McKibben: ‘The Essential Cowardice Of Too Many Democrats Is Becoming An Ever More Fundamental Problem’

Unlike gay rights or similar issues of basic human justice and fairness, climate change comes with a time limit.  Go past a certain point, and we may no longer be able to affect the outcome in ways that will prevent long-term global catastrophe. We’re clearly nearing that limit and so the essential cowardice of too many Democrats is becoming an ever more fundamental problem that needs to be faced. We lack the decades needed for their positions to “evolve” along with the polling numbers.  What we need, desperately, is for them to pitch in and help lead the transition in public opinion and public policy.

Instead, at best they insist on fiddling around the edges, while the planet prepares to burn.

Is the Keystone XL Pipeline the “Stonewall” of the Climate Movement?

And If So, Is That Terrible News?

By Bill McKibben via TomDispatch

A few weeks ago, Time magazine called the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline that will bring some of the dirtiest energy on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast the “Selma and Stonewall” of the climate movement.

Which, if you think about it, may be both good news and bad news. Yes, those of us fighting the pipeline have mobilized record numbers of activists: the largest civil disobedience action in 30 years and 40,000 people on the mall in February for the biggest climate rally in American history. Right now, we’re aiming to get a million people to send in public comments about the “environmental review” the State Department is conducting on the feasibility and advisability of building the pipeline.  And there’s good reason to put pressure on.  After all, it’s the same State Department that, as on a previous round of reviews, hired “experts” who had once worked as consultants for TransCanada, the pipeline’s builder.

Still, let’s put things in perspective: Stonewall took place in 1969, and as of last week the Supreme Court was still trying to decide if gay people should be allowed to marry each other. If the climate movement takes that long, we’ll be rallying in scuba masks. (I’m not kidding. The section of the Washington Mall where we rallied against the pipeline this winter already has a big construction project underway: a flood barrier to keep the rising Potomac River out of downtown DC.)

It was certainly joyful to see marriage equality being considered by our top judicial body.  In some ways, however, the most depressing spectacle of the week was watching Democratic leaders decide that, in 2013, it was finally safe to proclaim gay people actual human beings. In one weekend, Democratic senators Mark Warner of Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia figured out that they had “evolved” on the issue. And Bill Clinton, the greatest weathervane who ever lived, finally decided that the Defense of Marriage Act he had signed into law, boasted about in ads on Christian radio, and urged candidate John Kerry to defend as constitutional in 2004, was, you know, wrong. He, too, had “evolved,” once the polls made it clear that such an evolution was a safe bet.

Why recite all this history? Because for me, the hardest part of the Keystone pipeline fight has been figuring out what in the world to do about the Democrats.

Fiddling While the Planet Burns

Let’s begin by stipulating that, taken as a whole, they’re better than the Republicans. About a year ago, in his initial campaign ad of the general election, Mitt Romney declared that his first act in office would be to approve Keystone and that, if necessary, he would “build it myself.” (A charming image, it must be said). Every Republican in the Senate voted on a nonbinding resolution to approve the pipeline — every single one. In other words, their unity in subservience to the fossil fuel industry is complete, and almost compelling. At the least, you know exactly what you’re getting from them.

With the Democrats, not so much. Seventeen of their Senate caucus — about a third — joined the GOP in voting to approve Keystone XL. As the Washington insider website Politico proclaimed in a headline the next day, “Obama’s Achilles Heel on Climate: Senate Democrats.”

Which actually may have been generous to the president.  It’s not at all clear that he wants to stop the Keystone pipeline (though he has the power to do so himself, no matter what the Senate may want), or for that matter do anything else very difficult when it comes to climate change.  His new secretary of state, John Kerry, issued a preliminary environmental impact statement on the pipeline so fraught with errors that it took scientists and policy wonks about 20 minutes to shred its math.

