“You can’t link climate change to specific weather events.” That is the accepted wisdom that has been trotted out repeatedly as the wettest winter in at least 250 years battered England and Wales. But the accepted wisdom is wrong: It is perfectly possible to make that link and as of today, you can play a part in doing so.
The weather@home project allows you to donate your spare computer time in return for helping turn speculation over the role of climate change in extreme weather into statistical fact. That debate has been reignited by the devastating winter weather and the flooding and storm damage it wrought.
The research that links global warming to particular extreme weather events is called attribution and has already notched up notable successes. The Oxford team showed in 2011 that climate change was loading the extreme-weather dice as far back as 2000, in a study that showed serious flooding in England that year was made two to three times more likely by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. The killer heat waves in Europe in 2003 and 2010 were also made far more likely by global warming, similar research has demonstrated, while another new study shows how Hurricane Katrina would have been far less devastating had it happened 100 years ago.
The attribution studies work by taking a period of time in which an extreme weather event occurred and rerunning it many thousands of times in climate models. One set of models starts with the actual real-world conditions — i.e., with high levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases — and reveals how frequently the extreme event occurs. Another set of models starts with atmospheric and ocean conditions that would have existed without the carbon emissions pumped into the air by human activities and therefore shows how frequently the extreme event occurs would occur in an unwarmed world.
Comparing the frequency of the extreme event in each set of models gives a measure of how heavily global warming has loaded the extreme-weather dice — or not. The models have to be run many thousands of times because the extreme events being studied are, by definition, rare. Many repetitions are required to generate robust statistics and that’s why they need your computer time: It’s a huge computing task. Nathalie Schaller, a member of the Oxford team, explains the experiment further in this video:
The researchers do not know what the result of this new experiment will be and they will post the results of the computer model runs as they come in, on their site and this blog. The science will unfold live before your eyes and theirs, at the same time.
They estimate that a total of roughly 30,000 reruns of the English winter of 2013-14 will be needed to reach a definitive conclusion. That should take a month, depending on how many people sign up.
To give you a sense of what the results will look like, the team have generated some illustrative graphs, based on previous data but not pertaining to the new experiment. The plots show the chance of the total winter rainfall exceeding 450 millimeters in a particular year (the winter of 2013-14 saw 435 mm fall on England and Wales, the highest in records dating back to 1766).
Each rerun winter is represented by a dot, with blue dots coming from the set representing the real-world conditions and green dots coming from the set representing the modeled world without climate change. If the blue dots plot above the green dots, then climate change has made that event more likely and vice versa. If the dots plot in the same place, then climate change has not affected the chances of that event happening.
In the plot below, containing just 120 simulations of the winter, it is hard to discern any convincing trend. That is because when examining extreme events, many simulations are needed to generate a robust result.
The small dots represent uncertainties in the estimates. (Chart, University of Oxford)
But in the following plot, with over 2000 simulations, the trend is much clearer. The new experiment is likely to need 5,000 reruns of the winter under real-world conditions and 24,000 reruns of the winter as it would have occurred in world without climate change.
The small dots represent uncertainties in the estimates. (Chart, University of Oxford)
Predicting the impacts of climate change rightly takes up much of the time of climate change researchers, but this use of climate models reveals the extent to which climate change and extreme weather is a danger right here, right now.
It is rare that anyone with a computer can participate in cutting-edge scientific research, particularly on such a relevant and important topic, but the weather@home project presents that opportunity. The Oxford team would be grateful if you took it.
Damian Carrington heads the environment section of The Guardian.
Loudly denouncing the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, about 1,000 people — most of them students — marched from Georgetown to the White House Sunday. Once there, hundreds fastened themselves to the fence outside the White House, while hundreds more stood with them, waiting to be arrested. By the end of the day, roughly 400 had been taken into custody.
Their message for President Obama: Our demographic helped vote you into office, and we oppose the pipeline. Do you stand with your constituents, or do you stand with the fossil fuel industry and its legion of lobbyists? MORE
Members of the Carolina Jews for Justice joined the Mass Moral March at the state capitol in Raleigh along with nearly 200 other organizations on Saturday, February 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Chuck Liddy)
It can be isolating to be a progressive Jew in North Carolina. In a state where just one percent of the population identifies as Jewish, it can be tough just to find a religious community, let alone a politically active one. Although older Jews who may have been activists in the civil rights movement of the 20th century still live there, it appears their coordinated work for justice ended along with that era. There is no sustaining, Jewish-identified organizational infrastructure that today’s generation of younger North Carolina Jews could revive and harness for today’s fights.
But recently one Raleigh-based Jewish group has tapped into a wellspring of political passion among Jews and is mobilizing them across the state to challenge the Republican takeover of the legislature. Through building coalitions with other faith and community-based groups, turning Jews out to the Moral Mondays rallies at the state capitol and organizing laypeople and rabbis to take action, the members of Carolina Jews for Justice (CJJ) are speaking up for the political changes they want to see in North Carolina.
