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It's been more than two years since my husband and I installed solar panels on the roof of our home in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. As the months have passed, I've enjoyed watching the ticker continually rise on the amount of solar power our panels have generated. I love knowing that our home is more powered by the sun, and less by dirty coal mined by blowing up the beautiful mountains in Appalachia.
And across the U.S, I'm not alone! Rooftop solar power is expanding exponentially, and the Sierra Club just celebrated our 1,000th solar home as part of our Solar Homes initiative.
The Solar Homes Program is a partnership between the Sierra Club and the country's leading rooftop-solar providers to help members and supporters go solar, save money, and cut climate pollution. Plus, every time a home goes solar, the local Sierra Club chapter receives funds for its important work protecting the environment.
The partnership has been around for two years now and is operating in eight states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York.
Those 1,000 (now 1,027 as of today!) rooftop solar home systems have generated 169,423,388 kilowatt hours of electricity!
This clean energy equals 257,297,124 lbs of carbon avoided; the equivalent of taking 24,314 cars off the road; and is the equivalent of planting 2,998,793 trees.
My colleague Jesse Simons was the major force behind launching our Solar Homes initiative and he's excited to see the success of the program. He utilized the program to put panels on his roof as well.
"It just fits with my job and how I see myself -- I don't want to just advocate for clean energy, I want to make it part of who I am and how I live," says Jesse. "It also saves me $30 every month!"
He says the process was easy and loves that his plug-in hybrid is now powered by those panels as well. "I'm averaging 93 mpg right now and saving nearly $2,000 a year on gas."
Another bonus: the panels are union-made right here in the U.S.
Watching solar power expand so quickly across our country is inspiring, and I'm so happy our Solar Homes initiative is helping that happen. Jesse said it best when he and I were talking recently.
"It's important that people realize we aren't talking about the future - clean energy is here and ready now," says Jesse. "In fact, in 14 states solar is cheaper for many homeowners than dirty fossil fuels from the grid!"
Join us in the solar revolution!
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
This blog post is part of Blog Action Day.
Founded in 2007, Blog Action Day brings together bloggers from
different countries, interests and languages to blog about one important
global topic on the same day. Past topics have included Water, Climate
Change, Poverty, Food and the Power of We, with over 25,000 blogs taking
part since 2007.
This year's theme is human rights. Here's a post from Naomi Broadkey of the Sierra Club Global Population and Environment Program:
Linking Our Inherent Human Rights - From the Air We Breathe to Reproductive Health
For many in the U.S. it may seem like an inherent human right to breathe clean air, drink potable water, and play or garden in toxic-free soil, and why shouldn't it be? But the truth is that both in the U.S. and around the globe, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil we toil is not necessarily safe for us, or good for the future of the planet. Despite laws, international treaties, and promises by governments, all are not ensured equal access to these inalienable, interrelated, and interdependent rights. What's more is that we, humans, might be the very reason why.
While we may also take for granted, especially in developed countries and large metropolitan cities, the existence of the corner pharmacy where we have easy access to over-the-counter medications – including contraceptive methods ranging from condoms to Plan B, over 222 million women in the world are not guaranteed access to the right to reproductive and sexual health.
In the U.S., state by state, we are fighting for access to comprehensive care, including access to safe and legal abortions and affordable contraception. Women (and men!) everywhere have a right to these same services, but because of lack of access, education or power to make decisions about their own reproductive health, are unable to plan and space their pregnancies. This can lead to further resource depletion, social instability and maternal and child mortality and morbidity.
As caregivers and resource-managers, women are also disproportionately impacted by climate change. While it may not seem like an obvious connection, in addition to health and psychological benefits, ensuring women have access to their family planning method of choice also has environmental benefits. According to studies conducted in the past few years, guaranteeing access to voluntary family planning could be "one of the most cost effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050."
Our inalienable, interrelated, and interdependent rights, defined by the United Nations - the right to clean air, water. and soil - are inextricably linked to women's access to comprehensive, voluntary reproductive health care. We must continue to recognize and strive for the protection of all of these inalienable rights. The planet and future generations depend on it.
This blog post is part of Blog Action Day. Founded in 2007, Blog Action Day brings together bloggers from different countries, interests and languages to blog about one important global topic on the same day. Past topics have included Water, Climate Change, Poverty, Food and the Power of We, with over 25,000 blogs taking part since 2007.
