Climate merger to fight Koch cash with people power

350.org action in Sydney, Australia

350.org has mobilized people around the world for climate actions, like this one in Sydney. Photo: 350.org.

Tragedy in the making: Just as scientists are telling us that climate change is happening faster than anyone had anticipated, the climate movement in the US has grown weaker than ever.

When it failed last spring, the cynical and cowardly push for cap-and-trade by the big green groups wasted the best chance in years for policy on the federal level. Since then, public support for climate action has steadily dropped while progressives, who would rather talk about green jobs than melting icecaps, have lost control of the conversation to science deniers funded by the Koch brothers.

Fortunately, somebody in the climate movement recognizes that there’s a problem.

Joining forces

“For too long, the fossil fuel industry has had its way on the climate issue–its money has overwhelmed the scientific facts, delaying action on the largest challenge humanity now faces,” says 350.org announcing its merger with 1Sky, another climate group.

Among activist groups tackling global warming, I’ve always liked 350.org, founded by Bill McKibben, one of the few green activists who also acknowledges peak oil. The group seemed creative, aggressive and independent. They’ve kept their distance from cap-and-trade. And they’ve made a name for themselves with citizen actions in nearly 200 countries that have gotten lots of press coverage.

1Sky has been a bit of a mystery to me, a new boutique group fighting climate change but without the profile of 350.org. I suspect others felt this way too, which might help explain the merger.

As McKibben and Betsy Taylor, the chair of 1Sky, explain it in a statement, the climate movement needs to be strong and united to have any hope of success in a time where it’s become an article of faith among House Republicans to deny climate science:

Our foremost researchers, like NASA scientist James Hansen, have shown that 350 parts per million CO2 is the most we can safely have in the atmosphere, a level we’ve already exceeded. No matter how the House votes, physics and chemistry still call the tune.

But the message goes beyond science to politics. We have learned over time that you can’t win simply by explaining the crisis to political leaders; they may intellectually understand that they’re facing the end of the world, but what they really fear is the end of their political careers. We need to build a movement that can reward and punish politicians. Since we’ll never have the money to match the fossil-fuel front groups, we’re going to need a different currency: bodies, creativity, passion.

Upping the ante

McKibben and the fabulous Naomi Klein, who’s just joined the 350.org board, said in another statement, “The idea is not to supplant the Washington green groups, but instead to give the whole movement new clout—enough clout to withstand the crushing power of oil money.”

Surely, all hands are needed on deck to fight the combined power of the Chamber of Commerce, Big Oil, Big Coal and their paid spokesmen in free-market think tanks like the Cato Institute and astroturf groups like Americans for Prosperity, not to mention the Tea Party itself.

But if the new bigger 350.org winds up pulling contributions away from the big green groups, that could be just what’s needed to have any chance of finally making the climate movement effective.

– Erik Curren

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