Call for Submissions–Growing the Roots to Weather the Storm—Perspectives on the UN Climate Summit and the People’s Climate March

Call for Submissions–Growing the Roots to Weather the Storm—Perspectives on the UN Climate Summit and the People’s Climate March

Last fall, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that the opening of the UN General Assembly’s 69th General Debate session would be delayed to make time for a one-day United Nations Climate Summit on September 23, 2014.  The UN Climate Summit, which is being billed as a ‘solutions-driven summit,’ is being held one year in advance of the COP21, the Paris summit where some world leaders hope to negotiate a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change.

Shortly after the announcement of the New York summit, several NGO’s most notably began calling for a mass mobilization in New York in the lead up to the UN Summit.  The mobilization, which is now known as the “People’s Climate March” is being billed as the largest climate march in history.  In the call to action for the People’s Climate March “With our future on the line and the whole world watching, we’ll take a stand to bend the course of history. We’ll take to the streets to demand the world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities.”

The call to action has now been signed onto by over 400 organizations, ranging from large NGO’s like the Sierra Club to grassroots groups like the Climate Justice Alliance. The Climate Justice Alliance, the Ruckus Society, and Rising Tide North America have put out a parallel call to action demanding that local, national, and international decision makers support local communities in “building Just Transition pathways away from the ‘dig, burn, dump’ economy, and towards ‘local, living economies’ where communities and workers are in charge!”

These calls for bold action in New York have generated a significant amount of excitement and engagement in communities across the continent.  But the focus on this mass mobilization and this global legislative process raises some important questions for organizers committed to confronting the root causes of climate change:

  • Can we use a mobilization like this to build and amplify our ongoing community based work?
  • How can mass mobilizations align with local work in a way that emphasizes and reinforces, and does not distract from local struggles?
  • How can we use moments and mobilizations like this to build capacity for radical climate justice organizing?
  • What does radical or transformative climate organizing mean to you?
  • In what ways are you participating in New York and why?
  • What are you working on now at home, and does New York impact it?  If so, what are your hopes for the mobilization and other events?

There are exciting and dynamic possibilities for using moments like this to amplify grassroots work, raise the voices of frontline communities, and build a stronger, bolder, and more connected climate justice movement.  But taking advantage of this opportunity requires careful and deliberate thought and analysis and strategic action.

Rising Tide North America is compiling a collection of essays on the September New York City Mobilization aimed at answering these questions and others.  The title of the compilation will be “Growing the Roots to Weather the Storm—Perspectives on the UN Climate Summit and the People’s Climate March.”

Join the important discussion and share your perspectives on the UN Climate Summit and the People’s March.  Submissions should be 500 to 1,500 words and submitted to by August 15, 2015.  Illustrations, cartoons, poems, drawings and photographs are also welcome.

The Climate Movement’s Pipeline Preoccupation

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Yes, Keystone XL is horrible but so is every other fossil fuel infrastructure plan

Architecturally, a keystone is the wedge-shaped piece at the crown of an arch that locks the other pieces in place. Without the keystone, the building blocks of an archway will tumble and fall, with no support system for the weight of the arch. Much of the United States climate movement right now is structured like an archway, with all of its blocks resting on a keystone – President Obama’s decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.

This is a dangerous place to be. Once Barack Obama makes his decision on the pipeline, be it approval or rejection, the keystone will disappear. Without this piece, we could see the weight of the arch tumble down, potentially losing throngs of newly inspired climate activists. As members of Rising Tide North America, a continental network of grassroots groups taking direct action and finding community-based solutions to the root causes of the climate crisis, we believe that to build the climate justice movement we need, we can have no keystone – no singular solution, campaign, project, or decision maker.

The Keystone XL fight was constructed around picking one proposed project to focus on with a clear elected decider, who had campaigned on addressing climate change. The strategy of DC-focused green groups has been to pressure President Obama to say “no” to Keystone by raising as many controversies as possible about the pipeline and by bringing increased scrutiny to Keystone XL through arrestable demonstrations. Similarly, in Canada, the fight over Enbridge’s Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline has unfolded in much the same way, with green groups appealing to politicians to reject Northern Gateway.