This year's theme is human rights. Here's a post from Nicole Ghio of the Sierra Club International Program:
Violence and Intimidation Don't Stop Indian Activists Fighting Deadly Coal Plant
What would you do if a massive coal plant that would poison your air and water broke ground adjacent to your home? What if your neighbors were forcibly removed to make room for the project? What if friends who attempted to protest the plant disappeared mysteriously? And what if this was not a new occurrence, but rather a story that has been repeated again and again for over 50 years? If you live in Singrauli, India, this is your reality, and amazingly, the answer is you would still fight back.
Starting with the construction of the Rihand Dam in the 1960s, and continuing with the opening of numerous, massive coal mines and multi-thousand megawatt coal plants, Singrauli is a sacrifice zone for power and powerful interests. When I visited the district in 2011, I was told no one was an "original" resident - everyone had been forcibly moved, many multiple times, as new projects are developed.
Originally the dam was supposed to bring prosperity and energy to the district, but today it feeds the water hungry coal plants. Nearby residents are supplied with drinking water from the damn, but "the officials themselves say that water is not fit even for taking a bath, and is highly toxic as the waste of most of the power plants in the area mixes with the water," according to Hiralal, one of the community members. And lest there be any doubt about how dangerous coal is, in 2012 pollution from coal-fired power plants caused 100,000 premature deaths in India.
Who is behind the push to exploit Singrauli's resources at the expense of local communities? There is the state owned Coal India Limited, the world's largest coal company, private corporations like Reliance Energy, which benefited from illegal land acquisitions in the coal-gate scandal that rocked India, and the U.S. government, which approved over $900 million in financing for Reliance Energy's 4,000 megawatt Sasan coal-fired power plant and its associated mine.
Lining up against these forces are local residents, tribal leaders, and labor interests, which must contend not only with the loss of their homes, their health, and their livelihoods, but also with government and police forces that operate hand in hand with corporate interests.
Back in 2011, I traveled to Harrahawa, a village with a school and running water whose residents were about to be forcibly displaced to make way for a coal ash pond to hold toxic waste from Sasan. Since then, Reliance has begun destroying their homes without permission or legal authority. As Krishna Das Saha explains, "No notice was given to us before our house was broken down. At night when we were sleeping a huge portion of our house was razed." With no other option, villagers are forced to the rehabilitation colony, where a new school has been built for their children - only the makeshift structure cannot withstand the weather and is not functional.
In some ways Krishna Das Saha was lucky in that he had a title for his land. Members of the Baiga tribe relied on the forest to survive, but they were deemed landless and either received no compensation or very little. At the rehabilitation colony, Baiga families were promised a meager allowance until they were given jobs, which was then cut in half, and then stopped altogether. Without work, tribal members search for manual labor and live on the brink of starvation.
A local labor leader, Sati Prasad Razak of the Sasan Ultra Mega Power Vistaphit Avam Mazdoor Sangh (Union Sasan Ultra Mega Power Affected and Labourers), told me how Reliance refuses to hire local workers, despite this being part of their agreement, due to fears that laborers will organize. It is also easier to cover up accidents and deaths if family members are not nearby, including a smokestack collapse that killed 30 workers.
Sati Prasad also told me about his friend, Sudarshan Rajak, whose house was bulldozed after he protested against Sasan and the forced removals. Sudarshan Rajak was never seen again, and Sati Prasad believed he was inside his home when it was destroyed.
Unfortunately, this story is all too common. After Ramji Bhasod protested against the dumping of waste from the mine in his village, his son Suresh died mysteriously while working as a daily wager at Sasan. Altogether, local residents report there have been over 500 accidents at Sasan.
Despite the violence and intimidation, activists are unwilling to give up. On September 12, Sati Prasad submitted a letter on behalf of the to the District Magistrate asking for documentation of the people who have been affected by Sasan, for permanent jobs for project affected people working on a contract basis, for the payment of back wages owed to local contract workers, and for a halt to construction of a boundary wall until displaced people are adequately compensated. If these minimal demands were not met, he was prepared to lead a mass protest at Sasan's main gates on September 19th.
The response was swift and harsh. On September 18th, Sati Prasad was dragged out of his home on and arrested without a warrant. He describes what happened next:
Projects like Sasan are advertised as a means to address the over 400 million people in India without access to electricity, but the truth is that they serve the wealthy and industrial sector, while leaving the people who need power the most in the dark. As I traveled around Singrauli, despite the tens of thousands of megawatts being generated all around me, I saw that local residents mostly lived in small dwellings without access to electricity. It was more profitable to send the power over huge distances, despite grid losses, to industrial centers than provide energy to the people of Singrauli.
