Founded in 1989, the U.S. Climate Action Network (USCAN) is a coalition of prominent non-profit green groups whose principal mission is to stop global warming. The coalition attempts to affect change at the state and local levels, and also to influence decision-makers at the United Nations and in Washington, DC.
USCAN attributes global warming chiefly to human industrial activity:
“For the past 150 years, humans have been using fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — at rates that have increased exponentially. The burning of fossil fuels, combined with cutting down forests, has increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 30%. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases act like a heat-trapping blanket, causing climate change. The more carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere, the more significant the effects of climate change become.”
“The impacts of climate change are evident everywhere on the world,” says USCAN. “Ocean acidification is bleaching coral reefs and harming shellfish. Bird migration patterns have shifted. Arctic glaciers are shrinking at alarming rates. Increased flooding and droughts have put agricultural crops at risk. The examples are endless.”
In 1997, USCAN provided ideas and policy expertise to support the development of the Kyoto Protocol, which called for industrialized countries to dramatically reduce their collective greenhouse gas emissions. The organization continues to push for government regulations and international agreements aimed at minimizing such emissions.
With more than 80 member groups, USCAN is the largest American environmental network of organizations focused on climate change. its membership boasts many of the most powerful green groups in the country, including Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection, the Earth Day Network, Earthjustice, the Energy Action Coalition, Environmental Defense, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Van Jones– and Joel Rogers-founded Green For All, the International Forum on Globalization, Kyoto USA, the League of Conservation Voters, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Nature Conservancy, Oceana, Oxfam America, the PEW Environment Group of PEW Charitable Trusts, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Population Action International, Presbyterian Church USA, the Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Wilderness Society, the Will Steger Foundation, the Woods Hole Research Center, the World Resources Institute, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Worldwatch Institute.
USCAN’s board of directors is largely composed of representatives of these groups. Dave Hamilton of the Sierra Club (SC), America’s oldest and largest environmental organization, chairs the USCAN board. As the Director of SC’s Global Warming and Energy Programs, Hamilton exerts influence throughout the green movement and at the highest levels of the federal government. Testifying in 2009 before the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Trade, he argued that “we are at a race against time.” “if we lose this race to bring carbon-based warming under control,” he added, “its effects will be out of our hands and all life on Earth will be faced with a severely altered home that will challenge nearly every aspect of society.”
Hamilton maintained, moreover, that any domestic Cap-and-Trade legislation must be made in relation to a “larger global deal […] negotiated through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,” which USCAN helped to develop at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. In addition, Hamilton urged, the United States must also be responsible for a number of other provisions, both national and international, including “financing for clean energy technology deployment, protections for forests in developing countries, and adaptation to unavoidable climate impacts, including a robust U.S. program of international global warming assistance for developing nations.” This would constitute a massive transfer of wealth from the United States to other nations.
Peter Bahouth serves as USCAN’s Executive Director. Before joining USCAN, Bahouth headed the Turner Foundation for nine years. Prior to that, he served as Executive Director and Chairman of Greenpeace USA. Like many of USCAN’s members, Bahouth has given voice to a virulent anti-business ideology in his activism. As head of Greenpeace in 1990, for example, he declared:
“I don’t believe in the market approach…. It results in treating toxics or pollution as a commodity…. When companies have a bottom line of profit, you won’t have them thinking about the environment.”
Since the turn of the 21st century, Bahouth has been involved in efforts to bring green construction into the mainstream. Coining the term “blue-collar green,” Bahouth has advocated for the type of green-jobs approach that became a staple of President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (a.k.a. the 2009 Stimulus Package).
Another prominent environmentalist with USCAN is David Turnbull, who worked as the group’s Communications Director until 2008 when he became Director of USCAN’s global affiliate, the Climate Action Network, or CAN. (USCAN itself is an affiliate CAN, which consists of more than 450 Non-Governmental Organizations operating in 85 countries.) Turnbull views President Obama’s 2009 green stimulus plan as a model for the global community. At the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference, Turnbull argued that individual pledges from industrialized nations were “insufficient.” Instead, he explained, developed countries needed to take the initiative and use stimulus funding to create a path to “a new energy economy.” “We’ve seen study after study talking about how climate change can be a driver for innovation, a driver for economies, and countries are just refusing to believe it,” said Turnbull.