State of the Union: Climate Change Is Greatest Threat to Future Generations

Mandel Ngan/APPresident Barack Obama delivering his State of the Union address for 2015.

Mandel Ngan/AP
President Barack Obama delivering his State of the Union address for 2015.


Indian Country Today


Though the State of the Union address focused primarily on the economy, President Barack Obama underscored the importance of continuing to deal with climate change and its attendant issues, calling this the biggest threat that modern life faces.

In his hour-long speech, Obama devoted just over two minutes to the subject of climate change—both reiterating that it is real, and listing the major measures that the White House has taken to alter and adapt to its course.

“No challenge—no challenge—poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” Obama said near the end of the address. “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does—14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.”

Answering critics who have said that Congress cannot make scientific rulings because legislators are not scientists, Obama said he is relying on the know-how of the scientists researching and compiling the data. He highlighted some of the measures that his administration has undertaken, such as the landmark emissions agreement reached recently with China.

“The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, and conflict, and hunger around the globe,” Obama said. “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.”

View the President’s full climate remarks below.



Obama Names Two Tribes Among 16 Climate Action Champions Nationwide


Indian Country Today

Two tribes are among 16 communities across the U.S. designated by President Barack Obama as Climate Action Champions, “a diverse group of communities that are defining the frontier of ambitious climate action, and their approaches can serve as a model for other communities to follow,” the White House said on December 3.

The Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe of California and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians each won for a diversity of efforts in preventing, preparing for and adapting to climate change.

The designees “have considered their climate vulnerabilities and taken decisive action to cut carbon pollution and build resilience,” the Obama administration said. All were winners in a nationwide competition launched by the Department of Energy during the fall that was designed to identify and recognize climate leaders as well as provide them with federal support in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

The federally recognized Blue Lake Rancheriatribe of California created its climate action plan back in 2008, the White House said, calling it “a regional leader in strategically planning and implementing both climate resiliency and greenhouse gas reduction measures.”

Such measures include reducing energy consumption by 35 percent, committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2018, powering public buses with biodiesel fuel and adopting other energy-efficiency initiatives.

The tribe’s overall environmental programs date back to 1997, according to its website, and are rooted in a deep-seated sense of responsibility not only to its own lands but to those outside the borders.

“The Blue Lake Rancheria’s responsibility to protect the land does not stop at the boundaries of the Rancheria,” the tribe’s environmental pagesays. “The ancestors of Tribal Membership ranged all across the spectacular landscape of Northern California. Further, they had a relationship with the land that was immediate, personal, and binding—and that relationship continues through their descendants. Respect and stewardship of the environment is a powerful tenet of the Tribe’s philosophy and operations today.”

In Michigan, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians“demonstrates a holistic approach to climate action and preparedness through their energy strategy, emergency operations plan, integrated resource management plan, solid waste management plan, sustainable development code, and land use planning process, with ambitious goals including a net-zero energy goal,” the White House said. “The tribe aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by four percent per year.”

Sault Tribe Environmental Program Manager Kathie Brosemer credited the tribe’s diverse efforts in not only climate change but food security, emergency preparedness, waste reduction and other areas, she said in a statement.

“I am so proud of my administration’s Natural Resources, Health, Traditional Medicine, Housing, Law Enforcement, and Planning in pulling together our call to action to protect our Aki (Mother Earth),” said Tribal Chairperson Aaron Payment in the Sault Ste. Marie statement. “I appreciate the President recognizing our excellence.”

Each community will be mentored and coached by other experts from various federal programs, the White House statement said. In addition, each one will be assigned a coordinator to act as a liaison between the federal agencies, national organizations and foundations that are supporting the designees. The coordinator will also scout out and notify the champions of any funding and technical assistance that they are eligible for.

Such support includes tribal-focused technical assistance geared specifically toward the two designated communities. The two tribes will be eligible to participate in the DOE Office of Indian Energy Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team (START) program, which provides in-depth technical know-how. Other customized technical assistance will be offered as well, the administration said, along the lines of support for projects and programs that promote the development of clean, efficient energy.

RELATED: Ten Tribes Receive Department of Energy Clean-Energy Technical Assistance

Meet DOE Tribal Energy Expert David Conrad



Native Alaska Village of Point Lay Hailed for Stewardship of 35,000 Walruses

Corey Accardo, NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/NMMLThis is what 35,000 walruses look like when they do not have sea ice to rest on in the open water.

This is what 35,000 walruses look like when they do not have sea ice to rest on in the open water.


Indian Country Today



With 35,000 walruses camped out on the edge of town, the 250-population Native village of Point Lay, Alaska has been thrust onto the world stage.

And, true to their custom, the residents have stepped up—not to bask in their potential 15 minutes of fame, but to embrace their traditional role as environmental stewards.

“These locals, these people, without a lot of funding or anything, have taken on this stewardship and protection of the haulout,” said Joel Garlich-Miller, a walrus specialist for the Marine Mammals Management department of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in a telephone interview with Indian Country Today Media Network. “They’re front-line conservationists.”

The walruses began arriving in mid-September, as they had been for the past few years. You can hear them from the village, residents said in a 2012 community workshop held with Garlich-Miller, community elders and an array of scientists. It is common for walruses to “haul out,” as it’s called, and take a break from feeding in the open sea, usually by pulling themselves onto ice floes. But with the summer ice extent dwindling drastically in the Arctic, a growing number have had to settle for land.