The truth is large, centralized coal projects like Sasan are terrible at addressing energy access. The International Energy Agency (IEA) found that in order to reach 100 percent energy access, half of all energy services must be provided by off-grid clean energy. In fact, when the 2012 blackouts left over 600 million people in India without power, those with access to solar were able to keep the lights on. Meanwhile, the high cost of coal on the international market has caused near financial collapse across the industry in India, pushing plants to the brink of bankruptcy.
The protests lead by Sati Prasad and others in Singrauli are not in vain. A grassroots movement is brewing across India and the globe as communities rise up to protest deadly coal projects.
In Sompeta, India, thousands turned out to oppose a coal-fired power plant, and several villagers lost their lives in clashes with police. But despite the huge odds against the activists, they won an interim halt to the project. Meanwhile, in the last two months Turkish activists celebrated as the courts rejected the Environmental Impact Assessment for a coal plant they have been fighting for two years, and thousands of people in Bangladesh joined a five-day march to protest a coal-fired power in the world's largest mangrove forest.
Despite the violence and intimidation from a foe with seemingly unimaginable wealth and influence, I firmly believe that the Sati Prasad's of the world will eventually win. The documentation of the damage coal does to public health and local economies is too damning, and the demand from communities worldwide to move from dirty coal to clean energy is too great.
Supreme Court Denies Polluters' Challenge to EPA Finding that Greenhouse Gases Endanger Public Health
Today the U.S. Supreme Court denied legal petitions from polluters and states that challenged the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) historic finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare.
This decision leaves no doubt that the EPA has both the authority and the responsibility to set sensible limits on the carbon pollution that is fueling climate change and endangering public health.
While some are saying the ruling is a loss, in reality the court chose only to review whether the Obama Administration's decision to limit vehicle tailpipe pollution also triggered permitting requirements for industrial sources under parts of the act.
The high court left standing EPA's common sense and achievable emission standards for vehicles. The court will focus only on narrow technical questions regarding permits, representing a win for public health.
The victory is that the court will not address the endangerment finding that paved the way for cutting carbon pollution or the vehicle standards themselves.
The EPA's authority and decision to limit carbon pollution to protect public health has been repeatedly challenged by polluters, and the Supreme Court has affirmed EPA's authority multiple times, as it did again this time.
Now the path forward is clear for the Administration to set strong carbon pollution standards for all power plants - the largest domestic source of the carbon pollution that fuels climate change and endangers public health.
Carbon pollution that causes climate change is responsible for increase air pollution that can cause thousands of death every year, yet it remains unchecked. That must change.
According to researchers at Stanford University, unchecked carbon pollution could lead to 21,000 climate change-related deaths. And today, millions of children live in areas that receive an "F" rating for at least one air quality measure, based on the American Lung Association's State of the Air Report. Climate change will only worsen that pollution.
As Michael Brune said, "The President and the EPA have not just the authority, but the responsibility to move forward with bold measures to protect American families from the increasing threat of climate disruption."
-- Joanne Spalding, Sierra Club Managing Attorney
The Florida Chapter's Panther Critical Habitat Campaign is partnering with Preserve our Paradise to stop Big Oil from leaving its dirty footprints all over Golden Gate Estates in Naples, where a Texas-based oil company wants to drill an area just one mile from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and within 1,000 feet of residences.
Grassroots opposition is beginning to grow. Last month, more than 100 people protested at the Naples Pier, erecting a symbolic oil well in front of Governor Rick Scott's beachfront home. The controversy has prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to agree to hold a public hearing later this year.
The battle first began when the Dan A. Hughes Company leased over 100,000 acres at the Naples site and submitted a drilling proposal. To placate the public, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hosted a hearing last month, which ended up being "poorly executed," according to Alexis Meyer, a Sierra Club organizer for the Panther Critical Habitat Campaign.
"No one was able to hear questions or answers, people crowded around tables, officials were unable to answer, and citizens left feeling ignored and frustrated," she said.
Unsurprisingly, the DEP moved ahead and approved the permit request. Despite the proximity of the proposed oil wells to prime panther habitat, "no biological opinions or environmental assessments have been done for this project," said Meyer. "Since this project would affect a federally protected endangered species, there is a concern that these companies are not following proper regulations."
