By John Light
Editor's note: Watch the oral arguments live beginning at 1 p.m. EST above.
Three judges in San Francisco potentially have the power to decide how the U.S. government deals with climate change. Monday, 21 young Americans will make the case that President Trump has endangered their future by aiding and abetting the dirty industries responsible for the global crisis. And they will argue that they can hold him legally accountable.
Trump and his predecessors in the Oval Office, these young Americans claim, have not only let climate change occur, they've encouraged it. Despite research going back to the mid-20th century that pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would destabilize the climate, they say the government incentivized the companies that did so through such programs as fossil-fuel subsidies.
Thery further attest that Donald Trump has upped the ante, with his administration outlining plans to lend a helping hand to the coal companies whose CEOs have donated to his campaign—regardless of the dirty fuel's dim future prospects—and promoting fossil fuels internationally.
The 21 young plaintiffs originally filed their suit against President Obama in 2015, but Trump inherited it, and Justice Department lawyers quickly redoubled efforts begun by the Obama administration to have the case dismissed.
Whether they can will be decided following Monday's hearing: A lower court is set to hear the youth's arguments in February, and the Trump administration has appealed to a higher court, the 9th Circuit, to throw the case out before it goes to trial.
In November 2016, days after the election, District Court Judge Ann Aiken allowed the case to proceed. The Trump administration's decision to ask a higher court to weigh in is highly unusual.
But so, too, is the young plaintiffs' suit, which seeks a judicial solution to climate change, a crisis that is growing increasingly urgent and that the other branches of the government have failed to adequately address. The suit argues both that the government cannot put kids in harm's way by encouraging fossil-fuel production, but also that the earth's atmosphere is a public trust that the government has failed to protect.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Eric Grant, who was appointed to work in the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division last April, will be representing the government. Grant replaces Jeffrey Wood, an acting assistant attorney general and former coal lobbyist who was working on the case last spring. Formerly a California-based lawyer, Grant clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Chief Justice Warren Burger.
Three fossil-fuel industry lobbying groups, meanwhile, have quit the suit. After the young plaintiffs filed their initial lawsuit against the Obama administration in 2015, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and the National Association of Manufacturers joined as co-defendants, challenging the case in court. But after November 2016, when a court gave the plaintiffs the green light to proceed to trial, the lobbying groups bailed, claiming that the Trump administration would more adequately defend their interests than the Obama administration.
Interestingly, although Trump himself has spoken extensively of his doubts on climate change ("global warming hoax," etc.), his legal team assigned to this case has not denied the reality of the threat during recent proceedings. Instead, they've sought to wriggle out of the case on the grounds that what the young people are asking for—both in terms of their legal remedy and in terms of discovery—is overly broad. The U.S. may be a rogue state when it comes to climate change—the only one no longer on board with the Paris agreement—but, the government's attorneys argue, that's not their problem. The Constitution, they say, says nothing about climate change.
In its briefing to the court last June, the government wrote:
The Supreme Court has recently emphasized how, under established separation-of-powers principles, Congress, through legislation, defines the EPA's authorities and duties regarding the control of greenhouse gas emissions, while the executive executes them … There is no room in the constitutional structure for a federal court to take on the role of overseeing the propriety of all governmental actions that may be viewed as contributing to the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere.
But the government's approach to the case may change. As E&E News reported earlier this month, the Justice Department has been speaking with scientists who have been critical of the case or who have expressed dissenting views on climate change, which may indicate DOJ lawyers plan to put on trial the science behind climate change.
The suit also comes at a time when the lack of a presidential or legislative response to climate change has made the U.S. unique in a world that has at least acknowledged the necessity of action. As a result, environmentalists and legal scholars alike increasingly look to the courts for a solution. Judge Ann Aiken's decision to let the suit proceed, days after Trump won election, "was a ray of sunshine in what was a very dark day for the environmental community," Michael Burger, the executive director of Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told BillMoyers.com.
Trump's climate change-blind policies could "make it more likely the courts will step into this situation," David Bookbinder, chief legal counsel for the libertarian Niskanen Center, told Bloomberg Environment. Trump's election, lead plaintiff Kelsey Juliana told us in May, "has really lifted our case up and given our case even more importance and urgency."
In the short term, it comes down to the three 9th Circuit judges who will hear the case Monday. Two are Clinton nominees, and the third, Alex Kozinski, is a Reagan nominee. It's unclear what effect, if any, allegations of inappropriate sexual misconduct by six court staffers against Kozinski, reported by The Washington Post Friday, will have on the hearing.
John Light is a reporter and producer for the Moyers team. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, Grist, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, Vox and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. He's a graduate of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. You can follow him on Twitter at @LightTweeting.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Moyers & Company.
By Bill Moyers
I wasn't one of the 50,766 participants who finished the New York City Marathon last weekend. Instead, I spent the average marathon finish time of 4:39:07 to read a book—obviously a small book. In the interest of disclosure, I didn't even start the race, but that's another and even shorter story than Radio Free Vermont, the book from which I did occasionally look up and out the window to check on the stream of marathoners passing our apartment, their faces worn and haggard.
A shame, I thought, that I couldn't go outside and hand each one a copy of the book that had kept me smiling throughout the day while also restoring my soul; I was sure the resilience would quickly have returned to weary feet and sore muscles now draped in aluminum foil for healing's sake. I admire those athletes, but wouldn't have traded their run for my read, because Radio Free Vermont is funny, very funny, all the more so considering the author is one of the more serious men on the planet—the planet he has spent his adult life trying to save.
Bill McKibben's calling has been a footrace of its own, not to report to Athenians the victory of Greek warriors over the Spartans, but to wake up Americans to the once creeping, now billowing threat of global warming. For 30 years now climate change has been his beat—first as a journalist, then as an environmentalist and now as the leading activist in mobilizing a worldwide movement to win a race against time. In Radio Free Vermont, his latest book, he turns to humor for inspiration as runners go to bottled water for sustenance, and has us laughing all the way to the finish line. Also in the interest of disclosure, you should know Bill McKibben and I are old friends who sometimes conspire in plotting resistance to—well, read on.
Bill Moyers: Sixteen books of first-rate journalism and now a novel. Your first. Did reality become too much for you?
Bill McKibben: I've been working on this story just to amuse myself over the years, little bits at a time. But this year seemed like the year when everybody else could use a little relief from another of my usual depressing books about the world in the middle of another depressing year. That seemed just too much angst all around, so I thought maybe it would be OK to indulge my funnier side a little bit, in the service of the resistance to all that's happening around us.
Penguin Press, 2017
Moyers: Well, it's a hoot and a romp—and a meditation on the state of the world as experienced in the state of Vermont. Did you have fun writing it?
McKibben: Maybe too much. It's probably not a great sign when a writer sits there cackling at his own jokes while he's writing them. But it cheered me up, anyway.
