Pipeline Win Breathes life into Climate Movement

Ben Smith at Politico has picked up on something that speaks to why the (temporarily) successful anti-Keystone pipeline protest is meaningful to the climate debate. Smith noticed this:

Whatever the objectives of protesters involved in Occupy Wall Street, they have succeeded in engaging the country in a conversation about income inequality.

A quick search of the news–including print articles, web stories and broadcast transcripts–via Nexis reveals a significant rise in the use of the term “income inequality,” from less than 91 instances in the week before the occupation started to almost 500 instances last week.

Now I won’t say that the sustained anti-pipeline protest has had a similar impact, notwithstanding their recent victory. And sure, one can argue, as Michael Levi convincingly does, “that the tactics and coalitions that have been deployed to block the pipeline are ill designed to making major progress on climate change.” But I contend that he and others are missing the larger significance of what’s happened.

As I wrote earlier this week:

the complexity of climate change offers few tangible symbols. So the Keystone pipeline has become an effective rallying point, with serendipitous tail winds coming from the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Keystone is now representative of [Bill] McKibben’s Big Picture”“which is about spotlighting the urgency of climate change and the need for action.

If nothing else, the pipeline protesters have succeeded in breathing life into a moribund climate movement. They’ve also helped inject climate change into the political and public discourse. So while some analysts are questioning the long-term viability of the climate campaign’s tactics, I’m saying that such a long view is not really important at the moment. (It will be soon, though.) What matters more is that they’ve found a way to revive interest in an issue that had fallen off the radar.

43 Responses to “Pipeline Win Breathes life into Climate Movement”

  1. Jeff Norris says:

    “When I don’t get his grape juice fast enough, my 6 year-old says, “All you care about is your laptop.” Nov 5
    When your 6 year old does this are you impressed that he found a way to revive interest in an issue that had fallen off the radar.  Do you take pride in the fact that your child has developed enough to be able to push your emotional buttons?  Do you think taking the  long view like teaching reasonable limits, offering explanation of limits or encouraging personal responsibility  are not really important at the moment. (though, it soon will be.)
    Keith in no way am I saying you are a bad parent or your child is acting anything but like a normal 6 year old.  From what you have written you seem to be a very loving and responsible parent.  What I am trying to point out is ludicrous your support or any  attempt to spin into a great positive the current decision on Keystone is.  The administration has not shown any leadership or responsibility but has only made the politically expedient decision to kick the can down the road.  Proponents should only take pride that they can politically manipulate the man who once said
    From the day I took office, I’ve been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious; such an effort would be too contentious. I’ve been told that our political system is too gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for a while. For those who make these claims, I have one simple question: How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold?
    State of the Union Address, Jan. 27, 2010

  2. Keith Kloor says:


    Well, that’s an interesting take on a playful anecdote shared on twitter.

    Seriously, I’m not sure why you see my analysis as “spin.” If there’s one thing I pride myself on not doing at this blog, it’s spinning. Nor am I offering “support” to the climate movement. I’m not the cheerleader type, except when I’m watching the Giants on Sunday, in which case I become passionately tribal. 

    I’m simply saying that the sustained (and growing) nature of the anti-pipeline protest has helped create a bona fide (grassroots) climate movement and put global warming back on the political radar. And that this is an important outcome that has been overlooked in some of the wonky (and critical) analysis of Obama’s decision to postpone (what I think will be) the eventual greenlighting of the pipeline. 

  3. harrywr2 says:

    In news about people actually working at reducing Chinese emissions by closing the ‘nuclear skills gap’ in China –
    BEIJING””Exelon Corp. will provide consulting and training services to an arm of state-owned China National Nuclear Corp.

  4. huxley says:

    There’s no question that Occupy and Keystone rev up their respective bases as well as juicing up media presence for their issues.

    However, this election cycle will be about the economy, jobs, and likely more conservative values as the pendulum swings back from 2008. Occupy and Keystone do not look nearly as good to independents and swing voters as they do to liberals and the media.
    In that context I believe Occupy — which is far left, inarticulate and literally disease- and crime-ridden — will be rejected by the American middle class as toxic. Likewise, the Keystone protests and postponement, preventing tens of thousands of jobs, will prove to be an ample club for Republicans to beat Democrats with in the 2012 elections.

