by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
USA climate map
Leave it in the ground
Crowd at rally
Birds & bees, oceans & trees
Healthy Earth couple
Bike, Walk, Take Transit
Mukhta Kulkankar & Willow Lark
Make Earth cool again
Not a liberal conspiracy
Governor Brown, ban fracking
Sean Bohac (right) carrying Green Party banner
Denial is not policy
Every day is Earth Day
Science trumps B.S.
Clean energy revolution
Theory … like gravity
I want my Saturdays back
The People’s March for Climate, which stepped off in various cities across the U.S. on April 29 — the 100th day of the Presidency of Donald John Trump, Jr. — was the first of the major anti-Trump marches I actually attended. They’ve been going on since at least January 21, the day after Trump’s inauguration, when the National Women’s March became the largest single public event in Washington, D.C.’s history. But I’d been ducking them so far: a combination of a daunting work schedule and a bizarre health problem kept me away.
But I was determined to make the one on April 29, partly because the organizers had put out written flyers advertising it instead of just trusting to social media to get the word out; partly because the environment is a cause of paramount importance (let’s face it: the civil-rights struggles of people of color, women and Queers won’t mean very much if the Earth ceases to be able to support human life); and partly because Rachel Maddow shamed me into it.
On her April 28 program, she had a guest who’s a major part of the movement to challenge Vladimir Putin’s dictatorial power in Russia (though he now lives in Britain because Putin’s opponents have a way of getting jailed or poisoned) and announced that April 29 was also going to be a day of demonstrations against Putin all over Russia. So I figured that if there are Russian activists who are willing to risk being arrested — or even murdered — to stand up to their country’s dictatorial President, I should be willing to risk much less dire medical consequences to stand up to mine.
The People’s March followed what’s become the usual pattern for such actions. Held at what’s grandly been termed “Waterfront Park” even though it’s only the backyard of the County Administrative Center downtown, it featured a rally with speakers at 10 a.m. and a subsequent march — a brief one, just to the Broadway Pier downtown and back. Marchers carried mostly homemade signs, some with a good deal of wit. One, in black letters on an orange background, read, “Ice doesn’t have an agenda. It just melts!” Another spoke to the sheer plethora of protests since Trump took over as President; it read, “Can You Resign Already? I Want My Saturdays Back.”
There were other more prosaic signs as well, including several with the slogan “Leave It In the Ground” — a reference to the argument of climate scientists and activists that if people continue to extract and burn fossil fuels, the atmosphere will contain so much carbon dioxide there will be no way to stop extensive climate changes that will threaten human survival. Other signs referenced Trump’s statement that human-caused climate change was a hoax cooked up by the Chinese to get the U.S. to de-industrialize, and the sheer number of climate-change deniers, including Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Trump has appointed to key posts in his administration.
Indeed, while other aspects of the Trump agenda have been stymied by Congress or the courts, his assault on the environment has proceeded full speed ahead. As Jim Miller, professor at San Diego City College and vice-president of the San Diego chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), put it at the rally, “The Trump administration, which has illustrated flaming incompetence in almost every other area, has proven to be pretty darned good at gearing up to kill the planet. Indeed, the Trump administration has delayed new energy and fuel efficiency standards, signaled that it will revoke Obama’s Clean Power Plan, proposed a budget that guts the Environmental Protection Agency, and threatened to upend the Paris accord on climate.”
On the eve of the People’s March for Climate, Trump signed two executive orders vastly expanding the public land area available for offshore oil drilling, including the Arctic as well as the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The order that would allow oil companies to drill off the California coast was an especially intense spit-in-your-eye attack on environmentalists, since the modern environmental movement began largely as a response to the oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in February 1969, which sparked a nationwide movement that held the first Earth Day celebrations in April 1970 and pushed the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act through Congress.
Trump’s bold assault on environmental regulation stands as a sharp contrast to Richard Nixon, the Republican President who signed the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act into law. On December 31, 1970 Nixon signed a bill to restrict pollution from automobiles and publicly announced, “I think 1971 will be known as the year of action, and as we look at action, I would suggest that this bill is an indication of what action can be. Because if this bill is completely enforced, within four years it will mean that the emissions from automobiles which pollute the environment will be reduced by 90 percent.”
But the tradition of environmental activism within the Republican Party, which had begun with President Theodore Roosevelt and his Secretary of the Interior, Gifford Pinchot, in the first decade of the 20th century and continued through Nixon and his successor, Gerald Ford, was first reversed by Ronald Reagan. In his 1980 campaign, appearing in Western states, Reagan publicly endorsed the so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion” of ranchers and hunters trying to privatize federal land and remove restrictions on its use.
