An estimated 40,000 rallied on a cold day in Washington, DC yesterday to urge President Obama to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline and destructive energy extraction practices, such as fracking.
"All I ever wanted was to see a movement of people to stop climate change and now I see it," said Bill McKibben, a Middlebury College professor, author and activist, and the movement's Pied Piper.
Since the president has started ramping up his rhetoric on climate change in his inaugural address and in the State of the Union speech, organizers were walking a fine line -- trying not to offend Obama, while also trying to convey the message that words are not enough. The name of the rally, "Forward On Climate" was borrowed from the president's "Forward" campaign slogan.
But organizers also made their demands clear. Sierra Club director Michael Brune has this to say to the president: "We have loved a lot of what you have said on climate change. Our question is, what will you do? What will you do when our tap water lights on fire? What will you do when the Arctic melts? What will you do when the rainforest dries up? And what will you do with the Keystone XL?"
The controversial pipeline project will carry tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast for processing and export. Environmentalists are hoping they have a powerful ally in the State Department with the new Secretary of State, John Kerry, who has long worked on the issue. The next step is Kerry's, who is reviewing the pipeline permits for the administration.
Beyond the Keystone Pipeline more needs to be done to prevent further damage to the planet by global warming.
Climate Change Legislation Introduced in U.S. Senate
At the rally, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse told the crowd that one of the movement's biggest challenges was that Congress was "sleepwalking through the crisis." But the Senate got the ball rolling this week with new legislation targeting some 85 percent of carbon emissions.
Senators Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer, chair of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, introduced new legislation that would apply a carbon fee of $20 per ton of carbon or methane equivalent to 2,869 of the largest fossil fuel polluters. The fee would increase each year for ten years. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the fee would raise $1.2 trillion in revenue over 10 years.
A portion of the money raised would be used to make investments in energy efficiency and in sustainable energy technologies to reduce emissions and to create jobs. For instance, funds are slated to weatherize 1 million homes a year, a no brainer that would quickly start employing workers in the idled construction industry. Funds are also slated for a financing program for investments in wind, solar, biofuels, hydropower, etc. Read a detailed summary here.
"The leading scientists in the world who study climate change now tell us that their earlier projections were wrong. The crisis facing our planet is much worse than they had thought only a few years ago. Twelve out of the last 15 years ranked as the warmest on record in the United States. Now, scientists say that our planet could be 8°F warmer or more by the end of this century if we take no decisive action to transform our energy system and cut greenhouse gas emissions," Sanders explained. The world is facing more massive storms and weather events and coastal cities are facing much higher sea level rises than previously predicted.
Climate change activists have their work cut out for them to get any reasonable legislation through the House of Representatives which is still packed with climate change deniers.
State Legislators Weigh In on Keystone XL
Average Americans watching the rally on C-Span, were highly supportive with universally positive comments coming in from both the Republican and Democratic lines. Almost every caller mentioned how climate change was affecting their community. But some state legislators have their heads deep in the sand.
As CMD has reported, legislators in four states have introduced bills in recent weeks supporting the Keystone XL Pipeline, with language that appears to have been lifted directly from a "model" American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) bill and from TransCanada's own public relations talking points. The bills proposed in Missouri, Mississippi, Michigan, and Minnesota call on the president and Congress to approve the controversial pipeline.
But citizens in these states are unlikely to be hoodwinked by this ALEC/TransCanada play. As Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen energy program puts it "this pipeline has nothing to do with energy independence, nothing to do with lowering energy prices." As for jobs, "Jobs will be created cleaning up spills," says Slocum, who argues that the deal largely benefits Canada, who has little refinery capacity and some Chinese investors who are already buying into the project.