Moyers: From Concord and Lexington on April 18, 1775—"the shot heard 'round the world"—to Paris, France on July 14, 1789—the storming of the Bastille—it's a stretch to Radio Free Vermont broadcasting on the run from an "undisclosed and double-secret location in Vermont." You give us an opening scene that gets the heart beating and the blood running as hints of secession waft through the globally warmed January Green Mountain air.
McKibben: Vermont has an interesting history. It's the 14th state in the Union, and there was a big gap between [it and] the first 13. It took 10 or 11 years for Vermont to decide that it was going to join the Union and not continue, as it was for a bit, as an independent republic. I'm not actually thinking that we should secede again—at least right now. But man, there are moments this past year when it's been hard not to think that one would want to separate from the United States, if only psychically, at least for a little while.
Moyers: Are you picking up where Edward Abbey left off with The Monkey Wrench Gang—everyday people willing to become outlaws for justice?
McKibben: Ed Abbey—yes. The Monkey Wrench Gang was one of my great delights of any book I've ever read, and Abbey I knew at the end of his life and liked enormously. The thing I liked most about him was that he was funny, and so I hope this is, too. It does seem to me that humor doesn't end up playing as large a role in our literature as it should. We've confined it to the work of late-night comedians.
Moyers: Explaining, perhaps, why you turned not just to fiction but to a fable. Fables are playful.
Moyers: Sometimes the truth goes down easier when it's more playful.
McKibben: Well, Anna Karenina this is not.
Moyers: I don't live in Vermont. You do. But I spend a lot of time there, as you know, and I can swear to seeing people like your characters on the streets, in their pickups, in coffee shops, on the town greens, talking to their neighbors. The characters in Radio Free Vermont are very real.
McKibben: I've spent my life living in rural America, some of it in blue state Vermont, some of it in red state upstate New York. They're quite alike in many ways. And quite wonderful. It's important that even in an urbanized and suburbanized country, we continue to take rural America seriously. And the thing that makes Vermont in particular so special, and I hope this book captures some of it, is the basic underlying civility of its political life. That's rooted in the town meeting. Each of the towns in Vermont governs itself. We have a meeting the first Tuesday in March—
Moyers: In every town?
McKibben: Every town. Everybody comes, sits down in the high-school gymnasium or the church or wherever the meeting happens and spends the day hashing out the budget for the next year and how much the town clerk should be paid and if it's time to buy a new grader for the road. That system has worked well for hundreds of years, but it couldn't work if those meetings were filled with Donald Trumps standing up and insulting people all the time. And on occasion, when someone like that shows up in Vermont, everybody knows to ignore them. One wishes the U.S. had known how to ignore this guy Trump when he stood up and started bellowing.
Moyers: If I were making a movie out of Radio Free Vermont, I would turn to Motown for the score, because Motown songs run through your story—in all-white Vermont!
McKibben: Vermont's great problem, of course, is its signal lack of diversity. It's about as white as you can get. And there's no way to remedy that in fiction, except in this case to suggest that at the very least it could use a better musical score.
Jedidiah Morse, John Stockdale, 'Map of Vermont,' 1794Library of Congress
Moyers: Where did you come up with Vern Barclay?
McKibben: This is the septuagenarian former radio host who's the hero, in a way, of this book. One of the inspirations for it was the man who runs the radio station WDEV. It's the last great independent radio station I know of anyplace in the country. I wrote about it years ago for Harper's. A long piece. It's a radio station that carries the Red Sox, carries all the stock car races from Thunder Road in Barre, carries Amy Goodman's daily broadcast—the only commercial station in America that carries Democracy Now. It has a libertarian hour in the morning. It has its own bluegrass radio band. The biggest draw of the entire week comes Saturday morning, when the man on whom Vern Barclay is somewhat modeled does an hour-long show called Music To Go To the Dump By. What's important about this is the notion that we have lost the ability for civilized discourse, and this fellow who wants to secede from the Union is broadcasting clandestinely, and he's not only nonviolent physically, he's also nonviolent rhetorically. He gives his best shot and then says, "But I may be wrong" as he encourages people to think through what he's saying. And that's the part that feels missing to me most in the world we inhabit right now.
Moyers: And he is broadcasting "underground, underpowered and underfoot," as the state police close in on him.
McKibben: That's it.
Moyers: Why is he fomenting rebellion?
McKibben: The plot device is the fight against Walmart. Vermont was the last state in the Union with no Walmarts at all, and even now we've only got a couple, thank heaven. So he had been sitting there behind the microphone for many decades talking with Vermonters and interviewing them and watching the community start to erode around him, watching as Vermont began to work less well as it began to be overtaken by the forces of bigness. That's obviously not special about Vermont. That's the story of America in many ways over the last 50 years.
Moyers: The folks in Marshall, Texas, my hometown, will be reading Radio Free Vermont, I'm sure. Walmart came in there and you cannot believe the beautiful trees that went down as the huge box store went up.
McKibben: The consumer culture in general has washed over our civilization. And one result is that neighbors like these became optional in America. For the last 50 years, if you've had a credit card and some access to money, you don't really need neighbors around you. And as a result, they dwindled. The average American has half as many close friends as they did in 1950. Three quarters of Americans don't know their next-door neighbor. They may know their name, but they have no real relationship with them. That's an utterly new place for human beings to find themselves in—I mean, we're a socially evolved primate. It wasn't that many generations ago that we were sitting on the savannah picking lice out of each other's fur. It's got to be one of the reasons that we're going so crazy right now.
Moyers: And this is why your hero—
McKibben: It's why he gets angry at certain things and starts down particular roads without thinking very far [ahead] about where they're going to take him.
Moyers: I understand that. I was sad when those trees disappeared in Marshall.
McKibben: Sad is appropriate as well. And I think for those who've lived through these changes, there's a certain amount of just plain puzzlement, too. How did this happen? How did the world that we knew so quickly dissolve into the kind of froth we see at the moment?
Moyers: So I'll give away a few details of your story—of where Vern Barclay's little rebellion takes us. Your characters hijack a Coors beer truck and fill it with local beer, of which there's plenty in Vermont. They hack into a Starbucks sound system to announce that Vermont still has coffee shops actually owned by Vermonters, and the money stays in the state. And this is my favorite: They stage a walkout of middle-school students in honor of Ethan Allen Day. Ethan Allen is one of my favorite figures in American history.
McKibben: Ethan Allen, the great Vermont progenitor. And not an entirely admirable character in every way, a kind of real estate speculator and—
Moyers: Part theologian, part businessman, part philosopher, part politician. But in his own way—
McKibben: A great man. A great man.
Moyers: Many parts a patriot.
McKibben: Absolutely, a great character—
Moyers: Founder of the Green Mountain Boys. Hero of Ticonderoga—
McKibben: Yep. The cannon that he liberated from Fort Ticonderoga was the cannon that drove the British out of Boston.
Moyers: And when the British general surrendered the fort to him, he accepted it "in the name of the great God Jehovah and the Continental Congress."
