Power Shift: A Day of youth climate protest in DC

Capitol Climate ActionThis is an excerpt of a post that first appeared at Wonk Room. Livestream of Capitol Climate Action below.

Today, thousands of youth activists participating in Power Shift ’09 are descending on the U.S. Capitol to demand Congress take action to fight climate change. While students from South Dakota to North Carolina lobby their elected officials, others will be engaging in mass civil disobedience to protest the United States’ continued use of coal.

They will be in the halls of Congress and surrounding the coal-fired Capitol Power Plant despite a wicked snowstorm that is ensnarling the East Coast.

Stories on Power Shift from Brown University, SUNY Fredonia Hamilton College, Central Michigan University Northern Michigan University, South Dakota State University University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Stockton College of New Jersey, College of St. Scholastica, Ohio State University, Oberlin College, Appalachian State University, University of Kentucky in Lexington, Cornell University, James Madison University, Connecticut College.

25 Responses to Power Shift: A Day of youth climate protest in DC

  1. paulm says:

    One video that is going to change the world.

    The documentary deserves an Oscar, the film probably a Nobel.

  2. Ray says:

    Looks like the press and police outnumber the protesters. Camera pans to steam coming off the stacks.
    Police laugh, wonder what the joke is?
    Seems like someone would have checked a climate model before holding the event during a blizzard.

  3. Brian D says:

    After viewing most of that, I’d have to say that it would probably have broader impact, especially with the conservatives, if there was less drumming, singing, and group-hugging, and instead more information and determination. I’d be right there with them if I could (I live in western Canada; if and when there’s massive tar sands protesting, I’ll be there), and even I found it too emulative of the hippies for my taste. You’re there to demonstrate and shut down a power plant, not hold a jam session. Action in this form only serves to reinforce the stereotype of climate as a “left” issue, preaching to the choir and buying little — the strongest impact coming out of this would be the group’s size, age, and the shutdown of the plant, all of which remain if the hippie iconography is removed.

    Unrelated note: I agree wholeheartedly with PaulM.

  4. Brian D says:

    PS: Ray should check what a climate model *is* before joking about them being unable to predict the weather.

    Analogy: If I roll two fair dice, probability theory tells me that the most common outcome will be 7. If the dice come up 4, does that invalidate probability theory?

  5. Joel says:

    Brian D-

    Having just returned from Power Shift to Oberlin College I’ve got to agree to some degree. Coming out of the convention center on Saturday I was pretty disappointed to see the same kind of standard undisciplined protest antics I’d seen back in the days of the lead up to Gulf War II. A lot of “whose streets/ our streets” and not a lot of tight message and bringing our best arguments to the fore. A lot of folks bum-rushed the street obstructing traffic for a bit, yelling and messing around, and me and some of my friends felt a little down after what was an otherwise inspiring day.

    However, though conservatives and deniers might pay attention and capitalize on this image problem, I definitely need to point out that it’s not representative of the majority of the conference. Most of Power Shift was invigorating and inspiring in the extreme and made it clear to me that this is a dedicated, intelligent, broad-based movement on the brink of exploding in the best possible way. In the workshops, the state break-out sessions, and the keynote addresses we were at our best, and I’m only sorry we didn’t show that side to the media at all times.

    For a better characterization, check out my and my peers’ reflections at

  6. Brian D says:

    Joel: Thank you for that. I’m posting this as I run out the door; I’ll check your site as soon as I get home. It’s reassuring to hear universally good coverage of Power Shift, even as the big media event (the protest) seems a bit childish by comparison.

    A little less “kumbaya” and a little more “We will not go quietly into the night!” would probably have done the trick. I’m particularly motivated on this point because I’m in Alberta — a tar-sands-rich area controlled by a Conservative provincial government and a Conservative federal government. During the 500-ducks-die-on-a-tailings-pond incident a year or so ago, the premier’s first words to the media were about wind turbines killing birds. Our previous premier ruled for 14 years without so much as a high school diploma. Action on the tar sands won’t happen in this area unless the civil disobedience comes from *everyone* (if Canada or Alberta were a two-party system, the word “bipartisan” would work), critically including the conservatives themselves. Jam sessions aren’t going to work. Burning effigies might.

