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Edward A. Reid Jr.
Posted On:
Dec 17, 2019 at 6:00 AM
Climate Change

Demonstrations regarding a variety of issues are becoming more common in the US and several other countries. Climate change is one of the issues which is a focus of these demonstrations. Spontaneous demonstrations are frequently referred to as “grass roots” or “organic”, while organized and orchestrated demonstrations are referred to as “Astroturf” (fake grass with no roots). One common characteristic of “grass roots” demonstrations is personal commitment on the part of the demonstrators. Another common characteristic is membership in a cohesive group which coalesces this personal commitment. One common characteristic of “Astroturf” demonstrations is paid demonstrators, frequently bussed from remote locations at the expense of the demonstration’s sponsor(s).  

Climate change related demonstrations fall into two broad categories: protests against individuals or companies proposing to take actions which the protestors and/or their sponsors view as damaging to the climate, such as the construction of pipelines, powerplants, coal mines and coal export facilities; and, protests against the effects of government actions to reduce CO2 emissions, including carbon taxes and other actions which increase the cost of living, such as mandates for expensive renewable energy adoption. Demonstrations in the first category tend to be “Astroturf” in nature, while demonstrations in the second category tend to be more “grass roots”.

One of the most visible examples of “Astroturf” demonstrations was the massive effort to interfere with the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Recent examples of more “grass roots” demonstrations include the “yellow vest” demonstrations in France last Spring and the demonstrations in Chile this fall, which resulted in the cancellation of COP25 in Chile, as well as “Chile Explodes: Expensive Climate Policies Spark Mass Riots” a scheduled meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). In both of the latter cases, the protestors opposed government actions to reduce emissions, which had the effect of increasing prices in the respective economies.

Demonstrators at “Astroturf” demonstrations are reportedly well paid, primarily from donated funds. Organizers can reportedly earn $1,500 per week, while individual demonstrators can reportedly earn $15 per hour. Individual demonstrator payments are frequently made in cash, so there is no “money trail”; and, no income tax payments. Organizers have used Craig’s List and other internet sites to recruit protestors.

Climate change protests in the US have so far fortunately not matched the intensity of the French and Chilean protests, but there is no guarantee that will not happen in the future. The California wildfires and the massive electric power interruptions in California are being attributed, at least in part, to climate change. The wildfires endanger residents and their property, while the power interruptions are a major inconvenience to the residents and businesses in the areas affected.

Several electric utilities in California have been accused of responsibility for the wildfires. Pacific Gas & Electric is the defendant in numerous lawsuits, which have forced the company into bankruptcy. The resolution of these lawsuits and the treatment of residents displaced by the wildfires and inconvenienced by the power interruptions intended to prevent future wildfires could have a significant impact on the nature and extent of demonstrations in the future.