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So many thanks to all who work for change
The white-haired woman in the picture above is one of my great heroes in the world. Her name is Heather Booth, she’s 77, and a board member at Third Act, which helped organize last Tuesday’s massive day of protest against the fossil-fueled banks, coordinating 102 demonstrations in 30 states and (see above) the District of Columbia, where the Rocking Chair Rebellion shut down four banks for the day.
When she was a college student in the 1960s, Booth went south to register voters as part of Freedom Summer. Back north, she spearheaded the formation of the Jane Collective, finding abortion services for women in the years before Roe. She founded the Midwest Academy, training generations of organizers, and helped start the Citizen Labor Energy Coaliton, an early effort to bring together environmentalists and workers. And a dozen other groups. When she was helping lead street theater outside Chase Bank in DC on Tuesday, maybe she flashed back to 1965, when she was arrested for protesting banks that supported South African apartheid. She’s done it all with good humor and good heart, and I am incredibly proud to know her.
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But I was just as proud of a whole other group of people who took part on Tuesday—first-time protesters in their 60s and 70s and 80s who found a voice and began to speak out. There were a hundred residents of a retirement community in suburban Boston, and a hundred retirees in Seattle, and—the list is very long, and they’ve been writing me all week to say thanks, even though they’re the ones who did the work. Thanks for letting us stand up for what matters, thanks for giving us a way to make ourselves heard. Their thanks really should go to the remarkable team at Third Act, led by Anna Goldstein, who coordinated the day with aplomb and grace, but I was happy to take the kudos.
Because protest serves many purposes.
One is to put pressure on its targets. This takes time, usually: Chase and Citi and Wells-Fargo and Bank of America won’t change overnight, though it is worth remembering that the banks that Booth fought over apartheid did change, and indeed that apartheid vanished.
One is to shift the zeitgeist, the sense of what’s normal and natural and obvious. This can be slow work too, but when it happens it works magic: suddenly big and rapid change is possible. Here’s some Third Act types spending all night outside the DC banks: everyone who came by their vigil had to think a little harder about climate change. (I didn’t spend the night; it was a real honor to get to spend a little while with them, though).
That zeitgeist shifting is easier with great art—with something to appeal to the visceral side of the human brain and heart, the one that needs something more than statistics and charts. David Solnit is a genius at enabling regular people to produce beautiful iconography. Humor helps too. Here’s the Bigfoot that headlined the Portland demonstration, (photo courtesy of Stop the Money Pipeline, an invaluable partner).
Done right, protest also builds movement unity. So many groups came together—53 in fact—to pull off this giant day of action, from the very young to the very old. This is not the old-fashioned enviro movement, but one that understands the interplay of street action and congressional lobbying and brand pressure. This picture shows Ben Jealous, once the leader of the NAACP and now the new head of the Sierra Club; veteran campaigner Rev Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, and the new head of Greenpeace Ebony Martin after they talked at the DC rally. That’s serious firepower. More to the point, it’s serious brainpower. Banks underestimate them at their peril.
But protest also changes the people who engage in it. It’s an easy moment to feel very pessimistic, even despairing. But coming together with others to demand change can change that into a feeling of determination. And that’s what makes activism effective.
And enormous thanks to all who helped last week (including the ten who came back the next day in DC to get arrested inside Chase Bank!), and to all who will help next week and next month and next year. If Heather Booth proves anything, it’s that you keep on pushing and see what happens!
In other climate and energy news:
+As the Financial Times points out, SUVs are really stupid.
SUVs evolved from the second world war jeep, but their worldwide numbers have jumped nearly sevenfold since 2010, to about 330 million. (This includes “crossovers”, car-like platforms on to which larger, SUV bodies are grafted.) Given that SUVs consume one-fifth more oil than medium-sized cars, they now emit about three times more carbon than the UK, per the IEA, which also says that they “have helped keep transport emissions rising “at an annual average rate of nearly 1.7 per cent from 1990 to 2021, faster than any other end-use sector”. Passenger vehicles already account for about 9 per cent of all global emissions.
+In Canada, students at McMaster University on hunger strike for fossil fuel divestment
Students were told the hunger strike would not expedite a divestment process because financial decisions are too complicated. "The unwillingness of the university to respond to democratic pressure from students, faculty, politicians, community members, and NGOs makes clear that the university does not care what is morally right or democratic, but is only concerned with the bottom line and financial gain," they said.