RELATED: Video: Watch Thousands of Walruses Forced Onto Alaskan Shores by Climate Change

This has been happening off and on for years, but of late it has become much more pronounced. On September 30, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration conducted their annual flyover to observe Alaska’s marine wildlife from the air. Catching sight of the mass of walruses clustered onto a sliver of northwestern Alaska coast, they snapped some spectacular photos and posted them on the web, noting that a lack of sea ice had forced walruses onto land.

With all the attention being paid to climate change over the past couple of weeks, between the People’s Climate March of September 21 and the United Nations Climate Summit two days later, the world’s attention was riveted. The sea ice had reached its lowest extent for the year a couple of weeks earlier, on September 17, the sixth-lowest minimum on record, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“The massive concentration of walruses onshore—when they should be scattered broadly in ice-covered waters—is just one example of the impacts of climate change on the distribution of marine species in the Arctic,” said Margaret Williams, managing director of the WWF’s Arctic program, in a statement on September 18. “The sharp decline of Arctic sea ice over the last decade means major changes for wildlife and communities alike. Today’s news about the sea ice minimum is yet another reminder of the urgent need to ratchet down global greenhouse gas emissions—the main human factor driving massive climate change.”

The walrus, Garlich-Miller explained, is “typically considered an ice-dependent species.” They are not suited to an open-water lifestyle and must periodically haul out to rest.

“Traditionally during the summer months, broken sea ice has persisted through the Chukchi Sea during the entire summer, and walruses have typically remained offshore,” he said in a conference call with reporters on October 1.


Photo: Corey Accardo, NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/NMML
Photo: Corey Accardo, NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/NMML


But in recent years, Garlich-Muller said, the Chukchi Sea has become entirely ice-free by the end of summer. The number of walruses seen on shore has been growing. Nowadays, he said, tens of thousands of walruses haul out regularly in Russia as well. Numerous researchers have been monitoring this since its exacerbation, but the phenomenon of land haulouts is nothing new. What is new is the extent of their use of land, researchers said.

“Walrus have always hauled out on land, in small numbers in Alaska, and in much larger groups (tens of thousands) in Russia,” said anthropologist and Arctic researcher Henry Huntington to ICTMN in an e-mail. “The large haulout at Point Lay started in 2007, and has occurred most years since then, except when sea ice has persisted in the Chukchi Sea. So this is a relatively new phenomenon, and is almost certainly related to the loss of summer sea ice (meaning the ice is too far from shallow waters where walrus can feed, so they instead move to land in late summer/early fall when the ice is at is smallest extent).”

The concern now, Garlich-Muller said, is the walruses’ safety. A few problems arise when they’re on land that tend not to plague them on the ice. For one thing, there are more predators lurking. For another, the walruses are in much more crowded conditions, which can facilitate the spread of disease. Moreover, disturbing them causes the potential for stampedes, which could injure or kill the animals, especially the calves. Their vulnerability, Garlich-Muller said, is proportional to the size of the herd.

What disturbs them? Gunfire, aircraft, predators such as polar and grizzly bears, and human activity. Minimizing disturbance has become a major focus of the USFWS office in Alaska over the past few years, Garlich-Miller told reporters.

This is where Point Lay comes in.

“Some of the best and most successful conservation efforts that we’ve seen to date have occurred at the local level,” Garlich-Miller told reporters on October 1. “The community of Point Lay in particular has shown a great stewardship ethic at the haulout. They’ve sort of taken it under their wing. They’ve worked with the local flights in and out of their community to reroute aircraft landing and takeoff routes. The community, when walruses are present they work with their tribal members not to motor by the haulout with boats. They’ve changed their hunting patterns—although they are a subsistence-hunting community and legally entitled to hunt walruses, they’ve refrained from hunting at these large haulouts, where disturbance events can lead to lots of unnecessary mortality.”

Point Lay officials fended off reporters’ requests for visits and interviews. They were too busy protecting the herd.

“The Native VIllage of Point Lay IRA Council respectfully declines any interviews at this present time,” the village’s offices said in an e-mail to Indian Country Today Media Network. “We, as a tribe, did not wish for this event to be so widely publicized. Our community is a small, close knit, subsistence only community.”

Regardless, they remain the unsung heroes of the walrus haulout.



Swinomish Tribe Prepares For A Changing Climate

EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran meeting with Swinomish Tribal Council Chairman Brian Cladoosby at the Swinomish Reservation to discuss a new $750,000 grant to help the tribe prepare for climate change. | credit: Ashley Ahear

EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran meeting with Swinomish Tribal Council Chairman Brian Cladoosby at the Swinomish Reservation to discuss a new $750,000 grant to help the tribe prepare for climate change. | credit: Ashley Ahear


by Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

La Conner, Wash. — The Swinomish people have lived near the mouth of the Skagit River north of Seattle for thousands of years. Now, climate change threatens their lands with rising seas and flooding.

The Obama administration recently awarded the tribe a large grant to help cope with climate change.

The entire Swinomish reservation is pretty much at sea level, on a spit of land tucked into Skagit Bay.

Tribal chairman Brian Cladoosby says that as the waters rise, his people have been some of the first to feel the effects.