    As Coby Beck noted, a strong message (that I feel was muted by the lack of discipline) was that James Hansen was risking arrest to protest a coal-fired power plant. For the conspiracy theorists, this means that “the government [is] arresting the scientist protesting the government even though he is paid by the government that is really behind the enviro-nazi movement to take over the world through carbon regulations but meanwhile supports the coal industry dead set against those regulations.”

  7. Ray says:

    “Analogy: If I roll two fair dice, probability theory tells me that the most common outcome will be 7. If the dice come up 4, does that invalidate probability theory?”

    At least with dice there are enough knowns to compute the odds, chaotic systems defies accurate weather reporting beyond the horizon.

    There remains enough unknown drivers, unknown feedback both negative or positive to make mockery of any models claiming to forecast weather let alone climate.

    What great entertainment, you go Hansen!!

  8. Anon says:

    Ray, weather is an initial conditions problem, climate is a boundary value problem. The two are all but completely independent of each other as far as their methods of solution are concerned.

    Put plainly, changes in climate are determined, fundamentally, by the Earth’s energy imbalance: If there is no difference between energy input and energy loss, then there is no climate change, plain and simple. Everything else is just shifting that energy around between input and loss — a shift we call weather, all but irrelevant to the imbalance itself.

    Regarding Brian’s dice example, each individual roll is actually deterministic, given enough information — but there are far too many individual variables on the roll for it to be practically deterministic. These individual variables are on such a small scale that over a large number of rolls, they become irrelevant — noise to a much larger signal. With the exception of a small but truly chaotic element in weather, the precise same can be said of the relationship between weather and climate.

    I look forward to your citation demonstrating that the feedbacks are a net negative. Without such a citation, all we have is uncertainty — and increased uncertainty is cause for more caution, not less.

  9. David B. Benson says:

    Event only seems to be reported on McClatchey[sic] News.

  10. Ray says:

    Ok but where models are to an extent based upon backcasted weather events then supported loudly by any ill wind how can I (a layman) separate that fiction. When weather events are constantly trotted out as dire examples of climate change where does that leave Joe Public? If my use of a weather event is bullshit then so is yours.

    I look forward to your demonstrating why we should do anything in view of recent ten year decline in world temperature.

    I think this exercise has been great assuming we stop short of taking action. We have learned a great deal, thats good.

  11. bi -- IJI says:

    where models are to an extent based upon backcasted weather events


    Climate models are constructed from one portion of historical data.

    They’re then validated by comparing their output to a different, separate, portion of historical climate data.

    Only then are they used to predict the unknown.

    But of course you won’t know this, because you get your science news from right-wing dittoheads instead of the actual scientists themselves.

  12. Rob says:

    I highly doubt this occurred as planned today with the snowstorm that shut down most of the suburban school districts today (6-9″ in DC is a snow emergency).

  13. paulm says:

    Typical American media.

    Did this event happen or not?

  14. Greg Robie says:

    I “participated” in the Climate Action event yesterday via Twitter and the streaming video feed now posted above, but only in part, by Greenpeace. My contributions were as follows (the Twitter format of 140 characters lends itself nicely to the haiku literary form). The first was titled by taking a segment of a quote posted by ClimateAction of what James Hensen said at the DC coal plant event.

    ~just crazy~

    climate change denied
    “you bet,” say the deniers,
    “and damn proud or it!”

    © 3/2/09 greg robie

    Around the 40 minute mark of the above video clip is a conversation that inspired my second post of the afternoon. A few of young men, who get it, are making their point but are being told by young women (and I believe the observed gender roles is relevant to the dynamics) that they do not “get it” right; support of the group is withdrawn for doing the action that climate action was purportedly about; honor and integrity are subsumed by pragmatism, conformity and peer pressure; more talk (process–“back at the park”) is substituted for the action of civil disobedience.

    ~also crazy~
    climate change embraced
    “you bet,” say the realists,
    “let’s party on dude!”

