Bill McKibben reviews “Straight Up,” challenges me to offer advice. I accept!

Cover image of Joe Romm's book, Straight Up: America's Fiercest Climate Blogger Takes on the Status Quo Media, Politicians, and Clean Energy SolutionsBill McKibben “” some-time guest blogger and the author most recently of the must-read book Eaarth — has a challenging review of my book Straight Up in the Washington Monthly.

He literally challenges me to talk more about political movements on this blog, such has the one he cofounded,  I accept.

Indeed, I issue a challenge of my own to to change its focus and get more political! I’d love to hear your thoughts — and I’m quite sure that McKibben would, too.

So I’ll mostly dispense with the parts in which he explains why you should buy the book if you’re interested in climate or the Web — “this book””a collection of some of his thousands of blog posts””is a good way to think not only about climate but about the uses of the Web” — and cut to his challenge:

In fact, my main dispute with Romm’s work is his relentless focus on Washington….

But Romm’s hyper-realism may ignore more important political possibilities. He’s paid less attention to the emerging popular movement on climate change than to the machinations of the Senate, but if we’re actually going to get change on the scale we need, it’s quite possible it won’t happen without an aggressive, large, and noisy movement demanding that change. And Romm, who would have a good deal of useful things to say to such a movement, hasn’t been very interested. He’s deeply Washington centric. And in that he’s not alone””most of the D.C. green movement has pretty much written off organizing out in the hinterlands in favor of lobbying in the offices of senators and congressmen. The problem with that strategy, though, is that effective lobbying depends on senators and congressmen actually perceiving that there’s some pain involved in doing the easy thing and stalling action. (Pain beyond wrecking the planet””I’m talking real pain, like losing an election.)

Mostly guilty as charged.  While I do think I have published more pieces on 350.0rg and protests at coal plants than the status quo media — or even most climate science blogs — I certainly have focused mainly on DC politics, especially in the past couple of years.

As I argued (in the book and on CP) in my June 26, 2009 post on the House approving the Waxman-Markey climate and clean energy jobs bill:

My Salon piece, “One brief shining moment for clean energy” is up.  We do need to savor moments like these, since, as I note in that article, given modern conservative ideology, which is 100% anti-conservation, “the country can only contemplate serious environmental legislation when we have the unique constellation of a Democratic president and [large] Democratic majorities in both houses, an occurrence far rarer than a total eclipse of the sun.

Turns out even that isn’t enough.

I couldn’t agree more with McKibben that real politicking requires strong grassroots who are essentially single issue voters.  If there is no political cost to voting against climate action, why would a conservative ever vote for it, given all of the other benefits there are to opposing a price on carbon and clean energy, most notably:

  1. Support from the big fossil fuel companies and other big polluters (in money and lobbying and advertising)
  2. A powerful message to demagogue opponents who are mired in wimpy progressive messaging

Now as far as I can see, isn’t  focused on creating a political cost to voting against climate action.  If you go to the website, you’ll see this:


I’m not certain how telling world leaders it’s time to put solar on government buildings has a better chance of moving us toward 350 ppm than working as hard as possible to pass some sort of national U.S. climate legislation, even stuff that is too moderate.  Nor is it clear what the point is of showing the world the we’re ready for climate solutions.  The polls all make clear we’re ready.   How does that get you one more vote anywhere for the World-War-II-scale effort needed?

For the record, to have a shot at getting back to 350 ppm this century, we probably need  12-14 wedges — strategies and/or technologies that over a period of a few decades each ultimately reduce projected global carbon emissions by one billion metric tons per year (see technical paper here, less technical one here) — by 2040 if not sooner while shutting down pretty much every traditional coal plant (i.e. those lacking carbon capture and storage) in the world [see “How the world can (and will) stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution].

Achieving 350 ppm in the lifetime of anybody you know ain’t about half measures or Earth-Day type rallies.  Otherwise, is nothing different than, or

Now this is not by way of criticism of what McKibben has accomplished in less time than I have been blogging.  He’s gotten a lot of people energized.  But he ends his challenging review:

I hope the green groups, and Romm as their most important chronicler, regroup and reconsider strategy. It’s not impossible to imagine a mass movement devoted to changing how we handle global warming. Two years ago a few of us formed a campaign called, devoted to spreading the (very critical) news that NASA scientists had set 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide as the most the atmosphere could safely contain. Since we’re already at 390 parts per million, we require urgent action if we’re to scramble back below the red line. Last fall, managed to pull off 5,200 simultaneous rallies in 181 countries, what CNN called the “most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.” Still, that movement remains in its infancy and still finds too-scant support from D.C.’s green groups.

In some larger sense, it’s a reminder that blogging needs to work hard to escape the hermetic seal of the Web. The promise is that the Web will serve as a window open to the world, and Romm serves that promise well; but writing about politics will never replace the need for actually doing politics.

Well, CNN may have called it “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history,” but what political action actually occurred?

I myself saw over 100,000 rally for climate and clean energy action on Earth Day, but what political action occurred?  What is the difference between a big rally and a blog — other than the carbon footprint and the music?

Here’s my challenge to McKibben and — let’s see some real political action!  No, I’m not going to put the burden of passing a climate bill this year on — the politics and the politicians for that are basically set in stone.

But let’s see you help kill Proposition 23, the battle over California’s climate law that pits extremist anti-science polluters against bipartisan support for the clean energy economy.  If that wins, it’s gonna be might hard to convince anybody we have a shot at 450 ppm, let alone 350.  And the margin of victory counts.  Help kill it by more than 10 points.  Make it politically untenable to support such initiatives, so we don’t see similar ones cropping up everywhere.

And no, you don’t need to have the US focus.  There are a couple of other countries that are flailing around politically right now in need of a backbone.  Canada and Australia come to mind.

Holding rallies about solutions will never replace the need for actually doing the messy business of electing politicians who support tough climate laws and defeating those who oppose them.  It will never stop emissions from going straight up.

59 Responses to Bill McKibben reviews “Straight Up,” challenges me to offer advice. I accept!

  1. Very useful stuff here, Joe, which will help inform the way we campaign. (And by the way, most of the review is devoted to telling people to buy Joe’s book). I think the thing we struggle hardest with is the way we take the grassroots momentum we and others are generating, and figuring out the transmission device to make political change result. The message for this 10/10/10 Global Work Day, for instance, is directed straight at our leaders: we’re getting to work, how about you? It’s precisely the message we’re trying to send with our–if we can get Obama up on the roof hammering in a solar panel or two, it will send a political signal. (If we all do a good job of messaging it). I think one Ingredient we need is some mass pressure. Without that, the DC lobbying wing of our movement is forced to compromise too early and too easily. We will keep trying to build that mass movement. At any rate, this is exactly the kind of feedback movements need.

  2. Daniel Ives says:

    I own a green T-shirt that I’m proud to wear, especially when people ask me about it. I also visit CP all the time; it’s my go-to place for an interesting post/article when I need a 5-minute break from my job. I know Joe and Bill respect each other and I’m glad to see them challenge each other. I think and CP both have roles to play in supporting climate action/legislation. The best analogy I can think of is military related (after all we do need a WWII-type effort right?). Bill commands an army that has demonstrated its ability to organize for a cause while Joe and others focused on Washington are the strategists that identify political allies and enemies, show who to attack and who to support, and chart a course for victory.

  3. caerbannog says:

    Apologies for posting something a bit off-topic again, but this is so relevant and important that everyone should read it. It also deserves to be headlined by Climate Progress. ;)

    The ClimateScienceWatch folks have just posted a transcript of an interview with Dr. Stephen Schneider, one of the authors of the recently-published PNAS paper “Expert Credibility in Climate Change.” In the interview, Schneider directly addresses all the major criticisms raised by skeptics, and boy oh boy, he ain’t pulling punches!

    You can read the whole thing here:

  4. Rick Covert says:


    I know that Joe is meeting with the Commonwealth club in San Francisco to address this but from your vantage point does the oil geyser in the gulf help or hurt prospects for the American Power Act?

  5. Lou Grinzo says:

    Like Daniel, I’m happy to see this positive interaction between two people whose work I respect a great deal.