McKibben: The Continental Congress. I forgot that line. He had a good self-dramatizing sense. Absolutely.
Moyers: If you're lucky, you'll get Lin-Manuel Miranda to produce Radio Free Vermont on Broadway.
McKibben: I'm afraid rebellion comes naturally to me. You mentioned Concord and Lexington in Massachusetts. I grew up in Lexington. And I used to give summer tours of the Battle Green, the "birthplace of American liberty." Really, Lexington marked the start of the worldwide battle against imperialism and colonialism, and I would put on my tricorn hat and go out and tell tourists about the beginning of that fight. So I've never in my life confused dissent with a lack of patriotism. Just the opposite, in many ways.
Moyers: You've written how those Minutemen "fought against the unpredictable, unrepresentative and unaccountable power that the king represented. They felt they had no more voice in the central government than many feel right now."
McKibben: No taxation without representation! How many of us feel truly represented? One of the ironies of this book is that Vermont in some ways should be the last place to secede from the Union. We come closer to having an effective democracy than anyplace. There's 600,000 of us and we have two senators—Sanders and Leahy—and we can see them in the grocery store and call them on the phone. I can't imagine why California settles for only two senators. It's the sixth-largest economy in the world. It's got 40 million people. And two senators, just as we have in Vermont. The idea of one man, one vote is increasingly crazy in this country, and so is the malignant effect of money on our political life, as you have been reporting a long time now.
Moyers: Fiction doesn't always have a moral, but fables always have a moral. What do you want us to take away from this one?
McKibben: Not that we all should secede from the Union. Instead, let's resist. I really wrote this as a love note to the resistance—the resistance that's been happening over the last 10 years. I've been a part of it with the organization 350.org, fighting global warming, and now in the resistance that's sprung up in the last year since Donald Trump took over. That's been the one heartening thing about this year: the antibodies have assembled themselves to try and fight off the fever that America's now in. I'm no Pollyanna, so I don't know if it's going to work or not. Sometimes the antibodies don't get there in sufficient quantity or in sufficient time, and you end up amputating.
Moyers: Let's pause right here and talk about this present moment as reality, not fable. Here's what your story prompts me to ask: When people realize the current order of things no longer works and the institutions of government and society are failing to fix them—failing to solve the problems democracy creates for itself—what options do they have?
McKibben: Well, I don't think we're in a place where rebellion in the sense of the American Revolution works anymore. One of the reasons that I'm a big advocate of nonviolence is that it's the only thing that makes sense. Taking up arms against a government that has the world's biggest supply of them is just a bad idea right from the start. But that doesn't mean there aren't other ways to resist, and we're seeing more and more of it coming from all directions. There are lots of lawyers testing what we can still do with the courts. There are demonstrators in the streets reminding us that when people rise up in large numbers, it makes it more difficult for the government to do bad things. There are people on social media and people jamming the switchboards on Capitol Hill, and there are people by thousands getting ready to run for office in this country, and people trying all kinds of different routes. To me, the thing that activists work for more than anything is not a new law. It's a change in the zeitgeist.
Moyers: The spirit of the times.
McKibben: Yes. That's the end result of most really big campaigning, and once you get that change in the zeitgeist, then the change in laws and legislation comes relatively easily. But it's winning that battle in the culture, in the atmosphere around us, as it were.
Moyers: For example?
McKibben: The great example in recent times is how effectively people organized around gay marriage. Now, you and I are both old enough to remember when that seemed like an utterly impossible ideal. In fact, five years ago Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were still dead set against it because it didn't poll well. But people changed that. Activists managed to change the zeitgeist around those questions to the point where others began to realize, "Hey, we like people falling in love. Falling in love and getting married is a good thing. We should have more of it and not less." And the minute that that line was crossed, then the battle was for all intents and purposes over.
Moyers: Climate change hasn't been so easy.
McKibben: It's harder with many other things. The fight around climate change, which I've spent my life on, is somewhat more difficult because no one makes trillions of dollars a year being a bigot, and that's how much the fossil-fuel industry pulls in pumping carbon into the air. But the principle is the same, I think.
Moyers: For me the question now is how much time do we have? When it comes to global warming, all signs suggest we are running out of time.
McKibben: The question of time is the question that haunts me. I remain optimistic enough to think that in general human beings will figure out the right thing to do eventually, and Americans will somehow get back on course. Of course, there'll be a lot of damage done in the meantime. But with climate change in particular—the gravest of the problems we face—time is the one thing we don't have. It's the only problem we've ever had that came with a time limit. And if we don't solve it soon, we don't solve it. Our governments so far have not proven capable of dealing with this question. They simply haven't been able to shake off the self-interest and massive power of the fossil-fuel industry. It's going to take a lot of work and a lot of effort to get us onto renewable energy quickly and everywhere. It's doable technically; the question is whether it's doable politically or not. There I don't know.
Moyers: You've said that winning slowly in this fight—
McKibben: Winning slowly is another way of losing. Look, we're screwing up our health care system again right now. That's going to cause grave trouble for people over the next five, 10 years. There are going to be lots of people who die, lots of people who are sick, lots of people who go bankrupt. It's going to be horrible. But 10 years from now it will not be harder to solve the problem because you ignored it for those 10 years. It won't have changed into some completely other problem. With climate change, that's not true. As each year passes, we move past certain physical tipping points that make it impossible to recover large parts of the world that we have known.
Moyers: Just last week we got the National Climate Assessment Report, which says we're now living in the warmest period in the history of modern civilization, and that the average global concentration of carbon dioxide has surged to the highest level in approximately three million years. Three million years!
McKibben: Three million years, and the last time there was this much CO2 in the atmosphere, the temperature of the planet settled several degrees higher, which results in approximately a 20-meter rise in the level of the oceans. Times Square is 16 meters above sea level, just to give you a little bit of reference. We're playing with forces so enormous now. As you know, I wrote the first book about climate change almost 30 years ago—
McKibben: When I started writing about it, climate change was still theoretical and abstract. Now it bludgeons you weekly. Think about the last eight weeks and confine yourself to the small percent of the planet that's covered by the United States. We had the greatest rainstorm in American history. Hurricane Harvey came ashore in your old state of Texas and dropped 54 inches in parts of Houston. That's more rain than we've ever seen at one time in the United States. Hurricane Irma, on its heels, is the longest ever recorded on the planet—longest storm with a wind speed above 185 miles an hour. Maria comes to Puerto Rico 10 days after that, it knocks an entire island 30 years back in its development. It's going to be that long before they get back to where they were in August. And then look at what happens in California after the hottest and driest summer ever recorded there. Napa and Sonoma, which are as close as you get to our definition of what constitutes the good life—you know, prosperous beautiful communities, surrounded by big buckets of wine—Napa and Sonoma burn in the course of hours. People flee for their lives and the people who are slow don't make it.
