More than 10,000 people converged in Washington, D.C., this past week to discuss, organize, mobilize and protest around the issue of climate change. While tax day tea party gatherings of a few hundred scattered around the country made the news, this massive gathering, Power Shift 2011, was largely ignored by the media. They met the week before Earth Day, around the first anniversary of the BP oil rig explosion and the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, while the Fukushima nuclear plant still spews radioactivity into the environment. Against such a calamitous backdrop, this renewed movement’s power and passion ensure that it won’t be ignored for long.
Rallying those attending to the work ahead, environmentalist, author and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben said: “This city is as polluted as Beijing. But instead of coal smoke, it’s polluted by money. Money warps our political life, it obscures our vision. ... We know now what we need to do, and the first thing we need to do is build a movement. We will never have as much money as the oil companies, so we need a different currency to work in, we need bodies, we need creativity, we need spirit.”
The organizers of Power Shift describe it as an intensive boot camp, training a new generation of organizers to go back to their communities and build the movement that McKibben called for. Three areas are targeted by the organizers: Catalyzing the Clean Energy Economy, Campus Climate Challenge 2.0 and Beyond Dirty Energy. The campaigns cross major sectors of U.S. society. The move for a clean-energy economy has been embraced by the AFL-CIO, seeing the potential for employment in construction of wind turbines, installation of solar panels and, one of the potentially greenest and oft-ignored sectors, retrofitting of existing buildings with energy efficiencies such as better insulation and weatherproofing.
On April 18, tax day, thousands held a “Make Big Polluters Pay” rally, targeting the fossil-fuel and nonrenewable-energy industries. The demonstrators gathered in Lafayette Park, a traditional protest square wedged between the White House and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As Bill McKibben said, the Chamber “spends more money lobbying than the next five lobbies combined. It spent more money on politics last year than the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee combined, and 94 percent of that went to climate deniers.”
The protests also targeted BP’s offices, just after the BP shareholders meeting was held last week in London. There, security officers blocked the entrance of a delegation of four fishermen and -women from the Louisiana and Texas Gulf Coast areas heavily damaged by last year’s oil spill. Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation fisherwoman, was arrested for disturbing the peace. “That was pretty outrageous,” she said. “They had disrupted our lives down there. But just appearing at the door of a BP general assembly, and we’re disrupting the peace.”
Many of those gathered at Power Shift 2011 were not yet born when the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear disasters happened. These young people, seeking sustainable, renewable futures, are now learning about what President Barack Obama calls the “nuclear renaissance.” The Fukushima nuclear crisis has escalated in severity to the top rating of seven, on par with Chernobyl. Best estimates are that the radiation leaks will persist for months, with ongoing impacts on health and the environment impossible to forecast.
Will Obama proceed to deliver $80 billion in loan guarantees to build more nuclear power plants in the United States? He claims he’s against tax cuts for the rich, but what about public subsidies for oil, gas, coal and nuclear, among the richest industries on Earth?
We recently built new studios from which to broadcast the “Democracy Now!” news hour on public television and radio around the United States. Ours is the greenest TV/radio/Internet broadcast facility in the nation, receiving the top rating, LEED Platinum (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), from the U.S. Green Building Council. The medium is the message. We all need to do our part in pursuit of sustainability.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.