Is the climate movement at a political tipping point? Could right now, 2015, be that moment in history, be something akin to the 1964-1965 period for the civil rights movement? Those were the years that two major pieces of legislation, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, ended legal segregation in the South and opened the way for a whole series of positive social, cultural and political changes in the U.S. in the years since.
2015 might be a turning point year, but it definitely won’t be if we don’t rise to the occasion. History and our grandchildren are calling on us to do so right now. Photo credit: Shutterstock
If looked at in that light, the answer is almost certainly “no.” Given the dominance of the Senate and the House by climate denier Republicans, it is extremely unrealistic to expect major national climate legislation until 2017 at the earliest.
However, there are other things at work, three in particular:
- The growing strength of the grassroots-based climate movement, as seen last year in the People’s Climate March, banning of fracking in New York, staying power of the no Keystone XL pipeline message and Northwest no coal exports campaigns, deepening of the fossil fuel divestment movement, emergence of a growing movement against new gas pipelines, compressor stations and export terminals, most visible at the week-long early November nonviolent blockade in Washington, DC at the headquarters of FERC, and more.
- The roughly 50 percent drop in the price of oil on world markets, which negatively affects both oil and gas production and profits and, therefore, the willingness of banks and money people to invest in the oil and gas industry; the serious overproduction/debt/lack of needed infrastructure/decline in supply/decline in prices worldwide crises for the shale gas (fracking) drilling companies; and the deepening difficulties of the coal industry caused mainly by competition from renewables and gas, low prices, and tightening federal regulations directed primarily at them.
- The dramatic rise in renewables, particularly wind and solar, both in the U.S. and worldwide. Deborah Rogers Lawrence, writing on Jan. 3 on the EnergyPolicyForum website, quotes from a recent report issued by Bloomberg New Energy Finance: "By 2030, the world’s power mix will have transformed: from today’s system with two-thirds fossil fuels to one with over half from zero-emission energy sources. Renewables will command over 60% of the 5,579GW of new capacity and 65% of the $7.7 trillion of power investment.’ And that is without much shift in current policy to incentivize renewable production. If countries were to get serious about climate change, these figures could presumably be accelerated.”
In addition, 2015 is the year that the Pope is going to put forward a major encyclical and convene a meeting of religious leaders with the immediate objective of bringing pressure to bear on the December United Nations Climate Conference in Paris. That conference is on track to come up with some kind of a climate agreement, the big question being whether it’s more-of-the-same that we’ve seen for years and years or a badly-needed change of direction. Without question, the already-happening focus on this conference by the broad mix of people worldwide supporting strong action on climate, including the Pope, will undoubtedly have a big political impact, maybe even with the world’s governments.
What about that climate-denier-run Congress? Will they be able to fundamentally alter these powerful economic and political developments?
Without question, they will try. Indeed, they already are with their effort to ram through the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline despite Obama’s announcement that he will veto that legislation. They intend to try to reduce the Environmental Protection Agency budget to hamstring its already-far-from-consistent efforts to do its job and, in particular, to try to slow or stop its plans to enact regulations for the electrical power generation industry. I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried very hard to come up with a package of financial gifts to our “poor and struggling” oil, gas and coal companies in their time of need.
Without question, the climate movement will need to rise to the challenge of these regressive efforts, as it is already doing on the Keystone XL front.
But we need to be doing much more than this. We have some wind at our back, and we need to escalate our tactics.
It would be a very big mistake for the grassroots-based climate movement to get too caught up in the ins-and-outs of Capitol Hill battles. Indeed, the biggest contribution we can make to those defensive tactics is to do build up the political will of the American people for action on climate.
How can we best do this? In my view, learning from the civil rights movement and many other successful social movements down through history, we can best do so by escalating strategic, well-thought-through, nonviolent direct action and other visible, demonstrative actions in the streets, as massive and coordinated as we can make them.
2015 might be a turning point year, but it definitely won’t be if we don’t rise to the occasion. History and our grandchildren are calling on us to do so right now.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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