Divestment listening tour connects students and anti-coal activists

by Will Lawrence and Kate Aronoff, re-posted courtesy of Waging Nonviolence

Picture courtesy of We Are Powershift.

Students from Swarthmore and Earlham College will be traveling to Appalachia this week as part of the Divest Coal Frontlines Listening Tour, which is the latest effort in a broader campaign calling on all colleges and universities to divest from the largest and most destructive U.S.-based fossil fuel companies. Arriving in West Virginia in time for the Mountain Mobilization — a regional gathering July 25 through August 1 that will culminate in direct action on a proposed mine site — the tour is meant to facilitate collaboration by connecting the divestment campaigns with groups that have been organizing against mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia for the past several decades.

Mountaintop removal (MTR) is just what it sounds like — a process in which the tops of mountains are exploded to reveal the coal seams underneath. Anti-coal activist and lifelong West Virginia resident Larry Gibson describes the practice as “raising the dead, while burying the living.” This method is less labor-intensive, and thus more profitable to mining companies, than underground mining. In regions where it is practiced, MTR results in poisoned water, deadly health impacts and economically devastated communities.

Engagement with environmental issues is nothing new for many colleges. Student-led initiatives have driven down institutional energy consumption in the past 10 years, placed wind turbines on campuses and taken coal-fired power plants off of them. While these efforts continue, students across the country are turning to divestment as a new means to confront the coal, oil and gas industries. Campaigns are currently being waged at SwarthmoreEarlhamUNC-Chapel HillUniversity of Illinois-Urbana-ChampaignCornell and Colby, with another six campuses planning to join in the fall.

In forming relationships with organizations on the frontlines of the struggle against MTR, students hope to more effectively act in solidarity with these groups and weave divestment, both symbolically and materially, into an ecology of resistance against the fossil fuel industry. Although it may be just a small part of the ongoing movement for climate justice, college divestment campaigns add a new element of strategy to the work being done to combat climate change.

By asking for divestment, students implicate universities in the destructive practices of the global economy, calling into question their positions as actors in an increasingly myopic financial industry. Like the corporations they invest in, university finance managers look for returns on a quarterly, not long-term basis. Such thinking paints coal, oil and natural gas as sound investments based on solid short-term financial returns, while failing to consider their negative long-term returns: poisoned watersheds, toxic ecosystems and devastated communities.

Divestment also carries a symbolic weight that challenges us to reconsider fossil fuel extraction and climate change as human rights issues. For many, the word divestment brings to mind the mass movement to divest from South African apartheid in the 1970s and 80s. More recently, divestment campaigns have drawn attention to human rights crises in Sudan and Palestine, as well asworkplaces in the U.S. Calling for divestment from fossil fuels inevitably highlights these connections, and creates an opening to talk about the ways that climate change disproportionately affects poor communities, women and communities of color. Furthermore, it places the blame for the economic violence of climate change squarely on the companies that fuel it, rather than on those consumers who can’t afford to “buy green.” Continue reading ‘Divestment listening tour connects students and anti-coal activists’

Wow, Best Video Explaining Why Climate Change is Really, Really Freaky

Why Climate Change is really, really freaky

Entirely surrounded: Protesters encircle White House, close in on tar sands industry

This post was originally posted on Waging Nonviolence and was authored by Bryan Farrell.

“We don’t know how many people it takes to encircle the White House, but we’re about to find out,” Bill McKibben told a crowd of over 12,000 gathered in Lafayette Square on Sunday afternoon.

Such a prospect would have been hard to imagine eleven weeks earlier, when McKibben was standing in the same park with no more than a hundred people listening. It was the first day of what would become a two-week long campaign of mass civil disobedience targeting the planned construction of TransCanada’s 1,700-mile KeystoneXL oil pipeline from the tar sands of Northern Alberta to the refineries of the Texas Gulf Coast.

Shortly before leading a group of 65 people (including this author) into the DC jail system for the next two nights, McKibben told the small crowd, “We’ve already succeeded in nationalizing this fight in a way no one thought was possible. It’s not just a group of people along the pipeline route who are opposing this project anymore. People from all 50 states will be joining us over the coming weeks.”

He was right. Over 1,200 people from across the United States and Canada with all different kinds of backgrounds—farmers, ranchers, Gulf Coast residents, faith leaders, indigenous people and climate activists—came to put their bodies on the line and send a clear message to the president that tar sands oil is a death sentence for the planet. Many echoed the words of NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who said further development of the tar sands would be “game over for the planet.”

