More than 2,500 former coal miners, ministers, mothers, students, and climate activists, representing over 40 states from Arizona to Appalachia, successfully blocked all five entrances to the Capitol Power Plant for nearly four hours today, forming the largest display of civil disobedience on the climate crisis in U.S. history. The organizers pronounced the event a success because its scale and the commitment of its participants was the biggest example yet of the kind of public support necessary to solve the climate crisis.
The demonstration was led by Dr. James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, and some of the nation's most influential environmental leaders, including Robert Kennedy, Jr., Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, Gustave Speth, Vandana Shiva as well as Grammy-winner Kathy Mattea and actress Daryl Hannah. Participants, many of whom were willing to risk arrest, united to demand bold and far-reaching action on the climate and energy crises in 2009.
The demonstration has already left an impact on Congress. On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called for the removal of coal from the plant's fuel mix. Prior attempts to remove coal entirely have been blocked by powerful coal-state Senators Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. While this is a very small step toward moving the country off of fossil fuels it does show that public pressure is essential for achieving swift action on the climate.
"I have been described as the grandfather of climate change. In fact, I am just a grandfather and I do not want my grandchildren to say that grandpa understood what was happening but didn't make it clear," Dr. Hansen said in a recent interview.
This is a critical year for strong U.S. leadership on climate and energy, with a major domestic policy debate around the corner and a deadline for international action set for the Copenhagen climate talks in December. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has cautioned that the United States and other industrialized countries need to reduce their global warming pollution by 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to avoid the worst impacts of severe climate change.
Dr. Hansen told Congress that the world must begin phasing out coal immediately to avoid catastrophic global warming, including severe economic impacts. The climate crisis, if left unaddressed, is projected to put a $271 billion drag on the U.S. economy by 2025. Coal is the country's biggest source of global warming pollution. Furthermore, burning coal cuts short at least 24,000 lives in the U.S. annually, inflicts severe damage to the landscape and water supplies, and jeopardizes the lives of miners.
There are clean and safe alternatives to coal, like wind and solar power, which will create at least 5 million jobs and help curb global warming. A recent University of Massachusetts study found investing in clean energy projects like wind power and mass transit creates three-to-four times more jobs than the same expenditure on the coal industry. The wind power sector has grown to employ more Americans than coal mining as demand for clean energy has jumped over the past decade. Investing in wind and solar power would create 2.8 times as many jobs as the same investment in coal; mass transit and conservation would create 3.8 times as many jobs as coal.
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Notes: For quick facts on coal and the protest, visit http://www.capitolclimateaction.com/?page_id=33 Pelosi and Reid’s letter is available at: http://speaker.house.gov/newsroom/pressreleases?id=1028.