It has recently re-occurred to me just how difficult the road ahead for us is going to be.  At times, it is so daunting that I get frustrated, and lose hope.  In brief moments of weakness, I wonder if I should have just taken a nice big $160,000 paycheck next year from a large corporate law firm, and enjoy the ride as our ship goes down.

But then, I think of all the people who are already suffering on this world, and how much that suffering is set to increase with runaway climatic disruption.  And I remember how I, as a person of privilege, have a responsibility to pay back all that this world has given me.  Yes, it’s frustrating.  Yes, it’s hard.  But if saving the world was going to be easy, someone would have saved it already. Change comes, but it takes time, and it takes persistent determination.

A friend recently passed along this quote to me from Noam Chomsky.  I thought it was worth passing along:

An interviewer with Noam Chomsky asked: “What do you say to someone reading this interview who says, ‘These are enormous problems. What can I as an individual do about them?'” (which is a question i think we all ask at some point).

His answer:
“There’s a lot we can do. We’re not going to be thrown into prison and face torture. We’re not going to be assassinated. We have enormous privilege and tremendous freedom. That means endless opportunities. After every talk I give in the U.S., people come up and say, “I want to change things. What can I do?” I never hear these questions from peasants in southern Colombia, Kurds in southeastern Turkey under miserable repression, campesinos in Nicaragua, or anybody who is suffering. They don’t ask what they can do; they tell you what they are doing. Somehow the fact of enormous privilege and freedom carries with it a sense of impotence…The fact is, we can do just about anything. There is no difficulty in finding and joining groups that are working hard on issues that concern you. But that’s not the answer that people want.

“The real question people have, I think, is ‘What can I do to bring about an end to these problems that will be quick and easy?’ People here are trained to believe that there are easy answers. I went to a demonstration, and nothing changed. Fifteen million people marched in the streets on Feb. 15, 2003, and still Bush went to war; it’s hopeless. But that’s not the way things work. If you want to make changes in the world, you’re going to have to be there day after day doing the boring, straightforward work of getting a couple of people interested in an issue, building a slightly bigger organization, carrying out the next move, experiencing frustration, and finally getting somewhere. You have to be dedicated and committed to it every day. That’s how the world changes. That’s how you get rid of slavery, that’s how you get women’s rights, that’s how you get the vote, that’s how you get protection for working people. Every gain you can point to came from that kind of effort–not from people going to one demonstration and dropping out when nothing happens…Unless you develop an ongoing, living, democratic culture that can compel the candidates, they’re not going to do the things you voted for…You want a magic key, so you can go back to watching television tomorrow? It doesn’t exist.”

We all know this, and we are all ready to put in the work needed so that we can tell our grandchildren about how we stopped burning the world so that they could enjoy a just and stable planet.  But it helps to be reminded:  we have come far, but we have a long ways to go.  But we will travel down that road together, and I can’t think of a group of people I’d rather journey with.
Onwards and upwards,

Yesterday, the Huffington Post reported that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and former Green Jobs Czar Van Jones called on Obama set a goal for U.S. to be energy independent in a decade.

From Huffpost:

To get the country to fully embrace the green technology movement, Obama needs to give a “shoot-for-the-moon speech,” Gillibrand said. “And he has to do it now.”

How about it Obama?  If you lead, we will follow.

If we lead, will you follow?

Solve Climate reported today about an Australian group promoting a plan for 100% Renewable Electricity in Australia by 2020.  A new group, Beyond Zero Emissions released a plan for how Australia could get all of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020.

Like Massachusetts and the United States, Australia gets a minimal amount of its electricity from renewable electricity.  80% of its electricity comes from coal; less than 2% from wind and solar.

Who will phase out fossil fuels first?

The race is on!

P.S. Last spring, we were interviewed by an Australian Radio Station after our Repower America rally calling for 100% Clean Electricity in 10 years.  Coincidence. . . ?

Leaders, Allies, and other Readers,

I feel like right now, many of us are lacking the sense of urgency we felt last semester in the lead-up to Copenhagen, the grand event where the leaders of the world were meeting to decide our fate.  This fall, we have no clear-cut external deadline, but the earth is still warming, and each day that the level of carbon in the atmosphere  stays above 350 parts per million brings us one day closer to disaster.