Through building coalitions with other faith and community-based groups, turning Jews out to the Moral Mondays rallies at the state capitol and organizing laypeople and rabbis to take action, the members of Carolina Jews for Justice (CJJ) are speaking up for the political changes they want to see in North Carolina.
CJJ president Debbie Goldstein describes the loose but committed network of grassroots volunteers that maintains this activity. “There are eight or 10 of us that keep the day-to-day work going, 20 of us that come all the time and 100 that come out to a rally,” she says. Goldstein adds that while CJJ’s regular meetings are held in Raleigh and Durham, it claims members from all over the state, including the metro regions of Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Asheville and Greensboro. MORE
Kay Hohler, of West Des Moines, Iowa, sings the national anthem before the start of a tea party rally on the steps of the Iowa Statehouse, Thursday, April 15, 2010, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
The demise of the tea party was loudly announced right after Congress voted on October 16 to lift the debt ceiling and reopen the federal government. “Finally! The Republican Fever Is Broken,” exulted Jamelle Bouie at The Daily Beast, while Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson proclaimed President Obama’s “victory” over the tea party just as “devastating as Sherman’s march through the South.” With most Americans telling pollsters they do not like the tea party and its tactics, the GOP will eventually have to pivot back to the median voter, explained Noah Feldman in his Bloomberg column, “How the Tea Party Will Die.”
Other optimists placed greater emphasis on the supposed new will of business interests and Republican Party elders to recapture party control. Offering reassurance, supporters of Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner told the pre-eminent inside-the-Beltway gossip site Politico that their guy was more effectively in charge of his raucous GOP caucus following the shutdown debacle. Karl Rove vowed to block far-right tea party challengers in GOP primaries, and the Chamber of Commerce started to make noises about supporting some supposed “moderates” against tea party candidates in 2014 GOP primaries.
The tea party’s hold on the GOP persists beyond each burial ceremony.
But we have heard all this before. The tea party was supposed to be dead and the GOP on the way to moderate repositioning after Obama’s victory and Democratic congressional gains in November 2012. Yet less than a year after post-election GOP soul searching supposedly occurred, radical forces pulled almost all GOP House and Senate members into at least going along with more than two weeks of extortion tactics to try to force President Obama and Senate Democrats to gut the Affordable Care Act and grant a long laundry list of other GOP priorities suspiciously similar to the platform on which the party had run and lost in 2012. The tea party’s hold on the GOP persists beyond each burial ceremony.
In 2011, Vanessa Williamson and I published our book The tea party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, which used a full panoply of research — from interviews and local observations to media and website analysis and tracking of national surveys — to explain the dynamics of this radical movement. We showed how bottom-up and top-down forces intersect to give the tea party both leverage over the Republican Party and the clout to push national politics sharply to the right.
At the grassroots, volunteer activists formed hundreds of local tea parties, meeting regularly to plot public protests against the Obama Administration and place steady pressure on GOP organizations and candidates at all levels. At least half of all GOP voters sympathize with this tea party upsurge. They are overwhelmingly older, white, conservative-minded men and women who fear that “their country” is about to be lost to mass immigration and new extensions of taxpayer-funded social programs (like the Affordable Care Act) for low- and moderate-income working-aged people, many of whom are black or brown. Fiscal conservatism is often said to be the top grassroots tea party priority, but Williamson and I did not find this to be true. Crackdowns on immigrants, fierce opposition to Democrats, and cuts in spending for the young were the overriding priorities we heard from volunteer Tea Partiers, who are often, themselves, collecting costly Social Security, Medicare, and veterans benefits to which they feel fully entitled as Americans who have “paid their dues” in lifetimes of hard work.
On the other end of the organizational spectrum, big-money funders and free-market advocacy organizations used angry grassroots protests to expand their email lists and boost longstanding campaigns to slash taxes, shrink social spending, privatize Medicare and Social Security, and eliminate or block regulations (including carbon controls). In 2009, groups such as FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, and Tea Party Express (a renamed conservative GOP political action committee) leapt on the bandwagon; more recently, the Senate Conservative Action Fund and Heritage Action have greatly bolstered the leveraging capacities of the tea party as a whole. Elite activities ramped up after many tea party legislators were elected in 2010.