+A particularly fine account of Jimmy Carter’s solar panels from the White House!
When Carter had the solar panels installed 44 years ago, he said the act would “either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.”
+Walden Bank—new, online, green, insured
+A group of doctors led by Linda Rudolph took to the prestigious pages of the New England Journal of Medicine to call on the healthcare industry to divest from fossil fuel
The U.K. Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and the Canadian Medical Association have pledged to sell their shares in fossil fuel companies.19 These actions communicate that physicians are keenly aware of the huge health impacts of climate change and are eager to take steps to reduce their own involvement in supporting an industry that bears much responsibility.
The investment assets of these associations pale in comparison to those of large hospital and health care systems, estimated at over $280 billion.20 A recent study found that just six Boston health systems collectively have nearly $9 billion in financial investments, which are estimated to generate 3.5 times as many emissions as their reported energy usage
+A fascinating new paper in the Harvard Environmental Law Review asks whether oil companies could be charged with homicide—after all, climate change kills people, and they knew and lied about the extent of the crisis for decades
But the new paper argues that oil companies’ climate research and continued fight to delay climate regulations amount to a “culpable mental state” that has inflicted harm on people, including death.
“Once you start using those terms, you come to realize that’s criminal law,” said Donald Braman, a law professor at George Washington University and Arkush’s co-author. “Culpable mental state causing harm is criminal conduct, and if they kill anybody, that’s homicide.”
+Bryan Walsh, at Vox, has a brief for innovation as the antidote to ‘doomism.’ It ends with an interesting coda that can be taken two ways, I think
Our descendants can one day look back on the present with the same mix of sympathy and relief with which we should look back on our past. How, they’ll wonder, did they ever live like that?
+Bill Moomaw has long been heralding the climate benefits of big trees, and now he’s teamed up with another old friend—old grwoth sleuth Bob Leverett—to tell the story of the tallest tree in New England
Taller than a 15-story building, Pine 58 has captured nearly 20 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stored six tons of elemental carbon in the wood of its trunk, branches, and roots. Additional soil carbon has accumulated as fallen trees, branches, and needles decompose and networks of carbon rich fungi connect tree roots throughout the soil. From root tips to pine cones, this tree is a carbon champion.
Unlike the two of us standing in its shadow, Pine 58 is barely middle-aged. Barring storms or saws, this pine has at least another century of life ahead of it. Such trees should not be rare in our forests, but they are. Nearly 96 percent of all American forests are younger than Pine 58, even though most tree species can live for two hundred years or much longer. And throughout their lifespans, trees accumulate carbon.
+Pumped hydro storage really is one of the most interesting ways to store energy
+Music: Sea and the Mint offer a rocker of a different kind
+Adam McKay, who brought us Don’t Look Up, has an essay about the maddening decision of the Biden administration to approve a vast new oil complex in Alaska:
At first blush, every aspect of this move reads as madness. But I believe this decision, and the almost total lack of curiosity or concern surrounding it, demonstrates something much more dangerous than foolishness or imbalance. It shows that many entrenched political forces can only understand the rapid warming of the planet as just another issue that polls indicate some people are concerned about. For these leaders, the climate crisis is placed neatly against traditional concerns, such as the economy, rising gas prices, or an angered donor class. It’s a level of institutional blindness and warped incentives that should scare the crap out of all of us.
+Credit to the Department of Justice for backing communities suing Big Oil
On the campaign trail, President Biden pledged he would direct his attorney general to “strategically support” such lawsuits, but the department had allowed its Trump-era support of oil companies to remain in effect until today. To date, five federal appeals courts and 13 federal district courts have unanimously ruled against the fossil fuel industry’s arguments to avoid trials in state courts. Last year, the Supreme Court asked the Justice Department to express its views on the matter.
+A last-ditch oil project in Africa has the support of national governments, but the opposition of an awful lot of the people who live nearby. Excellent coverage by Abdi Latif Dahir in the Times.
+”Activism is Medicine”—and if that idea intrigues you, here’s an online course you can take
+The top 10 items on bucket lists most vulnerable to climate change: if for some reason you want to ‘bar hop in Miami Beach’ before you die, get in gear.
+Important work from a new group called SFOFExposed. The acronym stands for ‘state financial officers,’ and the ones in question are doing the bidding of Big Oil by opposing ‘woke capitalism,’ i.e. caring about the future of the economy.
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