So here’s my shot at some urgency and hope:


  • World leaders failed to lead.
    • The leaders who met in Copenhagen to decide our fate basically decided that we weren’t worth saving.
  • President Obama failed to lead.
    • President Obama had the chance at Copenhagen to announce that he would commit the EPA to reduce emissions along the weak lines of the climate bill, but declined to do so.
  • Congress failed to lead.
    • The efforts in Congress to pass comprehensive legislation – legislation that we all know was insufficient to solve the problem in the first place – have stalled, and experts think it is almost impossible to expect a climate bill from congress this session.
  • The Massachusetts governor and legislature failed to lead.
    • Here in Massachusetts, our state government just announced that their existing climate policies would result in an 18% reduction in emissions by 2020 (below 1990 levels).
    • This is better than any other state in the country, far better than the country as a whole, and even better than several of our ambitious European allies.
    • By every objective measure but one, this is true leadership.
    • Unfortunately, the one objective measure that counts is the science, and these efforts will get us nowhere near 350ppm, even if all other industrialized nations followed suit.
  • Our allies – the national environmental non-profits – tried, but failed to lead.
    • Environmental groups across the country are dispirited.
    • The movement had focused for the past three years (if not longer) on passing a federal bill.
    • They elected a huge majority of democrats in congress; they elected a president who seemed to really get it.
    • But, lined up against an incredibly powerful set of interests dedicated to preserving the status quo, they neglected to mobilize a constituency capable of making the necessary demands of these leaders, and they themselves failed to make the needed demands for science-based policy (i.e. 350ppm – a result of their own strategic evaluation of what was politically possible for them to achieve).
  • In short, NO ONE is leading (at least not to the extent needed).


    • We are calling for actions that are equal in scale to the challenges we face.  We are mobilized, we are organized.
    • Last week, our bill was moved out of the Senate Ethics and Rules Committee — a committee where most late-filed bills go to die.
    • This February, The Leadership Campaign has moved from becoming a project of SJSF to becoming a Coalition of groups in support of 100% Clean Electricity by 2020.
      • Already, 3 community partners have joined SJSF in the Steering Committee, ready to dedicate serious resources:
        • The Mass Council of Churches
        • Somerville Climate Action Network
        • The Unitarian Universalist Mass Action Network
        • More will be joining them.
    • The first week of March, over a dozen organizations – including many new partners and allies – will join in the Commonwealth Challenge, and commit to reduce their emissions in return for the passage of our bill.
    • We are getting more campuses on board.  Already this semester we have added to our ranks:
      • Assumption College
      • Ana Maria College
      • College of the Holy Cross
      • Emerson College
      • Mass College of the Liberal Arts
    • We are moving into New England to grow our efforts beyond our state
      • New England Climate Summer will create a strong pool of leaders who are well connected with each other and us to get our fellow New England students up and running.
      • We are also planning a New England Climate Summit to attract and empower more of our peers.

But we haven’t won yet.  We can’t slow down yet.  Our bill hasn’t been passed yet, and THE WORLD IS STILL BURNING.


  • Lead
    • If you have a role, do it, and do it well.
    • If you have questions about your role and responsibilities, ask someone for advice.
      • If you don’t know who to ask, ask me.
    • If you don’t yet have a role, STEP INTO ONE.
      • If you know of other people on your campus who should be leaders, get them to step into a leadership role.
  • Support Others
    • If you are in a state or regional role, you should still be participating in the campus level.  Support those who have stepped up to lead your campus.  Be there with them and for them at every meeting. Make sure they know what you know, and make sure they have the resources and support they need to do heir jobs well.  Lead by example, and be at every single SJSF Campus Meeting and Event.
  • Come to the Amherst Sleep-out
    • Don’t know how you’re getting there? – contact your Regional or Campus Coordinator.
  • Bring people to the Amherst Sleep-out
    • Sleep-outs are an important part of building the movement.  We aren’t just passing a bill, we are building the power we need to built a movement capable of making real demands on our leaders that will actually solve the problem.
    • When people come to sleep-outs, they get inspired by our numbers, they build relationships with us and with each other, and they recognize that we are in a movement.
    • We are only having THREE sleep-outs this entire semester.  So we need to MOBILIZE, MOBILIZE, MOBILIZE to turn-out for them.


  • We are looking to pass this bill by Earth Day, and incorporate the recommendations of this task force the bill will create into a new, truly revolutionary bill we will need to pass during the next legislative session.
  • But we aren’t just passing a bill, we are building the power we need to built a movement capable of making real demands on our leaders that will actually solve the problem.
  • We need to expand to new places, and we need to be building leaders in places we already have people.
  • We are going to start working on barn-raisings, getting in the community and working to achieve real reductions in real-time.
  • We need to educate more and more people about the climate crisis, and bring more community partners into the fold.

Let’s do this.

Onwards & Upwards,


Craig S. Altemose
Coordinator, Students for a Just and Stable Future
M.P.P./J.D. Candidate, Class of 2010
Harvard Kennedy School of Government/Harvard Law School

Nothing Less than 100%, Nothing More than 350.

Cross-posted at It’s Getting Hot in Here

Today, An Act to Create a Repower Massachusetts Emergency Task Force — written by Students for a Just and Stable Future (SJSF) and others in The Leadership Campaign — was released from the Senate Ethics and Rules Committee during the 6th Day of Climate Court Hearings for the Boston Common Sleep-out.

Each day last week, citizen-activists marched from the Court House after paying their court fees to the State House to show legislators the depth and breadth of support for the bill.  Well over 100 people faced the courts last week for sleeping out on the Boston Common after the park had formally closed (a misdemeanor trespassing offense).

