Even for those already in the climate choir, Jane Fonda’s sermon last month at the National Press Club is well worth the time to read or watch and listen to. I’ve logged loads of press club luncheon speeches over the years. This was one of the finest I’ve heard. Fonda eloquently described how global warming has us up against the wall. Not just the heartfelt delivery one expects from Oscar winners, but the essential substance and slightly wicked wit woven throughout. Send it to those needing motivation to confront the stark realities before us to act.
Fonda’s many actions include “Fire-drill Fridays,” protests for which she temporarily moved to DC in September, at which she’s been arrested a half dozen times. If you’re around Washington, the last drill before her return to acting commitments in LA is January 10th, 11 AM at the US Capitol. Guest speakers will include Bill McKibben and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Fonda’s speech took no prisoners, calling out a range of climate villains, including Exxon, which over forty years ago knew the truth about the effect of increasing CO2 gases and the short window to address it, and whose executives, when their scientists informed them of the global impacts, replied “This problem is not as significant to mankind as a nuclear holocaust or world famine.”
“And they continued to drill,” said Fonda. “Exxon, Shell, Mobil, and others knew that their products wouldn’t stay profitable once the world understood the risks. So they used the same consultants that the tobacco companies had used to launch a huge communications effort, to develop strategies on how to fool us.”
“The difference is that tobacco companies were primarily harming people who smoke. The fossil fuel companies are harming the entire planet and all its inhabitants. The companies not only hid what they knew, a coalition, together with the Koch brothers and other billionaires spent tens of millions of dollars on think tanks, like the Heartland Institute, that promote false science, sowing confusion about global warming, so that people won’t try to stop them. Their line was, and continues to be, that the, “Science about climate change is not clear. And even if it were, the fault lies with governments and consumers, not with them.” You see, but the thing is, these oil companies have played a big role in actively stopping governments from enacting clean energy policies, with Exxon leading the way.”
That includes Exxon’s undermining the 1998 International Treaty on Climate, the Kyoto Protocol. Fonda points to other bad actors, like the American Petroleum Institute, with its new video, America’s Energy Security: A Generation of Progress at Risk, equating fracking and drilling with patriotism, as Republicans including Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania introduce resolutions to prohibit a President from implementing a unilateral moratorium on fracking, and as the Manhattan Institute, with significant backing from fossil fuels concerns, warns of global recession if the US bans fracking. It won’t shock that Fonda advocates legal consequences for knowing deceptions and environmental damage.
To claims like Toomey’s that American oil and gas production is the only path to energy security, Fonda asks if it’s necessary for energy security, what are we doing shipping it overseas? She quoted Oil Change International that 45% of existing drilling wouldn’t be profitable without taxpayers subsidizing fossil fuels with over $16 billion dollars a year.
She didn’t mention it, but that’s dwarfed by military expenditures underpinning escapades with oil in mind. They arguably include backing Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war of 1980-88, the invasions of Iraq, and shoring up the Saudi regime and the UAE and pumping up their ally Israel. Now we’re doing that trio’s bidding with a dance in the dark with Iran.
Fonda stressed the importance of workers like coal miners not being treated as stranded assets, unlike the fossil fuels that must become stranded assets left in the ground if we’re to have a chance. She acknowledged how overwhelming the tasks before us must seem, how disruptive and expensive addressing global warming will be. Fonda then pointed out the costs of billion dollar weather and climate events, which over the last three years exceeded $450 billion.
Referencing The Grapes of Wrath, one of Hollywood’s masterworks and one that starred her father Henry, Fonda noted the 1930s was a time of both massive financial collapse (the Great Depression) and an environmental collapse (the Dustbowl). In response to the social unrest it generated, FDR responded to those demanding government action, “I agree with you. Now go out and make me do it.”
Fonda connected political challenges then with those current:
“Now the rich and powerful hated the New Deal, hated Roosevelt, because it set a precedent for the federal government to play a central role in the economic and social affairs of the nation. It was criticized as fascist, as socialist. Bankers tried to overthrow Roosevelt. Big business, big railroads, big banks ranted and raved against it. But there were millions of people in the streets demanding that Roosevelt do more, because it was helping them. And, because of that, it succeeded.”
“The same interests that hated the New Deal are the ones telling us today that the Green New Deal is bad, that government shouldn’t be so involved in economic and social regulation…But it’s not the size of government that matters, it’s who the government is working for. And for too long, it’s been a government controlled by corporations, most particularly the fossil fuel industry. This is why it hasn’t been working for working people.”
“And powerful forces are arrayed against the efforts to change this, just like back in the 1930s. Already, there’s a rash of new laws …that specifically criminalize protests aimed at fossil fuel infrastructure. These new laws are called critical infrastructure laws, since they reclassify fossil fuel infrastructure as critical, in order to justify harsh penalties against climate advocates exercising their Constitutional right to peaceful protest.”
