Gulf of Mexico. The production of tar sands crude releases two or three times as much carbon pollution as conventional produced crude oil. So if completed, the project would be a disaster for our climate. James Hansen, one of the world’s most prominent climate scientists, has said that if the Canadian tar sands would be exploited as projected it would be “game over for the climate”. So this fight is indeed worth fighting for.
“Twenty years from now on President’s Day, people will want to know what the president did in the face of rising sea levels, record droughts and furious storms brought on by climate disruption,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “President Obama holds in his hand a pen and the power to deliver on his promise of hope for our children. Today, we are asking him to use that pen to to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and ensure that this dirty, dangerous, export pipeline will never be built.”
The rally – which was organized by 350.org, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and many other organizations – also called on Obama to use his powers under the Clean Air Act to cut the amount of dangerous carbon pollution emitted from dirty power plants in the country.
“This President has the power to achieve the single biggest carbon reduction ever, by holding our biggest carbon polluters – dirty power plants – accountable for what they dump into the air, said Van Jones, NRDC Trustee and President Rebuild the Dream. “Cleaning up this pollution and using more clean energy will provide jobs to thousands of Americans, save families real money when it comes to electricity bills and, most important, will make a real difference in our health and the health of our children”, Jones said.
There may not yet be the political will in Congress to pass significant climate change legislation. But we can be sure that any and all efforts to address this issue will continue to get strong support from Mother Nature.
Just as Hurricane Sandy helped convince millions that climate change was indeed real and already affecting us, weather and climate events in 2013 will reinforce that message. The resonance of the climate change deniers’ message is receding, in large part due to declining receptiveness to anti-science claims. Millions are learning from their own experiences that predictions of climate-change-induced weather disasters are not some far-off futuristic unlikely event: they are coming true in the here-and-now.
We can’t know for certain whether there will be another massive, unexpected hurricane, nor where any of the hurricanes to come this year will strike with greatest force. But we can be certain that this year and for many years to come, at least some hurricanes will be larger and more intense, and will hit ground in unexpected places. And we can be sure that storm surges will continue to start from higher and higher sea levels.
We can be sure that the intense droughts that have swept different parts of the globe, including more than half of the continental United States, along with major agricultural areas of Russia and Australia, will continue. Again, we don’t know exactly where or exactly how intense they will be, but there is no doubt that droughts (and desertification) will spread.
Similarly with forest fires. They have grown more numerous and more intense for decades, and their upward trajectory shows no sign of slowing down. Some fires are now so intense that instead of requiring a few decades for the land to recover, it will take over a century.
Every study of the Greenland ice fields is concluding that they are melting at rates hitherto thought impossible, adding more fresh water to the oceans, slowing the Gulf Current and threatening a massive increase in sea levels. Arctic ice sheets are melting faster than predicted, and the “Northern Passage” is becoming a reality – and decreased ice means the darker, underlying water will absorb more heat from the sun, increasing even further the warming at the poles, which is much higher than at more temperate latitudes.
Global warming is, at the very least, contributing to excessively hot summers in different parts of Europe (from France in 2003 to Russia in 2010-11). This not only affects the weather, it also affects the water supply, the growing season, the cost of food worldwide, the spread of drought, increases in health disasters from smog to premature death, in addition to the direct effects on humans and on the demand for energy.
All these problems are going to get worse – the accumulated amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere guarantees that.
One big environmental battle this year will be a renewal of hostilities over the proposed U.S.-Canada Keystone XL pipeline. President Obama first postponed a decision until after last year’s elections, then, when pressed by Republicans for an immediate decision, said “No” to the pipeline since there was insufficient time for the State Department to fully evaluate the proposal. Now there are continuing calls by Republicans, by some Democrats, and by some who buy the false claim of the company involved that it will create thousands of jobs. That claim is based on the most generous possible job-multiplier, not on actual jobs working on the pipeline, and based primarily on temporary construction jobs rather than any permanent jobs.
The pipeline is to transport shale oil from fields in Canada (this is why the State Department is involved) to the Gulf Coast, and will mainly be used to ship that oil elsewhere – in other words, it won’t directly affect U.S. energy fuel availability nor price. Dr. James Hansen, prominent climate change scientist, has famously said that if the pipeline is built, it will be “game over for the environment.” Bill McKibben’s 350.org has coordinated many demonstrations last year against the pipeline, and continues to campaign against its construction.
This may result in another pitched battle between congressional Republicans and the White House. Environmentalists are nervous about the position the Obama administration will take, and are watching closely. The Republicans and other pipeline supporters claim that this is an energy-independence, job-creating project, and will continue to make fantastical claims about the supposed benefits. After suffering a public relations disaster following Hurricane Sandy, those who want us to ignore science in the name of short-term financial benefit (in which the benefits will accrue to very large energy companies and their investors, including U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice) persist in their efforts.
But the role of human action is to work to ensure that environmental conditions don’t get so much worse that human life is threatened on a mass scale. A healthy humanity needs a healthy planet, and every step we take to heal the planet, or to keep it from getting hit harder, is a contribution to humanity’s ability to survive and thrive.
This requires the combined efforts of the environmental movement, the labor movement, the peace movement (war and preparations for war are among the most environmentally destructive things that humans do), the civil rights movements, and youth, rightly worried about their future. Environmental issues are not just other issues we ought to do something about if we can get around to it. Environmental problems affect us all, and will continue to do so in 2013.
This article was first published in People’s World by Marc Brodine.
The GOP is, once again, trying to slap a measure approving their favorite pipeline into unrelated transportation legislation. Obama says he’ll veto if they do.
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So Keystone has become a high-stakes political chess game following the president’s decision to kill the project. This Talking Points Memo article says Republicans have no expectations of getting Obama to sign infrastructure legislation including a Keystone rider, but they’ll attach the rider anyway as a pure political play: to blame Obama during the campaign for opposing job creation and economic growth.
Frankly, I’m not betting the farm on Obama vetoing the bill, particularly if Republicans in exchange go along with his cherished hike in infrastructure spending, designed precisely to create jobs. As the article says, even his Democratic base is split on the pipeline, at a time when jobs truly are THE issue in this election.
The case for a veto no matter what is, I believe, stronger. Politically, he shows backbone and principle, can blast Republicans for the same anti-job position they want to pin on him, and secures the grassroots support he so desperately needs from his environmental base, the same base he has mutilated into apathy with other antagonistic ecodecisions.
But then again, on the subject of backbone and principle, the president has been quite convincing of late that he doesn’t have any when it comes to climate change. The signs are anything but reassuring.
The U.S. was one of the countries that most blocked progress (even simple steps) at Durban. Obama’s new all-or-nothing energy policy proudly includes record hikes in American oil and gas exploration. And when he “killed” Keystone, I’ve warned earlier that we would be ill advised to celebrate much, so absent from his statement was any mention of climate change. Now, if he was willing to turn on the climate at these crucial moments, what makes us think he’ll stick to the Keystone decision in the face of potential political risk?
The writing is all over the wall, folks. This man has simply abandoned the climate in favor of his reelection. He fails to see the political, historical and economic value (to him!) of standing up to the Republicans on this all-important issue. So don’t let his support of cleantech fool you. On Keystone, we simply do not know which way he’ll go.