Liberty Tree (Vol. 1, Issue 2)  [Printer-friendly version]
May 1, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The movement to avoid catastrophic climate
change will include a clean energy revolution -- greatly improved
energy efficiency and energy conservation. We need a new democracy
movement to make it possible for governments, local and national, to
take corrective action on climate change.]

By Ted Glick

Forward Thinking

Since about the time that the worldwide Kyoto Protocol officially went
into effect on Feb. 16th, 2005, there has been a marked upsurge in
activism on the climate crisis. This is a very positive development,
given that global warming is real, it is having destructive impacts
now, as in Hurricane Katrina, and it is accelerating.

A January 29th article on the front page of the Washington Post put it
this way:

Now that most scientists agree human activity is causing Earth to
warm, the central debate has shifted to whether climate change is
progressing so rapidly that, within decades, humans may be helpless to
slow or reverse the trend.

Others, like Stephen Byers, a top aide to Tony Blair, think it is not
decades but years. In early 2005, a task force he co-chaired concluded
that we could reach "the point of no return in a decade." Leading
scientists, journalists and others in the USA and worldwide agree. As
author Bill McKibben recently wrote in an article for the Boston
Globe, referring to the works and views of NASA's Goddard Space
Institute Director James Hansen:

... so we go on burning ever more fossil fuel, and the earth keeps
getting warmer--as Hansen's monthly monitoring of 10,000 temperature
gauges around the planet makes depressingly clear. But the new high
temperature record isn't the real reason Hansen is so agitated right
now, nor the reason the Bush administration would like to silence him.
Instead, it's the messages about future change that his computer
climate models keep spitting out. Those models reveal a miserable
situation at present, but a dire one in the years ahead. In his
December speech to the Geophysical Union, [Hansen] noted that carbon
dioxide emissions are 'now surging well above' the point where damage
to the planet might be limited. Speaking to a reporter from The
Washington Post, he put it bluntly: Having raised the earth's
temperature 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last three decades, we're
facing another increase of 4 degrees over the next century. That would
'imply changes that constitute practically a different planet.' The
technical terms for those changes include drought, famine, pestilence,
and flood. 'It's not something we can adapt to,' he continued. 'We
can't let it go on another 10 years like this.' And that's what makes
him so dangerous now. He's not just saying that the world is warming.
He's not just saying we're the cause. He's saying: We have to stop it
now. Not wait a few decades while Exxon Mobil keeps making record
profits. Not wait a few decades until there's some painless new
technology like hydrogen cars that lets us drive blithely into the
future. Not even wait a few years until the current administration can
cut and run from Washington. We are literally in a race against time.
It is the responsibility of all conscious people living today to take
up this issue with all the energy and determination that we can
gather. Present and future generations of not just the human race but
all life forms on this planet are depending on us.

What To Do

Climate activists are pretty much in agreement that there are three
primary tasks which must continue to be supported and much more
seriously undertaken if we are to have a chance of avoiding this truly
apocalyptic future.

One is energy conservation: the insulation of homes and buildings;
switching to compact fluorescent (CFC) light bulbs; using low-energy
appliances; setting thermostat temperatures low in the winter and,
where air conditioning is used, high in the summer; using hybrid,
electric or other high mpg vehicles; recycling; and other actions.

A second is energy efficiency: Tightening up the way energy is
produced, distributed and used in industry, business and other
institutions. Estimates for how much energy could be saved in this way
range from 30 to 70 percent.

The third is a clean energy revolution: The substitution of wind,
solar, clean biomass, tides, geo-thermal and hydrogen for the oil,
coal and natural gas that are now being used.


There are differences, however, among environmentalists on certain
major issues. One point is over the question of nuclear energy. Some
of the more compromise-oriented environmental groups are willing to
accept nuclear power, even if unenthusiastically. Most groups reject
nuclear power as a viable alternative.

A second point of divergence has to do with the Kyoto Protocol.
Although most US environmental groups are supportive in general, very
few actively promote it. Many seem intimidated by one Senate vote in
1997. In the words of Wikipedia:

On July 25th of that year, before the Kyoto Protocol was to be
negotiated, the US Senate unanimously passed by a 95-0 vote the Byrd-
Hagel Resolution (S. Res. 98), which stated the sense of the Senate
was that the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol
that did not include binding targets and timetables for developing as
well as industrialized nations or "would result in serious harm to the
economy of the United States."

