What should be the objectives of the US-based climate movement in 2014?
Over the past few years, since the death in 2010 of cap-and-trade legislation in the US Senate and the emergence a year later of a broadly-based noKXL movement, there’s been an upturn in successful working unity among many of the groups that make up the overall climate movement. This is hopeful, and it makes possible some significant strides forward, it seems to me, between now and Election Day 2014.
Election Day next year is a key marker, and I would argue that this is true whether you’re a big believer in electoral activism or a radical anti-hierarchy horizontalist. The recent over-the-top actions of the ultra-rightist Republicans that shut down the government and almost led to a US financial default are just the latest in a series of actions by the climate-denier Republicans that reveal how dangerous, how much of a serious threat to forward progress they really are. 2014 has to be a year that this threat is reduced, that a decisive, political turning point is reached, by way of defeats at the ballot box.
Our success over the next year will be measured in large part by what happens with the US Senate and House. It will be a bad year, for example, if the climate-denier-heavy Republican Party maintains control of the House and takes control of the Senate. It will be a better year if the Senate stays Democratic and the House is either taken over by the Democrats or they significantly reduce the Republicans’ current 33-seat majority. It will be best if that happens and a larger percentage than at present of those who are elected to Congress, whether Democrat, Republican or Independent, are elected after making climate and renewable energy a major issue in their campaigns, either because they personally get it or because they have been pushed by the visible activism of the climate movement and independent climate activism in their House or Senate districts to do so.
Visible climate activism and some victories, like on KXL, are absolutely critical in 2014. They’re important all the time in order to keep enlarging and strengthening the movement, but they’re particularly important in an election year. This is the case both to make climate issues part of the election campaigns and debates but also because, as many of us are fully aware, we cannot count upon President Obama or the Democratic Party to do what is urgently needed as far as a renewable energy revolution.
It’s a good thing that Obama, not Romney, is in the White House, and it’s a good thing that Harry Reid, not Mitch McConnell, is the Senate leader, but the fossil fuel industry, particularly the oil and gas industry, has significant influence over both sides of the aisle and in the Executive Office. Barack Obama, let us remember, has been a consistent and vocal supporter of fracking despite all of the proven health and safety impacts on people and other living things near fracking wells. He’s done this even as many studies, including by government agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have shown that methane leakage throughout the lifecycle of fracked gas probably means that its greenhouse gas footprint is close to, as bad as, or worse than that of coal.
This is why another objective for 2014 should be to strengthen the climate movement’s connections with labor, communities of color, the women’s movement, the lgbt movement, youth groups, farmers, etc. This country needs a political uprising by the disenfranchised majority. Polls show that as a people we are very angry and upset about the direction of the country, and many are ready for a new, independent political movement. A recent Pew Center poll reported that 81% are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country.
A key priority within that multi-issue movement must be a rapid shift to a jobs-creating, renewable energy revolution, with a just transition for workers in the fossil fuel industry, and many of us from the climate movement being there will ensure that this is a priority of that coming movement.
2014 can be a really big year. Ultra-right Republican overreach, combined with a continuing-to-grow, unified, activist and electorally-oriented climate movement working with others, provides us with new openings and possibilities. History is calling; let’s rise to the occasion!