Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, is the author most recently of The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at his Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened. He is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont and one of the Sojourners contributing editors.
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Welfare for (Very Rich) Oil Companies
Of the many gifts that the 99 percent award to the 1 percent—the various tax breaks and tributes that have helped push inequality in America to record levels—none are quite as annoying as the subsidies awarded the fossil fuel industry.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill this spring that would trim $20 billion a year from those payouts to coal and oil and gas companies. Barack Obama, modest almost to a fault, has identified $5 billion in handouts that he’d like taken away before this year’s budget is finalized. Whatever the number, the principle is crucial. Because if we can’t agree not to subsidize the fossil fuel industry, I’d submit we pretty much can’t agree about anything.
For environmentalists, few things could be more important. Worldwide, it’s estimated that global warming emissions could be cut in half if all governments stopped subsidizing fossil fuel—something that won’t happen unless the U.S. takes the lead.
But let’s say for the moment that you don’t care about climate change. Let’s say you agree with Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma that global warming is impossible because it says in Genesis “that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.’ My point is, God’s still up there,” Inhofe said. “The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.” (I can’t help myself: This is an exceedingly dumb theology. God allows war but prevents carbon emission from heating the atmosphere?) Even if you thought that way, you’d still want to keep the federal government from paying Exxon bonuses every year.
'And God Created ... Corporations'
Corporations want to store up treasure on earth — that's their whole, entire, complete, and utter point.
What Next for the Occupiers?
There are many things they seemed to hold in common, not least an instinctive nonviolence, contrasting so sharply with the police, who so often let the logic of force drive their actions (they found out, as often in history, that the logic that works with criminals doesn’t really apply to idealists).
The Roots of the Tar Sands Movement
The real work has been done for years by indigenous leaders on both sides of the border.
What's Next for the Occupiers?
I was also struck by their refusal to simply announce a set of demands. Occupiers aren’t dumb—they’ve read and heard the many calls from the media and politicians that they simply say what they want. It would be easy enough—but in some sense it would detract from the greatest usefulness of the campaign, which has been to articulate a sense of despair bordering on rage. Because they didn’t quickly say “we want this bill passed,” commentators have had to grapple with the actual message of many Occupiers: Our economy is unfair. It gives too much power to corporations who abuse that power for their own ends. They’ve not just cheated us financially; they’ve cheated us of our democracy.
What Next for the Occupiers?
One of the highlights of the fall for me was undertaking a kind of Occupy Tourism. I was spending most of my time on the move, working to build the broad coalition that eventually won at least a temporary victory against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta. In almost every city I visited, I tried to stop by the local encampment, in part because Occupiers were among our most reliable allies, and in part because it was so much fun.
I’ve gotten to speak through the human microphone in lower Manhattan and tour the D.C. campsite just a few blocks from the White House. But I’ve also gotten to sign the copies of my books in the library tent at Occupy Boston (a quiet tent, staffed by honest-to-God librarians from Boston Public Library, with everything arranged by subject). I even made it to foreign occupations—standing beneath a giant stone lion in the grand Vancouver encampment. Happiest occupation goes to San Luis Obispo, California, where I got a hug from a fellow with a huge “Free Hugs” sign. The most chic, not surprising, was Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they arranged not only a campfire for my talk, but a rising full moon in the desert sky.
Drawing a Line in the (Tar) Sand
This may be the largest use of civil disobedience yet around global warming.
The Keystone XL Pipeline: Game Over For the Climate
The New Ugliest Word
Fracking is just one more way to keep from coming to terms with our addiction to fossil fuel.
The Ugliest Word in the English Language: Fracking
Climate Change: Just the Facts
The fossil fuel industry is the main impediment to real change. Why? Because they are making money. Exxon made more money in 2009 than any company in the history of money.
The Planet Cries Out
We need to clear the polluted political air before we'll have a real chance to clear the actual atmosphere.
Time to Take It to the Streets
Nonviolent civil disobedience has been a less effective tactic in this country in the past few decades for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is probably that our woes are more complicated than in an earlier age. If there’s an exception to this rule, it's the issue I've spent much of my life working on: climate change.
True, climate change is rooted in complex science, but at this point the mechanisms are pretty clear: Burn fossil fuel and wreck the planet. It carries a strong moral edge: The people who burn the least suffer the most. And there are a series of relatively obvious villains: oil and coal barons, who not only profit from the carbon but use their proceeds to foul the debate with endless propaganda.
Since campaigners have in many cases changed their own lives, and tried for two decades the obvious tactics, such as legislative advocacy, without result, maybe the time has come to heighten the stakes, with mass action at the most obvious sites, from coal-fired power plants to corporate headquarters and congressional offices. Indeed, brave people have already begun: More than 100 were arrested, for instance, in a recent D.C. protest about mountaintop removal coal mining.
But using this tactic effectively will require some other changes.
A Problem of Biblical Proportions
The summer's weather can safely be described as biblical, in the sense that newspaper writers generally use the word -- that is, loud, scary, and dangerous.
Time for Some Angry Work
Time for Some Angry Work
Water, Water, Everywhere
If there is one commodity we should think about collectively, it's water.
Copenhagen's 'Hail Mary'
The witness of Denmark.
A Difference that Matters
I am writing these words on the train from Zurich to Geneva, looking up from my keyboard to see snowcapped mountains hanging over the lake.