Opinion: The Time Is Now for a People-Powered Backlash / by Bill McKibben

Hundreds of young climate activists rally in Lafayette Square on the north side of the White House to demand that U.S. President Joe Biden work to make the Green New Deal into law on June 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court’s decisions are insanely unpopular; we have to make that matter.

A reasonable reaction to the week’s Supreme Court rulings, which culminated in Thursday’s gutting of the Clean Air Act, would be: we are so screwed.

But there’s another way to look at it: we can turn the right-wing’s wet dream into a nightmare for them if we fight back. If we seize it, we have the best opportunity in many years for reconfiguring American politics.

The key thing to understand about these Supreme Court decisions is that they’re fantastically unpopular. On guns, on choice, and on climate the Court has taken us places Americans badly do not want to go. By majorities of two-thirds or more Americans detest these opinions; those are majorities large enough to win elections and to shape policy, even in our corroded democracy. The right, after decades of slow and careful and patient nibbling away at rights and norms is suddenly rushing full-tilt. That’s dangerous for us, but also for them. The force of that charge can, jiu jitsu-like, be turned against them.

To understand the possibilities, consider the Clean Air Act itself. It was signed into law in 1970 by Richard Nixon—a few months after the first Earth Day brought 20 million Americans into the streets, energy that carried over into the midterm elections. The Earth Day organizers targeted a ‘dirty dozen’ congressmen—and beat seven of them. Their political clout established, they were able to force Richard Nixon to sign all the most important environmental legislation in American history, even though Nixon cared not at all about the natural world. (Environmentalists were people “who wanted to go live like a bunch of damned animals,” he explained to the chairman of the Ford Motor company in an Oval Office meeting that he helpfully taped).

That first Earth Day was an organizable moment because the Cuyahoga River was on fire. Now the whole world is on fire. But, as David Wallace-Wells recently pointed out, we’ve been a little lulled and confused by the endless greenwashing and promises of our various corporate and government masters—the Larry Finks of the world.

The Court has done us a supreme favor by ripping away the veil. It is entirely clear that if we want to defend the planet (or a woman’s right to choose, or the right to a world where everyone isn’t packing a pistol), we’re going to have to fight. Their naked grab for power is succeeding—but it could still backfire if we set our minds to it.

What would that look like? In the short political term, a promise from every Democrat that they would overturn the filibuster and expand the Court if elected. We can’t get rid of every archaic part of our governmental structure, but the Constitution doesn’t get in the way of these changes. And they would liberate majorities to actually write policy and not see it struck down by the partisans that currently inhabit the bench,

As I suggested last week that it would be easiest if this fight was led by Joe Biden, perhaps on a train. Biden did, yesterday, say that he favored a “filibuster carve-out” to codify Roe into law, but saying it is not the same as campaigning for it. (Also, could he maybe figure out a less convoluted way of saying it). I confess: I suspect that Biden lacks the fire to lead this fight. He has done a creditable job of restoring some kind of normalcy to America after Ketchup Boy’s reign, but that’s a different task than really leading a crusade.

So we have to do it ourselves. The political commentator Josh Marshall has been using his website to try and get Senate candidates on the record about the filibuster; people should join that and similar efforts (July 4th recess is coming up, and with it town halls for politicians) and when candidates speak straightforwardly, we should rally behind them. The polling data shows a significant shift away from the GOP in the wake of the Roe ruling; our job is to make sure that continues, instead of fading away as we focus once more on inflation. Because the conventional wisdom a week ago was that the Democrats were going to get routed in the fall. If that doesn’t happen—and if the reason is that the GOP badly overreached—then there’s actually some chance of the Republicans recalibrating a tad and the Democrats finding a soul. Obviously it won’t be easy—all of the structural problems of our democracy are in the way. We have to fight for our lives while Wyoming and California each have two Senate seats and Citizens United is the law of the land. But it’s not impossible: our majorities on these issues are large enough to overwhelm even these archaic structures. Seventy percent is enough.

