People Power: How We Can Fight Back and Win Against Powerful Polluter Interests

Fri, 2011-04-08 12:54Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben's picture

People Power: How We Can Fight Back and Win Against Powerful Polluter Interests

Guest post by Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein, originally published at AlterNet.

Not for forty years has there been such a stretch of bad news for environmentalists in Washington.
Last month in the House, the newly empowered GOP majority voted down a resolution stating simply that global warming was real: they’ve apparently decided to go with their own versions of physics and chemistry.
This week in the Senate, the biggest environmental groups were reduced to a noble, bare-knuckles fight merely to keep the body from gutting the Clean Air Act, the proudest achievement of the green movement. The outcome is still unclear; even several prominent Democrats are trying to keep the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.
And at the White House? The president who boasted that his election marked the moment when ‘the oceans begin to recede’ instead introduced an energy plan heavy on precisely the carbon fuels driving global warming. He focused on ‘energy independence,’ a theme underscored by his decision to open 750 million tons of Wyoming coal to new mining leases. That’s the equivalent of running 3,000 new power plants for a year. Bikes In Mexico
Querétaro, Mexico hitting the streets by bicycle – Get ready for more of this in 2011

Here’s what we think is going on, in the broadest terms.
The modern environmental movement was born on Earth Day 1970, in an unprecedented burst of mass organizing—by some estimates 20 million Americans, a tenth of the population, took to the streets. It was a young movement, at a time when large numbers of people were serious about not just cleaning the air but stopping wars and ending official discrimination. That popular base inspired—or, more likely, cowed—Washington: the next four years saw the passage of virtually all the environmental legislation that still forms the core of green law.
It also saw the birth or rebirth of many of the organizations we think of when we think of environmentalism. Powered by that initial burst of mass support, they were able to make real headway in DC, and so they concentrated on important and professional tasks: patient lobbying of subcommittees, careful report-writing. And they kept making substantial gains: Superfund toxic cleanups, acid-rain control.
But in recent years two things have happened. One, that battery wound up on the first Earth Day has finally wound down: congressmen, it turns out, can tell the difference between an aging membership list and a vibrant political movement. As the DC political bible Politico put it last month: “green groups are being forced to play defense in a world where D.C. pols aren’t scared of them.”
Second, the key issue has changed. Forget acid rain and Superfund; these were important but relatively easy fights that didn’t directly confront anyone’s business model. You could clean up acid rain by putting a filter on your power plant. But global warming is different—you’d have to shut down that power plant, and replace it with a windmill or a solar panel.
And so the full power of the fossil fuel industry—the most profitable business in the planet’s history—has been brought to bear on the fight, and they play hard and dirty. The Koch Brothers spend huge sums to underwrite the network of global warming skeptics; the US Chamber of Commerce emerged as the biggest campaign funder of them all, shuttling 94% of its donations to climate deniers. This kind of clout carried the day: the biggest dream of DC Washington groups was the so-called ‘cap-and-trade’ bill, behind which they mustered every insider technique they’d spent the  last four decades perfecting. But in the end they didn’t come close: Harry Reid refused to even schedule a floor vote, knowing that he was far short of the votes needed to pass the bill. The White House stayed on the sidelines.

To us, the lesson is pretty clear. Since we’re never going to have as much money as the fossil fuel industry, we need to rebuild the kind of mass movement that marked 1970: bodies, passion, and creativity are the currencies we can compete in. It’s not impossible. Working with next to no money, the fledgling campaign at managed over the last three years to coordinate 15,000 rallies in 189 countries—every nation on earth save North Korea. It’s been active in every US state and Congressional district. And this week, it combined forces with another important American grass roots climate campaign, 1Sky, for extra reach.
1Sky was founded in the same spirit, and at the same time, as, and has worked to develop leaders around the country and help build a base of hundreds allies.  Together, we’ll be smarter, bolder, faster, and more creative than we were before.

This new and expanded will mobilize on a large scale—circle Sept. 24 on your calendar for a worldwide day of bike-based action. But it’s also going aggressively after the backroom money, with a far-reaching new campaign that tackles the US Chamber of Commerce for its climate stance.

