Age has not dimmed Jane Fonda, who was fired up at SXSW in Austin. She could easily have passed for 56 instead of 86 in her stage appearance with fellow climate activist David Fenton, who laid it on the line : “This is a battle for the survival of humanity.”

Fonda told the SXSW audience what she is the maddest about. “What we’re facing didn’t have to be, because the people responsible knew in the 1970s that what they were burning was causing the climate to change. We know that now because we actually have the reports of the climate scientists who worked for Exxon and Chevron and all the others – what they said to the executives of these companies.”

As an example, she read from a July 1977 report by James Black, a scientist at Exxon who make told the company’s management committee “The burning of fossil fuel was influencing global climate and that if it continued, within a decade, temperatures would start to increase and they would have to find new ways to get energy.” Fonda said that if they had paid attention to that, “we would be OK today. We would have faced an incremental transition from fossil fuels to renewable green energy and wouldn’t have the crisis that we have today.” Another oil company report from the 1980s stated “The Earth’s heating would drastically change the way people live and work, and that the changes may be the greatest in recorded history.” Instead of acting on this, the big oil companies hired the same ad agencies that told us tobacco smoke was safe “to create a lie. They succeeded in convincing us that there were 2 sides to the story. It was really the fault of us consumers. Does that make you mad?,” she asked the audience. Her question was greeted with a loud chorus of yes. She responded: “I hope you get so mad you do something about it!”

She certainly got mad, and let fly when talking about giving tax credits to big oil. “We’re paying these people that are flooding us and setting us on fire and killing us and ruining our health! We’re giving them our money. We have to stop!”

Fonda got a lot of laughs and a raucous applause with her targeted message to the women in the audience: “You wouldn’t publicly date any exec from the tobacco industry right? You wouldn’t admit you were dating somebody like that! It has to be the same with the fossil fuel industry: don’t sleep with them, don’t date them, don’t socialize with them They have to become persona non grata!”

David Fenton chimed in, stating to loud applause “We also have to shame their paid political prostitutes!” Fenton explained “the media does not tell this story very well. There is some good print journalism on climate, but television is out to lunch. They’re not reporting it. All of Texas could burn down and they’re not going to tell you it’s being caused by burning oil, coal and gas. So the public doesn’t know enough.” He singled out Fox and ABC as the ones who are least concerned.

Media Matters released a study the very day of the session at SXSW. “What they found,” Fenton said, “is that the television network coverage of climate change in 2023 (the hottest year ever) went down 25%. Coverage on the evening news went down 36%. Overall, climate change reports on the networks were less than 1% and only 12% of those mentioned climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels! When you ask Americans the number one cause of climate change, they answer it is the ozone hole.”

Fenton said BP coined the term “carbon footprint” so that “the blame would be shifted onto you, not them. It’s pretty diabolical. They use language very carefully.”

Fonda addressed the situation facing our state. “Texas is dangerously low on water, because of the drought: this is connected to the climate, global warming. The fracking companies here can use as much water as they want. This is not true of other companies. The water from desalinization plants is not going to Texans, it’s going to the companies to keep them running. I saw windmills along the coast: that electricity is not going to the communities that lose their power during freezes, it’s going to keep the factories going. They don’t care about people!”

To emphasize her point, she quoted one fuel industry exec as saying “We love hurricanes! Hurricanes are our friend! They help us get rid of the people!”

Fonda expressed sympathy with Texans. “You’re not even allowed to tell the truth in Texas about our origins. You guys are being mistreated. When you vote in November, vote with climate in your heart!” Her plea was greeted with wild applause.

She especially called out Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar as someone who must be defeated. “He blocked legislation that would have stopped paying subsidies to the oil and gas companies. He takes money from the fossil fuel industries. He also happens to be anti-choice.” She drove the point home, saying voting in good people is not enough. “You have to make them do it. We have to do it with everything we have, because so much is at stake. Time is running out.”

Breathing fire and brimstone, Fonda preached “We are facing a collective crisis that requires collective action at a time we are being rendered powerless because we’re becoming tiny individuals. We have to break through that. FUCK THEM!!!”

Photo by C Cunningham

By Dr. Cliff Cunningham

Dr. Cliff Cunningham is a planetary scientist, the acknowledged expert on the 19th century study of asteroids. He is a Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. He serves as Editor of the History & Cultural Astronomy book series published by Springer; and Associate Editor of the Journal of Astronomical History & Heritage. Asteroid 4276 in space was named in his honour by the International Astronomical Union based in the recommendation of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dr. Cunningham has written or edited 15 books. His PhD is in the History of Astronomy, and he also holds a BA in Classical Studies.