Tea party activists attend a rally on the grounds of the US Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 19, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Here is the key point: Even though there is no one center of tea party authority — indeed, in some ways because there is no one organized center — the entire gaggle of grassroots and elite organizations amounts to a pincers operation that wields money and primary votes to exert powerful pressure on Republican officeholders and candidates. Tea party influence does not depend on general popularity at all. Even as most Americans have figured out that they do not like the tea party or its methods, tea party clout has grown in Washington and state capitals. Most legislators and candidates are Nervous Nellies, so all tea party activists, sympathizers and funders have had to do is recurrently demonstrate their ability to knock off seemingly unchallengeable Republicans (ranging from Charlie Crist in Florida to Bob Bennett of Utah to Indiana’s Richard Lugar). That grabs legislators’ attention and results in either enthusiastic support for, or acquiescence to, obstructive tactics. The entire pincers operation is further enabled by various right-wing tracking organizations that keep close count of where each legislator stands on “key votes” — including even votes on amendments and the tiniest details of parliamentary procedure, the kind of votes that legislative leaders used to orchestrate in the dark.
The 2010 elections were a high watermark for tea party funders and voters. Amid intense public frustration at the slow economic recovery, only two of five US voters went to the polls. The electorate skewed toward older, whiter, wealthier conservatives; and this low turnout allowed fired-up tea party Republicans to score many triumphs in the House and state legislatures. And the footholds gained are not easily lost. Once solid blocs of tea party supporters or compliant legislators are ensconced in office, outside figures like Dick Armey of FreedomWorks (in 2011) and Jim DeMint of Heritage Action (in 2013) appoint themselves de facto orchestrators, taking control away from elected GOP leaders John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.
In the latest such maneuver during the summer of 2013, radical-right Texas Senator Ted Cruz put himself forward as a bold tea party strategist calling for a renewed all-out crusade to kill Obamacare long after it was assured survival by the Supreme Court and the 2012 presidential election. With his strong ties to far-right funders and ideologues, plus a self-assured, even arrogant, pugnaciousness that thrills much of the GOP electorate, Cruz could direct a chunk of House Republicans to pressure a weak Boehner into proceeding with the government shutdown and debt brinkmanship. Apologists say Boehner was “reluctant,” but what difference does that make? He went along.
Americans may resent the tea party, but they are also losing ever more faith in the federal government — a big win for anti-government saboteurs.
After the immediate effort flopped and caused most Americans to further sour on Republicans, Cruz remained unbowed. And why not? After all, Cruz gained near-total name recognition and sky-high popularity among tea party voters. He now appears regularly on television, and his antics have allowed elite tea party forces to lock in draconian reductions in federal spending for coming rounds of budget struggles. Americans may resent the tea party, but they are also losing ever more faith in the federal government — a big win for anti-government saboteurs. Popularity and “responsible governance” are not the goals of tea party forces, and such standards should not be used to judge the accomplishments of those who aim to undercut, block and delay — even as tea party funders remain hopeful about holding their own or making further gains in another low-turnout midterm election in November 2014.
The bottom line is sobering. Anyone concerned about the damage tea party forces are inflicting on American politics needs to draw several hard-headed conclusions.
For one, at least three successive national election defeats will be necessary to even begin to break the determination and leverage of tea party adherents. Grassroots tea partiers see themselves in a last-ditch effort to save “their country,” and big-money ideologues are determined to undercut Democrats and sabotage active government. They are in this fight for the long haul. Neither set of actors will stand down easily or very soon.
Also worth remembering is that “moderate Republicans” barely exist right now. Close to two-thirds of House Republicans voted against bipartisan efforts to reopen the federal government and prevent US default on loan obligations, and Boehner has never repudiated such extortionist tactics. Tea Partiers may not call for another shutdown right away, but they will continue to be able to draw most GOP legislators and leaders into aggressive efforts to obstruct and delay. In the electorate, moreover, more than half of GOP voters sympathize with the tea party and cheer on obstructionist tactics, and the remaining Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are disorganized and divided in their views of the likes of Ted Cruz.
Speaking of which, Cruz is very well positioned to garner unified tea party support in the 2016 GOP presidential primaries. [See Dave Weigel, “The Tea Party and the 2016 Nomination”] During the last election cycle, no far-right candidate ever consolidated sustained grassroots tea party support, as those voters hopped from Rick Perry to Herman Cain to Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum. But this time, Cruz may very well enjoy unified and enthusiastic grassroots tea party support from the beginning of the primary election season. In the past, less extreme GOP candidates have always managed to garner the presidential nomination, but maybe not this time. And even if a less extreme candidate finally squeaks through, Cruz will set much of the agenda for Republicans heading into 2016.
When it comes to “reining in” the tea party, business associations and spokespeople may talk bigger than they will act. They have lots to say to reporters, but they show few signs of mounting the kind of organized, sustained efforts it would take to counter tea party enthusiasm and funding. Groups like the Chamber of Commerce have spent decades using right-wing energy to help elect Republicans, who, once elected, are supposed to focus on tax cuts and deregulation. It used to be relatively easy to con Christian-right voters with flashy election symbolism and then soft-pedal their preferences once Republicans took office. Today’s far right is unmistakably another cup of tea. Even as business funders realize this, however, they will be tempted to keep replaying the old strategies, because turning to Democrats will usually not seem acceptable, and it will be almost impossible in many states and districts to mount GOP primary challenges from the middle-right without improving Democratic prospects in general election contests.
