Fearless Summer: U.S. Climate Change Groups Escalate Anti-Fossil Fuels Campaign

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Posted July 3, 2013

Interview with Mathew Louis-Rosenberg, anti-fossil fuel activist, member of RAMPS and Fearless Summer campaign, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

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This summer is witnessing stepped-up opposition to the use of fossil fuels by many communities and activists around the country. According to the world’s scientists, the continued exploitation of oil, coal and natural gas will eventually heat up the planet climate to the point of no return, where life on earth will be in endangered.

Actions being organized, as part of what's being called "Fearless Summer," are targeting proposed coal export terminals in the Northwest, mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia, oil pipelines in Maine, tar sands development in Utah and many more. Some actions involve nonviolent civil disobedience and arrests. The protest campaign began in late June and will continue throughout the summer, with the peak coming later in July with 350.org's "Summer Heat" series of events.

The summer actions coincide with President Obama's recent speech outlining his plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, and with his administration due to make an important decision on the future of the controversial Canada-to-U.S. gulf coast Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project proposal. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Mathew Louis-Rosenberg, an anti-coal activist with RAMPS – Radical Action for Mountain People's Survival – based in West Virginia. He explains the origins of the "Fearless Summer" campaign and weighs in on the substance of President Obama's recent speech addressing climate change.

MATHEW LOUIS-ROSENBERG: Fearless Summer is an open-ended call for united and escalated action around extreme energy across this country and even across the continent this summer. So it's not convened by any one organization; it has no funding or decision-making structure. It's a completely open-ended collaboration from grassroots organizers across the country opposing all kinds of dirty energy projects, and one of the central pieces of this is to present a united front on energy extraction to say we're not willing to trade one community's suffering for another, so it's organizers working on fracking and coal and pipelines and industrial biomass and oil and really, all the dirty energy industries, coming together to say we reject all of these as solutions – nuclear power is not an answer to climate change; gas isn't better than coal; and also for everyone to step up their action in whatever way makes sense for their campaign, so we have endorsing organizations from Sierra Club chapters to Earth First! chapters, and everyone is taking different kinds of action that are appropriate for where they are under a common banner to show the power of the movement that's becoming both bigger and more united.

So Fearless Summer was born out of a meeting that happened in upstate New York in February. It was the first extreme energy extraction summit to bring together organizers from all over the country working on issues around dirty energy and energy extraction to have a dialogue and begin to speak a common language and find innovative collaborations that would make all of our work more powerful by being in communication and collaboration with each other. And so a break-out group at that meeting came up with the first idea for unifying around some public action and civil disobedience. And out of the conversation that started there with a wide range of groups from 350.org chapters to Food and Water Watch to RAMPS and Tar Sands Blockade and any number of other organizations, a series of weekly calls began that eventually became the Fearless Summer Campaign.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So if all fossil fuels are left in the ground and we don't go nuclear, what would that mean?

MATHEW LOUIS-ROSENBERG: We don't claim to have a blueprint for exactly what a no-carbon future looks like. We do know we have to find that solution if we're going to have a liveable planet and if our communities are going to have an intact environment to support us and the next generation and the generation after that going forward, so we have to find the solution. And there are models out there. There was a Scientific American article where someone published a plan to get the world carbon-free and nuclear-free by 2030 or 2050. There are proposals out there. It probably looks like a lot more distributed generation, use of renewables, a ton of energy efficiency and probably minor lifestyle changes as well. Energy efficiency is really the name of the game, using less power. And even with current technology, from the things I've read, we can cut out 40 percent of demand with efficiency alone, which would be enough to shut down the whole coal fleet [of power plants]. So, we think the solutions are out there; we think it's the political powers that be that are preventing those solutions from flourishing and bold steps from being taken that need to be taken, so what Fearless Summer is all about is pushing back against that entrenched political power to allow those solutions to emerge. Fearless Summer is all about lifting up local campaigns and front-line voices, so if people can't take an action during the first Fearless Summer week of action, that's fine. People need to do what makes sense for their struggle and their campaign. It's an open framework around the unity of our movement that people can use as they will throughout the coming months.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Mat Louis-Rosenberg, what did you think of President Obama's recent speech on climate change?

MATHEW LOUIS-ROSENBERG: Well, I don't think there was anything in the president's speech that we didn't expect to a certain extent. Obviously, there are a lot of positive aspects. I think we can use it to help continue to build this movement. But the plan itself, while containing some important steps, is woefully inadequate. I think we were all particularly disappointed, though not surprised, at his re-endorsement of hydro-fracking as a bridge fuel. Not only is hydro-fracking destroying communities throughout this country, but the idea of a bridge fuel at this point in the climate crisis is absurd. We don't have time for the supposed bridge to be another fossil fuel that's still contributing to climate change. With methane leaks there are serious doubts about whether, particularly in the short term, gas is any better for the climate than any of the other fossil fuels. And once the infrastructure investments get made that are getting made across this country in natural gas, people are going to want to hold onto that infrastructure investment as long as possible, so building a brand new pipeline, a brand new gas-fired power plant right now, isn't a bridge fuel – that's locking us into fossil fuels for the next 30 to 50 years.

Learn more about the Fearless Summer campaign by visiting WeareFearlessSummer.org.

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