As Halloween approached last year, climate activists like myself were down in the dumps. For the first time since 1988, climate change had gone completely unmentioned in the presidential debates. Despite 2012 being the warmest year on record, breaking over 17,000 temperature records across the country, it looked like nothing was going to break through the 'climate silence' that had come to dominate our political system.
Then came Hurricane Sandy. Suddenly, in the most devastating of ways, climate change was back on the agenda. Mayor Bloomberg made his unexpected endorsement, BusinessWeek ran a cover saying in big black letters “It’s Global Warming, Stupid,” and low and behold, three months later during his inaugural address, President Obama finally used his rhetorical skills to make the case for climate action.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” boomed the President to thunderous applause from tens of thousands of people gathered on the Mall. For a guy who had all but failed to mention global warming during two years of on-and-off campaigning, Obama suddenly sounded like the climate champion we had been waiting for.
But if we’ve learned anything from the last four years, it’s that talk comes cheap. This term, climate activists aren’t going to be satisfied with a few nods to green jobs and promises to put solar panels on the White House (although, it would be nice if the administration actually got around to fulfilling that commitment). This time, we need to see some action.
That starts with a clear to-do left over from last term: denying the necessary federal permit for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
The fight over Keystone XL has fired up the climate movement more than any other cause of the last few years. And with good reason: according to our nation’s top climate scientist, NASA’s Dr. James Hansen, fully developing the Canadian tar sands would mean “essentially game over” for the climate. As 350.org founder Bill McKibben has said, “Keystone XL is the fuse to the largest carbon bomb on the planet.”
Defusing that bomb is going to take real work. The fossil fuel industry’s influence in Washington was on full display a few weeks ago when 53 senators signed a letter supporting Keystone XL—as it turned out, they’d taken $551,000 from the industry, 340 percent more than the pipeline’s opponents. Getting President Obama to stand up to this Goliath is going to take putting a lot of 'Davids' in the streets.
Which is why here at 350.org we’re partnering with our allies at the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Hip Hop Caucus, CREDO Mobile, and many, many (many) others to organize “Forward on Climate” the largest climate rally in US history, on February 17, to push President Obama to show his climate leadership and say no to the Keystone XL pipeline. If you can make it to Washington, DC, come: this is going to be a historic event. If you can’t, be sure to track down a solidarity event in your city.
Saying no to Keystone XL is smart politics for the President. If he does the right thing and denies the Keystone XL pipeline, Obama will surely piss off the fossil fuel industry, but last time I checked the Koch Brothers weren’t exactly “on-side” to begin with. On the flip-side, he’ll provide a huge jolt of momentum to the environmental movement and young people across the country who are clamoring for climate action. The President will need the movement to be fully mobilized if he’s serious about living up to his inaugural rhetoric.
Once he gets the public fired-up and ready to go on climate, there are lots of things the President can accomplish, from strengthening pollution controls, to investing in renewables, to clearly and compellingly making the case for a price on carbon. Now’s the time to strike: according to recent polling from Yale, public support for climate action is at an all time high. But it all starts with saying no to Keystone XL.
It’s great to see President Obama ending the climate silence. Now it’s time to walk the talk.
Join the Forward on Climate Rally on February 17.
This month, challenge a neighbor to GOOD's energy smackdown. Find a neighbor with a household of roughly the same square footage and see who can trim their power bill the most. Throughout February, we'll share ideas and resources for shrinking your household carbon footprint, so join the conversation at good.is/energy.
Image by Clayton Conn, courtesy of Tar Sands Action.