“We are experiencing it,” Cladoosby said Thursday. “We are witnessing it. For us here on Swinomish, we live on an island.”

The tribe has nowhere else to go. Flooding has put the tribes commercial areas and infrastructure at risk.

So, more than a decade ago, the Swinomish started planning.

Larry Campbell Sr., the tribal historic preservation officer, remembers.

“We took the stance where at the federal government level the scientists were still arguing, ‘is climate change a reality?’” he recalled. “We said ‘no, it’s a reality. What are we going to do to mitigate it?’”

The federal government took notice of the tribe’s climate change preparations.

“The Swinomish is a tribe that has shown leadership on climate in the past,” said Dennis McLerran, the Northwest Regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has awarded the Swinomish a $750,000 grant. McLerran met Thursday with tribal leaders to discuss their plans.

The money will be used to map where sea level rise will affect tribal infrastructure and sacred places. It will also fund an assessment of how climate change will impact tribal health and natural resources – like salmon.

“We think this is money well spent. The work that they’re doing here is work that we think will be valuable in a variety of other places and particularly for vulnerable communities and for tribal communities,” McLerran said.

Scientists project that sea levels could rise by more than 3 feet by the end of the century.

Leonardo DiCaprio at the UN: ‘Climate change is not hysteria – it’s a fact’

‘The time to answer the greatest challenge of our existence on this planet is now. You can make history or be vilified by it’


Leonardo DiCaprio speaks at the opening of the United Nations

Leonardo DiCaprio speaks at the opening of the United Nations


Source: The Guardian


Thank you, Mr Secretary General, your excellencies, ladies and gentleman, and distinguished guests. I’m honored to be here today, I stand before you not as an expert but as a concerned citizen, one of the 400,000 people who marched in the streets of New York on Sunday, and the billions of others around the world who want to solve our climate crisis.

As an actor I pretend for a living. I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems.

I believe humankind has looked at climate change in that same way: as if it were a fiction, happening to someone else’s planet, as if pretending that climate change wasn’t real would somehow make it go away.

But I think we know better than that. Every week, we’re seeing new and undeniable climate events, evidence that accelerated climate change is here now. We know that droughts are intensifying, our oceans are warming and acidifying, with methane plumes rising up from beneath the ocean floor. We are seeing extreme weather events, increased temperatures, and the West Antarctic and Greenland ice-sheets melting at unprecedented rates, decades ahead of scientific projections.

None of this is rhetoric, and none of it is hysteria. It is fact. The scientific community knows it, Industry and governments know it, even the United States military knows it. The chief of the US navy’s Pacific command, admiral Samuel Locklear, recently said that climate change is our single greatest security threat.

My Friends, this body – perhaps more than any other gathering in human history – now faces that difficult task. You can make history … or be vilified by it.

To be clear, this is not about just telling people to change their light bulbs or to buy a hybrid car. This disaster has grown BEYOND the choices that individuals make. This is now about our industries, and governments around the world taking decisive, large-scale action.

I am not a scientist, but I don’t need to be. Because the world’s scientific community has spoken, and they have given us our prognosis, if we do not act together, we will surely perish.

Now is our moment for action.

We need to put a pricetag on carbon emissions, and eliminate government subsidies for coal, gas, and oil companies. We need to end the free ride that industrial polluters have been given in the name of a free-market economy, they don’t deserve our tax dollars, they deserve our scrutiny. For the economy itself will die if our ecosystems collapse.

The good news is that renewable energy is not only achievable but good economic policy. New research shows that by 2050 clean, renewable energy could supply 100% of the world’s energy needs using existing technologies, and it would create millions of jobs.

This is not a partisan debate; it is a human one. Clean air and water, and a livable climate are inalienable human rights. And solving this crisis is not a question of politics. It is our moral obligation – if, admittedly, a daunting one.

We only get one planet. Humankind must become accountable on a massive scale for the wanton destruction of our collective home. Protecting our future on this planet depends on the conscious evolution of our species.

This is the most urgent of times, and the most urgent of messages.

Honoured delegates, leaders of the world, I pretend for a living. But you do not. The people made their voices heard on Sunday around the world and the momentum will not stop. And now it’s YOUR turn, the time to answer the greatest challenge of our existence on this planet … is now.

I beg you to face it with courage. And honesty. Thank you.

Tribes Need to Push Climate Change Reform Now

Dina Gilio-Whitaker , Indian Country Today, 9/16/14


As ICTMN reported recently, indigenous peoples will be at the forefront of upcoming United Nations and civil society events in New York City. The long anticipated, one and a half day World Conference on Indigenous Peoples will be immediately followed by a one day United Nations Climate Summit. Immediately preceding the Summit is a three day Climate Convergence conference and march in which indigenous groups like #Idle No More And International Indian Treaty Council are taking a lead role.

Unlike a decade ago, climate change is no longer a topic limited to the ranting of left-wing radicals and only the daftest of fools continue to deny its reality. The evidence is staring us in the face with each new catastrophic weather event and satellite image of melting polar ice caps. And scientists and politicians alike know that indigenous peoples are the canaries in the proverbial coal mine. Climate refugees are by and large indigenous peoples from island nations and other low-lying regions being inundated by rising seas, to say nothing of those displaced by famine and drought from changing weather patterns.

