Open Letter to President Obama and Governor Romney: Defend America Against Keystone XL Economic, Public Health & National Security Threat
Thank you to all that signed the Open Letter, signatures are now closed but we will keep you up to date on what is next.
“And today, I’m directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done.”
- President Obama, speaking about the southern leg of Keystone XL
Cushing, OK (March 22, 2012)
“If I’m president, we’ll build it if I have to build it myself.”
- Governor Romney, commenting on the Keystone XL pipeline
Pittsburgh, PA (May 4, 2012)
Dear President Obama and Governor Romney,
As candidates for president, you both support construction of the southern (OK-TX) leg of Keystone XL, a pipeline that would transport tar sands through the Great Plains from Montana to refineries in Texas.
We call on you to withdraw your support for this project in light of the overwhelming evidence, available to both of you, that Keystone XL threatens America’s economy, public health, and national security.
You both know about the poor safety record of Canadian pipeline companies and the economic danger Keystone XL poses to our nation’s food and water supplies. TransCanada’s Keystone I tar sands pipeline, built two years ago, leaked corrosive tar sands slurry 12 times in its first 12 months. In 2010, a similar pipeline run by another Canadian company spilled more than 1 million gallons of toxic tar sands into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, sickening hundreds of people, displacing homeowners, wrecking businesses, and destroying jobs. Keystone XL – which would pump tar sands at extreme pressure and temperature across nearly 2,000 U.S. waterways – promises more of the same by allowing for leaks of up to 1.7 million gallons daily without triggering a real-time leak detection system. It is not a matter of if, but when, TransCanada’s 1,700-mile tar sands pipeline will compromise America’s breadbasket by contaminating our Great Plains rivers and aquifers.
You have been informed by twenty prominent scientists – including one of the nation’s top climate experts, Dr. James Hansen – that Keystone XL “would practically guarantee extensive exploitation” of Canada’s tar sands, which “on top of conventional fossil fuels will leave our children and grandchildren a climate system with consequences that are out of their control.” You have also been warned by Dr. Hansen – who along with other scientists links deadly heat waves to climate change – that such exploitation would mean ”game over for the climate.” As far back as 2007, an elite Military Advisory Board of 11 retired three- and four-star generals and admirals from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps concluded that “climate change is and must be recognized as a threat to our national security.” Echoing this sentiment, Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, USN (Ret.), president of the bipartisan American Security Project, testified in 2009 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that taking this national security threat “head on is about preserving our way of life.”
Rural families living in the path of the proposed pipeline are sounding the alarm of impending disaster. Please listen. You need to both stop hiding behind the few thousand temporary construction jobs this project would create and level with the American people. The facts show that Keystone XL:
- Risks destroying more jobs than it creates
- Portends higher, not lower, gas prices for the Midwest and Rockies
- Functions as an export pipeline for Canada to sell its oil to foreign markets
- Threatens to further poison the air of people living near tar sands oil refineries
- Violates tribal sovereignty and tramples on private property rights of U.S. citizens
- Jeopardizes the Ogallala Aquifer, source of 1/3 of America’s farmland irrigation water
- Endangers the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, which supplies water to more than 10 million Texans
Keystone XL violates so many core American values, it can only be described as un-American. It is time to stop playing politics with American lives and treasure and stand up to energy giant TransCanada. Failure to confront this foreign corporation seeking to enrich itself at our expense is a failure to defend America.
Believe in America! Forward! America’s path to prosperity lies in the rapid transition to abundant homegrown renewable energy and appropriate biofuel resources to power our homes, businesses, and vehicles – not in facilitating pipelines transporting the most destructive oil on earth. Keystone XL represents a retreat from the green economy, which already employs 2.7 million workers (more than the fossil fuel industry). Embrace instead a U.S.-led green industrial revolution that will move our economy forward, create millions of new jobs, and help ensure a livable planet for future generations.
In solidarity with families in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Montana dedicated to nonviolently resisting TransCanada’s toxic pipeline, we are urging everyone we know to challenge you on the campaign trail – between now and Election Day – until you commit to defending America against this imminent threat to our economy, public health, and national security. We expect you to protect our basic rights to clean air, food, and water, and to put the health, safety, and economic well-being of the American people before foreign corporate interests.