    Occupy and Keystone provide a nice sugar rush for beleaguered leftists and environmentalists but I doubt those movements du jour will provide lasting sustenance. Advocates for sustainability take note.

  5. Jarmo says:

    #2 Keith,

    All kinds of things get more attention than they normally receive due to the election next year as candidates try their best to get a shot at the Oval Office. Your posts of Republican candidates have highlighted this very well.

    It is no surprise that Obama decided to kick the can down to road, it had been predicted by many:

    President Barack Obama‘s upcoming decision on TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline may split some of his key base support in his reelection effort no matter which way he leans, raising the question of whether he should punt the decision until after next November.

    Furthermore, it is equally obvious that the issue of global warming is ignored and being pushed to the sidelines by Obama. This 2 page Politico story, for example, did not mention global warming at all. They quoted Obama:

    Obama told a local Nebraska TV station this week that the State Department would be giving him its review “over the next several months” and that he would make the final call after considering a variety of factors, including environmental concerns, public health, jobs and energy independence

    The story in the Guardian highlighted that the administration does not want to take global warming into consideration in its review:

    It is also not an outright victory for environmental groups. Jones said the State Department will not address the main concern of national environmental groups ““ climate change ““ in its review.

    My take: I don’t think interest in global warming has been revived… except maybe among the faithful.

  6. Eric Adler says:

    The reason given for delay was a valid one. The impartiality of the environmental assessment was questioned. The pipeline interests were in control of it. The process was flawed.
    “..The State Department’s inspector general announced on Monday that he was looking into charges of a conflict of interest and improper political influence in the preparation of the project’s environmental impact statement. Some have faulted the department for assigning the study to a company with financial ties to TransCanada…”
    Whatever the outcome a questionable process should not be allowed to stand.

  7. Dean says:

    Saying that the Occupy movement is “which is far left, inarticulate and literally disease- and crime-ridden” is kind of like saying that the Tea Party is a racist group that thinks that Obama is akin to a monkey. Each groups might possibly have a few people self-identified for which the description could arguably be correct, but in neither case is it an accurate description of the movement.
    Occupy has support from a wide cross-section of the country – about the same percentage as the tea party last I heard, but it is too early to tell what it will actually evolve into, and whether it will develop any political impact. It certainly is possible though. If it does, issues like Keystone will probably be one that supporters won’t necessarily agree on.

  8. Tom C says:

    Um, Dean –

    The only reason the majority of the country is not utterly disgusted by the “Occupiers” is that the mainstream media cover for them.  The only reason people disliked the Tea Party is that the media lied about them.

    Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Tea Party protests.  No broken windows, no rapes, no jailings, not even any litter.  Maybe there were a handful of signs in poor taste.  Not to mind, the media had my aunt worried about a violent and racists mob attacking her.

    The widespread criminal and anti-social behavior of the Occupiers is well documented, but you will not find a word of it in the NYT.  Only hosannas to their “idealism”.

    THis comparison only highlights the mendacity of the mainstream media.

  9. Jeff Norris says:

    I think your sympathies and personal desires are clouding your usually astute critical thinking.  To the  right you say “But even absent outcome, I maintain that the pipeline protest has kick-started a stalled movement.”  That remains to be seen but I admit it is possible, but where does this bona fide (grassroots) climate movement go next.   It is so much easier to block something than it is to create.  Just like it is so much easier to campaign and criticize than it is to govern and lead.
    I have to ask, if there was not a bona fide climate movement before what exactly has Gore, Hansen, Romm  been doing prior to this.  I hope you are not suggesting they have been engaging in astroturfing.

  10. Fred says:

    Wow, what a “victory.”  In a country with a real unemployment rate of 20%, thousands of jobs have been lost/delayed due to this action.  Of course, I see no mention of nor concern for those so affected here.  Also, atmospheric CO2 levels will not be affected whatsoever.   