No one is unaffected, even in the so-called “first world.” Fourth World nations are on the frontlines of climate disaster; the Quinault Nation received a sobering wake-up call earlier this year when a state of emergency was declared after a seawall breach caused severe flooding. Northwest coast tribes are also affected by a disastrous decline in shellfish due to ocean acidification. The Columbia River plateau region is expected to become more vulnerable to drought, warmer summer temperatures, and more extreme weather episodes. Earlier snowmelt and reductions in snowpack will stress some reservoir systems, and increased stress on groundwater systems will lead to a decrease in recharge and ultimately decreases in salmon populations.

This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the havoc climate change is and will continue to wreak, not just in the Pacific Northwest, but all over Indian country. Climate change demands the ability to mitigate and adapt to the damage and disruption being caused to traditional ways of life in indigenous communities. It does also, in fact, present the opportunity for Indian nations to respond in ways that reinforce their self-determination by developing their own unique approaches to mitigate and adapt to climate change. At this point every native nation in the US should be adopting a tribal climate change policy (TCCP).

In 2008 I wrote a research paper on the need for TCCP, specifically for the Colville Confederated Tribes. Back then, tribal nations were only just beginning to think about how to prepare for climate change. It’s interesting to see how much has changed since then. For example, the Obama administration in 2013 moved to support tribal self-determination through climate change action when it included tribal participation in an executive order promoting national climate change preparedness, something almost unimaginable in the Bush administration of 2008.

While such initiatives focus on funding, TCCP should be culturally responsive to individual nations. I wrote that “it must encompass cultural, political, economic, and legal considerations; in other words, it should be ‘holistic’ to be meaningful and effective. It should be rooted in traditional cultural values drawn from ancestral teachings and stories which teach respect for the land and all that lives on the land, in the sky and in the waters (traditional environmental knowledge and spirituality). Those teachings inform appropriate action and are guiding philosophies as much for today’s people as those of the ancient past.”

I wrote that “functionally, TCCP should take into consideration mitigation efforts as much as possible; however, at this point adaptation efforts must be pursued with priority simply because climate change impacts are unavoidable. It should take into account that while current international efforts addressing climate change (i.e. the Kyoto Protocol and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) are focused on the actions of Member States, the voices of indigenous peoples is marginalized. They must be inserted because it is indigenous people who are more disproportionately affected by climate change as well as being vulnerable to the dysfunctional elements of the carbon trading system. We need to remember that within the global conversation of how to deal with climate change, it is the Social Greens who most represent our interests, and it is with groups that espouse this ideology that we must ally ourselves most closely.”

Six years later, we have witnessed not just the solid alignment with the Social Green movement, but indigenous peoples taking the lead in climate justice activism. The Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 proved not to be responsive enough to indigenous peoples, and it was the bravery of Canadian First Nations women who gave birth to #Idle No More, now perhaps the most recognizable contingent of indigenous peoples in the world of climate justice activism.

The upcoming events in New York, however well attended and organized they turn out to be, are unlikely to produce any sweeping changes for indigenous peoples. And there may even be legitimate reasons to be leery of the NGO industrial complex driving today’s climate justice activism with whom indigenous nations are partnering. At the end of the day though, it’s all just a reminder that Fourth World/indigenous peoples must be proactive by creating and implementing their own plans for the inevitable future of a warmer world.

Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Colville) is a freelance writer and research associate at the Center for World Indigenous Studies. She was educated at the University of New Mexico and holds a bachelor’s degree in Native American Studies and a master’s degree in American Studies.



After the People’s Climate March, Flood Wall Street

Organizers with both the People's Climate March and members of the Flood Wall Street team are already framing their work in terms of “after the march,” springboards for long-term climate justice organizing rather than one-off days of action. (Image:

Organizers with both the People’s Climate March and members of the Flood Wall Street team are already framing their work in terms of “after the march,” springboards for long-term climate justice organizing rather than one-off days of action. (Image:


by Yates McKee, Common Dreams


Over the past month, the Mayday community space in Bushwick, Brooklyn, has been a buzzing organizational hub in the lead-up to the highly anticipated People’s Climate Mobilization taking place September 20-21 in New York City in advance of the U.N. special session devoted to climate change. But along with providing space and support for the march — including round-the-clock art-making of every conceivable sort — Mayday has also been the incubator for a large scale act of creative civil disobedience planned for lower Manhattan’s Financial District on the morning of Monday, September 22. Entitled Flood Wall Street, the centerpiece of the action is a massive sit-in intended to at once compliment, punctuate and radicalize the politics of the march itself.

Since the basics of the action were released early this month, social media buzz has turned into fever-pitch momentum, with high-profile figures like Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges, and Rebecca Solnit committing themselves to participate in various ways. Also involved is the Climate Justice Alliance, which first put out the call for disruptive direct action over the summer. As energy mounts and commitments roll in from individuals and groups, there is a palpable feeling among organizers that the Monday action has the potential to be an historic watershed, both in its projected scale and the boldness of its message: “Stop capitalism! End the climate crisis!” Potential participants are invited to sign an online “Pledge to #FloodWallStreet” in order to indicate what kind of role they will be able to play in the action.