Show us, in the tradition of great Americans who came before you, that you are leaders worthy of the American presidency by courageously standing firm in defense of the land, and planet, we love. Inspire us by sharing a bold vision for the future that is befitting the American people – one marked by innovation, ingenuity, and hope. Seize this historic moment to leave a legacy that will be honored by our children and generations to come.
David E. Alessi (Longmont, CO)
Paul Alexander (Altamont, NY)
Harvard Ayers, Chairman, Arctic Voices (Boone, NC)
Vicki Baggett, Nacogdoches County S.T.O.P. (Nacogdoches, TX)
Lois Barber, Executive Director, EarthAction (Amherst, MA)
Paul Bassis, Strategist (Boulder, CO)
Jonny BearCub, Enrolled Member, Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Nation (Wolf Point, MT)
Ed Begley, Jr., Actor/Activist (Studio City, CA)
Robert & Kristine Bernt, Affected Landowners/Owners, Clear Creek Organic Farms (Spalding, NE)
Michael & Kathi Bishop, Affected Landowners (Douglass, TX)
Brent Blackwelder, President Emeritus, Friends of the Earth* (Washington, DC)
David Blittersdorf, CEO, AllEarth Renewables, Inc. (Williston, VT)
Catherine Bock (Palo Alto, CA)
Rodney M. Bordeaux, President, Rosebud Sioux Tribe (Rosebud, SD)
Rene Braud (Houston, TX)
Lester Brown, President, Earth Policy Institute (Washington, DC)
Lynda Buoy, President, Sand Hills Region, Nebraska Farmers Union* (Bassett, NE)
Patrick Carolan, Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network (Washington, DC)
Lt. Dan Choi, Iraq Combat Veteran (New York, NY)
Karl Connell, Affected Landowner/Rancher (Newport, NE)
Kevin Connell, Affected Landowner/Rancher (Newport, NE)
Gabriel Cordova, Affected Landowner (Winnsboro, TX)
Julia Trigg Crawford, Affected Landowner/Farmer (Direct, TX)
David Daniel, Affected Landowner/President, Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines (Winnsboro, TX)
Ari Daniels, CMT/Member, Tar Sands 1253 (Charlottesville, VA)
Steven & Kathy DaSilva, Nacogdoches County S.T.O.P. (Nacogdoches, TX)
Mary Decker, Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines (Jacksonville, TX)
Edgar DeMeo, President, Renewable Energy Consulting Services, Inc. (Palo Alto, CA)
Christin Engelhardt (Washington, DC)
Brock Evans, President, Endangered Species Coalition* (Washington, DC)
Eleanor Fairchild, Affected Landowner (Winnsboro, TX)
Ernie Fellows, Affected Landowner/Rancher (Mills, NE)
Paul Ferguson, Former Chairman, Arlington County Board* (Arlington, VA)
Terry Frisch, Affected Rancher (Atkinson, NE)
Bruce Gagnon (Bath, ME)
Robert Gern, DrPH (Alpharetta, GA)
Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director, Indigenous Environmental Network (Bemidji, MN)
Benjamin Gotschall, Energy Director, BOLD Nebraska (Hastings, NE)
Tom Gray, Executive Director (81-89), American Wind Energy Association* (Norwich, VT)
Natalie & Floyd Looks for Buffalo Hand (Pine Ridge, SD)
Daryl Hannah, Actress/Activist (USA)
James Hansen, Adjunct Professor, Columbia University Earth Institute (New York, NY)
John Harter, Affected Landowner/Rancher (Winner, SD)
Ken Haukaas, Economic Development Advisor, Rosebud Sioux Tribe (Rosebud, SD)
Paul Hawken, Author (Sausalito, CA)
Randy Hayes, Executive Director, Foundation Earth (Washington, DC)
Mariel Hemingway, Oscar Nominated Actress/Author/Conservationist/Mother (Malibu, CA)
Harlan Hentges, Executive Director, Center for Energy Matters (Edmond, OK)
Joe Hickey, Founding Board Member, Tierra Madre, LLC* (Lexington, KY)
Julia Butterfly Hill, Co-Founder, What’s Your Tree* (Albany, CA)
Reah Janise & Hadan Kauffman (Washington, DC)
Sheryl Kampf (Cincinnati, OH)
Jane Kleeb, Founder, BOLD Nebraska (Hastings, NE)
Jim Knopik, Organic Farmer/Nance County Supervisor* (Fullerton, NE)
Julie M. Kramer (Boulder, CO)
Sheryl Lee, Actress/Species Protection Activist (Los Angeles, CA)
Gussie Lehman (Hyattsville, MD)
Alec Loorz, Founder, Kids vs. Global Warming (Ventura, CA)
Victoria Loorz, Executive Director, Kids vs. Global Warming (Ventura, CA)