Administration insiders keep insisting, ominously enough, that the president doesn’t think Keystone is a very big deal. Indeed, despite his amped-up post-election rhetoric on climate change, he continues to insist on an “all-of-the-above” energy policy which, as renowned climate scientist James Hansen pointed out in his valedictory shortly before retiring from NASA last week, simply can’t be squared with basic climate-change math.

All these men and women have excuses for their climate conservatism.  To name just two: the oil industry has endless resources and they’re scared about reelection losses. Such excuses are perfectly realistic and pragmatic, as far as they go: if you can’t get re-elected, you can’t do even marginal good and you certainly can’t block right-wing craziness. But they also hide a deep affection for oil industry money, which turns out to be an even better predictor of voting records than party affiliation.

Anyway, aren’t all those apologias wearing thin as Arctic sea ice melts with startling, planet-changing speed? It was bad enough to take four decades simply to warm up to the idea of gay rights.  Innumerable lives were blighted in those in-between years, and given long-lasting official unconcern about AIDS, innumerable lives were lost.  At least, however, inaction didn’t make the problem harder to solve: if the Supreme Court decides gay people should be able to marry, then they’ll be able to marry.

Unlike gay rights or similar issues of basic human justice and fairness, climate change comes with a time limit.  Go past a certain point, and we may no longer be able to affect the outcome in ways that will prevent long-term global catastrophe. We’re clearly nearing that limit and so the essential cowardice of too many Democrats is becoming an ever more fundamental problem that needs to be faced. We lack the decades needed for their positions to “evolve” along with the polling numbers.  What we need, desperately, is for them to pitch in and help lead the transition in public opinion and public policy.

Instead, at best they insist on fiddling around the edges, while the planet prepares to burn. The newly formed Organizing for Action, for instance — an effort to turn Barack Obama’s fundraising list into a kind of quasi-official — has taken up climate change as one of its goals. Instead of joining with the actual movement around the Keystone pipeline or turning to other central organizing issues, however, it evidently plans to devote more energy to house parties to put solar panels on people’s roofs. That’s great, but there’s no way such a “movement” will profoundly alter the trajectory of climate math, a task that instead requires deep structural reform of exactly the kind that makes the administration and Congressional “moderates” nervous.

Energy Independence: Last Century’s Worry

So far, the Democrats are showing some willingness to face the issues that matter only when it comes to coal. After a decade of concentrated assault by activists led by the Sierra Club, the coal industry is now badly weakened: plans for more than 100 new coal-fired power plants have disappeared from anyone’s drawing board. So, post-election, the White House finally seems willing to take on the industry at least in modest ways, including possibly with new Environmental Protection Agency regulations that could start closing down existing coal-fired plants (though even that approach now seems delayed).

Recently, I had a long talk with an administration insider who kept telling me that, for the next decade, we should focus all our energies on “killing coal.”  Why? Because it was politically feasible.

And indeed we should, but climate-change science makes it clear that we need to put the same sort of thought and creative energy into killing oil and natural gas, too. I mean, the Arctic — from Greenland to its seas — essentially melted last summer in a way never before seen. The frozen Arctic is like a large physical feature. It’s as if you woke up one morning and your left arm was missing. You’d panic.

There is, however, no panic in Washington.  Instead, the administration and Democratic moderates are reveling in new oil finds in North Dakota and in the shale gas now flowing out of Appalachia, even though exploiting both of these energy supplies is likely to lock us into more decades of fossil fuel use. They’re pleased as punch that we’re getting nearer to “energy independence.” Unfortunately, energy independence was last century’s worry.  It dates back to the crises set off by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in the early 1970s, not long after… Stonewall.

So what to do? The narrow window of opportunity that physics provides us makes me doubt that a third party will offer a fast enough answer to come to terms with our changing planet. The Green Party certainly offered the soundest platform in our last elections, and in Germany and Australia the Greens have been decisive in nudging coalition governments towards carbon commitments. But those are parliamentary systems. Here, so far, national third parties have been more likely to serve as spoilers than as wedges (though it’s been an enlightening pleasure to engage with New York’s Working Families Party, or the Progressives in Vermont).  It’s not clear to me how that will effectively lead to changes during the few years we’ve got left to deal with carbon. Climate science enforces a certain brute realism.  It makes it harder to follow one’s heart.

