Director Goodstein’s thoughts on the Rise and Fall of the Climate Movement

Director Goodstein’s thoughts on the Rise and Fall of the Climate Movement

Over the last decade, and building especially through Obama’s election, the power of grassroots pressure for clean energy almost got the country past gridlock in D.C..

But now, through media meltdowns around hackergate and “global cooling”, Ted Kennedy’s death and the collapse of the Democratic super-majority, the failure of the BP blow-out to galvanize momentum, and the biggest heartbreak of all, absence of forceful leadership from Obama, there will be no climate leadership coming out of Washington this year. At best, we are looking at a utilities-only carbon cap, with weak targets.

Clean energy advocates also look to lose ground in the mid-term elections this fall, taking carbon cuts off the table for another two years. Bob Inglis, a rare Republican congressional supporter, is already gone, having lost his South Carolina primary. But in 2012, buoyed by a halting economic recovery, the President’s rebounding personal popularity, and Tea-Party extremism, Obama could be re-elected, regaining significant congressional support. Following more hot summers, and—very key—the revival of a strong grassroots climate movement, climate legislation mandating significant cuts by 2020 could pass in the first 100 days of the Obama’s second term.

In this current political cycle, U.S. climate activism peaked too soon. With Obama’s election, the wind left the grassroots’ sails. Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth and Live Earth are now distant memories. Powershift’s incredible national mobilizations of students ended in the spring of 2009, as did our National Teach-Ins. Bill McKibben’s day of action last fall—a spectacular international success—seemed to gain less domestic political traction then did earlier Step-It-Up events. And in 2010—with the climate debate finally live, in the U.S. Senate?

No significant climate actions, no media attention, no political momentum.

What happened to the clean energy movement, that two years ago seemed vibrant and ascendant? I am not sure—and would welcome your thoughts. The economic collapse? Well-funded counterattacks? A failure to get political? Irresponsible media? The disappearance of “bad-guy” Bush? A belief that Obama would solve the problem? Regardless— the underlying climate dynamic remains. Business as usual is likely to heat up the planet by around 9 degrees F—an Ice Age swing in global temperatures only in the opposite direction—within our children’s lifetimes.

Unless we can spark a clean energy revolution.

There is still time. Despite IPCC Chair Pachuaris’ 2007 declaration, action that comes in 2013 won’t be too late to stabilize the climate. For the next few years, the key challenge remains political, not technical or economic. But by 2013, it will be too late to reach 20%-plus cuts by 2020 as cheaply as if we started now. Every year we wait raises the difficulty and cost.

Social gains in America have never come easily: abolitionists and labor organizers, civil rights and suffrage leaders, all faced setbacks and brutal opposition. In the end, they won, passing national legislation that changed the future.

So, get over discouragement and burn-out. Time to rebuild a climate movement that can engage and mobilize millions of Americans. Five places to start:

· Clean energy advocates are organizing a massive phone-banking effort the last week of July. Sign-up with 1-Sky, and organize your friends to push for the strongest policy we can get this year.

· Work like hell for the clean energy candidate in your state or district. If in California, do the same to defeat Proposition 23.

· Support 350’s 10/10/10 day of action.

· If you are a student or teacher, or know one, be part of our C2C (Campus-to-Congress) movement, coming this fall.

· Join the Citizen’s Climate Summit—help bring thousands of grassroots climate activists to a critical strategy gathering.

Whatever 2010 brings, we have one more chance to preserve a recognizable world. What we choose to do over the next two years will indeed write our future. A clean energy revolution will revitalize America’s economy and insure a prosperous future for our children and the earth. Making that revolution real requires overwhelming grassroots pressure on a clean energy super-majority in Congress by 2013.

Thanks for the work you are doing.

Eban Goodstein

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