Thursday, October 23, 2014

Into the National Conversation

The other day as my running buddy and I cruised though our usual loop, we wondered aloud if there has been any progress since Hurricane Sandy pummeled the New York area.

We loosely mused that New York is still probably unprepared for another storm surge and rising seas. The city is thinking about preparation and debating preparation, but it's not prepared. We are a species, or at least the American variety, that learns the hard way.

Though we may not be prepared, there has been steady progress, and optimism shines as bright as fall foliage.

It's in the stats that say more Americans than ever believe climate change is a real problem. It's in the 311,000 hearts (by one sound account) beating for action at the recent climate rally. The grand surge of bodies in the city streets, like a river of unstoppable positive energy, won't be forgotten anytime soon.

The optimism even glints from the political rhetoric heating up many states in the mid-term elections. Out of the usually useless hot air a hopeful picture emerges of American politicians finally talking about climate issues.

"Ads mentioning energy, climate change and the environment — over 125,000 spots and climbing on the Senate side — have surged to record levels during the 2014 midterm election cycle," according to the New York Times.

A year ago, it was hard to get anyone to even whisper about such things.

How positive the messages are for a clean energy future depends on where you are and who's talking. In Iowa, 40% of the political ads mentioned clean energy. In Kentucky, it's about loving coal.

But I'll take it. The future of energy is on the board. There have been so many years of squawking about the issue and barely getting an ear even among the most indulgent friends and family. It was those warm, silent smiles that said "no one cares" or "just let her get this out of her system."

And now we finally have sides defined. Far fewer shadows. Much less subterfuge.

"The explosion of energy and environmental megadonors — such as Thomas F. Steyer, a California billionaire and environmental activist on the left, and Charles G. and David H. Koch, billionaire brothers on the right — take sides," according to the Times.

Supporters of fossil fuels and carbon pollution may have more resources and the most powerful industries in the world behind them but clean energy supporters have something better. They know they're fighting the good fight and they intend to win.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Good Fight Continues

In states across the union, Koch Industries and other fossil fuelers actively work against the future of clean energy and support carbon pollution.

"It’s all part of a multibillion-dollar, self-interested scheme by groups including Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council to keep people tethered to old-fashioned energy sources.

The organizations are systematically working in Kansas and other states to attack consumer-friendly laws, often called renewable energy standards," according to the Kansas City Star.

It's more of the same bad deal for America and the world.

The key is to continue to fight the slick PR, the outright untruths, and the general obfuscation at every level.

Record increases in renewable energy usage, improvements in public awareness, and four hundred thousands hearts all beating for change at the recent climate rally are certainly victories. But the war continues.

"Promoters of clean and renewable energy must continue providing the positive facts about solar and wind power," said the Kansas City Star.

Good news is vital. Even the most optimistic person cannot bear only doom and gloom. That said, the urgency around climate change is integral to the message. There is sometimes a fine line between optimism and naivete.

“We’ve watched the summer Arctic disappear and the ocean turn steadily acidic. It’s not just that things are not getting better. They are getting horribly worse. Unlike any other issue we have faced, this one comes with a time limit. If we don’t get it right soon, we’ll never get it right,” said Bill McKibben.

To get it right, the battle against fossil fuelers bent on denying a clean energy future rolls into perceived victories. A coal plant cleaning up its dirty spout by 2030 is not enough. A municipality's goal of 20% renewables in the fuel mix by 2035 falls short.

The time is now -- climate change is happening now, it's not a future event. Otherwise, even small victories are empty.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Daily Necessity

In a recent piece of good news, charges were dropped against two environmental activists who stopped a huge waterborne shipment of coal for a day. They anchored a much smaller boat in its path and refused to move.

Charges were dropped by a sympathetic district attorney. "Climate change is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced," said Sam Sutter, the Bristol County district attorney, according to the New York Times.

Even more provocative and encouraging, the defendants were planning to evoke the necessity defense. It goes like this: They had no choice but to act because the consequences of climate change are so urgent and grim.

It made me think -- I feel like evoking the necessity defense every single day.

Do I think it is necessary to defend the planet because it's the only one we have and it's under siege? Yes and yes.

It's indefensible that we are destroying the planet yet fossil fuel companies have made something harmful -- carbon pollution -- a necessary part of our lives.

There are alternatives, and the challenges to rapid adoption are not technological or economic anymore. The challenges to a clean energy revolution are social and political.

Change scares people and the people who want everyone to remain in the past spend a great deal of money and effort to tap into that fear. That's the social challenge.

Fossil fuel money is deeply embedded in politics. Votes go to the highest bidders and special interest groups pay for ridiculous access and influence. That's the political challenge.

The revolution is coming. It's not a question of if but when. Then why are we still making so much noise? Why not show a little patience, you crazy activists?

