It’s time for climate activists to admit our tactics have failed. I commend the movement for all of its efforts but the recent congressional takeover by Republicans demonstrates how ineffective we’ve been. Karl Rove is right, “Climate is gone.”
And we’re not alone. The first two years of Obama’s presidency have seen the failure of many progressive groups: anti-war and health care activists most notably.
So, who is winning? The wealthy, especially executives of multinational corporations. In Sunday’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote:
“The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976. … C.E.O.’s of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker in 1980, but 531 times as much in 2001. Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent.”
We’re in the midst of a rapidly escalating class war marked by an increasingly successful movement by corporate leaders seizing power and rights from individuals.
Perhaps the greatest harm from this war is the nearly complete failure by Congress and the Obama administration to curb greenhouse gas emissions and move us in a significant way towards cleaner energy solutions.
The Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision was a massive victory that opened the floodgates for unlimited anonymous spending which helped Republicans gain control of the House on November 2nd. And, they’ll spend even more in 2012.
Thanks to Republican victories in state legislative races, they’ll be solidifying these gains for the next decade: the GOP gets to redraw 147 more Congressional districts than Democrats (see also gerrymandering).
The tactic of electing democrats to legislate sensible climate policy is clearly a dead end.
Time to Give Up on Failed Tactics
So, when the Democratic party starts rallying progressives and environmental nonprofits to get behind their candidates for 2012, it’s time to say, "No more!" When democrats say “if Republicans gain control of the Presidency and Senate, everything we care about will be lost,” we have to remember that President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid never even brought the climate bill up for a vote.
In fact, it’s democrats who solidified the conservative voting bloc for the Citizens United case. Twenty-two democrats voted to ratify the nomination of Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and none filibustered the nomination of Justice Alito.
Similarly, when <insert large environmental nonprofit here> asks you to make an end of year donation, instead ask them if they are ready to abandon their failed tactics. Hold onto your wallet and ask them what they plan to do differently.
So, How Do We Save the Planet?
First, we have to recognize that our movement has failed because we’ve hitched its success to the votes of elected officials whose influence is legally bought and paid for by corporate interests on an ongoing basis.
Climate activism is doomed as long as corporate money retains a central role in elections and government policy.
Second, we have to begin questioning the legitimacy of the Supreme Court and its long history of granting rights not found in the Constitution to corporations. If not for the questionable Bush v. Gore decision, Roberts and Alito might not even be on the Court. Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito routinely rule on the side of wealthy shareholders. Says the People for the American Way:
“What is striking today, however, is how often the Roberts Court, like its predecessor the Rehnquist Court, hands down counter-intuitive 5-4 victories to corporations by ignoring clear precedents, twisting statutory language and distorting legislative intent. From labor and workplace law to environmental law, from consumer regulation to tort law and the all-important election law, the conservative-tilting Court has reached out to enshrine and elevate the power of business corporations --what some people have begun to call ‘corporate Americans’--over the rights of the old-fashioned human beings called citizens.”
Finally and most importantly, it’s time for environmental nonprofits and climate activists to work together in coalition to restore individual rights and reject this corporate takeover of our society.
We have to put as much effort as we’ve put into educating the public about climate change into educating people about how the rise of corporate power is blocking sensible climate policy, destroying our environment and putting future generations at risk.
With fifteen million unemployed Americans and anger on the left and the right about Citizens United, there is a huge opportunity to organize against the continued consolidation of corporate power.
Climate organizations and activists of all kinds need to unite to lead a movement to restore rights for individuals and the environment and reject the dominance of corporate power and money in our public institutions.
After Citizens United, with Republicans in control of the house and redistricting and many democrats already influenced by corporate interests, we’re not going to win by playing elections or by playing by the same old rules.