    I hope no one reading this site falls into the trap of thinking we can “solve” climate change with just a grass roots movement or just a WDC-centric focus. We’re so far down this path and we’ve already burned away so much of our precious time in a bonfire of indifference that we need a vigorous engagement from all groups (individual consumers, small and large businesses, NGOs, governments, faith-based organizations, etc.). In particular, we need individuals to apply pressure at all levels of decision making, from neighbors who set their A/C at 72 up to and including the federal government.

    In other words, changing our light bulbs won’t mean a thing if we don’t change our politicians, as well.

  6. homunq says:

    The biggest lesson of the Obama presidency so far is that a strategy which relies on getting 60 votes in the Senate is a risky bet at best. Even the bills that have passed have died and been re-started more times than Lara Croft, as the elusive 60th vote flickers in and out of existence.

    It is absolutely vital to have a plan B. And that means filibuster reform. I know that climate activists don’t like to get mired in such wonky political issues; but this is a life-or-death issue, and such squeamishness is unacceptable.

    I challenge you both to say it: reforming the US senate filibuster is important to climate. If you’re not with us on the filibuster, we’ll take that into consideration in supporting you. As the NRA would put it: any vote on the filibuster is “on our scorecard”.

  7. mike roddy says:

    I would love to see Joe and Bill spend two days in a hotel room brainstorming the best ways to convert grassroots movements and political pressure into serious legislation.

    You both made great points. I loved Bill’s comment about dealing with a Congressman’s “real pain”, and Joe is right that a swelling mass movement does not always translate well into policy action.

    The good thing is that everybody is open to ideas at this point. The model of delegating green groups to feature global warming on their agendas isn’t getting anywhere, because one senses it’s a reflex, not a passion, as it is with you two. Big Green is too big and ossified anyway, and the best communicators on the subject have sprung up independently, with no agenda except helping their fellow man. Those who dug in and learned the science felt they didn’t have a choice, and the passion shows. Reaching the people is key. Political pressure in the form of making sensible cost/benefit approaches to politicians sounds great in principle, but I’d like to hear more details.

    Since you both get the science and the urgency of ground up political action, it’s not necessary that you agree on tactics. Both of your approaches are needed, along with many other things.

    For example, newspapers and TV stations that have fanned “Climategate” and nonsensical debates need to be called on it in the form of a media watchdog blog. Then, let’s see how well their submission to advertisers holds up when they are threatened with new and more fearless media taking away even more of their viewers, as their credibility is shattered.

    Another idea could be a blast from the past (as in Vietnam protest days) series of Teachins, complete with barnstorming and publicity. No deniers need apply, but people like you and a select group of climate scientists could pull this off well. The Vietnam teachins educated a whole lot of people, and filled gaps in the mainstream media’s treatment of the subject. It should be fun, too, with guest musicians and maybe some of Sinclair’s videos.

    Keep it up, guys!!

  8. Jamie Henn says:

    As way of intro, I work with Bill over at as our communications director and coordinate our campaign in East Asia. And I echo Bill and others: it’s great to be having this conversation.

    I’d quickly second what Bill says and remind Joe that there’s many ways to move politics and build movements. Especially in the media saturated and social networked world we live in, it’s important to try out new tactics that can change the narrative around climate and create new political space.

    We’ve always seen as a laboratory for new organizing. And we feel like our past experiments have been rather successful, mostly because we’ve found hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are eager to work with us to try out new ways of creating change. Our best teachers have been folks like Ola, who showed us the power one person can have by standing alone with a 350 banner in Iraq and inspiring thousands of people online. Or organizers like the two sisters in Ethiopia who pulled off a 15,000 person rally in Addis Ababa by convincing every school in the city to send half their students to the event. Or our allies like, whose innovative online campaigns have built up a membership of 5.5 million members.

    Doing the raw political organizing to defeat ballot measures like Prop 23 is essential work (I’m based here in California and we’re definitely involved in that fight to the extent we can be as a 501c3). We’ve also been working with our supporters to call Congress, write LTE’s, and organize protests after the oil spill, all good, traditional political work. But we also think it’s important to be using new tactics to create the political space for real, transformative change.

    That’s what the 10/10/10 Global Work Party is all about. That’s what getting Obama to use his bully pulpit — or better yet, address the nation from his roof top with a brand new set of panels — is all about. That’s what the Great Power Race, our student clean energy competition in India, China, and the US is focused on.

    We think that’s all important work. And there’s some good precedents for it. Gandhi, for one, recognized the power of symbolic political acts. He got to work by making salt when it was illegal or promoting the spinning loom as a symbol of independence from the British.

    We can’t claim that our work has or ever will have the same significance, but we’re inspired each day by our supporters across the planet who are trying their best, despite whatever doubts they may have, to make a difference. It’s important to debate about messaging and tactics, but after a while you have to get to work. That’s what is all about and for those reading, we hope you’ll join us.

  9. Ben Lieberman says:

    I myself (though like most of you lacking any political power other than my one vote) would also probably come down on the more pragmatic-policy oriented side when it comes to measures that will start to have an effect now, but I also see organizations such as 350 as extraordinarily unradical. It’s unfair, but the rallies get little to no media coverage. What kind of lawful action would create vastly more pressure on carbon emitters and their political friends?

  10. john atcheson says:

    Very interesting exchange. To me, the missing ingredient in both Bill McKibben’s book, his 350 organization and in what he calls Joe’s Washington centric approach to climate, is the limitations both impose.

    Bill Mckibben’s approach is relentlessly positive, and the Washington centric approach is hopelessly pragmatic.

    Maybe we need both.

    But we also need — desperately — a mad prophet who is out there screaming about the ticking clock — we need a 24 Hours version of climate, and if we are to gin up the kind of popular support needed to move politicians, we need to take off the gloves, name names and kick some Republican butt. We also need a full court press on the science so that the sense of urgency this issue demands is at least transmitted to the public.

  11. Fredo says:

    “though like most of you lacking any political power other than my one vote”

    Ben, your vote is the least of your political power. Your thoughts, voice, muscles, and (to the extent you can spare any) your money are where political power comes from.

  12. Andy says:

    I am a member of and participated in the Salt Lake City rally last year. This is a highly US-centered comment, but I would have to agree that it would be good to see be more politically engaged. For example, I know Bill supported (supports) the CLEAR act, but I couldn’t find commentary on 350’s website on either CLEAR or APA. And with November elections looming, now would be a good time to get organizational capacity in place to drive US votes.

    I think Joe makes a great point on the CA Prop 23. Seeing that defeated by a wide margin is *important*. Or what about pushing state legislatures in the Western Climate Initiative to adopt their own measures to formally participate in the WCI Cap and Trade? WCI has lots of member states who seem to be waffling about getting Cap and Trade legislation passed (like my home state, Utah). Or what about other state-level actions (RPS, energy efficiency, etc.)? Or even city/county-level actions like the San Francisco carbon tax? Maybe could play an important role in the non-Federal political space?

    These are all just thoughts. There is a lot of polical space to play in, from local government to State to Federal. I would love to see become more purposed and involved in this space. Pick some key battles, focus and drive success at the local level, and build the movement through political (even local political) accomplishments! Maybe start in a city (or cities) where you already have a lot of members around which you can build a local movement, publicize a campaign, generate energy (and donations) around it, get a win, and build from there.

    My 2 cents…


  13. Nick Palmer says:

    We need the Washington centric action; we need the type grassroots action; we need big Romm-like bloggers; we need humbler bloggers like myself; we need local type climate change campaigns like J-CAN Jersey Climate Action Network); we need “Big Green” campaigns. We need Vietnam Teachins; we need films; we need better propaganda than the denialists; we need accurate journalist reporting of truth rather than mere opinion, twisted or otherwise.

    I don’t think having a long debate about what is the best way to campaign is very useful. We could only know what would end up being the best way by running the experiment several times, with the aid of a time machine, and altering the variables – in exactly the same way that we would be able to establish climate sensitivity accurately or have reliable predictions of future climate.

    When faced with a problem like climate change and a bamboozled public and a bamboozling opposition, the best strategy is for everyone to whock, and keep on whocking, the problem with whatever we have and whatever we can best put our energies into.

