Category Archives: Climate activists

Bill McKibben: “An odd silence…at the end of humanity’s hottest year (yet)”

[BenIndy Contributor Kathy Kerridge: An essay about the biggest story of the year…]

From The Crucial Years, a Substack by Bill McKibben, December 28, 2023

Bill McKibben, Author, educator, and environmental activist; a founder of 350.org and Third Act.

The world—its politics, its economy, and its journalism—has trouble coping with the scale of the climate crisis. We can’t quite wrap our collective head around it, which has never been clearer to me than in these waning days of 2023.

Because the most important thing that happened this year was the heat. By far. It was hotter than it has been in at least 125,000 years on this planet. Every month since May was the hottest ever recorded. Ocean temperatures set a new all-time mark, over 100 degrees. Canada burned, filling the air above our cities with smoke.

And yet you really wouldn’t know it from reading the wrap-ups of the year’s news now appearing on one website after another.

Earlier today, for instance, the Times published an essay by investment banker and Obama consigliere Steven Rattner on “ten charts that mattered in 2023.” That’s the most establishment voice imaginable, in the most establishment spot. And the global temperature curve did make the list—at #10, well behind graphs about the fall in inflation, the president’s approval levels, the number of Trump indictments, the surge in immigrants, and the speed with with the GOP defenestrated Kevin McCarthy.

Indeed, yesterday the Times and the Post both published fine stories about 2023’s record temperatures, but they were odd: in each case, they centered on whether the year was enough to show that the climate crisis was “accelerating.” It’s an interesting question, drawing mainly on a powerful new paper by James Hansen (one that readers of this newsletter found out about last winter), but the premise of the reporting, if you take a step back, is kind of wild. Because the climate crisis is already crashing down on us. It doesn’t require “acceleration” to be the biggest—by orders of magnitude—dilemma facing our species.

In a sense, though, that’s the problem. Those stories in the Times and Post were a way to search for a new angle to a story that doesn’t change quite fast enough to count as news. (In geological terms, we’re warming at hellish pace; but that’s not how the 24/7 news cycle works.) It’s been record-global-hot every day for months now: the first few of those days got some coverage, but at a certain point editors, and then readers, begin to tune out. We’re programmed—by evolution, doubtless, and in the case of journalism by counting clicks—to look for novelty and for conflict. Climate change seems inexorable, which is the opposite of how we think about news.

The war in Gaza, by contrast, fits our defintions perfectly. It is an extraordinary tragedy, it changes day by day, and it is the definition of conflict. And perhaps there’s something we can do about it (which is why many of us have been trying to build support for a ceasefire). So, rightly, it commands our attention. But in a sense, it is the very familiarity of the war that makes it easy for us to focus on it; “mideast conflict,” like “inflation” or “presidential elections,” is an easily-accessed template in our minds. The images of the horror make us, as they should, feel uncomfortable—but it’s a familiar discomfort. The despair, and the resolve, we feel are familiar too; even the subparts of the story fit into familiar grooves (a New York Times reader would be forgiven for thinking the main front of the war is being played out in Harvard Yard, between free speech advocates and cancel culture warriors). Next year seems likely to be another orgy of familiarity: Joe Biden and Donald Trump, yet again.

Climate change has its own familiar grooves—above all the fight with the fossil fuel industry, which played out again at COP 28 in Dubai. But so much of the story is actually brand new: as this year showed, we’re literally in uncharted territory, dealing with temperatures no human society has ever dealt with before. And to head off the worst, we are going to require an industrial transition on a scale we’ve never seen before: there were signs this year that that transition has begun (by midsummer we were installing a gigawatt worth of solar panels a day) but it will have to go much much faster.

These changes—the physical ones, and the political and economic ones—are almost inconceivable to us. That’s my point; they don’t fit our easy templates.

And the point of this newsletter, now and in the years to come, is to try and explain the speed of our crisis, and explain what it dictates about the speed of our response. It’s a story I’ve been trying to put into perspective for 35 years now (the End of Nature was published in 1989, the first book about this crisis) and I’ll keep looking for new ways in. As the climate scientist Andrew Dessler put it in one year-end account, “The only really important question is, ‘How many more years like this we have to have before the reality of how bad climate change is breaks into the public’s consciousness?'”