What no one could have expected on that day in August was the explosion of mass sustained protest that would soon follow in this country. Occupy Wall Street was only in the planning stages at that point, but its emergence weeks later helped foster the sense that change is only going to come through dedication and relentless pressure.

In the two months since the last tar sands protester was arrested, a series of calamitous events has befallen the pipeline and what seemed like a rubber-stamped process leading up to its construction. First a scandal emerged, detailing a cozy relationship between TransCanada and the State Department, the US Agency tasked with determining whether the pipeline is in the “national interest.” Uncovered emails show that the State Department allowed TransCanada to play a major role in choosing the firm that conducted the pipeline’s environmental impact study.

Then, last week, it was revealed that the State Department lost tens of thousands of public comments on the pipeline and wouldn’t say how the remaining will be handled. And finally, just days ago, the Washington Post did a little digging into the industry’s reports on job creation only to discover that the numbers are based on fabrication and fuzzy math.

There’s little doubt these trip-ups would have occurred—let alone surfaced—if not for the continued pressure of the tar sands organizers and protesters. Over the course of those two months, they protested at Obama campaign events, gained the support of the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and seven other Nobel Peace Laureates, and found allies in Congress and the Senate. Even celebrities like Robert Redford and Marc Ruffalo took up their cause.

Perhaps sensing the shift in winds and it’s potential blowback effect on the 2012 presidential elections, President Obama stepped forward last week and addressed the issue for the first time, saying that he would take full ownership for the final decision—something that only a day earlier his press secretary said would be made by the State Department. He also made it clear that he was not going to let the red herring that is the jobs versus the environment debate cloud his decision, adding, “I think folks in Nebraska, like all across the country, aren’t going to say to themselves, “We’ll take a few thousand jobs if it means that our kids are potentially drinking water that would damage their health…” Continue reading ‘Entirely surrounded: Protesters encircle White House, close in on tar sands industry’

President Obama Abandons Clean Air: Picks Polluters Over Sick and Dying American Kids.

Sierra Club Coal Ad - MiaIn a sickening (literally) move, President Obama has told the Environmental Protection Agency to abandon their plans to protect kids from toxic air pollution, siding with big polluters like Exxon, Koch Industries, and their sock-puppet the US Chamber of Commerce over the health and safety of America’s youth.

The EPA did their job, following scientific advice, hearing from impacted communities, environmental justice, and health organizations. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson worked to set new standards for communities, which would have helped protect kids and keep people working instead of out of work sick or in the ER taking care of their kids and likely spurred investments in scrubbers and pollution control equipment manufactured here in the United States.

Instead, the President sided with the US Chamber of Commerce, echoing the very language they used in their letter scrambling to find justifications for why these polluting corporations wanted to put off essential protections for the lives and health of kids and seniors exposed to toxic air pollutants. The Chamber of Commerce, reveling in the power they are exercising in a post-Citizens United world of unlimited corporate cash in US elections, said:

U.S. Chamber Praises White House Decision to Withdraw Potentially Disastrous Ozone Standards
Donohue Calls Move a ‘Big First Step in What Needs to be a Broader Regulatory Reform Effort’. Source

This is after over a thousand people have been arrested in front of the White House, desperately trying to get President Obama to halt the Keystone XL pipeline that the nation’s top climate scientist said would be ‘game over’ for the climate, if built. A White House conspicuously without solar panels, that the Administration had promised to install by this spring. Another in a string of promises broken and priorities downgraded on the environmental front. As the protestors outside the White House have been singing, “Pick a side Obama”, and it appears that he has.

70 People Arrested in Opening Day of Tar Sands Action

Our Editor, Christine Irvine at Tar Sands Action. Source: Shadia Wood

70 people from across the US and Canada were arrested at the White House this morning for the first day of a two week sit-in aimed at pressuring President Obama to deny the permit for a massive new oil pipeline. Over 2,000 more people are expected to join the daily civil disobedience over the coming days.

At stake is what has quickly become the largest environmental test for President Obama before the 2012 election. The President must choose whether or not to grant a Canadian company a permit to build a 1,700 mile pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the gulf of mexico.

Environmentalists warn that the pipeline could cause a BP disaster right in America’s heartland, over the largest source of fresh drinking water in the country. The world’s top climatologist, Dr. James Hansen, has warned that if the Canadian tar sands are fully developed it could be “game over” for the climate.