    What we need to triumph is whatever it takes – excess won’t matter but less is not a sane option. As we won’t know for sure the approximate dimensions of “whatever it takes” until we get towards the finish line, we should all just get on with it without too much dry analysis and focus-group type navel gazing.

  14. Eli Snyder says:

    Maybe this is a naive question, but could either one of you explain exactly what it is that you mean by political action?

    You often hear people talk about “doing the hard political work,” and “going out and getting active” and that sort of thing, and how people need to do it more rather than just talking about their opinions. But what exactly does this mean? What specific sorts of actions do you think need to be taken? Could you give some examples?

  15. Richard Miller says:

    This is an important conversation and I hope that Joe continues to reflect on this issue. It seems to me that we need people to think of the effort to stop the climate catastrophe as akin to the civil rights movement with a very short timetable. This is why I think’s initial approach to have public demonstrations was very important and makes them a very promising organization. I am a member of and will participate in the 10/10/10 day. I think demonstrations at congressional offices would be more effective, but I assume that is framing the 10/10/10 day in this way to offer something novel that can break through the media barrier and ultimately require any media statement to say something about Hansen’s target of 350 ppm.

    I think it would be helpful for this blog to have guests blogs about the environmental movement on this site. You have had Robert Brulle on this site. He would be worth engaging on this topic.
    It is true that if we do push the planet to Hell and High Water, the US responsibility for the irreversible catastrophe will largely be put at the foot of the conservative anti-science obstructionists tactics; yet I am always reminded of Martin Luther King’s words:
    “history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

    If the various environmental organizations could unite on this issue and get behind a relentless unified message, even street demonstrations, then I think the pressure on the politicians to do the right thing would possibly be enough for them to make the right policy decisions to head off the worst of the climate catastrophe.
    It is staggering when you see how many people are members of environmental movements. Here is a quote from Dr. Robert Brulle’s essay entitled the “The US Environmental Movement”, which you can find at :

    “The U.S. environmental movement is perhaps the single largest social movement in the
    United States. With over 6,500 national and 20,000 local environmental organizations, along
    with an estimated 20-30 million members, this movement dwarfs other modern social
    movements such as the civil rights or peace movements. It is also the longest running social

    Now the environmental organizations are not silent on this issue, but they have not taken the necessary steps to deal with the planetary emergency. The necessary steps involve them uniting to push their members to have mass demonstrations as we had on the first Earth Day when 10% of the population at that time, 20 million people took to the streets.

  16. Eli–excellent question. Political work takes many forms; one is the straightforward work of calling and writing legislators. But it’s more effective when it’s coordinated and on message. For instance, on 10-10-10, our big Global Work Party day, we’ll be having people finish up the (highly visible and media-attractive) day of putting up solar panels or digging community gardens by calling in en masse to their legislators, hammer in one hand and cellphone in the other as it were. And they’ll be able to say: We got to work. Now we need you to get to work, on Prop 23, or whatever turns out to be most salient when we get to late October (only a few weeks before the election).

    Many other good questions and ideas. And the good thing is, you can do all of them. If you want to see get involved in a local campaign or initiative, then do it: organize a rally on 10-10-10 and use it to also draw attention to that campaign. We can’t do it place by place ourselves–there’s about 20 of us organizing around the entire world fulltime. But we’re entirely open to people taking charge where they are. That’s what we like to see happen–we’re not an organization, we’re a campaign.

    As to the mad prophet kicking and screaming, may I humbly suggest picking up a copy of my most recent book Eaarth at your local library. Maybe not prophetic, but certainly mad.

    Oh, and don’t worry too much about media coverage. In fact, our big day of action last October owned Google News for something like 36 hours–it was the most covered story on the planet, and across the U.S., that weekend. That’s because of the incredibly hard work of people all over the globe, who did things so creatively and so beautifully that reporters couldn’t help but cover them. Everyone who reads this blog has a chance to be one of those people driving that kind of change.

    [JR: First off, let me say if it wasn’t clear — and I meant to include this in the original — that I have the greatest respect for Bill and if I weren’t doing what I’m doing I couldn’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing than what he’s doing.

    Second, I see political action as anything designed to directly influence the political process — at a local, state, national, or global level. This could be an election or referendum or a piece of legislation, but there are many elements other crucial parts of the political process, too. Getting media attention can be part of political action, but, for me, only if it is leading toward directly influencing or changing the political process.

    Third, in the case of United States, if you believe in national action — if believe that global action is virtually impossible without U.S. national action — then you do need a strategy for getting 60 votes in the Senate. That is Mount Everest. That doesn’t mean everybody has to be working on that, though I tend to think that if one is a national organization trying to avert climate catastrophe, then that has to be part of your strategic plan.]

  17. Richard Brenne says:

    As Mike Roddy (#7) says, you’re both right (by the way, has anyone else noticed that Roddy himself is always right?)! You’re both doing great work. We need both of you and infinitely more like you.

    One thing we don’t need is more binary thinking, that the answer to something like addressing climate change is an either/or when it’s a both, or really an e) all of the above.

    Each of us has an ego-self and an authentic-self within us, in fact in a single sentence (like this one?) one can hear from both the ego-self and authentic-self.

    So the ego-self wants to be left alone, wants the status quo, and basically wants to build itself, it’s own ego, through status, that right now in our superficial society comes from intertwined money, power and fame. That’s what fuels CEOs, politicians and mostly all the rest of us.

    Corporate profits and winning elections, passing bills and other political battles each become an all-consuming game to one’s ego, or to the ego-self.

    The authentic-self wants none of this. It wants what is best for everyone of all species, including a livable climate. The authentic-self can be seen by those who are spiritually-inclined as God speaking through us, but atheists manifest just as much of the authentic-self (often more) as those who are religious.

    No one alive today is all saint or all sinner. Maybe the authentic-self speaks through the best of us 70 per cent of the time, and in the worst of us a smaller percentage of the time.

    So wanting exclusivity or guarding one’s turf or saying that one’s battle is more important than another’s are all the ego-self speaking. Mostly what are guarded by environmental groups are their budgets, and most of their directors and officers seem primarily interested in maintaining their salaries and prestige.

    Get over this. Listen to your authentic-self and let it speak through you, and you’ll always be thinking, saying, writing and doing the right thing.

    As much as I’m deeply inspired by the immense work, focus, intelligence, editing and writing of both McKibben and Romm, I’m equally inspired by the incredible writing of regular Climate Progress commenters Mike Roddy, Gail (Wit’s End), Leif, Jeff Hughes, Lou Grinzo (including his comment here) Richard Pauli and many others. Many of the above are meeting soon to see how we can all work together and support the work of both Romm and McKibben.

    A couple of additional points: Let’s say that the miracle of miracles happened and we could wave a magic wand and forever stabilize CO2 ppm at or below 350. That would be literally awesome and unbelievable. Unfortunately we’d still have 6.8 billion people possible growing to 9 or 10 billion with a billion malnourished or starving, resource depletion including fresh water, oil and everything else, pollution of all kinds, and wars including a very real possibility of nuclear war when these resources become sufficiently depleted.

    To me we need to create a movement that addresses all of this, what I call Anthro-Earth.

    And we need to realize that there will be intensely teachable moments and dramatic shifts in society and the political landscape. Unfortunately these will probably be negatives like the BP oil spill, only dwarfing it. Most have Peak Oil as a primary component, as the BP oil spill has – we wouldn’t be drilling there if we hadn’t largely run out of the easy-to-get-at oil.

    It’s easy to see a day coming not too far in the future when war or a large enough terrorism attack or the overthrow of the Saudi or Mexican or other governments or some combination create a run on America’s 170,000 gas stations as Matt Simmons (an oil investment banker and Peak Oil author and speaker) has long predicted, and gas and diesel would need to be rationed to get food into supermarkets so people didn’t starve.

    At that point there is an entirely new political landscape, and anything is possible, with small but very real upside potential and tremendous downside potential, including fascism and war. This is as likely to come from the U.S. as from anyplace on Anthro-Earth. Limbaugh, Beck and Palin are fanning the flames of hatred and bitterness to allow these forces to explode.

    So while we need to fight all the political battles both Romm and McKibben are fighting, like FDR we need to prepare for what’s coming in addition to what is.

    I guess of the two movements I respect so much I fall into Romm’s camp a little more. Every medium is about character and story, and by giving us such astute insights into who the good and bad guys are and by speaking truth to power as much as anyone and naming names while doing so, Romm and Climate Progress are setting the agenda and doing the right thing as much as anyone.

    With Joe at the helm Climate Progress should grow all the time in all media, including television – with McKibben, Hansen, Roddy and other Climate Progress All-Stars as pundits.

    And with no more “What I’m doing is more valuable than what you’re doing” ego-self talking, but “Let’s work together!” authentic-self talking, now and always.

  18. Eban Goodstein says:

    The clean energy movement– beyond the electoral activities of the state and national LCVs– has never been political in the sense that it has sought explicitly to elect clean energy champions. Partly this is a result of 501 C-3 limitations– and I wonder as well if the C-3 culture has shaped our sense of what is possible.

    Contrast this with, for example the Progressive Movement, which elected politicians (from both parties) who called themselves progressive– or more recently, the Tea Party movement, which in just a year of existence has already won nomination elections for candidates running for high-profile US Senate office.

    Tea Party can do this by pushing the Republican party to the right in red districts and states; the problem for clean energy politics is that we already have a clean energy majority– most politicians representing blue and purple districts would support decent climate legislation. But what we don’t have is the electoral supermajority we need.

    Two choices: 1. recreate Joe’s total eclipse scenario in 2012; 2. achieve Filibuster reform. Both incredibly hard to achieve. But unless we are willing to give up on US federal policy, one of the two is what we have to do.

    Both strategies involve climate activism having an explicitly political focus, for example, building on LCV’s efforts.

    We also lack charismatic clean energy political champions. No fighting bob Lafollett’s. As much as I appreciate their hard work, Kerry and Lieberman are not dynamic public champions. And Obama has chosen not to be. We need to run some clean energy champions in blue states who can challenge existing dems to embrace a bold clean energy vision– and really lead the public on climate.

    In these ways, the clean energy movement can lay the political groundwork for if/when a string of climate disasters strong enough leads for sufficient pressure for legislation.

    BTW– we did do the Vietnam-style teach-ins– in 2008 and 2009– involving 2500 schools nationwide. See our old site at

  19. Robert says:

    I like CP and visit it most days, but my main critisism is that it too US-centric. Reducing (or even eliminating) CO2 emissions in the US will not fix the problem of rising global atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Because the global aspects are largely ignored this gives the whole thing the appearance of an ideological political battle, rather than a battle against climate change itself.

    Unfortunately the US is not in a good position to show leadership by example, due to its high per-capita emissions. Citizens of other countries are unlikely to cite them as any sort of gold standard until this figure falls below that of their own country. The US would therefore need to halve their per-capita emissions before any other country (bar a few such as Australia and Canada) is likely to be impressed. That is a tough target and many decades away, even if the US climate bill does become law.

  20. Jeff Huggins says:

    So Let’s Get With It!

    Someone said, “but if we’re actually going to get change on the scale we need, it’s quite possible it won’t happen without an aggressive, large, and noisy movement demanding that change.”

    That is not only “quite possible”: you can rest assured of it.

    In order to actually get change on the scale we need, we WILL need an “aggressive”, huge, vocal, persistent and insistent movement demanding that change. There is no question on that one. I can explain why in ten different ways, backed by science, history, and nearly everything else under the sun.

    So, there is no time for bickering with each other. As much as I love, enjoy, and learn from ClimateProgress, I do agree that it should expand coverage and vitality in the directions that Bill McKibben mentions. And, as much as I applaud what Bill has done, it has barely scratched the surface in terms of what needs to be done and what we all ought to be doing.

    I would like to help. Count me “in”. If and as Joe, and/or other CAP folks, and Bill, and/or other 350 folks, happen to be in Northern California, please (if you have open time) let me know and let’s connect. The Bay Area itself (U.C. Berkeley, Stanford, other universities and colleges, San Francisco, the high-tech community, and so forth) should all be doing MUCH MUCH MORE to move things forward. Comparing what IS happening currently, to what NEEDS TO happen, is a bit like comparing a wounded snail to a fast jet plane, if you ask me. The race is not even close. We have to be more creative, more communicative, more cooperative, and more creative, and more creative, and more creative again, and also (did I forget) much more courageous.

    I’m here, ready.



  21. Windsong says:

    To Bill McKibben: I AM at the library and have been reading your book (for the second time)! I thought of just snitching it– but then others wouldn’t be able to read it. So I’ve just been taking notes instead. Great book!

  22. NBAU No Business As Usual – we can agitate for that, but NBAU will happen on its own eventually. With 4 degrees warming predicted earlier than expected, we will see huge changes no matter what we decide to do. Humans just have to decide whether to drive change sooner or follow the change later.

    Climate chaos is a tide that rises inexorably. Any political action that runs counter to physical science is effectively a magic show that will harm all surviving humans. The enormity of the chaotic changes ahead is still not widely acknowledged.

    I am afraid I have become a warmo-fascist. Or maybe a Climatotolitarian. [Has a nice ring to it.] Because the science is so ruthless that our species survival requires full compliance in a unified and co-ordinated response. The global war is just getting going. We are all allies.

    I am having a hard time visualizing how libertarian capitalism could rise to the challenge.

  23. Wally says:

    Start an internet TV network that pushes the messages from Climate Progress,, Media Matters, Dean Baker’s CEPR, and other like-minded outfits.

    Soon, very soon, web video will be able to be viewed on Living Room television sets, thanks to Google TV, Yahoo’s ConnectedTV and a few others (you can already do it now with the right stuff). No better medium to get your message out. With the right promotion and publicity you can attract a considerable following – and internet TV is expected to grow bigger and better and the cost of entry is not prohibitive.

    Look at what you are up against – a considerable percentage of our country is functionally illiterate and not given to reading very much. Ten or more percent are unemployed, and an equal or greater number are just scraping by and are understandably distracted. 30% are republicans (who are basket cases) – many working class people are tired when they get home and want relaxation – which usually takes the form in escapist television programs. You’ve got a lot to compete with.

    There is an intelligent constituency that can make a difference, like the people who visit this blog, but it’s rather diffuse and does not appear to have a rallying point. For a time I thought Obama would express the concerns of rational people, but he chose to seek bipartisan solutions between the democrats and the hyenas. Someone else has to step into the breach.

    I really believe that a regular Internet TV program based on the intelligent discussions here on Climate Progress and other blogs will work toward getting the message out.

  24. john atcheson says:

    Re comment #16;

    I am the guy calling for a mad prophet –and Bill, I did read your book. In fact I reviewed it here at Climate Progress, and thought it was a profoundly important book, which accurately sums up our situation, and I feel the same way about Joe’s.

    Joe and I have had numerous discussions about the fine line — and the disconnect — between backing what progress the political process allows, and the need to insist on doing what the science demands.

    It is a difficult challenge. Clearly, Joe is right — the Senate is Mt. Everest, and in any critical path to progress the US must act and lead.

    Yet clearly, we are — or have — run out of time. The political process simply won’t yield the kind of change we need by the time we need it (which ranges somewhere between last year and next). So how do we celebrate and back the progress the political process will yield while recognizing it’s woefully inadequate?

    I don’t know.

    But I do know that if the public believes the Bills under consideration solve the problem, they will back off on even the small pressure now being applied to politicians and it will be a long time before we get more action.

    [JR: I see no evidence the public believes that — it certainly isn’t true of other pieces of environmental legislation. When you pass a law, usually gets strengthened over time. When you fail to pass a law, it usually gets put on the shelf for many years as a political loser (see BTU tax, health care reform).]

    More books by you and Joe would be a start.

    My own belief is that this issue must enter the mainstream culture, not only the mainstream scientific and political processes. I get thoroughly frustrated when I see enormous concern about the deficit, Afghanistan, terrorism etc … important issues all, but relative passivity about climate change, even among those who believe it is real, and this issue is vastly more important.

