The People’s Climate March made history on September 21 when 400,000 people paraded through the streets of mid-Manhattan. “It’s a glimpse of the movement we need,” Naomi Klein said afterwards. A day later, Flood Wall Street protesters converged at the tip of Manhattan and poured onto Broadway to carry out nonviolent direct actions that tied up the financial district for hours.
But now that the largest-ever climate change protest is behind us, what can people do to build a climate justice movement that can bring about far-reaching change over the coming decades? The Indypendent invited a half-dozen grassroots organizers from New York and elsewhere to share their thoughts.
Fight the Frackers
By Kim Fraczek
When we marched on September 21, we made it clear that it was time to put a stop to new fossil fuel projects and begin making a rapid transition to renewable energy sources. However, that was only one day. We have to continue organizing against these projects in a sustained way if we are going to change our energy system.
Here in the New York City area, the first thing we need to do is get informed about plans to build a massive liquified natural gas (LNG) facility called Port Ambrose several miles offshore from Long Beach, N.Y., and just up the coast from the Rockaways. Liberty Natural Gas — a secretive corporation of nameless backers based in the Cayman Islands — claims Port Ambrose would be used to import gas, but it’s clear that the intent is to export gas to Europe and Asia at enormous profit. Exporting would allow companies to obtain higher prices for gas, which would lead to more fracking in the Northeast.
Liquified natural gas is a highly volatile substance, making Port Ambrose an obvious terrorist target. To build such a facility near New York City is reckless. Plus, an offshore wind farm has been proposed for the same area — we know we need to move to renewable energy, and Long Island residents themselves want wind power, but the two projects cannot coexist. So what do we do?
Step one is to call Governor Cuomo at 518-474-8390 and tell him to veto Port Ambrose. Additionally, come to our monthly NYC Grassroots Alliance meetings that focus on fracking issues at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. We have a real shot at defeating this port if we work together. The environmental impact statement on the project is due out around the winter holidays, and we need all hands on deck to send a clear message that we do not want LNG — and then we can work together for offshore wind that’s built right. Sign up for the Sane Energy Project newsletter on our website to remain in the loop.
Second, get involved with our Food Not Fracking Alliance. There is compelling evidence that fracking poisons our land and groundwater, harming our ability to grow healthy produce, dairy, wine grapes and other agricultural products. By opposing fracking, we’re standing up for New York State’s proud tradition of farms and vineyards.
New York’s future should be as the land of organic food and wine, not as an industrial wasteland for Wall Street profits. Let’s work together to build a shopping list on our Food Not Fracking website of farmers, food distributors and shopkeepers working to keep New York State’s farms safe from toxins and promote a sustainable economy based on healthy local food. Sign up for Food Not Fracking’s emails, join our Facebook page or check our website for details on an upcoming release event for a book by Dr. Michelle Bamberger on page or check our website for details on an upcoming release event for a book by Dr. Michelle Bamberger on fracking's impact on our family, pets and food.
Third, get the big picture on fracking in New York City and State by visiting our online interactive map of fracking infrastructure. There are at least 40 fracking infrastructure projects currently in the works in this state. You Are Here showcases existing and proposed fracking projects and links users with the frontline affected communities that are organizing at a local level. When we learn each other’s stories, we can build networks effectively, which is how we will make the road to a renewable and sustainable New York. Check out the map, tell your friends and reach out to a local community group in your own backyard.
Kim Fraczek is a coordinator at SANE Energy Project. For more information, see saneenergyproject.org and youarehereNYmap.org. To attend a meeting of the NYC Grassroots Alliance, see meetup.com/NYC-Grassroots-Alliance.
Flood Everywhere: Let’s Put de Blasio to the Test
By Sandy Nurse and Zak Solomon
Pulling off large-scale, unpermitted direct actions in New York City is difficult. We’re in the heart of global capital, and the NYPD doesn’t hesitate to act like a private army to defend the rights of the 1%.