Along with some way to make a third party truly viable, we need a genuine movement for fundamental governmental reform — not just a change in the Senate’s filibuster rules, but publicly funded elections, an end to the idea that corporations are citizens, and genuine constraints on revolving-door lobbyists. These are crucial matters, and it is wonderful to see broad new campaigns underway around them.  It’s entirely possible that there’s no way to do what needs doing about climate change in this country without them. But even their most optimistic proponents talk in terms of several election cycles, when the scientists tell us that we have no hope of holding the rise in the planetary temperature below two degrees unless global emissions peak by 2015.

Of course, climate-change activists can and should continue to work to make the Democrats better.  At the moment, for instance, the action fund is organizing college students for the Massachusetts primary later this month. One senatorial candidate, Steven Lynch, voted to build the Keystone pipeline, and that’s not okay.  Maybe electing his opponent, Ed Markey, will send at least a small signal. In fact, this strategy got considerably more promising in the last few days when California hedge fund manager and big-time Democratic donor Tom Steyer announced that he was not only going to go after Lynch, but any politician of any party who didn’t take climate change seriously. “The goal here is not to win. The goal here is to destroy these people,” he said, demonstrating precisely the level of rhetoric (and spending) that might actually start to shake things up.

It will take a while, though.  According to press reports, Obama explained to the environmentalists at a fundraiser Steyer hosted that “the politics of this are tough,” because “if your house is still underwater,” then global warming is “probably not rising to your number one concern.”

By underwater, he meant: worth less than the mortgage.  At this rate, however, it won’t be long before presidents who use that phrase actually mean “underwater.” Obama closed his remarks by saying something that perfectly summed up the problem of our moment. Dealing with climate change, he said, is “going to take people in Washington who are willing to speak truth to power, are willing to take some risks politically, are willing to get a little bit out ahead of the curve — not two miles ahead of the curve, but just a little bit ahead of it.”

That pretty much defines the Democrats: just a little bit ahead, not as bad as Bush, doing what we can.

And so, as I turn this problem over and over in my head, I keep coming to the same conclusion: we probably need to think, most of the time, about how to change the country, not the Democrats. If we build a movement strong enough to transform the national mood, then perhaps the trembling leaders of the Democrats will eventually follow. I mean, “evolve.” At which point we’ll get an end to things like the Keystone pipeline, and maybe even a price on carbon. That seems to be the lesson of Stonewall and of Selma. The movement is what matters; the Democrats are, at best, the eventual vehicle for closing the deal.

The closest thing I’ve got to a guru on American politics is my senator, Bernie Sanders. He deals with the Democrat problem all the time. He’s an independent, but he caucuses with them, which means he’s locked in the same weird dance as the rest of us working for real change.

A few weeks ago, I gave the keynote address at a global warming summit he convened in Vermont’s state capital, and afterwards I confessed to him my perplexity. “I can’t think of anything we can do except keep trying to build a big movement,” I said. “A movement vast enough to scare or hearten the weak-kneed.”

“There’s nothing else that’s ever going to do it,” he replied.

And so, down to work.

Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of the global climate campaign, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Reprinted with permission.

45 Responses to McKibben: ‘The Essential Cowardice Of Too Many Democrats Is Becoming An Ever More Fundamental Problem’

  1. Sasparilla says:

    Excellent article laying out where we are and what we have to do (to get things done in time) – massive movement.

    I love the quote from Tom Steyer…that is part of the solution, make voting against climate change action (or for additional fossil fuel extraction, like the XL) politically radioactive.