This bi-partisan dismissal of Kyoto was reflected more recently during
the 2004 Presidential campaign when Bush campaigned against it and the
Democrats consciously left it off of their platform. Other, more
radical environmental groups are critical of the Kyoto Protocol
because "carbon trading" is a main element of the agreement. Carbon
trading is distinct from "carbon reduction" in that the latter focuses
on penalizing those countries that do not meet their emission
reduction targets. These groups are also critical of carbon trading
from an environmental justice perspective because implementation in
the South has sometimes exacerbated economic injustice while gaining
only questionable positive impacts as far as greenhouse gas

The year 2005 witnessed the emergence of a new group, the Climate
Crisis Coalition (CCC), which openly organized support for the Kyoto
Protocol even as they articulated in their Kyoto and Beyond petition
( that "we recognize the current goals of the
Protocol are too low -- and its timetable too long -- to effectively
halt the escalating instability of the global climate." It went on to
say, however, that "the Kyoto Protocol is the only existing diplomatic
framework through which the entire global community can address this
unprecedented challenge."

Over the course of 2005, particularly in relationship to organizing
toward the December United Nations Climate Conference in Montreal,
there was a growing number of primarily local, grassroots
organizations that adopted the CCC position and circulated its

Corporate Power

There is a much larger issue, of course, that is not just for the
organized environmental groups, but for everyone within the
progressive movement. That is the issue of corporate power.

The heating up of the earth began with the industrial revolution and
the burning of fossil fuels--coal and, later in history, oil and
natural gas. As economies have developed around the world, all of them
have relied upon one or more of these energy sources to fuel that
development. This has been true whether a country's economic structure
is capitalist or socialist.

At the same time, there is no question that the growing dominance of
transnational corporate power, backed up by military force over the
course of the last century, has led to the enshrining of corporate
profit as a societal objective irrespective of the impact upon
increasingly fragile ecosystems. Powerful energy corporations like
ExxonMobil and Chevron have used their wealth and power to buy
politicians who do their bidding, mainly, but not only, Republicans.

Is it possible to slow, stop and reverse global warming as long as
corporate power persists in its present form?

From a strategic perspective, should the global survival movement, the
movement for a clean energy revolution, become more explicitly an
anti-corporate movement?

Prior to my active involvement on this issue over the last couple of
years, I would have been quick to say yes, without question. However,
I have learned that, as with many other things in life, it is not so
simple. The fact is that there are a growing number of corporations
who are not just speaking out about the need to curb greenhouse gas
emissions but are actually taking action to reduce their own. The
entire insurance industry is very concerned, for understandable
reasons, about the long-term threat to their profitability and even
their existence as global warming leads to more Category 4 and 5
hurricanes, major droughts and storms. Magazines like Fortune and
Business Week are carrying stories sympathetic to those calling for
government action to reduce emissions.

Of course, it is difficult to envision the overall corporate world --
the super-rich of the United States and the world -- being willing to
participate in the kind of fundamental social and economic
transformation necessary, and urgently necessary, if we are to halt
before that "point of no return." Corporate globalization is a highly
energy intensive process with the transportation costs involved in
shipping goods around the world. There is no question that we need to
move as rapidly as possible to decentralize and localize economic and
social life to reduce our need for oil and gas. Besides their clean
and renewable nature, an additional advantage to wind and solar power
is that their use allows people to get off the energy grid of utility
corporations and be more self-sufficient. This is absolutely necessary
for survival, an essential direction.

It is completely on target for climate activists to be explicit about
these issues, and to call into question the corporate system itself.
To the extent that this helps to build a stronger independent
progressive movement operating outside of the corporate-dominated,
two-party system, that is a good thing. But it is also consistent to
demand immediate action on climate change by individual corporations
and banks. There have to be many approaches to succeeding in the life-
and-death struggle to stabilize our climate.

Urgent Action, Grassroots Organizing

It seems to me that the urgency of our situation calls for two
approaches right now.

One is the organization of a visible political movement. This means
demonstrations in the streets. It means hunger strikes, nonviolent
civil disobedience, actions that underline the urgency of our

Sooner or later it has to mean a massive march on Washington, perhaps
combined with a mass nonviolent direct action.

The other approach is widespread and ongoing local grassroots
organizing, educating our communities about this crisis, linking it to
the need for more democracy, pointing out, for example, that a clean
energy revolution can create millions of jobs. We should be doing this
in 2006 in relationship to the upcoming Congressional elections,
demanding that candidates for office support a strong platform of
action to address this crisis and supporting those who already have
the right positions. We need to get more local governments to make
energy conservation, efficiency and a clean energy transition central
to how they govern. And we need a new democracy movement to make it
possible for governments -- local and national -- to take corrective
action on climate change.

No single issue is more important than this one.

Ted Glick is a co-founder and leader of the Climate Crisis Coalition:

He is also acting coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics