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What the Election Means for the Climate Movement

More than 400,000 people attended the People's Climate March in New York City on September 21, 2014. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr/cc)

Tuesday’s election results were pretty bad.

But when times get rough, it’s really important to remember to breathe, and focus on how we’re going to fix this problem together.

Here’s my early sense of what this election means for the climate movement:

1. The fossil fuel industry knows it’s in a fight for its life. After years of seeing our movement grow, the fossil fuel industry fought back fiercer and dirtier than ever, spending hundreds of millions to put more oil-soaked politicians in office than ever. The New York Times recently released secret recordings of an industry consultant advising “endless war” against environmentalists. It’s clear the fossil fuel industry is getting desperate, so it’s on us to make climate action a priority — at the ballot box, in the streets and in our daily lives.

2. Solutions are coming, from the ground up. There were a number of bright spots last night, but they didn’t come from professional politicians. Denton, Texas became the first city in Texas to ban fracking with a locally led ballot initiative. Two counties in California did the same. Richmond, California defied massive spending from Chevron to elect a Mayor ready to take on Big Oil in their backyard. There’s a lesson here: courage counts, local action matters, and voters support bold and direct action against climate change.

3. Keystone XL is back on the agenda. Big Oil helped bankroll the takeover of the Senate, and they’re going to want their new friends to pay tribute. Expect all sorts of shenanigans when the new Congress takes session in January — even though the pipeline has no permit in Nebraska or South Dakota. President Obama has all the data he needs to reject the pipeline, and we’ve got the movement to back him up. Keystone XL will determine President Obama’s climate legacy, and he must say no if he wants to be remembered as a climate champion and not a pipeline president.

4. Divestment matters more than ever. We helped launch the fossil fuel divestment campaign the day after the 2012 election. Now, it has spread across the planet and more than 140 institutions representing over $50 billion have committed to divestment. With more gridlock and more denial on tap in Congress, grassroots action that takes on the social and economic power of the fossil fuel industry will be crucial in building momentum for action. If you’re not involved yet, now’s a great time to dive in.

The fact is that this election will be sending more opponents of climate action to Washington. The path to federal climate action is that much tougher.

But we’re not going to let that drive us to panic or fear. We’re going to use it as a catalyst to get bolder and smarter about how we build a powerful movement for climate action.

Politics is about more than just elections and campaign ads. When 400,000 of us took the streets of New York City on September 21, and hundreds of thousands more marched around the world, we showed that a new sort of climate politics is possible. A politics led by the people, not our politicians.

And so today let’s march forward together. There couldn’t be a more important (or exciting) time to be involved in the climate movement. If you know someone who is drifting towards despair today, or on the fence about jumping in to this movement, please encourage them to join us in this fight of our lives.

What we need is more resolve than ever.

May Boeve

May Boeve

May Boeve is the executive director of Previously, May co­-founded and helped lead the Step It Up 2007 campaign, and prior to that was active in the campus climate movement while a student at Middlebury College. May is the co­author of Fight Global Warming Now.

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