Bill McKibben: On Earth Day, the environmental movement needs repairs

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“When the media and the president hail [the Senate climate and clean energy bill to be unveiled on April 26] as a ‘landmark,’ understand the shifting ground it actually defines: The environmental idea is too weak right now to win passage of a tough bill to deal with our greatest problem. It will settle for half measures, when it gets the chance to settle for anything at all,” writes author-activist Bill McKibben in an op-ed column in the April 23 Washington Post. “At least part of the problem lies within [inside-the-Beltway-oriented] environmentalism, which no longer does enough real organizing to build the pressure that could result in real change.”

Excerpt from an op-ed by Bill McKibben in the April 23 Washington Post:

On Earth Day, the environmental movement needs repairs

By Bill McKibben

Friday, April 23, 2010; A21

…To mark Earth Day this year, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) were supposed to introduce their long-awaited rewrite of the House’s climate legislation. Now that’s been delayed for at least a few days, which is probably just as well, since, as Graham points out, it’s no longer really an environmental bill.

“I’m all for protecting the planet, but this is about energy independence,” Graham said last week. The bill’s emission reductions are weakened by offsets and loopholes—and to win support for even those concessions, it offers the fossil-fuel industries a glittering collection of door prizes. President Obama himself has already offered the first of these bent-knee offerings: a return to the full-on offshore drilling that was one of the targets of the first Earth Day. Now a new generation will have a chance to experience its own Santa Barbara oil spill, with its iconic oil-soaked birds.

Worse, the bill might specifically remove the strongest tool the environmentalists won in the wake of Earth Day 1: the Environmental Protection Agency’s right to use the Clean Air Act to bring the fossil fuel industries to heel. Enforcement may be preempted under the new law. Even the right of states to pioneer new legislation, such as California’s landmark global warming bill, apparently could disappear with the new legislation.

So when the media and the president hail it as a “landmark,” understand the shifting ground it actually defines: The environmental idea is too weak right now to win passage of a tough bill to deal with our greatest problem. It will settle for half measures, when it gets the chance to settle for anything at all.

That weakness has many sources, including the corrosive power of money in politics (and human beings have never found a greater source of money than fossil fuels). But at least part of the problem lies within environmentalism, which no longer does enough real organizing to build the pressure that could result in real change. … [T]heir lobbying has far less impact than it should, because the politicians they seek to influence know they lack the punch to reward or punish. …

Organizing is not impossible, even today. In some ways, in fact, it’s easier. …

Bill McKibben is the Founder and Director of 350.org, “an international campaign dedicated to building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis—the solutions that science and justice demand.” 

Bill is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College. His new book is the just-released Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
 
The Wonk Room posted an excerpt from the book.

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