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Posts tagged with 'bill mckibben'

Weekly Mulch: Chevron Must Pay; GOP Tries to Gut the EPA

Posted Feb 18, 2011 @ 11:53 am by
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By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Chevron's Toxic Legacy in Ecuador's Amazon

An Ecuadorian judge ordered Chevron this week to pay $8.6 billion in damages for polluting the Amazon rainforest from 1964 until 1990. The payout is the second largest ever in an environmental case, with only the damages BP agreed to pay in the wake of last summer’s Deepwater Horizon spill being higher.

Environmental lawyers and advocates hailed the case as a landmark victory, but as Rebecca Tarbotton reports at AlterNet, Chevron is still planning to fight the case.

“In fact, the oil giant has repeatedly refused to pay for a clean up even if ordered to by the court,” she writes. “In one chilling statement, Charles A. James, Chevron’s vice president and general counsel, told law students at UC Berkeley that Chevron would fight ‘until hell freezes over, and then skate on the ice.’”

The Cost of Doing Business

Chevron can continue to fight the case because it’s cheaper for them to fund their lawyers than to cough up billions. Like so many environmental issues, this one comes down to money, which environmentally destructive corporations always seem to have and activists, regulators, and victims simply don’t.

In Washington, the newly empowered Republican Party is doing its darndest to make sure that remains the case. It’s budget season, and the Environmental Protection Agency is one of the prime targets for cutting in Republicans’ budget proposals. Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones that House Republicans are not only trying to take away $3 billion from the agency, but also are pushing to bar the EPA from regulating carbon or other greenhouse gasses. Putting this in context, Sheppard writes:

The National Wildlife Federation says the cuts amount to a “sneak attack” on existing environmental laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, because they would make it basically impossible for the EPA to do its job. The huge cut—the biggest in 30 years—”would jeopardize the water we drink and air we breathe, endangering the health and well-being of all Americans,” Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters, said Monday.

The need for green

But environmentalists have their backers, too. At Grist, Bill McKibben, the author and climate activist who co-founded the climate group 350.org, has an interesting look at how the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign, led by Bruce Nilles, banded together with other environmental activists to successfully shut down proposals for coal-fired power plants across the country. One of the keys, of course, was money:

A consortium of foundations led by the Rockefeller Family Fund helped provide not only resources for the fight but crucial coordination. By the summer of 2005, RFF’s Larry Shapiro, David Wooley from The Energy Foundation, Nilles, and others formed a loosely organized “coal cadre.”

The coordination was crucial not only for the advocacy groups involved, which each have different strengths and geographical bases, but for the money men as well:

“I first went to Florida in 2005 to meet with several groups fighting coal plants,” said Shapiro. “I thought I would figure out who we could give $50,000 to. After my trip, I realized it wasn’t a $50,000 project — it was a million-dollar project. Over time, the Energy Foundation and others got into the game, so we ended up with some real money.”

In the end, McKibben reports, RFF gathered together, from its own pockets and from other foundations, $2.8 million.

Windfall

On top of the type of advocacy work that McKibben details, there’s another reason why more communities and companies are moving away from coal-fired power plants: they have a choice. Plants fueled with natural gas are a popular alternative, but as Gina Marie Cheeseman writes at Care2, in some areas, onshore wind power can compete with coal on costs.

“In some areas of the U.S., Brazil, Mexico and Sweden, the cost of wind power ($68 per megawatt hour) generated electricity is competitive with coal-fired power ($67 a megawatt hour),” Cheeseman writes. Wind power is also, she notes, competitive with natural gas, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Close to home

These sort of adjustments make it easier for consumers to make sustainable choices. And in the end, personal choices do impact the amount of carbon humanity is spewing into the atmosphere. As two recent European studies showed, men make choices that generally produce more carbon emissions than women, Julio Godoy reported for Inter Press Service.

