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The King is Dead

By Anna Goldstein - 350.org, October 18, 2011

“It’s really difficult to understand a moment in history when you are in it.”
—Shaun King

Kumi Naidoo, the great South African human rights and environmental leader, happened to be in Seattle on September 26, the day the Department of Ecology denied a key permit for the Millenium coal export terminal. I told him the good news, and he related the story of a recent victory in South Africa. But Kumi was a bit jet lagged and world weary, reluctant to celebrate too much. It’s important to recognize the victories to keep up morale, he said, but so often they turn out to be temporary. We rarely win definitively or permanently. And the next battle is never far behind.

Anyone who’s joined the climate fight can feel this. But there’s an opposite effect on the other side of the Sisyphean hill. (Do we have a myth for this, or do we need a new one?) The Millenium coal export project–a climate disaster as big as the Keystone XL pipeline–will never be built. Coal export from the West Coast is never coming back. The coal industry is never coming back. We’ve won much more than a permanent victory against these projects.

Earlier this week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt proclaimed “the war on coal is over” and announced plans to roll back President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. One hates this “war” talk, a cynical political ploy to manipulate workers and communities who depend on coal economically. The fight to overcome the concentrated, abusive political and economic power of the coal industry is a fight for people, for jobs, for communities, for a decent future for our kids.

But if you must have it that way, Mr. Pruitt, then yes, the “war on coal” is ending. And coal is losing. These last spasms of resurgence under Trump are pure political theater, without economic foundation. And the coal export saga in the Northwest was a decisive battle, a late stand for a dying proposition.

When the coal export boondoggle first hit the news in 2010, the chairman of Peabody Energy, giddy with illusions of limitless markets in Asia, gushed that “coal’s best days are ahead.” By 2016, Peabody had lost 99.9% of its value and filed for bankruptcy, as did most of the North American coal giants.

They were, of course, in big trouble when they started this misadventure. Coal prices and markets had begun a steep decline in the U.S.–the product of fierce opposition, stiff competition from cleaner energy sources, growing momentum to address the climate crisis, and renewed enforcement of basic public health protections after the lax Bush years. Peabody has now “emerged” from bankruptcy, meaning they reneged on enough commitments, screwed enough workers, abandoned enough communities, and wriggled out of enough cleanup obligations to get their stock ticker back up off the floor. But they can’t escape the fundamental economic, technological, and human forces at work here. Their era is ending, because we must end it; and now that we’ve developed better, safer, cheaper ways meet our energy needs, we know we can.

Groups Launch Map Showing Groundswell of Resistance to New Fossil Fuel Projects

By Dani Heffernan - Common Dreams, September 21, 2017

WASHINGTON - Today, a network of communities and groups working to stop new fossil fuel projects launched an interactive online mapping project highlighting these efforts in the U.S. The Fossil Fuel Resistance Mapping Project displays the scale of locally-led efforts against proposed pipelines, fracking wells, and other projects being proposed and constructed by the fossil fuel industry. The project is launching at the end of a summer filled with disastrous weather events made worse by climate change, and as the climate-denying Trump Administration continues putting the interests of fossil fuel billionaires ahead of action to address this global crisis and protect our communities.

From the Gulf Coast where people are recovering from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, to the Pacific Northwest where wildfires are raging, many communities are leading fights against fossil fuel projects amidst life-altering climate impacts. These fights are not isolated events, but rather a groundswell of steadfast and widespread local resistance to fossil fuel projects across the continent in the absence of federal climate action. Grassroots leaders in these efforts are pushing back on the fossil fuel industry’s injustices, from environmental racism to violating Indigenous sovereignty. Well known projects, like the Keystone XL pipeline, are facing resistance from communities across state and international lines.

The Fossil Fuel Resistance Mapping Project, which was created with the support of 350.org and the Power Shift Network, serves as a resource for people to find, start, or join a campaign in their community to resist fossil fuel projects, and for those involved in existing fights to connect with each other. The map can be viewed at www.fossilfuelresistance.org.

Connecticut refuses key steps on climate

By Christine Marie - Socialist Action, September 5, 2017

Many cheered when Connecticut joined other states in proclaiming that they would stick to the Paris Agreement although the U.S. was pulling out. Unfortunately, the limits of that gesture became clear very soon.