Moyers: We are divided, it seems to me, between the passionately ignorant and the passively informed. And therefore paralyzed.
McKibben: We have to take some percentage of the passively informed and make them into the actively engaged. That's what movement-building is about. And we don't have to get all of them. There's a wonderful new book by the Engler brothers called This is an Uprising. It's an impressive history of nonviolence, a great sort of accounting of what we know from the last 50 or 75 years of nonviolent resistance. One of the things they find—and I think they're quoting an academic named Erica Chenoweth—is that if you can get 3.5 percent of the population actively engaged in some fight, then you usually win. That makes intuitive sense to me. What it means is that apathy cuts both ways. If you have a largely unengaged population, then some people getting engaged can move it in big ways. We saw that with the tea party quite effectively.
Moyers: They took over the Republican Party.
McKibben: That's right, and now we need to see it from the other direction.
Moyers: Standing against the tide of movement that you and others are creating is something you haven't really faced before. A president as defiant as you, who insists that climate change isn't real. He and his cronies are twisting themselves into pretzels to justify blocking efforts to reverse global warming.
McKibben: Absolutely. We may well run out of time. Part of me has never been particularly optimistic about the fight. The name of that book that I wrote back in 1989 was The End of Nature—not a very cheerful title. So we may well run out of time. But at the very least now, the one heartening thing is we are not going to run out of fight. It's going to be a battle. It's being engaged every day all over the world. And that at least is some consolation.
Moyers: Are there other consolations?
McKibben: It's not an impossible battle, because the engineers have done their job too. The last 10 years, we've watched the price of a solar panel fall 80 percent. That means there is no longer any mystery about what we do. If we were serious, we would put up a lot of solar panels.
Moyers: As the Chinese are doing.
McKibben: The Chinese are rapidly doing it.
Moyers: I saw some news footage the other night: hundreds of acres in China—thousands—covered with solar panels.
McKibben: The Chinese are trolling us. They're building hundreds of giant solar parks in the shape, from the air, of pandas. You look down and there's a panda's face composed entirely of solar panels. I think they're just making fun of us.
Prototype of Chinese wind farm in the shape of a panda.UNDP
Moyers: I don't think any reader who knows you will put this book down without asking what does Bill McKibben think we can do now, given the folly of our government? What can we do about the fate of the earth as the planet gets hotter and the United States turns thumbs down on responding. As you just said, you spent the last 30 years trying to warn us about the threat. You've written important books, you've produced stellar journalism, you've traveled and lectured, protested and petitioned. You've organized and led marches and got yourself arrested outside Barack Obama's White House. Indeed, it wasn't until things like that happened that Obama finally woke up and started coming up with policies to fight global warming. It took that long to move a progressive Democrat. Now we have a president surrounded by like-minded cronies and supported by a Congress controlled by Republicans, a party that seems absolutely willing to let the earth burn for profit. What would you have us do against such—such counter-resistance?
McKibben: You're right; we can't make any progress in DC, at least for now. One of the things that we have to do in the moment is make a lot of progress in the places we can: in local communities, in states and cities where we have enough political purchase to get things done. And really that's a larger span of places than you would think.
Moyers: That's what you and several thousand other people were doing the other night here in Carnegie Hall, wasn't it?
McKibben: We had a great gathering here in Carnegie Hall. We were kicking off this 1,000 Cities Campaign. Between the Sierra Club and a bunch of other allies we've been asking cities in the last year to commit to 100-percent renewable energy, I think there's 47 major American cities that have done that now. At first it was the obvious ones—Berkeley, California, and Madison, Wisconsin—but now it's Atlanta and Salt Lake City and San Diego, among others. You'll recall that when President Trump pulled us out of the Paris Climate Accord—by the way, just think about that for a minute: a truly shameful thing to say that America, which has put more carbon in the atmosphere than any other country, was going to go back on its word, break its word, walk away from its commitments to an international body—he said, "I was elected to govern Pittsburgh, not Paris." That afternoon the mayor of Pittsburgh announced, "We're going to make our city 100 percent renewable energy, thank you very much," which was at the moment the best response you could give Trump. Bill, we have to believe that some combination of events, and we can see some of them forming, may cause the fever in Washington to break. But we can't sit around just hoping for that to happen and nothing else. Our job in the meantime is to take on as many places as we can and start making them work again. Not just on climate, although that's really key, but on 100 other questions as well from voting rights to fair taxation to all the other things that are being suppressed on a national level.
Moyers: What specifically did you ask that packed house at Carnegie Hall to do?
McKibben: At this point I'm much more of an organizer than a writer, I guess, and I couldn't stand the thought of just getting up and giving a speech to 2,500 people without asking them to do something. We inserted a blank sheet of paper in their programs. In between listening to Joan Baez and Patti Smith and Michael Stipe and many other great heroes, I asked them to write Scott Stringer, the comptroller of the city of New York. Now, that's not a job that necessarily gives you a lot of latitude to fight climate change, except that he's ultimately the guy in change of the hundreds of billions of dollars in pension funds from New York City. And believe it or not, a bunch of that is invested in fossil-fuel companies. That makes no financial sense, as the fossil fuel guys have lost more money than anybody else over the last five years—that's why people like the Rockefeller brothers, for heaven's sake, divested. It makes no moral sense. These are the guys who gamed our political system—as Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, is demonstrating daily as he goes after ExxonMobil. It makes no practical sense, Bill—New York City is going to spend billions upon billions building seawalls to try and protect Wall Street. Why would you be investing the city's cash in the companies that are making that work necessary?
Moyers: But of course like many politicians, the comptroller and the mayor of New York have been better at talking about this than doing anything about it. And they're saying, "Well, we'll take this slowly, we'll have some more studies."
McKibben: We've run out of years in which to have studies. This stuff comes at us now so fast that we need change in real time. So, I hope that Mr. Stringer, who may well be a good progressive, will decide this is within his ambit, that he'll be able to take this step and take it soon.
Moyers: You mention ExxonMobil. I have to pinch myself to see if I am awake in the real world when I am reminded that Donald Trump made the CEO of ExxonMobil the U.S. secretary of state. This is the company whose chief scientist told senior management in 1979 that the temperature would rise at least four to five degrees Fahrenheit and that it would be a disaster. And what did ExxonMobil do?
McKibben: They did two things. Here's the real horror. They completely believed it. They went and built all their drilling rigs to compensate for the sea level rise they knew was coming. But they didn't tell any of the rest of us. Instead they spend hundreds of millions of dollars building the architecture of deceit and denial and disinformation that's kept us locked in this 25–year debate about whether global warming was "real" or not, a debate that both sides knew the answer to when it began. It's just that one of them was lying about the answer.
Moyers: What kind of capitalism is it that puts everyone on earth at risk and lies about it for the sake of profit?
McKibben: I'm afraid it's Ayn Randian capitalism—the elevation of the rich to a point of such incredible power that no one can question them. And the only way to deal with that is to build collective power in response. This is the perfect example of the fight of the many and the small against the few and the very big. Hey, there's a great picture on my wall from a couple of summers ago. Shell wanted to go drill in the Arctic.
