Climate Change and the Art of Protest

These Jo Freeman photos of the Rally and March Against Keystone XL Pipeline in Washington D.C. on Sunday demonstrate “what is to be done” by the left in Obama’s second term.

It is far from clear what Obama’s decision on the pipeline will be. A decision to go ahead would unarguably produce jobs, though for how long is in dispute. It would also likely lessen U.S. dependence on oil from the Middle East and Venezuela. It would certainly strengthen our relations with our major ally and neighbor, Canada. So the preemptive protest against Obama possible decision to support Keystone is well timed.

The attractive faces in the crowd with their creative signs, some witty, some mass produced, make clear that we face a profound problem, potentially critical of a possible decision, but amplifying the most surprising but also sensible points Obama made in his State of the Union Address:

“We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence.  Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science — and act before it’s too late.”

The President strengthened the significance and attention paid to this protest possible against himself. He certainly knew this would happen. But the interaction between decision and protest increases the likelihood that the U.S. will take its head out of the sand. We will debate the relative merits of Keystone, whether “carbon free, nuclear free” is possible or even desirable. But Obama will push forward at the very least with executive decisions, using an emerging consensus that “Climate Change: It’s Our Obligation.” “It’s time to cut carbon.”

“Mr. President: Forward ON Climate.” He has little choice, given the pressing realities, his stance on them and the public pushing him.

  • klem

    Um so what are you going to say about the Pres when he greenlights the XL pipeline?

  • geojos

    Wasn’t Obama golfing with oil executives the weekend for the protest? Obama may not care that much about public opinion and protest as some believe. I am not basing this on his golf weekend, but his overall approach up until now. He uses the social issues to pose as a progressive or forward thinking, while on economics he is Mr. Market- bank bailouts, fear of the deficit, car bailout where he made labor take a hair cut, neglect of labor’s agenda, and his state of the union “take a market approach” towards global warming. People say he has an organizing background. Bull. First, the organization he worked for was more of an advocacy, social service agency. It was a church based organization that primarily set up social service programs. These groups tend not to challenge the establishment as they are looking for program funding. He also was critical of Alinsky, primarily Saul’s views on class conflict. All good organizers recognize the reality of class divisions and struggles. It is war Charlie Brown.

  • Jeffrey Goldfarb

    Obama is not a radical, and he will move forward a green agenda in modest ways. Yes.

    I am not sure what he will do with the pipeline. I myself am ambivalent. It is a side issue, I think. More important are significant regulation (which he has executive power to enact) and moves to radically cut demand for carbon fuels. That said, it was Obama who revived mainstream attention on the environment, as I see it working in tandem with the protesters, and it is the role of social movements and critics to push him. In my judgment, better to push, than to denounce, geojos.

  • geojos

    Lost me there with the pipe line is a side issue. You might be right, but what is your reasoning: Canada will do it anywhoo, so the damage will be done? Will regulations get the job done? (There is also the issue of use in China and India). They may cut carbon use, may, but what about methane for fracking. Then you have countries fighting to see who can drill in the Arctic Moving forward with a green agenda in a modest way may just not be the way to solve the problem. In fact, some very reputable climatologists are saying it may already be too late.Heck, now there is geo-engineering ideas out there to address the inevitable. The times may call for a radical approach ( which will not occur). The same goes for the economic. Indeed the two are connected. Don’t mean to be so negative, but this just may be the reality for a number of reasons. Ya know, there is nothing that guarantees progress will occur, and we will solve problems. This does not mean you do not try, but it may be the brute reality. Still, you need to roll the rock back up the hill.

  • Jeffrey Goldfarb

    I agree – keep on rolling the rock up the hill, as you yourself demonstrate that the pipeline is not the major issue. But in order to do anything the public has to be aware of a problem, the problem has to be visible. For this I applaud the demonstrators depicted in the post, and the President who is paying attention. Not enough, you say. I agree. But despair leading to inaction is a significant danger.