  11. grypo says:

    “The widespread criminal and anti-social behavior of the Occupiers is well documented, but you will not find a word of it in the NYT. ”

    It all gets published there and other places, although I’m not sure why one would not expect this to happen in what is, essentially, a counter-culture movement, whose core of tactics include living in communes in public areas (usually violating ordinances), civil disobedience, and other aged and new social change maneuvers.  All the camps, to my knowledge, have denounced violence and destruction as a tactic, but this type of behavior is unfortunate and inevitable in certain cases, especially when police show up in riot gear, or 15,000 people descend on Oakland.  It’s not really news, but someone with your political persuasion may want it to be accentuated, I guess.

    But, in a sense, NYT doesn’t get it.  Neither do the liberal media, or the right media.  This isn’t just a simple protest with the intent of getting a few democrats elected or helping out unions (in fact, the bureaucratic union leaders are quite nervous and only support it because they’d lose their rank and file if they didn’t).  These people have pretty much had it.  They understand that change can no longer occur using the current political system, in the current economic system, which, as we saw in the bailout in the US, and now the political changes in Europe are essentially one in the same body.

    I don’t know how far this goes, or what to make of it’s existence yet.  This is exciting for me, in good ways and bad. It’s still early and contained, still wresting with camping rules and internal problems, still struggling to come to consensus on it’s own direction and future.  But its radical and this is good, as anything outside the small sliver of right/left winged-neoliberal politic is marginalized in the US.  It could end tomorrow for all anyone knows.  That would be unfortunate because we’d all miss what might happen on Wall Street this Thursday.  #nov17

  12. Fred says:

    The Keystone project would have provided much needed energy supplies at a reasonable cost.  And it gets cancelled/put off.  Meanwhile, “green energy” projects are receiving billions in subsidies that, I suspect, will never be paid back.  One solar project costing over a billion is to sell electricity to Pacific Gas and Electric for twice the market rate.  A “gold rush of subsidies” is proclaimed.See:
    AGW theory is dubious science propping up blatantly wasteful and damaging government policies.

  13. hunter says:

    Your apparent endorsement of the movement to stop the pipeline implies strongly that you are OK with lying and deception if it achieves your goals.

  14. huxley says:

    Saying that the Occupy movement is “which is far left, inarticulate and literally disease- and crime-ridden” is kind of like saying that the Tea Party is a racist group that thinks that Obama is akin to a monkey

    Dean @7: Except that it isn’t.

    I can find abundant evidence for each of my claims against Occupy with easy googles. Show me your evidence that the Tea Party is “a racist group that thinks that Obama is akin to a monkey.”

    The charge of racism against the Tea Party is based on lies and mindreading. For instance, Andrew Breitbart has offered $100,000 to anyone who could back up the slander that Tea Partiers were shouting the N-word at members of the Black Caucus. No one collected.
    The “racist Tea Party” canard rests on the inability of progressives to understand how large numbers of ordinary Americans could oppose Obama on a policy basis and the willingness of the media to report the charge of racism without really investigating it.

    Opposing a black leader is not the same as opposing his race, regardless of what Morgan Freeman, Jane Garofalo, and Sean Penn say.

  15. Sashka says:

    I don’t believe there is any urgency or need for immediate action. Nor do I believe that this “temporary victory” has highlighted any of that. Obama concluded that it is more politically expedient to postpone the decision and so he did.

    That’s all that happened.

  16. Nick P. says:

    “…large numbers of ordinary Americans could oppose Obama on a policy basis…”

    Yes, because if the Tea Party is anything, it’s articulate about policy alternatives.  (pshhhhh…)

  17. Tom Scharf says:

    OWS taps into anti-Wall Street anger, which is bipartisan after the bail outs.  It would be a big mistake for OWS to attach itself to the toxic subject of AGW if it is hoping for something useful to come out of the movement.  You might as well have them take a stance on abortion.

    Why limit your audience?  

    The Tea Party was effective because it translated the public backlash against spending into real political change.  It remains to be seen whether OWS can do the same.  OWS general disdain for engaging the political machine may limit its effectiveness.  

    At some point also OWS will need to suggest changes instead of just complaining, and that is where you start losing support.  It’s like campaigning vs. governing.