And if we somehow do get 52 seats in the Senate and hold the House? Then we need to make sure they actually do what we need them to. That time when Sunrise staged a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office? That was a good idea; Democratic leaders seem constantly sleepy, in need of a loud buzzer going off at intervals to wake them from their stupor. As Naomi Klein wrote of the Democrats yesterday, “if they decide to run with it, everybody on this planet wins. If they refuse, they deserve every loss coming their way.”

But the backlash can’t just be aimed at Washington. It has to go at Wall Street too. It’s the billionaires and the Chamber of Commerce and the banks and the oil companies that have funded this endless right-wing tilt, coming together time after time to support the end of regulations. As I wrote in the New Yorker after the decision, gutting the EPA was the logical endpoint of the campaign that Lewis Powell launched with his famous memo in 1971, shortly after the agency was proposed. (That’s why we’re taking on banks.)

Fury—nonviolently exercised, but with the force of a firehose—can change the political dynamic that has been sending us in a slow drift towards some variety of right-wing theocratic fascism. But we may not get more chances. This right now is the opening.

If you’re under 30, join the Sunrise Movement. If you’re over 60 throw in with us at Third Act. If you’re in between, find some people to fight alongside. These right-wingers have gotten giddy with success and dropped their guard. Make them pay.

This article was originally published on Bill McKibben’s substack.

Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of 350.org and ThirdAct.org. His most recent book is “Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?.” He also authored “The End of Nature,” “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet,” and “Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future.”

Common Dreams, July 2, 2022, https://www.commondreams.org/

Reject Raytheon AVL Shuts Down Pratt & Whitney/ by Ken Jones

Occupying the bridge over the French Broad River on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville. Photo: Melody Shank.

It was an Earth Day to remember. On a beautiful sunny spring day, our local citizen coalition Reject Raytheon in Asheville, NC pulled off a three-part demonstration for the protection of the earth and earthlings and against the US military-industrial complex. We rallied, we paraded, and we performed a direct action.

The event on Friday, April 22, began at 10 am in the Bent Creek River Park, on the banks of the French Broad River. The park sits exactly next to the new bridge being built for the 1.2 million square foot Pratt and Whitney plant and in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge over the river. Across the river from the park is a dirt road, called Old River Road, that provides access to the many trucks coming and going from the plant every day. On this morning, it was busy, full of power and commerce.

In the park, over 50 of us came together to call for conversion from the war economy to one that addresses the climate emergency. The theme of the gathering was Windmills Not War Machines. We had a number of speakers describe the dangers of the Pratt & Whitney plant and also what a better economic development plan for the Asheville area could look like.

Pratt and Whitney is wholly owned by Raytheon Technologies, the second largest war corporation in the world. Its new plant here will be making airfoil turbines for jet engines that will be used by both military and commercial aircraft. The military engines are for notorious fighter jets like the F-35 and F-16, which are sold for wars all over the world, including in Yemen and Palestine. Sales of these weapons have soared with the onset of the war in Ukraine. This is a war profiteer coming to our community.

Our rally not only emphasized the war machine production of Pratt and Whitney, but also called attention to its effect on the climate emergency. What we don’t need in this urgent time is more fossil fuel intensive jet engines, even if they are for commercial use, and even if they are supposedly more efficient.

At the end of our rally, the Brass Your Heart social justice marching band led the group on a parade. With music, chants, banners, and signs, we moved from the park up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where we crossed the bridge to the other side of the river. It was festive as well as pointed.

While the parade was in process, eight of us took a position on the Old River Road and blockaded the oncoming construction traffic from both directions. Five of us spanned the entire road with a 20 foot banner that said “Make Wind Turbines, Not War Machines.” Another held a smaller banner that said, “Pratt and Whitney Fans the Flames of Climate Emergency.” And two of us stood in front and behind the blockade with the stop-sign shaped message: “No War Industry.”

