Climate Crisis Energizes Radical Environmentalists

The Associated Press/November 26, 2008

Louisa, Virginia - Under arrest, Paxus Calta raised two fingers from his shackled hand to flash a peace sign. Fellow environmental activists cheered as police escorted him to the van that would take him to jail.

He had intended to get arrested, as he had before in 12 countries on three continents.

For two hours, Calta and 19 other protesters associated with the grassroots group Rising Tide North America had occupied the visitor's center at Dominion's North Anna Nuclear Power Station.

While radical groups and their tactics are by no means new, climate change is a new cause for them.

Rising Tide isn't protesting the causes of global warming as much as the solutions. It is against clean coal, nuclear power and capping carbon pollution while letting polluters buy and sell rights to pollute under the cap - the very fixes under discussion in Washington. It disdains the compromise and collaboration between the Big 10 environmental groups and elite corporations, as well as the view that technology can save the environment.

The protest at Dominion - which is seeking to build a new reactor - was the latest stunt organized by Rising Tide.

"There are lots of different ways that you can approach the problem of climate change. What the direct action movement believes is that the market-based solutions that have been used in the past are inappropriate," Calta said in an interview after he was charged with trespassing, and released from jail at 2 a.m. on $1,000 bail.

"The alternative is that we let corporations and governments do what they have always done, and the world is going to die," he said.

Rising Tide originated in the Netherlands in 2000. It came to the U.S. in 2006. That's when a group of activists involved in Earth First!, one of the earliest groups to use in-your-face tactics such as tree sitting and blocking roads with human chains, decided that more attention needed to be paid to global warming.

"There was a huge need for a climate-focused group that wasn't going to compromise ... not do what is conducive to business, but what we actually need for ecosystems on this planet to survive," said Abigail Singer, who was in those early discussions and is one of roughly 20 people who lead Rising Tide nationally. Small cells have spread across the country in Asheville, N.C., Boston, Portland, Ore., and more recently Houston and Baltimore.

The group's annual climate camps draw hundreds of activists, anarchists and organizers each year. The participants - many in their early 20s - camp out for the week, share group meals and learn skills such as tree climbing that can help during a demonstration.

Calta is one of the veterans. A tall and lanky figure with stringy shoulder-length hair, he has been protesting nuclear energy for 20 years in the U.S. and abroad. The Dominion plant is likely the closest he has gotten to home - he lives in a nearby commune.

Rising Tide's first protest took place in July 2006 at a coal plant in Carbo, Va., where two activists chained themselves to a coal truck and another suspended himself from a bridge. One of their demands: a nationwide movement away from fossil fuels.

Earlier this year former Vice President Al Gore made the same call: The nation should wean itself off carbon-based fuels in 10 years. Then, in September, he urged young people to protest all new coal plants that don't have technology to capture greenhouse gases.

Rising Tide's targets include other environmentalists.

The group issued a fake press release and Web site under the name of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, an association of businesses and large environmental groups that support action on global warming. The phony media blitz claimed the groups' members, which include Alcoa Inc., BP PLC, Dow Chemical Co. and General Electric Co., had agreed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 90 percent. More than one major news organization bit on the hoax.

"Radicals don't think they are going to get solutions from the very social sectors that are driving the problem," said Bron Taylor, who teaches and writes about environmentalism at the University of Florida.

Mainstream environmental groups, such as Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense, think it is "absolutely essential to turn the corporate sectors into responsible environmental citizens," Taylor said.

Rising Tide took one protest to the North Carolina home of Duke Energy Corp.'s chief executive, Jim Rogers. They placed Post-It notes on his windows criticizing construction of a new coal-fired power plants that Duke is building while he preaches curbing greenhouse gases.

In Madison, Wis., Rising Tide activists deflated car tires to prevent people from driving.

The targeted companies and groups are often not amused.

Eric Hendrixson, the director of safety and licensing at Dominion's North Anna Power Station, looked on as the protesters sat on the floor, passed around trail mix and chanted slogans such as "Climate Revolution, Not False Solutions" and "No Nukes, No Coal, No Kidding." Meanwhile, police gathered outside.

"If there was a perfect solution, it would have arrived," Hendrixson said, shaking his head, and at one point calling the protesters rude. "What I don't respect are individuals who voice their opinion out of ignorance."

Others, like Duke Energy, call them completely ineffective.

"I'm not sure where they get their dozen protesters frankly," said Tom Williams, a Duke spokesman.

Williams said the real way to be part of the debate is to participate in the permitting process.

But those who have played by the rules and failed say groups like Rising Tide can help.

Elisa Young says that her family's 144-acre farm in rural Ohio is surrounded by coal-fired power plants, and there are proposals for more of them. She attended one of Rising Tide's climate action camps this summer.

"I am not a trained activist. I don't even consider myself an environmentalist," said Young. But these groups "have a vested interest in the future of this planet. They are the most motivated and least compromised of the activists out there."

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