As with so many other parts of his agenda, Trump on the environment has been Reagan on steroids. In a lead article in the April 30 Los Angeles Times (http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-trump-climate-20170428-story.html), reporter Evan Halper quoted California Congressmember Jared Huffman as calling Trump’s environmental policy “a wrecking ball right out of the gate … We shouldn’t underestimate the amount of damage that has already been done to the environment by an administration that can’t seem to get almost anything else done.”
Halper’s article identified controversial radical-Right multibillionaire financiers Charles and David Koch as the masterminds of Trump’s attack on environmental protection. The Koch brothers, whose name has become a symbol of political control by the super-rich to progressives today the way the names “Rockefeller” and “Morgan” were in past decades, made their money in fossil fuels and have set up a network of lobbying organizations and think tanks to remove government restrictions on fossil-fuel exploitation and block efforts by the EPA and other federal agencies to protect the environment.
“Some of the attacks have been high-profile and attention-grabbing: the dismantling of the Clean Power Plan that promised to put the nation’s dirtiest power plants out of business; the shelving of aggressive fuel mileage standards that California and other states are dead-set on implementing; the move to get rid of national monuments; the hasty approval of contentious, massive oil pipelines,” Halper wrote in his L. A. Times article. “But even on days when the announcements don’t make headlines, the tearing-up of environmental rules marches along. Often the rules involved are obtuse and escape broad public notice, but the impact of stripping them piles up.”
The Speakers Sound the Alarm
The speakers at the San Diego People’s March for Climate rally sounded the alarm over Trump’s anti-environmentalist actions and called for popular resistance to them. Among the biggest attacks by Trump on the environment were his approvals for constructing the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, which environmentalists had attacked for two reasons: the projects themselves would harm the earth and underground water supplies where they were built, and they’d facilitate the burning of more oil-based fuels, increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and thus speeding up global warming. They successfully lobbied former President Barack Obama to block these projects — but then in came Trump, who green-lighted both of them.
The Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota became a particularly emotional issue not only for environmentalists but also for Native Americans, who not only linked the pipeline to the U.S. government’s constant expropriation of their lands but said it would directly threaten their water sources. The rally’s opening speaker, Bobby Wallace, was a Native American from San Diego’s Kumeyaay Nation who talked about his participation in the protests at Standing Rock, site of the Dakota Access pipeline. He said he personally witnessed military-style attacks against anti-pipeline protesters by federal and North Dakota state armed forces.
“We’ve been to Standing Rock five times,” Wallace said. “We’ve seen the abuse on the whites, on the Blacks, on the Natives, on everybody. We were there on the front line when little girls got their arms blown off. … They were dropping chemicals out of the sky. I had something in my lungs for over a month. I had a headache for over a month. You know, I think my boots right here, if they’re a little torn up and shattered, that’s from chemicals, you guys. It’s real. These guys are coming after us in a big way.”
“It’s our responsibility to remain hopeful and keep up this fight,” said the next speaker, Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, California State Assemblymember and former head of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Central Labor Council. “We’re lucky, because we live in a state of resistance, a true state of resistance. We live in the state of California, where we say we’re not going backwards on immigration. We’re not going backwards on workers, or women, or LGBTQ rights. And we’re not going backwards on all the gains that we’ve made for the environment in the last few years. We’re going to continue, persist and push, and make sure our air is clean.”
But, Gonzalez Fletcher added, “Everything we do at the state has to be replicated here locally.” She used the rally to promote AB 805, a bill she wrote to reform SANDAG, the local consortium of city and county governments and agencies that sets transit policy for San Diego County. SANDAG — the initials stand for San Diego Association of Governments but that’s only one of the agencies in the transportation consortium — put a measure on the November 2016 ballot to raise the local sales tax to fund transportation needs. But the measure failed, at least in part because the San Diego County Democratic Party endorsed against it on the ground that it allocated too much of the money for freeway and road construction and not enough for public transit, footpaths and bike lanes.
AB 205, whose text is available online at http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180AB805, is an elaborate and rather wonky piece of legislation that reshuffles the SANDAG board and changes its personnel and voting rules. It also would require that, in writing the regional comprehensive plan for transportation in San Diego County, SANDAG must “address the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets set by the State Air Resources Board as required by Section 65080 of the Government Code and include strategies that provide for mode shift to public transportation.”