    Perhaps there is room here for a focused PAC (Political Action Committee), or something, that the public could donate to / take part in & give Tom Steyer & those wanting to make voting against climate change politically radioactive even more firepower and speed that process up…

  2. Michael Berndtson says:

    Here’s the bottom line regarding Alberta tar sands and pipelines all points east, west and south:

    Money going in:
    Investment in 2010$ between 2010 and 2035 = $2,100 billion ($2.1 trillion) with $250 billion for capital (construction) and $1,800 for operations and maintenance (O&M) throughout that period. O&M covers operations costs and cost of capital (loan payments).

    Money going out:
    About $2,100 billion for Canada and $520 billion for USA over the 2010 to 2035 period. Not included is China and all others (the big piece).

    Here’s where I got this information:

    Bottom, bottom line: there is a lot of money going in, with the anticipation of money coming out of Alberta. And this is one fossil fuel play out of the $ trillions from conventional and unconventional plays during this same period.

    Whenever an organization or political party proclaims to be concerned with environmental protection in its branding and marketing on the one hand, but is really promoting a “third way” or “pragmatic” approach to environmentalism on the other – don’t believe a word of it. They are simply greasing the skids to promote the outflow of cash from fossil fuel projects. Hoping everything will work out just fine.

  3. Fire Mountain says:

    As a US Green Party veteran, I can say it didn’t turn out too well. Yes, the perception that Nader spoiled Florida, rather than that Jeb Bush stole it, really hurt. (And Jeb’s inching his way back now that there’s been a decent interval since brother’s disastrous rule.)

    But the reality is the US system is not set up for 3rd parties. Their function is to pilot and demonstrate new ideas to have them picked up by the major parties. But I think we’re out of time for that.

    What we need now is a Progressive Leadership Council to turn the Democrats to the left, the way the Democratic Leadership Council turned the Dems to the right in the late 80s and early 90s. We need a progressive party within the Democratic Party to call the politicians to account.

    Most key, we need to unify our own, and bring in the progressive constituencies that don’t vote because their interests are underrepresented. Rather than begging for a few percent of undecided centrist independents.

    Not climate, but related to Democrats without cajones, Obama’s offering up Social Security and Medicare cuts in his budget, cuts only a Republican should suggest, putting the old on the altar of deficit reduction, shows where this kind of politics gets us. We need to rebuild the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, and make it unacceptable for Democrats to behave like Republicans any more

  4. I don’t know whether it’s cowardice or corruption. I doubt it matters since the effect is the same.

  5. Richard Miller says:

    Your exactly right Sasparilla.

    Let me add a bit to what you have said. My proposal, and I mentioned this to Bill McKibben after a Sierra Club lunch in Omaha, is to threaten the Democratic party with effectively divesting from it. This might seem radical, but as Bill McKibben rightly pointed out time is wasting. We cannot wait any longer for them to act morally.

    Here is the proposal. Dr. Robert Brulle’s in his article entitled the “The US Environmental Movement”, which you can find at , maintains,
    “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 socialmovements such as the civil rights or peace movements. It is also the longest running social movement.”

    There has been a great deal of research on how social movements bring about political change following the work of the academic Gene Sharp. Students of Sharp founded the International Center for Non-violent conflict. See here If you look at this research, you realize very quickly that the environmental groups are not fully leveraging their power. My proposal is that the environmental groups get together for a summit and put together a series of demands of President Obama (all of which he can do without Congress) – stop the Keystone XL pipeline, stop selling leases on public lands to coal companies, and possibly fracking companies, etc. – and tell the Democratic party that if the President does not do these things environmental organizations will work to keep their 30 million members at home in the 2014 and 2016 elections and to keep them from contributing to the Democratic party. This would get the Democrats attention. They have made it a habit to cave into strong opponents so I think it is a near certainty that this would lead to insurmountable pressure on the President that would produce real change.

  6. Seems like part of the solution would be to run solid two-miles-ahead-of-the-curve candidates against limp Democrats as well as Republicans.