  18. Dean says:

    I never said that the Tea Party overall is racist and my whole point is that it is not. Neither are the extreme accusations against Occupy/99% representative. I saw numerous examples of racist propaganda by a few people at Tea Party rallies, and some long-lived occupy sites ended up becoming homeless encampments, with all the problems attendant of the homeless.
    Neither represents what either is about. But your response is that of a classic ideologue: everything about “my” side is false and everything about “your” side is true.
    That many cities are closing down the camps may help the movement broadly since all the coverage of the problems at the camps will decline – as long as other types of actions and activities step up to replace them and keep the issues in the news.

  19. Tom Scharf says:

    @18 Nick P.

    The Tea Party has always been about excessive government spending and the size of government.  It wants reduced spending and is willing to accept less govt services in return.  

    Now you may not like that message, or agree with entitlement reform, but that is the primary message.

    As for Tea Party “influence” and polls documenting what Tea party thinks on other issues, it is all over the map and pretty much low priority in most member’s minds.  Of course their is plenty of gold to mine when looking for strange thinking from some Tea party people, as there is with OWS.

    Find a way to de-carbonize the economy for free, and the Tea party won’t object to it.  

    Fundamentally the Tea Party fears the US going through the same thing as Greece and Italy.  The numbers simply don’t add up and it’s obvious to everyone, and nobody does anything about it.

    So Warmists fear carbon, Tea party fears debt.   Different strokes for different folks.

  20. huxley says:

    Dean @20: If the Tea Party is not racist, it is pointless to bring it up. A lie does not counterbalance a truth.

    What “numerous examples of racist propaganda” did you see at Tea Party rallies? I’ve looked in the web and only found some examples indignant dislike of Obama, which is not the same as racism.

  21. Tom Scharf says:

    #22 huxley

    There are many who look at the racial makeup of the Tea party as being almost entirely white, and see this as defacto proof of racism.

    Of course this is not true, but there is precedent with affirmative action policies.  When not enough minorities pass a a test for promotion, the Supreme Court has supported policies that conclude that this is in fact effectively proof of racism.  A bit controversial and they had been starting to shy away from this more recently.

    Also many believe that if you support entitlement reform that disproportionately effect poor minorities, then that is effectively a racist policy position.  The other side sees it as fiscal sanity.

    The reality is many just play the race card because it has been effective politically.  That card is getting overplayed of late though.


  22. huxley says:

    Here’s what Occupy has to say for itself:

    Occupy Wall Street is leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.

    This #ows movement empowers real people to create real change from the bottom up. We want to see a general assembly in every backyard, on every street corner because we don’t need Wall Street and we don’t need politicians to build a better society.

    the only solution is WorldRevolution

    This is the classic revolutionary Left speaking — complete with red highlights — targeting the rich and demanding change.

    We have seen how well this kind of populist activism targeting the rich and demanding change has worked in France, Russia, China, and lately in Arab Spring.

  23. huxley says:

    Tom Scharf @23: But the point of calling the Tea Party racist is to paint its members as bigots, the kind of people who dress in white robes or shout the N-word.

  24. Dean says:

    I was using it as an example of how movements get marginalized, and my example was pictures I saw from TP rallies of people holding posters in which Obama was drawn as looking like a monkey. Many here are trying to do to occupy/99% what was also tried against the Tea Party, using examples not representative of the movement. Movements cannot control what individuals will do and any movement with any success is going to have hangers-on who embarrass it in some way. Such folks are good at visuals and the media likes good visuals.
    In Portland, OR, people in the camps have regularly pointed out and turned in to police the few who seemed to be planning violence. The movement at this point is overwhelmingly non-violent and non-partisan. Mostly it is a manifestation of anger at how things are going in the country.
    Occupy/99% cannot possibly come up with some kind of unified platform because it is too diverse ideologically, and I hope it stays that way and doesn’t become owned by any single group or constituency. But individuals and groups who support it can come up with their own ideas and hopefully these will translate into political pressure on both old parties.
    The Tea Party has had enormous influence so far, but has not achieved a huge amount – US deficits and debt are still huge. It strikes me as too doctrinaire and inflexible. It is the founders they celebrate who designed a system that would be hard for a specific group to control. The founders worried about popular passions and the Tea Party is passionate. They could have gotten massive deficit reduction if they accepted 10% coming from tax increases, but rejected that. They don’t know how to say yes to overwhelming victory, preferring purity. It is that kind of rigidity that I hope Occupy/99% avoids. If they can, in the long run they may achieve more.

