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Divest M&M’s: How to De-Fund Big Coal on March 28

3rr36oWith campus, congregation, and city divestment campaigns taking off across the country, there’s never been so much momentum to de-fund the fossil fuel companies destroying the planet.  As Bill McKibben has so convincingly argued, we need to cut off fossil fuel giants’ money if we’re going to keep from passing disastrous climate tipping points.  

It’s with this inspiring backdrop that activists in Montana are calling for a day of action targeting the finances of one of Big Coal’s most destructive projects.  If you’re running a campus divestment campaign, and can spare a little of that energy to stop one of the planet’s worst carbon bombs – or if you’re not yet part of the divestment movement, and want a way to get involved – you can help.

Sign up to participate in the March 28th day of action

Here’s the background: In 2011, billionaire Forrest Mars Jr. of Mars Inc. (think M&M’s) bought a stake in the Tongue River Railroad (TRR) project in Montana.  Like the Keystone XL pipeline, the TRR threatens to open up huge reserves of buried carbon to development.  Instead of oil though, it would transport coal from Montana’s Tongue River Valley, a largely undeveloped region in the Powder River Basin.

There’s currently no mining in Montana’s Tongue River Valley.  The TRR would change that, by making huge areas accessible to the coal industry.  Most coal from the area would be exported, fueling a new generation of coal-fired power plants overseas.  Trains passing through towns in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington would expose communities to toxic coal dust and diesel fumes.

Protect communities from dirty coal by registering a local action

How did Forrest Mars get involved?  He owns a ranch in the Tongue River Valley that originally would have been bisected by the TRR.  For years Mars opposed the railroad, until he bought a share in it and used his influence to re-route it around his land.  Now Forrest Mars is one of three investors in the TRR, along with Arch Coal and Berkshire Hathaway.  He’s using a fortune largely built by selling kids candy to finance a project that will destroy those kids’ future.

That’s where we come in.  On March 28th, in communities across the country, volunteer activists will visit stores that sell Mars products, to re-label candy packages with removable stickers that let shoppers know what their purchase may be paying for.  Here’s what it looks like:

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You can help by holding a stickering action in your community.  By targeting the Mars brand, and convincing Mars Inc that it’s bad business to be associated with coal, we can pressure Forrest Mars to drop his investment in the Tongue River Railroad.  It’s the first step toward getting the money out of coal in the Powder River Basin.

Ready to take action?  Read more about how to hold a successful stickering action, or sign up to hold an action in your community right now!

Youth Call Out Fossil Fuel Companies & Obama Leadership Failure at Doha Climate Talks

This post was written by SustainUS delegate Anirudh Sridhar and cross-posted on youthclimate.org

Youth call out fossil fuel industry corruption at Doha climate negotiations. Credit: Kyle Gracey/SustainUS

Youth call out fossil fuel industry corruption at Doha climate negotiations. Credit: Kyle Gracey/SustainUS

When Hitchcock’s first black bird landed on the frame of the playing ground, it seemed individual, particular. There was no need to derive a common theory about the bird in the larger scheme of things as a harbinger of anything significant. By the time the children looked out the window again, 4 more birds had arrived. Soon, the sky had become dark with the descent of an avian blanket of hundreds of birds. As delegates entered the U.N convention center at Doha for the second week of the COP 18 in Doha, they saw the first bird perched atop the escalators.

SustainUS, a youth led organization, along with Taiwan Youth Climate Coalition and Canadian Youth Climate Coalition gathered around the entrance of the convention center and stood disenchanted and disenfranchised from the process, with a somber gloom. They held black cancerous spots that had been clogging the arteries of the negotiations, speaking about the chronic and acute influence of the fossil fuel industry on the levers of global climate change policy.