This is important, Gonzalez Fletcher told the crowd at the People’s March for Climate, because “50 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. … It’s time we reduce the numbers of cars on the freeway, increase the number of walk lanes and bicycles and mass transit, and we can all do it by supporting AB 805. I hope you’ll help me in that effort, because it’s time we reform the way we do transportation in San Diego County.” Indeed, at one point the rally MC’s stopped the program to ask everyone there to use their smartphones to call the office of State Senator Toni Atkins at (619) 645-3133, or tweet her at @sentoniatkins, to tell her to sponsor AB 805 in the State Senate.
The next speaker was Dr. Jeff Severinghaus, professor of geosciences at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, UC San Diego. The rally MC who introduced him read his bio and stumbled over the phrase that he had studied “whether the addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels could also produce a rapid change in climate, rather than the slow, steady rise in temperature that many computer models of global climate now predict.” She read the word “addition” as “addiction” — and Dr. Severinghaus began his speech by saying that she was basically right: fossil fuels are an addiction and need to be fought as one.
“When people ask me, ‘Do you believe in climate change?,’ I say, ‘No,’ because it’s not a matter of belief,” Dr. Severinghaus said. “It’s a matter of an overwhelming amount of evidence. Now, if you don’t believe that carbon dioxide causes warming, just look at our neighbor planet, Venus. Venus has about 100,000 times more carbon dioxide in its atmosphere than we do, and the surface temperature is 856°F, hot enough to melt lead. … So we literally are cooking ourselves.”
Dr. Severinghaus called the continued emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a form of theft from our children and grandchildren. “It’s not ethical to take something away from future generations when they’re not at the negotiating table,” he said. “They’re not present. And it’s not ethical to cause other species to go extinct when they don’t have a voice. So we, who do have voices, we have an obligation to speak for the trees, to speak for the animals, and the plants, to basically speak for those who are not present at the negotiating table, for future generations.”
California Governor Jerry Brown was held up by Dr. Severinghaus as a model of an environmentally conscious political leader, a counter-example to Trump. “Jerry Brown is doing great stuff,” Severinghaus said. “The other day, he came to one of my colleagues at Scripps, Helen Fricker, and he spoke to her for two hours about the ice sheets in Antarctica. It was so cool. And he really does pay attention to what’s going on with the science.” Other participants in the march were less sanguine about Brown: one demonstrator held up a sign criticizing him for refusing to ban fracking, the environmentally devastating oil and gas drilling technique that involves pumping toxic chemicals into the ground to bring fossil fuels to the surface.
Jim Miller, the next speaker, linked the fight for environmental justice to the fight against economic inequality. “It is clear that Trump and his anointed wrecking crew of fossil-fuel industry billionaires will not be denied this opportunity to attack not just sound environmental policy but also the very idea that such governmental intervention is even necessary,” he said. “Now, 100 days into Trump’s Presidency, it’s obvious that he has no agenda, or even a coherent ideology, perhaps excepting greed. But two qualities that clearly have no place in his muddled, deconstructive administration are caution and restraint, and as a result the planet and everything else on it will suffer.”
Inclusive or Exclusive?
The next speakers, student activists Willow Lark and Mukhta Kulkankar, took the linkage between environmental protection and other issues even farther than Miller had. Both are studying various aspects of environmental science — Lark studies environmental engineering at San Diego State and is active in the Young Democratic Socialists and Green Love, and Kulkankar is a UCSD student in marine science and environmental biology. They spoke together, tag-teaming each other so you really had to look closely to figure out which one was speaking at any given moment, and they used the term “intersectional” essentially to read out of the environmental movement anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the entire issue agenda of the American Left.
“You cannot call yourself an environmentalist if you’re racist,” Lark said. “You cannot call yourself an environmentalist if you don’t empower women. You cannot call yourself an environmentalist if you do not support workers and labor. You cannot call yourself an environmentalist if you don’t believe in equality, and you endorse the exploitation of the countries in the global East and the global South by the capitalist imperialists!”
Lark clearly intended her remark to link the various social-justice issues and portray the struggle to preserve the environment as an integral part of the broader movement for economic equality, civil rights and social justice. But it also set up a high bar and basically told Americans who aren’t part of the socialist Left that they’re not welcome in the fight against climate change.
This is significant because in some local struggles over environmental issues, the cause has picked up some unexpected and valuable allies whom Lark’s stand would probably drive away. Hunters, for example, have frequently joined battles in the Midwest and rural West to protect public lands from oil and gas drillings, on the ground that game animals can’t live in areas being despoiled by energy extraction. But a march in which one participant carried a sign saying that the way to save the planet is to go vegan (the argument being that raising meat animals requires a lot more energy than growing edible plants) isn’t one where a hunter is going to feel welcome.