Yet by nearly all accounts and metrics, Flood Wall Street on September 22 was an overwhelming success. As many as 3,000 protesters outmaneuvered the surprisingly docile NYPD to overtake the southern tip of Broadway at the iconic Wall Street Bull — creating an eight-hour-long transportation choke point in the Financial District and derailing traffic 14 blocks north to Chambers Street — presumably making financial “business as usual” on that day exceedingly difficult.
The protest held at its core an anti-capitalist critique of the climate crisis and major news outlets from CNN to Democracy Now! ran headlines like “Climate Change Protests on Wall Street,” allowing our message to infiltrate the national debate the day before more than 120 world leaders gathered in New York for the U.N. Climate Summit.
The day’s actions culminated with about 100 people (and a polar bear) being arrested during a sit-in at Broadway and Wall Street. As the last protester was escorted into a prisoner transport vehicle, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton emerged from a black sedan to stride briskly across the field. At that moment, our victory felt less than complete.
Perhaps the city had ceded this battle to us having determined how much more they had to lose on the battlefield of public relations. Imagine the alternate headlines: “De Blasio Marches for Climate, Then Cracks Heads on Wall Street — 1,000 Arrests.” This was too great a risk for a mayor elected on a platform of “progressive” reform, especially sandwiched between the People’s Climate March and the U.N. Summit. Instead the administration took the one-off disruption in stride and claimed credit the following day for prioritizing First Amendment rights over the free flow of traffic.
Regardless of the true intentions of the mayor and his police commissioner, it’s time for this city’s social justice community to take a fresh look at the landscape. The NYPD’s newfound sensitivity to appearances at high-profile events like Flood Wall Street suggest that we should be prepared to take full advantage of these opportunities in the future. From a strategic perspective, this means calling for bolder, more confrontational actions that are escalating at the scale of our global crisis. It means moving from mic-checks and roundabout marches to lockdowns and blockades. To be clear: it’s time to put this administration to the test.
At the same time — even more importantly — we must demand that the same rights and privileges be extended to all NYC residents. We must not allow the NYPD’s calculated leniency toward one group of mostly white, middle-class protesters to obscure the fact that low-income black and brown communities face constant violence from the NYPD. De Blasio’s first year in office has been marked by the police murder of Eric Garner, among many other instances of police brutality. In fact, two days before Flood Wall Street took place, pregnant woman Sandra Amezquita was violently slammed to the ground by police in Sunset Park. This highlights the disparity that exists in our city and we must remind the mayor that until police brutality ends for everyone, it has ended for no one.
And still, the overarching questions we need to stay focused on remain with us. How will state repression and police violence escalate amid worsening climate change? How does the militarization of local police foreshadow the excessive use of force during future resource scarcities? Is it possible for a broad-based social movement to stave off climate chaos using only nonviolent direct action and the building of sustainable alternatives?
A climate justice movement worthy of its name cannot ignore these issues. In fact, they demand for us to be more daring and more resolved in our struggles.
Sandy Nurse and Zak Solomon were two of the organizers of Flood Wall Street. They are small business owners and community project organizers in Brooklyn, NY.
Indigenous Wisdom Opens New Paths of Resistance
By Pennie Opal Plant
Indigenous communities around the world have been devastated by corrupt fossil fuel corporations for many decades and very few non-indigenous people seemed to notice or care. The genocides, the stereotyping and the lack of respect by the mainstream made these important and powerful voices essentially mute — until now.
The voices of indigenous peoples and other heavily affected communities were at the forefront of the People’s Climate March. However, it’s going to take much more than 400,000 people hitting the streets on a single day in one city to change the broken economic and political systems that have created the climate crisis.
It’s vital that we continue to stay current on climate science research as well as remain aware of the various manifestations of the climate crisis occurring around the world. When we are well informed, people who don’t understand how delicately balanced and interconnected our planet’s climate systems are are more likely to listen to our concerns.
We can also take action where we are. In 2012, indigenous women leaders sparked the Idle No More movement across Canada when the federal government in that country threatened to abrogate long-standing treaty rights of First Nations people. Idle No More has since gone international and continues to inspire opposition to extreme energy projects.