On July 26, the Connecticut Department of Energy and the Environment released a long-awaited report, a draft Comprehensive Energy Strategy. The document, which was years in the crafting and supposedly influenced by a newly established Governor’s Council on Climate, in which the AFL-CIO and its Roundtable on Climate and Jobs had invested considerable energy, missed proposing the necessary steps to prevent climate catastrophe, and create the related jobs, by a disastrous margin.

Activists from the Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, 350 CT, and many other organizations are protesting the state’s failure to take climate change seriously. They plan to use a series of public hearings in August and September to make their case to the broad public.

The authors of the Comprehensive Energy Strategy (CES), on the one hand nicely acknowledged all the concerns of climate activists and, on the other, projected business as usual in major areas of energy and environmental justice policy.

CT DEEP refused to commit to turning around the fracked gas build-out that has made New England a driver of and epicenter for disastrous levels of methane emissions. In fact, they entitle a section of their report “Shifting Toward Natural Gas as the Primary Fuel for Electric Generation.”

According to Dr. Robert Howarth, stopping the drilling, transportation, and burning of fracked gas—methane being a greenhouse gas up to 100 times more potent than CO2 in the very short term—is the single best tool that we have to buy time for a full transition to genuinely renewable solar, wind, and geothermal sources, and for carbon drawdown via agro-ecology, aforestation, and other reasonable methods.

Failure to act on methane could render any other measures moot, as the sudden rise of fracked gas emissions, if unchecked until 2040, is a factor that could push the earth over a climate tipping point all by itself.

Prisoners and Climate Injustice

By Natalia Cardona - 350.Org, August 8, 2017

Recent headlines are full of dire warnings about heat-related deaths. Just the other day a headline in the Washington Post stated that a third of the world’s people already face deadly heat waves. And it could be nearly three-quarters by 2100.

Recently I came across disturbing footage from a St. Louis jail showing inmates without air conditioning calling for help from inside the stiflingly hot facility. This is not the first time these type of headlines have showed up in the news this summer.

In June of this year, deadly heat waves in the Southwestern United States also led to prisoners facing inhumane conditions due to extreme heat. In Arizona, while the weather channel warned that locals should stay indoors and temperatures climbed upwards of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, 380 prisoners were left living in tents in unbearable heat.

The impacts of climate change add to the layers of injustice prisoners already face. The U.S. holds the largest number of prisoners per capita in the world. Since the 1970’s the U.S. has seen a 700% increase in the growth of prisons. Prisons are already at the frontline of injustice, because of the criminalization of people of color through failed policies like the “war on drugs”. Not only that, holding large numbers of people in enclosed facilities leads to health hazards and human rights violations. Prisons and prisoners also find themselves on the frontlines of environmental injustice. The toxic impact of prisons extends far beyond any individual prison.

Creating a Just Transition Webinar

By Jeremy Brecher, Labor Network for Sustainability - July 14, 2017

How can we organize to avoid letting our opponents pit "jobs," workers and unions against climate, water and community protection? How can we build "just transition" that includes a better future for workers who produce and use fossil fuels, construction workers who build fossil fuel infrastructure and communities that depend on them?

Confronting the Whiteness of Environmentalism

By Rachel Levelle - 350.org PDX, June 29, 2017

Climate Justice means hard work.

It’s tempting to assign labels or catchphrases to movements. The concept of climate justice or environmental justice has caught massive traction in organizing groups, but as easy as it is to put on a banner, it’s even easier to lose sight of what it really means.

Growing up in Beaverton, it was very easy for me to view climate change as solely a crisis of nature. It never occurred to me that the burden of the crisis was being shouldered unevenly. I heard about the polar ice caps melting and polar bears dying, but not about the Pacific Islander and seaside communities that were losing their homes at the same time. People like the workers at fossil fuel plants that need a steady paycheck, indigenous communities whose land is poisoned by oil, and low-income communities neighboring train tracks or dumping sites are not responsible for climate change or harm to environment. Yet, when coal trains derailing, toxic waste dumps, pipelines, and horrific factory conditions are talked about, plants and animals receive empathy while the people affected by these tragedies are too often ignored by the climate and environmental movements.

