from Realizing The Future
by Steve Liptay
December 1, 2011
As 2012 approaches and movement strategies are being shaped within the 99% movement and the climate justice movement, we stand at a pivotal moment in history. The climate crisis is bearing down on us stronger than ever, the ecological crisis is deepening, and economic, social and environmental injustices are escalating. With our hijacked democracy in gridlock we’ve taken to the streets and sparked what many, including Dr. Cornel West, would describe as a ‘deep democratic awakening’. How do we yield the paradigm level changes that are needed to heal the earth and make our human world both just and sustainable? That’s the question of our time. None-the-less, solving the climate crisis will require us to rewire the globe with renewable energy and put an end to the tyranny of oil, gas and coal. To do this I propose that the 99% movement and the climate justice movement initiate a sustained civil disobedience campaign targeting climate deniers in the U.S. Congress to dramatize the need for their ouster.
To end the extraction and burning of fossil fuels it is necessary to put a rising price on carbon pollution. For Americans, this means that rewiring our country with renewable energy will require the U.S. Congress and our President pass a new law that taxes the most profitable industry in the history of the world. The revenue generated would then be distributed in its entirety on a per capita basis back to the American people to buffer rising energy costs. A monthly dividend check would give the 99% the ability to become more energy efficient and afford the transition to renewable energy. A highly centralized energy sector in which the 1% have become richer and richer would be transformed into a highly decentralized sector in which the 99% power their lives with rooftop solar panels and a host of other renewable energy technologies. This policy is called ‘fee-and-dividend’ – you can download a PDF of a legislative proposal at: www.citizensclimatelobby.org/. If enacted, the thriving fossil fuel industry could potentially be put to an end in the matter of a decade.
Electing a Congress to pass ‘fee-and-dividend’ would require a massive and sustained civil disobedience campaign to shine a light on the urgency of climate change. One of the central lessons we can take away from the Tar Sands Action campaign to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline is that civil disobedience gets the goods. A 2-week long sit-in at the White House led to 1,253 arrests and an explosion in media hits. During the sit-in and in the weeks to follow the American people were educated by our mass media and social media – they learned the who, what, where, when and why of the tar sands in Alberta, Canada. The media and the American people began to evaluate the costs and the benefits of the proposed pipeline and the events that unfolded were nothing short of remarkable. The big environmental groups came together against Keystone, Republicans and Democrats found common ground in opposition, the New York Times wrote a timely editorial and an in-depth investigation of pipeline safety, Nobel laureates a wrote letter to the President, and a State Department scandal broke (among other developments). The Obama administration responded by sending the pipeline proposal back to the drawing board, promising a thorough and independent review that will include climate change. If we had instead decided to pass around a petition, hold permitted protests, submit op-eds to the newspapers, and make phone calls to our elected officials this fight would very likely not have gained the momentum it needed. Of course I think we all wish it weren’t the case, but as history has proven over and over there comes a time when we have no other choice but to take a stand. As the Tar Sands Action and the Occupy movement have demonstrated, it is time for direct action.
If our movements were to get behind this line of reasoning, I believe that it would leads us into a sustained civil disobedience campaign targeting the U.S. House and Senate calling for 1. an immediate end to all fossil fuel subsidies and 2. a comprehensive renewable energy bill centered around ‘fee-and-dividend’. It would trigger a grassroots mobilization with all hands on deck and everyone playing to their strengths. On the ground it would likely mean occupying House and Senate offices and disrupting debate in Congress from the House gallery and the Senate gallery. In addition, mic checking and bird-dogging Congress’ climate deniers would help maintain pressure when Congress was not in session.
A few months ago I disrupted the House of Representatives with 8 others on the day that Power Shift 2011 began. (Here’s a video.) Our intent was to spark a conversation within Power Shift about the need for civil disobedience in the climate movement and to speak directly to our elected officials about the urgency that the climate crisis demands. We were handcuffed by the Capitol police and transported to a D.C. police station where they booked and held us for the afternoon and early evening. In the end, we all took a settlement offer, completed 32-hours of community service for a non-profit of our choosing, and waited out a 4-month stay away from the Capitol grounds. It was a minor sacrifice relative to the suffering endured today by our frontline communities and the suffering to come if we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels. As I look back, disrupting Congress with my fist raised and singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ was the possibly first time I felt fully engaged as an American citizen.
If we were to begin this campaign when Congress reconvened in January 2012 it could potentially put a proposal to end fossil fuel subsidies up for a vote during the 112th Congress and make ‘fee-and-dividend’ a key election issue in November. While ending fossil fuel subsidies would do little to curb carbon pollution and would only reduce the national debt by an estimated $122 billion over 10-years, it would be a small step in the right direction. Putting a significant price on carbon would get us on the path to a renewable energy future and put the fossil fuel industry in the grave where it belongs. Maybe we’d achieve one or both of these goals during the 112th and 113th Congresses, maybe we wouldn’t. What’s critical is that we start to wake up our elected officials and fellow Americans who are asleep at the wheel on climate change. Now is our hour. It’s up to us to end the tyranny of oil, gas, and coal.