By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers
The environmental movement is at a critical crossroads. Younger and bolder environmental groups are rising up and engaging in creative and strategic direct action. Will the older and more traditional environmental groups learn from them and adjust their tactics to be more effective?
The old environmental movement, ‘Gang Green,’ traditionally works inside the existing power structure and takes funding directly from polluting corporations and foundations funded by polluters. Sometimes they get a seat at the table, but this ends up helping to pass and legitimize laws containing inadequate regulations that become a license to pollute. Some ‘Gang Green’ members show signs of realizing they are on the wrong path and that they need to re-make themselves in order to face the urgent ecological crises of widespread toxins, species extinction, water and air pollution, soil depletion and climate change.
The ‘Fresh Green’ movement, often led by a newer generation, realizes that the extraction economy, which allows us to continue the American way of life (AWOL), cannot continue. They see the ecological crisis caused by the carbon-nuclear based economy worsening because of the “all of the above” strategy promoted by President Obama and the corporate duopoly parties. The dangerous approaches to energy extraction including off shore drilling, mountain top removal, tar sands, shale hydraulic fracturing and uranium mining (as well as the risks and waste products these produce) are evidence that the human species needs to move quickly to a carbon-free nuclear free energy economy.
Fresh Greens Growing
There is a growing culture of resistance in the environmental movement, as Rising Tide of North America reports. Last week the Guardian published an amazing video of the group “No Dash for Gas” in the UK occupying a gas power plant. The video showed the preparation they went through: training, intelligence gathering, practice; and then the meticulous execution of a very difficult occupation of two 300 foot chimneys of a massive gas plant. They occupied the plant for 8 days.
Within a few days, the video was removed from the Guardian website “pending an investigation.” At about the same time, the power company, EDF, sued the activists for £5 ($7.53) million in damages. No Dash for Gas is reporting a backlash against the company and support for their cause. They point out that the damages amount to 0.3% of the company’s profits and that within 48 hours 10,000 people had signed their petition. The group makes a strong case about “disaster gas” which will bring the world closer to the climate tipping point.
In fact, we learned, while researching an article on shale hydraulic fracking, that one of the things the oil and gas companies do not want us to know is that methane, the primary component of natural gas, leaks into the atmosphere during the fracturing process. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide by a factor of 30 to hundreds. Perhaps we should use the term methane gas in place of natural gas to be more accurate.
The anti-fracking movement in the US is growing and becoming resistant. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers wrote to stop Governor Cuomo’s march toward widespread methane gas fracking and successfully stopped it for now pending research on the health effects. And more than 6,000 New Yorkers have already signed a pledge to commit acts of nonviolent civil resistance if Cuomo permits fracking. Americans Against Fracking reports more than 250 communities are taking action against fracking. Three were arrested last week in Pennsylvania for blocking trees from being cut down.
We have been consistently reporting on the direct action against the Tar Sands pipeline, the Keystone XL, since last August. The actions of the Tar Sands Blockade inspired people from Occupy Washington, DC at Freedom Plaza, including us, to join their actions. We urge you to support their upcoming national days of action March 16 to the 23. Now the blockaders are moving north to Oklahoma where they will have a training camp from March 17 to 22. And in Utah, Peaceful Uprising and Utah Tar Sands Resistance are building pressure.
The Tar Sands Blockade joined with Appalachia Rising to stop the operation of a hydrofracking waste storage facility in Ohio. This is an important part of the Fresh Greens’ thinking – all issues are connected because we have a common enemy, corporate power that dominates government in the big finance capitalism of the United States.
Groups like Mountain Justice and RAMPS (Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival) which focus on mountain top removal for coal, are now taking on fracking as well. Of course, both mountain top removal and fracking destroy the environment in their communities. Mountain Justice is currently holding a spring break training until March 10. Other groups such as RAMPS have escalated tactics against coal companies and worked with native Indians, vets, community residents and others against big coal.