“It’s not the easiest thing on earth for law-abiding folk to come risk arrest. But this pipeline has emerged as the single clear test of the president’s willingness to fight for the environment,” said environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, who is spearheading the protests and was arrested this morning. “So I wore my Obama ’08 button, and I carry a great deal of hope in my heart that we will see that old Obama emerge. It’s hot out here today, especially when you’re wearing a suit and tie. But it’s nowhere near as hot as it’s going to get if we lose this fight.”

McKibben was amongst those arrested today, along with the co-founder of NRDC and former White House official Gus Speth, gay rights activist Lt. Dan Choi, author and activist Mike Tidwell, Firedoglake founder Jane Hamsher, and many others. Continue reading ’70 People Arrested in Opening Day of Tar Sands Action’

Ignore Your Lying Eyes: Climate Disasters Are Here.

Cross-posted from the new Thinkprogress Green.

VIDEO: ‘A LINK BETWEEN CLIMATE CHANGE AND JOPLIN TORNADOES? NEVER.’ | Watch and share this powerful visualization of Bill McKibben’s scathing Washington Post op-ed on our dangerously polluted world, narrated by Stephen Thomson:

Watch the UK’s Direct Climate Action Heroes in: Just Do It!

This is a guest post from Molly James of Just Do It, an exciting new film documenting the direct action heroes of the UK.
Greetings from across the pond! I arrived on English tarmac from DC two months ago, a blaze with excitement to join the post production team of Just Do It – a tale of modern-day outlaws. Just Do It tells the story of the UK’s most secretive and exciting activist movement, environmental civil disobedience.
With unprecedented access, director Emily James spent over a year with some of the UK’s biggest trouble makers, documenting their clandestine activities. Just do It gives you an astonishing inside look at a community of citizens who put their bodies in the way. They super-glue themselves to bank trading floors, blockade factories and attack coal power stations en-masse, all with wit, creativity and fun. Sick of waiting on politicians, lobbyists and international bodies to change the world, many in the UK activist movement have taken up the mantle of civil disobedience; and let me tell you they wear it well. I’ve seen first-hand how groups use consensus decision-making to enact demonstrations that are playful, fun and effective.
Just yesterday, adorned in fake bandages, I joined a few dozen citizens dressed as nurses and doctors to transform a nearby bank into a mock hospital. This was just one of the 40 actions organized as part of UK Uncut’s Emergency Operation, a national day of action to protest cuts to the UK’s National Health Service. Standing inside the Islington branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland which is not only a massive bailout recipient but one of the world’s foremost investors in the tar sands, I felt a sense of empowerment that you just can’t get from signing a online petition. Continue reading ‘Watch the UK’s Direct Climate Action Heroes in: Just Do It!’

On Mother’s Day, Hundreds of Events for iMatter March

In 25 countries on five continents, the next generation of youth climate activists are participating in the iMatter march by taking to the streets and to the courts to demand action. Here at It’s Getting Hot in Here, we have seen a youth climate movement explode in Montreal, grow up (quite literally) organizing events like Power Shift, and launching organizations like 350.org, Summer of Solutions, the Indian Youth Climate Network, and so many more.
Yet, sometimes when the energy starts to flag you look back and realize there is another generation, even younger and with new passion, learning from the tools built by organizations like 350.org and Avaaz.org to bring more young people than ever together to take on the climate challenge. Today is one of the those days and I am very excited to welcome a generation of teenagers who have been fighting their whole life as a teenager for action on global warming. Today, the work of one of the these teenagers, joined by hundreds of organizers like himself, has come to fruition at the iMatter March. Let’s hear them in their own words:
“We trust our leaders to protect the planet, but our government is more focused on profits than our futures,” said Alec Loorz, the 16-year-old visionary of iMatter, who has been tirelessly working on the issue of climate change and global sustainability for the past three years. “World leaders aren’t moving fast enough to confront this crisis, so my generation is stepping up to demand progress. It’s not about money or convenience – our future is at stake.”
The iMatter movement has grown quickly because youth worldwide feel the urgency of the crisis and are ready to stand up for themselves. Overwhelmingly the marches have been organized by teens no older than 16, mobilizing for the first time around an issue they know will affect their future. Among the 100+ marches are:
· San Francisco, CA: iMatter founder Alec Loorz will be joined by Ted Turner, Story of Stuff creator Annie Leonard and other teens, parents and grandparents from across California.
· Salt Lake City, UT: A team of high school students and their mentors have announced a marching parade with walking “floats” organized by different groups. When the Utah Department of Transportation imposed stiff fees and unreasonable roadblocks to getting a permit, the kids approached the Utah ACLU to fight these unconstitutional limits on free speech. More at www.imattermarchutah.org
· Kuwait City, Kuwait: The 17 year-old son of an oil executive has organized a march of his peers.
· Munich, Germany: Led by 13 year old Felix Finkbeiner, who leads Plant for the Planet, a non-profit organization of youth worldwide who are committed to planting one million trees per country.  Felix and his friends are leading 4 marches in Germany and two in Mexico.
“If we wait any longer to start decisive action against global warming, our children are likely to face drastic consequences,” said Dr. James Hansen, one of the nation’s leading climatologists, who will be joining the Washington, DC march with his grandchildren.
Earlier this week, young people nationwide initiated legal and administrative actions in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government to force action on climate change. This effort is the first time climate litigation has ever gone back to the bedrock legal principal that the government must protect the public trust. It’s being led by a high-profile legal team,  including former Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey and his firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.

