DC at Night

DC at Night

Monday, April 22, 2013

Activism and Climate Change

Today is Earth Day, a  day when the focus of millions of Americans is on making the planet environmentally better.  But for activist May Boeve and the 350.org organization she represents, every day is an earth day, a day for working to combat climate change that threatens our very existence.

Boeve was one of the 4 panelists who appeared last week at the program Keystone XL: The Science, Stakes, and Strategy Behind the Fight Over the Tar Sands Pipeline at the University of California Center in DC. Much of the event was focused on the best way for activists to advance their climate change agenda.

Earlier this year, 350.org was one of the sponsors of the Washington rally in which more than 40,000 people called on President Barack Obama to reject the 875-mile pipeline which would transport oil from Canadian tar sands through the midwestern United States. Obama has yet to rule on the project.

"This is a battle against the fossil fuel industry and we want him to chose us," Boeve said. "This won't be over until we give up and we won't give up."

David Roberts of Grist magazine, who has been covering Keystone regularly and recently wrote about the “Virtues of Being Unreasonable on Keystone” said the climate change movement was currently suffering from a phenomenon known as pluralistic ignorance. In simple terms pluralistic ignorance occurs when people
think that a position they favor isn't really supported by others even though it actually is.

Roberts said what is needed is a social phenomenon called social proof. "People do not analyze facts. They look to other people for their cues. People will wait until they get those cues. Why do you think they have laugh tracks on television," he said.

When it comes to climate change, Roberts believes there "are a lot more people out there with a sense that things are badly wrong, but they don't want to be that person (who starts the movement). What's needed is social proof - a signal to other people that it really is an emergency."

Roberts says that activists can serve that purpose. "The more signals that are sent, the more people will care. So I say 'yeah activism.'"

Michael Grunwald, senior national correspondent for Time magazine and author of The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era recently declared that on Keystone, “I’m with the Tree Huggers!”

"I'm not afraid of the oil that spills. I'm more afraid of the oil that doesn't spill," Grunwald said. "Keystone is not the perfect fight, but it's the fight we're having and it's time to choose a side. We need to leave carbon in the ground and we need to put a political price on carbon," Grunwald said.

Michael Levi, director of the program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the new book The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle For America’s Future contends that combating climate change will require “doing deals with those who want to expand production of oil and gas.”

"I worry about this you're either with us or against us stance," Levi said. "I worry a lot about that kind of division. You're going to need Congress to do some things and for them not to do some things.We need to have broad support; we need to make sure we don't have too many unnecessary enemies. People need to realize there is a path they can take to solve the problem."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The event began with the showing of a cartoon about the Keystone project from the opposing perspective. To view that video, click here.

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