Occupy Wall Street and the Environmental Movement

by ‐ Tags: current events, alternative energy

The Occupy Movement’s agenda, whether you call it vague or comprehensive, is certainly very large. Most often the grievances put forth by the protestors align, but occasionally — especially with issues like the environment — do come into conflict and fracture the community. One example of this is the recent debate over the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline.


The Larger Agenda of the Occupy Protests

Occupy Wall Street is by definition a leaderless movement so it is difficult to pin down one comprehensive list of goals. This said, there are a number of groups working to create a written inventory of issues that the protests mean to address. Drawing from two central declarations, The 99% Declaration (which will be ratified July 4, 2012) and OWS’s original Declaration of Occupation, the following themes emerge:

As the New York General Assembly’s flowchart points out, all of these grievances are connected.OWS and the Environment

Most of these grievances guide the movement in an environmental direction. Phil Aroneanu, co-founder and US Campaign Director of the environmental group 350.org, does a nice job of summarizing the parallels between OWS and the environmental movement here: "We’re a climate change advocacy group. The reason that we haven’t had any change on climate change is because coal companies, gas companies, oil companies, and their Wall Street financiers have rigged the system and bought out our politicians.”

The 99% Declaration (again, not yet ratified) clearly references the need for environmental protection

“The 99% of the American People demand the immediate implementation of new and existing programs to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels to reusable or carbon neutral sources of energy and higher greenhouse gas emission standards so that something will be left for our children and grandchildren.”

The Debate over the Keystone XL

The proposed Keystone Pipeline (now off the table until the next presidential election) would transport oil from the Canadian tar sands all the way to the Gulf Coast. This pipeline, according to Americans for Prosperity, would create 20,000 jobs that would come at huge environmental costs, including habitat destruction, increased green house gas emissions, and endangering the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to over two million Americans.

The classic debate of economy versus environment (whether you view them in opposition of one another or not) created a large rift within the movement between the union and environmentalist bases. OWS never delivered an official stance on the Keystone and both sides ended up using the rhetoric of the movement to further their campaigns. For example, pro-pipeline union groups created a website called "Jobs for the 99", which states on its homepage that "Hollywood’s elite 1% should stop flying to DC and speaking out against jobs that help the other 99% of America!". At the other side of the fence, the anti-pipeline protestors set up events and signs which read, "Occupy Pipeline."

One of the strengths of the Occupy Movement is the diversity and depth of the greviences. As the movement moves forward it may be able to continue with its broad focus but if there are recurring issues like the Pipeline, it may reach a breaking point and need to solidify its overarching theme.