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Climate change hasn't gotten much air time during the 2016 presidential election, but that changed Tuesday afternoon in Florida when Hillary Clinton and Al Gore appeared together at Miami Dade College.
"Our next president will either step up to protect our planet, or we will be dragged backwards and our whole planet will be put at risk," said Clinton to an enthusiastic crowd of students and supporters.
On the heels of Hurricane Matthew, which set records as the longest-lived category 4-5 hurricane in the Eastern Caribbean and Western Atlantic, and the longest-lived major hurricane that formed after Sept 25, former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore said, "When it comes to the most urgent issue facing our country and the world, the choice in this election is extremely clear. Hillary Clinton will make solving our climate crisis a top priority. Her opponent will take us toward a climate catastrophe."
Gore, remembering Hurricane Andrew, which struck Florida in 1992 as he and the Clintons campaigned for office, noted that, since then, the sea level in the Florida waters has risen three inches. The rate of sea-level rise has tripled over the last 10 years. At the time, Hurricane Andrew was the most destructive hurricane in U.S. history. The category 5 hurricane killed 44 in Florida and was the costliest disaster in the state's history.
Miami is highly vulnerable to climate change. With 441,000 people, it sits just six feet above sea level. Its highest elevation is only 42 feet. In the past 10 years, flooding in Miami Beach from high tides has quadrupled. On a regular basis, ocean waters invade streets, damage cars and disrupt business.
"It's become a daily reality here in Miami," said Clinton. "You have the streets flood at high tide, and the ocean is bubbling up through the sewer system."
The former Secretary of State also pointed to the need to address the challenges brought on by climate change, saying, "We need to invest in resilient infrastructure." Ironically, South Florida is moving forward on an aggressive plan that acknowledges climate change in a state where Florida officials are prohibited from even using the term under the administration of Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
"In this election, the future of Miami and cities up and down the east and west coast of Florida are on the ballot as well," Gore said. He stressed the importance of voting, taking from his personal experience in the state in 2000. "Your vote really, really, really counts," he said emphatically. The event today was the first time that Gore has publicly campaigned for Clinton in this election.
The Miami appearance yesterday comes just ahead of the now-extended voter registration deadline of 5 p.m. on Wednesday. A court order was required to provide additional time for Florida voters—many of whom evacuated or were displaced by Hurricane Matthew—to register, after Gov. Scott refused to extend the deadline. Florida is a key battleground state, with 29 electoral votes. Fivethirtyeight gives Hillary Clinton a 71 percent chance of carrying the state as of today.
And, according to 350 Action's Executive Director May Boeve, if "Clinton really wants to bring young voters to the polls, she'll need to keep adopting even more ambitious positions on climate, like stopping the destructive Dakota Access Pipeline or vocally endorsing fossil fuel divestment. Millennials want someone who will stand up to the fossil fuel industry and help protect our shared future. The louder she gets, the more we'll vote."
Clinton sketched out her plan for dealing with climate change during her remarks, "I want to see 500 million more solar panels installed across America by the end of my first term, and have enough renewable energy to power every home within 10 years," she said. She also noted that renewable energy is now the fastest growing source of new jobs in the U.S., and warned that if America doesn't step up, either Germany or China will become "the clean energy superpower of the 21st century."
Before the two embraced and walked off the stage, Gore concluded by saying, "We have the opportunity to look back on this year as the time when our nation chose to finally answer the alarm bells on the climate crisis."
“Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” – Winston Churchill
It is time to acknowledge what has long been obvious: President Obama wants Keystone XL built. He won’t tell us this until after Election Day, for fear of alienating his Democratic base, but his actions speak for themselves. The President’s high profile visit to Cushing, OK a week ago today to expedite construction of the pipeline’s southern leg (“Keystone Lite”) only further exposes his true intentions, which are as transparent as the Obama camp’s attempt to change the channel by renaming it the “Cushing pipeline.” Governor Romney, who mistakenly assumes Republican voters don’t care, at least tells us he would approve the toxic tar sands pipeline on “day one” of his presidency.
Both candidates fail to grasp the depth of revulsion this un-American, gas price raising, job threatening, land grabbing, water polluting, export pipeline has generated in the six Great Plains states it would cross. For many of the front line farmers, ranchers and tribal community members I had the honor of meeting on my 2,150-mile “Tour of Resistance” last fall, Keystone XL is not an abstract game of political football, but a matter of deathly importance. More than a few are ready to lay in front of the bulldozers to keep this toxic pipeline off their land. In Pine Ridge, South Dakota, home of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the peaceful resistance has already begun.
How did we get to this point and what have we learned to strengthen us for the fight to come? Recent history provides the lessons.