Sorry, we don't have enough time.  It's absolutely positively necessary to act now.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Let's Get it Right

“We’ve watched the summer Arctic disappear and the ocean turn steadily acidic. It’s not just that things are not getting better. They are getting horribly worse. Unlike any other issue we have faced, this one comes with a time limit. If we don’t get it right soon, we’ll never get it right,” said Bill McKibben.

Let's make some noise. Hope to see you at the People's Climate March in spirit if not in person.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

It's Always Been About the Pace

Unable to keep pace with dramatic weather changes due to climate change, many species of birds will perish from the earth. Is this a Biblical prediction? No, a scientific one. Unfortunately.

Ever since life arrived, evolution has helped species adapt to changes if given some time, as in millions of years or generations. It is a pretty genius way to ensure the survival of life. Lately, however, time is not on the side of nature.

David Yarnold of the Audubon Society said that birds are resilient, but that climate change will test their limits. In a recent New York Times story he said:

“We just don’t know whether they’ll be able to find the food sources and the habitat and cope with a new range of predators. Maybe they’ll all be incredibly hardy and find ways to survive. That doesn’t seem likely, given, one, the number of birds affected, and two, the pace at which these things are happening.

If this kind of news bums you out, there are things you can do to help birds and other species by slowing, and even stopping, climate change.

Like purchase renewable energy through your utility, drive an electric car, ride a bike, eat local, make your home energy efficient, support divestment from fossil fuel companies, support clean energy legislation and technologies, stay informed, and tell everyone you know that the time is now for the clean energy revolution.

I heartily hope you will try.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Specially Interested in One Thing

The good news is renewable energy continues to be more affordable.

"The price of a solar panel has dropped more than 60 percent since early 2011, and the price of wind power is down by more than 50 percent in the past four years. Approximately 29 percent of the power added in 2013 in the United States was solar energy," according to the Huffington Post.

The bad news is fossil fuel companies and utilities continue to fight the future.

"Edison Electric Institute released a report in January 2013 entitled "Disruptive Challenges" detailing the threat that distributed energy (especially solar) poses to the traditional utility industry business model. The group began taking action on the issue in 2013, pushing to repeal solar policies to protect utilities' financial interests.

The real genius of this attack by special interests is the widespread use of additional front groups to lobby, spread disinformation, and pressure decision makers to eliminate clean energy policies.

The fossil fuel lobby aggressively uses lobbying and propaganda to achieve their goals and self-identified "free market think tanks" are among the most effective advocates for the fossil fuel industry to lobby for policy changes," says Gabe Eisner.

Every small victory, every hurdle they throw into the path of clean, renewable energy makes it that much harder to stop climate disruption. High time to go on the offensive and defend our beautiful planet.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In the Shark's Eye

The first catch and release shark tournament in Montauk, NY last year was a great success. No sharks killed, people happy, prizes awarded, and a number of big sharks tagged and named by schoolkids.

I asked one of the organizers how the 2nd annual Shark's Eye Tournament went this year. He was less enthusiastic. I could almost feel the deflation and helpless anger coming through the email. Many of the sharks caught, released, and tagged last year had been killed, finned by fishermen.

"Of the 4 fitted with satellite-tags last year, the first, Princess, stopped signaling a few months after it was tagged, while the last stopped pinging in June 17. It was out in the Hudson Canyon. It had traveled 11,000 miles. Named April, by the angler Joe Gaviola, after two April’s, one important to him and one important to the event, it either perished, has remained submerged (the tags only transmit when they break the surface), or the battery died. We don’t know.

What we do know is this. Our mako shark Rizzilient was caught and killed by a Portuguese long-liner in the middle of the Atlantic last winter.  And the blue shark Beamer, named by the Montauk School 6th grade class, was caught 3 times by commercial fishermen after last year’s tournament — once off Portland, Maine, once off Norfolk, Virginia (US commercial fishermen immediately released the shark), and finally on a 60-mile fishing line off Costa Rica.

Beamer had traveled 9000 miles. Not edible, the fins on this 200 lb. fish were removed for the Asian market,"  Rav Friedel of Montauk wrote in an email.

They were tracked thousands of miles only to be pulled from the water and all their fins sliced off for someone's -- most likely in Asia -- shark fin soup. It takes about a minute to do it. Inglorious to the point of criminal.

A magnificent fish that lives on the top of the food web and travels great distances, and a species that has survived hundreds of millions of years placed on the brink by mindless human consumption. Tens of millions of sharks are killed each year this way.

Although these handful caught and named and released off beautiful Montauk were closer to my heart -- I wanted them to survive -- I mourn less for one fish and more for a whole planet at the will of a species unaccustomed to thinking about anything but itself.  I'm talking about us. Humans. We create beauty, sure, but often we destroy it.

Many thanks to all the people that worked hard to make the Shark's Eye Tournament happen including Carl Darenberg and Rav Friedel, and to sponsors Dan's Papers, Guy Harvey Foundation, and LandShark.