Unity over Divisiveness: Generational Approaches to the Climate Crisis

Photo Credit: Shadia Fayne Wood

There are massive differences between how young people in the United States and around the world have organized in response to the climate crisis and the traditional environmental and political organizations focused on energy and environmental challenges. These include the elevation of unity as a goal, as well as a means to accomplishing political action on climate. The Energy Action Coalition is a testament to this mentality, with 50 organizations ranging from traditional environmental youth groups to environmental justice groups to political empowerment organizations all banding together in a joint campaign – including joint fundraising and targeting. This is something that no-one is expecting from any of the major environmental organizations, to submit to a consensus based, joint funding effort with all organizations from all political angles pitching in together.

Online, It’s Getting Hot in Here is another testament to the diversity of the youth climate movement, bringing together voices from all across the political spectrum, from radical direct action activists who don’t really like infrastructure, to young policy wonks able to bring expertise to exact provisions of the 1,400+ Waxman-Markey Bill. This blog features youth leaders from organizations even further flung, including the Indian Youth Climate Network, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, and newer organizations like Grand Aspirations or the Alliance for Climate Education. We together pool our opinions, our voices, our analysis through one outlet, this site, to reach our audience – the youth climate movement. We don’t agree with each other, a lot, but we work together because together we are the largest youth blog on any social issue in the world. That is our strength. It may also be our weakness, or at least Joe Romm thinks so.

Joe Romm is a blogger that Rolling Stone called “America’s fiercest climate-change activist-blogger“. He writes the largest climate blog in the world and he is a sharp analyst that has written posts that have been invaluable to me as I desperately try and track the legislation, studies, and incessant lobbying that swirls around the climate policy world. However, he just wrote a piece attacking our “otherwise fine blog” as serving as a platform for The Breakthrough Institute’s anti-climate disinformation. Particularly, he singled out Jesse Jenkins, one of our most prolific bloggers and contributing editors.

Joe Romm is involved in a public feud with Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute, a feud that has its origins in media grandstanding, antagonistic policy analysis, and rapid fire barrage of critical blog posts. Generally, I use Joe’s numbers and analysis more frequently than I use Breakthrough’s, but it has gotten so bitter that he accuses them of being anti-action on climate and bad actors pretending to be on the side of climate solutions. Over a year ago, I wrote an article “Give Me A Break“, about how our role is creating solutions, not just arguing over policy and that we can be climate solutions in transformative ways. Well, as young people, we do things differently.

I don’t always agree with Jesse’s analysis, but I know to my bones that he is dedicated to climate solutions and so is every one of the Breakthrough Generation fellows at the Breakthrough institute that are actually providing the intellectual heft. Shellenberger may advocate for overly weak solutions, but so does Waxman-Markey and it is the simple but damning truth. It isn’t enough and we all know it. What interests me are the ideas and solutions developed by the young climate leaders at all the organizations across the country. So, I say, keep ‘em coming and lets make this bill stronger. We got a bigger planet to keep from frying.

10 Responses to “Unity over Divisiveness: Generational Approaches to the Climate Crisis”

  1. 1 Ben Jul 14th, 2009 at 10:39 am

    Very well said, Richard. Romm is at his weakest when he wastes his time “feuding” with others–and his criticisms of IGHIH were ill-informed and bullheaded. Keep up the good work over here!

  2. 2 e Jul 14th, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Damn right. Romm is on point a lot of the time but I find his intolerance for dissent within the the blogo-ranks troubling. We need to broaden our appeal, not narrow it.

  3. 3 Morgan Jul 14th, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    Thanks Richard for a great post. The arguments can be useful, but the mud-slinging rarely gets us anywhere except to play into the hands of the worst partisan conservatives.

    The blog-sphere is for ideas and news. The real world is for action, which is what people should look at when they want to know where the youth movement and Energy Action stand.

  4. 4 Christine Irvine Jul 14th, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    Hey Richard, thanks for your post! That’s a really amazing photo at the top of the page… who took it?

  5. 5 Doug P. Jul 14th, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    This is a great post. Very timely. Thanks! I am very distressed by attacks on the youth movement appearing frequently on Joe’s blog. They are not necessarily by him, but by those who choose to reply to his posts. He does make references recently to parts of the youth movement being taken over by anti-environmentalists. It was kind of out of right field, but hopefully you have set this all straight.

  6. 6 Dominic M Jul 15th, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Thanks for saying what needed to be said, Richard! Onward!!

