Why Isn’t the Activist Climate Movement Massive?
Eight years ago I decided that I needed to change my life. The reason? The late summer heat wave which hit Western Europe in August, 2003, leading to 30,000 or more deaths.
I knew about the issue of global warming before 2003. Indeed, in 2002, during a Green Party of New Jersey campaign for the U.S. Senate, it was one of my major issues. Prominent in my basic brochure was this statement: “Move towards energy independence, reverse global warming and create jobs through a crash program to get energy from the sun, the wind and other renewable fuels.”
But it was that European heat wave that literally drove me to serious study about this issue, and by the end of the year I was convinced that the climate crisis was much more serious, much more imminent, than I had thought. Ever since, work in support of a renewable energy revolution has been my top priority.
There’s no question but that today, compared to eight years ago, there is much more consciousness about and work on this most overarching and urgent of issues. As the climate crisis has led to stronger, more frequent and more destructive weather impacts—droughts, floods, powerful winds, rain and snow deluges, deadly hurricanes, huge tornadoes and more—so has it led to a stronger international climate movement. In 2010 there were 7,300 local actions in 188 countries around the world on the same 10/10/10 day of action organized by 350.org.
But the deeper truth is that, certainly in the United States, there is a disconnect between the urgency of this civilizational crisis and the response to it on the part of the broad progressive citizenry, those tens of millions of people who believe generally in human rights and fact-based decision-making. One recent example is the late summer and fall campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline. Although this was a victorious campaign, temporarily, the fact is that there were no more than 12,000 people at the biggest event of the campaign, the November 6th encircle-the-White-House demonstration.
For the climate movement, this was a very big action, the largest climate-focused street demonstration ever in the U.S. However, compare this to the demonstrations of hundreds of thousands against the Iraq war multiple times between 2003 and 2008. Even taking into account the fact that there have been conscious decisions by key climate movement leaders NOT to organize major national or regional mobilizations, opting instead for decentralized, local “distributed” actions, the disparity of numbers is significant.
The movement against the Keystone XL pipeline DID mobilize half a million people but not into the streets. This is the number of people who registered their opposition to the pipeline through official government channels, primarily via online comments. This should not be discounted.
But again, is it realistic to believe that we are going to break the power of Big Oil and the coal and gas industries to determine government energy policy without large numbers of people engaging in direct action and mass mobilization, in addition to the other less edgy forms of action? No, it is not realistic; there is no way we will ever turn this crisis around unless much larger numbers of people take visible action in support of a clean energy revolution.
Why is it that this urgent threat to civilization-as-we-know-it, to the possibility of a truly just and human civilization in the future, has failed so far to generate the breadth and depth of active, visible action so clearly required? From my experience, I see four main reasons:
• Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, while playing a major role in educating millions about the urgency of the crisis in 2006 and 2007, presented a very problematic answer to what people should do about it: change your shopping habits; e.g., change your lightbulbs, buy a hybrid car, etc. There was very little said in “Truth” about the essential need for a mass political movement to overcome the power of the entrenched fossil fuel interests. And Al Gore wasn’t the only one giving this “shopping” answer; many of the mainstream environmental groups did the same.
• Although Barack Obama was elected in 2008 following an election campaign in which he spoke regularly about the need for strong action on the climate crisis, he failed to follow through with any degree of seriousness after he was elected. This contributed to problematic climate legislation in the House heavily influenced by the coal industry. Most environmental groups went along with this legislation, many with serious reservations. By the time that it ultimately died in the Senate in 2010, the whole process had demoralized many and strengthened the climate deniers in both major parties.
• Human society’s dependence upon fossil fuels is wide and deep. It has been this way for hundreds of years. A clean energy revolution, accordingly, will have economic impacts throughout all levels of society, from farms to homes to businesses to the way we travel. This reality has been used by the fossil fuelers to raise fears and undercut political support for the desperately needed shift to serious energy efficiency and a renewable energy-based economy.
• Finally, from an organizing standpoint, the demand for clean energy is just not as immediate an issue on a daily basis as, for example, demands for jobs, for labor rights, against police brutality, to end wars, for access to education or medical care, etc. This is why many sectors of the climate movement connect demands for a clean energy revolution with demands for jobs or to stop the toxic pollution of air and water that comes with coal, oil and gas production and burning. But it is also why many progressive groups organizing on those more immediate issues have not taken up the urgent but not as immediately-visible climate issue.
A few weeks ago I had some email interaction with a several people who questioned the assertion in my last Future Hope column, Movement-Building and 2012, that the progressive movement should prioritize the climate crisis in our progressive movement-building activity in 2012. Their view, an understandable one, is that the issue which should be prioritized is corporate power and its domination of our economy and government. Here’s what I said in response:
Bruce makes good points, and Heather is right that the 99% vs. 1% message/the Occupy movement has had a big political impact and connected a potentially powerful alliance of constituencies and groups.
