Turning Up the Heat

July 2013
By Bill McKibben
Sojourners Magazine

No one wants to spend summer vacation in the clink, but that's where a lot us are going to find ourselves.

STATISTICALLY, the last couple of weeks of July are the hottest months of the year. In recent decades, the fossil fuel industry has been making them steadily hotter by burning huge amounts of coal, gas, and oil: Last year was by the far the warmest year in American history, and it came complete with biblical-scale fire, drought, and storm.

But this summer it’s the environmental movement that’s going to turn up the heat. Summer Heat is what folks are calling it: a collection of actions taking on the fossil fuel industry in every corner of the country.

Some of the action will stay focused on the route of the Keystone pipeline, but the emerging fossil fuel resistance is much broader than a single project: We’ll be at refineries and power plants and proposed coal ports, and we’ll be making clear that climate change is just part of the spectrum of damage that includes everything from air pollution to political corruption.

These battles have been led on the local level for years now by climate justice groups, by farmers and ranchers, by indigenous activists—by the folks on the frontlines of the damage from fossil fuels. But they deserve backup and reinforcement from the rest of us. And, of course, in an age of global warming, all of us are potentially on the front lines: Until Hurricane Sandy broke over their heads, most people in lower Manhattan thought the world was treating them pretty well.

If this fossil fuel resistance works, it will help shut down these local disasters. But playing defense is only half the battle: We also have to go on offense, showing the planet that these fossil fuel companies are the opposition to a decent future. That future isn’t impossible—Germany, for example, already generates a quarter of its power from renewables. In Portugal this winter, that figure was more than 70 percent.

But we won’t get there in time as long as the coal and gas and oil barons dominate our political life. Two weeks before the last election, Chevron gave the largest corporate political donation ever. We can’t outspend them, but we do have to stand up strong against that kind of arrogance.

And we may, in the process, have to spend our bodies. We shouldn’t have to go to jail to fight global warming: It should be a rational process, where scientists and economists explain the problem to political leaders, who then take action. But that process hasn’t worked for a quarter century, so it’s time for us to force the pace. Nonviolently, but firmly.

If the Keystone fight proved anything, it’s that citizens are ready to go to jail on behalf of their children and grandchildren, on behalf of a working planet. No one really wants to spend their summer vacation in the clink, but this year, I think, that’s where a lot of us are going to find ourselves.

Bill McKibben is founder of For more information, visit