  25. Nick P. says:

    The Tea Party has always been about excessive government spending and the size of government.  It wants reduced spending and is willing to accept less govt services in return.  
    Wait, the Tea Party doesn’t like spending?  It doesn’t like the size of government?  What’s the right kind of spending?  What’s the right size of government?  No, the Tea Party has been entirely unable to articulate these values or coherent policy alternatives, which is what my comment targeted. 
    Get your government hands off my Medicare.  But remember, I’m willing to accept less govt services…

  26. grypo says:

    “This is the classic revolutionary Left speaking “” complete with red highlights “” targeting the rich and demanding change.”

    Thankfully, yes.  It’s about time good leftist populism returned. 


    “Occupy/99% cannot possibly come up with some kind of unified platform because it is too diverse ideologically, and I hope it stays that way and doesn’t become owned by any single group or constituency. ”

    It’s not really possible for OWS to be narrowed down too far because of its consensus driven approach.  It shows a complete distrust for all power structures in their current form, but have yet to single out any mechanism of which that needs to end.  This shows it hasn’t gone completely anti-capitalist.  The strongest stance is the anti-corporate/anti-banking/anti-lobbying message. This is why it resonates.

  27. Sashka says:

    @ 28

    This shows it hasn’t gone completely anti-capitalist.  The strongest stance is the anti-corporate/anti-banking/anti-lobbying message.

    Right. Capitalism without banks and corporations. Let’s not forget about air travel without fuel. Why not take on the law of gravity while at that?

  28. grypo says:

    I meant, “in their current state” as written in the previous sentence. Thanks for the “not that funny” sarcasm.

    But do you really think capitalism depends on corporations, as much as planes depend on fuel?  One did exist before the other. Ironically, corporations started out as social constructs to protect common interests.  So perhaps it is corporatism that needs corporations.

  29. huxley says:

    I was using it as an example of how movements get marginalized, and my example was pictures I saw from TP rallies of people holding posters in which Obama was drawn as looking like a monkey.

    Dean @26: That’s not racism, which was the charge you made. George W. Bush and Abraham Lincoln were constantly shown looking like monkeys, far more than Obama. Fantasy claims abut the Tea Party do not balance true claims about Occupy.

    Like it or not, Occupy is a marginal movement, with roots in the far left, an inarticulate platform, and rife with crime and disease far higher than society at large and the Tea Party as well.

    Though Occupy has attracted much sympathetic interest in the media and from liberals — who regularly spat upon the Tea Party — it remains a small, unwholesome fringe movement of the sort that has regularly been percolating within American society since the Sixties.

    Unless you pin your hopes on Arab Spring and World Revolution, I don’t see anything constructive coming out of Occupy. Wait and see.

  30. grypo says:

    “Unless you pin your hopes on Arab Spring and World Revolution, I don’t see anything constructive coming out of Occupy.”

    Maybe he does, but I won’t answer for him.  More importantly, your premises don’t follow to the conclusion.  A disease, a crime, an  inarticulate platform, does not explain why a movement cannot be “constructive”.  There are missing steps in your logic.  These problem you describe would be expected to crop up in any commune living outside of the normal societal structure.  It is actually a dose of reality that those they claim to fight for live with their entire lives.

  31. Sashka says:

    I’m not too interested in splitting hair about what exactly to call capitalism. To me, modern capitalism is impossible without corporations and banks. Countries that tried to do without are either no longer around or are doomed to fail or reform, probably within a generation.

    In a sense, corporations still protect common interests. Specifically the common interest to earn income and have health insurance. And that counts for a lot. You can have the government to close a big bank or corporation and you’ll see a lot of losers but no winners. Look no further than Lehman. Was it just a great triumph of social justice or a little bit more than that?

  32. harrywr2 says:

    The OWS Movement is a reasonable exercise in ‘self government’ for frustrated people who want to blame the system for their predicament.

    Eventually they will figure out that although the system has many flaws, some sort of system is necessary and the system we have is better then most.