Mike Sandmel, the media chair of SustainUS and co-organizer of the event stated that “we hear a lot of stories about countries being painted as evil actors as if they were monolithic. Often, even in the choke points of the climate negotiations, there is a huge internal struggle for the environmental soul of the country. The fossil fuel industries control the strings of the country’s fate because of their financial influence and this event is to bring it out in the open.” As the delegates went past the signs that read “Fossil fuel industry groups spent upwards of $376 million on TV ads to influence 2012 elections in the US.” and “Preventing the tragedies of a  2°C temperature rise means staying within a carbon budget of 565 gigatons”, their minds were arrested as their bodies glided limply past. There were a few skeptical voices heard as one delegate from India remarked “Do these people not know that half the world’s population doesn’t have electricity?” Mostly, as the delegations passed, they documented the event in film while the media rushed onto the scene to get the individual perspectives.

Democracy Now interviewed Chi Tung-Hsien, a Taiwanese youth, and he said “Hurricane Sandy has recently shaken Americans awake from a deep sleep about the disastrous effects of climate change. In Taiwan, Sandy is the norm. With mudslides, a food crisis that is likely to lead the country into famine and constant threat of the rising oceans on their island, they live at the constant mercy of climate change.” Continue reading ‘Youth Call Out Fossil Fuel Companies & Obama Leadership Failure at Doha Climate Talks’

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’

NW Communities Act to Halt Coal Exports, Call for More Action

Across the Northwest people are taking action to prevent coal export projects from derailing our clean energy future.  This is a movement that began in port towns.  Now it is spreading as, inspired by communities like Longview and Bellingham, towns and cities across the region take action to halt coal exports.

This weekend saw one of the most far-reaching bursts of coal-related activism the region has witnessed, as residents of three states participated in a weekend of action to stop coal exports, and called for further action.  In places like Olympia, Washington; Missoula, Montana; and Eugene and Portland, Oregon, Northwest residents visited elected officials, staged banner-drops from local landmarks, and rallied their communities to reclaim our future from fossil fuel giants.

In Portland on Sunday, members of the Cascade Climate Network and Portland Rising Tide scaled a billboard for a banner drop, while forty people gathered below spelled out “No Coal Exports” and “Export CEOs.”

“Big coal knowingly poisons our land, water and communities for the sake of their bottom line,” said Chelsea Thaw of the
Cascade Climate Network.  “Coal is the biggest contributor to global climate change, and as we teeter on the threshold of climate chaos we must reject all coal infrastructure.”

Two days earlier, Eugene and Olympia took action.  In Olympia, Washington students met with elected officials and urged them to deny coal export terminal permits.  In Oregon, the group No Coal Eugene dropped a banner reading “Stop the Coal Train” from a multi-story parking lot.  Eugene is one of many cities that could soon see dirty, polluting coal trains running through town on their way to new export sites, if coal companies get their way.

On Sunday in Missoula, the student-run Blue Skies Campaign and Occupy Missoula held a March Against Coal Exports after Rocky Mountain Power Shift.  The group stopped by the offices of members of Congress who have sided with the coal industry.  They also visited Wells Fargo, one of the top 20 funders of coal, to hold a die-in and turn ATMs into truth machines.  The march ended with a banner drop above Orange Street, which dips below tracks owned by Montana Rail Link used to transport coal, and with a call for an even larger mass mobilization this summer.

Continue reading ‘NW Communities Act to Halt Coal Exports, Call for More Action’

Fossil fuel industry, look out: Campus Sustainability + Occupy = Divestment

Swarthmore College and several other campuses have launched a campaign to divest from fossil fuels. Read why and get involved in the campaign!

by Blair Halcyon

SWARTHMORE, PA — On campuses across the country, students are writing a new chapter in the youth environmental justice movement. The last five years of student organizing have won huge victories. “Sustainability” is on the tip of every college administrator’s tongue, and 674 institutions have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment to long-term carbon neutrality. Colleges have taken real leadership in the fight for climate justice.

