The world’s governments will gather in Paris this December to address global warming. But no matter what those leaders promise to do—not enough, is the smart bet—Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Rev. Lennox Yearwood and other activists are preparing to take matters into their own hands.
They filled the Brooklyn Academy of Music late Thursday night, more than a thousand people rallying around a new plan to freeze fossil fuel production and put the industry out of business. They identified Shell, Exxon, BP, Chevron, Total, and others by name, and accused them of stealing tomorrow for profit today.
“These are rogue companies that are careening past the earth’s physical limits, and we need to turn them off,” said Klein, the author of “This Changes Everything," a book that argues that our economic and planetary systems are at war with one another. She believes we need to upend capitalism as we know it.
“It’s time for the Koch Brothers to feel a little austerity,” said McKibben, calling on people to starve the fossil fuel companies that made the brothers rich.
Streamed live on Shift, msnbc’s new channel for digital video, the evening was organized by 350.org and partners, the same campaigners that filled the streets of New York with a 300,000 person climate justice march last September. The theme was “off and on,” because activists hope to turn off fossil fuels, and turn on cheap, clean renewable power.
They started slowly, talking through victories and milestones, celebrating the movements to divest from oil and coal and stop construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. They touted their growing international footprint, especially in poorer countries that have contributed the least to the emissions that cause climate change.
But the spine of the night was the activism, which sounded at times as angry and aggressive as it was ahead of the anti-corporate rallies of the late 1990s. Those gatherings plunged Seattle, Washington, and other cities into sometimes-violent confrontations. 350.org and company may have the same level of commitment, maybe more.
“We will fight until our last breath,” Thilmeeza Hussaib, a youth organizer from the climate-threatened Maldives said to cheers. “We have something they don’t have, which is people power,” added Juan Flores, the son of farm workers in California’s Central Valley.
This is no longer a campaign for mere awareness, or even a campaign for political action. What 350.org and others want to do is keep 80 percent of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. That’s the equivalent of $100 trillion in stranded cash, according to a recent calculation by Citigroup. But the activists (and many scientists) say it may be the only way to prevent catastrophic climate change.
That’s because of “global warming’s terrifying math,” as Bill McKibben put it, reprising a theme from past rallies. The math, built on the work of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, comes down to three figures: 2 degrees Celsius, 565 gigatons, and 2,795 gigatons.
The first figure is the rise in global temperature that scientists consider to be safe. The second is the amount of carbon humans can pour into the atmosphere by mid-century and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. The third is the amount of carbon already in reserves around the world—an amount that is at least 3 times more than we can safely burn.
McKibben concludes from this math that we need to stop “every big fossil fuel project,” not just the Keystone XL pipeline and Shell’s drilling in the arctic. Every big fossil fuel project.
That position has become almost mainstream in the environmental movement. Last month Greenpeace and Rising Tide told msnbc that this would be a radical autumn, the start of a bold new escalation that’s more muscular and sustained than anything we’ve seen.
Rising Tide is calling on activists to “flood, blockade, occupy and shut down the systems that jeopardize our future.”
Greenpeace is saying publicly that it’s done with political letters, petitions, and polite sign-waving about climate change. “We have exhausted all these mechanisms,” said Annie Leonard, the head of Greenpeace USA, “and so we really are mutually compelled to up the ante and physically stop the problem.”
Now 350.org is promising its followers the very same thing. Their goal is to stop the money and machinery of the fossil fuel industry with their own bodies.
They’ll build momentum with gatherings during the Pope’s visit to America. But the mass action will happen in Paris in November and December and worldwide in April of 2016, the group said.
“All those carbon bomb projects need to be stopped,” said May Boeve, the executive director of 350.org and one of the night’s last speakers. “We’ll see you in the streets.”