    If we can’t elect two-miles-ahead-of-the-curve candidates over the limp [-] Democrats in place, then it’s hard to argue their stance in terms of realpolitik.

    If we can and do elect appropriately two-miles-ahead-of-the-curve candidates over limp Democrats and Reepers, then a) we’re done with those particular enablers, and b) we start to put the fear of Climate into the rest of the herd.

  7. fj says:

    Here in New York City where major improvements in livable streets directly caused by Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative to act on climate change; street advocacy refuses to advance in any substantive way net zero mobility solutions as comprehensive solutions to this accelerating crisis.

  8. Jack Burton says:

    Republicans have the party unity that would be admired by the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union. They are under pressure to maintain ideological purity and strict party discipline. And they seem to have the means to enforce it. So we know that Republicans are not a political party as regards climate and energy, they are the political arm of the major fossil fuel companies, and they work for those companies. Any thought to possible damage to America from climate change or extreme weather is not taken into account. Even if some Republicans believe that the extreme weather and warming climate are due to CO2, they do not care. They care more about the profits of the fossil fuel companies.
    Democrats are not a party, they are a collection of politicians who choose not to be beholden to strict Republican party discipline. Thus many of them are conservative Republicans who want a little freedom of action. They are not liberal or representatives of the public interests, but are bribed by the same corporations as Republicans. America is, by and large, a one party state. The two party system is mainly a hoax for public consumption. People ask, “why do democrats always cave in to Republican demands, even when Democrats are in a majority.” Well, simple enough. Democrats are not independent or liberal, they are conservative and beholden to corporate America. This is a one party state, with just a few minor cranks on the outside who from time to time win an election. The vast majority are bought and paid for by corporate interests, and they act accordingly.
    Climate change legislation is under the control of Fossil Fuel Corporations via their open bribery of politicians. No legislation will come out of congress that is not approved by the fossil fuel industry. It is that simple. Bedsides, with China and others taking the lead in CO2 emissions now, and not willing to reduce economic growth to obtain CO2 reductions, it is no longer the US congress that controls how much CO2 is emitted. The Chinese Communist Party does not care what the US congress says or does, they will emit as much CO2 as they feel necessary to obtain the economic growth they seek. India, the same. Indonesia, the same.
    While a few advanced societies in Northern Europe make alternative energy progress, it is so minor a percentage of emissions that it might just as well be ignored in the whole picture.
    The day China passed the USA as the largest emitter of CO2 is the day the climate battle was lost. Time is not on our side, as we see the arctic already in run-away meltdown, and the oceans set to give back some of the heat they absorbed over the last decade in particular. Unless an unforeseen factor is going to mitigate warming for another decade or so, then we may very well see the disasters mount in this very year 2013. One extreme weather disasters wake up the world to the dangers, then it will already be too late. Once weather reacts to forcing, you are past the point of no return. Then the debate is only over 5 degrees, 8 degrees, 10 degrees, 12 degrees, the stable mild climate man became modern within will be over.

  9. Dave Yuhas says:

    A mass movement centered around climate change? You must be kidding. It’s time to realize the game is lost. Instead of trying to change society, put what limited resources you have into the most promising geoengineering strategies.

  10. Mike Roddy says:

    Well said, as usual, Bill, and indeed the Blue Dogs are getting very frustrating. The oil money is good at seeking out weak spots in either party.

    I wonder how the Republicans are explaining the DC storm barriers? I’d also heard that the Capitol is especially vulnerable, but by the time the water overwhelms places like the Jefferson Memorial it will be too late.

  11. Mike Roddy says:

    No geoengineering schemes have been proven to be feasible. Reducing emissions is, for maybe a few cents per kwh. With a lower discount rate or carbon tax, wind and solar will be practical right now.

  12. Sasparilla says:

    It can be a tough problem. Primaries are good for electing more liberal (or more conservative if its Republicans) candidates, but you can quickly run into the problem the GOP has which are candidates who are too conservative to win well in the general election (guessing the same could happen with Dems)…any grade of Democrat that won’t bend or break on climate change should be the goal.

