When It Comes to Climate and Clean Energy, “Just Say No” Has Become Too Popular

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Monday, in the parlance of Washington policy and journalism, was scheduled to be a potential day of breakthrough in the work to achieve action on the warming climate. Senators John Kerry (Mass.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.) had announced that they’d come to consensus on what a bipartisan energy and climate policy fit for the 21st century looked like. The results were to be unveiled at a news briefing that had global import.

Instead nothing happened. It was like reeling in a sailfish, all fight and silvery splash, only to have the beast die on the way into the boat.

This is the third time in five months that that I’ve been involved in climate and clean energy campaigns that culminated in less than they promised. “Just say no” is emerging as a far easier answer than saying yes to progress.

In Copenhagen in December, nearly 200 nations gathered at the largest summit ever with the express purpose of reaching agreement on a climate treaty. Instead what they came up with was a novel accord that points in the right direction and may not achieve more than that.

In Traverse City, a small utility’s bid to acquire 30 percent of its energy from local renewable resources, including a state-of-the-art clean right-sized clean burning 10 mw wood biomass plant, generated such fierce hyperbole about unfounded risks among some environmentalists that you’d have thought the utility was proposing a 100-acre toxic waste site for the middle of town. The local push back, led by a grassroots environmental group, is consistent with similar resistance in 30 other states to proposals for new wind, solar, geothermal, wood biomass, and transmission lines. This week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to decide on a big offshore wind farm in Massachusetts that has been the focus on a popular opposition campaign. The clean energy transition may not be televised.

Now comes the Senate’s attempt to push through a climate and energy bill, which over the weekend got washed up on the shoals of partisanship, immigration policy, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s re-election, and the powerful climate change-denying communications machine operated by America’s fossil fuel collective.

Today, Senator Reid retreated just a bit and sought to assure his Democratic and Republican colleagues that debate on the climate and energy bill would come before debate on the immigration bill. That makes sense since there is no immigration bill to debate in the Senate. But Graham, a very lonely Republican in the climate and clean energy space, has not yet indicated whether he’s ready to participate in introducing the ready-to-go energy bill that he’s spent months shaping with Senators Kerry and Lieberman.

The politics of stasis — of doing nothing — is brought action on climate change to a crawl, and that may be kind. The public will to act, to reduce emissions of carbon, to provide for the safety of the planet and all its inhabitants, is just not apparent in the United States, or in much of the rest of the developed world.

Clearly, a new operating program is needed politically and a new communications frame and strategy needs to be developed. Today the Environmental Protection Agency made public a new report on climate change effects that are getting worse:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are increasing. Between 1990 and 2008, there has been about a 14 percent increase in emissions in the United States.
  • Average temperatures are rising. Seven of the top 10 warmest years on record for the continental United States have occurred since 1990.
  • Tropical cyclone intensity has increased in recent decades. Six of the 10 most active hurricane seasons have occurred since the mid-1990s.
  • Sea levels are rising. From 1993 to 2008, sea level rose twice as fast as the long-term trend.
  • Glaciers are melting. Loss of glacier volume appears to have accelerated over the last decade.
  • The frequency of heat waves has risen steadily since the 1960s. The percentage of the U.S. population impacted by heat waves has also increased.

Still, people in the United States aren’t much concerned. They are clearly indicating,  in grassroots fights and in support for lawmakers who counsel to do nothing, that they are satisfied with the way things are. That is a dangerous sentiment in an unsettled world making powerful and swift transitions in every important sector — the economy, markets, the environment, energy, population, and competition for resources.

— Keith Schneider

When Tea Party and Environmentalism Meet

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Quick. Who said this? A leader of the Tea Party or an extremist environmentalist?

“You make a tragic mistake characterizing the new grassroots environmental movement blossoming in the resistance to the horrific idea of burning the life on planet earth whether it be trees, whales or crops for fuel  as “blowback.” Unless you mean blowback to the corporate funded environmental movement and their paid lobbyists, marketers, and “experts.” The public clearly understands the physics of burning and energy and knows that burning trees as green energy is folly and that little boutique biomass burners to allow small groups of elites to maintain the illusion they have “renewable” energy–while some players collect thousands even millions behind the scenes–is essentially a sin.

“The experts YOU trot out clearly provide data that says that burning our forests could never even replace a single fossil fuel plant in Michigan.  And that biodiversity and CO2 sequestration would be severely damaged.  They just hide these truths to collect their paychecks from the timber, biomass, and biofuels lobby. That is an intellectual crime.  The corporate funded environmental movement that pushes phony solutions to global warming like biomass and biofuels is dying.  Our bought and paid for environmental movement and their paid representatives and the politicians they have duped (for not much longer) will change or come crashing down.

“You can either get with this new grassroots environmental movement, or stand by the corporate and business interests hanging on to the biomass bone like a pit bull whose has a grip on someones face. From BP to Rio Tinto the SAME corporations who fund the rape of the planet are funding this phony “renewable” energy movement.  So when we fight the proponents of those who pretend tree burning is sustainable or green or doesn’t pollute or emit CO2, we are fighting the very same companies and profiteers that have been raping our planet for sometime now–and the politicians they have tricked or cajoled or funded into supporting them. The only question is how much damage will the corporate environmental movement do before getting out of the way of the truth and preventing CITIZENS from making a real plan to save ourselves from the horrible ways we have treated our planet, free of salesmen, lobbyists, and marketers and the undo influence of the pillagers who are funding what passes for an environmental movement these days.”

I learned years ago, while reporting for the Times on the relative risks of trace levels of dioxin and other toxic substances, that data and science fact can prompt excess in the language and behavior of people who have embraced another view, regardless of its pragmatism and reason. At that time the language of grassroots and community environmentalists looked very similar to the heated hate rhetoric of the Posse Comitatus, a racist anti-government right wing group operating in the Great Plains.

The same trend is emerging in Traverse City, where Traverse City Light & Power proposes a renewable energy plan to acquire 30 percent of its power from local renewable resources by 2020. Part of the proposal  — along with purchasing more wind, solar, landfill gas, and dramatically increasing energy efficiency — is to build a state-of-the-art clean renewable 10 mw wood biomass plant. The latter has caused concern among people who believe that burning wood is not a good idea and will harm the forest. Most of the statements, while based largely on emotion, are expressed largely in civil tones.

But the leader of the opposition, a filmmaker in Traverse City named Jeff Gibbs, is making a movie about opposition to wood biomass and has been busy stirring the pot with hyper-heated, bombastic, ego-inflating, Rush Limbaugh like hectoring. The statement above, vintage Gibbs, was made on a public email thread earlier this month.

Full disclosure: I have been helping TCL&P design and execute a public information and engagement program for its 30By20 plan.

Here’s another example, more raw, nastier, from another biomass critic named Sally Neal, who was writing to Steve Smiley, a friend and a clean energy expert who helped TCL&P build the first industrial-scale utility wind turbine in the Midwest in 1996. (see pix above) “Are you now or were you not a paid employee of TCLP?”, writes Neal, “like keith schneider who is paid to SELL TCLP’s biomass to the ignorant masses?………unlike you, schneider is an eco-poseur, and an insult to the community…….i know his whole story, and have had a real closeup look at who he is and how he works, and its not pretty…..in fact, very ugly indeed……….some have characterized him as a whore…will work either side of the street….doesn’t care, as long as he gets paid and told what to say.”

As founder and executive director of the Michigan Land Use Institute I learned that one measure of success in public policy disputes is how badly the other side misbehaves. By that measure, TCL&P’s pursuit of the 30By20 renewable plan and its proposed biomass project is on the right track.

— Keith Schneider