By Jamie Henn
Let’s talk for a moment about how the climate movement is going to fight back in 2018.
But first, a public service announcement.
This Jan. 31, movement leaders like the one-and-only Bernie Sanders, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben, Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, Jacqueline Patterson of the NAACP, and more, are coming together for an event called “Fossil Free Fast: The Climate Resistance,” to lay out a movement game plan for 2018.
If you’re in the DC area you should attend the event (tickets here). If not, you can host or join a house party to tune into the broadcast with fellow activists in your community. There are more than 100 parties already registered nationwide. This isn’t an evening you want to miss.
OK. Now let’s get down to the business of resistance.
After a year of watching the Trump administration wreck havoc on our communities and the climate, we know that 2018 is going to bring an onslaught of new assaults. On the climate front, those attacks will take the form of cutting environmental protections and easing the way for more fossil fuel extraction.
We got a preview of horrors to come in January, when the administration announced it would be opening up our coastlines for offshore drilling. That’s on top of plans to expand mining on public lands, allow for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and rubber stamp any and all new fossil fuel projects the industry can come up with.
Even more insidious is the way in which U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is attempting to dismantle decades of environmental regulations. If there’s a rule in place to protect public health or the environment, you can bet Pruitt is taking a hatchet to it. At the top of his kill list for 2018 is the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era policy to limit pollution from coal fired power plants and one of our most important tools to combat rising emissions.
But there’s an Achilles heel to Trump and his cronies’ plan to smother the nation with pipelines and smog, because no matter the actions they take in Washington, DC, these fossil fuel projects need to get built in towns, cities and counties across America. Trump can crow all he wants about coal, oil and gas, but ultimately, it’s not his little hands doing the construction. Even with the full backing of the White House, the only way a fossil fuel project moves forward is if it can secure all the necessary permits and local support. That can be tough for new mines and it’s especially difficult for major pipelines, which often run through multiple states and dozens of towns and counties along their proposed routes.
Which brings us to the first way that we’re going to fight back in 2018: organizing in our communities to stop all new fossil fuel projects.
Right now there isn’t a project in North America that doesn’t face some form of community resistance. From British Columbia to Pennsylvania, local groups are building alliances to resist any new project the industry throws our way. By working together, we can hold back fossil fuel projects long enough so that renewables take over and the economic case for building these pipelines and mines disappears. We’re not going to win every fight, but so far, the resistance is working and even the most inevitable seeming projects are now facing stiff opposition.
Take the case of Keystone XL. One of Trump’s first actions when he was elected was to approve the federal permit for the project. Since then, he’s been bragging that they ” built the Keystone XL pipeline.” Meanwhile, the actual pipeline is still rusting above ground somewhere in the Dakotas waiting to be assembled. In the real world, Keystone XL is still miles away from construction. TransCanada, the company building the project, may have a permit, but they’re still struggling to line up enough buyers for the tar sands oil they want to ship down to Texas (the company announced last week it had secured two-thirds of the commitments it needs, but even those pledges are shaky and had to be propped up by the government in Alberta). TransCanada also hasn’t secured construction rights from farmers and ranchers along a new route they’ve been forced to take through Nebraska.
There’s even a bolder roadblock facing Keystone: you. Over the past few months, nearly 15,000 people have signed the Promise to Protect, a pledge to travel to the route of the pipeline if TransCanada attempts to start building and peacefully resist construction in every way we can. The Promise to Protect should send a chill down the spine of TransCanada and any of their financial backers. Our organizing has held this pipeline back for over seven years and Trump can’t do anything about it. You could have the CEO of ExxonMobil in the White House (oh wait, he’s secretary of state) and Keystone still wouldn’t get built. This resistance isn’t going anywhere.