  13. Sasparilla says:

    Geo-engineering without solving the underlying CO2 emissions problem isn’t a solution, just a delay.

    Getting geo-engineering to move forward politically would require our representatives in D.C. to admit Climate Change is a huge problem that has to be addressed drastically at the political level (which is the same problem we have to get over regarding emissions reductions).

    Nature will continue to nudge the public until (with Mr. McKibben’s assistance) there is enough impetus to make action undeniable for our whichever way the campaign contribution wind blows Democratic representatives. By that time I’m sure we’ll need Geo-engineering to save our skins as well, but we need to start putting the fire out first. JMHO….

  14. Sasparilla says:

    Paul, while very interesting (limits to global growth – “there’s nothing we can do”), the linked article doesn’t have anything to do with Mr. McKibben’s article here and was published more than a year ago…if you want to link to an unrelated article maybe put it up on the daily news feed.

  15. Geo-engineering solutions? Like what? Pumping millions of tons of SO2 into the atmosphere. We tried that: it’s called pollution. And it does nothing about the 2nd prong of climate change’s problems: ocean acidification.

  16. Sasparilla says:

    Very well said Fire…and you’re right, we’re out of time.

    Can you believe we’re getting lined up for Clinton 2 vs Bush 3 for 2016? An elected Oligarchy in everything but name (would never have believed it growing up).

  17. Charles Zeller says:

    The cleverly clueless Canadian Energy Research Institute report could be used as a template for the Wasilla Meth Lab Institute.

  18. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    I would echo what Mike and Jeffery have said. Any geoengineering schemes we try, if not accompanied by emission reduction as well, is beyond folly. One of the biggest problems with geoengineering is that their is no prototype other than the planet itself. We will never fully understand all the implications before actually trying it. Two additional big problems are 1) Who gets to crank the dial on the climate control box (wars have been fought over less important concerns), and 2) Something called “The Termination Affect”. If mankind were to achieve a degree or two of cooling, but discover, for whatever reason, that it must be shut off, the temperature would spike upward quickly thereafter. Not only the absolute temperature, but the rate of change would wreak havoc with ecosystems. And finally, we may well discover that once we start pumping SO2 into the stratosphere, and/or liming the oceans, and/or dumping iron into the oceans to fuel phytoplankton blooms… etc. we may well discover that geoengineering becomes a forever task.

  19. Ex Optimist says:

    Re: “Go past a certain point, and we may no longer be able to affect the outcome in ways that will prevent long-term global catastrophe.”

    That point has been passed. Governments should start planning for the relocation of coastal populations.

  20. Mark Shapiro says:

    I don’t want to “kill” coal.

    I want to save coal. Its the Arches and Peabodys and Masseys who want to “kill” coal. They are ripping it untimely from the Earth and burning it.

    Leave coal where it belongs, and liberate the miners and their families.

  21. Fire Mountain says:

    A plutocracy with democratic characteristics.

  22. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Must be time the USA had another really big disaster, one that costs billions and hangs around for a long time, long enough to keep commanding those fickle attention spans for a sensible decision to be made, ME

  23. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Hare-Clark voting!

  24. Solar Jim says:

    Bill, “revolving-door lobbyists” is a twisted modern-era euphemism for “blatant corporate fascists.” Use language, don’t abuse it. If you are going to receive the 2013 Gandhi Peace Award from Promoting Enduring Peace, then you should speak boldly against this era’s encroaching darkness.

    General question: If Democrats are corporatists and Republicans are further to the right (and voting in lock-step), then what should they be called?

    Thanks once again Bill.

