We Got the Power

Bush still isn't stepping up on climate, so we're going to do it ourselves.
Bill McKibben, an AlterNet guest columnist, is spearheading the Step It Up 2007 campaign. A scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College, McKibben's newest book is the forthcoming Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. His column is reprinted by permission from Grist. For more environmental news and humor sign up for Grist's free email service.

And so the other shoe didn't drop.

For many months it's been rumored that President Bush would use the State of the Union address to announce a radical and dramatic shift on global warming. It would be his Nixon-to-China moment, when the oilman who'd refused to acknowledge the reality of global warming decided finally to secure what place history still might hold for him by asking for a cap on carbon emissions or calling for international action on the next Kyoto treaty or ... something.

Instead, a tossed-off reference to the problem, and an underwhelming program to reduce the amount of oil America imports. Two out, bottom of the ninth, and your guy pops it up on the infield.

Since global warming appeared as an issue in the late 1980s, we've waited for some leader to take action because, well, why wouldn't they? Reason demanded it -- we faced a truly great challenge, one that clearly demanded American leadership. Surely it would come.

And in fact, campaigning in the 1988 election, George H.W. Bush pledged to "fight the greenhouse effect with the White House effect." Four years later, a newly elected President Clinton promised that America would emit no more carbon in 2000 than it had in 1990, that he'd do the work to start turning the ocean liner.

None of it happened, and the reason is that we sat and waited. Politely.

No longer. We're still polite, but we're not sitting. In the last week, more than a hundred groups around the country added new climate rallies to the Step It Up 2007 roster. The total number of events planned for April 14 is now over 470, in almost every state, and this will clearly be by many orders of magnitude the largest demonstration ever about climate change -- certainly in this country, probably around the world.

And at those rallies, we'll call on our leaders, in Congress and in the White House, to answer to our agenda -- 80 percent carbon cuts by 2050. The kind of massive signal that George Bush could have sent last week but didn't. The kind of sane and realistic target his father could have set 20 years ago but didn't.

The failure has been not so much the Bush family's, nor President Clinton's. It's been ours. We discounted everything history teaches about power, preferring to believe reason would take precedence. Now we have to back that reason with the persuasive force of hundreds of thousands of voters willing to take to the city streets, to the hills, to the church steps and the farm fields. Peacefully, hopefully, but realistically, understanding we have to do this ourselves. Join us.

Read Bill McKibben's previous columns in this series: column 1, column 2, column 3, column 4, column 5.

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Bill McKibben is the author of "The End of Nature" and "Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age."