My personal involvement began last winter and spring, when after first learning about Keystone XL, I shared my plans to ride the pipeline route with environmental groups leading the fight against it. That summer, a group of prominent climate activists led by Bill McKibben invited people to Washington, DC for a mass show of civil resistance against Keystone XL. There were 1,253 people that responded by getting arrested in front of the White House, but it was actor/activist Daryl Hannah's high-profile arrest that turned Keystone into a household word. The following day, Al Gore endorsed the protest and Nebraska’s Republican Governor went on record opposing the proposed route through Nebraska. Nine Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including the Dalai Lama, soon followed suit by weighing in against Keystone XL. Activists began hounding Obama at public appearances around the country, with Vice President of Oglala Lakota Nation Tom Poor Bear the first person to spur the President to address Keystone XL publicly. A subsequent call to action by Bill’s group resulted in 12,000 people encircling the White House in early November.
Under excruciating pressure to deny TransCanada’s presidential permit, Obama pulled a fast one by announcing he was delaying a decision on Keystone XL until after the 2012 election. My reaction was to label it an act of political cowardice. Others similarly saw through the political ploy, including eco-visionary, Paul Hawken, who called the move “dangerous.” But most of the well-intentioned environmental movement embraced the false victory, showering the President with praise for his “courage” and “leadership.” Keystone XL was prematurely declared dead and actions planned at Obama campaign offices in 50 states were called off. Front line pipeline fighters felt like the rug had been pulled out from under them.
Lesson #1: When you have your opponent staggered and against the ropes, you don’t back off, you keep on coming until you’ve landed the knock out punch.
Then in January, backed into a corner by congressional Republicans, the President announced he was denying TransCanada’s permit, which sounded pretty good until you got to paragraph two of the White House Statement, where he offered to partner with TransCanada on the southern (OK-TX) leg of Keystone XL. Calls for Obama to be taken to task for this subterfuge were largely ignored, while most of the environmental movement did another victory dance, again declaring Keystone XL dead. This despite the President’s own written words to the contrary and an administration that never stopped publicly telegraphing its support for the tar sands project. Their ploy to break the project up into bite-sized pieces had worked like a charm. This time, it was landowners in Texas and Oklahoma feeling like collateral damage for Obama’s reelection campaign.
Lesson #2: When the President of the United States tells you he supports building a leg of Keystone XL, take him at his word, and respond accordingly.
Since then, Republicans in Congress have been scheming to revive Keystone in a way that will damage President Obama politically. At the same time, congressional Democratic leaders like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Democratic Whip, Steny Hoyer (D-MD), inch closer to supporting Keystone XL, while others like U.S. Senator Clair McCaskill (D-MO) and former president Bill Clinton embrace it outright. The congressional tar sands bandwagon recently grew larger when 11 Democratic Senators backed a GOP provision to fast-track construction of Keystone XL. To their credit, the environmental movement has rallied valiantly to beat back each new legislative assault, but they keep losing ground to Democrats. A movement that rarely misses an opportunity to criticize Republicans for fronting for Big Oil fails to treat well-oiled Democrats, including President Obama, the same at it’s own peril.
Lesson #3: Partisanship, whether real or perceived, is toxic to building winning social movements.
We are not winning. TransCanada is. Obama, ever the quintessential politician, has played the environmental movement masterfully. But this time, he may have gone too far. By making such a public spectacle of backing “Keystone Lite,” Obama betrayed his lack of respect for the movement. Maybe he doesn’t believe large numbers of patriotic Americans will lay their bodies on the line to nonviolently repel this foreign pipeline invasion, but he is about to find out.
The 2012 election demands an honest national conversation not only about Keystone XL, but about how we’re going to keep the planet habitable for future generations. Climate-destabilizing emissions have already exceeded safe levels, and continue to rise, yet there is no serious response from government. To the contrary, leaders of both major political parties seem hell bent on accelerating the cycle of destruction by pushing for the development of even more fossil fuels. The refusal of Obama and Romney, in particular, to fight for the future of their children should alarm every parent in America. Instead of championing obvious solutions—like a U.S.-led green industrial revolution that will reenergize our economy and put millions of unemployed Americans back to work—both men compliantly do the bidding of Big Oil, while clinging to the dinosaur economy.
Early last year, an unprecedented coalition of environmental, religious and renewable energy leaders called for a “wartime-like mobilization” to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020. We urged the President to declare a “global climate emergency” by publicly acknowledging the need to reduce carbon emissions to 350 parts per million in the atmosphere, the level top climate scientists say is safe for humanity. Along with nixing Keystone XL, I can think of no better demand to be made of whoever wants to occupy the Oval Office for the next four years.