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New Environmentalists Taking Bold Actions, and They’re Working

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Posted on May 26, 2014

Photo by John Englart (Takver) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, Popular Resistance

This article was produced by Popular Resistance in conjunction with AlterNet.

No longer dominated by the traditional “Big Green” groups that were taking big donations from corporate polluters, the new environmental movement is broader, more assertive and more creative. With extreme energy extraction and climate change bearing down on the world, environmental justice advocates are taking bold actions to stop extreme energy extraction and create new solutions to save the planet.  These ‘fresh greens’ often work locally, but also connect through national and international actions.

The recent national climate assessment explains why the movement is deepening, broadening and getting more militant. The nation’s experts concluded that climate change is impacting us in serious ways right now.  It is no longer a question of whether climate change is real – the evidence is apparent in chaotic seasonal weather; floods caused by heavier downpours of rain and deeper droughts; more severe wildfires in the West; the economic impacts of rising insurance rates, as well as challenges for farming, maple syrup production, and finding seafood in the oceans, among many others.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently issued its third report. The world’s scientists found that taking action now to mitigate climate change is less expensive than doing nothing. German economist Ottmar Edenhofer, a co-chair of the IPCC committee wrote: “We cannot afford to lose another decade. If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization.” Previous reports have warned of the dangers of human-induced climate change, e.g. faster sea level rise, more extreme weather, and collapse of the permafrost sink, which would further accelerate warming; as well as a breakdown of food systems, more violent conflicts, and making some currently habited and arable land virtually unlivable.

The IPCC and national assessment create a sense of urgency even though the reality is these documents understate the risks and the need to end the use of fossil fuels.  This week it was reported that the IPCC’s language was toned down during the political review in which countries that produce carbon fuels, like Saudi Arabia, Brazil, China and the United States, edited language to protect fossil fuel interests.

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The effects of the race to extract every ounce of fuel from the Earth can’t be hidden. A report this week found US oil spills increased by 17% in 2013, with more than 20 per day leaking 26 million gallons of oil, fracking wastewater and more. In February five significant fossil fuel accidents were reported in four days. This week Los Angeles was the latest to experience the impact of an oil spill when 50,000 gallons of crude oil flowed down their streets and required evacuation.  The adverse environmental and health effects of all forms of energy extraction are coming to light from mountain top removal for coal in Appalachia to uranium mining in the West. Even four years after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, there is no restoration in sight.

Action Increases the Cost of Business and Stops Harmful Projects

Recent studies show that protest can have a big impact on corporations. The study, “Costs of Company-Community Conflict in the Extractive Sector,” published in in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences included a special report entitled:  “Conflict translates environmental and social risk into business costs.”  “Communities are not powerless,” co-author Daniel Franks who is deputy director of the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining writes: “our study shows they can organize and mobilize, which results in substantial costs to companies.”

Around the world protests against mining, extraction and oil are costing companies billions of dollars a year. According to the report, one corporation alone reported a six billion dollar cost over a two-year period. A Canadian gold mining company lost $5.4 billion over a decade of protests, never extracted any gold and the project was suspended by court order.  Protests also forced a copper mining project to suspend operations. Protests are delaying the KXL pipeline and many others. People power is real and has real world impacts that can defeat extraction industries.

Scott Parkin describes the growing front-line environmental movement in the United States writing:

There’s an insurrection afoot. And it’s in America’s heartlands no less. Bold and effective organizing against oil companies, natural gas companies and coal companies has started this insurrection that has openly challenged these powerful industries. This phenomenon has spread across the country and created unusual coalitions of Indigenous communities, environmental activists and rural landowners opposed to corporate seizures of their property.

The power of protest is being recognized by corporate media. This week the New York Times focused on a Keystone Pipeline protester from Nebraska, Jane Kleep, in a lengthy review of her work with Bold Nebraska. The Times reports how “Trans¬Canada badly misread popular sentiment in Nebraska. . . Rather than rallying behind the idea of American independence from Middle Eastern oil, Nebraskans saw a foreign company coming into their state and asserting rights to land that had been in their families for generations.”

Coal also continues to be a focus of protest. The World’s largest Coal Company, Peabody, has been facing protests all over the country.  Washington University students in St. Louis organized a historic 17 day sit-in to end the university’s relationship with Peabody. And then, seven were arrested trying to enter the Peabody Board of Trustees meeting. This is part of a nationwide student-led divestment campaign against carbon fuels. The St. Louis protest followed a barricade of the office of the president of Harvard that led to Harvard divesting from fossil fuels.

This week, Yes Man Igor Vamos, gave the commencement address at Reed University and used the opportunity to put Reed on the spot. Vamos announced:

This morning I had breakfast with President Kroger. Over a delicious scone and coffee, I was very, very pleased to learn that the board of trustees of Reed College has just now decided to divest the school’s $500 million endowment from fossil fuels.

This is indeed fantastic news. Reed joins 11 other universities who have made this commitment to the planet and the future. . .

I’m even more excited about Reed’s visionary plan for re-investment. The money that is pulled from fossil fuels, the President tells me, has been earmarked for community-owned renewable energy projects. This means Reed is putting its money to work for a complete enviro-social justice program: pulling support from big oil while literally and figuratively putting power back in the hands of the people.


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