Even if you don’t live near a pipeline or a fracking well there’s still a way to contribute to stopping projects. Just like in the fight against Big Tobacco or nuclear power, we’re going to be using the model of local resolutions to beat back the fossil fuel industry everywhere they rear their head. Our goal is to pass hundreds of “Fossil Free” resolutions in cities and towns across the country that ban the construction of new fossil fuel projects. In doing so, we’ll help tie up the industry in a web of resistance and helping protect our communities in perpetuity.
That’s job number one: stop all new fossil fuel projects. But playing defense isn’t enough—we also want to go on offense to build the world that works for all of us, not just a wealthy few. Which brings us to job number two.
The second way we’re going to fight back in 2018 is driving forward a fast and just transition to 100 percent renewable energy for all.
Together, we’re going to use 2018 to build a groundswell for 100 percent renewable energy in cities and towns across America. By the end of the year, our goal is to have won at least 100 commitments from communities to go to 100 percent renewable in a just and equitable way. More than that, we want to show the inevitability of the entire country moving in this direction. That means a lot of public education to show people this world is possible, and a lot of political pressure to make sure that every candidate for elected office has signed onto our goal of 100 percent for all.
For many climate advocates, the 100 percent piece will seem clear. Over the last decade, advances in renewable energy technology have made it possible to get all of our power from the sun, wind and water. New breakthroughs in battery storage mean that old concerns about the “reliability” of renewables are quickly fading away. The vision of a carbon-free world is quickly coming into focus.
But what about the justice and equity piece? We know that our current fossil fuel-based energy system, and all the pollution that comes with it, didn’t just get built on a whim. It was enabled by and has perpetuated deep social inequality. While predominantly white, affluent communities can flip on the light switch and still enjoy clean air and water, poorer communities of color are often stuck with a power plant or oil refinery polluting their neighborhoods and threatening their children’s health. Meanwhile, because of corporate monopolies and a lack of worker protections, the vast wealth being created by the fossil fuel economy has flowed in one direction: upwards. As fossil fuel billionaires have pocketed ever more profits, workers and entire communities have been left behind. Climate change just exacerbates these pre-existing inequalities. The same communities who have born the brunt of our pollution-based economy are often on the frontlines of climate impacts.
With the transition to 100 percent renewable energy, we have perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity to rebuild our economy in a more just and equitable way. Through public investments, we can guarantee that it’s not just the rich who can afford to put up solar panels, but those who live in public housing or rental units who are first in line for retrofits and upgrades. With worker training programs and the right incentives, we can make sure that there are enough jobs created so that both workers in the fossil fuel industry and those who never had a shot at a good paying, union job, can get employment in the renewables sector. By making sure that everyone has a seat at the table, we can design transition plans that make sure we truly have 100 percent “for all” rather than just the 1 percent.
That’s the work we need to continue in 2018. There are already great 100 percent efforts underway, from Sierra Club‘s “Ready for 100” campaign to the NAACP’s “Solar For All” effort. Our job is to double, triple, and quadruple these efforts. Remember those “Fossil Free” resolutions I mentioned above? This is the second piece of that puzzle. As we call on our cities and towns to ban new fossil fuel infrastructure, we’ll also ask them to commit to “100 percent for all” and then work with them to make sure they’re implementing these plans.
These two pieces of local resistance, fighting projects and promoting renewables, can make up the bulk of our efforts in 2018, but there’s another key way we need to make progress. That’s because as beautiful and brilliant our distributed resistance is going to be, we still need a way to strike at the heart of the fossil fuel industry. As we work from the bottom up to flip our energy mix, we also need to hit the industry where it hurts: their pocketbooks.
The third way we’re going to fight back in 2018 is by continuing the fossil fuel divestment movement and ensuring that not a penny more goes to new fossil fuel projects.
Over the last five years, the fossil fuel divestment campaign has grown from a handful of college campuses to the largest divestment effort in history. By now, nearly 700 institutions representing $6 trillion in assets have made some form of divestment commitment. In December, the trillion dollar Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund announced that it was expanding its coal divestment to include oil and gas. Soon after, the World Bank announced that it was no longer going to finance new oil and gas development.
— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch) January 10, 2018
Perhaps the most amazing series of announcements came just a couple weeks ago. Governor Andrew Cuomo kicked things off by announcing that New York State was going to pursue fossil fuel divestment. Not to be outdone by Albany, Mayor Bill de Blasio took an even bolder step forward, announcing that New York City would not only be divesting from fossil fuels, but also suing the five largest publicly held oil companies for damages caused by climate change. It’s hard to overstate the significance of this move. The world’s most iconic city and heart of the global financial industry has declared war on fossil fuels.
It feels like fossil fuel divestment may be reaching a tipping point. With New York city and state taking a steps forward, the excuses for others to hold back are looking increasingly lame, and risky. Oil, coal and gas are quickly becoming the guns and tobacco of the 21st century: investments-non-grata for institutions with a conscience. Even those without a conscience are dropping their stocks, however, since nobody wants to be the last one holding onto fossil fuels when the rest of the world realizes the industry is doomed.
Our job in 2018 is to push divestment over the top. Every new city, state and institution that makes a divestment commitment helps hasten the day when the entire economy moves away from fossil fuels and into clean energy. Forget trying to engage with fossil fuel companies—we’ve had three decades of those sorts of efforts and little show for it—it’s divestment that will send a clear signal that business as usual is no longer possible. As fossil fuel stocks become increasingly tainted, it will becomes less and less acceptable for banks (who worry deeply about their brands) to finance new coal, oil and gas development, putting the industry in even more of a precarious situation.
Bring these three pieces together—stopping fossil fuels, building momentum towards 100 percent, and divestment—and we’ve got ourselves a game plan for 2018. Now here’s the timeline. This year, we’ve got two key dates to work towards.
The first is Sept. 8, 2018. That’s the weekend before the Global Climate Action Summit, a major conference being held in San Francisco to drive forward local action on climate change. The summit is connected with the United Nations climate talks, but instead of focusing on national governments, the meeting in September will focus on the commitments from “non-state actors,” i.e. cities, states, investors, businesses and other institutions.
Our goal is to leverage this summit as a way to drive forward the three demands above: no new fossil fuel infrastructure, 100 percent renewable energy for all, and fossil fuel divestment. Since every one of our mayors and governors is being invited to make a commitment for the summit, every one of them can be pressured to meet our demands before that September deadline. Just to make sure, we’re planning a mobilization the weekend before, on Sept. 8, at city halls and state houses across the country. Whether those rallies are a celebration of the commitments our elected officials have made, or a protest demanding they do more, will depend on them.
After we take to the streets in September, we’ll focus on the next key date on the calendar. You guessed it: Nov. 8. If it isn’t abundantly clear by now, elections have consequences. We need to make sure that this election day, every single person that cares about climate justice is registered to vote and knocking on doors to send a clear signal to the establishment that we need elected officials who don’t just believe in climate change, but are ready to do something about it. Nonprofits that can’t engage in electoral activity will be investing in public education and voter registration, while political organizations will be promoting climate champions and taking down deniers and industry puppets. As activists, our job will be to figure out how we can make the biggest difference locally and support any and all national efforts that support our end goals.
So, let’s get to work. Fossil Free Fast, the event on Jan. 31, is when the action begins. It’s also the perfect opportunity for you to get a group together in your community, or meet up with an existing crew, and lay out your game plan for working on the goals above (and whatever other priorities you want to take on) over the coming year.
2018 isn’t a year to sit on the sidelines or behind the comfort of your screen. It’s a year to get out and organize. The resistance is everywhere and it’s brilliant and beautiful and brave. The deepest thanks to all of your who are already deeply involved in driving it forward. To the rest of you, join us.
Jamie Henn is co-founder and director of strategic communications for the international climate campaign 350.org.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.