  25. Raul says:

    slightly OT
    Years ago I was reading some about extending
    life spans and thought that a great goal for
    someone my age. Years while working I used to
    tease or complain Oh just take me out to the
    Atlantic for the last final swim.
    Well to combine age extension with the present
    future and the ocean can come to me.
    Could be an amazing sci-fi video for a TV internet
    show of the mix of separate cultures all within
    the same city. The star biologist who learned
    life extension yet disbelieved by those around,
    lives to see the sea come closer and only a couple
    of generations before the expected approach.

  26. Bill Mckibben – I note that WitsEnd has posted an excellent re-review of your earlier book “The End of Nature” (1989)

    It serves as a benchmark for measuring change from 21 years ago. We have done so well informing, and yet accomplished so little. Twenty one years hence, I wonder what will we know that we did not know then?

  27. john atcheson says:


    The Clean Air Act passed in 1970 and had minor amendments in 1977 (requiring maintenance of standards in areas meeting NAAQS and some permit reviews), with more significant amendments in 1990.

    That’s 20 years before the CAA was substantially strengthened. And that was in a political climate in which there was a measure of bi-partisan support for environmental issues. Do you honestly believe we’d do better now, with the politically polarized environment we have? Republicans would be using the Legislation as a shield against further action. “Let’s give this time to work …” would be the next phase of denier strategy.

    Don’t get me wrong — I believe we need to pass something and do it as soon as we can, but our support must foreclose on the argument that we’ve tackled the problem. That means pointing out how woefully inadequate the current proposals are given the science, even as we back them.

  28. Roger says:

    As Richard Pauli (#26) notes above, there is an excellent re-review of Bill’s “The End of Nature” at Gail’s wonderful Wits End. It’s amazing how little we’ve done in 21 years!

    What I found especially moving were the accompanying color photographs showing the many stately, but thinning, New Hampshire white pines, the dying birches, and even the crushed outhouse roof. Although these photos don’t hold a candle to Gail’s, I found them to be beautiful, sad, and motivational, all at the same time–if I do say so myself.

    As for the outhouse roof, we were finally able to have a relatively “climate free” weekend to go up north and patch it, then go for a refreshing swim in the nearby 86-degree lake.

  29. Roger says:

    Great topic, and many fantastic points above! Both Joe and Bill are climate heroes who deserve our eternal gratitude. We need a million more like them, ideally all cooperating on getting the bold climate legislation we need to preserve a livable climate for our kids.

    I’d like to add one comment, drawing on what Richard Miller (#15) and Richard Brenne (#17) hint at above. Others have likely mentioned some of these ideas, too.

    Given what’s at stake here—quite possibly climate disruption leading to “hell and high water” right here on “Eaarth,” why don’t we “go for broke?” Indeed, why not ask ALL 26,500 US environmental organizations to ask ALL of their 20-30 million members to call up their authentic-selves, and for once say: “Let’s all work TOGETHER for ONE day on ONE thing.” (No matter if we usually just focus on birds, or rivers, or other bits of nature: with a screwed up climate, our birds, rivers, and, yes, our children, are all at risk!)

    TOGETHER, because there is strength in numbers: “You can swat a bee, but not a swarm,” they say.

    Focus on ONE day, because it’s not a swarm if all of the bees choose a different day.

    Focus on ONE thing, because it’s not a swarm if all of the bees are heading a different way.

    Now, here’s a tough question: What day shall we choose? Good leaders will tell you, it’s not always choosing the perfect day that’s important. Rather, it is important that we choose the SAME day.

    We’ll, since has clearly staked out the perfectly symmetrical day of 10-10-10, and since they already have close to 1200 actions logged in over 100 countries, why can’t the other 26,499 US environmental organizations swallow their ego-selves pride, as some have already done, and say “We’ll set aside one day from our schedule and join them.”

    (After all, it is just ONE day out of ~250 work days, and cooperating this one time could save the next umpteen generations from damning us for failing to cooperate this once!)

    So, October 10th, 2010 is the day, everyone! Mark your calendars and save the date!!

    Oh, $#*+! Now that we’ve agreed on a day, we have to get everybody to agree WHAT to do—a task that simply may be beyond the capacity of a large number of ego-selves to do. So, please mentally move yourselves to your authentic-selves (see Comment # 17 above).

    And, let me make a humble suggestion. OK, there are a million things we could focus on, but we will be a million times more effective if we all focus on one thing. So, who is the one person, having some power, that legally “belongs” equally to all Americans? Hint: the first letter of his name is the same as the first letter of the month we’ve chosen.

    You guessed Obama? Great! Without going over the past, let’s admit there’s a lot more that he could do, starting with executive orders, if he really tried. How about some public service announcements to get the summary results of $20 billion dollars worth of taxpayer-funded climate research onto the TVs of a vastly misinformed citizenry?

    (Although there are polls indicating that a majority of Americans are “concerned” about climate change, we have found that the typical American who is “concerned” about the climate has responded this way simply because it ‘sounds like’ the answer that an educated, civilized person should give, NOT because they are concerned in the sense that most readers of Climate Progress are concerned. In fact, in my experience, in order for a US citizen to be willing to even consider making a phone call to their US senator, they must be at the “extremely concerned” level, or higher. To be willing to call a senator, and attend more than one or two climate events per year, they must be “frantic.” Beyond that stage, they are in grave danger of becoming fatalistic and resigned to their fate.)

    Back to President Obama, and the desirability of focusing our attention on him. What should be done? Well, here is where the individuality of the 26,500 US environmental groups can run free. We already know what is doing, and many other groups can find plenty of room to exercise their creativity as part of the “Work Party” theme.

    Our environmental group, the Global Warming Education Network, or GWEN, is inviting anyone who cares about our future climate to join our “White House Work Party” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, at 10:10 AM on October 10th.

    As described more fully at, we plan to symbolically and non-violently give President Obama a hand in making the White House Green! We’ll be bringing insulation, CF and LED light bulbs, solar panels (just like President Carter once had), and a wind turbine. Let us know if you’d like to help, and how!

    Finally, for a more immediate impact on President Obama, you can help by signing our “Please Educate and Lead” petition, asking the President to be a strong leader, and to inform our fellow citizens

    We are hoping to reach our goal of 10,000 signatures well before the October 10th date.

    Sorry that this is so long, but I wanted to jump on this thread to stress the importance of better cooperation, and, I believe, the necessity for further focus on our elected leader!

    Warm regards,


  30. C. Vink says:

    @Roger #29. I fully agree. And why NGO’s in the US only? Green organizations worldwide should and can overcome their bureaucratic self-centeredness and join the 10-10-10 campaign with the focus you’re proposing. They should be able to make an all time record number of people worldwide – nothing short of this will gain enough media attention – sign a clear petition asking president Obama to become the hero of political climate change saving our planet. Obama needs to feel and be able to point out the support of a Really Big Number of world citizens. Maybe the petition can be linked to the US-climate bill, mentioning it as an absolute minimum to give solar energy a boost, being strengthened over time. (I apologize for my shaky English, my first language is a European one).

  31. Wit'sEnd says:


    I agree Roger. This is of course a US-centric approach…which should be used to appeal to the nationalists who like to think of America as a world leader. Let us urge Obama to lead on climate change.

    Certainly people everywhere, all over the world, should be encouraged to demonstrate close to their home on that date with all the verve, drama and theatre human imagination can summon. However, I think there is something to be said for a massive turnout in DC, and other capital cities in other countries. Large numbers are much harder to ignore than scattered small efforts, however creative.

    This is more difficult for our purpose than others, since I imagine many would-be demonstrators (this certainly includes me) hesitate to travel and increase their carbon footprint – look at the ridicule this enabled deniers to heap upon delegates to Copenhagen.

    As a chicken farmer, allow me to offer this old adage – “You can’t make an omelette if you don’t break some eggs.”

    Can we get those 26,500 organizations to sponsor busses and train groups and carpooling on 10-10-10?

    (and thanks to you commenters who have had kind words to say about Wit’s End!)

  32. Bruce Post says:

    I am a local Selectboard member in Essex, Vermont. For those outside our Green Mountain state, a Selectboard is comparable to a city council. I also worked at senior levels for two prominent presidential candidates. Therefore, I am no political neophyte; yet, I am increasingly despairing about our political system.