  7. 7 Craig Altemose Jul 17th, 2009 at 12:13 am


    This is a great post, and Joe was really off when he attacked Jessy, Jesse, and IGHIH.

    You are definitely correct that our greatest strength is our diversity, and this blog definitely serves to strengthen that.

    However, I am not confident that other part of your post, the unity component, is as necessary.

    I think the diversity that shines through on this blog is also necessary in our broader movement. We need people working ‘on the inside,’ and people pushing hard ‘on the outside.’

    That necessary diversity and balance was largely forgotten in the push for W-M. It seemed like almost everyone wanted to play the ‘inside’ role. The coal industry is divided among those who publicly say they want the bill to die, and those who publicly support it, but all are quietly celebrating how weak it has become.

    I think the broader climate movement could learn more from that example. And even the youth movement could too.

  8. 8 Jenna Jul 17th, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Richard, the problem is, Energy Action Coalition has had not had a positive approach to Waxman-Markey nearly from the beginning, and Jessy’ statements in the NY Times are pretty damning. If her statements were taken out of context, the onus is on her to bring that to light.

    Saying that youth are going to attack Dem leadership who “helped weaken the bill” and threatening to leverage perceived voter power against them is troubling, and for multiple reasons. Single issue voters, anyone? Moreover, quite frankly, the youth vote was only part of what helped usher in the Democratic Revolution this past November. And last time I checked, Jessy Tolkan doesn’t speak for the entire youth movement. I don’t think we do have any one person who does.

    As a professional organizer, I’ve seen a few simple truths come out of the leadup to the House vote. First, climate activists weren’t as active as they could have been in support of this bill. We didn’t have the numbers to bring more votes on board, or really, truly strengthen the bill. Now that the vote has passed, how many folks are doing post-vote thank you’s or accountability outreach? Phone calls, letters to the editor? Senate offices are now hearing 100 to 200 calls PER DAY in opposition to the bill.

    A major failing of groups like EAC was telling people that the bill wasn’t good enough, and allowing folks to become disillusioned, unmotivated, or willing to believe that we’ll have a better option in the near future. Waxman-Markey isn’t perfect, but the way politics are now, we wouldn’t have been able to pass a significantly stronger bill. Most of the organizations who are actively working FOR the bill are also laying the ground work for strengthening legislation in the future.

    That’s not EAC’s strategy. That’s not Breakthrough’s Strategy.

  9. 9 Madeline Kovacs Jul 18th, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Thank you, especially for reminding us all of the wonderful results that emphasizing solutions can have, both for inspiring even more youth to take action, and presenting a positive message to both environmental organizations and mainstream media.

    In addition, I believe that much of the stalling on climate change can be attributed a bit to the tendency to wait for the “perfect plan” by experts, when in fact this problem will require action on many levels, incorporating many regional, local, and national strategies.

    For me, one of the best parts of the organizing that youth do is offering a different model for coordination of diverse actors withing a movement, showing a united front on the big stuff. Kudos.

  10. 10 Jean Sireyjol Jul 20th, 2009 at 8:17 am

    From France, just to tell you that I agree with your point of view that Joe Romm may be wrong when he gets angry against people in the BreakThrough Institute. The anger comes from his opposition to a carbon tax (also promoted by Jim Hansen), which I also think is the best way to drive our sociéty toward a low carbon economy and way of living.
    Our (french) association TACA (http://taca.asso-web.com/index.php) is trying to mobilise people for Copenhague. We are linked with 350.org, we will act on october 24th and would like to know how we could act together for Copenhague in december.
    Please visit our web site and contact us at jsireyjol@yahoo.fr

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About Richard

Richard, VP, Business Development for Ethical Electric is a veteran of online organizing and online media, clean energy entrepreneurship, and mission-related investing. The founder of Fired Up Media and Editor of It's Getting Hot in Here, he served as VP of Project Finance for Solar Mosaic, the Online Organizer for the Webby-nominated, 17 million person TckTckTck campaign and as an angel investor in and board member to startups, such as Skyline Innovations, Faraday Bicycles, and SumofUs.org. He graduated from the Center for Progressive Leadership's Executive Fellowship and the NextGen Fellowship in Mission Related Investing, as well as Macalester College, where he developed the first student-led Clean Energy Revolving Fund. He also has been known to collect and use cooking equipment from around the world and might just make you something, if you ask nicely.

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