Want to Combat Climate Change? Ignore Congress.

Congress comes back into session next week, but environmentalists and climate change activists have given up on the legislature. Instead, activists are planning to spur popular concern about these issues, until calls for change are so loud that Congress must listen.

Today, climate change reformer Bill McKibben will ask President Obama to reinstall a solar panel that first graced the White House roof during the Carter presidency. In the months to come, advocates hope to lead more radical direct actions that force more Americans to confront the issues at hand — and hopefully pressure change from the bottom up.

For the past two years, Congress has flirted with action on climate change, only to shy away time and time again. Environmental groups have spent record sums on courting lawmakers to no avail. McKibben and other environmental advocates are now convinced that they must bypass elected representatives and instead work to convince constituents that the country must do something to address global warming.

Direct action

McKibben, the environmental author who now leads an international climate campaign called 350.0rg, along with Phil Radford and Becky Tarbotton, both heads of environmental groups, wrote to potential allies against the energy industry in Yes! Magazine.

“We’re not going to beat them by asking nicely,” the three wrote. “We’re going to have to build a movement, a movement much bigger than anything we’ve built before, a movement that can push back against the financial power of Big Oil and Big Coal. That movement is our only real hope, and we need your help to plot its future.”

These three leaders see a greater role for direct action in pushing America to scale down its energy use, move towards renewable energy, and abandon its dirty energy habits. As civil rights and suffrage advocates suggest, to move the populace, “to effectively communicate both to the general public and to our leaders the urgency of the crisis,” climate activists must “put our bodies on the line.”

Those for who have suggestions on how to move forward can contact these leaders at climate.ideas@gmail.com. They hope to draw on submitted ideas for actions in the spring.

Clean Energy Victory Bonds

Those less inclined to take to the streets still have options for supporting clean energy. The Nation’s Peter Rothberg suggests supporting the idea of Clean Energy Victory Bonds (CEVB), as conceived by the group Green America. This idea requires Congress to pass legislation, but “it seems like a no-brainer,” Rothberg writes.

According to Green America, CEVBs would benefit the economy, the environment, and investors, by uniting individuals, communities, and companies to help finance the rapid deployment of renewable energy projects and energy efficiency upgrades,” he says. Other benefits: it’s a safe and potentially flexible investment, and the bonds could help create 1.7 million jobs.

Easy to ignore climate change

At this point, the push for direct action almost seems like a more sensible investment of political energy, at least. Climate change has dropped in importance for most Americans, so it’s easy for Congress to ignore the problem. As Kevin Drum explains for Mother Jones, “The high-water mark for public opinion on climate change was in 2005 or so, and we’ve been losing ground ever since. Until we get it back, Congress is going to continue to do nothing.”

It appears that, without broad popular pressure for some sort of action, Congress feels comfortable leaving aside even policy proposals that the majority of Americans support. One of the sticking points of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) energy bill has been a renewable energy standard (RES), a requirement that the country will increase the percentage of its power generated from clean energy sources within a certain time frame.


The idea is popular, as David Roberts writes at Grist, citing a Pew/National Journal poll showing that 78 percent of all respondents and 70% of Republicans favored an RES.

“Not many policies get this kind of bipartisan support these days,” Roberts writes. “People are fond of saying energy should be a bipartisan issue and surely reasonable people can agree, etc. Well, here it is, happening.”

What’s more, an RES would go a long way towards spurring private sector investment in clean energy. Lew Hay, the CEO of NextEra, a major clean energy company, has said that an RES would spur his company to invest billions of additional dollars in wind and solar development.

East vs. Midwest

Passing an RES would also mean pushing the renewable energy industry to hash out a viable infrastructure for a clean energy future.

“As the nation looks to move to a renewable energy standard, a lot of that really comes down to how to meet the energy needs of the East coast,” Jamie Karnik, the communications manager at a wind advocacy group, told The Washington Independent’s Andrew Restuccia. “Certainly people who are building wind in the Midwest, have their eye on the eastern market.”

The problem is, Restuccia reports, that entrepreneurs on the East Coast want a chance to develop off-shore wind farms. Ultimately, the country will need new electric lines to transport energy created from clean sources, but right now, competition among clean energy manufacturers could delay the construction of those lines.

Maybe climate change activists can come up with some ideas to push the clean energy industry along faster, too.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. 

photo credit: thanks to ShaZ Ni *Fotogurafiku via flickr


Barb F.
Barb F7 years ago

Watching the 60 Minutes interview with Jimmy Carter a couple hours ago, this was a topic. It was so disheartening that the solar panels he had in place were removed, nobody willing to replace them, speaks to the mentality of those betraying Americans, abusing their power.

Jewels S.
Jewels S7 years ago

Yes, Yes, Yes. 10 yrs ago I felt like the lone voice talking about solar and clean energy but now it is everywhere. You will hurt only yourself if you are in the club "that can not be done, it is too hard or immpossible" I plan on dedicating my life to the things I believe in and to make changes. I can not stand excuses and will not wait for a gov that would rather bicker to make the changes needed. Although I am not in favor of big installations. I think we should do projects on a town to town basis. Then you don't need to add so much infrastructure that no one wants to pay for. "Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing."

Jo Balltes
josie b7 years ago

We should all carry on not give up in doom and gloom...every grain of sand counts...look at how many of us care just by looking at the Care2 boards...
thank you very much for sharing x

Margaret B.
Margaret B7 years ago

I love the title of this article...it really says it all

Dave C.
David C7 years ago

1st, Congress ignores us (the true majority who don't threaten violence, but want changes to be MORE PROGRESSIVE) so in returning ignoring them is great.
2nd, what we really need is businesses who are true to making the world a better place and not just making profits.
3rd, although realistic I am still optimistic! there are a lot of of inspiring people like Bill McKibben and here on Care2!

Jeannette A.
Jeannette A7 years ago

Politicians have used the public... whipping voters into putting them in office by using fear tactics. Now is the time for us to turn the tables on them and make them fear that if they do not do the proper thing to combat global warming, that they will be out of a career, out of any way to influence anyone and out of a lifestyle to which they have become addicted. Threaten to take away their life and they will do whatever it takes to retain it. Make them work FOR our survival, not against it. It is all about our working together to put power in the hands of those who will work for our world's well-being and for us to educate the children in our world who will ultimately make a difference or suffer the consequences. Sometimes it is leading in small ways that can make the greatest difference.

Jane S.
Jane S7 years ago

I love ths idea, I believe if we the people
stand strong together they must listen to us.

Borg Drone
Past Member 7 years ago

Thanks For Posting !!

Julie van Niekerk
Julie v7 years ago

Us greenies can see what is happening to Mother Earth and nature. You dont need to be a scientist to know that. That is why we are fighting for her survival and you too (non greenie) will benefit too.

Alexandra B.
Alexandra B7 years ago

Maybe too late, doesn't mean we should stop trying altogether.