One study focused on France, the other on Germany, Greece, Norway, and Sweden. The second study, conducted by researchers at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, found that men ate more meat, drank more processed beverages, and drove more frequently and for longer distances. Annika Carlsson-Kanyama, one of the study’s authors, has argued that their results apply more broadly, too.

“These differences are not specific to the four countries studied, but are generalised across the European Union and have little to do with the different professional activities of men and women,” she told Godoy.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: For Cancun Climate Summit, Activists Consider the Long View

Posted Nov 12, 2010 @ 11:01 am by
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Flickr, Creative Commons, Greenpeace Finlandby Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

A year ago, it seemed possible—likely, even—that President Barack Obama would sweep into the international negotiations on climate change at Copenhagen and make serious progress on the tangle of issues at stake. The reality was quite different. This year, the expectations for the United Nations Climate Conference in Cancun are less exuberant.

The conference will be held from Nov 29 to Dec 10 and the same issues from 2009 are up for debate. Countries like the United States, Britain, and Germany are still contributing an outsize share of carbon to the atmosphere. Countries like India and China are still rapidly increasing their own carbon output. And countries like Bangladesh, Tuvalu, and Bolivia are still bearing an unfair share of the environmental impacts brought on by climate change.

A very different set of expectations are building in the climate movement this year. If last year was about moving forward as fast as possible, this year, climate activists seem resigned to the idea that politicians just aren’t getting it. Change, when it comes, will have to be be built on a popular movement, not a political negotiation.

Climate change from the bottom up

Last year, climate activists put their faith in international leaders to make progress. This year, they believe that it’s up to them, as outside actors, to marshal a grassroots movement and pressure their leaders towards decreased carbon emissions.

“There’s a recognition that the insider strategy to push from inside the Beltway to impact what will happen in DC, or what will happen in Cancun has really not succeeded,” Rose Braz, climate campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Making Contact’s Andrew Stelzer. “What we’re doing in conjunction with a number of groups across the country and across the world is really build the type of movement that will change what happens in Cancun, what changes what happens in DC from the bottom up.” (This entire episode of Making Contact is dedicated to new approaches to climate change, at Cancun and beyond, and is worth a listen.)

Fighting the indolence of capitalists

Here’s one example of this new strategy: as Zachary Shahan writes at Change.org, La Via Campesina, an international peasant movement, is coordinating a march that will begin in San Luis Potosi, Guadalajara, Acapulco, Oaxaca, and Chiapas, then converge on Cancun. The march will include “thousands of farmers, indigenous people, rural villagers, urbanites, and more,” Shahan reports.

After they arrive in Cancun, the organizers are planning an “Alternative Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice” for the final days of the negotiations, which they say will be a mass mobilisation of peasants, indigenous and social movements. The action extends far beyond Cancun, though. Actually, they are organizing thousands of Cancuns around the world on this day to denounce what they see as false climate solutions.

These actions echo the strategy that environmentalist and author Bill McKibben and other climate leaders are promoting to push for climate change policies in the U.S. All this talk about building momentum from the bottom up, from populations, means that anyone looking for change is now looking years into the future.

The U.S. is not leading the way

Of course, ultimately, politicians will need to agree on a couple of standards. In particular, how much carbon each country should be emitting and how fast each country should power down its current emission levels. The U.S. is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to agreement on these questions, especially due to the recent mid-term elections. As Claudia Salerno, Venezuela’s lead climate change negotiator wrote at AlterNet:

Unlike what many suggest, China is not the problem. China, along with India and others, have made considerable commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are already working to realize them. Other developing countries have done the same, although we only generate a virtual drop in the bucket of global carbon emissions. The key player missing here is the U.S.

China, the U.S. and Clean Coal

The most interesting collaborations on clean energy, however, aren’t happening around the negotiating table. This week, The Atlantic‘s James Fallows wrote a long piece about the work that the U.S. and China are doing together on clean coal technology, the magic cure-all to the world’s energy ills.