After scores of people visited his and other key legislator’s offices indicating their support, Senator Frederick Berry, Chair of the Senate Ethics & Rules Committee (and Senate Majority Leader) released the bill from his committee and moved it along to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.

“We are extremely thankful to Senator Berry for releasing our bill from committee, opening debate to legislators across the state and allowing us to focus our energy on gathering the votes needed to pass it this spring,” said Martha Pskowski, Hampshire student and Western Massachusetts Legislative Coordinator for SJSF.

The bill, introduced on December 7th in both houses of the State Legislature after 7 straight weeks of sleep-outs and lobbying, would create a Repower Massachusetts Emergency Task Force that would have a six-month mandate to evaluate the steps required to obtain 100% clean electricity by 2020, and issue a report with regulatory and legislative recommendations.

The Leadership Campaign, a coalition of groups in support of the bill – and the broader goal of 100% clean electricity – will now be turning its attention to show support to Senator Michael Morrissey and Representative Barry Finegold, Senate and House Chairs, respectively, of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.

Further MA citizens will face the courts tomorrow and on Thursday as the court dates had to be spread out over the course of 10 days (the last two court appearances will be in May and September for students who had traveled abroad).

The next statewide sleep-out will occur on the Amherst Common on February 20th, followed by the Cambridge Common on March 28th, with a return to the Boston Common scheduled for April 21st (the night before the 40th anniversary of Earth Day).

“We’re very excited to be able to move forward with our bill, and are looking forward to working with community members, students, organizations, and businesses as we enter the next stage of the bill process.” said Jamaica Kelley, a graduate student of social work at Simmons and the State Legislative Coordinator for SJSF.

Participants in sleep-outs have included Bill McKibben, Dr. James Hansen, Green-Rainbow Party Gubernatorial Candidate Jill Stein, Rev. Fred Small, Rev. Jim Antal, and hundreds of inspiring students, faculty, and community members.  The leading organizations of The Leadership Campaign include the Mass Council of Churches, Unitarian Universalist Mass Action, Somerville Climate Action Network, and Students for a Just and Stable Future.

Cross-posted at

Today, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Sit-Ins that kicked off the Civil Rights Movement, 20 citizen-activists from across Massachusetts woke up early to make their way to the Boston Municipal Court, to face trespassing charges for their participation in the Sleep-outs on the Boston Common last fall.

Over the next two weeks, close to 200 residents of Massachusetts – joined by renowned climate scientist Dr. James Hansen and journalist/activist Bill McKibben – will face the courts for demonstrating their disagreement with their dirty-electricity-powered homes.

Because the citizen-activists’ numbers have overwhelmed the court system, the trials are spread out over the course of two weeks, with 20-30 people appearing before the courts each day.  Yet the district attorney and court magistrate were not unsympathetic, allowing students studying abroad to appear in court in May or September (with approximately two-dozen people appearing between these two later court dates).

“I am very appreciative of their willingness to work with our lawyers to best accommodate the use of their resources, and the interests of our activists.” said Nathan Nesbitt, a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Worcester Campaign Coordinator for Studens for a Just and Stable Future.

The community members, including students, faculty, clergy,  were calling for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to repower with 100% clean electricity by 2020.  When presented with the charges before them and offered a deal (removing the criminal complaint in exchange for full up-front payment of related fines), it was made clear that the deal would not be offered again, and the participants were advised not to continue their tactics in the future.

Yet the citizen-activists were not soon to back down.  Jess Feldish, a Northeastern University student and former Northeastern Campus Campaign Coordinator, summed up her feelings: “I’m pumped. I’m incredibly ready to defend my beliefs.  It doesn’t feel like breaking the law, because I feel like the state isn’t holding up it’s end of the deal to protect me.  I am glad to be a citizen and to do what I feel is necessary to participate in my government and make my voice heard.”

After the conclusion of the legal proceedings, all of the participants marched together from the Court House to the State House, where they lobbied key legislators about the bill.  Members visited included John Binienda, Chairman of the House Rules Committee, Frederick Berry, Chairman of the Senate Ethics and Rules Committee, Michael Morrissey, Chairman of the Senate Telecommunications, Energy, and Utilities Committee, Barry Finegold, Chairman of the House Telecommunications, Energy, and Utilities Committee, Speaker of the House DeLeo, and Senate President Therese Murray.

The citizen activists are determined to continue pushing until their state moves aggressively towards a clean electricity future for all.  Already, Nathan, Jess, and hundreds of others are prepared to stand again (or in this case, lie down) for a clean electricity future when they go sleep-out on the Amherst, Cambridge, and Boston Commons on February 20th, March 28th, and April 21st, respectively.  Unlike last fall’s 7 large sleep-outs, the first two of these sleep-outs (in Amherst and Cambridge) will be legal.  The Boston Common Sleep-out, scheduled for the night before Earth Day, will not be, and participants expect increased penalties.