Let's Not Talk About Liability

This is the second guest blog post from Rev. Peggy Clarke, representing Unitarian Universalists at the Paris climate negotiations. This was written shortly before her team's meeting with the US team writing the section on Damage and Loss. Peggy is using the US's current share of annual emissions (16%) to make her point, which is even more dramatic when we look at the historical share of US emissions (27%), posted below from World Resource Institute data.  -Tim  


Three words not allowed on the table when talking with US negotiators today: Liability, Compensation or Restitution. That’s what we were told before our briefing with the team working on language related to loss and damage in the document being written at COP21. If we want to use our time wisely, we won’t utter any of those words. 

It’s an interesting stand. I remember breaking a mirror as a teenager. I slammed a door and the whole thing shattered all over the room. My mother- the focus of my fury- came running in to help. We cleaned the glass up together, but the new mirror was on me. I broke it, I buy it. I was accountable for my actions. I said I was sorry and compensated her for the mirror. I haven’t slammed a door since. 

Isn’t the US in a similar position? We created a problem. Now it’s time for us to help clean up the mess. The US is responsible for 16% of the world’s carbon emissions, second only to China with the entire European Union as a distant third. We have 30% of the population China has. So, when island nations are disappearing or drought is creating a food crisis in Africa as a result of the climate change we are creating, is it fair to say that we won’t accept any legal blame, that we won’t be held accountable for our actions?

That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m wrestling with it myself. Maybe it’s better to move on, to accept that we are where we are and let it go. Maybe the politically savvy who say, “Don’t even mention it” understand the best way to approach this multilateral, multicultural, multi-everything Agreement. We have a Congress committed to stagnation; why give them a reason to reject this document and all the good work being done here in Paris?

But something keeps nagging at me. If we create a problem and feel almost none of the consequences, what’s stopping us from doing it again? If we don’t even have to say we’re sorry after breaking the mirror, let along buy a new one, what’s to stop us from slamming doors all over town?

-Rev. Peggy Clarke

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Report From Paris: Real Danger

This is the first of a series of guest blog posts from Rev. Peggy Clarke, who is in Paris representing Unitarian Universalists at the COP21 climate talks.  Peggy has been a longtime activist for environmental justice in the New York area, and she has been one of my strongest allies in trying to deepen the UU response to the climate crisis.  -Tim

I was attacked tonight. A guy tried to rob me but he didn’t get away with anything. (I’m a New Yorker after all.) I’m at the United Nations Climate Summit (COP21) in Paris. No one in my family wanted me to attend in light of the terrorist attacks this city suffered two weeks ago. It seems like a dangerous city to them. 134 people were killed in a well coordinated attack and now people all over the planet are on high alert. There are armed guards-both police and military- surrounding the conference area. Border patrol was unusually attentive and everyone is on the defensive.

There’s a way we’re poised and ready for violence. I knew what that would-be-robber was planning before he got close enough to me to try anything. I was ready. I had a plan. OK, the plan didn’t work out exactly as I’d hoped, but the point is, I got away. I’ve been taught to trust my instincts, to alter my behavior and find safe ground.

Climate change will kill more people this year than terrorists. Just the asthma death rates alone for children in urban areas give terrorism a run for its money. We don’t even have to talk about drought or storms or any of the other “natural” disasters climate change is creating. But with all those deaths, with all that destruction, we don’t see appropriately armed guards at the ready.

Thieves are easy. Terrorists are easy. They’re people we can point to. They do what they’re going to do right here in real time and we can blame them for it. Climate change requires a bending of both time and space for the consequences to become apparent. For the most part, we’re fighting an invisible demon. And what’s worse- the demon, it will turn out, is us. It’s not some bad guy out there looking to hurt the good people in here. We are the bad guys. And we’re the good guys. We are both perpetrator and victim.

I suspect that’s why we put so much energy into fighting violence. It’s cleaner. The problem is clear and you can see the results of your effort. I’m here in Paris, with or without threats to my personal safety, because I can see the danger coming and I know we have to trust our instincts, alter our behavior and find safe ground. 

-Rev. Peggy Clarke

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Discussion with the Design for Social Innovation program at SVU

This Fall I had the opportunity to speak to students of SVA's Design for Social Innovation program as part of their Fall 2015 Global Guest Lecture Series. Here's the video of our discussion, hosted by Schuyler Brown.  Thanks to Schuyler and the students for a great conversation. 

Schuyler Brown is a communications advisor and trends analyst who has worked with leading global brands including Facebook, Microsoft, Sony Pictures, and Levi’s. She is Strategy Director and Founding Partner of Sightful and faculty for the Design for Social Innovation program at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. Follow her on Twitter at @schuylerbrown.