If one thing is clear, though, it’s that we haven’t won yet. The United States and other countries continue to block any international progress on confronting climate change. Mountaintop removal coal mining still devastates communities in Appalachia. A misguided push toward fracking is causing deadly water contamination here in Pennsylvania and across America. And, while we had a big victory on the Keystone XL pipeline, tar sands oil extraction continues to threaten the health of First Nations peoples and menace the global climate.

This is why a new wave of students is bringing new urgency to the movement. We’re following in the footsteps of our predecessors who fought for carbon neutrality, and bringing an Occupy-inspired awareness that money at the heart of our social and environmental ills. American universities collectively invest over 350 billion dollars. Believe it or not, a lot of that money goes to propping up the dirty, dangerous and outdated fossil fuel industry. Here at Swarthmore, a group of students came together because we just couldn’t sit around and watch this happen. We couldn’t stay silent while our school pours money into companies that are making people sick and destroying the planet. Along with students at UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Illinois, and several other schools, we are demanding that our schools divest our money from the fossil fuel industry.

This divestment campaign will be an uphill battle, so entwined are our endowments with fossil fuels. Despite their commitments to sustainability and social justice, Swarthmore President Rebecca Chopp and other administrators have learned to think of the college’s investments as entirely unrelated to the values of the institution. They work within a bureaucracy that is structurally resistant to change. And the dominant, outdated and flawed logic of investment finance tells them that any restriction on the college’s investments will result in diminished returns. All of these factors cause them to ignore the contradiction between values and investment practices, or deny they exist.

Fortunately, our position as students, as young people, and as idealists allows us to see the obvious contradiction. Swarthmore’s relationship to its ideals is a tangle of moral knots that needs untying. We refuse to be bogged down by the cynical belief that change is not possible, or the heartless belief that it is not necessary. We negotiate, we organize, we antagonize, we educate, we delve into the tangle because we know we can chart a new course forward for Swarthmore, just as the nationwide fossil fuel divestment movement seeks to chart a new course for our whole society.

We are not willing to settle for a college that exists in moral purgatory. It is not enough to reduce on-campus energy consumption—colleges must prevent their dollars from subsidizing filthy energy companies elsewhere. We need our colleges to confront the contradiction between their investments and their values. Frontline communities—those most impacted by extraction and climate change—demand it. Our personal and institutional commitments to struggle against injustice require it. Lives are at stake every day. Through divestment, colleges can unequivocally proclaim that they stand for sustainability, justice, and human decency.

To learn more about our campaign at Swarthmore or to get involved, email SwarthmoreMJ@gmail.com.

BREAKING: Activists Scale Coal Plant in Asheville, NC

UPDATE:  The 16 activists who pulled off 4 actions at the same plant have now left the site and been taken into custody. What an amazing job they did,  let’s all hope they are safe and well and get out of jail soon.

Early this morning Greenpeace activists entered the coal-burning Asheville Power Station owned by Progress Energy (soon to be owned by Duke Energy). Activists have locked down to the coal loader and have scaled the 400 foot tall smoke stack. Banners read: Duke and Progress Energy:  Stop Destroying Mountains.

Images: http://www.flickr.com/photos/greenpeaceusa09/sets/72157629244871679/with/6869572913/

Follow the Action: http://quitcoal.org/

WATCH: SMOKESTACK BANNER:
http://vp.mgnetwork.net/viewer.swf?u=434e0a46a7ce102faba2001ec92a4a0d&z=SPA&embed_player=1
Continue reading ‘BREAKING: Activists Scale Coal Plant in Asheville, NC’

Climate Activist Punks Big Oil’s “Vote4Energy” Commercial Shoot

Posted on Behalf of Connor Gibson, Greenpeace Activist.

If you had the chance to talk to Big Oil directly to its big oily face, what would you want to say?