Repeatedly, environmental crises are viewed in isolation from issues like economic and racial justice by mainstream organizers and media. But the links of whose health and safety are valued and whose are disposable are deeply tied to these problems. Would corporations have the power to dump however much toxic waste and garbage they wanted if those sites were in predominantly white, middle-upper class neighborhoods? If affluent white communities were dependent on the health of the oceans and rivers for daily survival, would the response to pollution be so moderate? The answer is, unfortunately, seen in movements such as “Not In My Backyard” and in the decision to move the Dakota Access Pipeline onto Lakota and Dakota land. When projects are based in wealthier, white neighborhoods, they’re shut down rapidly.

As I began organizing during college, I realized this wasn’t because only these neighborhoods were protesting the developments. It was that these people were given legitimacy and a platform because of their identities. I could explain here the roots and causes of environmental injustice, but there are many who have done it better than I could (see the links below!). But simply stated, the effects come from the toxic combinations of capitalism and white supremacy.

Again and again in organizing, I’ve encountered an mindset among white organizers that people of color and poor folks aren’t fighting climate change. Often it is done with a sort of sympathetic, condescending tilt. When predominantly white environmental groups are asked why their campaigns aren’t drawing the power of more peoples to speak on their own behalf, there are some common responses: people of color are too busy organizing against racism, or lower-income communities are occupied with organizing for fair wages and better housing… or earning a wage.

And yet, very term “environmental justice” was coined by poor, black, rural organizers in the 1980’s. People like Reverend Leon White, Reverend Ben Chavis, and Reverend Joseph Lowery fought in Warren County against a toxic landfill being placed in their town. Environmental justice isn’t a free-floating term. It had been used by Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian, and Pacific-Islander organizers to rebel against exploitative, unsustainable farming practices, fossil fuel plants, toxic waste dumps, destruction of natural landscapes they call home, and more. The harsh truth is, though, that these communities have been organizing against environmental degradation from the beginning—white environmentalists just didn’t notice because the campaign message wasn’t flagged as pro-environment.

Here’s the crux of the issue. Any solution, yes, ANY solution that remedies environmental injustice, and that does not center people of color and lower-income people in both formation and implementation is incomplete. Read that sentence again, and remember it. Because these false solutions fail to defend those most affected by climate change. There are issues and solutions that middle class, white organizers frankly cannot recognize and know the solutions to by themselves, because the problems aren’t theirs.

I’m not going to pretend I’m an authority on what this work entails or have unlearned all the internalized classism, misogyny, or whiteness (given that I am multiracial, I too have a lot of whiteness I need to acknowledge!) that interferes with me being able to do this work well. But that’s just it—none of us are ever done. We have to constantly be analyzing what platforms we might be taking from those who have been historically silenced. White people must acknowledge that their thought processes and false objectivity have been informed by whiteness and realize that they simply cannot have all the answers. They must become accept the tension in confronting their own biases, complacency, and role in allowing white supremacy to continue in the Pacific Northwest.

What is whiteness, and how is it different than having white skin, or than acting with white supremacist tendencies? Challenge the excuses that pop into your head to avoid the topic, and check out some of the resources below, that also show up on the environmental justice resources page. It’s really not that bad. 

Ecologist Special Report: Divesting from investment in fossil fuels gains momentum in the UK

By Remo Bebié, Finance Dialogue - Ecologist, May 15, 2017

Bill McKibben, Author and co-founder of 350.org is categoric that one of the key ways to tackle climate change is through financial channels: "There is no question we are currently in a state of emergency on climate change. Day in day out people are dying from the effects of climate change. There are many ways to confront this emergency and divestment allows us to get in the way of the money financing the fossil fuel projects behind this crisis.

"The fact that the fossil fuel divestment movement has grown exponentially in the last few years is the best news ever. From the Pacific Islands to South Africa, from the United States to Germany, people are standing up and challenging the power of the fossil fuel industry."

And in the UK too, the divestment movement is now gathering momentum.

Only last week, 50 MPs announced their backing of a campaign calling on parliament's £612m pension fund to divest from fossil fuels.

Faith groups too are also increasingly moving out of fossil fuel investments. Earlier this month, more than a quarter of Britain's Quaker meetings pledged to divest and the Catholic Church is also taking stand ("the Catholic fossil fuel divestment movement has gained further momentum as nine more institutions pull out of fossil fuels, citing a "political impasse" around US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement." )

In late January, the Irish Parliament voted in favour of a law requiring the country's £6.8 billion Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to divest from all fossil fuels over the next five years. The story went viral on social media.