    © 3/2/09 greg robie

    Because I participated in this event with the concern and cynicism I shared last week as a comment to this blog, I made another post linking to that comment as I watched my fears unfold; as paulm notes today, “Did this event happen or not?”:

    RT (with fixed link): and also crazy (like a fox) #climateaction (or not)

    Missing from this video is the content of the speeches that were made in which several “oldsters” confessed that our generation has blown it. As the denier in these comments toys with us–draws us deeper into our own self-absorbson and proclivity to interminably talk a talk we do not walk–and make a joke of us (that we do not get–BTW, well done Ray. In any event, that the Speaker had to cancel her presence at this event due to the weather has me wondering, if youth leadership is wanted, why was she somewhere else this weekend; if there had not been a storm, what was her staff’s “Plan B” for getting her out of speaking at this event?

  15. Ray says:

    You better hope the media stayed home, staging a global warming protest during a snowstorm is a picture worth a thousand words, hemp hats were mentioned.

    Most reader would not/did not get past the hillarious irony to hear your message.

    Those that did cheered the cops who kept some idiots from turning off the power on such a cold windy day.

    [JR: It’s winter. It was cold. I guess I don’t understand you deniers. First you say there is no connection between global warming and extreme weather, but then you say that the weather of a typical winter day is somehow suggestive we aren’t warming. So which is it?

  16. So when is the next power plant going to be shut down and for how long?
    The Obama Plan is slow and Congress is too slow. The most telling dichotomy of the day was that CNN nor MSNBC did not showed any footage of the protest or the Powershift 09 Weekend, Unless I missed it. Appears the Republicans seized the media with a bent ideological conference on the other side of town.
    Did anyone catch any coverage on this? we did not see anything here.

  17. Ray says:

    Joe, The AWG crowd redefined global warming to include any anomalous weather events to support their arguments, not the skeptics.

    When you stop pointing the finger at weather as proof of global warming, we will be less likely to laugh at your snowed on parade.

    Negative feedback at the societal level.

    [JR: No, the AGW crowd has read the scientific literature and made the observations that say AGW helps make a variety of extreme weather events more likely or more intense. We talk about those extreme events and especially the statistically measurable increase in them. Now it is certainly true that one prediction of global warming theory is an increase in winter precipitation. But in any case, one snow day is quite irrelevant either way.]

  18. Just a note to say thanks to all who helped yesterday. Despite the grousing above, there was in fact a huge turnout, of all ages, and both highly serious and highly fun. People actually enjoyed singing–especially since the Grammy-Award winning country singer Kathy Mattea was on hand both to risk arrest and to lead us. And we enjoyed the fact that our presence was enough to get Pelosi and Reid to agree to take the plant off coal. One down, 600 to go. If you see any of them, thank the truly cool young people who were there to carry the day, as well as the somewhat older generation that put their bodies on the line: Jim Hansen, Gus Speth, Terry Tempest Williams, Wendell Berry, Janisse Ray, and on and on. I left the whole weekend feeling more deeply hopeful than I’ve felt in a long time.

  19. Gail D says:

    A new day is dawning and thanks to all of the DC protesters – your courage and your persistent voice, we WILL see the light!

  20. Gitz says:

    I was there at it was amazing, The protesters outnumbered the police and press, there were 4 entrences and they were all blocked.
    odd to have very hot days during the weekend and then have a hell of a snowstorm.
    It was informative for me anyways, to meet other indigenous groups around turtle Island (north america) that all share the same story about the industries coming in and developing on or around First Nations Land (reservations).
    It was the same sad stories of death and displacement, another wave of Genocide.
    It was empowering to meet a lot of young leaders who actually care about the earth and want to progessively do something about it.
    Thank you everyone from the bottom of my heart.

  21. Roger says:

    Kudos to Bill McKibben and Wendell Berry for the brave and visionary letter they wrote to suggest this overdue act of civil disobedience. Henry David Thoreau would have been a proud participant.

