We’ll still be protesting on Monday in D.C., but it looks like the protest may be half victory party too!
Late Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter off to the Capitol Architect — the guy in charge of buildings and grounds, as well as the century-old, mainly-coal-fired power plant that Congress owns and which is located just a few blocks from the fancy dome and the National Mall. The two leaders told him to stop shoveling coal into the power plant’s boiler and finish the switch to natural gas.
Now, it just so happens that this is the same coal plant targeted for the first mass civil disobedience in the history of the American climate movement. When Wendell Berry and I sent out one of many invitations to this gathering last fall, we stressed that it was going to be a Very Serious Event; among other things, everyone was supposed to wear dress clothes. That was mostly, I think, because we wanted the home viewing audience to be reminded of something important: the crazies and loons and nutballs are not the people in the streets demanding an end to the carbon age. We’re the sane ones, the conservatives seeking to preserve a planet something like the one we were born on to. The radicals are the guys who want to double the carbon content of the atmosphere and see what happens.
But now our sobriety will be sorely tested. It didn’t take much of a push to convince Congress that the time for change had come. It’s an almost giddy feeling — sort of like what most of America felt on election night when the voters actually chose to elect the smart guy. It feels like the system is working (sort of) the way it’s supposed to.
Not, of course, that Reid’s and Pelosi’s decision accomplishes all that much by itself. This is one small power plant. We need to start shutting down the whole vast coal archipelago that provides half the nation’s electricity. That’s going to be a tough, grinding job that requires a huge movement. And it’s somehow going to have to stretch around the world, to China and India and everywhere else where coal is commonplace. (That’s why we’ve got 350.org up and running; we’re not going to solve this one city at a time).
But hey, starting Opening Day with a no-hitter is pretty darned good. Shutting down a coal-fired power plant before you even have a protest should give us some momentum to build on. Come on down Monday for the party; it’s going to be a good one.
Bill McKibben is co-founder of 350.org, and author most recently of Deep Economy.