When thousands of activists descend on Manhattan this Sunday for the People's Climate March, faith-based groups will be among them. Dozens of religious organizations and churches have signed up to join in demanding action to fight global warming. But as the Dr. Rev. Carroll A. Baltimore, former president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, says, religious groups' road to the march has been slow and rocky.
Even before a prosecutor in Massachusetts dropped criminal and conspiracy charges against climate activists for blocking a coal shipment with a lobster boat, the judge in the case broke new ground in favor of the foes of fossil fuels. For the first time in the U.S. climate fight, he cleared the way to use "necessity" as a defense in the courtroom.
State District Judge Joseph Macy in Fall River, Massachusetts, found the defendants could call expert witnesses to justify the violation of the law in order to protect citizens from the impacts of global warming, and to argue they had no legal alternative. His findings carry legal implications for future acts of civil disobedience, climate activists and lawyers say, and may even have had a direct impact on the outcome of this case.
The litigation drew national attention earlier this week when C. Samuel Sutter, the district attorney in Bristol County, downgraded charges against two climate activists who blocked a 40,000-ton shipment of coal in 2013 with the lobster boat. He said he did so because climate change "is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced."
Activists are trying to seize an opportunity to put the climate movement alongside the Civil Rights and the Vietnam-era anti-war movements. Tens of thousands of people are expected to participate in what organizers are calling the People's Climate March later this month in New York City.
Demonstrators from more than 1,000 organizations representing millions of people plan to demand that world leaders take action against human-driven climate change. The Sept. 21 march through midtown Manhattan will take place two days before a United Nations summit in the city that will lay the groundwork for climate-change treaty talks next year in Paris. It will also kick off the sixth annual Climate Week NYC, with almost 80 events focused on climate change such as conferences, lectures, debates and concerts.
The march will be the first major demonstration of how dramatically the climate movement has changed and expanded in the past five years. Once considered an issue only for environmentalists, global warming has become part of the agenda for labor unions, faith-based organizations, schools, small businesses, international nongovernmental organizations, and student, social justice, parenting, public health and political groups, among others.
"Climate change is no longer a privileged, environmental issue anymore," said Becki Clayborn, one of the Sierra Club's organizers for the event. "It is affecting all of us, immediately. Because of that, people who haven't gotten involved in the past are joining the fight."
Grassroots groups fighting hydraulic fracturing in Illinois have put aside their push for a moratorium or a ban in recent months in favor of seeking stronger industry regulations.
"Basically, we're hedging our bets," said Annette McMichael, spokeswoman for Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE). "We are firmly against fracking, and yet we are willing to work within the legislative confines."
SAFE and other local organizations joined with national environmental groups to force the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to write tougher rules under 2013 legislation regulating fracking, a technique used to extract natural gas and oil from shale. The department issued its new regulations Friday. And yet, the decision to shelve demands for a moratorium or a ban has upset fellow grassroots activists who maintain that any fracking—even when highly regulated—is unsafe.
1:30 PM ET on 8/27/204: This story has been updated with comment from Gov. Rick Scott's spokesperson.
The increasingly visible effects of climate change in Florida are putting Republican Gov. Rick Scott in a bind as he seeks re-election this November.
With rising water already eating away at the coastline and threatening cities, Florida is largely considered ground zero for climate change in the United States. Increased flooding in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, disappearing beaches and endangered fresh water supplies are making climate change a top issue in the governor's race, opinion polling shows.
Scott spent much of his first term dismantling the climate-change initiatives of his predecessor, Charlie Crist, who's now his Democratic opponent in the November election. Both men won nomination in Tuesday's primary. Voters, environmentalists, scientists and the media are joining Crist in pressing Scott to acknowledge the threat that climate change poses to the state. But if he does, he risks alienating the far right wing of the Republican Party, which helped elect him in 2010.
"He's caught in the crosshairs," said Frank Jackalone, the senior organizing manager for the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club.
