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Pipeline Win Breathes life into Climate Movement

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorNovember 12, 2011 4:31 PM


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Ben Smith at Politico has picked up on something that speaks to why the (temporarily) successful anti-Keystone pipeline protest is meaningful to the climate debate. Smith noticed this:

Whatever the objectives of protesters involved in Occupy Wall Street, they have succeeded in engaging the country in a conversation about income inequality. A quick search of the news--including print articles, web stories and broadcast transcripts--via Nexis reveals a significant rise in the use of the term "income inequality," from less than 91 instances in the week before the occupation started to almost 500 instances last week.

Now I won't say that the sustained anti-pipeline protest has had a similar impact, notwithstanding their recent victory. And sure, one can argue, as Michael Levi convincingly does, "that the tactics and coalitions that have been deployed to block the pipeline are ill designed to making major progress on climate change." But I contend that he and others are missing the larger significance of what's happened. As I wrote earlier this week:

the complexity of climate change offers few tangible symbols. So the Keystone pipeline has become an effective rallying point, with serendipitous tail winds coming from the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Keystone is now representative of [Bill] McKibben's Big Picture"“which is about spotlighting the urgency of climate change and the need for action.

If nothing else, the pipeline protesters have succeeded in breathing life into a moribund climate movement. They've also helped inject climate change into the political and public discourse. So while some analysts are questioning the long-term viability of the climate campaign's tactics, I'm saying that such a long view is not really important at the moment. (It will be soon, though.) What matters more is that they've found a way to revive interest in an issue that had fallen off the radar.

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