As our parading friends came to the end of the bridge, they stood above us waving, cheering, and singing along with the band. Construction traffic came to a halt and backed up for as far as the eye could see.

Amazingly, this stoppage lasted a full two hours. Biltmore Farms, which owns all the surrounding land and donated 100 acres to Pratt & Whitney for its plant, sent its security guards very quickly. They said we were on private property and threatened to have us arrested. Truck drivers walked up to us with a range of emotions from anger to sympathy to amusement. Soon the site was swarming with confused workers and authority figures. Eventually, the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) came and asked us to leave. When we didn’t, a prolonged series of phone calls ensued.

As we found out later, there was an uncertainty about jurisdiction. We were actually on the National Park Service (NPS) easement for the Blue Ridge Parkway, not on Biltmore Farms private property. Technically, this meant that NPS was the proper authority to remove us. It apparently was decided that they would ask BCSO to take charge.

It was probably also the case that executives from both Biltmore Farms and Pratt & Whitney were discussing how to handle this situation in a way that would get them the least amount of negative publicity.

What this amounted to was a 2-hour shut down of business-as-usual for the corporations bringing a war industry to our county. It was just a small victory for us earth protectors, but still a moment to savor on Earth Day.

The decision the police finally made was to give us a choice. We could just walk away with no charges, we could walk away with a citation for misdemeanor trespass, or we could get arrested and taken to jail. We huddled up and decided on door #2: we took citations and walked away. We are hoping for our day in court where we can tell why we did this direct action and what is at stake with this war industry plant getting built. A trial will be a means of continuing to raise public awareness about it.

And it’s not just this one plant. What we also know is that Jack Cecil, owner of Biltmore Farms, is working with the local Chamber of Commerce to bring more businesses like Pratt & Whitney into this area. Some 1,000 acres have been set aside for an industrial park that will likely be centered on the toxic aerospace industry. The gas pipeline just put in by Dominion Energy will service not just Pratt and Whitney, but also the companies now being actively recruited to come here. The new interstate exchange on I-26 will likewise serve this future development.

Say goodbye to a lot more trees and worry about the health of the French Broad River. Pratt and Whitney is just the beginning of this Biltmore Farms project. It is like the anchor store in a mall. It is being used to attract others of the same ilk.

This is why Reject Raytheon is calling not just for conversion of this plant that is now nearing completion, but for a moratorium on any more approvals for industries that are connected to the military-industrial-fossil fuel monster that is devouring our earth and making life untenable for us and our children and grandchildren.

We who stood in the road are not the criminals here. The criminals are those who are making profits from the destruction of life on this planet. It is they who should be on trial and that is what we intend to do if we get our day in court. We, the Earth Day 8, hope you will follow us in solidarity.

We will also keep on showing up in the streets to raise the alarm. Ever since we found out in October, 2020 that the Buncombe County commissioners voted to give $27 million in tax incentives to Pratt & Whitney, we have been crying foul. But it’s even worse than that. If you take into account all the subsidies provided to this huge multinational corporation – state, local, and private – it comes to over $100 million. Think about how much we need that money for the many human needs of our community.

And don’t be deceived about the jobs being promised. Yes, there will be jobs, but there is no actual guarantee about how many nor who will get them. And we know very well that we would have many more jobs than the 800 they tout (counted cumulatively, over 10 years) if we put that same $100M into clean energy, education, health, housing – literally anything other than the military-industrial complex. Why would anyone think that a huge corporation like Raytheon cares about anything other than its own profits, notwithstanding all of its local greenwashing and public relations efforts?

It is this prioritizing of profits over people that we need to change. Visit Reject Raytheon’s website for more information: http://rejectraytheonavl.com/

Forward together for Mother Earth and for us, her children.