The symbolic logic of Flood Wall Street is evoked in a beautiful hand-crafted graphic by legendary illustrator Seth Tobocman emblazoned on dozens of signs, flags and banners fabricated during an enormous art-build at Mayday on Sunday: In the image, poisonous effluents ascend into the sky from an archetypical stock exchange building, forming ominous storm clouds emblazoned with the phrase “climate chaos.” The clouds, in turn, rain back into the sea, which surges back toward the land with a tidal wave of human bodies readable as both victims of apocalyptic disaster and agents of a popular storm surging toward the source of the emissions. At once a mythic vision and a simplified diagram of ecological feedback, the image is accompanied by the hashtag #FloodWallStreet.A poster made by Seth Tobocman.


A poster made by Seth Tobocman

A poster made by Seth Tobocman


The stakes of staging an action in the Financial District on September 22 become clear when understood against the backdrop of the People’s Climate Mobilization and some of the tensions surrounding it. This so-called “weekend to bend the course of history” has two primary components, the energies of which Flood Wall Street organizers hope to both draw upon and intensify in their action.

On the first day of the People’s Climate Mobilization, a distributed “climate convergence” — intended to develop grassroots education and cultivate movement networks — will take place at various sites around the city. This convergence is designed to set the stage for the Climate March on September 21, which is expected to draw over a hundred thousand people from around the country into a massive demonstration through midtown Manhattan. The march is a big-tent affair, with a lofty if generic “demand for action, not words,” addressed at once to the assembled leaders at the United Nations and to “the people who are standing up in our communities, to organize, to build power, to confront the power of fossil fuels, and to shift power to a just, safe, peaceful world.”

For all this talk of action, though, the march itself is designed as a traditional street protest, permitted by the New York Police Department with a predetermined route, marshals and barricades. As Chris Hedges pointed out in an inflammatory take-down of the “last gasp of climate liberals” earlier this month, the big organizations funding the march are determined to play it safe, ideologically and tactically. However, the march will provide a platform for groups like the Climate Justice Alliance that place economic and racial justice at the forefront of their organizing, linking the climate crisis to issues of displacement, housing, food sovereignty and solidarity economies. Further, as an aesthetic event, the march promises to be beautifully kaleidoscopic and poetically inspiring thanks to the artistic organizing efforts of the Sporatorium project headquartered at Mayday.

Finally, as with any large march, the possibility of autonomous actions, diversity of tactics, and unforeseen confrontations is high. All this said, however, the backbone logic of the march is one of appealing to the accountability of elected leaders, with a political horizon defined largely in terms of campaigns like fossil-fuel divestment and socially-equitable green jobs programs.

For the purposes of building a wide-ranging populist coalition aiming to bring thousands into the streets to place climate change at the center of the political landscape, these basic principles make a kind of lowest-common-denominator sense. But for many activists in a city that has over the course of the past three years undergone both the upheaval of Occupy Wall Street and the disaster of Hurricane Sandy, the People’s Climate March is, by itself, lacking the teeth necessary to confront the deeper nature of the emergency. “The climate crisis is not just a narrow ‘environmental’ problem of resources or jobs in need of better management,” Flood Wall Street organizer Sandra Nurse said. “It is the supreme symptom of a political and economic system that is bankrupt to its core.”

According to Nurse, the action will project “an explicitly anti-capitalist message” that can take advantage of whatever space is created by Sunday’s march. The setting for the two events is telling: While the one on Sunday is a permitted march through midtown Manhattan, Flood Wall Street is intended to be a disruptive direct action right at the front door of the climate criminals themselves.

At 9 a.m. on Monday, participants are invited to begin gathering at Battery Park just down from the iconic Wall Street bull. People are invited to wear blue and to bring blue materials of all sorts to enhance the visual narrative of a “flood” — including the possibility of a single gigantic blue banner visible from the sky. The brief programming during the gathering-period will involve food, music courtesy of Rude Mechanical Orchestra, and speakers from frontline communities, kicked off by 13-year-old artist-prodigy Ta’Kaiya Blaney of Sliammon First Nation and numerous members of the Climate Justice Alliance from around the world. Also scheduled to speak are high-profile writers like Naomi Klein, Rebecca Solnit and Chris Hedges. Following that will be a mass training session led by direct action specialists Lisa Fithian and Monica Hunken that will combine physical exercises with choreographed ritual intended to symbolically highlight the action-logic of the “flood” in advance of inundating the Financial District with bodies.

For obvious reasons, tactical details about the sit-in are under wraps, but an explicit call has indeed been made for it to occur at 12 p.m. What ultimately transpires is of course a wildcard, but the guiding intention is to stay put and to hold space.

“With the right numbers, the action has the potential to be a game-changer,” organizer Zak Solomon said. “Of all the times for folks to risk arrest, this is a historic occasion to do so with a massive base of support and visibility.” However, Solomon added, “Obviously not everyone is in a position to take an arrest. While no action is ever completely without risk, Flood Wall Street is designed to be inclusive, and to facilitate the participation and support of non-arrestable people, too. The key thing is to have a critical mass of bodies in the Financial District at a moment in which the whole world will be watching New York.

Speaking to this imperative of capitalizing on the global media presence expected in the city for that week, David Solnit, an artist and direct action veteran of the 1999 Seattle WTO protests, described Flood Wall Street as a “counter-spectacle” to the U.N. conference, one that will “intervene and disrupt the hollow public relations spectacle of Obama and the United Nations with the simple message: Corporate capitalism equals climate crisis.”