Finally, Democrats need to get over thinking that opinion polls and media columns add up to real political gains. Once the October 2013 shutdown ended in supposed total victory for President Obama and his party, many Democrats adopted a cocky swagger and started talking about ousting the House GOP in 2014. But a clear-eyed look shows that tea party obstruction remains powerful and has achieved victories that continue to stymie Democratic efforts to govern effectively — a necessary condition for Democrats to win enthusiastic, sustained voter support for the future, including in midterm elections. Our debates about federal budgets still revolve around degrees of imposed austerity. Government shutdowns and repeated partisan-induced “crises” have greatly undercut US economic growth and cost up to a year’s worth of added jobs. Real national challenges — fighting global warming, improving education, redressing extreme economic inequalities, rebuilding and improving economic infrastructure — go unaddressed as extreme GOP obstructive capacities remain potent in Washington and many state capitals.
True, the events of October 2013 helped millions of middle-of-the-road voters — and even quite a few complacent political reporters — grasp the dangers of the sabotage-oriented radicalism in today’s Republican Party. But it will take a long and dogged struggle to root out radical obstructionism on the right, and the years ahead could yet see Tea Partiers succeed by default. Unless non-tea party Republicans, independents, and Democrats learn both to defeat and to work around anti-government extremism—finding ways to do positive things for the majority of ordinary citizens along the way—tea party forces will still win in the end. They will triumph just by hanging on long enough to cause most Americans to give up in disgust on our blatantly manipulated democracy and our permanently hobbled government.
An architect's rendering of Quixote Village in Olympia, Wash. Image courtesy of Panza.
On a Saturday in September, more than 125 volunteers showed up with tools in hand and built six new 16-by-20-foot houses for a group of formerly homeless men. It was the beginning of Second Wind Cottages, a tiny-house village for the chronically homeless in the town of Newfield, NY, outside of Ithaca.
On January 29, the village officially opened, and its first residents settled in. Each house had cost about $10,000 to build, a fraction of what it would have cost to house the men in a new apartment building.
The project is part of a national movement of tiny-house villages, an alternative approach to housing the homeless that’s beginning to catch the interest of national advocates and government housing officials alike.
“It’s certainly something that we would encourage other communities to take a look at,” says Lee Jones at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
For many years, it has been tough to find a way to house the homeless. More than 3.5 million people experience homelessness in the United States each year, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Shortages of low-income housing continue to be a major challenge. For every 100 households of renters in the United States that earn “extremely low income” (30 percent of the median or less), there are only 30 affordable apartments available, according to a 2013 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. MORE
This post first appeared on the Institute for Policy Studies blog.
If you love Harry Potter, zombies, European art house films or thumbing your nose at the big banks, you’ll love the new video promoting a Wall Street tax.
This is the first time, in my recollection, that major celebrities have ever showed a united front against the mighty financial industry lobby. The director is David Yates, who made the last four Harry Potter movies. Andrew Lincoln, the star of the hit zombie series The Walking Dead, and Bill Nighy, of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Love, Actually, are among the actors.
Wall Street lobbyists will hate the film because it portrays a newscast 10 years from now in which a panel of bankers rave about the multitudinous benefits their countries have enjoyed as a result of a small tax on trades of stock and derivatives. The only panelist who’s decidedly not over the moon is Nighy, who plays a banker from the UK, which did not adopt the tax.
The viral video is one more setback for the financial industry lobbyists who have been madly trying to block progress on such taxes. In Europe, they seem to be losing the battle.
At a February 19 press conference in Paris, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Hollande confirmed that a coalition of 11 EU governments are on track to finalize a coordinated financial transaction tax before May. European elections are that month, and this is considered a sure vote-getter. The latest Euro-barometer survey shows 82 percent of German and 72 percent of French citizens support it.
There have been hints, however, that the tax could be a watered-down version of the initial European Commission proposal. That original plan would place a tax of 0.1 percent on stock and bond trades and 0.01 percent on derivatives. Expected revenues: 31 billion euros ($US 42 billion) per year.
In a recent speech, EU Tax Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta indicated that negotiators are considering a graduated approach as a compromise. In the first phase, the tax would apply only to stock trades. In subsequent phases, it would be expanded to cover other instruments, including derivatives and possibly foreign exchange spot transactions.
German activist Peter Wahl feels this would be a bit of a setback but not the end of the world. “We could live with a two-step approach as a compromise under the condition that there is a binding timetable for the second step and that derivatives are included in the end,” he said.
