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Friday August 6, 2010

An open letter to all people and organizations working to combat global


warming

From members of the 1Sky Board of Directors (Jessica Bailey, KC Golden,


Bracken Hendricks, Bill McKibben, Billy Parish, Vicky Rateau, Gus Speth
and Betsy Taylor)

As we find ourselves surrounded by the tatters of the climate debate in the U.S.
Congress, it seems fitting to take a moment to step back and ponder where we go from
here. While the blogosphere is buzzing with assignments of blame for the failure of the
Senate to act, we are much more concerned about how we move forward with urgency
and clarity of purpose. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury to pack our bags and go
home as the Senate did only moments ago. We just staggered through the hottest six
months in recorded history worldwide. People everywhere are being impacted by the
damage we have done through decades of carbon loading, and it is clear that our ailing
planet will not sit idly by as our political leaders have done.

In reflecting, we find ourselves returning to the founding principles of 1Sky when we


formed in 2007: We must redouble our efforts to unite American society across all
divides in an unyielding call for action on the scope and scale of the enormous challenge
and opportunity we are confronting. We are galvanized by the understanding that the
political, human rights and economic repercussions of climate change transcend the
‘environmental issue’ label, and present a nation-wide challenge requiring a unified
response. As United States citizens, we understand our moral and ethical responsibility
to act with resolve – both as members of a global community, and as the leading per
capita emitters of global warming pollution. We must succeed in building a nationwide
movement that changes the politics of what is possible to deliver what is necessary; our
very lives depend on it.

The central aspirations of our campaign as embodied in the 1Sky Solutions which have
been endorsed by more than 600 allied organizations nationwide continue as our north
star:

• Reduce global warming pollution at least 35 percent below current


levels by 2020, and at least 80 percent by 2050.
• Create 5 million green jobs and pathways out of poverty by
rebuilding and refueling America with a comprehensive energy
efficiency mobilization including immediate investment in a clean-energy
infrastructure.
• Re-power America by imposing a moratorium on new coal plants
that emit global warming pollution and replacing dirty fuels such as coal
and oil with 100 percent renewable energy.
But what lessons can we learn from the last three years, years in which the advocacy for
action on climate change was better funded and coordinated than ever before? We all
had high hopes, and the debate was closer to center stage than it has ever been. But in
the end, we are left largely empty-handed.

We feel it is imperative to pause, ask tough questions about what went wrong and why
we as a community failed to achieve our aspirations, and – more importantly - to look
carefully at what is most needed given the new legislative and political landscape.
Toward this end, we are holding a retreat in mid-November with key allies, organizers,
1Sky staff and board, but also with leaders from other sectors to help us see in fresh
ways, and to explore what role 1Sky can best play as we move into the next chapter.

As we prepare for the strategic discussions we will be having, six key lessons strike us as
salient and worth offering now for discussion and debate. We don’t pretend to have the
answers, but we are committed to grappling with the tough questions and to road-
testing solutions. Our thoughts at this time:

1. We need to redouble our investment in grassroots movement


building. Climate and energy advocates were better funded and coordinated
than ever before, and yet we were unable to convince reluctant policymakers to
take action to prevent global warming and jumpstart a clean energy economy.
Donors invested unprecedented amounts of money in the climate and energy
debate, including paid advertising that elevated grasstops voices from the
military, business, and faith communities. However, we feel strongly that a
longstanding and damaging underinvestment in grassroots organizing severely
crippled our ability to move policy forward. Swing politicians routinely claimed
that they simply were not hearing enough from their constituents in favor of
climate and energy reform – and in the summer of 2009, the calls opposing
action on global warming in the House of Representatives reportedly
outnumbered the calls in support of it by margins of more than 10:1. This chapter
of climate and energy advocacy was marked by an unprecedented
“professionalization,” with new resources underwriting polling and campaign-
style infrastructure that served many important purposes. We need all of it and
much more for the next battle. Until or unless we have a cohesive fabric at a local
level throughout the country, woven together from citizens, organizations and
businesses that are passionately committed to preserving our future, we will
never elect politicians who share our commitment, or win policies that deliver
solutions at the scale of the problem." The Global Day of Work on 10/10/10 is a
good opportunity to converge. Of course this is not work that can be completed
overnight – it requires years of work and deep, patient investments of time and
resources. And it requires new thinking, strategies and tactics to engage
communities. This is not just about getting to 60 votes in the Senate as we all
know; our legacy must be a strong and enduring grassroots movement, powered
by passion and conviction to the ongoing fight of our lifetimes. That is what we
are redoubled in our efforts to create with the 1Sky campaign.
2. President Obama and the White House failed to lead on climate and
energy with the fierce determination required to tackle a challenge
this big, and the environmental community failed to publicly demand
the leadership required. From our perspective, the environmental
community and others concerned with climate change failed to put sufficient
pressure on President Obama and the White House. Perhaps this is
understandable given their historic relationships with the party that has delivered
a majority of the environmental reforms for our country, but it did not serve us
well in this debate. Our president is leading a deeply divided country and
Congress, and while he undoubtedly “gets it” when it comes to the imperative to
take action, he was surrounded by strategists who doubted the wisdom or the
feasibility of winning on this issue. We simply never made a strong enough public
case to change their minds, and as a result we did not get the leadership
demonstrated by the White House in the health care and regulatory reform
debates.

