Will Obama Block the Keystone Pipeline or Just Keep Bending?

As the battle over the Keystone XL pipeline has worn on — and it’s now well over two years old — it’s illuminated the Obama presidency like no other issue. It offers the president not just a choice of policies, but a choice of friends, worldviews, styles. It’s become an X-ray for a flagging presidency. The stakes are sky-high, and not just for Obama. I’m writing these words from Pittsburgh, amid 7,000 enthusiastic and committed young people gathering to fight global warming, and my guess is that his choice will do much to determine how they see politics in this country. Let us stipulate at the start that whether or not to build the pipeline is a decision with profound physical consequences. If he approves its construction, far more of the dirtiest oil on Earth will flow out of the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, and reach the U.S. Gulf […]

What to Make of Change on an Overheating Planet

The history we grow up with shapes our sense of reality — it’s hard to shake. If you were young during the fight against Nazism, war seems a different, more virtuous animal than if you came of age during Vietnam.  I was born in 1960, and so the first great political character of my life was Martin Luther King, Jr. I had a shadowy, child’s sense of him when he was still alive, and then a mythic one as his legend grew; after all, he had a national holiday. As a result, I think, I imagined that he set the template for how great movements worked. They had a leader, capital L. As time went on, I learned enough about the civil rights movement to know it was much more than Dr. King.  There were other great figures, from Ella Baker and Medgar Evers to Bob Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, […]

And If So, Is That Terrible News?

A few weeks ago, Time magazine called the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline that will bring some of the dirtiest energy on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast the “Selma and Stonewall” of the climate movement. Which, if you think about it, may be both good news and bad news. Yes, those of us fighting the pipeline have mobilized record numbers of activists: the largest civil disobedience action in 30 years and 40,000 people on the mall in February for the biggest climate rally in American history. Right now, we’re aiming to get a million people to send in public comments about the “environmental review” the State Department is conducting on the feasibility and advisability of building the pipeline.  And there’s good reason to put pressure on.  After all, it’s the same State Department that, as on a previous round of reviews, hired “experts” who […]

How climate-change deniers are finally losing their grip, but why they might take the rest of us down with them

At a moment when megafires are sweeping the southwest and heat records continue to be set across the country, climate-change deniers are finally having a few problems of their own.  As Bill McKibben begins his latest, typically timely piece for TomDispatch, “It’s been a tough few weeks for the forces of climate-change denial.”  And it all started when the Heartland Institute, that nerve-center of climate-change denial, put the Unabomber on a billboard to stigmatize the global warming crowd and experienced a little blowback of its own. It’s a fascinating story and McKibben uses it to offer an anatomy of a denial job disastrously well done until now, despite the fact that the deniers have no serious scientists to back up their position.  He then vividly describes the hapless crew the climate-change deniers tend to cite as authorities — only to add: “If your urge is to laugh at this kind […]

Time to Stop Being Cynical About Corporate Money in Politics and Start Being Angry

My resolution for 2012 is to be naïve — dangerously naïve. I’m aware that the usual recipe for political effectiveness is just the opposite: to be cynical, calculating, an insider. But if you think, as I do, that we need deep change in this country, then cynicism is a sucker’s bet. Try as hard as you can, you’re never going to be as cynical as the corporations and the harem of politicians they pay for.  It’s like trying to outchant a Buddhist monastery. Here’s my case in point, one of a thousand stories people working for social change could tell: All last fall, most of the environmental movement, including 350.org, the group I helped found, waged a fight against the planned Keystone XL pipeline that would bring some of the dirtiest energy on the planet from Canada through the U.S. to the Gulf Coast. We waged our struggle against building […]

Is Global Warming an Election Issue After All?

Conventional wisdom has it that the next election will be fought exclusively on the topic of jobs. But President Obama’s announcement last week that he would postpone a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2012 election, which may effectively kill the project, makes it clear that other issues will weigh in — and that, oddly enough, one of them might even be climate change. The pipeline decision was a true upset.  Everyone — and I mean everyone who "knew" how these things work — seemed certain that the president would approve it. The National Journal runs a weekly poll of “energy insiders” — that is, all the key players in Washington. A month to the day before the Keystone XL postponement, this large cast of characters was “virtually unanimous” in guaranteeing that it would be approved by year’s end. Transcanada Pipeline, the company that was going to […]

Where Did the President’s Mojo Go?

For connoisseurs, Barack Obama’s fundraising emails for the 2012 election campaign seem just a tad forlorn — slightly limp reminders of the last time ‘round. Four years ago at this time, the early adopters among us were just starting to get used to the regular flow of email from the Obama campaign. The missives were actually exciting to get, because they seemed less like appeals for money than a chance to join a movement. Sometimes they came with inspirational videos from Camp Obama, especially the volunteer training sessions staged by organizing guru Marshall Ganz. Here’s a favorite of mine, where a woman invokes Bobby Kennedy and Cesar Chavez and says that, as the weekend went on, she “felt her heart softening,” her cynicism “melting,” her determination building. I remember that feeling, and I remember clicking time and again to send another $50 off to fund that people-powered mission. (And I […]

Acting as a Living Tribute to Martin Luther King

I didn’t think it was possible, but my admiration for Martin Luther King, Jr., grew even stronger these past days. As I headed to jail as part of the first wave of what is turning into the biggest civil disobedience action in the environmental movement for many years, I had the vague idea that I would write something. Not an epic like King's “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” but at least, you know, a blog post. Or a tweet. But frankly, I wasn’t up to it. The police, surprised by how many people turned out on the first day of two weeks of protests at the White House, decided to teach us a lesson. As they told our legal team, they wanted to deter anyone else from coming — and so with our first crew they were… kind of harsh. We spent three days in D.C.’s Central Cell Block, which […]