I recently had such a chance at a commercial shoot run by the American Petroleum Institute, the major lobbying and public relations front for the oil industry (ie ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, TransCanada and just about every major oil company). Here’s what I had to say:

Through recorded audio, we got to expose API’s upcoming “Vote4Energy” campaign, which debuts January first on CNN during major political programs. Audio recordings from inside the Vote4Energy commercial shoot can be found on the Greenpeace website, and on Yahoo News. More can also be found at the Checks and Balances Project, where Deputy Director and youth climate leader Gabe Elsner has more recordings from inside the shoot.

Continue reading ‘Climate Activist Punks Big Oil’s “Vote4Energy” Commercial Shoot’

How the People Got Their Groove Back: What a Bunch of Farmers Can Teach a Bunch of Occupiers About How to Keep on Going

[Written by Ash Sanders. Originally published as a zine, which you can download and print (6 double-sided sheets folded into a 24 half-page booklet). Online version cross-posted from peacefuluprising.org]

Not so long ago, Americans witnessed the beginning of a mass democratic uprising. Thousands of average people, disgusted by greedy elites and corporate control of government, launched a movement that spread to almost every state in the nation. They did it to reject debt. They did it to fight foreclosures. They did it to topple a world where the 1 percent determined life for the other 99. And they did all of it against incredible odds, with a self-respect that stymied critics.

The year? 1877. The people? Dirt-poor farmers who would come to be known as Populists.

Now it’s 2011, and the People are stirring again. It’s been over two months since a few hundred dreamers pitched their tents in Zuccotti Park and stayed.

These people weren’t Populists, but they had the same complaints. They couldn’t make rent. They had no future. They lived in a nation with one price for the rich and another for the poor. And they knew that whatever anyone said that they didn’t have real democracy.

Okay, and so what? What do a bunch of century-dead farmers have to do with the Occupy movement? Well, quite a lot, actually.

You see, the Populists came within an inch of changing the entire corporate-capitalist system. They wanted a totally new world, and they had a plan to get it. But as you may have noticed, they didn’t. And now here we are, one hundred years later, occupying parks where fields once stood. We’re at a crucial phase in our movement, standing just now with the great Everything around us—everything to win or everything to lose. It’s our choice. And that’s good, because the choices we make next will echo, not just for scholars and bored kids in history class, but in the lives we do or don’t get to have. The good news is this: the Populists traveled in wagons and left us their wheels. We don’t have to reinvent them. We’re going in a new direction, but I have a feeling they can help us get there.

Occupy has done a lot of things right, and even more things beautifully. But strategy has not been our forte. That was okay at first, even good. We didn’t have one demand, because we wanted it all. So we let our anger grow, and our imagination with it. We were not partisan or monogamous to one creed. That ranging anger got 35,000 people on the Brooklyn Bridge after the Wall Street eviction, and hell if I’m not saying hallelujah. But winter is settling now, and cops are on the march. Each week we face new eviction orders, and wonder how to occupy limbo.

It’s time for a plan, then, some idea for going forward. This plan should in no way replace the rhizomatic-glorious, joyful-rip-roarious verve of the movement so far. It can occur in tandem. But we need a blueprint for the future, because strategy is the road resistance walks to freedom.

In that spirit, I sat down a few years ago and devoted myself to studying social movements of the past. I wanted to see what I could learn from them—where they went wrong, where they went right. I didn’t trust this exercise to random musings. No, like a good Type A kid, I made butcher paper lists of past movement features and mapped them onto current ones. I asked: What is the revolt of the guard for the climate movement? What’s the modern anti-corporate equivalent of the Boston Tea Party?

As I read, I learned a lot about the phases movements go through as they form, what common features they share, and what often breaks them apart.

I could name these phases myself, but it’s already been done. And no one has named them better than historian Lawrence Goodwyn, a thinking human if there ever was one and the author of The Populist Moment.

Goodwyn said that successful movements go through four stages:

Continue reading ‘How the People Got Their Groove Back: What a Bunch of Farmers Can Teach a Bunch of Occupiers About How to Keep on Going’

Montana Youth Call for a Weekend of Action Against Coal Exports

Note: yesterday a group of youth activists at the University of Montana (including myself) drafted a call for a weekend of action to protect communities from the coal exports industry.  Coal export projects may well be the largest single threat to the planet right now; and those of us in the heart of coal country need all the help we can get to win this fight. Please see below for the official call to action.