Moyers: Shell Oil?
McKibben: Yes, Shell Oil. It was insane. Scientists had said, "If you keep burning coal and gas and oil, you will melt the Arctic." And then the Arctic melted just as they had predicted. Did Shell Oil look at the melt and say, "Huh, maybe we should go into the solar-panel business instead?" No, Shell Oil looked at that and said, "Oh, well, now that it's melted it will be easier to drill for more oil up there." That's enough to make you doubt about the big brain being a good adaptation, no? But when they started to take their giant—and I mean giant—drill rig up there to the Arctic from the harbor in Seattle, thousands of people in small craft came out on the water to block it. We called them kayaktavists. And they did so much brand damage to Shell that before the summer was out, Shell threw up its hands and said, "You know what? We're out of the Arctic drilling business," and walked away from their $7 billion investment. Sometimes people can stand up to the monolith. We just better figure out how to do it effectively and fast.
Moyers: Has there been a corporate crime greater than the fossil-fuel industry's propaganda against the truth of global warming since—well, since German industry became part of Hitler's killing machine?
McKibben: Philip Morris took us down one smoker at a time, but Exxon's going one planet at a time. These guys are setting all kinds of records.
Moyers: But it's not just industry that is undermining our efforts to cope with global warming. It's not just those moneybags at the oil companies and the utilities that are engaging in predatory delay. It's a whole lot of folks. Scenery lovers who try to block windmills on the grounds that they will kill birds. Labor unions that try to build pipelines—you've written about how the AFL/CIO came out for building the Dakota Access Pipeline, even after the company sicced German shepherds on peaceful indigenous protesters. Then there are all us urban liberals who resist denser populations in the centers of our cities.
McKibben: Sure, there's a part of all of us whose impulse is to say, "Let's keep everything the same until I die and then you can do whatever you want afterward." [laughs] And that's a difficult part. But Bill, most people don't spend their lives hiring lobbyists to make sure that that happens, don't have the trillions of dollars to spend to make sure that the political system obeys their impulses. So that's why at places like 350.org we look first to the biggest players and try to exert as much leverage as we can there.
Moyers: Just as you say in Radio Free Vermont, movements are the heart of resistance, of change.
McKibben: They're what we've got. Look, do I think that people should in the best of all possible worlds have to go to jail for wanting our government to pay attention to the warnings of scientists about climate change? Not really. I mean, in a rational world, if all the scientists said, "The worst thing that ever happened is about to happen and here's what you should do to stop it," you would expect any rational system to say, "Oh, sure, OK, let's do something about it." But that's not the world we live in. In the world we live in, you do need people willing to stand up, fight, march and sometimes go to jail.
Moyers: But let's take a concrete reality. There's one guy in Washington who has more power than your movement—or so it would seem—and his name is Scott Pruitt. He's the guy Donald Trump has turned loose to destroy the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt thinks climate science is a hoax. He's a hack for the energy industry, a tool. He's shredded the budget for global warming. He's making it impossible for us to get from the EPA the science we need to know about climate change. He's stripping independent experts from the EPA Science Advisory Board so he can replace them with representatives of oil and gas companies. He's a fanatic—including a religious fanatic, to be frank—he even quoted the Bible last week to justify what he's doing to the Science Advisory Board. He protects himself around the clock with an 18-man security detail. He even has a soundproof booth built near his office so nobody can hear him colluding with corporate lawyers. Scott Pruitt has a killer's instinct, and he's clearly prepared to see the earth burn up and people with it as long as his enablers can make money. What do you do about a Scott Pruitt, firmly ensconced in office, backed by the Trump White House, willfully, even cheerfully, doing everything he can do every day to impede the fight against global warming and environmental destruction?
McKibben: In the very short run, there's nothing we can do. This was the Koch brothers' fantasy come to life. This is what they've worked for all those years that you've covered what they've been doing. In the slightly longer run, we do what we can within the electoral system to try and rein them in. If we get to the 2018 congressional races and the Democrats take back either the Senate or House, there will be at least some check on what Trump and the Republicans can do, or at least some ability to investigate and subpoena what they are doing. In the longer run, though—the slightly longer run, because we don't have a great deal of long run—what we have to do is what I said earlier: not be content merely with playing defense, but with really changing the zeitgeist. Because it's important to remember that wonderful as he looks in retrospect, Barack Obama wasn't solving this problem either. In Obama's time, and with his blessings, the U.S. passed Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the biggest producer of hydrocarbons on the planet. I like Barack Obama and I voted for him twice, and if he were still president, I'd be outside his door again the next day demanding that he actually do something about these problems. And that's the work that goes on. It's not going to be pretty in the short run, Bill. We're getting routed. But we better take that as the reminder not to give up our game but to change as best we can the places where we're fighting. That's why this move toward smaller and more local fights is imperative right now.
Moyers: Global warming may be the most immediate and biggest problem we face, but there's a deeper reason we're not confronting it than Trump, Pruitt and the Republicans. It's what moved Vern Barclay and his co-conspirators to think about secession. Let me read you these headlines:
Do you think it could happen here—that enough people stop caring about democracy and give up doing what is necessary to save it?
McKibben: I think it definitely could. It causes me to lose sleep at night. It's one of the reasons I like living where I live, because I'm convinced that we'll reseed that democracy from the bottom up, from the town meetings of the world, from people organizing and coming together. But whether we can do it in time or not is absolutely an open question, and it's the most trying and vexing open question that we face.
Moyers: Is it possible that we're approaching the limits of our ability to govern as a democracy?
McKibben: It's possible that we're approaching the limits in terms of size. Three hundred million people are a lot to govern at once. It's possible that we're also approaching it in terms of concentrations of wealth and power, which make our system unstable and erratic. When we've reached the point where 10 or 20 Americans have as much wealth as half of their countrymen, it's a little much to expect that our system's going to work very well. Yes, we're clearly at the limits of something systemic, and if we cannot figure out how to make democracy work, then not only are we in trouble, but the planet is in a great deal of trouble, too. Always before, when governments collapsed or civilizations have gone under, the damage has been somewhat limited to the geographic proximity of that place. But because of climate change, we're now at the moment where what happens in a place as big and important as the United States happens everywhere. And that's what keeps me up at night. That's what makes it necessary to have some good local beer from time to time and dream the occasional dream about what a different future might look like.
Moyers: Thank you, Bill McKibben.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Moyers & Company.
Making the switch to solar energy can help you lower or even eliminate your monthly electric bills while reducing your carbon footprint. However, before installing a clean energy system in your home, you must first answer an important question: "How many solar panels do I need?"
To accurately calculate the ideal number of solar panels for your home, you'll need a professional assessment. However, you can estimate the size and cost of the system based on your electricity bills, energy needs and available roof space. This article will tell you how.