Susan Luebbe, Affected Landowner/Rancher (Stuart, NE)
Marti Matsch, Communications Director, Eco-Cycle* (Boulder, CO)
Becky Mayo, Nacogdoches County S.T.O.P. (Nacogdoches, TX)
John Mayo, Landowner Rights Alliance (Nacogdoches, TX)
Holly McClelland, Owner, Clementine Studios, Inc. (Boulder, CO)
Becky & Sam McCoy, Affected Landowners (Winnsboro, TX)
Bill McKibben, Founder, 350.org (Ripton, VT)
Peggy Miller, Owner, Highland Winds (Missoula, MT)
Kayla Mohnsen, President, Students for Environmental Action, KSU (Manhattan, KS)
Brenda Morgan, Nacogdoches County S.T.O.P. (Nacogdoches, TX)
Suzanne Morris, Nacogdoches County S.T.O.P. (Rusk, TX)
Leilani Münter, Carbon Free Girl, Race Car Driver/Environmental Activist (Charlotte, NC)
Cindy Myers, RN (Stuart, NE)
Daniel K. Peddie (Boulder, CO)
Lori Peddie (Holland, MI)
Mike Petersen, Executive Director, The Lands Council* (Spokane, WA)
Tom Poor Bear, Vice President, Oglala Lakota Nation (Wanblee, SD)
Caleb Post, Affected Landowner (Winnsboro, TX)
Edward C. Radillo, USAF (Ret), DOD (Ret), Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines (Yantis, TX)
Bonnie Raitt, Musician/Activist (Los Angeles, CA)
Mark Reynolds, Executive Director, Citizens Climate Lobby (Coronado, CA)
Eric W. Ringsby (Aspen, CO)
Betty & Joe Scott, Affected Landowners (Winnsboro, TX)
Paul Seamans, Affected Landowner/Rancher (Draper, SD)
Ron Seifert, Spokesperson, Tar Sands Blockade (Missoula, MT)
Casey Sheahan, CEO, Patagonia (Carbondale, CO)
Tara Sheahan, CEO, Conscious Global Leadership (Carbondale, CO)
Tom “Smitty” Smith, Texas Director, Public Citizen (Austin, TX)
Stefanie Penn Spear, Executive Director, EcoWatch/President, Expedite Renewable Energy (Cleveland, OH)
Byron Steskal, Affected Landowner/Farmer (Stuart, NE)
Kieran Suckling, Executive Director, Center for Biological Diversity (Tuscon, AZ)
Andrea & Steve Taber (San Anselmo, CA)
Rebecca Tarbotton, Executive Director, Rainforest Action Network (San Francisco, CA)
Dennis & Teri Taylor, Affected Ranchers/Owners, D&T Cattle Company (Newport, NE)
Brad Thacker, Board Member, Be The Change U.S.A. (Lakewood, CO)
Cleve Trimble, MD (Valentine, NE)
Adrian F. Van Dellen, DVM & CEO, The Neches River Watershed Sentinels (Woodville, TX)
Rev. Roger W. Verley, H.R., National Capital Presbytery (Annandale, VA)
James A. Walker, Former President, American Wind Energy Association* (Henderson, NV)
Harvey Wasserman, Editor, NukeFree.org/Author, SOLARTOPIA! (Bexley, OH)
Dan Weis, Realtor (Mason, OH)
Gerald R. Weis, DC (Naples, FL)
Tom Weis, President, Climate Crisis Solutions (Boulder, CO)
Leslie Weise, Principal, Cleantech Business Solutions (Monument, CO)
Alex & Debra White Plume, Oglala Lakota (Pine Ridge, SD)
Robert Paul Williams, Hollywood Stuntman/Olympic Athlete/Extreme Outdoor Adventurist (Malibu, CA)
Chris Wynnyk Wilson, Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines (Austin, TX)
Diane Wilson, President, Calhoun County Resource Watch (Seadrift, TX)
Suzan Yoshida (Boulder, CO)
Daniel Ziskin, President, Jews of the Earth (Boulder, CO)
*affiliation listed for identification purposes only
“SEVEN ACTION-PACKED WEEKS IN OUR NATION’S CAPITAL” (Wednesday, December 8, 2010 – Sunday January 30, 2011) – PART TWO
WINTER TRIKING & POLAR BEAR PLUNGES
The bitter cold limited my riding days in DC, but on the days I managed to get out, I usually made for the National Mall, ready made for bikes, where the excited reactions from tourists to seeing the trike never seemed to end. My favorite DC ride day was when Jo Reyes pedaled his hybrid electric bike down from Takoma Park to ride with me on the bike path to Old Town Alexandria and back (thanks for the lunch, Jo!). Another day, I came across these residential-scale wind turbines on display at the U.S. Botanic Garden, which I later learned were indeed generating electricity for the building:
Strange as it might sound, one of the most enjoyable activities during my stay in DC was the annual Polar Bear Plunge, sponsored by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Along with Sierra Club board member Jim Dougherty, my friend, Charlie Garlow (dressed as a wind turbine), and about 200 other intrepid souls, I plunged into the icy waters of the Potomac River at National Harbor on one of the coldest days of winter. At 22 degrees, the air outside was even colder than the water, which had ice on the shoreline and slush at water’s edge.
The speech by Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD) imploring us to protect future generations from the ravages of a heating globe was inspiring enough, but then she outdid herself by plunging into the river with the rest of us. That’s what I call political leadership! She was joined at the event by San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who expressed interested in my ride and support for its goal.
After the speeches, we hurried over to the changing tents to don our swimsuits, then made our way down to the shore. As I waded into the river, I just kept repeating to myself: “This is not a problem. This is not a problem…” before finally diving underwater to fully experience the big chill. After swimming around for a few seconds, with EMTs in waterproof gear hovering nearby (in case of heart attacks or hypothermia, I presume), I began wading back to shore. Still in the water was an elderly woman in a one-piece bathing suit, leaning on a cane, slowly making her way over the rocks. At that moment, I didn’t feel so tough. I gave her a hand, then a big hug of admiration. That is the spirit that’s going to help us turn the tide on the global climate crisis here in America.
DC TELEVISION COVERAGE
There’s probably no tougher media nut to crack than the Washington, DC media market, but you just have to keep at it. My friend and fellow electric vehicle advocate, Charlie Garlow (http://www.evadc.org/about_us.html), had tipped me off to a reporter at ABC News who was new on the environmental beat and was looking for green tech stories. So I pitched him on the ride and he was able to convince his editor to let him cover the story. We spent about an hour together filming, with the story running on the evening of the State of the Union address. You can watch the 2-minute clip here:
With the help of my friend Jon Stout in Boulder, I also connected with the producer of the Thom Hartmann television show, which resulted in this great 6-minute piece. You can watch it here (the interview begins at 37:05 into the show):
OBAMA SPEAKS OUR LANGUAGE IN STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS
On the day of Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU) address, I spent the afternoon and early evening circling the Capitol until the hordes of security made it impossible to maneuver. Hand-made signs affixed to the back of the the trike read: “Congress: Renew America with Renewable Energy!!” and “Congress: Coal-Fired or Future-Generation Inspired??”
Our message is clearly getting through to the White House, as evidenced by the President’s remarks during his SOTU address. I’m not suggesting the “Ride for Renewables” was the only inspiration for the President’s “Sputnik moment” speech, but check out how closely these passages from his speech line up with central themes of the “Ride for Renewables,” broadcast widely through the media, and on the internet, in the months prior to his talk:
- We’ve been calling for a modern day, green energy moon shot for America.
- President Obama: “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.”
- We’ve been calling for 100% renewable electricity for the U.S. by 2020
- President Obama: “By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.”
- We said we don’t want America to become a second rate economic power.
- President Obama: “I do not accept second place for the United States of America.”
- We said the American people have a deep hunger to be part of something greater than themselves – and want politicians to set party label aside and put the American people first.