The Earth Day 8, who all live in and around Asheville, NC, are:

+ Rachael Bliss, 76, writer and founder of WNC4Peace
+ Claire Clark, 40, labor organizer and LGBTQ activist
+ Padma Dyvine, 72, retired nurse, healthcare and climate activist
+ Ken Jones, 73, retired professor of teacher education and VFP member
+ Steve Norris, 78, grandfather, carpenter, teacher, activist
+ Lyle Peterson, 73, blacksmith and founding member of VFP chapter
+ Gerry Werhan, 68, retired Medical Service Corps officer and VFP chapter president
+ Greg Yost, 55, former high school teacher and zip line guide

This Asheville action was one of 30+ events around the country carried out in a week of mobilization sponsored by the War Industry Resisters Network.

Ken Jones is a retired professor of teacher education living in Swannanoa, NC. He can be reached at jonesk@maine.edu

Counterpunch, April 27, 2022, https://www.counterpunch.org/

Earth Day? Green groups pan Biden’s oil drilling lease resumption / by Mark Gruenberg

Millions around the world will demonstrate for Earth Day. In the US environmentalists are strongly concerned about Biden’s plan to drill on federal lands. | AP

WASHINGTON—As far as green groups are concerned, the decision by Democratic President Joe Biden’s Interior Department to resume selling leases for oil drilling on federal lands was NOT the way to celebrate Earth Day.

On the other hand, the California Air Resources Board’s plan to ban all new gasoline-powered car sales in the Golden State by 2035 could be cause for cheer—even as more than a dozen cities and counties, including Los Angeles, are agitating to set that deadline as 2030 instead.

And, with California’s size as the most-populous state and leader in number of vehicles on its roads—29.772 million as of December, one of every nine nationwide—implementing the board’s detailed year-by-year reductions in gas-powered car and truck sales may be even more important than the lease sales.

But given that Earth Day occurs every April 22, the oil lease sales resumption got more attention, especially in the oil-dependent “red” states as well as those where federal land management agencies, including the National Park Service, own a high percentage of total state acreage.

The new leases will cover 144,000 acres of federal land in Alabama, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and especially Wyoming, with 135,000 acres of leases alone.

Interior’s decision also got more attention because, on the campaign trail in 2020, Biden flatly declared he would ban such leases. So did his campaign platform.

Biden’s Interior Department tried to explain the oil and gas lease sales resumption with the explanation that it had to do so, following an injunction by the U.S. District Court for Western Louisiana, representing another oil-dependent red state.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland also said the Bureau of Land Management cut the available land for new leases by 80%. And she said BLM will charge the fossil fuel firms 18.75% in royalties from their proceeds from selling any oil or gas they get from drilling on the lands.

That’s a 50% hike over the current level—and the first increase since the feds started opening up such lands more than a century ago. The most-notorious opening of oil-laden federal lands, of course, was the Teapot Dome oil lease scandal during the Republican Harding administration, involving trading leases for Sinclair Oil Company payoffs to then-Interior Secretary Albert Fall.

“For too long, the federal oil and gas leasing programs have prioritized the wants of extractive industries above local communities, the natural environment, the impact on our air and water, the needs of Tribal Nations, and, moreover, other uses of our shared public lands,” Haaland said. BLM will issue environmental assessments for the leases.

Haaland claimed the new rules will change that. The green groups disagreed.

The green groups were upset with Biden’s Interior Department, while the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the state’s Zero Emissions Vehicles (ZEV) Coalition cheered California’s action—though ZEV and its members are pushing for a 2030 ban on gasoline-powered vehicle sales.

‘We need to rethink our economy so all of our children have an opportunity to earn a decent living. This starts by valuing our planet above fossil fuel industries,” tweeted former AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, now a top Greenpeace official, including oversight of its organizing.

Other green groups were even more caustic about the drilling, though none said what they would specifically do to stop it. One coalition, which included the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth, plus 11 western and indigenous people’s green groups, noted the drilling never really stopped.

