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Our Lives Are Under Threat From Some of the Most Powerful and Richest Entities -- Here's How We Can Fight Back and Win

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This article was co-written by Bill McKibben

Not for forty years has there been such a stretch of bad news for environmentalists in Washington.

Last month in the House, the newly empowered GOP majority voted down a resolution stating simply that global warming was real: they've apparently decided to go with their own versions of physics and chemistry.

This week in the Senate, the biggest environmental groups were reduced to a noble, bare-knuckles fight merely to keep the body from gutting the Clean Air Act, the proudest achievement of the green movement. The outcome is still unclear; even several prominent Democrats are trying to keep the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

And at the White House? The president who boasted that his election marked the moment when "the oceans begin to recede" instead introduced an energy plan heavy on precisely the carbon fuels driving global warming. He focused on "energy independence," a theme underscored by his decision to open 750-million tons of Wyoming coal to new mining leases. That's the equivalent of running 3,000 new power plants for a year.

Here's what we think is going on, in the broadest terms.

The modern environmental movement was born on Earth Day 1970, in an unprecedented burst of mass organizing -- by some estimates 20-million Americans, a tenth of the population, took to the streets. It was a young movement, at a time when large numbers of people were serious about not just cleaning the air but stopping wars and ending official discrimination. That popular base inspired -- or, more likely, cowed -- Washington: the next four years saw the passage of virtually all the environmental legislation that still forms the core of green law.

It also saw the birth, or rebirth, of many of the organizations we think of when we think of environmentalism. Powered by that initial burst of mass support, they were able to make real headway in DC, and so they concentrated on important and professional tasks: patient lobbying of subcommittees, careful report-writing. And they kept making substantial gains: Superfund toxic cleanups, acid-rain control.

But in recent years two things have happened. One, that battery wound up on the first Earth Day has finally wound down: congressmen, it turns out, can tell the difference between an aging membership list and a vibrant political movement. As the DC political bible Politico put it last month: "green groups are being forced to play defense in a world where D.C. pols aren't scared of them."

Second, the key issue has changed. Forget acid rain and Superfund; these were important but relatively easy fights that didn't directly confront anyone's business model. You could clean up acid rain by putting a filter on your power plant. But global warming is different -- you'd have to shut down that power plant, and replace it with a windmill or a solar panel.

And so the full power of the fossil fuel industry -- the most profitable business in the planet's history -- has been brought to bear on the fight, and they play hard and dirty. The Koch Brothers spend huge sums to underwrite the network of global warming skeptics; the US Chamber of Commerce emerged as the biggest campaign funder of them all, shuttling 94% of its donations to climate deniers.

This kind of clout carried the day: the biggest dream of DC Washington groups was the so-called "cap-and-trade" bill, behind which they mustered every insider technique they'd spent the last four decades perfecting. But in the end they didn't come close: Harry Reid refused to even schedule a floor vote, knowing that he was far short of the votes needed to pass the bill. The White House stayed on the sidelines.

To us, the lesson is pretty clear. Since we're never going to have as much money as the fossil fuel industry, we need to rebuild the kind of mass movement that marked 1970: bodies, passion, and creativity are the currencies we can compete in. It's not impossible. Working with next to no money, the fledgling campaign at managed over the last three years to coordinate 15,000 rallies in 189 countries -- every nation on earth save North Korea. It's been active in every US state and Congressional district. And this week, it combined forces with another important American grass roots climate campaign, 1Sky, for extra reach.

1Sky was founded in the same spirit, and at the same time, as, and has worked to develop leaders around the country and help build a base of hundreds of allies. Together, we'll be smarter, bolder, faster, and more creative than we were before.

This new and expanded will mobilize on a large scale -- circle Sept. 24 on your calendar for a worldwide day of bike-based action. But it's also going aggressively after the backroom money, with a far-reaching new campaign that tackles the US Chamber of Commerce for its climate stance.

This youth-based campaign is linking up with labor, with faith communities, with frontline communities who have the most experience trying to shut down dirty power plants in their backyards. Most of all, it's actually out in the streets, organizing new blood. The idea is not to supplant the Washington green groups, but instead to give the whole movement new clout -- enough clout to withstand the crushing power of oil money. And enough energy to let us get off defense and back on the attack.

