Course Correction for the Climate Movement

Were Donald Trump to win the Presidency on November 8, it would represent a deathblow to the climate movement: it would be impossible to make any further progress on reducing carbon pollution if the chief executive officer of the United States happened to be a man who sabotaged the Paris climate agreement and appointed vehement climate-change deniers to head the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

However, even if Hillary Clinton wins, the climate movement, just a year out from its victory over the Keystone XL pipeline, will have to regain the focus and discipline it brought to that noble fight. The viability of future generations will depend on whether the movement does so.

The climate movement must focus on two overriding goals: recapturing as many state legislatures as possible from the forces of climate denial (in order to offset the continued climate intransigence of the US House and Senate and aggressively push for state-level climate action) and applying as much pressure as possible to mainstream-media entities in an effort to force those entities to expand coverage of the climate crisis. There’s nothing wrong with other efforts to bring about climate justice, such as the continued demonstrations against the Dakota Access pipeline. However, if state legislatures fail to take strong action on climate, and if the Fourth Estate continues to ignore the role human-caused climate change plays in extreme weather events such as Hurricane Matthew, such efforts to bring about climate justice will be in vain.

There’s a reason why Charles and David Koch are so fixated on controlling state legislatures; now that they’ve been able to block the House and Senate from taking action on climate for six years, they recognize that snuffing out clean-energy progress in the states will protect the profits of their fossil-fuel empire. The states are the battlegrounds where the climate movement must fight–and as Nathaniel Stinnett of the Environmental Voter Project has suggested, climate hawks haven’t shown up on these battlegrounds in the past. Allowing climate deniers to remain in control of state legislatures is dangerous, and climate hawks must turn out consistently in state-level elections going forward to neutralize this danger.

Climate hawks must also borrow a page from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s book and apply pressure on network-news executives to expand their coverage of the climate crisis. It is repugnant that the mainstream media refused to connect the climate dots in its coverage of Hurricane Matthew–the sort of fossil-fueled superstorm that climate scientists have predicted for decades. Yes, the executives at these networks are presumably afraid of alienating the fossil-fuel companies that advertise on these networks–but climate hawks must become more aggressive in pushing back against this sort of cowardice, and bombard these executives with demands for responsible coverage that properly puts extreme weather events in a climate context.

It’s been two years since the historic People’s Climate March in New York City. Since the March, the climate movement has enjoyed a number of victories, including the aforementioned Keystone XL victory and the ban on fracking in New York State. However, if the climate movement loses the discipline and determination that made the movement a political force in the early-2010s, it will be a historic tragedy. The enemies of a sustainable future are as focused and fervent as they have ever been. Can the same be said for the supporters of a sustainable future?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.