Thank you for being part of this ongoing effort to break into that consciouness, and—well, happy new year. It’s coming at us, we might as well make it count.

In other energy and climate news:

+The LNG export fight has finally broken through into the big papers. The Times assigned three reporters to the story, and they published a long-awaited account the day after Christmas, under the headline “A Natural Gas Project Is Biden’s Next Big Climate Test.”

The decision forces the Biden administration to confront a central contradiction within its energy policies: It wants nations to stop burning the fossil fuels that are dangerously heating the planet and has heralded a global agreement reached in Dubai earlier this month to transition away from fossil fuels. But at the same time, the United States is producing record amounts of crude oil, is the leading exporter of liquefied natural gas and may approve an additional 17 export facilities, including CP2.

Since early September, activists have lit up TikTok and Instagram, delivered petitions to the Biden administration and met directly with senior White House climate officials to urge Mr. Biden to reject CP2. Jane Fonda recorded a video for Greenpeace calling on the public to work against the project.

“We have enough gas and export terminals to supply everything in the world right now,” said Naomi Yoder, a staff scientist at Healthy Gulf, one of many local groups working to stop the construction of new natural gas infrastructure in the area. “There is no need for additional facilities.”

+A favorite video to end the year. The New York City Labor Chorus, with Jeffrey Vogel doing much of the work, has redrafted the Hallelujah Chorus to be about our beautiful if troubled earth. Enjoy.


Subscribe to Bill McKibben’s Substack here. His newsletter is free, and, in his own words, “if you can’t afford the modest and voluntary subscription fee that underwrites it, then don’t worry. If it wouldn’t be a hardship—thank you!”

Gulf Youth Activists say ‘To fight climate change, stop offshore drilling. Now.’

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Kathy Kerridge: We’ve just gone through the hottest summer ever and are seeing severe weather disasters almost daily.  Biden canceled drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  Now he must stop more drilling in the Gulf.  Please read this excellent op-ed by Gulf Youth Activists.]

Photo by Maria Lupan on Unsplash.

Houston Chronicle, by Armon Alex and Maggie Peacock, September 9, 2023

This summer set all kinds of records, but they aren’t the kind of records we should be proud of.

First, we had the hottest June ever recorded on Earth. July 4 became the globe’s hottest day in history — until that record was shattered in the following days. And here in Texas, we’ve just finished the most extreme summer yet, with weeks straight of unusually high temperatures.

The reality is, we know exactly what’s making these life-threatening heat waves worse and more common: fossil fuel-driven climate change. And despite the widespread data, reports and studies that all confirm the root of the issue, we have leaders in the United States and across the world ignoring the solutions and continuing to push us to the point of no return.

We’ve been given a dire warning — the continued reliance on fossil fuels is incompatible with a liveable future. But despite this clear instruction from the world’s leading scientists, the Biden administration has issued numerous oil and gas permit approvals, including liquefied natural gas projects, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Willow project and multiple leases for offshore drilling.

Despite receiving the necessary approvals to begin construction, these projects will cause irreparable damage to the public’s health and the climate. The estimated emissions of the Willow project alone — the equivalent of about 4 percent of U.S. annual emissions — should be enough of a concern to stop all other oil and gas permit approvals. Unfortunately, there’s another looming carbon bomb on the Biden administration’s list.

This month, the Biden administration will release its Five Year Plan for offshore oil and gas drilling in Alaskan and Gulf waters. The draft plan proposed anywhere from zero to 11 potential leases — 10 here in the Gulf of Mexico and one in the Cook Inlet of Alaska — which is in direct opposition to President Joe Biden’s campaign commitments to end new drilling on our public lands and waters.  If Biden and his administration decide to move forward with all 11 leases, the result could be anywhere from the same amount of carbon emissions as the Willow project to 10 times as much.

Even though Biden has the authority to include no new leases in the final plan, many — including us  — are worried that this won’t be the case, especially given recent remarks by the plan’s head. U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said that when it comes to drilling for oil and gas, “I’m not running this department for the progressives who want to keep it (oil) in the ground. This is for the whole country.”