  25. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The essential madness is to imagine that the Democrats are any different from the Republicans. Both serve the money power, and use and abuse the patsie voters to achieve that end. The Republicans will use the Tea Party Mad Hatters until they are no longer effective, then some new mass madness will be conjured. You are in the middle of an episode the likes of which were illustrated in ‘Indispensable Enemies’ by Walter Karp, where he shows how the leaderships of the two parties have long actively collaborated to ‘keep the rabble in line’ whenever popular discontent bubbles up. The Democratic leadership and Obama and his cabal in particular in my opinion want the Democratic voters to abstain in 2014 and 2016, because the interests of the elite dictate stalemate in the balance of power in Washington, because they want nothing to change. Grid-lock means business-as-usual. I believe Obama is going to send the Hope Fiends a new message on Wednesday re, social welfare.

  26. Paul Klinkman says:

    Our politics has traditionally been about lining up 52% of the popular vote versus 48% of the popular vote, and that number easily wobbles to 48-52 half the time. Big money relishes its kingmaker role, because 4% of the population is stupid enough to vote for the TV.

    Whenever we are getting concrete results, we should play the game. Whenever we have little hope of getting results, we should strike a fundamentalist moral stance. In about 3/4 of all Congressional races I see little hope of getting political results. Therefore I call on catastrophic climate change activists to run one of themselves in every single primary, on the Republican and Democratic sides in the exact same race. Give the voters ample chances to tell the incumbent for life, look, you dawdle long enough on this one issue and it doesn’t matter who you are, you go down. How is political unemployment going to feel? Ask all of those oilmen defeated in 2012.

    Yes there are conservative Christians in this movement who might play to half of the Republican base. For starters, what denomination is Bill McKibbin? Methodist, I believe.

  27. Nils Peterson says:

    Is there a different analysis — look at how Big Tobacco was defeated, at the city council and state government level. DC was bought but they could not buy all of the Main Streets. Then the question is, where to gain leverage from Main Street? Divestment possibly. Massive local efforts to reduce carbon — city planning is slow acting, so it would need to be more like city operations, building codes.

  28. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    There is no ‘Third Way’. Blair was Thatcher in drag, but ‘charming’ with it, like Obama, Bill Clinton et al.

  29. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The Democratic Party is irreformable because its apparatchiki will destroy it before allowing insurgents to capture it. Hence Obama.

  30. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    How about dropping a 100 megaton bomb into the Yellowstone caldera’s magma chamber. That might slow things down for a while, at the cost of burying most of the USA under volcanic dust.

  31. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Hare Brain voting!

  32. Jeff Huggins says:

    A Real Movement CAN have substantial (and perhaps sufficient) influence over politicians and party IF its members are willing to establish concrete criteria for voting for candidates (yes, including Democrats) and NOT VOTE FOR CANDIDATES WHO DON’T MEET THE CRITERIA, period, even if that means not voting for the “lesser of two evils” candidate (which, as we experience again and again, is an insufficient approach that gets us next to nowhere). DEMAND real change from the Democrats, let them know it in no uncertain terms, and don’t vote for them (vote for a third party instead) if the Democrat candidate does not promise to do the right thing and immediately fulfill that promise if/when elected. I’m glad to hear that Bill is finally, slowly, coming around to a realization and (I hope) position that I wish he had taken two years ago. Time is nearly out, and we have to begin leveraging the full power of our activism and votes. The movement, as it grows, CAN influence Democratic politicians ONLY if it is willing to NOT vote for them when they don’t promise and DO what is necessary to get the darn job done! Get it?

    Best Wishes,


  33. Marc says:

    The Republicans have lost their marbles and the Democrats have lost their balls.

  34. Mark A. York says:

    Indeed. The problem with protesting is it’s an accepted practice, and protected right, that to be effective does take decades. There goes those crazy kids again. Yeah. The general public is immune. They think the food comes from cans.