Indeed, much of the history of progressive organizing in the U.S. consists of coalitions that made sense at the time but look like awfully strange bedfellows today. Denis Kearney, who founded the Workingmen’s Party — the first labor political party in U.S. history — in San Francisco in the 1870’s gave speeches whose attacks on the political power of corporations and wealthy individuals would have seemed right at home in the Occupy rallies. But he also railed against immigrants, especially Chinese, in terms that made him sound like Pat Buchanan or Donald Trump.
Likewise, William Jennings Bryan was hailed as a progressive champion when he emerged as a dark-horse candidate for President in 1896 and advocated controls on the rampant corporate power of the day. He also supported making silver coins as a way of increasing the money supply to stimulate the economy. But he’s best known today for his late-in-life embrace of Fundamentalist Christianity and his leadership of the attempt to ban the teaching of evolution in the public schools in the 1920’s. Indeed, in his mind his progressive economic positions and opposition to evolution were linked: he was so appalled by the so-called “social Darwinist” theory that the corporate rich were superior people to the common run of humanity that he decided he was against not only social Darwinism but biological Darwinism as well.
Ironically, the site at which the San Diego People’s March for Climate assembled was also one rife with contradictions. The San Diego County Administrative Center was built in the 1930’s by the U.S. Works Project Administration (WPA), a program of the New Deal to put people to work by having them build infrastructure for which the federal government would pay. But many of the WPA projects were giant dams and other massive public works that the environmentalists of the time opposed.
Lark’s exclusive attitude as to who can and can’t be an “environmentalist” also has its echoes in the different values by which Right and Left American voters judge candidates. During the 2016 election one aspect that perplexed a lot of political commentators was the willingness of members of the radical religious Right to vote for Donald Trump, a man whose lifestyle was in many ways a living contradiction of their stated ideals. Trump, who’s currently on his third wife and has publicly boasted of his adulteries and his unwelcome advances to women, has made much of his money from building gambling casinos, and was so unfamiliar with the Bible that when he tried to quote it in one speech, instead of citing the book he was reading from as “Second Corinthians” he said “Two Corinthians,” nonetheless got an overwhelming 80 percent of the votes of white evangelicals in November 2016.
That’s an indication of the extent to which, despite their reputation for hard-nosed “moralism,” members of the radical religious Right “keep their eyes on the prize” and vote for candidates not for who they are as people, but for what they say they will do in office. The only other divorced man ever to be President, Ronald Reagan, won in 1980 partly by mobilizing the votes of white evangelicals even though his major-party opponent, Jimmy Carter, was a white evangelical himself.
Reagan delivered for the radical-Right constituency via at least some of his U.S. Supreme Court appointees and through the infamous “gag rule” that bars organizations receiving U.S. funding for health work abroad even to mention abortion as an alternative. Likewise Trump delivered for evangelicals by proclaiming a stronger version of the “gag rule” and by getting Neil Gorsuch on the U.S. Supreme Court. Indeed, Trump has promised that any future appointees he makes will be from the radical-Right Federalist Society — thereby making it likely that by the end of Trump’s first term in 2020 there’ll be a solid radical-Right majority on the Court ready to overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion decision and all the Court’s ruling protecting Queer rights.
Compare the way the radical Right treated Donald Trump with the way the San Diego Left treated former Mayor Bob Filner. Rather than cover up or explain away Filner’s inappropriate treatment of his female staff members, prominent local Democrats with progressive reputations — including former City Councilmember Donna Frye and activist attorneys Cory Briggs and Marco Gonzalez (Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher’s brother) — actually led the charge against him and publicly exposed his conduct. The result was that Filner was driven from office in disgrace and replaced by a business-friendly Republican, Kevin Faulconer, who reopened the Jacobs plan to desecrate Balboa Park, supported a giveaway of public money and land to keep the Chargers football team in San Diego and refuses to do anything substantive to help the city’s homeless population.
The actual march for climate justice followed the rally and was relatively short — down Harbor Drive to Broadway, out to the Broadway Pier and then back the way it came — and uneventful. One interesting aspect was the waves the marchers got from construction workers on one of the projects lining the waterfront. Evidently these workers haven’t fallen for the propaganda of Trump and other anti-environmentalist Republicans that protecting the environment will cost them their jobs.
The marchers returned to the great lawn behind the County Administrative Center and there was a festive atmosphere as the event drew to a close and people either trickled out or stayed to hang out and party.