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the oil company's permit request met DEP's criteria even though "none of those requirements involves staying away from where people live." And a specific distance to homes is not mentioned in the rules.
Locals hope federal protections for the panther will give them the leverage they need to fight back since the state agency has done little. The DEP has approved more than 40 oil drilling permits -- while denying none -- over the past five years. Activists think this will be a wake-up call to spark grassroots action and instill a sense of urgency among locals.
"The oil well is only the tip of the iceberg for southwest Florida," said Meyer. "Opening up this site to drilling endangers Florida panthers, the watershed, our aquifers, and violates environmental justice for local residents. It's sets a precedent to open more land for drilling at a time when we should be looking toward clean, sustainable energy alternatives such as wind and solar."
(Photos: Alexis Meyer)
-- Brian Foley
More than 840,000 Americans have been sent home instead of work. National parks and public lands are off-limits to everyone but oil and gas drillers. 9 out of 10 employees at the Environmental Protection Agency have been furloughed. Small business loans are on hold, health and safety inspections are suspended, and our economy is taking a $160 million hit every day - you’d think that we’d be hearing universal condemnation of the ongoing government shutdown.
But some special interests are benefitting from public health and consumer watchdogs being pulled off the beat -- and they don’t even have the sense to keep be quiet about it.
Take Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning, for example. While speaking to Senators at a meeting the day after the government shut down, SNL Energy reported that Fanning couldn’t contain his enthusiasm:
“I was thrilled actually to have this event in this kind of environment."
With clean air cops at the EPA off the beat during the shutdown, big polluters like Fanning may have it easy - there are fewer people watching what his company is dumping into our air and water. For the rest of us, its not so thrilling.
But Fanning’s not alone. Indeed, Michael Needham - chief executive of the right-wing Heritage Action political organization-- sang the shutdown’s praises. Amid news that Heritage Action took $500,000 from the oil-rich Koch Brothers, Needham lauded the shuttering of two government agencies that have been the target of both Heritage and Koch smear campaigns, declaring he’d love to see them closed until the extremely unlikely defunding of the Affordable Care Act -- in other words, indefinitely:
“If we want to sit in a government shutdown for the next several weeks over the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] and EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] being shut down, I’m perfectly happy to sit in that situation until President Obama stops this unaffordable and unfair law.”
Its not just a clear example of the destructive goals of big polluters and their political allies - its more proof that the big money groups targeting the EPA’s clean air, water and climate protections are the same ones attacking the NLRB’s laws protecting American workers. And they aren’t just trying to contaminate our planet and our workplaces - they are trying to contaminate our democracy.
Fanning and Southern Company dumped more than $17 million worth of campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures into our system in 2012. And using mouthpieces like Heritage Action, the Kochs spent upwards of $400 million trying to push their reckless agenda. And, in recent weeks, Heritage has used some of that largesse to emerge as one of the major forces behind the shutdown.
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said it best: “We didn't reach this nadir in our democracy by accident. It's the result of a systematic attack on the basic democratic principles of justice and equality by a handful of people who have no interest in a healthy, functioning democracy.”
The reality is as more money has poured into our system, we’ve seen many of our elected officials turn from addressing solutions to creating crises, like this shutdown. At the same time, we’ve seen more attacks on our air and water, on our workers, and on our democracy. It’s critical that those of us who want to protect those things stand together. It should be more clear than ever that we have common enemies -- and the only way we can beat them is to recognize that we have common goals.
This is exactly why the Democracy Initiative was founded. A collaborative effort convened by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the NAACP, and the Communications Workers of America, we are working to bring together labor, civil rights, voting rights, environmental, good government and other like-minded grassroots organizations with broad memberships to build a movement that will halt the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, stop the suppression of voters, and commit to restoring the basic principals of our democracy.
Its a collaboration that is critical given the events of the last few weeks. At a time when some are applauding a shutdown, it is more important than ever that we stand up, and fight back.--Courtney Hight, Director of Sierra Club's Democracy Programs
Today, the Sierra Club and a growing coalition of over 100 allies announced the retirement of the nation's 150th coal plant. This is a huge milestone in the ongoing campaign to move the country beyond coal by 2030.
Meet retiring coal plant #150: Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts. It's a massive 1,500 megawatt plant that is the largest remaining coal plant in New England, and it's one of the biggest polluters in the state. We can breathe easier knowing that yet another dirty coal plant will retire its massive air pollution.