Flood Wall Street is an evocative metaphor for both ecological crisis and popular power. Yet it also has an uncanny resonance with the recent history of New York City. Indeed, a little more than two years ago, the Financial District was literally engulfed by floodwaters in a scenario that had otherwise seemed imaginable only in a Hollywood disaster fantasy. As evoked in a Flood Wall Street meme, the iconic Wall Street bull was in fact surrounded by seawater. Business was shuttered, power was knocked out, and the skyline went black — except for Goldman Sachs, which had its own private generator system. Strangely, then, the dream of “shutting down Wall Street,” frequently invoked by Occupy, was accomplished not through a massive blockade planned by humans, but rather by the unpredictable force of the global climate system. This era, which has been dubbed the Anthropocene, is one in which the elemental systems that life depends on — water, soil and the atmosphere itself — are fundamentally marked by the traces of human activity, organized according to the dictates of Wall Street.

Thus, while Hurricane Sandy was not a human action, neither can it be considered a “natural” event in any simple sense of the term — a philosophical and political conundrum explored by artist-organizers Not an Alternative in their recently-opened Natural History Museum project. In the words of Tidal magazine, Sandy was a “climate strike” in which, like Frankenstein’s monster, the unintended fruits of Wall Street’s drive for perpetual growth had come home to ripen. As diagrammed in Tobocman’s Flood Wall Street graphic, the carbon-saturated atmosphere doubled back upon those who had treated it as a dumping ground for what neoliberal economists describe as the “externalities” of capitalist progress. What had been treated as an externality — environmental destruction happening to the little people downstream from the centers of profit-making — was now internal to the system itself, with floodwaters literally pouring into the headquarters of the world’s leading financial institutions. The flooding of major urban centers does not bode well for the task of sustaining the global capitalist system, even if profits are certainly to be made along the way. It is clear to almost everyone that something has to change, but the question is by whom and for whom such changes will be made.

This is the question that looms over both the U.N. summit and the People’s Climate March itself. Koch brothers-style climate change denial remains rampant, and superficial corporate greenwashing is more pervasive than ever. But significant segments of the 1 percent are beginning to take climate change seriously, as both a source of risk to be mitigated and a source of profit-making to be mined, whether in the form of new insurance instruments, green luxury development schemes or energy-efficient technologies of all sorts. Indeed, a veritable rogues gallery of climate-profiteering CEOs will be gathering on the same afternoon as Flood Wall Street at the Morgan Library and Museum in midtown Manhattan for a strategic meet up of the Climate Group. Its mission is to foment “the clean revolution,” through what member Tony Blair describes as the group’s “unique ability to convene key business and government stakeholders, communicate the economic opportunities presented by bold climate action, and drive leadership.”

Obviously, the People’s Climate March generally presents a people-centered vision of economic development rather than the profiteering of the Climate Group, but the fundamental question posed by Sandra Nurse remains: “Will we take the climate crisis as an opportunity to reimagine the very meaning and structure of economic life itself, or devote our energies to the signing of treaties and the development of more efficient and humane forms of global capitalism?” As suggested by the popularity of books like Thomas Picketty’s Capital and Naomi Klein’s forthcoming This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, the triple blow of the 2008 crisis, Occupy and Hurricane Sandy in the past five years has helped make “capitalism” a viable object of public critique in the United States rather than the taken-for-granted horizon for all of social life.

The People’s Climate March is undoubtedly a historic occasion, but without the spur provided by direct action and a more comprehensive narrative concerning capitalism itself, it risks becoming a merely beautiful spectacle to match that of the United Nations, making us feel good about ourselves without pushing us beyond our comfort zones. Of course, Flood Wall Street runs this risk too, even if its tactics are planned to be more aggressive and its messaging more militant. For this reason, organizers within both the larger mobilization coalition and the Flood Wall Street team are already framing their work in terms of “after the march,” with the latter understood as a springboard for long-term climate justice organizing rather than a one-off day of action.

Such organizing will take on numerous forms, ranging from the mitigation and adaptation policy tools called for by groups like to exciting experiments that link fossil-fuel divestment efforts to reinvestment in locally-based, self-organized green economy networks in places like Jackson, Miss., and the Far Rockaways section of Queens. The concept of dual power is relevant here: It means not only forging alliances with diverse groups and supporting demands on existing institutions, but also developing counter-institutions of “commoning” that can provide support for resistance, while testing out forms of non-capitalist life in the face of ongoing crises.

Of all places, the Far Rockaways has pride of place as a reference in upcoming mobilizations. When the climate went on strike against Wall Street during Hurricane Sandy, the entire city paid the price — first and foremost in low-income communities of color with the least access to services, provisions and infrastructure. The dialectical counterpoint to the images of Wall Street underwater are those of physical destruction and human suffering in such areas — the monumental ruins of the Rockaway boardwalk, streets transformed into beaches, homes moldering and uninhabitable, darkened housing projects filled with stranded families. But at the same time, the Rockaways also has a landscape of people-powered relief, reconstruction and resistance that developed in the void of the state. Think of the You Are Never Alone community center, the relief hubs housed in churches overflowing with donations and volunteers, projects like the campaign against the Rockaways natural gas pipeline (which itself has actions planned for the weekend of the People’s Climate Mobilization), and the local chapter of the nation-wide community organizing Wildfire project, which is working long-term to develop sustainable grassroots economies in the face of both further climate disaster and the rapidly accelerating gentrification/displacement process on the peninsula.