In response to Haaland, we respectfully say that this country cannot afford more oil and gas drilling while we face this urgent moment in the climate crisis. The oil and gas industry doesn’t need access to any more of our public lands and waters; they already hold nearly 12 million acres of non-producing federal land with 9,000 approved but unused production permits. Any new leases for offshore drilling could lock in additional oil and gas production for decades to come — going way beyond Biden’s goal to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The vast majority of us will not experience any benefits from new leasing in the Five Year Plan. Instead, the oil and gas companies that are driving our planet to destruction and making record-breaking profits while doing so will win from the continued use of fossil fuels. Coastal communities such as ours in the Gulf will still be forced to live with the consequences. We will face the brunt of the pollution — swimming in oil-slicked water, eating contaminated fish, and suffering from devastating consequences to our health and environment.

We cannot continue to accept the status quo of drilling for oil and gas, especially when our communities here in Texas and nationwide face record heat, extreme weather disasters and deadly air conditions exacerbated by the continued use of fossil fuels. Biden must listen to the United Nations secretary-general, who has called for “ceasing licensing or funding of new oil and gas” to avert the most catastrophic climate change impacts. He must heed the call of the majority of Americans who oppose new offshore drilling off of our coasts.

We urge Biden, Haaland and the rest of the administration to choose to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels and finalize a plan with no wiggle room for new leases for offshore drilling. Our oceans, climate, communities and future depend on it.

 Armon Alex and Maggie Peacock are co-founders of the Gulf of Mexico Youth Climate Summit and Youth Leadership Council, and are members of EarthEcho International. They live in Corpus Christi.

Judge rules in favor of Montana youths in landmark climate decision

Sariel Sandoval, member of the Bitterroot Salish, Upper Pend d’Oreille, and Diné Tribes, poses for a portrait in Berkeley, Ca. on Friday, July 28, 2023. Sandoval is one of 16 youth plaintiffs suing the state of Montana over its contributions to climate change. | Amy Osborne / The Washington Post.

The Washington Post, by Kate Selig, August 14, 2023

In the first ruling of its kind nationwide, a Montana state court decided Monday in favor of young people who alleged the state violated their right to a “clean and healthful environment” by promoting the use of fossil fuels.

The court determined that a provision in the Montana Environmental Policy Act has harmed the state’s environment and the young plaintiffs, by preventing Montana from considering the climate impacts of energy projects. The provision is accordingly unconstitutional, the court said.

The win, experts say, could energize the environmental movement and reshape climate litigation across the country, ushering in a wave of cases aimed at advancing action on climate change.

“People around the world are watching this case,” said Michael Gerrard, the founder of Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

The ruling represents a rare victory for climate activists who have tried to use the courts to push back against government policies and industrial activities they say are harming the planet. In this case, it involved 16 young Montanans, ranging in age from 5 to 22, who brought the nation’s first constitutional and first youth-led climate lawsuit to go to trial.

Though the cumulative number of climate cases around the world has more than doubled in the last five years, youth-led lawsuits in the United States have faced an uphill battle. Already, at least 14 of these cases have been dismissed, according to a July report from the United Nations Environment Program and the Sabin Center. The report said about three-quarters of the approximately 2,200 ongoing or concluded cases were filed before courts in the United States.

Experts said the Montana youth had an advantage in the state’s constitution, which guarantees a right to a “clean and healthful environment.”

Coal is critical to the state’s economy, and Montana is home to the largest recoverable coal reserves in the country. The plaintiff’s attorneys say the state has never denied a permit for a fossil fuel project.

Across five days of emotional testimony in June, the youths made claims about injuries they have suffered as a result of climate change. A 15-year-old with asthma described himself as “a prisoner in my own home” when isolating with covid during a period of intense wildfire smoke. Rikki Held, the 22-year-old plaintiff for whom the lawsuit is named, detailed how extreme weather has hurt her family’s ranch.

Held testified that a favorable judgment would make her more hopeful for the future. “I know that climate change is a global issue, but Montana has to take responsibility for our part in that,” she said.