Wahl, an analyst with the German group WEED, is one of the leaders of a diverse international campaign made up of labor, global health, climate and other groups that has driven the financial transaction tax (aka Robin Hood Tax) from the fringe to the center of global debates.
At her joint press conference with Hollande, Merkel predicted that “the minute things start to move forward other countries may be less reluctant and it could be expanded.”
European progress is likely to change the dynamic in the United States as well. The Obama administration is not yet supportive, but there is growing support in the US Congress.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) have proposed a 0.03 percent tax on stock, bond and derivative trades, with a tax credit offset for contributions to qualified tax-favored accounts, such as 401(k) retirement funds. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) has introduced the Inclusive Prosperity Act, which proposes tax rates of 0.5 percent on stock, 0.1 percent on bond and 0.005 percent on derivative trades, with an offset for taxpayers who make less than $50,000 per year.
The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the Harkin-DeFazio proposal could raise $350 billion over 10 years.
There is also growing support among financial industry professionals who believe the small tax would be good for market stability. In a joint letter, more than 50 financial professionals wrote that “these taxes will rebalance financial markets away from a short-term trading mentality that has contributed to instability in our financial markets.”
RoseAnn DeMoro on the Robin Hood Tax
At a time when financial markets are dominated by computer-driven high frequency trading that has little benefit for the real economy, a tax of even a fraction of a percent could encourage longer-term sustainable investment.
At the end of the satirical video, the humiliated British banker lamely resorts to boasting about other occasions in which the Brits were not behind the curve, namely the Beatles and soccer. I suppose American bankers could come up with a few examples of their own. A better response to the growing momentum behind the financial transaction tax would be to just get on board.
Similar to the Keystone XL pipeline, the proposed Bluegrass pipeline in Kentucky has met opposition from an unlikely coalition of environmentalists, religious groups and libertarians defending property rights. (Michael Fleshman/Flickr/Creative Commons)
Buff Bradley, a 50-year-old champion thoroughbred trainer, makes for an unlikely environmentalist. The son of Fred Bradley, who’s a former Kentucky state senator, county judge, attorney, songwriter, pilot and horse-breeding icon‚ Buff has spent much of his life bringing up racehorses on his family’s 300-acre farm in western Franklin County. If you like to brush shoulders with the owners of high-speed, million-dollar winning Kentucky thoroughbreds, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the family name.
Buff didn’t choose to take on the fossil fuel industry; the fight came to him. Last April, representatives from the Tulsa-based Williams Energy and Houston-based Boardwalk Pipeline Partners visited his family farm and asked to survey the land for a natural gas liquids pipeline. Bradley respectfully declined to cooperate and got in touch with neighboring landowners with whom surveyors had also paid a visit.
But it didn’t take long for Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region to become the latest, if improbable, flashpoint in North America’s pipeline wars.
Driven by a mix of concerns over safety and property rights and bolstered by a dose of environmentalism, the opposition blurs ideological boundaries.
Williams and Boardwalk quickly moved from surveying land to making offers for easements in order to construct the Bluegrass Pipeline, a jointly owned venture that would ship natural gas liquids over the 1,000 miles from the Marcellus and Utica oil-bearing shale deposits to Gulf Coast refineries. The companies want to lay much of the new pipeline in Kentucky — about 150 miles’ worth — while reconverting old gas pipelines to complete the rest of the route from Kentucky to Louisiana. Meanwhile, environmental groups like Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the state’s Sierra Club chapter jumped into the fray, taking the side of the property owners like Bradley who are unwilling to sell easements.
Driven by a mix of concerns over safety and property rights and bolstered by a dose of environmentalism, the opposition blurs ideological boundaries.
“I think lots of folks around here are kinda rubbed the wrong way by the thought that some out-of-state multibillion-dollar corporation could just come in, throw their weight around and take whatever land they want from folks to build this pipeline,” says Sellus Wilder, a former city commissioner in Frankfort, the state capital, who’s filming a documentary about the pipeline.
“In Kentucky, in particular, we seem to be a little,” Wilder pauses, “I wouldn’t say territorial, but I think we maybe value our ownership of our own land a little more deeply here.”
A lot to lose, little to gain
The Bluegrass Pipeline isn’t a run-of-the-mill gas pipeline.
The hazardous materials that it would carry, natural gas liquids, are a byproduct of gas drilling. Separated early on from the more commonly used natural gas product that goes toward electricity generation, most gas liquids, which include ethane, propane and butane, are used as feedstock for plastics and other petrochemical products. As the shale revolution barrels ahead in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, energy companies are aiming to capitalize on the high profit margins these liquids fetch on the market.
There’s just one major barrier. The chief processing and refining facilities, at least for now, are on the Gulf Coast, about 1,000 miles away from the Northeast’s fracking heartland. But if companies can manage to get their product to export facilities in Louisiana and Texas, lucrative international markets await: the American Chemistry Council predicts chemical exports to rise by 45 percent over the next five years. Offering up to 400,000 barrels of daily capacity, the Bluegrass Pipeline would help fuel this boom.