The precarious conditions and multifaceted struggles of a place like the Far Rockaways epitomize the challenge of climate justice. According to the Climate Justice Alliance, “The frontlines of the climate crisis are low-income people, communities of color and indigenous communities… We are also at the forefront of innovative community-led solutions that ensure a just transition off fossil fuels, and that support an economy good for both people and the planet.” This is a concept that will strongly inform many of the activities of the climate convergence on September 20, including a special session of Free University NYC called “Decolonize Climate Justice” that will take place at the historic El Jardin community garden on the Lower East Side.

The educational session is devoted to approaching climate crisis through the “experiential lessons” of inequalities based in race, class and migration-status — both in terms of environmental damage, as well as the internal cultures of climate organizing itself: “The face of climate justice activism is often white, Western, middle class and male… As a result, the issues raised by such activism frequently exclude the urgent perspectives and priorities of those most impacted by climate change.”

Informed less by environmentalism as a narrow arena of concern than with a broader vision of collective liberation, the call to “decolonize climate justice,” issued by Free University places climate crisis in a deep sense of historical memory stretching back to the colonial violence at the origins of capitalism itself. This historical vantage point stands as a humbling challenge, and question, for an action like Flood Wall Street: How to use a mediagenic mass arrest as something more than a one-off disruption concerned with just the climate, but instead as a groundbreaking event for a continuous struggle-to-come encompassing landscapes of resistance ranging from the Rockaways to Ferguson to Palestine?

As demonstrated throughout the period of Occupy, taking an arrest in political action can be a radicalizing and life-changing event. But in taking this risk, those with the privilege and support to do so must not lose sight of the systemic violence of incarceration to which low-income communities of color are subject — the very communities that bear the brunt of environmental injustice. Without this level of analysis, the solidarity required for true climate justice cannot be built, and environmentalism risks fading back into the unexamined white, middle class sphere that has long defined it.

As the date approaches, consider the invitation: Come for the climate march, stay for the flood. And if you join the flood, be careful not to get swept away in the beauty of a single action. In the words of Talib Agape Fuegoverde, “May a thousand floods of the people sweep the land in coming years, washing away the walls and borders that capitalism erects to keep our struggles apart.”


Yates McKee is an art critic working in Occupy Wall Street; his work has appeared in venues including October, The Nation and Tidal: Occupy Theory, Occupy Strategy.

“If We Cannot Escape, Neither Will the Coal”

Northwest Tribes and First Nations block fossil fuel exports.

Eric de Place (@Eric_deP) and Nick Abraham, Sightline Daily, September 8, 2014

Across the Northwest, Native communities are refusing to stand idle in the face of unprecedented schemes to move coal, oil, and gas through the region. It’s a movement that could well have consequences for global energy markets, and even the pace of climate change.

Now is a good moment for pausing to examine some of the seminal moments of resistance from tribal opposition to fossil fuel exports. Yesterday, the second Totem Pole Journey came to an end with a totem pole raising ceremony at the Beaver Lake Cree Nation in Alberta. As it did last year, the journey showcased the tremendous breadth and depth of indigenous opposition to coal and oil schemes—spanning Native communities from coastal forests to the high plains interior of North America.

The journey was a reminder not only of the particular moral authority of the tribes and First Nations in the face of fossil plans, but also the fact that they are uniquely equipped to arrest these export plans.

British Columbia

Like the United States, Canada is in the midst of a natural gas boom. The industry is trying desperately to move its products to foreign markets, but concerns about public health, fishing rights, and environmental damage have First Nations raising red flags.

Many of the First Nations in British Columbia have banded together against a liquid natural gas facility at Fort Nelson in northeast BC. At what is now being called the “Fort Nelson Incident” Chief Sharleen Gale gave a rousing speech, saying:

My elders said, you treat people kind, you treat people with respect… even when they are stabbing you in the back. So I respectfully ask government to please remove yourselves from the room.

Gale later asked LNG representatives to leave as well, and the event galvanized the BC aboriginal community. Since then, no fewer than 28 BC First Nation organizations have signed a declaration to put the facility on hold.

Elsewhere in the province, aboriginal communities have been in a long standoff with proponents of the highly controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, a proposal that would move tar sands oil from Alberta to port facilities in BC where it would be transferred to tankers that would move the crude to Pacific markets. At least 50 First Nation leaders and 130 organizations have signed the “Save the Fraser Declaration.” Citing concerns over water quality, fishing, treaty rights, and sovereignty, nine coastal First Nations even went so far as to preemptively ban oil tankers in their territorial waters.

The Canadian federal government gave approval to the Northern Gateway Pipeline in June, and women of the Gitga’at Nation did not take it lying down. In protest, they stretched a 4.5 kilometer (2.7 mile) crochet chain across the narrow channel near Kitimat, where the export facility is proposed to be built.

“It’s to show that we’re prepared to do what it takes to stop them because we can’t let it happen. It’s the death of our community, our culture,” said Lynne Hill, who generated the idea.

Now, similar opposition is mounting against Kinder Morgan’s planned Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion in southern BC, and BC First Nations are challenging it in court.

