The Sierra Club, Bill Mckibben's 350.org fight-climate-change crew, 130 other organizations, plus thousands of Americans from all walks are meeting at Noon on Sunday, February 17 in Washington, D.C. to make "Forward on Climate" the largest climate rally in history.
Their first goal is to convince Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline once and for all, for it could unlock vast amounts of additional carbon the planet simply cannot afford to burn. But his final decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will only be a test of whether he's truly serious about walking his talk. The Forward on Climate Rally will put unparalleled pressure on Obama to act on his word, and in an unprecedented way. It is their hope that he will do all in his power to face, and combat, global warming.
But before America can move "Forward" on climate issues – they must "face" the facts. Ignorance and denial abound in individuals and institutions across the country (there are, alas, institutions like Heartland dedicated to perpetuating skepticism and denial about climate change). A 2007 Harris poll found that 71% of Americans believe that continued burning of fossil fuels would cause the climate to change. By 2009 this figure dropped to 51%, and fell again in 2011 to just 44%. According to Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, this is "among the largest shifts over a short period of time seen in recent public opinion history."
Meanwhile, record droughts, food scarcity, floods, severe super-storms, billions in damage, lives lost, and the hottest year on record in the United States have all come to pass in 2012. The amount of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere has increased by 40 percent in a century, due to our perpetual burning of coal, oil, and natural gas. NASA's James Hansen explains that business as usual – such as burning the tar sands bitumen – will guarantee "game over for the climate."
But America could be a major leader in a worldwide clean energy revolution, that is, if Obama chooses the people, the land, and the future of the planet, over corporate interest. This clean energy revolution could transform the nation, cut carbon pollution drastically, and resist or even reverse the inertia of impending climate disaster. Forward On Climate states, "we need President Obama to commit to that fight with all the ambition and determination he can bring." But why do they put so must faith in Obama's character and power? How are they so easily assuaged by his soaring rhetoric?
The president spoke somberly about climate change for half an hour this Tuesday during his State of the Union speech, earning him brownie points with some, but the eloquence of his promises have never been something to be contested. Despite his rhetoric, and avowal to address global warming and not betray future generations, he fails to face the elephant in the room. With less than five percent of the world's population, it is the USA that consumes a quarter of the world's fossil fuels. Where is his "mea culpa"moment? Instead, Obama shows no recognition of America's five-planet lifestyle . . . no recognition that a small slice of the Earth's population consumes a lions share, and wrecks the rest.
And yet on an even deeper level, Obama's invocation of the need for "sustainable energy sources" suggests that he believes fossil fuels themselves are to blame. And perhaps he's not at fault. This is what most people believe. But what about the root of our climatic, environmental problem: the exploitative economic paradigm we operate, the political stagnation that goes with that, the social inequalities we are forced to endure, the cult of hyper-consumption that defines American culture – it is this systemic destructiveness that endorses ravenous fossil fuel use in the first place.
Until Obama, and the activists putting pressure on him, stop confounding the symptoms with the disease, there will be a stark limit to how effective, enduring and powerful a revolutionary movement can be.