Why I am doing climate civil disobedience this Earth Day
On April 23, I will join with hundreds of fellow climate activists at the State Capitol in Albany to tell Governor Cuomo that he needs to walk the talk in taking action to stop climate change.
I am one of many fellow Green Party, 350.org, PAUSE, gas pipeline activists, seniors, students, faith leaders, etc. who have pledged to do civil disobedience at the Capitol.
We are losing the fight against climate catastrophe. The Paris Climate Treaty – which the US has rejected – was merely a tap on the brakes as we rush full speed over the cliff to climate disaster. The reality of climate change is much worse than what we hear in the media and even from climate scientists, who worry that the truth would cause people to give up in despair. The direst predictions about the severity and speed of climate change have repeatedly turn out to the most accurate – though usually understating the situation.
There is no doubt we are going to past the climate tipping point very soon – 3 years, a decade, 15 years. The developing world – mainly countries closest to the equator – will pass the tipping point much sooner than the industrial nations like the U.S. that have caused climate change. Climate scientists hope that we will figure out a way to take carbon out of the atmosphere – though after spending tens of billions of dollars we are nowhere close to a solution.
For the last five years I have organized with 350.org. Our name was chosen to highlight that in order to avoid climate catastrophe, we have to keep the amount of carbon in the atmosphere below 350 parts per million. We have been above 400 ppm for several years and the number keeps rising. Bill McKibben, one of the co-founders of 350, wrote an article highlighting the need to keep 80% of the known fossil fuels in the ground rather than burning them. But the fossil fuel companies spend tens of billions annually to look for more oil and gas. Scientists at Exxon, Shell and the others told their CEOs decades ago that the business model was destroying the planet and that they needed to move to renewable energy. Exxon and the rest decided to lie to the world and paid off politicians to allow business as usual to continue.
Politicians continue to allow more fossil fuel infrastructure to be built, locking us into decades of burning more fossil fuels. Governor Cuomo even wants to spend $88 million of our tax dollars to build two new turbines in low-income Sheridan Hollow to burn imported fracked gas. We need to realize that natural gas is not a bridge to a clean energy future – it is a gangplank to climate chaos.
There are three key demands for the April 23rd rally: move to 100% clean energy as soon as possible (I support a goal of 2030); stop building any new fracked gas / fossil fuel infrastructure; and make polluters pay (with a robust carbon tax).
While Governor Cuomo has issued a string of press releases proclaiming himself as the national leader on climate change, he has failed to follow through on his rhetoric. The good steps he has taken – such as banning the fracking of natural gas and denying permits to some fossil fuel projects – are the result of many years of citizen activism and organizing. Seven years into his administration – and 15 years after goals were first set by Governor Pataki – the sad reality is that only 3 to 4% of the state's electricity comes from wind and solar. He is allowing imported fracked gas to flood into the state, even though methane is 80 times more potent short-term as a greenhouse gas than carbon. He has impeded the development of community solar farms. He gave a $7.6 billion bailout to the owner of 3 small nuclear plants to keep them open – more than he is giving to renewable energy. Little progress has been made to reduce the carbon footprint of transportation and buildings, both of which have bigger carbon impacts than electricity production. States like California, Massachusetts are Vermont are all doing better than NY – and they all need to do much better.
One does civil disobedience when we are facing a crisis and you realize that all your years of marches, rallies, lobbying efforts, media events, testimony, etc. is not getting elected officials, businesses and decision makers to take the issue seriously. The only other time I did civil disobedience was 25 years ago, singing songs in the nation's Capitol outside Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole's office, pleading to enact single payer universal health care. We still haven't won that one either, though we are getting closer.
Some scientists now raise the possibility of human extinction – within a century. We know that half of the planet's other species will shortly face extinction due to human activity. The Pentagon believes that climate change – not terrorism or Russia – is the greatest threat to our national security, as the escalating struggle for water, land and food will lead to wars and tens of millions of climate refugees (as we saw in Syria). This year we had three category–five hurricanes slam the U.S., with most of Puerto Rico going without electricity and drinking water for half a year. Parts of NYC are still struggling to recover 5 years later from Sandy. Wildfires devastated parts of California. An estimated 400,000 already die annually worldwide from the various problems related to climate change.
The good news is that the technology to move quickly to 100% clean energy already exists. Wind, solar, geothermal, energy efficiency, mass transit already work and in many cases are already cheaper than fossil fuels. Unlike fossil fuels, the wind and sun are free. And construction costs are rapidly declining the more we build them. Clean energy will clean up our air, lower our energy costs, and create millions of jobs. Already the U.S. have 5 times as many people employed in renewable energy and energy efficiency than in fossil fuels. Moving to 100% clean energy in NYS would create up to 5 million jobs (300,000 in 40-year jobs).
I will do civil disobedience at the Capitol because much of my own work has been focused on pushing politicians to take action. Many individuals have already taken the struggle directly to the fossil fuel industry, blocking the bulldozers that seek to build gas pipelines and fossil fuel infrastructure. And the original inhabitants of our country, Native Americans, have provided inspirational leadership in standing up to protect Mother Earth and our water, our life, in places like North Dakota.
Climate activists highlight the need for a Just Transition and environmental justice, protecting our most vulnerable community members and workers. We also need energy democracy, with public ownership and democratic control of our energy future. We need New York State and local governments to themselves start building the offshore wind turbines and solar farms (a proposal that the legislature just rejected). The renewable energy revolution in Germany for instance is being driven by local municipal power systems.
Pope Francis has pleaded with the world's leaders to take action on climate, dismissing their existing pledges as hollow words. The Pope also understands that we will never solve the climate crisis unless we solve related problems such as economic exploitation, since the same mentality drives both. He has also challenged capitalism as being in conflict with our need for sustainability and to put the common good ahead of the desire for private profit.
This Earth Day, tell your elected officials, your utility company, and your neighbors that enough is enough. We have to leave a livable planet for our children and their children. It is time for a better world. And join us on May 8th at the Capitol for a lobby day for 100% clean energy.