According to the Clean Air Task Force, retiring these 150 coal plants will help to save 4,000 lives, prevent 6,200 heart attacks and prevent 66,300 asthma attacks every year. Those are parents who won't have to watch their children suffer an asthma attack and miss school. Those are kids who won't have to see their parents or grandparents suffer heart or breathing problems. Retiring these plants will also avoid $1.9 billion in health costs.
I'm especially proud of and inspired by the many volunteers who worked so long to fight this coal plant and stop it from fouling their community's air and water. The Sierra Club had long been focusing on this plant with a coalition of allies, including the Coalition for Clean Air South Coast. That campaign included a relentless effort to focus on the pollution from this massive plant, and to push hard for wind, solar, and energy efficiency to replace it.
These partner organizations and state leaders are another example of how town by town, neighborhood by neighborhood, we are moving beyond coal. As Somerset resident Pauline Rodrigues put it, "We're excited to know that soon this plant will no longer be a source of dangerous pollution that puts my grandkids' health at risk when they play outside on a sunny summer day. Somerset needs all the help we can get to work towards a new, healthy and thriving economy. Now that the writing is on the wall, I hope we can all work together for a positive future for Somerset."
Now, we can all celebrate this step in the right direction for public and environmental health. Check out this inspiring new video from Nico Vega, a new acoustic rendition of their amazing "Protest Song" that they recorded for Beyond Coal, which we're releasing today to spread the word and mark the moment.
"Our coalition of environmental, conservation, public health and civil rights groups has achieved a milestone that few thought possible," says my colleague Verena Owen, a veteran volunteer leader who co-leads the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.
"In 2010, analysts expected about 30,000 megawatts of coal would retire over the next decade. But in less than three years the campaign has nearly doubled these predictions, securing the retirement of more than 60,000 megawatts, more than one quarter of all coal plants in the country."
Verena's right: Through grassroots activism and the power of passionate Americans across the country, we are telling the dirty, outdated and deadly coal industry that enough is enough.
This milestone comes only a year-and-a-half after we hit the 100th retirement, the notorious Crawford coal plant in Chicago. The momentum continues to increase as Americans see that coal is fading as a part of the nation's energy mix.
Now we must ensure that the transition from coal to clean energy happens in a way that protects workers and communities. We've seen it happen before - from the Pacific Northwest to the Tennessee Valley. We call on Brayton Point's owners, Energy Capital Partners, to structure the retirement of this plant in a way that takes care of the workers and the community. We also call on Governor Deval Patrick and the legislature to pass the Clean Energy Commonwealth Bill (HB 2935), which would create a community empowerment fund to assist communities and workers by protecting the local tax base and providing worker assistance and retraining opportunities when a coal plant retires.
Nationwide the coal industry is facing mounting challenges - rising coal costs, falling clean energy prices, a motivated grassroots coalition of organizers working to move the nation off coal, and the growing national demand to tackle climate-disrupting carbon pollution from coal plants. As we learned in the latest report from the world's climate scientists, released just two weeks ago, our window to turn the corner on climate disruption is closing fast. But we still have a chance.
Here's the really good news - as these coal plants retire, we're seeing more and more clean energy brought online. Today, the United States has more than 60,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity, enough to power the equivalent of 15 million American homes.
Utilities and energy companies are realizing that coal is an increasingly bad investment - that was definitely the case with Brayton Point, which had just been purchased by new owners who quickly determined that keeping the plant running didn't make economic sense. And as they connect those dots, they are transitioning their resources to cleaner, renewable sources of energy like wind and solar. In fact, the state of Texas produces so much wind energy, that if Texas were a country, it would be the world's sixth ranking wind energy producer. Meanwhile, states across the country are already being powered by renewable energy. In 2012, Iowa and South Dakota received more than 20 percent of their energy from wind, and nine states produced more than 10 percent of their electricity from wind energy.
What's more, this month the U.S. joined three other countries with more than 10,000 megawatts of installed solar capacity. This growth in clean energy has helped to create more jobs across the country. Clean energy industries now employ nearly 200,000 Americans.
This is an important milestone for public health and the planet, so let's take a moment to take it in. Then it's time to get back to work building a clean energy economy that will create jobs and protect our health.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director
The world of international energy financing has become a bit stranger lately. While the World Bank came out with a new energy strategy that will end funding for coal plants except in rare circumstances, the draft language for a new energy strategy at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) would allow retrofits to dirty, existing facilities, which could allow some of the most deadly plants to continue operating for decades to come. You might imagine, then, that the World Bank is actively supporting sustainable energy in Kosovo while EBRD pushes fossil fuels, but in fact the reverse is true.