The clear stakes of the fight — the pipeline offers large rewards to a small niche of the gas and petrochemical industries while offering little to the Kentucky corridor it would cross — helps explain the passionate tenor of opposition, says Deb Nardone, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas national campaign, which, with its limited resources, has steered clear of the local fight so far.
“[Natural gas liquids] are not at all about domestic energy security,” Nardone says. “It’s about what’s going to make the industry money. And that’s what’s started to bring nontraditional allies together, as they realize it’s not in their personal benefit in the long run.”
Indeed, the more that residents educated themselves about the project, the more the opposition’s ranks swelled. Landowners didn’t need to be experts in the political economy of natural gas liquids — or for that matter, even care about climate change — to conclude the pipeline presented little benefits for their home state.
“This is private companies doing this,” says Buff Bradley. “It’s not like it’s gonna be something for us. I don’t even want it close to me. I sure don’t want to leave this earth and leave my kids to deal with it either.”
Tom Fitzgerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental advocacy group that offers legal assistance, helped circulate information to concerned landowners about the state’s lack of regulation over gas pipelines and the safety risks — two issues that have helped drive public outcry. Hazardous pipeline accidents are rare, but because of the dangerous substances being transported, any leaks and explosions that do occur can be catastrophic.
The nontraditional battle lines are reminiscent of those surrounding the Keystone XL, says Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska, which helped organize local ranchers and farmers against the pipeline before it became the environmental cause celèbre that it is today.
“For us, there was common ground in the property rights issues and eminent domain,” Kleeb says. “That opens the door for us to engage in conversations with landowners about climate change and about fossil fuels and about Nebraska [getting] 80 percent [of its energy from] coal and how we need to be producing more renewable energy.”
Unlike the Keystone XL, however, those latter types of conversations aren’t driving the movement in the Bluegrass State. But not for lack of trying — green groups are increasingly in touch with landowners in an effort to broaden the politics of opposition. Activists from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, for example, have pointed to the dirty pipeline proposal as evidence for the need to produce alternative, more sustainable sources of energy.
Those environmentalists also helped bring the movement to the streets: on Wednesday, hundreds rallied in Frankfort for the ninth annual “I Love Mountains Day.” The rally, which is organized by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, usually focuses on mountaintop removal. But this year, some of the speakers, like Sister Claire McGowan, a Dominican Sister of Peace, blasted the Bluegrass Pipeline. (Nuns from the Sisters of Loretto brought attention to the project last fall, when they refused to allow pipeline surveyors on their land).
In spite of these efforts, however, much of the opposition remains grounded in an old-fashioned, libertarian commitment to respecting private property rights, says Fitzgerald of the Kentucky Resources Council.
Of course, not everyone is opposed to the pipeline. Much like the proposed Keystone XL, heavily backed by the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department, a slice of organized labor is siding with the energy industry.
“We support it because it’s work for Kentucky workers,” says Ed Willoughby, director of the Kentucky Laborers Training Fund, which counts 3,000 members. “It provides jobs for Kentucky workers and that’s something we need.”
“The people that work construction, all of our jobs are temporary,” Willoughby says. “Every project has a beginning, every project has an end. When those projects begin they help those working families, they help their kids go to school, they help the economy around because they’re spending more money and are able to pay their house payments and their car payments.”
The end game
In the next few months, the pipeline’s opponents are hoping that a pending lawsuit and upcoming state legislation can stick the final dagger into the heart of the project.
They’ve calculated that Williams and Boardwalk, struggling to secure the necessary easements, will eventually be forced to seize property using eminent domain. Kentucky state law is ambiguous on the matter: While the use of eminent domain is restricted to projects that have a “public use,” the law doesn’t explicitly prohibitprivate natural gas liquids pipelines from qualifying. The companies, for their part, have refused to promise they won’t resort to eminent domain.
Meanwhile, in response to pressure from landowners and environmentalists, the Kentucky Legislature is slated to move on a series of bills that would prohibit the pipeline operators from seizing private land. In the upper chamber, Jimmy Higdon, a Republican from Marion County, is sponsoring a bill that would limit the use of eminent domain to state-regulated utilities.
“Our opinion is they can’t get across Kentucky without using eminent domain,” Higdon tells In These Times. “We just want to make sure if a landowner says no, that no means no.”
Higdon says he would rather not comment on any of the environmental issues. He is, quite emphatically, not attracted to this issue out of concern for climate change.
“I can’t say that I’m on board,” Higdon says. “I’m not convinced that [man-made climate change is] 100 percent a sure thing. I think there’s some conflicting information on climate change and I’m not totally convinced yet.”
