Direct Action, Direct Messaging

As someone that is always complaining that we need more/better activism on Climate Change I was interested to read this recent profile of global efforts to put coal plant out of business.

In the early morning of Oct. 8, 2007, a small group of British Greenpeace activists slipped inside a hulking smokestack that towers more than 600 feet above a coal-fired power plant in Kent, England. While other activists cut electricity on the plant’s grounds, they prepared to climb the interior of the structure to its top, rappel down its outside, and paint in block letters a demand that Prime Minister Gordon Brown put an end to plants like the Kingsnorth facility, which releases nearly 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each day.

The activists presented a ‘necessity’ defense which was surprisingly accepted by the jury. Similar actions have been taking place all over the world. So why not more direct action?

In August 2007, Al Gore, Nobel Prize-winning author of “An Inconvenient Truth,” told Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, “I can’t understand why there aren’t rings of young people blocking bulldozers and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants.” By the time Gore made that statement, some young people had already started blocking bulldozers, and many more, young and old, would soon follow.

Still, Gore can be excused for feeling that such measures were overdue. With global warming, perhaps more than any other issue, there is a disjuncture between a widespread acknowledgment of the gravity of the situation we face and a social willingness to respond in any proportionate way.

I know a expression that applies to Al Gore’s comments, “people with good ideas should do them.” This do as a might have done if I were a younger person with the ideals I have today routine doesn’t work for me.

More troublesome then why people aren’t lining up to block bulldozers is the question of why groups aren’t lining the halls of Congress? There are some good groups, but many of them seem more interested in filming clever commercials or cheerleading vague talk of a clean energy future then hiring lobbyists or starting PACs. Al Gore didn’t come to Washington for the ACES vote and the Gore linked Alliance for Climate Protection only started their primary campaign in March of last year. I saw an posting for a organizer Alliance for Climate Protection the week ACES was voted on.

Industry forces are pushing Congress on ACES at unprecedented levels. Do you think they started planning for this fight in March 2008? People make fun of the soft advocacy put out by the coal industry, but it’s not their side dedicating the bulk of their resources into messaging which lacks actionable instructions. Recently you see some environmental groups coming forward with strong and direct campaigns, but all focused heavily toward job creation.

This line from United Steelworkers head Leo Gerard might sound good “This is about creating good family-supporting jobs as we do the right thing for the planet,” but it doesn’t actually communicate that immediate Carbon emission reduction is the only responsible path forward. Everybody wants to do the right thing for the planet . All too often these type of messages fail to say that doing the right thing for the planet is incompatible with no-votes for Waxman-Markey, no-votes for the Senate climate legislation, or much of anything else.

Cap and trade needs to be implemented because it’s a necessary step to prevent catastrophe. That’s what we need to be saying and we need to be saying it in the halls of Congress, not ad buys for the Union Station metro station or the Daily Show.


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