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Mainstream Green Groups Cave In on Climate

Gary Houser and Cory Morningstar, Common Dreams
April 20, 2010 by
“Governments will not put young people and nature above special financial interests without great public pressure. Such pressure is not possible as long as big environmental organizations provide cover. So the best hope is this — individuals must demand that the leaders change course or they will lose support.” – Dr. James Hansen

With climate scientists warning that we are in a global emergency and tipping points leading to runaway catastrophe will be crossed unless carbon pollution is rapidly reduced, one would expect groups identified as environmental defenders to be shifting into high gear. Instead, we are witnessing the unspeakably tragic spectacle of a mainstream environmental movement allowing itself to be seduced and co-opted by the very forces it should be vehemently opposing. At the very moment when moral leadership and courage are needed the most, what we see is a colossal failure of both – with potentially irreversible consequences for our civilization. If Congress chooses an inadequate response to the crisis, policies can get “locked in” which virtually guarantee that these tipping points are crossed. These organizations are using their significant financial resources to create a public impression that the “environmental community” has given its “stamp of approval” to this policy and to marginalize the voices of the genuine grassroots activists who represent the heart and soul of the climate movement. With nothing less than the future of the planet at stake, these groups must now be publicly challenged and held accountable for their actions.

The stage has been set for this necessary debate by publication of Johann Hari’s excellent commentary entitled “The Wrong Kind of Green”. In this piece, Hari provides important insight into some of the relevant history. He describes how in the 1980s and 1990s some of the larger environmental groups began to adopt a policy often called “corporate engagement”. The basic idea was that by participating in “partnerships” with corporations – some involving receipt of monetary contributions – there would be opportunity to exert positive influence.

It is not possible to look into the minds of those who promoted this shift. Perhaps there was a sincere hope that corporations would be moved toward more responsible behavior. Whatever the case, the critically important task at this time is not to evaluate possible motives but rather the real life consequences. To do so honestly, all self-interested blinders must be set aside.
(20 April 2010)
Suggested by EB reader Bill Henderson, who says “this article has been endorsed by James Hansen.” -BA

Reclaiming Earth Day: With Climate Chaos on the Horizon, the Environmental Movement Needs Traction

Brian Tokar, The Indypendent (New York)
On the 40th anniversary of Earth Day April 22, many seasoned environmentalists are left wondering how, in recent decades, so little has actually been accomplished.

While environmental awareness has seeped into mainstream U.S. society since the 1970s — the era when 20 million people hit the streets on Earth Day to demand action — the structures of power remain largely the same. The mass mobilizations around the original Earth Day helped spur then-President Richard Nixon to sign a series of ambitious environmental laws that helped to clean contaminated waterways, save the bald eagle from the ravages of pesticides and began to clear the air, which in the early 1960s was so polluted that people were passing out all over our cities. Most environmental victories since then have benefited from those changes in the law, but more fundamental changes seem as distant as ever.

Today’s environmental movement is floundering, even though the stakes are even higher. While local grassroots campaigners continue to fight for endangered forests, challenge polluting companies in their communities, and confront the coal industry’s assaults on the mountains of southern Appalachia, the best known national organizations can point to few recent victories. And they have failed to demonstrate meaningful leadership around what climatologist James Hansen calls the “predominant moral issue of this century”: the struggle to prevent the catastrophic and irreversible warming of the planet.

As British journalist Johann Hari reported in The Nation in his article, “The Wrong Kind of Green,” in March, this is partly the result of a legacy of corporate-styled environmental organizations teaming up with the world’s most polluting companies.

In response to the climate crisis, we have seen unprecedented collaboration between large environmental organizations and corporations seeking to profit from new environmental legislation. For example, the Climate Action Partnership (known as USCAP) has brought Alcoa, DuPont, General Electric and General Motors together with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy to push for the “market-based” approach to climate legislation known as “cap-and-trade.” This policy — which passed the U.S. House last year — would put a cap on the total amount of pollution, then allow businesses limiting their carbon dioxide emissions to sell “permits to pollute” to dirtier companies. This would create a vast, highly speculative market in carbon credits and offsets, with gigantic perks for corporations and little benefit for the planet. The push for cap-and-trade legislation has receded for now under pressure from both right wing anti-tax fanatics and market-skeptical environmentalists, but Washington observers now anticipate an even worse Senate climate bill, to be announced later in April, which will be laden with far more blatant giveaways to the fossil fuel and nuclear industries.

It begs the question — where has the environmental movement gone wrong?…
(22 April 2010)
Also on Common Dreams -BA

A New Climate Movement in Bolivia

Naomi Klein, The Nation
It was 11 am and Evo Morales had turned a football stadium into a giant classroom, marshaling an array of props: paper plates, plastic cups, disposable raincoats, handcrafted gourds, wooden plates and multicolored ponchos. All came into play to make his main point: to fight climate change, “we need to recover the values of the indigenous people.”

Yet wealthy countries have little interest in learning these lessons and are instead pushing through a plan that at its best would raise average global temperatures 2 degrees Celsius. “That would mean the melting of the Andean and Himalayan glaciers,” Morales told the thousands gathered in the stadium, part of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. What he didn’t have to say is that the Bolivian people, no matter how sustainably they choose to live, have no power to save their glaciers.

Bolivia’s climate summit has had moments of joy, levity and absurdity. Yet underneath it all, you can feel the emotion that provoked this gathering: rage against helplessness.

It’s little wonder. Bolivia is in the midst of a dramatic political transformation, one that has nationalized key industries and elevated the voices of indigenous peoples as never before. But when it comes to Bolivia’s most pressing, existential crisis–the fact that its glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, threatening the water supply in two major cities–Bolivians are powerless to do anything to change their fate on their own.