    Having been there, along with thousands of others, I can assure readers of this blog of several things: 1) As Bill says above, there were people of all ages involved, and, I would add, from all walks of life; 2) The video posted above gives only a small glimpse of what was a very well organized and executed event (go to for more video, photos and news links); 3) Actions such as this one are going to spread because Americans are finally waking up to the fact that accelerated climate change requires urgent attention, and that we must encourage our leaders to take bold action now! (And it’s not just because of a rapidly changing climate, but also because of peak oil, ocean acidification–and more–that we need to transition away from fossil fuels.)

    Stay plugged into the network for more actions such as this one. Then go. Experience shows that our elected officials find a path forward much more quickly when concerned citizens take to the streets to show the way.

  22. Greg Robie says:


    At the planned civil disobedience at the coal plant, Wendell Berry delivered a brilliantly brief speech that communicated that because he had tried everything else, it was time for CD. Robert Kennedy shared about what his kids said to him as they drove down through the snow storm from NY to be arrested, James Hansen had to inference what the science is doing to the 350 number in his speech, because (perhaps) Bill McKibben had earlier lead the 350 chant as part of his speech and said nothing about what the trend in climate modeling science is doing to that number.

    As Joe has blogged here, that trend more than suggests that the cap and trade approach, which is now the default approach to a politically expeditious means of achieving C02 reduction, is likely, while better than nothing, too little, too late.

    If I am getting the post CD (NOT) strategy/affect correctly, such a ramped up feel-good “baby steps” approach to the “hope” that is being pursued (stabilizing the climate) is little more than motivated reasoning. It feels like good thinking but it is not.

    Reading Bill’s comment last night after hearing his speech and his exaggerating twitter post after it, inspired this haiku:

    when all ‘s said and done,
    feeling hopeful, feeling right,
    neither stops the night.

    IMHO, whoever, and whenever the decision was made to not facilitate the planned CD, the failure to make that clear at the outset at Greenpeace’s Rolling Sunlight truck and stage made a ruse, not a success, out of this event (planned action). Moving forward, a failure to forthrightly address such a perception will constitute a major vulnerability to future efforts.

    BTW, I had contemplated doing a solidarity action at the 370 Megawatt coal plant owned by Dynegy here in the mid-Hudson Valley that provides the electricity to my community. I concluded it was both too late and too soon (as I knew too little; had no dialogue successful or otherwise to base an action on. Given the ruse (or whatever) and the resulting media coverage, I am glad that I trusted my gut and reasoning. Given what was (not) done at the DC coal plant I could not have made much sense of my action to a reporter, to say nothing of an editor.

    Given your role at GWEN, I would value your critique of the context for a strategy I advocate at the following link. I believe it realistically addresses the economic and environmental crises both concurrently and comprehensively.

  23. kojiro vance says:

    Seriously Bill – where were the giant puppets? Don’t you guys know how to put on a real protest?

    Come on we’ve got haiku, drummers, chanting and strange dancing. Did you forget to call the giant puppet people? Or the Gitmo detainees? Gotta have them.

    CNN or MSNBC would have covered it but for the giant puppets.

  24. Greg Robie says:

    My apologies to Bill McKibben for miss-associating his Tweet about the crowd size with his climate action speech at the DC coal plant. I first saw this tweet just as he got off the Greenpeace Rolling Sunlight truck’s stage. My motivated reasoning caused me to make the association it did and fail to see the actual date of his Tweet.

    BTW, this is a good example of how motivated reasoning works and how hard it is not to do it. Sorry again Bill.

  25. Greg Robie says:

    This is a few days “late,” but worth sharing anyway, and doing so here. Here is link to a 5:52 minute YouTube video at Common Dreams that contains an insight/assertion by Naomi Wolf concerning “fake” protests that has relevance to these comments. Besides supporting the concerns I’ve raised in my comments (surprise NOT), I think it also pulls the curtain of motivated reasoning back a bit to expose now the feelings of those who have posted positively concerning the non-CD CD rally at the DC power plant to further critical examination; to considering how those feelings/motivated reasoning plays out, systemically, relative to an effective strategy for, in this case, weaning ourselves from coal generated electricity.