In the piece, Fallows recognizes what environmentalists have long argued: coal is bad for the environment and for coal-mining communities. But, unlike clean energy advocates who want to phase coal out of the energy equation, Fallows argues that coal must play a part in the world’s energy future. Therefore, we must find a way to burn it without releasing clouds of carbon into the atmosphere. That’s where clean coal technology comes in. So far, however, researchers have had little luck minimizing coal’s carbon output.

A few progressive writers weighed in on Fallows’ piece: Grist’s David Roberts thought Fallows was too hard on the anti-coal camp, while Campus Progress’ Sara Rubin argued that the piece did a good job of grappling with the reality of clean energy economics. And Mother Jones‘ Kevin Drum had one very clear criticism—that the piece skated over the question of progress on carbon capture, the one real way to dramatically reduce carbon pollution from coal. He wrote:

All the collaboration sounds wonderful, and even a 20% or 30% improvement in coal technology would be welcome. But that said, sequestration is the holy grail and I still don’t know if the Chinese are doing anything more on that front than the rest of us.

On every front, then, the view on climate change is now a long one.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Would You Eat Bugs to Fight Climate Change?

Posted Sep 17, 2010 @ 11:10 am by
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By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Flickr, Michael Sarver, Creative Commons LicenseMaybe it’s time for environmentalists prioritize do-it-yourself climate fixes instead of looking to politicians. There are all sorts of options, including, for those dedicated enough, switching to an insect-based diet, as Change.org reports.

But in the private sector, inventors, corporations, and small businesses — farmers in particular — are finding more palatable ways to scale down their environmental impact. In short, politicians aren’t the only ones with the power to make high-profile statements and strong choices on climate change.

No solar on the White House

Environmental crusader Bill McKibben had already given up on Congress; now the White House has disappointed, too. McKibben and other leaders in the climate change movement are eschewing lobbying on legislation in favor of pushing for more visible, direct action on climate issues. To that end, McKibben, along with three students, asked the White House last week to reinstall one of Jimmy Carter’s solar panels on the roof. The answer was no. (more…)

Weekly Mulch: Want to Combat Climate Change? Ignore Congress.

Posted Sep 10, 2010 @ 10:56 am by
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by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Congress comes back into session next week, but environmentalists and climate change activists have given up on the legislature. Instead, activists are planning to spur popular concern about these issues, until calls for change are so loud that Congress must listen.

Today, climate change reformer Bill McKibben will ask President Obama to reinstall a solar panel that first graced the White House roof during the Carter presidency. In the months to come, advocates hope to lead more radical direct actions that force more Americans to confront the issues at hand—and hopefully pressure change from the bottom up.

For the past two years, Congress has flirted with action on climate change, only to shy away time and time again. Environmental groups have spent record sums on courting lawmakers to no avail. McKibben and other environmental advocates are now convinced that they must bypass elected representatives and instead work to convince constituents that the country must do something to address global warming.

Direct action

McKibben, the environmental author who now leads an international climate campaign called 350.0rg, along with Phil Radford and Becky Tarbotton, both heads of environmental groups, wrote to potential allies against the energy industry in Yes! Magazine.

“We’re not going to beat them by asking nicely,” the three wrote. “We’re going to have to build a movement, a movement much bigger than anything we’ve built before, a movement that can push back against the financial power of Big Oil and Big Coal. That movement is our only real hope, and we need your help to plot its future.”

These three leaders see a greater role for direct action in pushing America to scale down its energy use, move towards renewable energy, and abandon its dirty energy habits. As civil rights and suffrage advocates suggest, to move the populace, ”to effectively communicate both to the general public and to our leaders the urgency of the crisis,” climate activists must “put our bodies on the line.”

Those for who have suggestions on how to move forward can contact these leaders at climate.ideas@gmail.com. They hope to draw on submitted ideas for actions in the spring.

