Question #1: Who has done more to build the 21st century climate movement, Al Gore or Bill McKibben?
Question #2: Who is doing the most right now to build the kind of climate movement we need?
Short answers: Al Gore for question #1, Bill McKibben for question #2.
Another question: Is it really helpful to pose these questions? Short answer: Y-E-S.
Both of these prominent individuals came forward to give leadership to the climate movement, and burst into public consciousness as doing so, in 2006. Both had been writing and speaking about the developing climate crisis before this time, but in 2006 the movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” made Gore into an overnight climate hero. For McKibben, it was his leadership of a five-day, hundreds-of-people-strong, 50-mile walk through Vermont with the main demand, “80% [greenhouse gas reductions] by 2050” that launched him into the national activist spotlight, and he hasn’t stopped since.
Both have created significant organizations, the Alliance for Climate Protection in the case of Gore and 350.org in the case of McKibben. Gore’s efforts have been more consistently in the news, given his former Vice-Presidential and almost-a-President status and significant funds to take out television ads. As a result his Alliance reached more people more quickly and helped to ramp up the climate issue such that in 2008 it was one of the top issues addressed by Presidential nominees Obama and McCain, as well as many other candidates for Congress and Senate.
Much of the energy and resources of Gore and the Alliance after the 2008 election went into building support for what became the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the Waxman-Markey bill narrowly passed by the House of Representatives in late June, 2009. They, along with almost all climate groups, then shifted their efforts to the U.S. Senate.
Almost one year later, this coming week, the results of the Senate bill-writing effort that Gore and the Alliance have been supporting, led by John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and, until his pull-back a couple of weeks ago, Lindsay Graham, may finally be made public. All indications are that it is a worse bill than Waxman-Markey in any number of ways, and Waxman-Markey is a very problematic piece of legislation.
As an indication of the growing dissatisfaction with Kerry-Lieberman-[formerly Graham], close to 100 organizations have already come out in support of the CLEAR Act, climate legislation introduced six months ago by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wa.) and Susan Collins (R-Me.). CLEAR has a cap-and-dividend approach, with a 100% auction of emissions permits, no free permits to polluters, no offsets, no Wall Street involvement, and a return of 75% of the money raised directly to U.S. citizens.
What about McKibben?
His and 350.org’s efforts for much of the last two years have been spent building an international network to press for a fair, just and binding international treaty that would give humankind a chance of preventing worldwide climate catastrophe. Two high points of their activities were October 24th, 2009, when 5,200 actions were held around the world in 181 countries, and December 12th, 2009 when 100,000 people marched in Copenhagen and over 3,000 other local actions were held around the world.
McKibben’s focus has been on visible, demonstrative, grassroots-oriented, movement-building. He has also supported strategically sound, nonviolent civil disobedience; his early and public support for the March 2nd, 2009 Capitol Coal Plant action, including his announced intention to risk arrest, was a key building block for that successful plant shutdown by thousands.
And McKibben and 350.org have supported the CLEAR Act as the best option we have in the Senate right now to advance the essential, critically-needed shift away from fossil fuels.
Al Gore understands the limitations of the legislation passed in the House and being developed by Kerry and Lieberman. He has supported a tax shift, a reduction of payroll taxes and their replacement with a carbon tax, for many years. Almost two years ago he put forward a serious proposal for the United States to get 100% of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources within 10 years. This was a proposal at the scale of the problem and with a timeline consistent with the urgency of the worsening climate emergency.
However, once the
coal industry-influenced House Energy and Commerce Committee took the lead on climate legislation-writing, and ever since as the process moved to the Senate, Gore, as has also been true of Obama and the vast majority of inside-the-beltway environmental groups, stepped back and fell into line.
As the window of opportunity for climate legislation from this Congress narrows, and as things are looking good right now for more, maybe many more, Republicans elected to both houses of Congress this November, isn’t it time for something different, for a Plan B? How about supporting climate legislation that actually puts money directly in people’s bank accounts while putting a price on carbon, making oil and coal companies pay for their pollution? Where’s the political downside in that? Why the silence from not just Al Gore but so many others who really do get it? What are people waiting for?
To find out more about the CLEAR Act go to http://www.supportclearact.org.
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