 This youth-based campaign is linking up with labor, with faith communities, with frontline communities who have the most experience trying to shut down dirty power plants in their backyards. Most of all it’s actually out in the streets, organizing new blood.  The idea is not to supplant the Washington green groups, but instead to give the whole movement new clout—enough clout to withstand the crushing power of oil money. And enough energy to let us get off defense and back on the attack.

We don’t know if we’ll win in the end: the science of climate change grows darker by the day, and the window for effective action is swiftly closing. But any chance requires people power replacing corporate power. In the year of Tunisia and Egypt and Wisconsin, it’s worth a try.

Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben are board members of


but the renewable energy industry give me hope, that the day of change will come. This is today the fastes growing industry in USA,(same in many other countrys around the world) with 67 % per year. Sunny greetings arno

From the artical you post, it says:

“and at the White House? The president who boasted that his election marked the moment when ‘the oceans begin to recede’.

Empirical data confirms that the president has succeeded. Good for him!!

Sea levels are currently declining (satellite record) and the 100 year trend is flat (tide gauges). The following link takes you to an artical that brings the data together quite nicely.

Please widen your search for your own verification. Who would have believed this from what we are generally presented with.

No, seriously, you are reading the “world climate report”, created with direct funding by the coal industry and several times proved as completely unreliable? HAHAHAHAHA!
I’d rather check out this instead, directly dealing with the article of WCR:

indeed the contents might disturb you. It might even be too technical. Modesty and humbleness are qualities that are worth developing then.

So you deny the current empirical satilite record and historical unsanitized tide data? Read your link and totally undisturbed by it. I guess some folks can’t deal with plain old pragmatic observations and applying some common sense. What’s the joke?

You do realise who tries to provide WCR with science, don’t you? The same Patrick J Michaels who was so soundly put in his place by Ben Santer at a recent Congressional hearing.

The same Patrick Michaels who with other ‘luminaries’ such as Robert C Balling Jr. and Chip Knappenberger have a history of links with fossil fuel industry money. Indeed there is a YouTube around of Michaels being quizzed about this and looking distinctly uncomfortable as he attempts to dodge the question. The same Patrick Michaels who is known to have been backed by Western Fuels.

Such connections, and many more become obvious from study of John Mashey’s detailed work connecting the denial funding dots, you only have to navigate to here:

to see for yourself. Note all the other names that crop up there.

We are reaching tipping points in the Earth system. We are also reaching tipping points in connectivity. At the end of 2010, one third of all households worldwide had internet access. Cell phone coverage reached 90% of the human population.

By 2015, all people will be connected in a new and profound way. But there is no real mechanism for the public to have a say in global issues.

We need to give politicians clearer mandates regarding global sustainability. Perhaps we could start organizing global referenda on sustainability issues.

What we could do is get Google, Facebook, Blackberry and the cell phone networks to organise such a referendum and hold it on a single day in spring 2012. Everyone on the planet could have the opportunity to vote via SMS and the internet.

We could experiment with this in advance of the next Earth Summit in Rio, Rio+20. See

if you still don’t get it have a look at Joe Romm’s latest article demonstrating the malignant tentacles of Koch and how it produces Koch-heads:

and Paul_s, you need a heads up in that direction too!

You state:

‘Sea levels are currently declining (satellite record)…’

but then in the link supplied we see:


Do you see the difference?

A slowing down in the rate of rise, even if (and that is a big IF) true, does not mean that sea levels are declining, i.e., going down.

What you have to consider is that sea level rise is not the same on every coastline due to variations in temperature rise, the nature of ocean currents (note that there is a hill of water in the western Atlantic and others for similar reasons in other oceans), isostatic uplift and non-collisional orogeny.


This is how Houston and Dean describe their take on the situation:

“When viewed in this historical perspective, the [satellite] altimeter measurements appear similar to several decadal oscillations over the past 100 years, and it is not possible to determine if the increased trend measured by the altimeters is the leading edge of acceleration or merely a typical decadal oscillation; however, the decreasing average suggests an oscillation”

I am real glad that you brought them up as their study has been soundly demonstrated to not be representative of the global reality as Tamino has demonstrated at:

So What?

