Janine Jackson interviewed the Center for Biological Diversity’s Jean Su about People vs. Fossil Fuels for the October 15, 2021, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.
Janine Jackson: Media sometimes say that “we” are dawdling on climate change, that “we” need to take it more seriously. That language is worse than lazy. It obscures the fact that many people are shouting at the top of their voices about making the changes today needed to avert further climate disaster. And some others are resisting, and pretending, and indeed profiting from the inaction.
Just as we aren’t all affected the same way by floods and fires, heat waves and hurricanes, the fight for action on climate is also about race and class and power. It’s still pretty simple, though—as reflected in the name given to the five-day mobilization of Indigenous, faith-based, and advocacy groups currently going on in Washington, DC: People vs. Fossil Fuels. Hundreds of people have been arrested in the protests, which will wrap up Friday with a march from the White House to Congress.
Our next guest is part of this mobilization. Jean Su is director of the Energy Justice Program and senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. She joins us now by phone from DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Jean Su.
Jean Su: Great. Thanks for having me, Janine.
JJ: This week’s actions are something more than sounding an alarm about climate disruption. There’s an urgency, and there are concrete demands. And I would say, these are things the White House can do without Mitch McConnell. Isn’t that right?
JS: Correct. Without Joe Manchin, as well.
JJ: Yeah. Right, right. So what are the demands, and what is the spirit of this mobilization?
JS: So as you said, it is really obvious what the spirit of the mobilization is. It’s a real call for anyone in power to listen and heed the demands of people who, all across the United States and the world, are literally suffering, physically being harmed, by the climate emergency.
What was really compelling in the past, I don’t know, decade, it feels like, of being in the Covid pandemic, is the lumbering presence of the climate crisis on our everyday lives. Whether you are in Oregon facing the heat domes out there, or the horrific, fatal hurricanes sweeping everywhere from Puerto Rico to New England to the Southeast, people right now are absolutely feeling the climate emergency in ways that I think a lot of folks did not comprehend before, and that a lot of folks in the Global South absolutely have felt for decades.
So this is a call right now to stop the delay, stop the BS, and act, seriously act, on real, bold climate initiatives that can both slash our fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emissions, but also address the really deeply hurtful and racial components of our energy systems that have led to a racist electricity system that we have today.
JJ: Let me ask you, because these actions are targeted to some degree at the White House, which is something in particular, and there’s a sense of betrayal, almost. So I want to ask you, what did candidate Joe Biden say that President Joe Biden has not done? And what’s the concern there?
JS: Yeah, so candidate Biden made some pretty important statements about the climate, about how it is a crisis that needs to be dealt with, and generally about addressing certain aspects of fossil fuel production. And certainly in his initial speeches as the president, really emphasizing this idea of a renewable future that generated an amazing amount of good-paying, union green jobs. I think that is the overall push that the Biden administration has put forth.
But in the eight months that Biden has been in power, we haven’t seen much actually getting done on the ground on this. For instance, he absolutely has the power right now, he and Secretary [of the Interior Deb] Haaland have the absolute power, to deny and stop the fossil fuel leasing program in this country. People will be shocked to know that one-fourth of our fossil fuel emissions in the United States are generated from public lands that we all own together. And those are being drilled and fracked and extracted for fossil fuels, to profit oil and gas companies and utility companies in this country, against the public interest and the planet.
So one of the very initial things and simplest things that Joe Biden can do is put a halt to our fossil fuel lease sales and permits. He has not done that yet. With a stroke of a pen, he and Secretary Haaland could end that. They could, with the stroke of a pen, end Line 3, which so many people, hundreds of Indigenous leaders, are here on the streets, demanding those two things.
Separately, one of the other crucial fossil fuel moves that the Biden administration can do is reinstate the crude oil export ban. So in 2015, under the Obama administration, the Senate actually overturned a decades-long embargo, essentially, on the export of crude oil. But in a stunning turn of events, that ban was lifted. And that has really caused the huge fracking shale boom that we have seen in this country. And with that, the horrific amounts of pollution and harm that have come to communities that live in fracking states.
So he could absolutely, single-handedly, the Congress gave him the ability to reinstate that crude oil export ban. That is totally within the presidential powers, and he absolutely has the authority to do it, and we are urging him to do so this week.
JJ: I want to direct people to PeopleVsFossilFuels.org, where you can get more details on the demands of this mobilization.
Well, nobody’s looking to him for cutting-edge criticism. But Prince Charles just recently said that he understands why climate activists take to the street to demand action. But he said he’s calling for “more constructive rather than destructive” methods, and he’s talking about protesters blocking streets. Besides the patrician nature of all of this, activism around climate actually works, doesn’t it?
JS: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve seen that it works with Keystone XL. We have seen political movement shift because people are here participating in a democracy to make our voices heard.