However, the mainstream Keystone XL and Northern Gateway campaigns operate on a flawed assumption that the climate movement can compel our elected leaders to respond to the climate crisis with nothing more than an effective communications strategy. Mainstream political parties in both the US and Canada are tied to and dependent on the fossil fuel industry and corporate capitalism. As seen in similar campaigns in 2009 to pass a climate bill in the United States and to ratify an international climate treaty in Copenhagen, the system is rigged against us. Putting Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the keystone of the archway creates a flawed narrative that if we, as grassroots groups, work hard enough to stack the building blocks correctly to support them, then elected officials will do what we want. Social change happens when local communities lead, and only then will politicians follow. While we must name and acknowledge power holders like Obama, our movement needs to empower local communities to make decisions and take action on the causes of the climate crisis in their backyards.

Because of the assumption that the climate movement can trust even “sympathetic” politicians like Obama, these campaigns rely on lifting up one project above all else. Certain language used has made it seem like Keystone XL is an extreme project, with unusual fraud and other injustices associated with it. Indeed the Keystone XL project is extreme and unjust, as is every fossil fuel project and every piece of the extraction economy. While, for example, the conflict of interests between the State Department, TransCanada and Environmental Resources Management in the United States, and Enbridge and federal politicians in Canada, must be publicized, it should be clear that this government/industry relationship is the norm, not the exception.

The “game over for climate” narrative is also problematic. With both the Keystone and Northern Gateway campaigns, it automatically sets up a hierarchy of projects and extractive types that will inevitably pit communities against each other. Our movement can never question if Keystone XL is worse than Flanagan South (an Enbridge pipeline running from Illinois to Oklahoma), or

whether tar sands, fracking or mountaintop removal coal mining is worse. We must reject all these forms of extreme energy for their effects on the climate and the injustices they bring to the people at every stage of the extraction process. Our work must be broad so as to connect fights across the continent into a movement that truly addresses the root causes of social, economic, and climate injustice. We must call for what we really need – the end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure and extraction. The pipeline placed yesterday in British Columbia, the most recent drag lines added in Wyoming, and the fracking wells built in Pennsylvania need to be the last ones ever built. And we should say that.

This narrative has additionally set up a make-or-break attitude about these pipeline fights that risks that the movement will contract and lose people regardless of the decision on them. The Keystone XL and Northern Gateway fights have engaged hundreds of thousands of people, with many embracing direct action and civil disobedience tactics for the first time. This escalation and level of engagement is inspiring. But the absolutist “game over” language chances to lose many of them.

If Obama approves the Keystone XL pipeline, what’s to stop many from thinking that this is in fact “game over” for the climate?

And if Obama rejects Keystone XL, what’s to stop many from thinking that the climate crisis is therefore solved? We need those using the “game over” rhetoric to lay out the climate crisis’ root causes – because just as one project is not the end of humanity, stopping one project will not stop runaway climate change.

The fights over Keystone XL and Northern Gateway have been undoubtedly inspiring. We are seeing the beginnings of the escalation necessary to end extreme energy extraction, stave off the worst effects of the climate crisis, and make a just transition to equitable societies. Grassroots groups engaging in and training for direct action such as the Tar Sands Blockade, Great Plains Tar Sands

Resistance, the Unist’ot’en Camp, and Moccasins on the Ground have shown us how direct action can empower local communities and push establishment green groups to embrace bolder tactics. Our movement is indeed growing, and people are willing to put their bodies on the line; an April poll by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication found one in eight Americans would engage in civil disobedience around global warming.

However, before the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway mainstream campaigns come to an end, we all must recognize the dangers of having an archway approach to movement building. It is the danger of relying on political power-holders, cutting too narrow campaigns, excluding a systemic analysis of root causes, and, ultimately, failing to create a broad-based movement. We must begin to discuss and develop our steps on how we should shift our strategy, realign priorities, escalate direct action, support local groups and campaigns, and keep as many new activists involved as possible.

We are up against the world’s largest corporations, who are attempting to extract, transport and burn fossil fuels at an unprecedented rate, all as the climate crisis spins out of control. The climate justice movement should have no keystone because we must match them everywhere they are – and they are everywhere. To match them, we need a movement of communities all across the continent and the world taking direct action to stop the extraction industry, finding community-based solutions, and addressing the root causes of the climate crisis.