Three weeks ago, Norway's largest private pension fund, Storebrand, launched two new fossil free funds, bringing their fossil free fund portfolio to $1.2 billion. Storebrand also warned that the Norwegian government is overly exposed to fossil fuels through its $900 billion sovereign wealth fund, even though it has already taken significant steps to reduce exposure in the past.

Momentum is gathering at such a speed in the UK it appears to be approaching a tipping point: Waltham Forest and Southwark, two local government pension schemes for boroughs in London, have pledged to fully divest from fossil fuels within the last year, while Hackney's pension fund committed to cut its exposure by 50 percent, as the FT reported recently. Among the UK's Local Government Pension Schemes, these three are on the smaller range, each managing assets between £0.74 and £1.26 billion.  

But examples also include the £2.73 billion Environment Agency's Pension Fund, which is currently ranked second in the Asset Owner Disclosure Project's 2017 ranking (first in 2016) among the world's 500 largest asset owners. The fund is widely considered a global leader in terms of aligning investment strategies with the goals called for in the Paris agreement and reducing financial risks associated with the energy transition.

UK workplace pension scheme NEST, already progressive in terms of integration of Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) issues, has recently added a specific climate tilted fund to it's portfolio. NEST cited "addressing risks and capturing opportunities associated with the move to fight climate change" as reasons for launching the fund. 

Private institutions are taking note too: Last fall, HSBC Bank UK Pension Scheme chose a new climate tilted fund as the equity default option for its £2.6 billion defined contribution (DC) scheme. The scheme's CIO, Mark Thompson, expects the move to deliver "better risk-adjusted return, protection against climate change risks, and a more powerful ESG engagement policy within a passive mandate".

Furthermore, by April 2018, most UK local government schemes are due to be integrated into eight pools, each managing between £12 and £36 billion of pooled assets (see here for a good pooling overview by IPE). Implementation of divestment pledges for individual schemes will depend on the pool structure. The schemes of the London boroughs are already being pooled through London CIV, which recently wrote that it is "focusing on investment strategies the pension fund authorities have shown most demand for, namely: global equity income; sustainable equities; emerging markets and value strategies." 

Many other pools are now in the process of hiring executives: Brunel, the pool which contains the Environment Agency's Pension Fund, and LGPS Central have named new chairs within the last month. The London Pension Fund Authority (LPFA) is currently "seeking to recruit additional Board Members with knowledge and experience of either: 1) Environmental Social and Corporate Governance issues in a pension fund, with a strong commitment to delivering divestment from fossil fuels; or 2) strategic and sustainable infrastructure investment by pension funds, with a breadth of experience across all forms of infrastructure investment." 

All this indicates that more activity may be expected from the UK's public and private institutional investors. And public pressure is rising as well as various UK local government pension schemes are engaged by campaigners as part of the Global Divestment Mobilisation (GDM) with calls for fossil fuel divestment (see here for complete list of LGPS engagements within the Mobilisation).

'Sheer Reckless Folly': Trump Destroys Obama-Era Climate Rules

By Nika Knight - Common Dreams, March 28, 2017

President Donald Trump on Tuesday set about aggressively dismantling Obama-era climate policies with an executive order decried as "sheer reckless folly," which will increase U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the climate crisis.

"Aside from provoking a large-scale nuclear war, it is hard to imagine an American president taking an action more harmful to the U.S. than Trump's effort to accelerate greenhouse gas emissions," said David J. Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen's Climate Program, in a statement.

"This day may be remembered as a low point in human history—a time when the world's preeminent power could have led the world to a better future but instead moved decisively toward catastrophe," Arkush added.

The order instructs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rewrite former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan (CPP), which would have limited the emissions of coal-powered power plants. It also lifts the moratorium on federal coal leasing, repeals limits on methane emissions from fracking, and directs the agency to reconsider the Social Cost of Carbon and the National Environmental Policy Act guidance on greenhouse gas emissions.

"The EPA's rollback of basic environmental rules demonstrates that when it comes to the health of our children, our communities, and our climate, this is an administration of lawlessness and disorder," said Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of the grassroots sustainability group UPROSE, in statement.