By the way, I’m not sure we’re secure from a returning double whammy of both financial and environmental collapse. Pamela Martin at Wall Street on Parade is parsing the well-concealed tea leaves at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. It looks to her that in a recent short period the bank pumped trillions of dollars in cumulative loans into Wall Street trading houses, some of them again up to their gills in derivatives. The infusions appear to be going straight into the stock market, which has nil to do with the Fed’s monetary policy mandate.
Addressing the media in the room, Fonda said it’s hard to get people to increase their activism in concert with others when only 43 percent of Americans report hearing about climate change, and 23 percent say they never hear about it. She called for media to step up with more coverage of the best practices of states and cities transitioning from fossil fuels. And especially to drop the “two sides to the story” narrative, given 97% agreement in the scientific community.
Fonda asserted that because of the fossil fuel industry, which lost the country decades of critical time to act, and shrank our carbon budget — the amount of carbon that could be burned without passing the tipping point — it’s too late for moderation. “And given the emergency, it’s those who believe in moderation, in pre-Trump ‘business as usual’, who are truly delusional.”
Perhaps wisely, when aiming to convince a broad political spectrum to confront the political power of the fossil fuel industry, Fonda declined to name her favorite for President in 2020. But she allowed this:
“You know, I’ve said pretty clearly, it’s too late for moderation. So I guess that tells you something…You know, the idea that going back to what existed before Trump, I mean Trump isn’t some unicorn that appeared out of nowhere. There’s a reason that he was elected. And so the solution requires much more than going back before he was elected. It requires addressing the reasons that he was elected. And that’s why I like the Green New Deal, because it’ll not only solve the climate crisis, it will address the reasons that someone like Trump could get elected in a country that is supposed to be a Democracy.”
Asked if Michael Bloomberg, who spent millions underscoring climate issues, was on the same side, despite often putting his money behind Republicans, Fonda replied:
“I like Michael. I admire much — I love his work on gun control. But I don’t like the fact that he supports candidates — I mean Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania was running against a very progressive woman. And Michael Bloomberg put a lot of money into Toomey’s campaign, because Toomey is good on guns. But he’s terrible on climate and fracking. So there’s a lot about where Bloomberg is coming from, that I don’t like. But, on top of that, I don’t like people buying their way into the electoral process. We got to get money out of politics.”
There are some journalists, I can think of a few on both TV and radio, who are like a terrier with a sock trying to put words in someone’s mouth until they get the talking point they want that supports their narrative. I won’t imitate them now. Draw your own conclusions as to which candidate best threads the needle of Fonda’s druthers, and which ones don’t.
Ah, but I will digress in timely fashion. A presidential candidate who is Fonda’s junior has earned the mantle of the leading climate candidate. Corporate media and a shameful number of those in Congress are working overtime to disparage the Green New Deal that Bernie champions. But the detailed version here, including transitioning jobs in fossil fuels to work that creates green infrastructure, will help make Bernie a home stretch closer. Fonda mentioned Yale scientist Anthony Leiserowitz telling her that 43 million Americans would do something about climate change, but nobody asked them. Bernie’s asking. His campaign is a vehicle for climate involvement. Larger and larger swaths of the public connect the dots between shriveled crops, flooded hog farms, polluted waters, smoking forests and diminished prospects for their children. Many of them will recognize Bernie’s campaign as legit action. Bernie will be ticking like a Timex as people anxious over a heating planet enable him to come from behind like Seabiscuit.
By the way, If you haven’t signed up for David Sirota’s Bern Notice newsletter, part of the campaign’s end run around the Bezos Brigade and other media hostiles, you can do so here.
My only complaint on Fonda’s speech is that she didn’t share who brokered her soul. She turned eighty-two the week of her speech and no one would ever pick her out of a line-up as an octogenarian on a crime spree. Even allowing for star-power wealth and privilege, she’s a reminder that age is not an average of expectations for a particular number, it’s a very individual matter. Though every day is a roll of the dice as we move through the casino of health breaks and genetics, we prejudge at our peril. That’s whether or not one is still among, as an accomplished polio victim once phrased it for me, the temporarily-abled.
Over New Years I took my two kids, young adults on break from school, to the Delaware beaches and a coastal state park, for walkabouts along and through dunes anchored by pine and oak. Temperatures reached sixty-five. There’s always unusually warm winter days in the mid-Atlantic. But averages are steadily creeping up. Watching waves break, I thought of the 1959 apocalyptic film On the Beach, in which Australia is the last to go, not among the first. Now it’s the early bellwether. I couldn’t shake the notion that our pleasures were the flip-side of hundreds of millions of animals perishing in Australia’s bush fires. It makes me uneasy about what might be knocking on America’s door this summer.
Looking at DC forecasts for the next ten days, several top off in the mid-sixties. That’s a bit weird for January, normally our coldest month. For years after I moved from Kansas to DC in ’79, I could count on snowy city shutdowns and a week or so of cross-country skiing in the valley of Rock Creek National Park that winds though the chunk of the city where I live. Then it became occasional. Finally, rare. At present in DC, it’s a good bet Frosty will go extinct this entire winter, leaving our sleds in hibernation and our snowballs imaginary.