Bill McKibben at Powershift 2011: "It's Not CO2 That Rules the Day: It's Money"

"We will never have as much money as the oil companies, so we need a different currency to work in, we need bodies, we need creativity, we need spirit."
That was one of my favorite lines from the rousing speech Bill McKibben delivered to a packed DC Convention Center on Saturday night. He was addressing the thousands of students and activists that turned out to join the climate and clean energy movement at Powershift 2011 -- and he certainly succeeded in riling up the audience. That very crowd would go on to (peacefully) take Washington DC by storm today. It's important to pay attention to what the esteemed environmentalist is saying here, as this speech adroitly outlines both the nature and scale of the obstacles climate action faces, as well as McKibben's vision for a path forward.From the speech (you can read the entire transcript at

We understand the physics and chemistry of political power. In this case, it's not carbon dioxide that rules the day: it's money.

Many of you are in the District of Columbia for the first time and it looks clean and it looks sparkling. No. This city is as polluted as Beijing. But instead of coal smoke it's polluted by money. Money warps our political life, it obscures our vision, but just like with physics in chemistry there is no use whining. We know now what we need to do and the first thing we need to do is build a movement.

McKibben has long held that in order to counter the immense resources and lobbying acumen of the fossil fuel industry, we're going to need a populist movement to rise up to force Washington's hand. And he's done an admirable job in beginning to mobilize such a movement through 350 (which he calls a 'Beta test' for the larger movement), which has inspired demonstrations calling for climate action in 189 nations around the world.

He hopes to build a movement to the scale of the original Earth Day, which saw 20 million people take to the streets to call for environmental protections over 40 years ago.

And McKibben is right. Even if the vast majority of Americans are staunchly in favor of things like unpolluted air and clean energy, politicians can stand to ignore most of them, so as long as they stay home. Those 77% of Americans who wanted Congress to leave the EPA alone didn't even raise their voices when a handful of GOP politicians kicked it in the teeth for the benefit of a few of their wealthy fossil fuel plutocrat benefactors. Which is why McKibben stresses that "we need bodies, we need creativity, we need spirit."

Favorable poll numbers, nor mere goodwill is enough to act as a lever on the power structure -- it will take a noisy, engaged, determined, and multitudinous movement to do that. And judging by the booming, adrenaline-spiked cheers of the young audience at Powershift as McKibben wrapped his speech, there's a chance that such a movement may yet arise.

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More on Powershift 2011
Van Jones at Powershift : "We Can't Afford for Poor People Not to Have Solar Panels"
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