That’s because the actions causing the melting are taking place not in Bolivia but on the highways and in the industrial zones of heavily industrialized countries. In Copenhagen, leaders of endangered nations like Bolivia and Tuvalu argued passionately for the kind of deep emissions cuts that could avert catastrophe. They were politely told that the political will in the North just wasn’t there. More than that, the United States made clear that it didn’t need small countries like Bolivia to be part of a climate solution. It would negotiate a deal with other heavy emitters behind closed doors, and the rest of the world would be informed of the results and invited to sign on, which is precisely what happened with the Copenhagen Accord. When Bolivia and Ecuador refused to rubber-stamp the accord, the US government cut their climate aid by $3 million and $2.5 million, respectively. “It’s not a free-rider process,” explained US climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing. (Anyone wondering why activists from the global South reject the idea of “climate aid” and are instead demanding repayment of “climate debts” has their answer here.) Pershing’s message was chilling: if you are poor, you don’t have the right to prioritize your own survival.

When Morales invited “social movements and Mother Earth’s defenders…scientists, academics, lawyers and governments” to come to Cochabamba for a new kind of climate summit, it was a revolt against this experience of helplessness, an attempt to build a base of power behind the right to survive.

The Bolivian government got the ball rolling by proposing four big ideas: that nature should be granted rights that protect ecosystems from annihilation (a “Universal Declaration of Mother Earth Rights”); that those who violate those rights and other international environmental agreements should face legal consequences (a “Climate Justice Tribunal”); that poor countries should receive various forms of compensation for a crisis they are facing but had little role in creating (“Climate Debt”); and that there should be a mechanism for people around the world to express their views on these topics (“World People’s Referendum on Climate Change”).

The next stage was to invite global civil society to hash out the details. Seventeen working groups were struck, and after weeks of online discussion, they met for a week in Cochabamba with the goal of presenting their final recommendations at the summit’s end. The process is fascinating but far from perfect (for instance, as Jim Shultz of the Democracy Center pointed out, the working group on the referendum apparently spent more time arguing about adding a question on abolishing capitalism than on discussing how in the world you run a global referendum). Yet Bolivia’s enthusiastic commitment to participatory democracy may well prove the summit’s most important contribution…
(23 April 2010)
Also on Common Dreams -BA

Earth Day™ — Tastes Great, Less Filling

Erich Pica, The Huffington Post
On Earth Day, President Obama asked us to remember Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day. But as Nelson himself admitted, he wasn’t the one who should be held responsible for Earth Day’s success.

On Earth Day, President Obama asked us to remember Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day. But as Nelson himself admitted, he wasn’t the one who should be held responsible for Earth Day’s success. He wrote,

“Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. … That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.”

Earth Day was a movement borne by personal conviction. It was a peace movement — virulently anti-nuclear and informed by opposition to the Vietnam War. It was a political movement.

Individuals clogging the streets of New York City raised environmental protection in the consciousness of the politicians and decision-makers who passed the Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, and created the Environmental Protection Agency. Earth Day organizers challenged the idea that what was good for corporate America was good for the rest of America. They stood against profiteering and consumerism, in favor of conservation and stewardship.

Senator Nelson’s words contrast highly with the recent words of Senator Lindsey Graham. Corporate support, Sen. Graham says, is necessary to pass climate legislation.

This is corporate support of the environment: in California this year, Chevron — an oil company — is headlining an Earth Day event, along with Pacific Gas and Electric. If their event was proportional to the size of the pollution they spew, it would be the largest in the state. Disney’s giving away eco-caps in exchange for empty soda bottles, while Nestle has made their water bottles environmentally friendly by giving it an “eco-shape.” It baffles me to think that a movement that once prided itself on a moral conviction that looked far beyond the brazen pursuit of profit, materialism, and personal gain has been co-opted by the shortsighted and opportunistic.

Today’s corporate environmentalism applies the same theories as the consumerism that the original Earth Day stood against. Green is no longer a color, it’s a corporate tactic to get someone to buy something. If Shell can swaddle its advertisements in soft blue-greens and say it’s planning to shift away from drilling dirty tar sands oil in Canada, it can get away with ramping up production in those same tar sands and making money at the expense of people from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas. If Chase Bank can open a “green” branch, it can get away with financing mountaintop removal…
(2X April 2010)
Also on Common Dreams. -BA

The Open Veins of Climate Change

Eduardo Galeano, YES! Magazine
Sadly, I will not be able to be with you. Hopefully, all that is possible, and also the impossible, will be done so that the Summit of the Mother Earth becomes the first phase towards the collective expression of people who do not direct world polices, but suffer from them.

Hopefully, we will be able to carry forward the two initiatives of companion Evo [Morales, president of Bolivia]: the Climate Justice Tribunal and the World Referendum against a system of power founded on war and on waste, which scorns human life and auctions our worldly goods.

Hopefully, we will be able to speak less and do much. The wordy inflation, which in Latin America is more damaging than monetary inflation, has done us, and keeps inflicting, grave damages. And also, and above all, we are fed up with the hypocrisy of the rich countries,
which is leaving us without a planet while it delivers pompous discourses to conceal the hijacking.

There are those who say that hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue. Others say that hypocrisy is the only proof of the existence of the infinite. And the babble of the so-called “international community,” that club of bankers and war-makers, proves that both the definitions are correct.

I want to celebrate, for a change, the force of the truth that words radiate and the silences born of human communion with Nature. And it is not by chance that the Summit of the Mother Earth is being realized in Bolivia, this nation of nations that is rediscovering itself after two centuries of a life of falsehood…
(20 April 2010)
Also at Monthly Review -BA