Susan Steingraber on Going Behind Bars to Protest Fracking
When it comes to impeding development of the natural gas industry, though, activists in Kentucky will take whatever allies they can get. And environmentalists better get used to these sorts of fights, say Kleeb of Bold Nebraska and Nardone of the Sierra Club. As the gas industry seeks to move its products to foreign markets — whether it’s LNG or NGL — that means more pipelines. And that, in turn, means more struggles like these.
“It is much more than just an environmentalist fight,” says the Sierra Club’s Nardone. “It’s about an industry that’s rogue and very little regulated trying to muscle its way into impacting people’s lives.”
Faith Spotted Eagle, a Yankton Sioux, speaks in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, with Carl Hudson, Chief of the Southern Cherokee, right, awaits his turn to speak, during the U.S. State Department's sole public hearing in Grand Island, Neb., Thursday, April 18, 2013, to allow citizens to make their views known on the $7.6 billion Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
The only reason the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline wasn’t approved years ago is that activists, deeming it a vital proxy in the larger battle to keep the dirtiest fossil fuels in the ground, have applied relentless pressure on the Obama administration. But in the Great Plains, Native Americans have little confidence that the project can be stopped by traditional political activism.
On Sunday, Rob Hotakainen reported for McClatchy that some tribal leaders are preparing to mount a “last stand” against the pipeline if the White House approves its construction.
Faith Spotted Eagle figures that building a crude oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast would bring little to Indian Country besides more crime and dirty water, but she doubts that Native Americans will ever get the U.S. government to block the $7 billion project.
“There is no way for Native people to say no – there never has been,” said Spotted Eagle, 65, a Yankton Sioux tribal elder from Lake Andes, S.D. “Our history has caused us not to be optimistic. . . . When you have capitalism, you have to have an underclass – and we’re the underclass.”
Opponents may be down after a State Department study found that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would not contribute to global warming. But they haven’t abandoned their goal of killing what some call “the black snake.”
In South Dakota, home to some of the nation’s poorest American Indians, tribes are busy preparing for nonviolent battle with “resistance training” aimed at TransCanada, the company that wants to develop the 1,700-mile pipeline.
While organizers said they want to keep their strategy a secret, they’re considering everything from vigils to civil disobedience to blockades to thwart the moving of construction equipment and the delivery of materials.
“We’re going to do everything we possibly can,” said Greg Grey Cloud of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, who attended a two-day conference and training session in Rapid City last week sponsored by the Oglala Sioux Tribe called “Help Save Mother Earth from the Keystone Pipeline.” He said tribes are considering setting up encampments to follow the construction, but he stressed that any actions would be peaceful. “We’re not going to damage anything or riot or anything like that,” he said.
In some of the poorest communities in the country, others are looking at the project as a source of vital economic development. Read the whole story at McClatchyDC.com.
Progressives and liberal lawmakers who are working hard to block the massive free trade deal being negotiated by the Obama administration have just gotten a big boost from someone they’d been aggressively courting: Nancy Pelosi.
In an event with labor officials on Capitol Hill yesterday, Pelosi delivered her strongest statement yet of opposition to the bill that would grant the Fast Track Authority sought by the administration to negotiate a sweeping free trade deal with a dozen Pacific countries. The bill — co-sponsored by Dem Senator Max Baucus and GOP Rep. Dave Camp — is strongly opposed by labor, liberal groups and many Congressional Dems.
“No on Fast Track — Camp-Baucus — out of the question,” Pelosi said, according to a transcript of her remarks forwarded to me by her office. She also told assembled steelworkers: “We cannot support Camp-Baucus. We cannot support Camp-Baucus.”’
Pelosi’s statement comes just two weeks after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that he wouldn’t bring “fast track” trade promotion authority up for a vote.
Multilateral trade agreements like the TPP are virtually impossible to enact without fast track, which allows the executive branch to submit a treaty to Congress for an up or down vote, without amendments.
For this Congress, at least, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (and, presumably, the less well-known Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP) appears to be dead. Despite the fact that woefully little attention has been paid to the deal by mainstream news outlets, liberals, unions and tea party groups — which dubbed fast-track “Obamatrade” — have created a groundswell of grassroots opposition to the TPP that seems to have been heard by enough lawmakers in Washington to make a difference.
Holiday Clinkscale II waves an American flag as he joins thousands of protesters in downtown Raleigh, NC, Saturday Feb. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Chuck Liddy)
It was a proud day for this Raleigh native. On Saturday, a crowd of riled-up citizens that the North Carolina NAACP estimated to number upwards of 80,000 — the largest such gathering in the South since the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march — headed to the state capitol to protest the extremist policies of North Carolina’s GOP-controlled legislature.