Design for Social Innovation at SVA is the first MFA program in the rapidly growing field of social impact design. It was created as a path for designers who want to lead strategic work within business, government, or the nonprofit sector to solve social and environmental problems, and for people from other fields who want to master design as a process for driving positive social impact. More at http://dsi.sva.edu/

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Climate Movement, Don't Back Down at Paris #COP21

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

-John F. Kennedy

This morning the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, suggested that demonstrations outside the COP 21 climate negotiations in Paris should be scaled back from marches of hundreds of thousands to a safe “kettled” rally of 5,000.  The French Prime Minister has already announced that many of the “side events,” where the public gets to have a voice, are being cancelled.  Many journalists are already being excluded from the negotiations out of capacity concerns.  Obviously this repression of the public is coming in the wake of the Paris attacks that killed 129 people.  But that is not the only dynamic at play.

This attempt to keep the movement out of the streets is coming at a time when the people power of the climate movement is actually winning against the entrenched monied power of the fossil fuel industry.  The last few weeks have been unprecedented in the history of the US climate movement.  The unrelenting #ShellNo campaign convinced Shell to give up on their attempt to drill in the Arctic.  The northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline was vetoed in the face of a huge resistance campaign.  A real climate bill that would keep fossil fuels in the ground has been introduced in the Senate.  Exxon has been subpoenaed for lying about climate change, the Port Ambrose liquified natural gas export facility was vetoed, and late last night the Bureau of Land Management cancelled an oil and gas auction in Utah that faced major protest.  That momentum is what would have been on displayed in Paris and what political leaders are now trying to suppress.

 Tim Dechristopher


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On Climate Victories and Obama's Climate Policy Failure

Watch Tim's recent segment on the Greenhouse (Shift | MSNBC) with Tony Dokoupil. This segment originally aired on the Greenhouse with the title "The fight to protect climate activism."
Duration: 5:53

TimDechristopher on GREENHOUSE

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Tim Dechristopher radio interview on The Forecast

On October 21, 2015 Tim was a guest on The Forecast.  You may listen to the program on their archive page. Tim's interview starts 6 minutes 30 seconds into the program.

The Forecast is a monthly show on climate change broadcast and livestreamed on WRFI, the community radio station in Ithaca, NY.  In the two years since they've been on the air, The Forecast has had terrific guests  -- Professors Mark Jacobson, Tony Ingraffea, Sandra Steingraber, Dahr Jamail, Lindsay Abrams from Salon.com, Phil Aroneaunu from 350.org, and most recently, Jonathan Lunine.

Visit The Forcecast website.


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Transcending Paradigms


Last week I was in Washington, DC to launch the new Keep It in the Ground campaign that is calling for an end to new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands.  A long list of national and frontline organizations has signed on to this campaign, and many of those groups are making this a major focus of their efforts.  

As a recent report has shown, the un-leased fossil fuels remaining under federal lands would release 450 billion tons of CO2 if they are developed, and the President has the power to stop it.  To put that number in context, Obama’s Clean Power Plan, if fully implemented, would reduce CO2 by about 5 billion tons by 2030.  So relative to what is being done, it was a bold ask.  But these resources represent about half of the remaining US fossil fuels.  Keep in mind that at least two thirds of all global fossil fuels have to stay in the ground, and in terms of global equity, the US has a special obligation to shift faster because of our historical emissions.  So relative to what must be done, this was the bare minimum. 

We launched the campaign with a press conference in front of the White House and then had private meetings with the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of the Interior.  Halfway through the press conference, the Secret Service interrupted the event, shut down all of Lafayette Park, and forced us out of the area without explanation.  Before we could even complete our ask, President Obama demonstrated that he was more willing to kick citizens off public lands for exercising free speech than to kick fossil fuel companies off public lands for threatening the future of civilization.  

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Tim DeChristopher: End All New Fossil Fuel Leasing on Public Lands

On today's episode of Democracy Now! Tim discusses the #KeepItInTheGround campaign and the launch of the new Climate Disobedience Center.

Segment description via Democracy Now!
A coalition of more than 400 organizations have called on the White House to stop issuing new fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans. More than 67 million acres of public land and ocean are already leased to the fossil fuel industry. The coalition says that declaring unleased oil, gas and coal on public lands as "unburnable" would accomplish more in the global fight against climate change than any other single action taken by the Obama administration. Joining us to discuss the new campaign is climate justice activist Tim DeChristopher. In 2008, DeChristopher spent 21 months in federal prison after he disrupted an oil and gas leasing auction on public land in Utah by posing as a bidder. Tim DeChristopher is now one of the co-founders of the new Climate Disobedience Center, which is among the many organizations calling for the end to all new fossil fuel leases on public lands.