Bruce says, toward the end of his email, that "there is no way we can deal effectively with climate catastrophe without first (or at least simultaneously) confronting global corporatism."
If it's not "simultaneous," as opposed to "first," I see little to no hope that we will have any chance to solve the climate crisis. And if we don't solve the climate crisis, the sobering truth is that it really doesn't matter what other progressive changes we make. They'll all be swept away by a rising tide of crop failures, stronger storms, droughts and spreading desertification, floods, sea level rise, etc.
We are already in great danger of hitting climate "tipping points"—like the release of huge amounts of methane from the melting of northern latitudes permafrost, or massive methane releases from a warming ocean—that will make it extremely difficult to ever pull ourselves back from an escalating series of climate catastrophes. These will hit those in Africa and Asia and the world's poor first and hardest but, in time, will overwhelm us all.
At the same time, a worldwide commitment—with the U.S. giving leadership, something which definitely isn't happening now, just the opposite—to a rapid transition from fossil fuels to wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources has the potential to create huge numbers of jobs and spur economic development. And the technology has advanced, and continues to advance, such that this is completely possible to be undertaken seriously right now.
It has to be "simultaneous," not "first," and the urgent clean energy transition has to be right at the center of anti-corporate campaigning. After all, three of the top 5 corporations in the U.S. are oil companies, and 5 of the top 10 in the world are. Big Oil is the epitome of the 1%.
As we enter the critical political year of 2012, I hope and pray that many more people in the U.S. and around the world will make a new year’s resolution to speak up and take action on the biggest threat to our common future that human society has ever faced.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.
- 10 Wildfires Ignite Around Los Angeles in Unseasonable Wind and ... ›
- 550,000 Acres on Fire in Alaska in Latest Sign of the Climate Crisis ... ›
- Sonoma County Wildfire Spreads 7000 Acres in Less Than Five Hours ›
- What Should We Know About Wildfires in California - EcoWatch ›
- California's Rainless February Points to Dangerous Drought, Early ... ›
By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
- Human Activity Caused Latest European Heat Wave, Scientists Say ... ›
- Antarctica Experiences First Known Heat Wave - EcoWatch ›
- Intense Heat Wave Bakes Much of the U.S. - EcoWatch ›
Thailand has a total population of 5,000 elephants. But of that number, 3,000 live in captivity, carrying tourists on their backs and offering photo opportunities made for social media.
- Botswana Auctions Off First Licenses to Kill Elephants Since Ending ... ›
- Wild-Caught Elephants Can Die Up to 7 Years Earlier - EcoWatch ›
- Thailand's captive elephants face starvation amid COVID-19 tourism ... ›
- Thai Tourist Park Sets Captive Elephants Free to Focus On ... ›
- Suffering unseen: The dark truth behind wildlife tourism ›
- Captive Elephants in Thailand May Starve as Tourist Camps Close ... ›
- The Complicated Business of Saving Elephant Tourism: A Skift ... ›
One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.
Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.
The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.
If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.
The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.
"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.
"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."
One of the concerns about a warming planet is the feedback loop that will emerge. That is, as the planet warms, it will melt permafrost, which will release trapped carbon and lead to more warming and more melting. Now, a new study has shown that the feedback loop won't only happen in the nether regions of the north and south, but in the tropics as well, according to a new paper in Nature.
- Amazon Deforestation Is Causing 20% of Forests to Release More ... ›
- World's Oceans Warming 40% Faster Than Previously Thought ... ›
- Earth Is Hurtling Towards a Catastrophe Worse Than the Dinosaur ... ›
By Jessica Corbett
A sheriff in Florida is under fire for deciding Tuesday to ban his deputies from wearing face masks while on the job—ignoring the advice of public health experts about the safety measures that everyone should take during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the rising Covid-19 death toll in his county and state.
<div id="7a571" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aad9dcf60e7385e6553ff23ffc1ae75d"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1293527664389693447" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Deaths hit a record in Florida yesterday. This guy's jail system is rife with COVID. And he's banned masks in his s… https://t.co/Cbp2wR32o1</div> — Michael McAuliff (@Michael McAuliff)<a href="https://twitter.com/mmcauliff/statuses/1293527664389693447">1597236002.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="79024" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4ac086eab58b9713f2ad777c40938252"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1293578984148606977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">This actively puts peoples' lives at risk. https://t.co/GKF0Xgjyex</div> — CAP Action (@CAP Action)<a href="https://twitter.com/CAPAction/statuses/1293578984148606977">1597248238.0</a></blockquote></div>
- Beaches Reopen Before Memorial Day, but Is It Safe to Go ... ›
- Crowds Gather Over Memorial Day Weekend Despite Pleas From ... ›