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Why Isn't There a More Massive, Activist Climate Movement?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page and our Politics and Democracy page.

Eight years ago I decided that I needed to change my life. The reason? The late summer heat wave which hit Western Europe in August, 2003, leading to 30,000 or more deaths.

I knew about the issue of global warming before 2003. Indeed, in 2002, during a Green Party of New Jersey campaign for the U.S. Senate, it was one of my major issues. Prominent in my basic brochure was this statement: "Move towards energy independence, reverse global warming and create jobs through a crash program to get energy from the sun, the wind and other renewable fuels."

But it was that European heat wave that literally drove me to serious study about this issue, and by the end of the year I was convinced that the climate crisis was much more serious, much more imminent, than I had thought. Ever since, work in support of a renewable energy revolution has been my top priority.

There's no question but that today, compared to eight years ago, there is much more consciousness about and work on this most overarching and urgent of issues. As the climate crisis has led to stronger, more frequent and more destructive weather impacts-droughts, floods, powerful winds, rain and snow deluges, deadly hurricanes, huge tornadoes and more-so has it led to a stronger international climate movement. In 2010 there were 7,300 local actions in 188 countries around the world on the same 10/10/10 day of action organized by 350.org.

But the deeper truth is that, certainly in the United States, there is a disconnect between the urgency of this civilizational crisis and the response to it on the part of the broad progressive citizenry, those tens of millions of people who believe generally in human rights and fact-based decision-making. One recent example is the late summer and fall campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline. Although this was a victorious campaign, temporarily, the fact is that there were no more than 12,000 people at the biggest event of the campaign, the November 6th encircle-the-White-House demonstration.

For the climate movement, this was a very big action, the largest climate-focused street demonstration ever in the USA. However, compare this to the demonstrations of hundreds of thousands against the Iraq war multiple times between 2003 and 2008. Even taking into account the fact that there have been conscious decisions by key climate movement leaders NOT to organize major national or regional mobilizations, opting instead for decentralized, local "distributed" actions, the disparity of numbers is significant. 


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