    Last night, our Selectboard met to discuss our local open burning ordinance, which is antiquated to say the least. Yet, the “burn, baby, burn” crowd turned out to protest the infringement on their freedoms and the developer lobby also objected to our attempt to set standards for open burning. (Even though this is Vermont, my town has densely populated neighborhoods more akin to typical suburbia.) In my neighborhood we have had a demonstrable problem. Yet, one developer told me, “If the smoke is bothering you, close your window!”

    I personally favor a steep gas tax increase and a tight carbon tax (none of the easily-gamed cap and trade system). Yet, how would you like to handicap the odds of achieving those two goals?

    I hate to be dystopian, but I have come to believe that our fundamental problem is cultural. The politics flow from the culture, and as long as our culture remains so anesthetized by materialism and consumption, I see little cause for optimism.

    Yes, keep striving, and I will keep trying in my way. Fundamentally, though, our problems are much, much deeper than our politics. Let me close with what I consider to be an accurate diagnosis of our condition. This was said by the great monk Thomas Merton in 1967 or 1968. He was addressing a monastic crowd on the issue of alienation:

    “Our society is set up in such a way that people are happy with this. In a police or totalitarian state, you want to get out. Our society gives enough rewards so that you’re willing to settle for this, provided you get your car, TV, house, food and drink, and enough other comforts.”

    That, my friends, is at the heart of the problem!

  33. Brooks Bridges says:

    It seems that the readership levels of this irreplaceable blog should give it some serous clout for really pushing attendance to events like 10-10-10. That is, perhaps the basic charter for this blog should be reconsidered given its large and growing audience.

    I mention this because obviously if the “over 100,000 rally for climate and clean energy action on Earth Day” had been “over 2 million”, there would have been far more notice by politicians and media. I kept looking for some serious evangelizing here for attending this event, but didn’t notice it. I am no expert in this area but it seemed an opportunity missed (for this blog to add to the number of attendees).

    Such an effort might require a related but independent web presence where readers could coordinate such things more freely. Something as simple as a Yahoo Group might be adequate. OTOH, then there’s yet another web site to visit, maintain, and perhaps dilute efforts. So probably simpler to just coordinate more closely with, say, in the run-up to these events.

  34. Brooks Bridges says:

    I wrote #32 based on what I had read before 10:30 last night. Now I’ve read all the excellent comments posted since then and feel compelled to repost.

    Wit’sEnd #31 expressed my feelings best: “However, I think there is something to be said for a massive turnout in DC, and other capital cities in other countries. Large numbers are much harder to ignore than scattered small efforts, however creative.”

    The common thread is that to effect change in the US, we need to all show up at one place, at one time, with one message. And all groups concerned with climate change need to make this effort a top priority until 10/10/10.

    A centralized place to pledge attendance is mandatory. There’s something about committing publicly that motivates. There’s something about seeing other people commit that creates peer group pressure. Perhaps could start a competition among the various groups to see who can pledge the highest number and/or percentage of members going to DC. Whatever it takes, get the job done.

    We need a Vietnam War, Civil Rights level protest effort before we’ll get the WW II level climate change effort we all want.

  35. Like others have said, Joe and Bill are both part of my day, and have motivated me in different ways. I agree that 350 could help us focus on political fights that we can win, like bashing down Proposition 23, but I do think that it is up to local movement actors to do some of that visioning. There is a thin line between getting people the information and the motivation they need to make a difference, and telling them what to do. Organizing one’s own campaign always makes people feel more powerful. My students in MN, for example, are energized by 350, and then work hard to eliminate coal at the University of MN. They get info from the Beyond Coal campaign, but then create locally relevant strategies.

    Lastly, the global focus of has a very important role. It helps people to understand that this fight is a deeply moral one. That we are connected to the people of Bolivia and the Maldives.

  36. Hi all,

    I have to say that as the only member of the staff at who lives in Washington DC, I’m glad that we’ve taken up the thorny question of how grassroots engagement translates into political power. We clearly all have some good ideas about how to engage the public – the 10/10 Global Work Party is just a start. And many of us live and breathe the intricacies of climate politics.

    The challenge here is figuring out how to crack that semi-permeable surface we call the the Beltway. If we know that the vast majority of Americans want clean energy and clean air, and we know that the only thing that moves intransigant politicians is direct electoral threat, then what could be so hard about engaging the public in politics?

    Here’s the deal: Americans don’t trust politicians, and don’t necessarily see legislative action as the solution to the climate crisis. And our green movement has encouraged that sentiment by promoting “green lifestyle” solutions like that bamboo floor you just put in your bathroom or the bpa-free yoga mat that I just bought.

    The thing that nobody has yet figured out is how to engage our natural base of concerned people — dems, republicans and independents — in a serious and authentic political battle on climate. I see’s role as priming the pump, engaging and broadening our clean energy constituency and getting at politicians through the media.

    We need people at all the major green groups to step up their already admirable efforts to show these people who distrust Washington but know there’s a problem, that legislation is absolutely necessary, patriotic and in their self-interest (and I don’t just mean in the pocketbook.)

    That’s the politics of hope.

  37. Wit'sEnd says:

    Brooks Bridges, I’ve been thinking. We also need a roster of all-star speakers (JoeR and Bill M. of course – and how about that President, and somebody from the military?) and musical inspiration. There are so many celebrities that support clean energy. That would be a big draw, don’t you think?

  38. Peter Wood says:

    It would be very helpful for the grassroots climate movement to more prominently explicitly support the idea of putting a price on carbon (and not just in the US – Australia comes to mind, where I happen to live).

  39. Brooks Bridges says:

    #37, Wit’sEnd. Yes, speakers and performers. Recently watched a PBS fund raiser which included old Peter, Paul and Mary performances at big rallies. The immense crowds, especially in DC – had sort of a Grand Canyon effect – overwhelming.

    One fantasy: Bob Dylan could write one or more new verses for “The Times They Are A-Changin’ “. Some verses already amazingly close to what’s needed.

    Of course we now also need a major Rap artist to create something and perform it.

  40. Wit'sEnd says:

    Bruce Post, I wonder how much of this discussion should be redefined from merely the politics of putting a price on carbon to a re-envisioning of the purpose of societal constructs. Is there any way to thwart the worst effects of climate change without fundamentally transitioning from a profit-driven motivation to a more cooperative model?

  41. Bob Potter says:

    Yes, Yes, Yes! Everyone is right. Now let’s get to work.

    I’m not a scientist; rather I have a PR and fund-raising background. Let me make a few observations and suggestions….in random order:

    1. Both Joe’s and Bill’s approaches are needed. I’ll call Joe’s the “Top-Down” approach, working on national leaders and national policy. Bill brings the “Bottom-Up” approach getting us moving from the local level. We absolutely need both.
    2. 10/10/10 is great, but what about the three months until then? What about 365 days a year? I suggest we promote OTAW…..One Thing A Week. If everyone commits to doing just One Thing A Week for the planet we would have thousands and perhaps millions of letters to the editor, calls to elected officials, trees planted, presentations to civic clubs, etc. Do more if you can, but do at least to One Thing A Week for our planet. How many people reading CP have actually written a letter or column for their local paper, made a comment on a radio talk show? Many people in these comments have asked what they can do. Well, get moving and start with One Thing A Week. You won’t run out of ideas.
    3. Most of us probably aren’t on first-name basis with our Senators or Congressman. But many of us may know our State and local political officials and leaders. They are important, too. Take your local officials out for coffee. Educate them as needed on energy/carbon/climate issues.. They talk with each other….and they talk with the higher elected officials, including the folks in Congress. And, remember, this is the farm team……..county and state representaives often run for higher office. Tip O’Neill said it: All politics is local.
    4. Most local newspapers profile candidates for office and give them a few questions for their response. Contact your local paper and see if you can get at least one energy/carbon/climate question included……for every office, including dog-catcher.
    5. Attend Candidates Night, and other events for local, state, and national offices. Most follow the National Press Club format with written questions handed up to a moderator who then selects a few to pose to the candiates. Submit an energy/carbon/climate question for every candidate at every event. Pin them down. Make them squirm. Perhaps a “What have you done/ What will you do” – type question will work.
    6. Can we give a bit of recognition to those who are doing the heavy lifting? Let’s have every organization we can think of hand out awards or citations for those doing outstanding work for energy/carbon/climate/green issues. Every group (Sierra Club, PTA, Rotary…….ANY organization at all could recognize someone for these awards or certificates. Let a thousand citations bloom…hand out as many citations as you wish….and send press releases to your local paper. Perhaps in two categories: for a scientist/professional in any related field, and another recognition for a non-scientist. I’ll suggest the Hansen Award for the scientist and the McKibben Award for the non-scientist. Why not?
    7. We all have all the information we need. Now: Tell the story, tell the story, tell the story. Anytime. Anywhere. To Anyone. In Nick Palmer’s (#13) words: “Everyone whock and keep whocking.” It’s up to us. If we don’t do this……

  42. Dave says:

    Excellent discussion all. My focus is on education, because channeling youthful energy into beneficial channels seems like a great use of my time, and I believe that young advocates have a kind of appeal that is necessary in an effective social movement.