- President Obama: “…each of us is part of something greater – something more consequential than party or political preference.”
- We’ve been calling for quick action to reassert our global economic competitiveness.
- President Obama: “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.”
- We said it’s time to once again unleash America’s unique entrepreneurial, can-do spirit.
- President Obama: “What we can do — what America does better than anyone else – is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.”
- We’ve been calling for shifting tax breaks and subsidies away from fossil fuels and nuclear power to energy efficiency and renewables.
- President Obama: “And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.”
- We said America is about doing great things.
- President Obama: “We do big things.”
The good news is the White House is finally listening to Main Street, America. The bad news is the President did not mention the global climate crisis once in his speech, despite 2010 being tied as the hottest year on record. Ignoring this gravest of threats to America will not magically make it go away. Every leading national scientific academy in the world has concluded that human activity is changing the climate.
Worse yet, he intentionally muddied the waters between dirty energy sources and truly clean energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal by trying to redefine mythical “clean coal,” radioactive nuclear power and polluting natural gas as “clean energy.” The American people have come to expect this kind of subterfuge from polluters afraid of progress, but it should not be emanating from the White House. This is shameless government greenwash and must not stand. We will know the President is serious about meeting the expectations of our children to protect their futures when he declares a global climate emergency and places it at the top of his policy agenda.
PUBLIC TALKS & PLOTTING NEXT STEPS
In addition to a series of individual strategy sessions with Lester Brown, Brock Evans and Brent Blackwelder, I gave a number of public talks while in DC, including a lunch presentation to Lester Brown and his staff at Earth Policy Institute (thanks, Les); a lunch presentation at the Woman’s National Democratic Club (thanks, Alice); an evening reception at The Green Commuter bike shop in Takoma Park (thanks, Charlie & Jo), the annual meeting of the DC Electric Vehicle Association (thanks again, Charlie); a lunch gathering with one of my ride sponsors, Cooper Roark (a star – he raised nearly $2000 for my ride), and some of his classmates at St. Albans Academy; and a well-received community gathering at the Brookmont community church (thanks, Jody).
I want to thank again Alice & Lincoln Day, who generously provided a cozy apartment for me to base out of during my first month in DC. Providence does provide. I also want to extend a special thanks to my friend, Christin Engelhardt, for tolerating me as a houseguest during my final three weeks in Washington. Christin and I first met in 1987 working on Paul Simon’s Iowa presidential campaign and have been close friends ever since. Even better than all the great meals, and the laughter, was her company.
ROLLING HOME ON THE RAILS
After changing my ticket several times to extend my stay in DC, I finally boarded Amtrak’s Capitol Limited – described as an “all-American journey between America’s heartland and the nation’s capital” – for the 36-hour ride home. As fate would have it, the train’s route covered some of the same ground I had pedaled to Washington, DC. As we rolled out of DC, I could see outside my sleeper cab window, mere yards away, the very same C&O Canal bike trail I had pedaled two months ago, now covered in snow.
As the hours drifted by, a host of memories flooded in. I was reminded of an informational plaque I saw in Akron, CO describing how in 1890, “fast trains whisked passengers through Akron on the Chicago and Denver route” at speeds as high as 112.5 mph. Don’t get me wrong. Rolling home at 75 mph definitely beats pedaling as far as making time, but what happened to America? We’ve gone backwards, while the Europeans and Asians are racing to the future on high-speed bullet trains. One can only hope the President really meant it when he said during the SOTU, “There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains…our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.”
As I finished a hearty breakfast in the dining car, the train rolled into Denver’s Union Station, right on time.
From there, I caught the bus up to Boulder.
Then I walked the few blocks from the depot to my friends’ house with just a few things on my back.
The “rocket” has landed. The sacred journey has come full circle.
“SEVEN ACTION-PACKED WEEKS IN OUR NATION’S CAPITAL” (Wednesday, December 8, 2010 – Sunday January 30, 2011) – PART ONE
I didn’t think I’d be in Washington, DC seven weeks after the conclusion of the ride, but nothing happens quickly in this city. If you want to make an impact, you have to stick around and seize opportunities as they present themselves – something to consider as we gear up to protect our childrens’ futures in the nation’s capital. “Lobby days” and “lobby weeks” are simply no match for the legions of K Street lobbyists swarming the halls of Congress round-the-clock. It will take an army of determined citizen activists responding in kind to bring some climate sanity to what NASA scientist James Hansen colorfully describes as a “well-oiled” and “coal-fired” Congress.