Continue reading ‘On Mother’s Day, Hundreds of Events for iMatter March’

Power Shift 2011: the End of Business as Usual

Ten thousand young activists descended on Washington, D.C. and just as suddenly left, leaving behind a trail of protest signs, guerrilla posters on the tar sands on virtually every street corner in Chinatown, and a number of summons for court dates for direct actions. Those activists are taking with them their crash training  in the grassroots organizing skills and storytelling that propelled much of the field operation of the 2008 Obama campaign, as well as new connections and a flurry of new Facebook friends. However, the lasting legacy of Power Shift 2011 will be declaration that the youth climate movement is no longer willing to play by the rules, to no longer accept business as usual.

At Power Shift 2009, everything seemed to be lined up for a clean victory. Van Jones, the keynote of the 2007 conference, was going to be the new Green Jobs czar, almost every high ranking administration official came for a rockstar welcome and made huge promises, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Chairman Ed Markey promised a climate bill. Big environmental organizations weren’t exactly praised for their strategies to move climate legislation, but there was this sense that with this President, this Congress, and the momentum behind them fueled by their generation’s political engagement, we were going to see real change.

Instead, while Speaker Pelosi held up her end of the bargain, they watched as they were cut out of a process dominated by backroom deals by major environmental organizations, un-transparent ‘war rooms’, and a hostile senate and indifferent President. The narrative of the tea party dominated the year, bankrolled by mountains of corporate cash, as the health care fight seemingly exhausted the policy making capacity of the Democratic party, but those youth activists were not called upon, brought in, or presented with a way to engage. Even the worst environmental disaster in recent history, the Gulf Oil spill, seemed to derail progress, with a feckless response by the US government.

So, they came to Power Shift, this year, pissed off and determined not to take a back seat again. Speeches by Bill McKibben, Van Jones, and Tim DeChristopher hammered home the idea that change was not going to come without radical changes to business as usual. In fact, the US Chamber of Commerce, seen by many of the face of American business, was singled out for its mask slipping and it being revealed as a front group for big polluters trying to appropriate the mom and pop image of local chambers of commerce to block climate legislation. Direct action, sit-ins, movement building, and working to get people out into the streets were prioritized over lobbying and other politer political activity.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81EZUkYzrxU] Continue reading ‘Power Shift 2011: the End of Business as Usual’

Power Shift 2011: Join The Briefcase Brigades On April 27

Our guest blogger is Noland Chambliss, a member of the Briefcase Brigades.

Ten thousand young people descended on Washington for the Power Shift conference this weekend to call for bold action from government leaders to address climate change and create a clean energy economy for all. Many of these young people had a more specific, and personal, message for Congress: “I need a job.”

Inspired by passionate speeches addressing youth unemployment by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and green jobs visionary Van Jones, the members of the Briefcase Brigades are bringing attention to the epidemic of un- and under-employed millennials:

We are ready to work. We know the economy is in bad shape. We know the country is in trouble. We want to help. But first, we need jobs.

Watch the story of the Briefcase Brigades at Power Shift 2011:

On April 27th, while Congress is in recess and members are back in their districts, young people are creating Briefcase Brigades and going to their offices all around the country to demand Congress prioritize jobs over budget cuts.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 5 million young people who are out of work. That doesn’t count people with unpaid internships, people with low-wage jobs that don’t have health insurance, and people who went back to school because they couldn’t find a job. Continue reading ‘Power Shift 2011: Join The Briefcase Brigades On April 27′

Richard Graves

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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