    I work with college students on field-based environmental studies courses, and I consistently see diffuse anxiety over climate and energy issues among my students. Some are involved in campus or local efforts toward sustainability, but few have a national or international orientation. Barely any have a functional understanding of the political process – what it takes to get state or national policy enacted. Overall they seem unfocused and dis-empowered on climate change.

    Based on my tiny and very non-random sample, most young people seem to have absorbed “act locally” part of the famous slogan quite well, without getting much of the “think globally.” Most forms of direct political action are almost beyond the pale for them – marches, postcards, and petitions are unseemly, uncool, and sadly lacking in irony or humor. So I spend a lot of time debunking the idea that eating organic food and talking with like-minded friends will decisively move society in a livable direction.

    I think the work that is doing is excellent, and right on target for engaging youth in the biggest issue we’ll ever see. The focus on community action and creative advocacy fits with the orientation of the students I know. The global context of actions lends an international and acceptably political air to events. A slate of concrete national and state policy goals might be beneficial, as would accessible primers on effective political action. Maybe a poll of members to form group policy priorities as does?

    I challenge Joe and the assembled experts to find more and better ways to creatively engage youth – particularly to educate and inspire political action. The students I see need a concrete political goal to work toward – a policy equivalent of 350ppm CO2. Unless we have a fired-up and savvy contingent of young activists I don’t think we’re going anywhere on climate issues.

  43. Andy says: Bob Potter’s comment #41 is filled with several excellent, practical, manageable steps that anyone can take.

    Please consider posting his recommendations on your website for all members to see.

    Joe, maybe you or a guest blogger would consider doing a similar post on “what you can do in your local political arena” (also starting with Bob’s comments) and just link to it as you continue with other topics? Something like a “Full global warming solution” post from a political activism point of view (vs. a policy point of view).

  44. hapa says:

    @richard pauli

    “I am having a hard time visualizing how libertarian capitalism could rise to the challenge.”

    no such thing as libertarian capitalism. when push comes to shove it’s about the laws: whose interests they protect, and how they protect them, before during and after.

  45. Chris Winter says:

    When dealing with Republicans, in whatever venue, it ought to be helpful to know that Nixon apparently considered doing something about global warming — monitoring CO2 concentrations, at least.

    I’ve just read a Daniel Patrick Moynihan memo recently released by the Nixon Library. In the September 1969 memo, Moynihan advocates the CO2 monitoring and notes there was widespread agreement that CO2 levels would rise 25% by 2000. “This could increase the average temperature near the Earth’s surface by 7 degrees Fahrenheit,” he wrote.

    (I discovered the link at the end of the thread on “What if people had perfect information on climate change?”)

    Google for the AP story on this, or visit and scroll down for Moynihan’s three memos on climate change.

  46. Thomas Spencer says:

    Thanks to Bill and Joe for a very interesting and timely discussion. I think that the green movement needs to be more strategic; 350 did an amazing job last year creating sufficient momentum for the 350 ppm goal to be reflected in the result of Copenhagen, however fuzzily. That leaves a place holder for greater ambition later, and this is an achievement in itself. They also, for that moment, sensitized millions of people around the world to the issue; but the dedicated “one issue voters” are and will always remain, sadly, the minority. It will take a generation for this to change, and unfortunately we don’t have that time. A durable solution simply must involve changes to the law and hence the economy.

    While they might have been appropriate before Copenhagen, my belief is that global campaigns like 10/10/10 are now too ephemeral and too general. We are settling into a political dogfight now, eking out legislative gains in individual countries, and that requires a targeted approach, but combined with the organizing talents demonstrated by 350. For example, in October, the EU will be debating raising its 2020 target from -20% to -30%, possibly unilaterally. On this continent, that is the big prize right now, and should really be the target of a focused, grass-roots campaign. And we shouldn’t underestimate the positive spill-overs on other countries if the EU were to lay down the gauntlet like this. Of course the holy grail of spill over effects would come from US legislation…

    I think 350 needs to look at some key countries – US, EU, Australia, South Korea, Mexico – and mesh their 10/10/10 campaign with a strategy relevant to the political processes taking place in them.

  47. James Newberry says:

    As has been shown for decades and most recently at CP, the concept of a price on carbon is similar to applying some braking while driving the climate change vehicle. However, we still have our national and global foot peddle-to-the medal on the accelerator. This is due to economic policy, especially subsidies.

    These come in three general categories: direct (measured in the US in $billions per year, indirect (tens of billions) and externalized (measured in hundreds of billions per year, including health costs).

    Why don’t we discuss clearly identifying all of these to the public with the goal of elimination of all mining subsidies for uranium, coal, petroleum and methane (“natural” gas) and their associated burning and fissioning? Asking for a price (braking) on carbon while we subsidize (accelerate/encourage) is like driving while pressing on both pedals. Benefits such as fiscal, health and green economic transition potential should be transformative for our struggling nation and world.

  48. Kevin says:

    Here’s some suggestions for
    1. Activate your supporters to engage rather than attend a nice rally — every time you see a mention of climate or climate policy online or in a paper, write a comment in support. Defend the science (know your facts). Defend the economics (all studies show economic growth with current legislative proposals). Opponents are energized and extremely vocal — have you seen the Tea Party rip into moderates? Online comments re climate are dominated by skeptics and opponents of legislation. You have to change the optics.
    2. Get real and educate yourselves — solar panels and wind and new light bulbs aren’t going to achieve your goal — you also need nukes and CCS if you are to achieve the growing global demand for energy — we need to reduce and there are a couple billion people who want to improve their standard of living from more than a dollar or two a day. Renewables alone won’t do it.
    3. Don’t walk away from what is possible now — opponents are united in their goal to stop every piece of legislation. Proponents are split between realist like Romm and uninformed idealists who want to hold out for the perfect. News flash — unless you can prove that you can save every moderate who supports passing climate policy, you’re not going to get even what you consider a too-weak bill, let alone something you believe is actually good. If you want ANY legislation, you have to support what is on the table — I’ve seen activists shouting about how bad Waxman-Markey was. Very helpful.
    350 may have nice gatherings, but who cares? Makes them feel good I suppose. In terms of helping advance policy, is invisible and completely ineffective.

  49. Lenny Dee says:

    Bill and Joe,

    What about you guys calling a national summit, both in person and virtually of the 6500 national groups, 20,000 local groups and 20-30 million members? The climate crisis should be every environmental group
    and supporters first priority

  50. Richard Brenne says:

    Let’s make Roger’s world-class comment at #29 our collective call to action.

    It’s important to realize that most non-profits see themselves as competing with all others for what they view as limited fundraising sources that pay their budgets and most importantly their salaries. They often if not typically appear to care more about those salaries than the fate of every living thing on Anthro-Earth.

    That is a barrier that needs to be addressed, and only one’s authentic-self overcoming one’s ego-self can achieve that. When that happens, then non-profits can work together in just the way Roger envisions on 10/10/10.