Clean Energy Victory Bonds

Those less inclined to take to the streets still have options for supporting clean energy. The Nation’s Peter Rothberg suggests supporting the idea of Clean Energy Victory Bonds (CEVB), as conceived by the group Green America. This idea requires Congress to pass legislation, but “it seems like a no-brainer,” Rothberg writes.

According to Green America, CEVBs would benefit the economy, the environment, and investors, by uniting individuals, communities, and companies to help finance the rapid deployment of renewable energy projects and energy efficiency upgrades,” he says. Other benefits: it’s a safe and potentially flexible investment, and the bonds could help create 1.7 million jobs.

Easy to ignore climate change

At this point, the push for direct action almost seems like a more sensible investment of political energy, at least. Climate change has dropped in importance for most Americans, so it’s easy for Congress to ignore the problem. As Kevin Drum explains for Mother Jones, “The high-water mark for public opinion on climate change was in 2005 or so, and we’ve been losing ground ever since. Until we get it back, Congress is going to continue to do nothing.”

It appears that, without broad popular pressure for some sort of action, Congress feels comfortable leaving aside even policy proposals that the majority of Americans support. One of the sticking points of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) energy bill has been a renewable energy standard (RES), a requirement that the country will increase the percentage of its power generated from clean energy sources within a certain time frame.

R-e-s-p-e-c-t

The idea is popular, as David Roberts writes at Grist, citing a Pew/National Journal poll showing that 78 percent of all respondents and 70% of Republicans favored an RES.

“Not many policies get this kind of bipartisan support these days,” Roberts writes. “People are fond of saying energy should be a bipartisan issue and surely reasonable people can agree, etc. Well, here it is, happening.”

What’s more, an RES would go a long way towards spurring private sector investment in clean energy. Lew Hay, the CEO of NextEra, a major clean energy company, has said that an RES would spur his company to invest billions of additional dollars in wind and solar development.

East vs. Midwest

Passing an RES would also mean pushing the renewable energy industry to hash out a viable infrastructure for a clean energy future.

“As the nation looks to move to a renewable energy standard, a lot of that really comes down to how to meet the energy needs of the East coast,” Jamie Karnik, the communications manager at a wind advocacy group, told The Washington Independent’s Andrew Restuccia. “Certainly people who are building wind in the Midwest, have their eye on the eastern market.”

The problem is, Restuccia reports, that entrepreneurs on the East Coast want a chance to develop off-shore wind farms. Ultimately, the country will need new electric lines to transport energy created from clean sources, but right now, competition among clean energy manufacturers could delay the construction of those lines.

Maybe climate change activists can come up with some ideas to push the clean energy industry along faster, too.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Cochabamba Summit Offers New Approach to Combating Climate Change

Posted Apr 16, 2010 @ 11:46 am by
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By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Image courtesy of Flickr user swperman under Creative Commons LicenseOn Monday, climate activists, nonprofit leaders, and governmental officials will gather in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to look for new ideas to address climate change. The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, organized by leading social organizations like 350.0rg, “will advocate the right to “live well,” as opposed to the economic principle of uninterrupted growth,” as Inter Press Service explains.  In the absence of real leadership from the world’s governments, the conferees at Cochabamba are looking for solutions “committed to the rights of people and environment.”

The United States certainly isn’t stepping up. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), along with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), were supposed to release their climate legislation next week, just in time for Earth Day. But yesterday the word came down that the release was being pushed back by another week, to April 26. (more…)

Weekly Mulch: No Treaty in Copenhagen?

Posted Nov 20, 2009 @ 12:25 pm by
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By Raquel Brown, Media Consortium Blogger

Last weekend in Singapore, President Barack Obama acknowledged that a comprehensive international climate deal will not be reached during the climate change summit in Copenhagen. While many might view this as a letdown, lowering expectations might actually be a good thing, as Matthew Yglesias notes for the American Prospect. According to Yglesias, the conference can now be framed as a relative success whatever happens, and that will keep the momentum for climate action going after Copenhagen. (more…)