Lillian Sam, aboriginal elder from the Nak’al Koh River region, put the situation in perspective:

You cannot eat money…you see the devastation of the oil sands: a huge part of that land is no good. What’s going to happen to us? What’s going to happen to our children?

The US Northwest

Like their neighbors to the north, Washington Tribes have had major concerns over fossil fuel exports, not to mention the way they have been treated by proponents of the projects.

In 2011, the would-be builder of the Gateway Pacific coal terminal near Bellingham got into hot water with permitting agencies after it was discovered that they had begun construction without approval. Not only did construction crews destroy acres of sensitive wetlands, they also damaged local Lummi Nation burial grounds.

It was a not-so-subtle “accident” and was the last straw for many in the local tribal community. The Lummi subsequently burned a mock check from the terminal proponents at the site of the planned coal terminal. It was a pivotal moment for activism in the Northwest.

Opposition from the tribes can be a tremendous barrier for the coal, oil, and gas industries to surmount. Above and beyond their sovereignty, most of the Northwest tribes have specific fishing rights guaranteed to them in their treaties with the US government, rights that were subsequently reaffirmed and clarified by the Boldt Decision of 1974. Those tribes have firm legal footing for demanding access to their “usual and accustomed” fishing grounds, which include most of the places where fuel terminals would be located.

Other Puget Sound tribes have also made it publicly clear that they are firmly against coal exports. In April of last year, tribal leaders joined then-Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn in the Leadership Alliance, a coalition against coal export.

Said Tulalip Tribes Chairman Melvin Sheldon:

When it comes to coal… the negative potential of what it does to our Northwest—we stand with you to say no to coal. As a matter of fact, the Tulalip say ‘hell no’ to coal.

Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and one of the state’s most influential Native American leaders, declared:

For thousands of years, Washington State tribes have fought to protect all that is important for those who call this great state home. We as leaders need to protect our treaty resources, our economies, and the human health of our citizens and neighbors.

The Nisqually Tribe likewise has submitted thorough public comment in opposition to a giant coal terminal planned for Longview, Washington. Beloved tribal leader Billy Frank, Jr., who recently passed away, was a persistent voice in opposition to Northwest fossil fuel exports. In one of the last things he wrote, he declared his solidarity with the Quinault Nation, who are fighting against a trio of oil terminals proposed in Grays Harbor Washington. Frank wrote:

The few jobs that the transport and export of coal and oil offer would come at the cost of catastrophic damage to our environment for years. Everyone knows that oil and water don’t mix, and neither do oil and fish, oil and wildlife, or oil and just about everything else. It’s not a matter of whether spills will happen, it’s a matter of when.

East of the Cascades, too, Native opposition has been fierce. The Yakama Tribe came out publicly and powerfully against Ambre’s proposed coal export facility in eastern Oregon, once again citing tribal fishing rights. Yakama protests and tenacity, in conjunction with other regional tribes like the Warm Spring and the Nez Perce, were a major factor in the proposal not being permitted. In Oregon, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation also joined the Yakama in opposition to coal on the Columbia River, batting down ham-fisted attempts by the industry to buy tribal support.

Networks of tribes, like the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), also voiced their strong concerns about what the proposals would be mean for their communities. The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission also declared its strong opposition to oil exports from the proposed site at Grays Harbor, highlighting fishing disruption in the Puget Sound, health problems in their communities, and pollution.

In fact, the 57 nations that make up the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians unanimously voted in May of 2013 to officially oppose all fossil fuel export facilities in the Northwest.

Paul Lumley, executive director of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, may have put the tribal community’s view most clearly:

Our communities are wedged between the railroad and the river. We’ve got nowhere to escape. If we cannot escape, neither will the coal.

Lumley’s words are proving prescient. Last month, yet another Northwest coal export terminal was dealt what was likely a fatal blow. The Oregon Department of State Lands denied a crucial permit to Ambre Energy, which plans to ship coal from a site on the Columbia River. Among the most influential factors the state agency cited for its decision: tribal sovereignty.

The decision was, in some ways, recognition of the power that the region’s tribes and First Nations can exercise over the fossil fuel infrastructure projects that are cropping up across the Northwest. By asserting treaty rights and voicing cultural concerns, tribes are presenting a major barrier—are a key part of the thin green line—to a reckless expansion of coal, oil, and gas schemes.


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Could The Pacific Northwest Become a Climate Change Migrant Mecca?

By: Dave Miller, OPB

A map by Cliff Mass illustrating with colored dots the parts of the country most likely to be affected by various aspects of climate change.Cliff Mass

A map by Cliff Mass illustrating with colored dots the parts of the country most likely to be affected by various aspects of climate change.
Cliff Mass

The climate change models aren’t pretty: from increased storm strength to sea level rise, and heat waves to pervasive drought, the next century could prove to be very different, climate-wise, from the last.

But according to a recent synthesis of these models, the Northwest could fare better than the rest of the country.

Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, says that whether you look at temperature, sea rise, drought dangers, or likelihood of severe storms, the Northwest seems like an oasis of relative stability compared to the rest of the U.S.

Does that mean that we can expect a big in-migration of climate change refugees, as some studies have explored?

We’ll talk to Cliff Mass about what the models show, and what they could mean for the future of the region.