We don't know if we'll win in the end: the science of climate change grows darker by the day, and the window for effective action is swiftly closing. But any chance requires people power replacing corporate power. In the year of Tunisia and Egypt and Wisconsin, it's worth a try.

Naomi Klein is the author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, now out in paperback. To read all her latest writing visit

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I'm a planet lover, progressive and environmentali... by Meme Mine on Saturday, Apr 9, 2011 at 5:07:01 PM
Here's a headline that sounds like YOU. Sarah Pal... by Rob Kall on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 12:11:37 PM
Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, published in ... by E. J. N. on Saturday, Apr 9, 2011 at 5:12:21 PM
We are living longer now than at any time in histo... by Meme Mine on Saturday, Apr 9, 2011 at 10:41:43 PM
What kind of degenerate scumbag tries to say they ... by Adam Smith on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 12:52:07 PM
... by Jeff Poster on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 8:59:52 PM
If you are a vegetable then you'll be fine!... by George Strain on Monday, Apr 11, 2011 at 1:37:31 AM
Plants do well in glasshouses when they receive wa... by David Chester on Monday, Apr 11, 2011 at 4:46:55 AM
This is just one more issue facing America - one o... by Doc McCoy on Saturday, Apr 9, 2011 at 8:52:49 PM
... by Jeff Poster on Saturday, Apr 9, 2011 at 11:50:18 PM
there really isn't anything that I can think of th... by Doc McCoy on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 2:14:33 AM
I find this piece very funny. Humanity is in a b... by Ned Lud on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 6:40:23 AM
The conversions are going one way as they always d... by Mike Preston on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 3:02:59 PM
I have just thought of the perfect solution to 'cl... by Ned Lud on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 8:23:18 AM
There is nothing here with which anyone who is con... by John Russell on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 8:52:55 AM
reforming the political system is going to take mo... by Doc McCoy on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 9:07:49 AM
One begins to understand, why God invented death.M... by Ned Lud on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 9:41:51 AM
Absolutely *NOTHING* will fix our system without g... by Jack Lohman on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 10:28:46 AM
No conscious person can disagree w/ the content of... by John Russell on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 10:38:12 AM
From another article on this site today - "There... by Keith Pope on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 11:12:28 AM
screaming and kicking into facing reality -- by a ... by Jim Arnold on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 11:45:34 AM
... but fleas (even American fleas) can still nibb... by Jim Arnold on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 12:23:53 PM
Taoism is quite clear that anything that stays the... by Adam Smith on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 1:06:49 PM
great to see you here.I was having a conversation ... by martin weiss on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 1:16:03 PM
These people are stealing our country, our way of ... by Beverlee Couillard on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 2:50:27 PM
of WHAT I am talking about. When you are running ... by John Russell on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 10:30:42 PM
If it weren't for the Medicare for all position yo... by Doc McCoy on Sunday, Apr 10, 2011 at 11:09:11 PM
Great video, Something for climate activists in th... by George Ripley on Monday, Apr 11, 2011 at 2:21:35 AM
When reading articles like this, I often wonder, d... by Adam Scott on Monday, Apr 11, 2011 at 9:22:52 AM
"Sciences don't even know how long this planet has... by Maxwell on Monday, Apr 11, 2011 at 10:20:58 AM
You seem like someone who really likes to be "in t... by Jim Arnold on Monday, Apr 11, 2011 at 11:37:50 AM
... by Jeff Poster on Monday, Apr 11, 2011 at 3:15:27 PM
they don't throw stones?... by Jim Arnold on Monday, Apr 11, 2011 at 4:22:30 PM
regulate their temperature, quell any & all pe... by Jill Herendeen on Monday, Apr 11, 2011 at 10:15:20 PM
Global Warming "The IPCC re... by Billy Freedom on Monday, Apr 11, 2011 at 3:22:26 PM
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... by Jeff Poster on Monday, Apr 11, 2011 at 9:19:48 PM