    What to do? I did what Michael Crichton did in reverse. He poo-pooed climate change in State of Fear. Liberal plot. I was outraged and wrote my answer novel: Warm Front. I asked Bill McKibben for help getting a major publisher. He read some chapters on a plane and said looked sound, but he had no influence in fiction publishing. Maybe? Maybe not? So I self-published it after 120 rejections from agents. The corporate media is terrified of global warming and thus, other than Crichton, no major novels on the subject exist that aren’t dead ender jokes, if that. I gave it away to the tune of 135 copies. I got one review from Denmark. Luke warm at that. No so-called “climate activist” provided one word of support or made the novel go viral as some things do. Usually stupid things. I just gave away 185 copies of the sequel, Heat Wave, a more political entry that shows what happens when the politics turns deadly. The jury is out. Readers need time to read before reviewing. What is my point? Be it oil lobbies or environmental activists, it’s an insider game for credit or even a passing acknowledgement for being on the same side as comrades in arms. We’ll be going over the climate cliff because everyone is only looking out for themselves. I’ll make the popcorn.

  35. TKPGH says:

    Well said, Marc. I recall Chris Hayes, in an interview with Rachel Maddow, saying that the Republicans fear their base and the Democrats hate theirs. It disgusts me, as a Democrat, to think that that might be the case. In the current “climate”, we Dems aree supposed to be the good guys. That isn’t being borne out.

  36. Brian R Smith says:

    Bill McKibben, I take heart from your analysis and believe it IS possible to “build a movement strong enough to transform the national mood”. Would you speak directly –here or elsewhere soon– to the importance of coalition-building toward a more unified and influential voice for the movement, and steps that can improve / accelerate that process?

    Aren’t there things a grand alliance would be an advantage for, like marshaling the resources to deliver a climate scientist-led State of the Climate address to the nation (stepping in where Obama decidedly will not); or launching a strategic, long-term media campaign across all media to get climate & energy issues firmly in the public mind running up to the 2014 Congressional contest? Are people in your sphere talking about this kind of everybody-on-deck strategy? Advocates from business, finance, science, policy, cities & the enviro community.. joining forces & networks for unified messaging?

  37. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Good ideas Brian, keep at it, in fact now Hansen is independent, why not try the State of the Climate out on him. He might go for it and organize a few others to join him, ME

  38. Brian R Smith says:

    Thanks ME. I’m working on a draft for discussion on climate strategy that proposes specific goals for a flexibly organized “grand” alliance (State of the Climate being one goal). If it garners interest maybe it will come to something.

  39. Brooks Bridges says:

    “My proposal is that the environmental groups get together for a summit ”

    This is THE key idea. This fragmented 20 to 30 million is not working. Speaking with one voice they would swamp the “Tea Party” and NRA.

  40. Bill says:

    I am certainly not surprised nor outraged about the Democrats. They are true to form. Why would they act any different than they have acted in the past? This is all theater.

  41. Jameson Quinn says:

    I agree with Bill and the other posters here that it’s a huge task and that there are no easy shortcuts. But there is one step which, though not easy, would help shift the tide; though too few people realize it.

    I’m talking about voting reform. The current plurality voting system insulates the two major parties from the judgement of the voters, because everyone knows that third parties are just spoilers. This system inevitably encourages a craven focus on fundraising, because the funders, with their ability to work across districts, are the only ones with the real power of choice. Better voting systems like approval voting would give that choice back to the voters. That would simultaneously allow the growth of meaningful third parties, and realign the incentives for the Democratic party.

    It’s a hard slog to get voting reform passed, and what comes after is still a hard slog; but I firmly believe it’s a key part of the best way to deal with this issue. And though most people don’t realize that yet, the fact that we can think strategically enough that environmental activists are making headway on filibuster reform, gives me hope that voting reform could be next.

  42. Thomas Rodd says:

    McKibben starts his to do list with “make a third party truly viable.” The last time bitter progressives who could not get their way tried this with Nader we got Bush instead of Gore. Here in West Virginia a futile third party effort drained much of the green influence in the Democratic Party. Frankly I wish Mckibben would stop talking for a while and let the younger people he has recruited to do the talking and thinking. He is on a bad path.

  43. See a web site that has video proof of a tar sand oil spill cover up.