"For frontline communities, those of us impacted first and worst by the extraction economy, this means an escalation of public health crises, from asthma to cancer. It means an utter disregard for those of us most vulnerable to climate disasters," Yeampierre added. "It means a  world of volatility and exploitation for our children and grandchildren."

Environmentalists, local and state leaders, and advocacy groups are vowing to resist.

Climate Activists Pledge Huge Response to Trump’s Executive Order

By Dani Heffernan - Common Dreams, March 28, 2017

Climate activists are joining with labor, social justice, faith, and other organizations to plan a massive march in Washington, D.C. this April 29th that will offer up resistance to Trump’s new executive orders and put forward the vision of a clean energy economy that works for all.

The “Peoples Climate March” aims to bring upwards of 100,000 people to Washington, D.C. and turn out tens of thousands more across the country to push back on Trump’s agenda and stand up for climate, jobs and justice.

350.org is one of the organizations on the steering committee for the mobilization and is working on turning out members to D.C. and actions across the country.

350.org Executive Director May Boeve said:

“The best way to fight against these executive orders is to take to the streets. Even as Trump dismantles environmental protections to shore up the fossil fuel industry, support for action to stop global warming is at an all-time high. Now it’s up to communities to bring our vision of a healthy climate and a just transition to renewable energy to life. From the upcoming congressional recess through the Peoples Climate March and beyond, we’ll be putting pressure on lawmakers to defend the climate and building power to stop the fossil fuel industry for good.”

The wide-ranging coalition behind the Peoples Climate March includes major labor unions and environmental, climate justice, faith, youth, social justice, peace groups, and more (the “Peoples” in the title is a direct reference to the role of Indigenous peoples in helping lead the effort). In 2014, the same coalition brought over 400,000 people to the streets of New York City to call for climate action ahead of the Paris Climate Summit.

Why there’s hope for the climate movement under Trump

By Nick Engelfried - Waging Nonviolence, November 22, 2016

The climate movement woke on Nov. 9 to a new reality few of us had expected to be faced with: the specter of a Trump presidency and perhaps the most anti-environment administration and Congress in U.S. history. Suddenly our job of stopping new oil pipelines and fracking wells, preventing the construction of fossil fuel plants and shutting down existing fossil fuel infrastructure felt much harder.

Although the possibility of a Trump presidency had loomed for months, polls consistently showing Hillary Clinton in the lead made it seem remote. Many climate organizations laid their plans based on the presumption that they would most likely be dealing with a Clinton administration. “Assuming that as a nation we’ve managed to elect Hillary Clinton,” 350.org founder Bill McKibben wrote in an Election Day email to supporters, “we’ll need to start pressuring her from the earliest moments of her presidency.”

What the polls failed to account for was unexpectedly low voter turnout, caused in part by voter disaffection with both presidential candidates and a growing nationwide frustration with the existing political system. Despite Clinton winning the popular vote, low progressive turnout in key swing states granted Trump enough Electoral College votes to claim the presidency.

“We at The Climate Mobilization were not expecting a President Trump,” wrote leaders of The Climate Mobilization, a group that advocates for a Word War II-scale deployment of clean energy to fight climate change. “His election shows us that this country is desperate for change, but is still deeply in denial about the truth of the climate emergency.”

If there is any silver lining from the Trump victory, it would seem to be the evidence that vast numbers of people are hungry for a radical shift in politics. But Trump wants to take us in the opposite direction of progress on climate change. During his campaign, he pledged to scrap the Paris climate deal and the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. He promised to re-start approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and resurrect a dying coal industry. And his suite of potential cabinet nominees include climate science deniers and oil drilling proponents.

To many activists, the coming Trump presidency calls to mind the darkest days of the George W. Bush administration, when fossil fuel industries were basically invited to write national policy. But much has changed in the U.S. climate movement since the days of Bush. The last six years have seen the birth of climate campaigns that are bigger, bolder and more direct-action oriented than any environmental movement in decades.

Although this recent movement growth occurred during the Obama administration, its origins can be traced to a time when the climate movement was reeling from a series of shocking defeats. Obama’s campaign promises in 2008 had caused mainstream environmental groups to welcome his administration with the expectation of unprecedented progress. But this dream soon faded.

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