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, our Idle No More group working in solidarity with frontline refinery activists organized “Connect the Dots: Refinery Healing Walks” last year. These were a series of walks, one each month for four months, from seven to 14 miles each, from one refinery community to another. Led by Native American elders in prayer, these walks were highly successful in bringing awareness to the dangers of the refineries, the climate crisis the fossil fuel industry is causing and ways for people to get involved in solving the problems. We have made a commitment to organize the walks for a total of four years, with the last walk in 2017.
Organizing work continues on the ground in the refinery corridor, which has become an important destination for tar sands oil from Canada and fracked Bakken crude from North Dakota, both of which are highly polluting even by the norms of the oil industry. In this milieu, the predominantly people of color city of Richmond has become a focal point. Chevron is seeking a $1 billion expansion of its refinery there, which is already the largest stationary emitter of greenhouse gases in California. Years of community opposition have forced the world’s 12th largest corporation to scale back the size of its proposed project while a progressive city government has pushed ahead with programs that emphasize clean energy systems and green jobs.
Our struggle for climate justice in the Bay Area is just one example of what good people working together can do. We also must be prepared to join together for more large actions to show our commitment, our solidarity and our love for the continuance of life. We must be relentless, resilient, powerfully nonviolent and kind to one another. The beautiful future that we are all weaving together requires the best in us to create the best for those yet to come.
By Blake Sugarman
All around the world, students are telling their universities the same thing: investing in fossil fuels is a bet against our future. Coal, oil and gas companies are wrecking the planet’s climate and associating with them is no longer acceptable. Divest our endowment from these destructive companies.
New York University promotes itself as a “sustainability leader.” That’s why student activists like myself have been pressuring the powers-that-be at NYU to live up to that claim. We want NYU to recognize the contradiction between its sustainability efforts and its environmentally damaging investments.
October 16 was a landmark moment in our campaign. For the first time, we got to present the case for divestment to people with the institutional power to make it a reality. NYU has formed a “divestment subcommittee” within the University Senate to consider our demand and on this day they heard us out.
This is good news for our campaign, but we did not get to this place without a struggle. After almost a year of trudging through NYU’s narrow bureaucratic channels with little progress, we learned a valuable lesson: sometimes it takes escalation to be taken seriously.
John Sexton, the president of NYU, ignored our request for a private meeting with him until we took direct action to call him out in public. At Sexton’s “town hall” meeting last April, we unraveled giant scrolls with more than 1,500 petition signatures calling on NYU to divest its $3 billion endowment. With so many concerned student, faculty and alumni names displayed so boldly, it was impossible for Sexton to ignore us any longer.
The action earned us a private meeting with both Sexton and NYU’s chief financial officer Marty Dorph. Sexton agreed to our demands of 1) putting fossil fuel divestment on the University Senate agenda, 2) creating a subcommittee on divestment within the Financial Committee of the University Senate and 3) ensuring that we are able to present our proposal to the Board of Trustees in spring of 2015. These concessions are unprecedented for a student group at NYU.
NYU’s 66-member Board of Trustees is filled with 1 percenters from finance, real estate, corporate media and prestigious law firms. If we can get this elite group to publicly disavow the fossil fuel industry it will be big news for the movement. NYU would be by far the largest school to divest yet. It may seem unlikely, but with groups like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund announcing that they will divest from fossil fuels, we are more hopeful than ever.
Momentum is building. The People’s Climate March inspired many new climate activists to get involved across the country, and we’ve seen the effects on campus. Our core membership has doubled in the past few weeks.
Fossil fuel divestment offers climate activists a tangible goal. It’s a local approach to a global problem that goes beyond small lifestyle changes. We intend to change the public conversation. It’s past time for people to see climate change as a moral and a political issue. That’s why we draw inspiration from the anti-apartheid divestment movement of the 1980s. The tactic has proven effective before.
