Leave It in the Ground: Science, Politics, and the Movement to End Coal Use

24 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2014

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Date Written: 2014


Over the past few years, climate scientists have developed a new approach to studying the effect of greenhouse gases on climate change; the focus of study has turned from the annual amount of greenhouse gas emissions to the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The new model predicts that the earth’s average daily temperature will rise further than previously thought, and that the time in which this rise can be limited is shorter. At the same time, political activists concerned with climate change have shifted their tactics – and perhaps their strategy – from an emphasis on lobbying and education to an emphasis on direct action, mass protest, and civil disobedience. This change has been driven in part by purely political considerations, such as the strength of climate denial in the US House of Representatives and the failure of the Copenhagen talks. However, it has also been driven by knowledge of the scientific developments. For example, Bill McKibben, leader of 350.org, frequently refers to climate scientist James Hansen’s statement that if all the carbon stored in the Athabascan oil sands were released it would be “game over for the planet.” This paper examines changes in the strategy of climate activists over the past four years in order to trace the development of the new political approach, and attempt to determine the role of scientific awareness in affecting this development.

Keywords: climate, coal, politics, environment, regulation

Suggested Citation

Berg, John C., Leave It in the Ground: Science, Politics, and the Movement to End Coal Use (2014). APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2454061

John C. Berg (Contact Author)

Suffolk University ( email )

Boston, MA 02108
United States

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