Here’s something to watch in 2014: the collective psyche of the green movement.
If President Obama green-lights the Keystone pipeline, the movement will face questions about its tactics and goals at a level unseen since major climate-change legislation collapsed on Capitol Hill in 2010.
“If the pipeline is approved, it’s a defeat for 350.org, Sierra Club, et al, with no real strategy for what comes next,” said Alex Trembath, a policy analyst with the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental think tank whose founders have often criticized movement tactics.
Whatever the decision, it will be a defining moment for a movement that has had its ups and downs under Obama.
After the 2010 climate-bill defeat, some analysts and activists wondered whether several big green groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, had launched a tactically shaky campaign that required too many concessions before failing outright.
Among the criticisms of the cap-and-trade campaign: too much hope that a few Senate Republicans would come along (they didn’t); an inside-Congress strategy without enough outside pressure; and too much footsie with big corporate players.
Some of the same kind of soul-searching will occur if (and it’s only an “if”) Obama approves Keystone, a decision that’s likely to come in 2014.
But Dan Becker, a longtime Sierra Club veteran who now directs the Safe Climate Campaign, doesn’t think losing on Keystone would be the same kind of demoralizing moment as the collapse of the cap-and-trade bill in 2010.
“This is very different from the cap-and-trade bill, which I personally thought was the wrong approach and was not something the grassroots cared about or supported,” he said. “Would I have chosen this?,” he said of the Keystone fight. “Maybe not, but it has brought energy into the movement, it has brought new adherents in, it has brought new leadership in.”
And to be sure Keystone, however it turns out, is not a rerun of the cap-and-trade fight. The campaigns have been very different. This time, environmentalists have targeted a single White House decision and waged an outside-in mass campaign with a different set of leaders — first and foremost,Bill McKibben of the upstart 350.org.
Others include Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, a veteran of the pugilistic Rainforest Action Network, who has brought some of that rabble-rousing to Sierra since 2010.
A lot of climate activists are all-in, transforming Keystone from a project en route to quiet approval into the highest-profile climate battle in recent years.
“It is not going to be pleasant if it is approved,” said Robert J. Brulle, a Drexel University sociologist who studies environmental movements. “I think that one thing we can be pretty sure of is that the marriage between the greens and the Democratic Party will be brought under pretty severe review.”
Critics who say climate change is a big problem but that Keystone is the wrong battle are ready to pounce. Some take issue with environmentalists who say Keystone XL would be a major contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions to begin with (it all depends on how much you think it’s a linchpin for expansion of carbon-intensive oil-sands development).
Trembath, who calls coal-fired power a much bigger enemy than Keystone, argued that even blocking the pipeline would be a “nominal victory … without any apparent path forward.”
The criticism is well underway even before a decision is rendered.
New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, in late October, agreed with the argument that stopping Keystone would do very little to slow greenhouse-gas emissions, calling EPA plans to regulate existing coal-fired plants as a far more important fight. “The whole crusade increasingly looks like a bizarre misallocation of political attention,” he wrote.
But Keystone critics say the fight is both consequential for the climate and a movement-builder. It has included civil disobedience and mass rallies that saw young activists pour into Washington.
“We had not seen that type of in-the-street action for decades,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity. “That has rejuvenated the movement. It has rekindled a spirit that was missing.”
What We're Following See More »
The Commission on Presidential Debates put out a statement today that gives credence to Donald Trump's claims that he had a bad microphone on Monday night. "Regarding the first debate, there were issues regarding Donald Trump's audio that affected the sound level in the debate hall," read the statement in its entirety.
"A video of Donald Trump testifying under oath about his provocative rhetoric about Mexicans and other Latinos is set to go public" as soon as today. "Trump gave the testimony in June at a law office in Washington in connection with one of two lawsuits he filed last year after prominent chefs reacted to the controversy over his remarks by pulling out of plans to open restaurants at his new D.C. hotel. D.C. Superior Court Judge Brian Holeman said in an order issued Thursday evening that fears the testimony might show up in campaign commercials were no basis to keep the public from seeing the video."
No matter that his recall of foreign leaders leaves something to be desired, Gary Johnson is the choice of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board. The editors argue that Donald Trump couldn't do the job of president, while hitting Hillary Clinton for "her intent to greatly increase federal spending and taxation, and serious questions about honesty and trust." Which leaves them with Johnson. "Every American who casts a vote for him is standing for principles," they write, "and can be proud of that vote. Yes, proud of a candidate in 2016."
Speaking at the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, President Obama "compared Peres to 'other giants of the 20th century' such as Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth who 'find no need to posture or traffic in what's popular in the moment.'" Among the 6,000 mourners at the service was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama called Abbas's presence a sign of the "unfinished business of peace" in the region.