Black and white, young and old, gay and straight, the people gave voice to a full roster of outrages, from racist attacks on voting rights to the state government’s refusal to expand Medicaid to half a million vulnerable Tar Heels to limitations on women’s reproductive freedom. From a four-year-old girl carrying a sign that read “Nope to Pope!” (referring to Art Pope, the state’s multimillionaire budget director and Koch ally) to the indomitable Rosa Nell Eaton, a 92-year-old veteran of the Civil Rights movement, they were united with one message: “Forward together, not one step back.”
The Moral March on Raleigh, organized by the North Carolina NAACP, was the eighth annual march of what is known as the Historic Thousands on Jones Street People’s Coalition (HKonJ), and a continuation of the Moral Monday demonstrations that took place in 2013, in which nearly 1,000 people (including my 81-year-old mother, a retired educator) were arrested.
There will be much chatter in the progressive media about this event (though there appears to be disappointingly little in the national press), some of it from people who have limited experience with the South in general, or North Carolina in particular. Since the region’s peculiar contradictions — and triumphs — were on full display Saturday, let me share a bit of perspective from one who grew up in these parts. MORE
Aaron Swartz at a Stop SOPA rally on Jan. 18, 2012. Photo by Daniel J. Sieradski, Creative Commons
A little over a year ago, open Internet activist Aaron Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment. Swartz had been facing 35 years in prison and fines of up to $1 million for downloading academic journals from an MIT computer, and he took his life two days after a prosecutor turned down a proposed plea deal that would have kept him out of prison. MORE
The stage at the inaugural 2014 Moral Mondays protest in Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo by Ari Berman.
On February 1, 1960, four black students at North Carolina A&T kicked off the 1960s civil rights movement by trying to eat at a segregated lunch counter at Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro. Two months later, young activists founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at Shaw University in Raleigh, which would transform the South through sit-ins, Freedom Rides and voter registration drives.
So it was fitting that North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement held a massive “Moral March” in Raleigh today which began at Shaw University, exactly 54 years after North Carolina’s trailblazing role in the civil rights movement. Tens of thousands of activists — from all backgrounds, races and causes — marched from Shaw to the North Carolina State Capitol, where they held an exuberant rally protesting the right-wing policies of the North Carolina government and commemorating the eighth anniversary of the HKonJ coalition (the acronym stands for Historic Thousands on Jones Street, where the NC legislature sits). MORE
Protestors gather at the National Mall in Washington calling on President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, as well as act to limit carbon pollution from power plants and “move beyond” coal and natural gas, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Here we go again. With President Obama on the cusp of a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, on March 2, hundreds of students and young people are expected to risk arrest in an act of civil disobedience at the White House to pressure President Obama to reject the project.
The sit-in is expected to be the largest act of civil disobedience by young people in the recent history of the environmental movement and it will be led by just the demographic that helped propel Obama to the presidency. The protest, known as “XL Dissent,” is meant to send a clear signal to President Obama that the base that helped elect him sees Keystone XL as a decision that will define his entire legacy. MORE
Bill McKibben discusses the recent State Department report on the Keystone XL pipeline.
This week’s guest on Moyers & Company, Bill McKibben, has been a leading environmental activist for years; he got his start in 1988, when, as a freelance journalist, he covered the environment around the time global warming emerged as a notable concern. His first book, The End of Nature, was published the following year, and is cited as one of the first books on climate change written for a general audience. Nearly two decades later, McKibben co-founded 350.org. Today it is one of the main groups working for change.
If you are interested in taking action to combat climate chaos, here are five organizations, including 350.org, on the front lines of the fight.
350.org was founded with the goal of uniting climate activists into a movement, with a strategy of bottom-up organizing around the world. Activists in 189 countries have organized 350.org’s local climate-focused campaigns, projects and actions. In India, for example, organizers have mobilized people to speak out against the country’s dependence on coal for growth. In the US, the group has campaigned to divest public institutions — such as municipalities and universities — from the fossil fuel industry, and to stop the Keystone XL pipeline. MORE
Eric Ross spent much of the morning on Friday, January 31, standing on an overpass above Interstate 90 in Bellevue, Wash., holding a 30-foot-wide banner that read: “Stop Reichert’s NAFTA. Flush the TPP. Vote No on Fast Track.”
The “Reichert” called out in Ross’ sign is Congressman Dave Reichert (R-WA), and at issue is his active support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sprawling deal that would change the way international trade is conducted in 12 countries around the Pacific Rim, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Vietnam, Peru, Australia and Japan.
As opponents of the TPP frequently point out, the deal isn’t just about trade: leaked sections of the text, which is not available to the public, reveal that the TPP would also lead to significant changes to policy areas such as intellectual property rights (especially on the Internet), the creation and enforcement of environmental protections, and the labeling and marketing of agricultural products.
Opponents of the deal say that the TPP would roll back the gains of almost every people’s movement, especially those concerned with labor and the environment. MORE