EXTRACT (but please visit original for ful context and explanation):

‘Those who deny the reality of global warming are, once again, overly excited about a recent paper by Houston & Dean. Why is it that they think every paper which strengthens the case for global warming is some kind of fraud, but every paper which they think weakens the case, is some kind of “bombshell”?

The paper studies 57 tide gauge records from the U.S.(including Hawaii and oceanic territories) and concludes that sea level rise has not accelerated. In fact the authors seem to go out of their way to state that the average result shows deceleration at every opportunity. But there are some big questions about their analysis. Why do they use tide gauge records from just U.S. stations? Why not a global sample? Why use individual tide gauge records when we have perfectly good combinations, from much larger samples, which give a global picture of sea level change and show vastly less noise? Why do they restrict their analysis to either the time span of the individual tide gauge records, or to the period from 1930 to 2009? Why do they repeatedly drone on about “deceleration” when the average of the acceleration rates they measure, even for their extremely limited and restricted sample, isn’t statistically significant?


So. More or less what I was indicating in my last, for those with an ounce of understanding that is.

In one word every people should be aware of pollution.

Semantics be buggered Titus!

Any slow down in the rate of sea level rise does not equate to a fall in sea level.

Not semantics but your poor comprehension and/or logical thinking skills.

Oh! Yes! One can play games cherry picking quotes from any number of papers to prove a point, particularly if one ignores context. However I think that you will find that the conclusions of these authors are based upon false premise and that satellite measurements are telling us that the oceans have expanded partly from additional melt and partly from thermodynamic expansion.

Any slow down in expansion is likely due to the increase in water vapour in a warming world.

Tide gauges cannot be relied upon because of factors I have indicated above.

You are using the wrong handle on here, you should be known as Canute (or Knutt).

ice sheet response may not be linear a factor recognised by Vermeer and Rahmstorf (Global sea level linked to global temperature PNAS 2009):

‘In addition, highly nonlinear responses of ice flow may
become increasingly important during the 21st century. These
are likely to make our linear approach an underestimate.
Therefore, we have to entertain the possibility that sea level
could rise faster still than suggested by the simple projection
based on Eq. 2.’

sure they go on to write:

‘How much faster? Pfeffer et al. (25) provided an independent
estimate of maximum ice discharge based on geographic constraints
on ice flow; they concluded that sea-level rise in the 21st
century is very unlikely to exceed 200 cm. If this estimate is
correct, a nonlinear dynamical ice-sheet response may not
change our estimate upward by very much.’

which of course you could cherry pick in reply, but they finish up with this:

‘To limit global sea-level rise to a maximum of 1 m in the long
run (i.e., beyond 2100), as proposed recently as a policy goal (26),
deep emissions reductions will be required. Likely they would
have to be deeper than those needed to limit global warming to
2 °C, the policy goal now supported by many countries. Our
analysis further suggests that emissions reductions need to come
early in this century to be effective.’

Which is of course pointing to the reason why the deniers are delayers on behalf of the fossil fuel and related industries. Kinda why you are here I guess.

Indeed there has already been evidence that ice response is not linear, try looking up Extreme Ice Survey.

For more lookee here:

How much will sea levels rise in the 21st Century?

wherin you will find a link to that PNAS article

and here:

The Past and Future of the Greenland Ice Sheet

Now try and ignore the canary in the North and the alarm klaxon in the south. These combined kinda make any faffing about with arguments over tide gauge measurements over the last hundred years rather silly.

So tide data is a red flag!! Well there’s no point in continuing the discussion. For the record I maintain from the best avaiable data (as there is no other than tide gauges) that sea levels have risen consisently over the past 100 years by between 0-4mm/year. Currently, according to saterlite data that rate is decreasing and currently standaing at about 2mm/year. I just can’t get myself excited about this. Sorry.


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