If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Factors That Influence How Many Solar Panels You Need
To determine how many solar panels are needed to power a house, several factors must be considered. For example, if there are two identical homes powered by solar energy in California and New York, with exactly the same energy usage, the California home will need fewer solar panels because the state gets more sunshine.
The following are some of the most important factors to consider when figuring out many solar panels you need:
Size of Your Home and Available Roof Space
Larger homes tend to consume more electricity, and they generally need more solar panels. However, they also have the extra roof space necessary for larger solar panel installations. There may be exceptions to this rule — for example, a 2,000-square-foot home with new Energy Star appliances may consume less power than a 1,200-square-foot home with older, less-efficient devices.
When it comes to installation, solar panels can be placed on many types of surfaces. However, your roof conditions may limit the number of solar panels your home can handle.
For example, if you have a chimney, rooftop air conditioning unit or skylight, you'll have to place panels around these fixtures. Similarly, roof areas that are covered by shadows are not suitable for panels. Also, most top solar companies will not work on asbestos roofs due to the potential health risks for installers.
Amount of Direct Sunlight in Your Area
Where there is more sunlight available, there is more energy that can be converted into electricity. The yearly output of each solar panel is higher in states like Arizona or New Mexico, which get a larger amount of sunlight than less sunny regions like New England.
The World Bank has created solar radiation maps for over 200 countries and regions, including the U.S. The map below can give you an idea of the sunshine available in your location. Keep in mind that homes in sunnier regions will generally need fewer solar panels.
© 2020 The World Bank, Source: Global Solar Atlas 2.0, Solar resource data: Solargis.
Number of Residents and Amount of Energy You Use
Households with more members normally use a higher amount of electricity, and this also means they need more solar panels to increase energy production.
Electricity usage is a very important factor, as it determines how much power must be generated by your solar panel system. If your home uses 12,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year and you want to go 100% solar, your system must be capable of generating that amount of power.
Type of Solar Panel and Efficiency Rating
High-efficiency panels can deliver more watts per square foot, which means you need to purchase fewer of them to reach your electricity generation target. There are three main types of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film. In general, monocrystalline panels are the most efficient solar panels, followed closely by polycrystalline panels. Thin-film panels are the least efficient.
How to Estimate the Number of Solar Panels You Need
So, based on these factors, how many solar panels power a home? To roughly determine how many solar panels you need without a professional assessment, you'll need to figure out two basic things: how much energy you use and how much energy your panels will produce.
According to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average American home uses 10,649 kWh of energy per year. However, this varies depending on the state. For example:
- Louisiana homes have the highest average consumption, at 14,787 kWh per year.
- Hawaii homes have the lowest average consumption, at 6,298 kWh per year.
To more closely estimate how much energy you use annually, add up the kWh reported on your last 12 power bills. These numbers will fluctuate based on factors like the size of your home, the number of residents, your electricity consumption habits and the energy efficiency rating of your home devices.
Solar Panel Specific Yield
After you determine how many kWh of electricity your home uses annually, you'll want to figure out how many kWh are produced by each of your solar panels during a year. This will depend on the specific type of solar panel, roof conditions and local peak sunlight hours.
In the solar power industry, a common metric used to estimate system capacity is "specific yield" or "specific production." This can be defined as the annual kWh of energy produced for each kilowatt of solar capacity installed. Specific yield has much to do with the amount of sunlight available in your location.
You can get a better idea of the specific yield that can be achieved in your location by checking reliable sources like the World Bank solar maps or the solar radiation database from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
To estimate how many kW are needed to run a house, you can divide your annual kWh consumption by the specific yield per kilowatt of solar capacity. For example, if your home needs 15,000 kWh of energy per year, and solar panels have a specific yield of 1,500 kW/kW in your location, you will need a system size of around 10 kilowatts.
Paradise Energy Solutions has also come up with a general formula to roughly ballpark the solar panel system size you need. You can simply divide your annual kWh by 1,200 and you will get the kilowatts of solar capacity needed. So, if the energy consumption reported on your last 12 power bills adds up to 24,000 kWh, you'll need a 20 kW system (24,000 / 1,200 = 20).
So, How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?
Once you know the system size you need, you can check your panel wattage to figure how many panels to purchase for your solar array. Multiply your system size by 1,000 to obtain watts, then divide this by the individual wattage of each solar panel.
Most of the best solar panels on the market have an output of around 330W to 360W each. The output of less efficient panels can be as low as 250W.
So, if you need a 10-kW solar installation and you're buying solar panels that have an output of 340W, you'll need 30 panels. Your formula will look like this: 10,000W / 340W = 29.4 panels.
If you use lower-efficiency 250-watt solar panels, you'll need 40 of them (10,000W / 250W = 40) panels.
Keep in mind that, although the cost of solar panels is lower if you choose a lower-efficiency model over a pricier high-efficiency one, the total amount you pay for your solar energy system may come out to be the same or higher because you'll have to buy more panels.
How Much Roof Space Do You Need for a Home Solar System?
After you estimate how many solar panels power a house, the next step is calculating the roof area needed for their installation. The exact dimensions may change slightly depending on the manufacturer, but a typical solar panel for residential use measures 65 inches by 39 inches, or 17.6 square feet. You will need 528 square feet of roof space to install 30 panels, and 704 square feet to install 40.
In addition to having the required space for solar panels, you'll also need a roof structure that supports their weight. A home solar panel weighs around 20 kilograms (44 pounds), which means that 30 of them will add around 600 kilograms (1,323 pounds) to your roof.
You will notice that some solar panels are described as residential, while others are described as commercial. Residential panels have 60 individual solar cells, while commercial panels have 72 cells, but both types will work in any building. Here are a few key differences:
- Commercial solar panels produce around 20% more energy, thanks to their extra cells.
- Commercial panels are also more expensive, as well as 20% larger and heavier.
- Residential 60-cell solar panels are easier to handle in home installations, which saves on labor, and their smaller size helps when roof dimensions are limited.
Some of the latest solar panel designs have half-cells with a higher efficiency, which means they have 120 cells instead of 60 (or 144 instead of 72). However, this doesn't change the dimensions of the panels.
Conclusion: Are Solar Panels Worth it for Your Home?
Solar panels produce no carbon emissions while operating. However, the EIA estimates fossil fuels still produce around 60% of the electricity delivered by U.S. power grids.
Although the initial investment in solar panels is steep, renewable energy systems make sense financially for many homeowners. According to the Department of Energy, they have a typical payback period of about 10 years, while their rated service life is up to 30 years. After recovering your initial investment, you will have a source of clean and free electricity for about two decades.
Plus, even if you have a large home or find you need more solar panels than you initially thought you would, keep in mind that there are both federal and local tax credits, rebates and other incentives to help you save on your solar power system.
To get a free, no-obligation quote and see how much a solar panel system would cost for your home, fill out the 30-second form below.