3. In order to win over American minds, we have to talk about global


warming and the transition to a green economy. We were all counseled
again and again that the polls mandated a message focused on jobs, energy
independence, and national security. We were warned repeatedly by highly paid
consultants and well-funded studies that discussion of global warming or the
climate crisis was unproductive. But we reject the “either/or” dichotomy, and
maintain, as our founding 1Sky principles above suggest, that we must be clear
about the planetary emergency we are facing even as we emphasize the economic
opportunity of investment in a clean energy economy. During the course of the
last three years, as organizations adopted the clean energy economy emphasis, we
saw our opponents make steady headway in their ongoing and deliberate
disinformation campaign to suggest that there is credible debate about the
science of global warming. We left the science of global warming flank largely
undefended, and we are paying the price as polls suggest decreases in the
percentage of Americans who are convinced that global warming is an urgent
problem that we must address. We have to reclaim the debate on the science,
clearly and with conviction, before it is too late. At the same time, we have to
redouble our efforts to explain and demonstrate why an investment in a clean
energy economy is critical to our future. We need to make real federal
investments in energy research and development to help drive down the price of
alternatives. For too long, we have fought this fight on terms set by our
opposition. We must change the frame and tell the truth in a way that empowers
and ignites an irrepressible citizen’s force for change.

4. We must negotiate from a position of power in order to build our


power. Compromise is ultimately essential, but we believe a far more ambitious
opening stance and aggressive advocacy throughout would have served our cause
better. From the beginning in the House of Representatives, the debate was
framed and it became an alleged foregone conclusion, for example, that we had to
trade away enforcement of existing Clean Air Act provisions against leading
sources of global warming pollution in order to obtain a cap on global warming
pollution. While it is important and necessary to get industry on board, from our
perspective, our opening posture reflected and ultimately reinforced our lack of
power. At each step, we seemed ready to give more away, which made it
increasingly difficult to sustain strong and unified public demand for action.
Rarely did we stand firm until the final battle when everyone converged in
defense of the EPA. Time and again throughout this debate, our political leaders
were assured that “we” (meaning the environmental community as a whole)
would take what we could get – even when it became increasingly unlikely that it
would represent even an incremental step in the right direction. In a similar vein,
we believe we should encourage open and frank discussions amongst members of
our community with varying viewpoints on tactics and strategy. We should seek
consensus where it is available and stand strong and undivided together, even as
we discuss and use our differences to our strategic advantage wherever possible
in the debate. Too often, those who pushed for more ambitious agendas were
vilified. We tired of hearing “don’t let perfect get in the way of the good” when the
good was long gone in the process. We have made steady progress in this area,
but we need even more openness, dialogue, debate and transparency among us as
a community if we are to succeed.

5. Companies wield the dominant influence on U.S. politics, and


controlled the debate on energy reform. Coal, oil, gas, agriculture and
utility company lobbyists are literally swarming Capitol Hill. As Eric Alterman
recently pointed out in his article Kabuki Democracy: Why A Progressive
Presidency is Impossible, For Now:
According to the Center for Public Integrity, the number of lobbyists
devoted to climate change had risen by more than 400 percent since
2003, to a total of 2,810 – giving lobbyists a five-to-one advantage over
the combined membership of the House and Senate. (This is in contrast to
an estimated 138 working on behalf of alternative forms of energy.)
In addition to a Capitol Hill glutted with lobbyists, the pocketbooks of most
politicians are lined with campaign contributions from coal, oil, gas and utility
companies. Click here to see Oil Change International’s map of oil company
contributions to members of Congress, just by way of example. To make matters
worse, the Supreme Court recently decided Citizens United v Federal
Election Commission, 558 U.S. 50 (2010) holding that corporate funding of
independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited under
the First Amendment. The ruling opens the door to unfettered corporate
influence during the forthcoming mid-term elections, as fossil fuel fat cats can
disguise themselves as ‘citizens for a greener future’ and frame the national
debate over the airwaves. Hasn’t the time come for a broader, cross-sectoral
collaboration to contain the force of money in politics? While we’re at it, isn’t the
dysfunction of the filibuster in the Senate worth a more rigorous debate?

6. The international dimensions of the climate crisis are more critical


than ever. Millions of vulnerable people all over the world are being hard hit by
the effects of global warming, through no fault of their own. Their ecosystems are
suffering and being eliminated and, perhaps not surprisingly, 2009 witnessed the
biggest global mobilizations on climate change in history. International Energy
Agency projections that virtually all emissions growth will be in developing
countries and that China may emit more than the rest of the world combined in
25 years highlight the need for attention on several international fronts,
including: (1) the ongoing internationalization of our movement, (2) a more
robust strategy to bridge the global energy technology gap to provide and deliver
de-carbonized energy to 1.5 billion people without energy, and (3) follow through
on the significant climate finance commitments by the United States and others
made in Copenhagen and an ongoing focus on the need for a fair, ambitious and
binding global deal to reduce global warming pollution.

We offer these thoughts humbly as renewable fuel for thought. Do you agree or
disagree? What are your key takeaways? Please join is in a conversation here. Clearly
none of us have the answer or we wouldn’t be in this fix, but we believe that we can and
we must do better.

With dedication and respect for our colleagues in this fight,

Members of the 1Sky Board of Directors (Jessica Bailey, KC Golden,


Bracken Hendricks, Bill McKibben, Billy Parish, Vicky Rateau, Gus Speth
and Betsy Taylor)*

*All members of the 1Sky board join this letter in their individual capacities,
rather than on behalf of other institutions with which they are affiliated.