Cross posted on the Climate Disobedience Center website.

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Announcing the Climate Disobedience Center website

Big day...  Not only is Tim at the #KeepItInTheGround event in front of the White House, this morning the new Climate Disobedience Center website went live.  Below is a brief overview of the CDC by Tim and Jay O'Hara.  Make sure to visit and share climatedisobedience.org! 

Climate Disobedience Center

Founded by Tim DeChristopher, Marla Marcum, Jay O'Hara and Ken Ward, the Climate Disobedience Center brings together an experienced team of climate dissidents to provide logistical, legal and spiritual resources, on the ground assistance, and advice to climate activists organizing civil disobedience campaigns across the country

The Center will deploy those assets to nurture strong, grounded communities of resistance willing to take risks of moral imagination. We are committed to supporting those who hold allegiance to a higher moral law from action design through the legal process and consequences of action.

The goal is for the Climate Disobedience Center to serve as a catalyst for direct action, creating points of vivid moral clarity, emboldening both climate activists and the unlikeliest of allies, capturing the heart and soul of the climate debate. 

Climate Disobedience Center founders O'Hara, DeChristopher, Marcum, Ward hold photo of Lobster Boat Blockade action at press conference

For 30 years environmentalists have attempted to change the United State's and world's trajectory on fossil fuel emissions through incremental reform efforts. Drawing on conventional wisdom, environmental advocates believed their efforts would lead to sufficient incremental change to avert disaster. Those efforts have failed, and in the ensuing decades the magnitude and urgency of the crisis has escalated dramatically. Drawing on current science, we recognize that what is needed is a massive, decisive end to the fossil fuel era to avert the worst cascading effects of the climate crisis.

We recognize that what is needed is a massive, decisive end to the fossil fuel era to avert the worst cascading effects of the climate crisis, and that civil disobedience will play a critical role in bringing this about.

Climate activists engaging in civil disobedience, the Climate Disobedience Center exists to get your back.  Rather than a set curriculum, we offer flexible services to help meet the needs of activists and organizing communities.  Everything we do revolves around our principles instead of a structure.  Our goal is to encourage experimentation that expands the boundaries of climate movement organizing.  We aren’t looking for foot soldiers, but partners in experimentation. 


If you and your community want to do civil disobedience but aren’t sure where or how to start, the CDC can facilitate trainings that help you pull off a successful campaign.

If you have already taken action and gotten into some good trouble, the CDC can help you make the most of it.  We can help you craft your strategy inside and outside the courtroom.

For activists who are taking bold, creative and principled action against the fossil fuel industry, we provide our services, from phone consultation to extended on-the-ground organizing, free of charge.

Visit the Climate Disobedience Center

District Attorney Sam Sutter makes history siding with Lobster Boat Blockade protesters, Jay O'Hara and Ken Ward.

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Sunny Climate Nonsense

Somehow, Jonathan Chait’s New York Magazine article entitled “The Sunniest Climate Change Story You’ve Ever Read” left me feeling pretty dark.  I knew why I was angry at Chait’s blatantly ahistorical article that attempted to erase the climate movement from the struggle against climate change.  He was devaluing the people who have actually been fighting to stop climate change in order to make his point that we should all relax because capitalists and Democratic Party politicians have it all under control.  

Chait’s timeline is that in 2010 Obama “tried to pass a cap-and-trade law that would bring the U.S. into compliance with the reductions it had pledged in Copenhagen.”  When that failed, “environmentalists sank into despair — where many of them have stayed slumped ever since, having decided the battle is lost.” 

Never mind that the cap and trade bill had no connection to the Copenhagen goal of no more than 2 degrees Celsius, but rather was a corporate welfare bill that would have had little or no impact on climate.  The whole notion that the cap and trade bill was in response to Copenhagen commitments, when the bill actually passed the House of Representative six months before Copenhagen, reveals that Chait was not paying attention.  

Most importantly, Chait’s assertion that “environmentalists” gave up after 2010 is insane.  The very fact that he still thinks the activists fighting climate change are “environmentalists” indicates that he is completely oblivious of the actual climate justice movement, which has been consistently growing in scale, diversity and aggression since 2010.  That growth was on display a year ago when 400,000 people marched through New York City.  The 200 coal plant closures which Chait celebrates as progress did not magically shut down because of the invisible hand of the market or because of Obama’s yet-to-be-implemented Clean Power Plan.  Every single one of them was shut down under pressure from local, frontline activists supported by a national movement.  That same movement of interconnected, grassroots communities of resistance have fought off countless new power plants, pipelines, coal and gas export facilities, fracking and other new fossil fuel projects over the past five years.


(This is what 400,000 activists slumped in despair looks like.)

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