Call for a Weekend of Action to Stop Coal Exports

We, youth climate activists at the University of Montana, are calling for a regional weekend of action to protect the greater Northwest from coal exports.  The action will coincide with the weekend of Rocky Mountain Power Shift, February 17th-19th.  That weekend, hundreds of youth climate activists will converge on the University of Montana campus to exchange success stories, hear from movement leaders, learn from each other, and take action to promote solutions to climate change.

On Sunday, Feb 19th, we will march through downtown Missoula to protest an increase in coal exports (this action is not officially endorsed by Power Shift in any way).  We will draw attention to key politicians and industries who are financing and pushing coal export proposals.

If we can show that people across the greater Northwest region are concerned about this issue, we will dramatically increase our chances of success.  We are asking you to organize an action in your community on the weekend of Feb 18th, in solidarity with this region-wide effort.

If coal exports increase, it will further jeopardize the health of communities along the rail line, from eastern Montana to the West Coast.  Coal trains are a source of toxic coal dust and diesel fumes, noise pollution, and traffic congestion.  Energy companies plant to ship Montana coal to China and nearby countries, where it will be burned and contribute to climate change and global mercury pollution.

We appreciate any support you can give us in the fight against increased coal exports.  You can take action in your hometown by leading a march, rallying on a street corner, holding a teach-in, lobbying elected officials, or coming up with some other type of action….get creative!

Here in Montana, we are organizing in the heart of coal country.  However, this issue affects all of us.  To make progress toward the goal of stopping exports and protecting our communities, we need your help.  Let us know if you can hold an action the weekend of February 18th, by filling out the form at this link.  Thanks for anything you can do, and let’s work together to bring about a cleaner, brighter future!

Blue Skies & Coal Don’t Mix Campaign at the University of Montana

Youth Confront Fossil Industries in Eugene

Direct action as a tactic for confronting the fossil fuel industries is sweeping the United States – and recently took the form of a creative protest immediately after Power Shift West in Eugene, Oregon.  Right after the official Power Shift conference ended, youth activists embarked on an un-permitted march which visited three outposts of industries and government entities that threaten a stable climate and the livability of our planet.  Held in solidarity with the Tar Sands Action in DC that same day, the march was designed to springboard the type of movement-building solutions needed to truly address the climate crisis.

The first stop along the march route was Safeway – a corporation using oil from the Canadian Tar Sands to fuel its vehicle fleets.  Unlike companies including Whole Foods and Bed Bath & Beyond, Safeway has not taken any significant steps to phase out tar sands oil – even after being pressed to do so by environmental groups like ForestEthics.  Since Safeway doesn’t seem to believe its customers care about the impact of the tar sands, we decided to prove them wrong by “returning” dozens of paper bags from Safeway, complete with a giant receipt of purchase.

Next we paid a visit to Bank of America, the biggest financier of coal in the United States.  In the Pacific Northwest, Bank of America is funding companies that are pushing coal export terminals and other destructive coal industry infrastructure.  Every B of A branch is essentially a climate crime scene; so in recognition of this fact, participants in the march strung caution tape and warning signs between the pillars at the Eugene branch.  A die-in outside the bank, some messages scrolled in chalk, and a bit of creative street theater rounded out the B of A action.

Our last stop was at the Eugene Democrats campaign office headquarters, where march participants pledged dozens of volunteer hours to fight for clean energy over the next year.  Calling on the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and harness the power youth activists ready to devote their time to a candidate who stands up for the climate, we joined with thousands of people across the country who are ready to see the President take the kind of bold stance that will re-energize his base for the 2012 elections. Continue reading ‘Youth Confront Fossil Industries in Eugene’


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