But all that fossil fuel will only get pumped and mined and burned if we decide to ignore the climate issue; were we to ever take it seriously, the math would quickly change. As I pointed out in these pages last summer, the world's fossil-fuel companies, even before these new finds, had five times more carbon in their reserves than we could burn if we hope to stay below a two-degreeCelsius rise in global temperatures. That's the red line almost every government in the world has agreed on, but the coal, oil and natural-gas companies, propelled by record profits, just keep looking for more – and ignore reality. A new report shows that an anonymous group of industry billionaires has secretly poured more than $100 million into anti-environmentalfront groups. Weeks before Election Day, Chevron gave the largest corporate Super PAC contribution of the post-Citizens United era, making sure that Congress stayed in the hands of climate deniers.
But every flood erodes their position, and every heat wave fuels the Resistance. When the Keystone pipeline first became controversial, in 2011, a poll of D.C. "energy insiders" showed that more than 70 percent of them thought they'd have permits to build it by the end of the year. Big Oil, of course, may end up getting its way, but so far its money hasn't overwhelmed the passion, spirit and creativity its foes have brought to the battle. And we're not just playing defense anymore: The rapidly spreading divestment movement may be the single biggest face of the Resistance. It's no longer confined to campuses; city governments and religious denominations have begun to unload their stakes in oil companies, and the movement is even spreading to self-interested investors now that HSBC has calculated that taking climate change seriously could cut share prices of oil companies by up to 60 percent.
With each passing month, something else weakens the industry's hand: the steady rise of renewable energy, a technology that's gone from pie-in-the-sky to panel-on-the-roof in remarkably short order. In the few countries where governments have really gotten behind renewables, the results are staggering: There were days last spring when Germany (pale, northern Germany) managed to generate half its power from solar panels. Even in this country, much of the generating capacity added last year came from renewables. A December study from the University of Delaware showed that by 2030 we could affordably power the nation 99.9 percent of the time on renewable energy. In other words, logic, physics and technology work against the fossil-fuel industry. For the moment, it has the political power it needs – but political power shifts perhaps more easily than physics.
Which is where the resistance comes in. Forty-three years ago, the first anarchic Earth Day drew 20 million Americans into the streets. That surge helped push through all kinds of legislation – the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act – and spurred the growth of organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund. As these "green groups" became the face of the environmental movement, they grew adept at playing an inside-the-Beltway lobbying game. But that strategy got harder as the power of the right wing grew; for 25 years, they've been unable to win significant progress on climate change.
Now, energized by the Keystone protests, some strides have been made. The NRDC has done yeoman's work against the pipeline. The Sierra Club, which just a few years ago was taking millions from the fracking industry to shill for natural gas, has been reinvented. In January, the club dropped a 120-year ban on civil disobedience. The following month, its executive director, Michael Brune, was led away from the White House in handcuffs.
But the center of gravity has also shifted from big, established groups to local, distributed efforts. In the Internet age, you don't need direct mail and big headquarters; you need Twitter. In Texas and Oklahoma, hundreds have joined actions led by the Tar Sands Blockade, which has used daredevil tactics and lots of courage to get between the industry and the pipeline it needs to move oil overseas. In Montana, author Rick Bass and others sat-in to stop the export of millions of tons of coal from ports on the West Coast. And all across the Marcellus and Utica shale formations in the Northeast, people have been standing up for their communities, often by sitting down in front of the fracking industry. The Fossil Fuel Resistance looks more and more like Occupy – in fact, they've overlapped from the beginning, since oil companies are the one percent of the one percent. The movements share a political analysis, too: A grid with a million solar rooftops feels more like the Internet than ConEd; it's a farmers market in electrons, with the local control that it implies.
Like Occupy, this new Resistance is not obsessed with winning over Democratic Party leaders. The Keystone arrests in 2011 marked the most militant protests outside the White House during Obama's first term; now Van Jones, who once worked for the president, has taken to calling Keystone the "Obama pipeline." Used to dealing with the established green groups, the administration thinks in terms of deals – "We'll approve the pipeline but give you something else you want" – the kind of logic that gains the approval of op-ed columnists and talking heads. But given that the Arctic has already melted, we don't have room for easy compromises. The president's insistence that he favors an "all of the above" energy system, where oil and gas are as welcome as solar and wind, seems increasingly like a classic political hedge. In fact, if the GOP wasn't in the tank for the oil industry, you couldn't do much worse than Obama's campaigntrail rhetoric. Last year, the president went to Oklahoma, posed in front of a stack of oil pipe and bragged of adding enough new pipelines to encircle Earth. Since the election, the president has started talking green, promising that now climate change would be a priority – but this growing Resistance is, I think, unconvinced. As climate leader Naomi Klein said, "This time, no honeymoon and no hero worship."
Only grit and hard work. We've watched great cultural shifts and organizing successes in recent years, like the marriage-equality and immigration-reform movements. But breaking the power of oil companies may be even harder because the sums of the money on the other side are so fantastic – there are trillions of dollars worth of oil in Canada's tar sands and the North Dakota shale. The men who own the coal mines and the gas wells will spend what they need to assure their victories. Last month, Rex Tillerson, Exxon's $100,000-a-day CEO, said that environmentalists were "obtuse" for opposing new pipelines. He announced the company planned to more than double the acreage on which it was exploring for new hydrocarbons and said he expected that renewables would account for just one percent of our energy in 2040, essentially declaring that the war to save the climate was over before it started. He added, "My philosophy is to make money."
That same day, scientists announced that Earth was now warming 50 times faster than it ever has in human civilization, and that carbon-dioxide levels had set a perilous new record at Mauna Loa's measuring station. Right now, we're losing. But as the planet runs its spiking fever, the antibodies are starting to kick in. We know what the future holds unless we resist. And so resist we will.
This story is from the April 25th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
CULTURE 14 Gonzo Masterpieces
Picks From Around the Web
blog comments powered by Disqus