    Also, after two years of planning to see what it was like to produce and moderate a panel in a smaller town (Bend, Oregon) than the big cities and universities where I usually do events, I did an all-afternoon seminar as part of the 350 day last October 24 with world-class climate and energy experts, and even some most expert in discussing the change in consciousness we need to truly address these issues.

    It was a great event that many have told me was life-changing. Before my seminar there was a typical 350 event with the local newspaper and TV station attending, people taking the usual pictures of bodies spelling out 350, etc. Of course 90 per cent of those people got in their SUVs (parked discretely on the other side of downtown to give the impression of walking) and drove home, or to the golf course or wherever.

    And I felt like those 90 per cent had just bought an indulgence for their sins (my own sins being no better).

    The ones who stayed and attended our event (no media, of course), I felt were educating themselves.

    I think every single one of us is in some percentage of denial about how serious Climate Change and all the Anthro-Earth issues are (overpopulation, overconsumption, Peak Oil and other resource depletion, species loss, etc). The only way to overcome the natural starting point of denial is education, honesty and the courage to face these issues squarely.

    So while I’d like to see the young (less than two years!) 350.Org continue to grow and evolve, I’d like to see those efforts include more education and outreach in all media, and to create a kind of membership that is as dedicated to change as the 350 organizers and Romm’s All-Star commenters share. Tomorrow and the next day I’m meeting with Gail (Wit’s End), Richard Pauli, Mike Roddy and others (Leif is joining the day after) to discuss just that.

    If you’re anywhere near Portland, Oregon my talk on Monday, July 19 at 7 pm in the OMSI planetarium is titled “Anthro-Earth” and the premise is that the reason we don’t hear from any other civilizations in the Universe is that planets that have life like ours would mean they had fossil fuels, and these irresistible energy sources mean that it is the nature of civilizations to burn them sufficiently to change their climate and collapse their civilizations to at least the point of destroying the ability to send out radio signals over a long enough period to hear from them. Or they might die of run-on sentences like the one above.

    Hopefully that gets their attention, though I’ve noticed most audience members for any kind of planetarium show fall asleep (myself included – I call planetariums Museum Adult Napping Spaces, or MANS), so in addition to the PowerPoint clicker and laser pointer, I’m bringing a taser.

  51. Prokaryotes says:

    Richard Brenne, 50# “these irresistible energy sources mean that it is the nature of civilizations to burn them sufficiently to change their climate and collapse their civilizations to at least the point of destroying the ability to send out radio signals over a long enough period to hear from them.”

    It’s a fundamental-universal intelligence barrier, which only is mastered by species which live in a sustainable co-existence with their environment. Apparently humans seem to fail the test.

  52. Not to be repetitive–just to say thanks to all for very good ideas. We’ll implement as many as we can with our scant resources, and count on y’all to make them happen too!

  53. Jessie Clayton says:

    I adore both Joseph Romm and Bill McKibben, and I’m glad Bill has asked the likes of Dr. Romm for suggestions. Dr. Romm, here is what I respectfully request you to tell our brilliant compatriot:

    Please gently tell Mr. McKibben and his to put a sock in it. Yes, I agree, he and his peeps are wonderful; Deep Economy is the best book I’ve ever read. But 350 is so frequently involved in doing charming and photogenic events that are nice but ineffective and take time away from real hands-on environmental advocacy at state, local, and federal venues that they distract from actual change-making progress.

    As someone who has worked full-time in the field of enviornemtal advocacy and community organizing for years, I can say that many of us are truly sick of getting random instructions from 350 that seem to have no connection to actual success. Ring church bells! March to Step-it-up for climate action! Take a picture holding a sign! For God sake, stop what you are doing and focus on feel-good, non-demanding activity that has no outcome metrics.

    I want to scream every time we get an instruction from McKibben. So 10-10-10, so what? But our consituents are emailing and saying “what are you doing for 10-10-10”? Are you going to put in huge amount of work to please (who never asks US what we think would be helpful) so we can be in pictures that go on his website with peoople from Africa and India? Never mind, getting a state cap and trade bill, or calling our US Senators for a real climate and energy bill. Never mind stepping it up to visit an in-district congressional office to as for a stong US policy on energy efficiency. Let’s take pictures!

    Please, Dr. Romm, tell our dear, brilliant and dedicated Mr. McKibben to stop doing random “actions” and start engaging in the political process with the team. Stop distracting us with his feel-good moments and start passing legislation. Please, Dr. Romm, we beg you!

  54. hapa says:

    @jessie clayton

    “who never asks US what we think would be helpful”

    who ARE you?

  55. Blair Palese says:

    I work with Bill and the team running Australia. To step briefly away from the US view and go back to Joe’s original blog – we are political everywhere we are, including Australia. That takes many forms – including just rocking up in Canberra and dropping the “we need 350 ppm” bomb on a climate conservative and inactive goverment that responds with resounding “That’s Imposible!!”s at all levels. Here in Australia, just the idea of pushing for 350 ppm is radical and a necessary case to make daily through our existence and efforts – big and small. And I beg to differ about no coverage. At least here in the Asia Pacific region, the day last year was the lead story on most major TV news outlets, news radio, papers and websites. Our giant human 350 on the steps of the Sydney Opera House was carried around the world for more than 24 hours, and still turns up. Symbolic yes, but again, a radical idea to many. For the Asian region, the need to get the 350 ppm message across cannot be underestimated and climate campaigning there is still very limited and marginalised. From the non-US perspective, a political but also a public education and movement building focus is essential if we are to curb emissions in countries growing so fast that concerns for the environment are barely heard at any level.

    I’ve enjoyed all of the ideas and discussions and think both views are correct and necessary to move toward climate action on political, societal and technological levels. Thanks for all of it – it’s inspiring to see this level of discussion about how to impart change and here’s to making it happen…and fast!


  56. Roger says:

    Thanks, C. Vink, Wits End, Richard (#50)and others for responses related to my earlier comment, #29, suggesting a large, cooperative and concerted US climate action in Washington, DC on October 10th.

    Needless to say, this is above and beyond the many other actions that must occur before and after October 10th, including actions in many other countries. In fact, our “Please Educate and Lead” petition to Obama (at has already been signed by nearly 3600 people in more than 60 countries.
    (If anyone hasn’t yet signed it, please do so, to nudge Obama ahead.)

    For those interested in cooperating on a Washington-based, concerted climate action, we hope that many groups and individuals will join us in a show of solidarity. Here is the basic White House Work Party plan (subject to some changes and additions, based upon ongoing inputs):

    Meet in front of the White House in Washington, DC at 10 AM on October 10, 2010. Bring signs indicating what you’d like President Obama to do about climate change. Our main theme will be US climate education and leadership. We will also be asking the Obamas to make the White House green, as an example to millions of other American households.

    Further details, including a link to the description of this event on the site, may be found at Please plan to join us, and please help us spread the word. Thank you for your support!

    Warm regards,


  57. jcwinnie says:

    Always be true to your dog
    And, when in doubt
    Whether it’ll all work out
    Always bring a kazoo.

  58. paulm says:

    How about serializing your books in popular magazines and newspapers….
    Just finished reading Bill’s Eaarth. Your timing is perfect. An iconic book, which I hope you sent a signed copy to Obama (and every world leader for that matter).

    Now half way through Storms of our Grandchildren. On page 83 there is this startling realization,

    “…Once the ice sheets’ collapse begins, global coastal devastations and their economic reverberations may make it impractical for humanity to take action to rapidly reverse climate forcings.”

    Hansen is fixed on sea-level impact, but we know that other less spectacular effects of climate change will result in the same outcome. It is a very accurate statement, however.

    With this in mind, the recent behavior of the sea ice and the rate of Greenland ice melt is disturbing….

    …Greenland is not melting …

  59. TAFL says:

    Jessie Clayton at #53:


    Effective change is about reducing energy consumption in the home, office and store, it is about replacing gas-guzzlers with fuel-efficient vehicles (INCLUDING BICYCLES and Public transport), it is about buying low-energy-intensive food, and NOT JUST FOR the intellectual types here at CP, but in fact, it must happen for Joe the Plumber as well, or we will not succeed. Joe the Plumber will do the right thing when his pocketbook agrees. That is where legislative and political strategy will ultimately be effective.