By Jessica Wang
The documentary Not Without Us follows seven grassroots activists from around the world as they mobilize around the 2015 UN Climate Talks in Paris and try to push world leaders to enact an agreement with meaningful and binding targets. According to director and San Francisco-based filmmaker Mark Decena, "Climate change is a monumental issue that impacts all of us. But too often, dialogue about the subject is led by politicians and scientists. With this film, we wanted to give voice to the people on the ground, who are trying to effect change from the bottom up."
Decena recently caught up with Cindy Wiesner, one of the activists featured in the film, on the latest in grassroots climate change action after the Trump administration's withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris agreement. Wiesner is executive director of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and has been active in the grassroots social justice movement for more than 20 years.
Mark Decena: So a lot has happened since December 2015, or maybe in your eyes nothing has changed. But going into the agreement, what was your top concern about Paris and what major change did you guys wanted to see instituted in that final agreement?
Cindy Wiesner: When the Paris agreement was signed in 2015, we at Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, along with our sister alliances the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Climate Justice Alliance really wanted to make sure that the agreements created mandatory emission cuts and that our big concern was that in the outcome that the agreement really relied on voluntary pledges. And part of that is that where the countries were aiming was not going to meet the targets that scientists have been saying for many years were necessary to avoid climate catastrophe.
MD: And those voluntary pledges that you first mentioned know they were striving for this 2.5-to-2 degrees window, and then they ended up all the pledges ended up with over 3 degrees, which is really frightening. And you called out that they're all voluntary, which means non-binding. And given those concerns, what are your thoughts now that President Trump announced the U.S. is pulling out of it?
CW: I think Trump's reckless decision underscores the key overarching issue with the Paris agreement in the first place, which is that voluntary pledges are not enough. And that it's also very clear that Trump and this administration, from Rex Tillerson being the secretary of state to Rick Perry being the energy cabinet position—you see that his accountability for accountability is to the fossil fuel industry but also to the military industrial complex.
Given his announcement in terms of ongoing war in Afghanistan, it clearly is in contradiction to his commitment to people in Pittsburgh or people in Detroit or people who have been impacted by NAFTA. It's counter to people who are living at the front lines of the climate crisis and I think Trump and his administration really have a clear conflict of interest placing their own dirty energy investments above and profit above the interest of humanity and the planet as a whole.
MD: And not to mention Scott Pruitt.
CW: Yes. And whose pure intention is to destroy and dismantle the EPA.
MD: And I know that that the world is on fire, literally and figuratively, with this new presidency and his administration, but all those things you mention I know you guys see as all connected. And that brings me to the next question which is are there specific actions and advocacies that you guys are focused on at the moment or are you trying to show people that all of these thoughts do connect?
CW: So in terms of the Paris agreement, I think it's just important to name how significant [it is] that at least the current count [that] is more than 370 mayors have pledged to do their part here around meeting the commitments laid out in the Paris agreement. And I think that that is giving us an opportunity a real important opening to push the long-term solutions that we had been talking about. And as Grassroots Global Justice, along with our sister alliances, [we] have formed this bigger formation called It Takes Roots to weather the storm, to grow the resistance. We also know that it's time to both escalate the level of resistance but also really align our movements.
I think that's part of what we're really clear about is that our organizational response has been to strengthen our movement—the grassroots organizing sector uniting with different folks like the movement for black lives, the migrant rights movement—[to] work with a broader cross-section of folks to really counter this right-wing growing backlash. And I think it's not only to defend and protect, but also to figure out where it is we can create openings in this new political moment.
MD: And I guess I want to I want you to clarify, because I think a lot of people are scratching their heads, saying, what does climate change have to do with immigration and war and racism and patriarchy and colonialism? How do you guys connect those dots and invigorate people think about this bigger picture of climate change as well?
CW: Yeah, I think a lot of our work with Grassroots Global Justice comes out of people who have been pioneers in the environmental justice movement, [and who] really have talked about the impact of environmental degradation and toxins and pollution and dumps that have been in a lot of frontline communities—particularly poor and people of color or white working-class communities. I think that for us, we've been seeing it as a holistic point of view. It's not only where you live, but it's where you work; it's where you play and pray.
MD: As a final question, what gives you hope? What keeps you fighting and moving forward?
CW: For me, I think that it's a lot of the young people that have been on the streets. It's all the people that came out spontaneously into the airports and swarmed the airports when the Muslim ban was put into effect. It's the 40,000 people in Boston that march against white supremacy and to counter white supremacy. It's the People's Climate March, where over 200,000 people came together to talk about needing jobs and climate and justice and moving the articulation of the climate movement. It's the Women's March, which had the single largest mobilization of women. I think that is what's giving me life and I think the intentional movement building work that we're doing with It Takes Roots, with Beyond the Moment, with the different organizers from the 100 days of mobilization. It's the people who, despite fear and repression, are still standing up. And I think that's what is giving me giving me courage.
Also I think we're right. And I think that's what we've been saying all along of like we can't see issues as one siloed way. We have to interconnect the issues. We have to pay attention to movement building. We've got to get boots and sandals on the ground and really get our bases mobilized, and I think the planet depends on us to do that.
Speakers featured in Not Without Us, in order of appearance:
- Nnimmo Bassey, director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation
- Payal Parekh, global managing director, 350.org
- Pablo Solón, executive director, Fundación Solón
- Cindy Wiesner, national coordinator, Global Grassroots Justice Alliance
- Alix Mazounie, international policies coordinator, Réseau Action Climat — France
- Max Rademacher, activist, Alternatiba
- Pat Mooney, executive director, ETC Group
This interview has been condensed for length. Reposted with permission from our media associate Moyers & Company.
By Sarah Jaffe
This story is part of Sarah Jaffe's new series, Interviews for Resistance, in which she speaks with organizers, troublemakers and thinkers who are doing the hard work of fighting back against America's corporate and political powers.
Last week in Washington, DC, members of American Indian tribes and their supporters demonstrated against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The protest was led in part by members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who have been battling the U.S. government for almost a year over the oil pipeline, which they say will contaminate their drinking water and has destroyed sacred sites in North Dakota.
250 Protestors Demand Enbridge Pipeline Shutdown Over Fears of Great Lakes Oil Spill https://t.co/eLpahRacT2 (@ecowatch)— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1489527962.0
In this edited interview, Jaffe speaks with Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Network about the march last week and what's next in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as other pipeline projects. (The full interview is available in the audio above and online at TruthOut.org). Mossett is a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, which has been active in the Standing Rock protests since August.
Sarah Jaffe: Last week, there was a march on Washington and an encampment. Can you tell us about that?
Kandi Mossett: The Native Nations Rise march came out of the Standing Rock camps and what was happening in North Dakota. When we started planning, we didn't know what was going to happen at the camp—it was prior to the forced removal. But we thought something bad might happen, so we wanted to make sure that we were following up with something positive and with the next steps. Then, the camps were raided and it was a really horrible.