  33. Fred says:

    Predictably, Canada is now looking to sell the oil to China that it was going to sell to the US through the Keystone pipeline.  This harms US national interests in favor of those of China.  See:
    The pipeline cancellation/postponement is a win alright…for the Chinese.

  34. huxley says:

    A disease, a crime, an  inarticulate platform, does not explain why a movement cannot be “constructive”.  There are missing steps in your logic.  These problem you describe would be expected to crop up in any commune living outside of the normal societal structure.

    grypo @32: Sure, it’s possible. Time will tell and I did recommend that we wait and see. However, I must ask how likely something constructive will emerge from something with such an unconstructive record so far.

    Wouldn’t it be a far better story if you didn’t have to make excuses for the Occupy movement? If they really were, you know, demonstrating a constructive example? If we are going to remake society according to Occupy, we’re still going to have to deal with all kinds of people. If Occupy can’t do it now — with all sorts of societal support and sympathy — what makes you think their guidance will serve in the future?

    I lived on several communes when I was young. Somehow no one was murdered or raped. Heck, even Woodstock with half a million hippies over three days managed to avoid serious crime, though they did trash that field.

    I’ve also been a leftist most of my adult life. I look at Occupy and see the usual suspects — socialists, anarchists, and communists — leading from the back and looking to create chaos, then step in to seize power. America remains a center-right country and its citizens, once they understand who the Occupiers are, will reject them and whoever supported them.

    The hippies, yippies and zippies in the seventies sent the country to the Right, not the Left. In that sense I’d agree that Occupy will be constructive.

  35. hunter says:

    If Obama actually cares about America and energy, he will embrace the proposed rerouting of the pipeline and approve it pos

  36. hunter says:

    @grypo 28,

    “Good leftist populism”- like the Cultural Revolution? Or what is going on in Venezuela today? OWS represents, in reality, less than 1% of the people.
    The only ‘good ol’ leftist populism’ that rings true in OWS is that they and their weak minded supporters delude themselves into thinking they somehow represent the majority., just as the last time we had lazy leftist hacks marching in the streets with painfully bad  faux journalists promoting them. 

  37. Tom Scharf says:

    I read something instructive / amusing about OWS today when their camp was being removed in NY.

    A group of disgruntled “settlers” were dumping out garbage on the street and throwing garbage cans after they were removed.

    Another group of settlers came up behind them and picked up the garbage and put the cans back in place.

    It’s pretty clear many people will only see what they want to see in this example, good or bad.

  38. Keith Kloor says:

    Tom (39)

    “It’s pretty clear many people will only see what they want to see in this example, good or bad.”

    I find your comment amusingly ironic. 

  39. huxley says:

    Tom Scharf: However, when hundreds of thousands of Tea Partiers marched on Washington in Sept, 2009, they picked up all the litter and left the place cleaner than it had been before. There was only one way to see that, so many refused to notice at all.

    I wouldn’t say that Occupy is entirely bad, but it does have a lot of rot.

    What does it say about a political movement that the members who intentionally trash an area are counterbalanced by members who will clean what the others trash?

    What does it say about a movement that only some of them, often the leaders directing things from behind the scenes, are hardcore communists, socialists, and anarchists?  Note that Bill Ayers, ex-terrorist from the Weather Underground, dropped by last week for a teach-in at Occupy Chicago.

    Is this the movement we want “empower[ing] real people to create real change from the bottom up”, as they say on their website?

    It’s pretty clear that many people will avoid seeing any of this at all. Yet it just might be important.

  40. hunter says:

    Many of us find the bizarre sympathy and attention given to the OWS movement by so many in media to be hilarious.

    NPR this morning had somethign like 4 reports on OWS issues in one 30 minute segment.
    Not one asking to hear from people who have concerns. Not one from the police or toher public employees who have had to deal with OWS. not one from the private propertyowner hwo has lost use of their property in New York and apparently elsewhere.
    The decision to offer misleading reports and information on OWS was the media’s to make and the resulting further loss credibility in the media is on their heads.

  41. Jeff Norris says:

    Somebody needs to call  Bill McKibben because Keystone is back for round 2 and a lot sooner I am sure, than the President expected.

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