After four grueling years of late nights studying and more Ramen noodles than any one person should ever consume, most students don’t find themselves protesting their own graduation. Yet on Saturday, a group of graduates from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) did just that as a row of seats towards the back were left empty for them. No, they weren’t protesting the abhorrent prices of graduation gowns they would never wear again or the absence of top-shelf champagne at the ceremony: they were protesting its speaker.
As soon as WPI announced Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, would be this year’s graduation speaker, many students suddenly were “left confused, even betrayed,” graduating senior Katrina Crocker told DeSmogBlog. It didn’t make sense that WPI, a school recognized as one of the greenest universities in the nation, would invite the CEO of one of the largest dirty energy companies on the planet to address the class of 2011. In contrast to WPI’s green priorities, ExxonMobil reaps billions in dirty energy profits while polluting the environment and contributing to global climate change, all while simultaneously funding front groups to attack climate scientists and confuse the public.
Peabody Energy seemed to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day yesterday as they started to receive curious phone calls from consumers asking just how many Justin Beiber inhalers they were planning on giving away, and how courageous it was that a coal company was stepping up to acknowledge the role that pollution from their coal plants makes people sick, especially kids with asthma. Alas, the PR team at Peabody was quite confused on both accounts.
Around 9:00 am eastern time, a new “market-friendly public health initiative” hit journalists’ email inboxes announcing the launch of Coal Cares™, a campaign from Peabody Energy that would give away free novelty-themed inhaler actuators and also generously offer a $10-off coupon for the actual asthma medication, but only if you lived within 200 miles of a coal plant (news flash, you probably do).
I was sitting outside the DC Metropolitan Police Station last night at 11:30 pm when the last arrestee out of 21 for the day came out to cheers from the supportive crowd. The weekend of Power Shift 2011 ended with quite a bang, with the final day of the conference leading up to a massive day action to say no to big polluters.
I’ve been attending the Power Shift conference, in which 10,000 climate youth leaders descended onto Washington DC. It is always reaffirming to be around thousands of people that don’t think you’re some kind of nerd or radical hippie when you say you’re associated somehow with the environmentalist/climate change/clean energy/climate justice movement. There’s still such a stigma associated with climate change and environmentalism, especially with the right-wing denier machine pushing out tropes that we’re all communists wrapped in a blanket of radicalism vying to “kill the parents”.
It’s uplifting to remember at least once in a while there are thousands of people committed and passionate about working to establish a clean energy economy and promote meaningful climate legislation. And the climate justice movement isn’t just geared toward saving the planet, this movement also works toward helping to improve racial and social justice issues too.
This weekend in Washington DC, thousands will descend upon the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for Power Shift 2011. A veritable boot camp of movement building, it will bring together the leaders of the so-called “youth” movement to converge on finding solutions to effectively fight climate change, ensure a clean energy future, and finally displace the entrenched dirty energy industries.
The jam-packed agenda includes keynote addresses from Al Gore, Bill McKibben, and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson along with a plethora of workshops, meetings, and trainings planned from morning until night each day of the conference, culminating in a day of action on Monday the 18th in which attendees will take direct action against major polluters and also participate in citizen visits to Congressional offices.
“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”Henry David Thoreau on Civil Disobedience
A collective gasp was heard late afternoon yesterday as Tim DeChristopher was found guilty after only 5 hours of jury deliberation. Officially charged with one count of False Statement and one count of violating the Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, suddenly everyone was left thinking- did they convict the real criminal?
Much of the last two days of trial had focused on DeChristopher's intent when bidding for BLM land leases. Prosecutor John Hubert argued that DeChristopher intentionally "disrupted, derailed, and sabotaged" the auction. However, defense attorney Ron Yengich painted a different picture:
"He wanted to raise a red flag," he said. "He wanted to make a statement. That’s what he wanted to do. His desire was not to thwart the auction. ... He wanted people to think about the consequences that the auction was bringing to bear on other people. But it was never his intention to harm anyone."
Maybe if Tim had run into the auction using his paddle to feverishly whack participants to prevent them from bidding, then that could be seen harmful.
Today in Salt Lake City, climate activist Tim DeChristopher (aka Bidder 70) finally gets his day in court after waiting almost 2 years since his original indictment for disrupting an illegal auction of oil and gas leases that would have opened pristine public lands in Utah to drilling. The district attorney has delayed the trial as many as 6 times as the government hoped DeChristopher would succumb to a plea bargain, but DeChristopher’s legal team has stood firm in demanding a public trial by a jury of his peers so that the public might hear the truth about the original BLM auction, which was a last-minute parting gift to the oil and gas industry from outgoing President George W. Bush.
Back in December 2008, DeChristopher showed up at a controversial oil and gas auction in Utah that was offering leases to companies to drill on environmentally-sensitive public lands, including Nine Mile Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument. An economics student at the time, DeChristopher was troubled by the Bush Administration’s efforts to skirt around required environmental assessments, essentially making the auction illegal in the first place.
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.