Earlier this month, Hawaii Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz won his party's primary race by just 1,769 votes in a hotly reported contest that lasted two years and saw millions in spending from special interests. But little reported was the 11th-hour entrance into the campaign by a tiny new SuperPAC that just may have helped seal the election for Schatz: Climate Hawks Vote.
Formed in May to help get climate-conscious legislators elected to Congress, the group forewent expensive TV and print ads for old-fashioned electioneering. Volunteers made thousands of phone calls and peddled Schatz's climate credentials on sidewalks, at environmental conferences and debate viewing parties.
"Hawaii was a close enough race that we really made a difference," according to R.L. Miller, the tireless climate advocate at the helm of the group, who's also a lawyer, chair of the California Democratic Party's environmental caucus and a blogger. Schatz is expected to beat his Republican challenger in November.
After decades of relative harmony between citizens and fossil fuel companies in Alaska, tensions are ratcheting up in advance of an Aug. 19 referendum on the state's oil taxes.
Voters will decide whether to repeal Alaska's year-old oil tax system, which cuts taxes on the fossil fuel industry by $1 billion to $2 billion a year. If Alaskans approve the ballot proposal, the state will reverse the tax reductions now enjoyed by ConocoPhillips, Exxon and BP and revert to a previous system that helped the state bank a $17 billion surplus.
At the heart of the fight is concern over Alaska's financial future.
A coalition of grassroots activists argues that the tax cuts introduced in 2013 would devastate the state's budget. With no income or sales tax, Alaska gets 90 percent of its revenue from the oil industry. But the financially and politically powerful fossil fuel industry says the previous, higher taxes choked its ability to invest in new oil fields and increase production.
Eight months into his tenure as mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio still has no one at the helm of the city's office for fighting climate change.
The mayor has yet to appoint a director for the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, the seven-year-old department created under Mayor Michael Bloomberg that's charged with directing, planning and coordinating the city's ambitious climate action agenda. Under Bloomberg, the office helped transform the city by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 16 percent, retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency, and cleaning up the air, water and land.
Experts warn that with no one steering the office, the progress that New York City has made on climate change could be stalled, and its reputation as a global leader on climate action damaged.
"It is urgent that a director be implemented soon," said Kizzy Charles-Guzman, director of Urban Conservation Policy at the Nature Conservancy, a 63-year-old global conservation organization based in Arlington, Virginia. "The clock is ticking on climate change and the city needs a strong, visionary leader...or it risks losing valuable momentum."
Adapting for climate change is no longer just a recommendation in New York State. It is about to become the law.
New York lawmakers passed a measure in June requiring that communities design projects to handle the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, heavy flooding and more intense storm surges. The legislation—known as the Community Risk and Resiliency Act (S06617)—affects infrastructure ranging from bridges and parks to wastewater management systems and covers projects that need government funding or permits. It is expected to be signed into law by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo by the end of the summer.
Over the past five years, climate action at the national level has largely been at a standstill. That has left the states to fend for themselves. Some, including Connecticut, Vermont and Maryland, have taken small steps to prepare for climate change, discouraging construction in high-risk flood zones and recommending that new projects be built to withstand future climate impacts. For the most part, though, state decision-makers have done little.
New York's Community Risk and Resiliency Act is the only legislation in the nation to require that climate impacts be a part of the permitting and funding process—and not just in the state's coastal areas, but in all 62 counties.
Environmentalists claimed victory last week when a small coastal town in Maine voted to block heavy crude exports from its harbor. The South Portland city council's decision is the result a long-running campaign by green groups to prevent the flow of oil from Canadian tar sands through a pipeline to the port.
While petroleum industry groups have vowed a political and legal fight to overturn the town's ban, securities analysts dismissed the significance of the measure, known as the Clear Skies Ordinance, altogether. They argued that there are other routes to get the oil to the East Coast.
"It is a hollow victory, almost meaningless," said David McColl, an analyst who focuses on oil sands and pipelines for the investment research company Morningstar.