When we were all together in DC last week it was like a family reunion. It really lifted up everyone's spirits because what we did at Standing Rock was much more than just a physical encampment. It has been ongoing for over 500 years. It is about sustainability and not continuing to take from the Earth without ever giving anything back.
We held a four-day event with a tepee encampment that included lobby visits, speaking, panels and performances. We had originally been expecting maybe 500 people to make it to DC for the march. When it was all said and done, there were at least 5,000 people at the march with us on Friday.
It was a great success and it will lead people to protest against all the other pipeline sites. The Dakota Access Pipeline encampment, all of that was a result of the success we had with Keystone XL. We now have Keystone XL back on because of Donald Trump, but people are going back to Keystone XL to continue to fight that.
There are already other camps. There is a camp in South Dakota near the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. There are people also going to the Two Rivers Camp in Texas to fight against the Trans-Pecos pipeline, which is also owned by Energy Transfer Partners.
To continue to fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, a lot of people are going to Louisiana, where a camp is being set up against the Bayou Bridge pipeline. That one will connect to the Dakota Access Pipeline in Illinois so that the oil can continue to go down to Port Arthur, Texas, where it will be refined and shipped to foreign markets. It is all part of the same project. A lot of people didn't understand that until they went to DC and made the connection that we need to continue to fight.
In addition, we are arranging toxic tours and having people visit North Dakota to view the Bakken oil shale formation, so they can see where the oil is coming from and help push for more fracking bans and moratoriums.
We have the economy on our side. As we have been saying all along, the price of oil has been dropping. There is going to be a slight increase in 2017, but not what [Energy Transfer Partners] have been touting. For the last two years they have been telling oil industry folks, "Wait until 2017 when everything is going to be great again." We know that is not true.
But we still have to continue to fight back, because there is a massive new shale oil formation that was recently discovered in Texas. While it will take the pressure off of North Dakota, the problem is just going somewhere else. In the big picture, that doesn't help any of us. That is why I really want to go to the Two Rivers Camp in Texas.
We are going to build the Mní Wičóni Sustained Native Community, but we did have a delay with everything that happened. Community members there are really tired of the militarized police force and different non-Bureau of Indian Affairs officers now that are on the reservation because of cross-deputization and jurisdiction. The project is still fully funded and we're continuing to have educational forums about it. It is what we had always talked about, leaving something behind for the Standing Rock community, their children and future generations.
Sarah Jaffe: I want to go back to the forced removal from Standing Rock. A lot of people were closely paying attention around the election and then the election took everybody's attention away, so people don't really know the story of the removal. Could you give us a little bit more background?
Kandi Mossett: What happened was the state waged a really good campaign—for themselves, it wasn't good for us—to cause division between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the people at the camps. They did that by blocking the bridge on Highway 1806, which caused casino revenue to drop significantly because a lot of people would go from Bismarck down to the Prairie Knights Casino. It also forced ambulances to go around to get up the hospital because they couldn't take Highway 1806 to Bismarck.
Because of the fight at Standing Rock a lot of the hidden racism that was always there in North Dakota—I grew up there, I always experienced it—became more blatant because of the actions that were being done in Bismarck to say, "Look, this is affecting you, too. Of all the people, you in Bismarck should care the most because you didn't want this either." But it pulled out the racism. School children were getting harassed and they actually had to have escorts follow them to their basketball games because whether or not the children said anything about the pipeline fight, they would get harassed by the other kids and their parents.
All of these things were causing further division amongst the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe community and people in the camp. There were a lot of really well-meaning, non-Native people that came to stay in the camp and there were a lot of different things that were happening in the camp … The camp became infiltrated with people that were working for the police, people that were working for the Dakota Access Pipeline and people that were working as private mercenaries. Even right now, there is a "terrorism" FBI task force that is basically harassing some of the water protectors. There are three of us that we know of for sure that are being investigated by the FBI Terrorism Taskforce.
But what the press really glommed onto was "These water protectors are polluting and destroying the river by being there." They took all of the attention away from the fact that there is an oil pipeline with carcinogenic materials running through it and said we were polluting the river. That caused further division that made it really hard for us because it was like, "How can the media twist or spin this anymore than they already were before?"
We were cleaning up for two or three weeks and then, when we were forcibly removed, we had to stop because they were like, "Get out of here." Then, they said, "We had to clean this. It is all their fault." It is like, "You forced us out at gunpoint." All of that led up to the police, fully geared up with rifles, machine guns and tanks, that came out against unarmed water protectors. They had made it sound like they were going to find weapons or something. But the Sheriff of Morton County, Kyle Kirchmeier, put out a report that said, "We did not find any weapons in the camp." We thought, "Of course you didn't! We have been saying this all along." On my on Facebook page I was teasing them saying, "Did they find my stash of snowballs?" because that was one of the things they complained about, that people threw snowballs at them with their machine guns pointed at us.
The whole point is that all of this still exists in this country. It really woke up the country. In fact, it woke up the world to see that the U.S. isn't just one almighty entity against the rest of the world but that we are broken down into factions within our own country. It is founded on a legacy of taking, pillaging of native lands for the gain of capitalism and colonization. Other countries were on board with us and were standing with Standing Rock.
How do we continue that fight on? It is to say: No more fossil fuel industry anywhere in the world. Do not allow the U.S. to be the bully it has been. It is really ridiculous that all of these other countries are on board with changing their energy systems and their transportation systems and yet, the U.S. keeps holding on to oil, gas, coal and uranium. It negatively affects other countries because of that need or that greed for the fossil fuel industry.
Sarah Jaffe: How can people keep up with these different camps and with the movement and be supportive?
Kandi Mossett: Even if people can't go to a camp they can support the defund campaign and the divestment campaign. We have DefundDAPL.org, which shows you the 17 banks that are directly funding these projects. No matter who people bank with, we are asking them to take their money out of big banks and put them into their local credit unions to bring power back to their communities and away from corporate interests.
Standing Rock showed people, "Oh, we do actually have a lot of power. We didn't realize it." We are encouraging people to fight against the Trump administration's push for fossil fuel resources. We want people to do that by having community gardens and local community education events on how to live more sustainably. If that means not having strawberries in December, depending on where you live, then so be it. Food sovereignty and transportation systems are all tied into it.
Another layer in addition to doing grassroots work is to get involved in politics. I know that is hard for some people because they hate it. I used to hate politics myself because I felt like politicians didn't represent me. They won't represent you unless you make your voice heard in your town, community and state.
In North Dakota we are battling against all of these ridiculous laws—for example, they are trying to ban wind projects for two years so they can bring back coal projects. I have to talk to my family and say, "Here is a letter for you. Just sign it." You have to do whatever it takes to get people involved and aware of the issues in your own communities. We have to make a political impact. If that is not good enough, then people should run for office if they want to make change.
Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast. Not to be reprinted without permission. Reposted with permission from our media associate BillMoyers.com.