College students are at the forefront of the divestment movement. This is unsurprising. Students have always been on the front lines of social change, but divestment is far more inclusive than that. Anyone who is part of a religious group or a labor union or lives in a city or state with a pension fund (i.e. just about everyone) can push for divestment in their community. To date, 181 institutions, including 13 U.S. universities, as well as more than 600 individuals have divested over $50 billion in fossil fuel assets. Your organization could be next. To learn more about how you can get involved, see gofossilfree.org.
Blake Sugarman graduated from New York University last spring. He is a climate activist, artist and a member of NYU Divest.
Skip the Nuclear Kool-Aid, We Want Renewables
By Mark Haim
Once upon a time, nuclear salesmen promised us limitless, clean energy that would be “too cheap to meter.” Well, in the ensuing decades, the so-called “peaceful atom” has traveled a long, circuitous route, experiencing along the way technology failures, phenomenally expensive accidents, unresolved waste problems and — the industry’s true Achilles’ Heel — massive cost overruns that led to the cancelation of the majority of planned reactors, forcing utilities to write off countless tens of billions. The collapse of the industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s was cited in Forbes Magazine in 1985 as “the largest managerial disaster in business history, a disaster on a monumental scale.”
The industry has never recovered, and, despite bullish projections of a nuclear renaissance made a decade ago, only a tiny handful of new reactors are under construction today. These are highly subsidized by both ratepayers and taxpayers, as Wall Street won’t even consider investments as risky as new nukes without federal loan guarantees. They’re also behind schedule and over budget.
But hope dies hard in the hearts, and on the balance sheets, of those companies pushing for a nuclear revival. And, in a time of growing concern over climate change, their public relations machine has been working overtime to brand nuclear as a green alternative to CO2-belching coal and gas. In the real world, however, nuclear is just too slow and expensive to effectively address the climate crisis, which requires dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions this decade. Solar, wind, other renewables and efficiency improvements — reducing the energy needed per function — are not only safer, but also faster and more affordable.
The climate movement is on the right track as it seeks to halt the expansion of fossil fuel exploration, extraction and transportation, and presses for the rapid phase-out of coal-fired power plants and other uses of carbon fuels throughout the economy.
It needs to be just as clear what it’s for. This must be more than simply putting a price on carbon. Numerous studies, including those by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Ecofys looking at the global picture, as well as by Stanford engineering professor Mark Jacobson, who focused on the United States, have demonstrated the potential to phase out fossil fuels rapidly, reaching levels between 77 and 100 percent renewable by 2050. Accomplishing this, of course, requires focusing investment capital where it is most productive, and that means renewables and efficiency, not nuclear power.
Activists need to build broad coalitions to push policies that will facilitate the rapid transition to a carbon-free and nuclear-free future. The United States must follow the lead of Germany, which has committed itself to both the conversion to renewables and the phase-out of all dirty energy, including nuclear power. They’re succeeding in a much less sunny and windy location. Surely the renewable-rich United States can as well, but this isn’t going to happen by itself.
The climate movement needs to press for both incentives and mandates to increase investment in clean energy. The public generally supports green, renewable energy, and, when put to a vote, renewable energy standards (RES) usually score landslide wins. There is, however, growing pushback coming from the industry and Koch-funded groups including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). They are pushing the repeal of RES laws via the so-called “Electricity Freedom Act.”
Aside from seeking more green energy through stronger RES laws, and opposing ALEC, activists can:
- Support adoption of more stringent energy efficiency codes for both new and existing buildings.
- Support net metering and feed-in tariffs incentivizing more distributed renewable generations.
- Support utility-scale renewable energy projects, including offshore wind and the wheeling of power generated in wind-rich regions, like the High Plains, via efficient high-voltage DC lines.
- Rally behind sustainable living education and projects to implement this in all aspects of life, from local food production to cycling, mass transit, eco-villages, etc.
The movement must work on public education, public policy, divestment campaigns and more to challenge the power of the fossil fuel industry, as well as to beat back false “solutions,” like nuclear power, that retard our ability to effectively address the climate crisis and present their own set of serious problems.
Mark Haim serves as director of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks in Columbia, Missouri, a grassroots nonprofit that does education and advocacy at the interface of peace, justice and sustainability.
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