Attorneys for the state countered that Montana’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is small. If the law in question were altered or overturned, Montana Assistant Attorney General Michael Russell said, there would be “no meaningful impact or appreciable effect” on the climate.

The state began and rested its defense on the same day, bringing the trial to an unexpectedly early close on June 20. In a pivot from its expected defense disputing the climate science behind the plaintiffs’ case, the state focused instead on arguing that the legislature should weigh in on the contested law, not the judiciary. Russell derided the case in his closing statement as a “week-long airing of political grievances that properly belong in the Legislature, not a court of law.”

Gerrard said the change in strategy came as a surprise: “Everyone expected them to put on a more vigorous defense,” he said. “And they may have concluded that the underlying science of climate change was so strong that they didn’t want to contest it.”

Though the state is expected to appeal the decision, experts said the favorable verdict for the youths could influence how judges approach similar cases in other states and prompt them to apply “judicial courage” in addressing climate change. The nonprofit law firm Our Children’s Trust, which represents the plaintiffs, has taken legal action on behalf of youths in all 50 states, and has cases pending in four other states.

Juliana v. United States, a 2015 case brought by Our Children’s Trust that drew international attention, is also back on path to trial after facing repeated setbacks. The case took aim at the federal government, alleging that it had violated the 21 youths’ rights to life, liberty and property, as well as failed to protect public trust resources, in taking actions that contribute to climate change.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Phil Gregory said the court’s verdict could empower youth everywhere to take to the courts to secure their futures.

“There are political decisions being made without regard to the best scientific evidence and the effects they will have on our youngest generations,” he said. “This is a monumental decision.”

Climate activists victorious after using a necessity defense

Landmark Win in ‘Fight for Habitable Future’ as Jury Refuses to Convict Climate Activists Who Presented Necessity Defense

“When citizens are told the truth about the climate crisis—which is the first of Extinction Rebellion’s demands—they take appropriate and responsible action, as our jury did, and we thank them.”
Common Dreams, by Jake Johnson, February 28, 2020
The so-called “Zenith Five” in court. “Zenith Energy Corporation, and the city’s inability to shut it down, is the poster child for what is wrong with our system,” defendant Margaret Butler said in a statement Thursday. (Photo: @RickRappaport2020)

Environmentalists celebrated a landmark victory in the “fight for a habitable future” after a Portland, Oregon jury on Thursday refused to convict five Extinction Rebellion activists—including valve turner Ken Ward—who presented the climate necessity defense at their trial for blockading a train track used by Zenith Energy to transport crude oil.

The activists emphasized that the win was only partial because the criminal trespassing case ended in a mistrial rather than a full acquittal. Just one of six jurors voted to convict the activists while the five others voted to acquit.

But Ward said the jury’s refusal to convict even when presented with video evidence of the trespassing “is a vindication of our call for climate activists to use a climate necessity defense,” which states that it is at times justified to break the law to combat the planetary crisis.

“When citizens are told the truth about the climate crisis—which is the first of Extinction Rebellion’s demands—they take appropriate and responsible action, as our jury did, and we thank them,” said Ward.

The five activists were arrested last April for building a garden on the tracks of Houston-based Zenith Energy’s railroad terminal in Portland to protest expansion of the fossil fuel infrastructure.

“The activists had been protesting the expansion of the oil terminal at a time when they say we should be dismantling fossil fuel infrastructure, not creating more,” the local radio station KOPB-FM reported at the time. “A few small mounds of soil extend onto the rail line—not much, but apparently enough to make it unusable. Activists also sat on the tracks.”

“Zenith Energy Corporation, and the city’s inability to shut it down, is the poster child for what is wrong with our system,” defendant Margaret Butler said in a statement Thursday. “We need to take note of the lessons learned by the labor movement—mass civil disobedience works. The climate crisis is a workers issue, we need to unite to shut down business as usual. Right now.”

Lauren Regan, lead attorney for the group of activists, said it is now up to the Multnomah County district attorney’s office to decide whether to re-prosecute the climate campaigners.

“The jury’s inability to convict the activists,” said Regan, “reflects the prevailing community consciousness which is unlikely to punish climate defenders for acts of nonviolent resistance.”