This is still a democracy. I know under the Trump administration, we were all wondering whether it is. But it is now, and especially for the Biden election, droves of our Black communities rolled out to support Joe Biden and elect him. He actually has to fulfill the promises to environmental justice communities, and he has not.
And it is absolutely incumbent on the administration to listen to the people who actually voted them in. Black communities right now are suffering from poisonous gases and air pollution coming out of dirty oil and gas facilities. The president, if he were to truly fulfill his commitments to his voter base, he would stop the pollution, and actually get us on the transition that we need to 100% renewable energy.
You know, I think that one of the pieces that Prince Charles can elaborate on is this idea of having a constructive solution. The Biden administration right now actually has powers like the Defense Production Act at its fingertips. The Defense Production Act is a wartime footing statute that has been mobilized during wartime to basically revolutionize private industry to deal with the emergency at hand. Right now, it is very obvious that the climate is an emergency, and the president actually has the ability to use the Defense Production Act to jumpstart our renewable energy industry in a way that it is lackluster right now. He has the ability to actually coordinate industry to get our solar panels, our transmission lines and all of our clean-energy infrastructure in line to be built.
He also has the ability to leverage financial pockets that the administration has to give loan guarantees and direct grants, so that communities, especially communities of color who have been historically poisoned by our racist energy system, can have access to community solar and rooftop solar, and be climate resilient with batteries and microgrids.
These are not only issues of climate. But they are sincerely issues of racial justice in this country. And if we really want to tackle both, which we absolutely have to, we can’t solely be looking at decarbonization; we have to be looking at solutions that respect and honor and restore and build justice in our communities that have been so disproportionately harmed by our fossil fuel system.
JJ: Yes, absolutely, the putting forward of a positive vision is part of the role that I think journalists could play.
And I just want to ask you, finally, media have generally stopped giving serious platform to climate change deniers. They’ve even begun to mention climate disruption in their coverage of extreme weather events. But keep it in the ground, stop burning fossil fuels, is still presented as one view among others. And we’re very aware of how powerful the fossil fuel industry is, how captured many regulators are, how influenced many lawmakers are. But media have a role here.
And yet when it comes to change, when it comes to policy, it seems to become this Beltway, partisan—you mentioned Joe Manchin—it becomes this story like it’s horse trading over a sales tax or something.
And so I just want to ask you, finally, what role would you like journalists to play in this fight? Is there anything you’d like to see more or less of?
JS: Absolutely. I think journalists should cover the facts. And the facts that we are dealing with is that we have a ticking time bomb on our hands. The IPPC has been very clear that we have until 2030 to make extreme shifts away from fossil fuels, toward renewable energy. People looking at those facts will see science very plain and clear. Yet, for some reason, media and politicians will obscure the facts, and say that’s not feasible, we can’t do it, let’s do another slower-walk type of approach. And if you look at the facts and the science, we don’t have that option if we truly are going to try to beat this climate crisis, and really respect, in a lot of ways, the rest of the planet who has suffered from what has happened in the United States and other Western countries, who have been the biggest emitters over time.
It’s fascinating to see how people believe that climate activists are radical when, in fact, climate activists are actually just looking and following the science. And I think that’s absolutely something that needs to be clear and front of mind, in terms of journalists who are here to report the facts.
I think another thing that journalists can absolutely do is really reveal and go deep into the stories that make the climate crisis so devastating. And especially in the United States, the stories are so abundant, because they are really wrapped up in Jim Crow laws and in racial injustices that at the same time are ravaging the country, and have done so since the beginning of slavery in this country.
If you look at places like North Carolina, or different parts of the Southeast, you’ll see communities of color, Black families, brown families, really ravaged by an electricity system that is choking them, and giving their kids asthma and eventually cancer. You will see that they are also being ravaged, at the same time, by horrific hurricanes that cut off electricity and access to lifesaving medicines all in the same go. And if they just had access to rooftop solar, to batteries, to microgrids, they actually would essentially end the need for that fossil fuel plant three miles away from them, as well as have the access to clean and affordable and renewable energy that won’t be cut off when a climate disaster hits them.
These are stories, one and the same, of the same communities that receive the harm. But they should also be the same communities that are prioritized in terms of a renewable energy future. And I think those beautiful stories, that address both the climate crisis and racial injustice together, create a story of potential restorative justice on both the climate and racial and social fronts.
I would really encourage our journalists to go after those types of stories, and stop the inside-the-Beltway nonsense, where Joe Manchin and the Biden administration and Congress right now are considering implementing a “clean electricity payment program” that would allow for gas to perpetuate and continue to poison communities across the states.
JJ: We’ve been speaking with Jean Su of the Center for Biological Diversity. They’re online at BiologicalDiversity.org. You can also check out PeopleVsFossilFuels.org. Jean Su, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.
JS: Thanks for having me, Janine.
The post ‘People Right Now Are Absolutely Feeling the Climate Emergency’ appeared first on FAIR.
This content originally appeared on FAIR and was authored by Janine Jackson.