CONGRESSMAN PRAISES “RIDE FOR RENEWABLES”
Shortly after arriving in DC, I pedaled my rocket trike over to Capitol Hill, where I received special permission by the Seargent at Arms to bring the trike into the building. After being swept by a bomb-sniffing dog at one security gate, then clearing another at the loading dock, I managed to just fit the trike into the freight elevator and ride up to the office of U.S. Representative Jared Polis. Congressman Polis was so taken with it, he asked if he could sit in it. He then asked if he could ride it, and proceeded to take it for a spin through the halls of Congress. I followed suit, enjoying by far the smoothest ride of the entire trip rolling over Congress’ hard, marble floors. You can watch both videos here:
We then met for ten minutes or so to talk about the need for congressional leaders to push for a green energy moon shot. When Jared had to excuse himself to speak on the House floor, I continued the conversation with his very interested environmental legislative aide, until we were interrupted by a gun threat warning, directing everyone in the building to lock their doors (they called off the lock-down several minutes later – false alarm). We agreed to meet again soon. Jared made the following statement to the press: “Our nation has a serious addiction to fossil fuels,” said Polis, “and it’s going to take innovative initiatives like Tom’s ride to break the habit and turn our country around. By moving to renewable forms of energy we will create millions of jobs, turn around our economy, and improve our environment and public health all at the same time.”
I then rolled the trike down to the Longworth Cafeteria for a lunch meeting with one of my best friends, Joel “Heart of the Hill” Segal, a senior legislative aide to Congressman John Conyers (D-MI). But I had tarried too long. The snow I’d seen starting to fall outside the window of Congressman Polis’ office was now 2 inches deep on the ground, and I had never ridden the trike in the snow. Time to go. You can see what that was like here:
Having not succeeded (yet) in getting a face-to-face meeting with the President and First Lady, I eventually settled for faxing the “100% by 2020” petition – with the names, cities and states of those who signed it – to the White House. For good measure, I hand-delivered a copy to the White House’s office of Council on Environmental Quality. I also personally delivered copies of the petition to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid; House Speaker John Boehner; and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. They have been put on notice – more than 40 states were represented on the petition. I want to extend a very special thanks to everyone who signed it!!
SEIZING THE INITIATIVE
But I hadn’t pedaled 2,400 miles across America’s heartland to leave things at that. More had to be done. I just hadn’t quite figured out exactly what yet. Then I saw an article in The Washington Post announcing Chinese President Hu Jintao’s upcoming visit to the White House for a state dinner. It was the opening I was looking for. The plan came together a few days prior to his visit over a series of phone conversations with my good and great friend, Paul Alexander. We weren’t about to let this moment pass – the presidents of the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitting nations meeting together at the White House – without demanding some accountability.
Working closely with Lester Brown, I drafted an open letter calling on Presidents Obama and Hu to place the global climate emergency at the top of their policy agendas. The letter also called on both leaders to embrace a goal of reducing carbon emissions to 350 parts per million (the level top climate scientists say is safe for humanity) by committing to 80% carbon cuts by 2020. By now, we were only two days out from Hu’s arrival, so I emailed the letter to some key allies, asking for a sign-on response within 48 hours.
Anticipating protests by Free Tibet and China pro-democracy activists during Hu’s visit, I thought I had better do a dry run to the White House to scope out the scene in advance. An ice storm had hit DC the night before, so this is what I woke up to:
The protesters I had anticipated were there, just not in the numbers I had expected. And White House security officials I spoke to indicated I would be able to bring the trike to Lafayette Park (directly across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House). Satisfied, I pedaled back to Capitol Hill to make some final recruitment calls and send a press advisory out to my media contacts. By the time I had shut down my computer for the night, nearly two dozen prominent environmental, business and religious leaders – including the head of the Sierra Club – had signed onto the open letter. Never in the history of the environmental movement had so many major organizations gone on record calling for 80% carbon cuts (based on 2006 levels) by 2020. It was an unprecedented display of climate leadership. A new line had been drawn in the sand.
