Home Politics Politics Lists

The Fossil Fuel Resistance: Meet the New Green Heroes

Students, scientists, reverends and more are on the front lines of the most pressing environmental issue of our age

fossil fuel

Time is running out for our future on this planet, but the human race isn't going down without a fight. In recent years, a bold new wave of environmental activists has stepped up to stop the fossil fuel industry before it's too late. This movement "has no great charismatic leader and no central organization," writes Bill McKibben in his latest Rolling Stone feature, "The Fossil Fuel Resistance." "It battles on a thousand fronts. But taken together, it's now big enough to matter, and it's growing fast."

Meet the leaders of the new green revolution – from college students to reverends to high-finance investors.

Rev. Sally Bingham

Bill Bradlee/The Regeneration Project

Rev. Sally Bingham: The Church Lady

Since launching the Interfaith Power and Light Campaign in 2000, Rev. Sally Bingham has organized 15,000 churches, synagogues and mosques into a formidable national network of faith communities who see climate change not as a policy or technical challenge, but as an issue of spiritual dimension. "In this country, we've never had the kind of cultural and social change climate change requires without religious involvement," says Bingham. "Anti-slavery, women's suffrage, civil rights – all of these movements succeeded because of their moral foundation." IPL started like most environmental networks and institutions: small and local. Bingham began with 60 California episcopal churches that agreed to purchase a portion of their energy from the renewable energy provider Green Mountain. The group's ranks multiplied fast. But in 2001, rising wholesale costs sabotaged California's fledging renewable market. "That's when I realized we had to get involved at the policy level," she says. IPL joined the fight for a California energy standard requiring utilities to derive a fifth of their energy from renewables by 2017. The bill passed in 2002 and has since been expanded twice, now mandating a third of the state's energy to come from renewables by 2020. Bingham, meanwhile, has taken her policy work to Washington. Each spring, she leads a delegation of 80 IPL state leaders to Capitol Hill for meetings with Congressional delegations. "We're trying to maintain a unique voice based in theology so we can have more Republicans within our community," she says. The strategy appears to be working. "We're starting to get some traction in red states like Oklahoma, Minnesota, Arkansas, Kansas," she says. "Eyes are opening in faith communities across the political spectrum that climate change is about values and a duty to protecting God's creation."

Kevin Grandia

Kris Krug

Kevin Grandia: The Muckraker

When "climategate" first surfaced, blogger Kevin Grandia knew journalists were missing the real story. The trumped-up controversy was based on over 1,000 stolen emails between the world's leading climate scientists that seemed to suggest global warming was a hoax, or lacked evidence. But Grandia had spent three days reading all of the emails, which totaled 20,000 pages, and he knew that the supposed scandal was nothing more than a few quotes taken out of context. Eventually the story would be debunked by six separate investigations, but its immediate results were disastrous: The release of the emails came weeks before the 2009 global climate summit at Copenhagen, where world leaders were poised to agree to binding emissions reductions. "Unfortunately, most journalists didn't have time to read the emails, and they just ran with the story," Grandia says. "To this day, climate-gate lingers in people's minds, and continues to sow doubt that global warming is real."

Grandia hopes something like that never happens again – which is why he now helps run DeSmogBlog, a Canadian website that does daily battle with climate change skeptics, aggregating the best research on global warming and dissecting misinformation campaigns backed by right-wing think tanks. He's traced much of the money that funds anti-global-warming research back to the fossil fuel industry and found that some of the most outspoken skeptics once worked for Big Tobacco. "They're using the exact same tactics they used to convince people smoking doesn't cause cancer," Grandia says. "It's a tactic that's been around forever. You can muddle up a debate for a long time just by creating doubt."

When DeSmogBlog started seven years ago, Grandia says he had to call reporters to get them to pay attention to his research, and many hung up. "Now we've got staffers in D.C. calling us, politicians in Canada, the UK, looking for information. We have producers at ABC News and the BBC asking for help on research," he says. "There's still a lot of work to do, but we think the tide is turning."

Tar Sands Blockaders

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tar Sands Blockade: The Monkey-Wrenchers

Last year, when president Obama approved the southern leg of Keystone XL – which will run 435 miles from Cushing, Oklahoma to refineries near Houston – he unwittingly unleashed the Tar Sands Blockade, a loose but relentless coalition of environmental activists and landowners angered by TransCanada's seizure of their property. "We see ourselves as people who are acting in an emergency capacity," says Ramsey, a 29-year-old Texan and former Green Party organizer with indigenous roots who interrupted a pipeline conference in January by locking himself to the stage. "This fight will be very intense, and it will be very polarizing."

Dedicated to disrupting 'business as usual,' the Tar Sands group does not shy away from putting their bodies on the line – members have locked their necks to excavators in Oklahoma, sealed themselves inside pipe segments in Winona, Texas, and stormed TransCanada's Houston offices. In one of the group's most dramatic operations, activists staged a tree-sit in a forested piece of private property in east Texas that had been claimed for the pipeline route over the objections of the landowner. After a three-month standoff, TransCanada re-routed the pipeline around the blockade.

The group has raised enough of a ruckus to draw a legal attack from TransCanada, and the activists are now barred from company property in Texas and Oklahoma. So they've shifted their attention to training other groups and to action against partners like TD Bank, one of TransCanada's top shareholders, and Valero, a petrochemical giant that plans to refine bitumen transported in the pipeline.

Beyond, blockaders are drawing attention to the environmental racism they say is endemic along the pipeline route. "The communities that bear the brunt of pollution caused by oil sands development are poor people of color," says a blockader called Rue, who organizes in Manchester, a predominantly Latino Houston neighborhood ringed by refineries. "We need people power, and that's why we're using direct action," Rue explains. "I'm sick of people trying to appeal to the President's moral compass on Keystone – it's not going to happen."

Show Comments