A lot of these groups have fun with their protests like many of the spectacle actions of the Backbone Campaign. We enjoyed this one from the UK, protesting at a pro-fracking politician’s office, putting up signs labeling him a fracking company and putting up a fracking site on the Green in front of his office. And this one from Flush The TPP, blocking their global corporate coup negotiation in Virginia.
The ‘Fresh Greens’ realize we must embrace our radicalism in the fight for eco-justice.
Decaying Gang Green
As inspiring as the Fresh Greens are, the old Gang Green is lackluster. Many local environmental groups see them as selling out the environment for money and access. Some call them corporate environmentalists because they take money from polluting corporations, sometimes directly and sometimes through foundations. Of course, there are many good people in these organizations. We hope they will re-invent their organizations or learn from the Fresh Greens.
We wrote about this in our recent article on shale gas hydrofracking. There is a natural conflict between local groups that want fracking banned in their communities and Gang Green that wants to work within the system and develop regulations that allow ‘safe’ fracking (something which many think is impossible). Money undermines the credibility of Gang Green as we wrote regarding one group:
“The Sierra Club learned a painful lesson after taking $26 million from Chesapeake Energy, a gas company involved in fracking, while using the rhetoric of gas as a clean fuel. Their new executive director, Michael Brune, refused a $30 million donation from the corporation because it undermined Sierra Club’s credibility. After the donation was made public, Brune wrote, ‘we need to leapfrog over gas whenever possible in favor of truly clean energy.’”
We hope Brune, who was among those symbolically arrested before the DC climate protest, brings a new direction to the Sierra Club, including more aggressive challenges to the power structure, participation in direct action, a break from the Democrats and no more corporate money.
Some of these groups ally with the Democratic Party, a party that is deep in the pockets of the carbon and nuclear industries. Last week coal giant Duke Energy turned a $10 million loan for the Democratic Convention into a donation – for a convention Obama promised would take no corporate money. The Sunlight Foundation reported on an Atlanta utility that hopes to finally get an $8.3 billion loan guarantee for a nuclear power plant which is miraculously coming closer to reality after a $100,000 donation to Obama’s inauguration. And Obama recently appointed Ernest Moniz, an MIT professor whose work is funded by Big Oil, to be Secretary of Energy. He is a proponent of shale gas fracking and nuclear energy.
The refusal to break from the Democratic Party has been noticed in Bill McKibben’s 350.org. While they deserve credit for educating and organizing people (although there is criticism that 350 is too much carbon, especially for small island countries), they have been criticized for their ties to the Democrats. Their protests have included instructing people to wear Obama buttons and signage that mimics the Obama campaign. From the stage at the DC rally, Van Jones expressed his pride in working for Obama while Rev. Lennox Yearwood said, “we’re not here to protest Obama.”
Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate, who marched with the crowd, many of whom were from the Fresh Green movement, said “Why should we have Obama’s back when he always stabs us in ours?”
Hopefully, the recent Draft Environmental Impact Statement and appointment of Moniz will wake up ‘Gang Green’ to the truth that Obama and the Democrats are the other Wall Street party and not allies of the movement for a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy; and that we have to confront pollution profiteers, not work with them.
No Time for Compromise
One of the characteristics of the Fresh Greens is that they are welcoming. They look for the best, even in members of the Gang Green. We hope their instincts are right and the traditional environmental movement will re-make itself into the resistant advocates the country needs.
This is not the time for compromise. It is not a time to be restricted by foundations or by partnerships with corporate polluters and the Democratic Party. The stakes are too high. The health of the planet is at serious risk from extreme corporate capitalism’s voracious appetite. It is time to cure the gang green with more fresh greens.
Kevin Zeese JD and Margaret Flowers MD co-host Clearing the FOG on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC and on Economic Democracy Media, co-direct It’s Our Economy and are organizers of the Occupation of Washington, DC. Their twitters are @KBZeese and @MFlowers8.