“Despite its pause on new oil and gas leasing and drilling on publicly owned lands and waters, the Biden administration approved more drilling permits in 2021 than President Trump did in the first year of his presidency, according to federal data analyzed by the Center for Biological Diversity,” the leader in that joint statement said.

“The administration’s claim that it must hold these lease sales is pure fiction and a reckless failure of climate leadership,” said the center’s public lands director, Randi Spivak. “It’s as if they’re ignoring the horror of firestorms, floods and megadroughts, and accepting climate catastrophes as business as usual.”

The groups’ joint statement noted “the oil and gas industry continues raking in record profits while communities pay the price…Shell, Chevron, BP and Exxon made more than $75.7 billion in 2021, some of their highest profits in the past decade.

“The communities most at risk from new fossil fuel extraction are primarily Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples, people of the global majority, and those on the frontlines of fossil fuel industry expansion. These are the same communities that turned out in record numbers to get Biden elected in 2020” and who demand Biden issue executive orders to ban the oil and gas leases,” as he promised.

“Pollution from the world’s already-producing fossil fuel developments, if fully developed, would push warming past 1.5 degrees Celsius, and that avoiding such warming requires ending new investment in fossil fuel projects,” they declared.

Meanwhile, the California Air Resources Board moved to end the gasoline-powered cars by 2035, carrying out another executive campaign pledge, this one from Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. CARB’s plan would mandate 35% of new passenger car sales to be battery or hydrogen-powered by 2026, and all of them to be net-zero emissions by 2035.

The Natural Resources Defense Council led the cheers. The ZEV Coalition agreed, but said it, plus the Los Angeles, Oakland and Berkeley City Councils and the state Democratic Party, among others, want an end to those sales by 2030.

“California has the unique opportunity to solidify its place in the United States—and around the world—as a leader in slashing pollution from the transportation sector,” said NRDC climate specialist Kathy Harris. “By setting standards that will put more electric cars and trucks on the road, the state will also protect drivers from volatile gasoline prices, while driving innovation and creating thousands of good jobs.

“Building on this, the state needs to ensure that programs are delivering emission reductions to those communities where the public health needs are the greatest.

“Strong standards will place even more electric cars and trucks in the showroom and increase access to technologies that will get us on the freeway to a cleaner, healthier future. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says we stand at a ‘make or break’ moment for climate action. The transportation sector is the largest source of carbon pollution, making policies like this essential if we are to have any chance of preventing the worst impacts of climate change.”

In its resolution, adopted last September, the Los Angeles City Council said banning new gasoline-powered vehicle sales by 2030, five years earlier than Newsom and CARB propose, would especially help the city’s most-vulnerable residents.

“Angelenos–particularly those who face socioeconomic and health inequities–are daily affected by the health and safety risks of air pollution resulting from the widespread use of gasoline-powered vehicles within Los Angeles,” it read. “Widespread adoption of zero-emission vehicles will reduce air and climate pollution, resulting in healthier air for all Angelenos and saving lives.” The ZEV Coalition lobbied for the resolution. Los Angeles is annually ranked as the most traffic-clogged city in the U.S.

“The number of climate-exacerbated floods and wildfires in the last two months alone is absolutely staggering,” Councilmen Paul Koretz, one of the two lead sponsors of the unanimously passed measure. “If you have lung cancer, you stop smoking, if your planet is on fire, you stop pouring gasoline on it. Stopping building new gas cars tomorrow wouldn’t be too soon. And very soon electric vehicles will cost less than gas guzzlers.”

Top labor groups on both sides of the clean energy issue– the BlueGreen Alliance and the Labor Network for Sustainability on one hand and North America’s Building Trades Unions on the other, did not issue statements on either Biden’s leasing announcement or the proposed California ban. But NABTU President Sean McGarvey, in his keynote address to its legislative conference in early March, declared: “NABTU supports an all-of-the-above energy strategy that not only prioritizes combating climate change but that sustains and values workers.”

Mark Gruenberg is an award winning journalist and head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

People’s World, April 21, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/