The following morning, I rolled over to Kinko’s to pick up the banner I had ordered the night before, which read: “Presidents Obama & Hu: It’s Time to Declare a Global Climate Emergency.” After faxing the open letter to the White House from there, I pedaled from Capitol Hill down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. Armed with copies of the letter for the media, I held a 5-hour vigil outside the White House gates. Joining me over the course of the afternoon to lend their moral support were two deans of the U.S. environmental movement, Brent Blackwelder and Brock Evans. Their presence was deeply appreciated.
Here’s Brent Blackwelder, President Emeritus of Friends of the Earth, at the White House:
Here’s Brock Evans, President of the Endangered Species Coalition, at the White House:
I read the open letter here:
True to form, no DC media outlets covered the event or the release of the open letter, but it did get picked up on some blogs and websites, just not enough to give the story “legs.” With no word that other groups had sent it to their media lists, I felt compelled to drop another $300 for a national media distribution. As luck would have it, Environmental News Service, which also has a news arm, was looking for an environmental hook for their story on the Obama-Hu meeting, which the open letter conveniently provided. Between this, and Paul Alexander personally forwarding the open letter to many hundreds of media, environmental, energy and other organizations, blogs and leaders in the coming days, the story got picked up on hundreds of websites worldwide and has taken on a life of its own. That is the true power of the internet. We can’t always break through to the traditional media, but we can create our own media.
The following afternoon, I received a phone call from actor and activist, Daryl Hannah, asking if it was too late to be added to the letter (she hadn’t seen the email due to her computer being in the shop). I promised her she would be included on all future distributions, the final version is below:
Open Letter to President Barack Obama & President Hu Jintao
January 19, 2011
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20003
Dear President Barack Obama & President Hu Jintao:
It is time to publicly acknowledge that the continued burning of fossil fuels threatens the survival of civilization. The science is incontrovertible on this fact, yet the response from government is business as usual. Our two nations dominate world carbon emissions.
No civilization has survived the ongoing destruction of its natural support systems, nor will ours. It is with a deepening sense of dread over the fate of future generations that we call on you to acknowledge the severity of the global climate emergency by placing climate stabilization at the top of your policy agendas.
According to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, 2010 tied with 2005 as the hottest year in recorded history. Last year was also the wettest on record in terms of global average precipitation, according to the Global Historical Climatology Network, with devastating impacts felt across the globe. Estimates by the World Health Organization are that the Earth’s warming climate contributes to more than 150,000 deaths each year. Here’s what else we’re facing:
• Crop-withering heat waves
• A melting Greenland ice sheet that threatens to raise sea level 23 feet
• Fires transforming carbon-storing tropical rainforests into carbon emitters
• Ocean acidification imperiling the base of the seafood chain
• Melting glaciers in the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau threatening the dry season irrigation water supplies – and food security – of hundreds of millions of people
• Ever-deadlier storms creating growing numbers of climate refugees
• Scientists predicting 1/5 of living species being driven toward extinction by mid-century
This is just the beginning. Nature tells us time is running out, but we can’t see the clock. As we blindly reach critical climate “tipping points,” things promise to get worse, much worse. Central to the solution is a wartime-like mobilization by the governments of the United States and China to cut carbon emissions 80 percent (based on 2006 levels) by 2020. This is required if we are to reduce carbon emissions to 350 parts per million in the atmosphere, the level top climate scientists say is safe for humanity.
There is no more important measure of presidential leadership than living up to the expectations of our children to protect their future. Every day our respective governments fail to act, their future grows more perilous. We await your response.
Lester Brown, President, Earth Policy Institute
Rev. Sally G. Bingham, President, The Regeneration Project & Interfaith Power & Light
Brent Blackwelder, President Emeritus, Friends of the Earth
David Blittersdorf, President/CEO, AllEarth Renewables, Inc.
Jan Blittersdorf, President/CEO, NRG Systems, Inc.
Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club
Lisa Daniels, Executive Director, Windustry
Brock Evans, President, Endangered Species Coalition
Ross Gelbspan, Author
Daryl Hannah, Actor & Activist
Paul Hawken, Author
Randy Hayes, Executive Director, Foundation Earth & Founder, Rainforest Action Network
Courtney Hight, Co-Director, Energy Action Coalition
Julia Butterfly Hill, Co-Founder, The Engage Network*
Chuck Kutscher, Former Chair, American Solar Energy Society & Principal Engineer, National Renewable Energy Laboratory*
Eric Lombardi, Executive Director, Eco-Cycle
Bill McKibben, Founder, 350.org
Erich Pica, President, Friends of the Earth
Phil Radford, Executive Director, Greenpeace
Kieran Suckling, Executive Director, Center for Biological Diversity
Rebecca Tarbotton, Executive Director, Rainforest Action Network
Mike Tidwell, Director, Chesapeake Climate Action Network
James A. Walker, Former President, American Wind Energy Association**
Tom Weis, President, Climate Crisis Solutions
*Institutional affiliation listed for identification purposes only
**My apologies for any confusion: the American Wind Energy Association does not support the views expressed in this letter.
The January 19 open letter to Presidents Obama & Hu marks a new chapter in the history of the planetary protection movement. Never before have environmental groups as diverse as the Sierra Club, Earth Policy Institute, Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity, 350.org and the Endangered Species Coalition joined forces with businesses and religious leaders to call for a “wartime-like mobilization” to stabilize the Earth’s deteriorating climate. It is worth noting that the final sentence in the letter to both presidents was: “We await your response.” But you know that President Obama is really awaiting ours, to see how serious we are. I’ll never forget how struck I was by the words of a climate skeptic a few years back. They read something like this: “I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people who keep calling it a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis.” How profound, and true.
SEEKING SOURCES OF INSPIRATION
While in DC, I sought out sources of inspiration for the fight that is to come for our collective future. As the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass once famously said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” In particular, I wanted to pay tribute to two of humanity’s greatest leaders, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., both practitioners of non-violence who saw resisting oppression and discrimination as their personal duties. Imagine my delight when I discovered a beautiful statue of Gandhi outside the Indian Embassy mere blocks from where I was staying on DuPont Circle. There are few people in history I admire more than the father of India, who led a tireless mass movement of peaceful civil resistance to free his people from tyranny. He described how he persevered in this famous quote: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” Long a deep source of personal inspiration for me, Gandhi personified leading by example. One of his most famous quotes was:“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” His message to the world: “My life is my message.”
Later I read in The Washington Post that the memorial to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., long in the planning, was finally nearing completion, so one afternoon I pedaled my trike down to the Tidal Basin to see what I could. The statue itself is shrouded, as the sculptor applies the finishing touches, but the memorial site is coming together beautifully. It will be officially unveiled this summer on the anniversary of Dr. King’s historic “I Have A Dream” speech. What a glorious day that will be! I just wish I could be there, as no one has inspired my life more than Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s not just what he achieved during his brief time on this planet that inspires me, but how he fearlessly achieved it. The words that he spoke in 1964, upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, could just as easily apply to the global climate crisis we’re facing today: “Here and there an individual or group… rises to the majestic heights of moral maturity. So in a real sense this is a great time to be alive… Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible… Granted that we face a world crisis… But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom…” Our future clearly hinges on finding the “moral maturity” Dr. King saw from the mountaintop.
And then there is one who does not have a statue in Washington, DC, but should: the late, great David Brower. No one in the environmental movement has influenced me more than this man, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times for his tireless efforts to protect the planet. David helped define the contemporary environmental movement through the groups he founded, and by the principled philosophy he embraced: “We are to hold fast to what we believe is right, fight for it, and find allies and adduce all possible arguments for our cause. If we cannot find enough vigor in us or them to win, then let someone else propose the compromise.” I had the good fortune of befriending David during the final years of his life. Despite battling cancer, he was eager to join me in my quest to inject a sense of environmental urgency into the 2000 presidential primary campaign. He rallied his frail body to travel in the dead of winter to the early caucus and primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively, for a series of campaign rallies and events. He fought to the very end of his life, which was illuminated by a Goethe quote he lived by:“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” It was the daily reminder of this quote on my office wall, more than anything else, that prompted me to launch this ride. I asked myself more than once during the ride what David would do if he were alive today. Someday, he will be properly honored in our nation’s capitol.
Of course, no trip to Washington, DC would be complete without a visit to the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. And while it lost much of its luster for me after the 2000 election debacle, there’s also the Supreme Court.