Social Movement and the Climate Change fight

Mark Hertsgaard and daughter Chiara

The Fall 2011 National Climate Seminar series hosted by Bard CEP wrapped up yesterday with Mark Hertsgaard, author of “Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth.” The conversation encompassed the relevance of the Occupy Wallstreet protests to climate change initiatives, the UN climate change conference in Durban, and the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Mr. Hertsgaard illustrated many of the important connections that exist between the Occupy Wallstreet movement and the climate change fight. While Occupy Wallstreet does not explicitly reference climate change often, “the emergence of the occupy movement is the most hopeful political development in the United States in many years, certainly at least since the election three years ago of Barack Obama,” according to Mr. Hertsgaard. Climate change activists could take direction from the success of the Occupy Wallstreet movement by creating a national dialogue and capturing the world’s attention.

Protesters in Durban. Photo credit: Reuters/Mike Hutchings

With the COP17/CMP7 UN Climate Change Conference in Durban coming to a close, the stakes are higher than ever, however very little progress has been made. As seen in previous climate negotiations, the US continues to drag is feet when pressed to make real commitments to reduce emissions, going back on President Obama’s campaign promises. The US is once again refusing to accept any proposals put forth by the EU until China and India do so as well. Appropriately, Grist has an interesting post this week on  “Which countries fail the most at climate leadership.” Not surprisingly, the US is near the bottom of the list. Hertsgaard’s recommendation: “We need push from the ground up and vote people out of office who are dragging their feet.”

Concurrently in San Fransisco, the American Geophysical Union is hosting it’s 2011 fall meeting bringing together many of the top climate scientists for a week of panels and presentations. Included in this gathering is NASA climate scientist James Hansen who was part of a press conference on December 6th entitled, “Paleoclimate record points to potential rapid climate changes.” Bard CEP Environmental Science Professor Becca Barnes is attending the conference and presenting a poster on biochar.

Beyond Coal campaigners. Photo Credit: beyondcoal.org

When questioned about what climate change activists should focus on following the victory in delaying the Keystone Pipeline, Hertsgaard referenced his article in The Nation about NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $50 million donation to the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign. The first stage of the campaign has been very successful, creating a de facto moratorium on the construction of new coal-fired power plants. This coordinated effort by the Sierra Club has succeeded in blocking plans for 160 new coal-fired power plants. Now, activists are looking ahead to phase two of the “Beyond Coal” campaign, shutting down existing coal-fired power plants across the country and replacing them with alternative green energy. Hopefully, the knowledge gained through the successful first part of the campaign can be translated to the broader climate fight.

The spring line-up for the National Climate Seminar will include Billy Parish on his new book: Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money and Community in a Changing World; Tony Leiserowitz on Climate Communication; and Cynthia Rosenzweig on climate and agriculture. Look for the full schedule in January. Podcasts of the conversation with Mark Hertsgaard and of previous NCS conversations are available here.

We are proud to announce that the first cohort of C2C Fellows was inaugurated this past weekend at Bard College! Over 25 young people aspiring to sustainability leadership in politics and business gathered here for a weekend leadership skills training. These are the future leaders who will determine just how hot it does get over their lifetimes. Apply now to be part of upcoming C2C Fellows programs at the University of Georgia (February 10th-12th) and at Oberlin College (April 6th-8th). Or sign up to stay informed about C2C Fellows.

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