Despite its new energy strategy and President Dr. Jim Yong Kim's urgent calls for the world to act on climate change, the World Bank continues to press forward with a new coal-fired power plant in Kosovo, even though there is strong grassroots opposition to the project and studies have shown the county's energy needs can be meet through clean technology that will cost less and create more jobs. Meanwhile, although it may still consider supporting coal in Kosovo, the EBRD announced new sustainable energy investments in the country last week, the exact type of initiative the World Bank should promote under its more robust energy strategy.
The World Bank argues that the new plant will be cleaner than existing coal-fired power plants, which kill 835 people in Kosovo every year, but even this is a distortion of the truth. Unfortunately, it's not the statistic about the number of deaths that is being distorted, but rather the idea that the proposed plant will be "clean." In fact, the new plant will not even employ the best available technology to reduce deadly pollution.
The tide is turning against coal. As health effects are more widely known and as grassroots opposition grows, as clean technology becomes cheaper and the forecast for coal in international markets becomes bleaker, large financial institutions are turning away from the dirty fuel in droves. In June, President Obama announced an end to financing for coal plants overseas with public funds, a move that has already spurred the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) to reject a dirty coal plant in Vietnam, possibly signaling an end to the institution's fossil fuel binge. The Nordic countries then endorsed the plan, putting further pressure on Export Credit Agencies to follow Ex-Im's lead and cutoff support for coal. And the private sector is taking notice too. HSBC, Citi, and Goldman Sachs have all sounded the alarm on the dwindling prospects for coal and fossil fuels.
In this environment, there is no excuse for the World Bank or EBRD to leave loopholes open or make half promises. Both institutions must commit to strong policies that end support for dirty coal projects, and then they must fully implement these policies to protect public health and ensure that funding goes to clean energy projects that power local communities without the deadly pollution that accompanies coal.
-- Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International and Trade Representative
India's current account deficit (CAD) crisis is generating high level calls to unleash solar as a solution. (CADs cccur when a country's total imports of goods, services and transfers is greater than the country's total export of goods, services and transfers.) This situation makes a country a net debtor to the rest of the world.While the National Solar Missions goal of 20 gigawatts of solar by 2022 grabs all the headlines, a lesser known target holds the real impact.
The mission has a goal of deploying 20 million systems to serve 100 million people by 2022 – roughly one-third of all un-electrified people in India. This off-grid market already accounts for roughly one-third of solar manufacturing demand in India but is held back by another drain on the country's resources - kerosene subsidies. As India looks for solutions to the CAD crisis, including reducing foreign oil imports, kerosene subsidies should be on the chopping block.
To look for a good reason why India should deal with these subsidies, it need look no further than neighboring Bangladesh. The country is an off-grid solar pioneer that is rapidly redefining energy access.
When the Bangladesh solar program was instituted in 2003, its original goal was 50,000 systems by 2008. They reached that target three years ahead of schedule with $2 million less than they projected. Now after easily surpassing one million solar home system deployments last year the country is projected to ramp up to 4.2 million by 2014 (as of January 2013 they were halfway there). That's 25percent of all off-grid households, that's scale, and that's why small is big.
The same excellent Lighting Asia report where this data can be found paints a very different picture for India. By 2011 India had only installed one million solar home systems. This in a country with a population eight times the size of Bangladesh means it had only reached roughly four percent of the off-grid population. Even Nepal has reached 10 percent of its off-grid population with solar.
So what gives? Why is India doing such a poor job compared to its neighbors?
There are a lot of answers to this question but the most timely for Indian policy makers is the subsidies it doles out to kerosene. Bangladesh (and Nepal) doesn't subsidize kerosene; India does - obscenely. As a result it is the dominant fossil fuel in rural India and the poor pay a huge amount to use it - $2.2 billion annually according to Lighting Asia.
But it's not just people who pay dearly for this dirty fossil fuel - the Indian government pays $4 billion every year to support kerosene, half of which subsidizes lighting services. That's a giant albatross on the increasingly shaky finances of the Indian government.
The good news is there are ways to end kerosene subsidies that won't harm the poor. From Michael Liebreich's sunset credits to direct cash transfers, smart people have been looking at tackling this problem for a while.
Now the Indian government looks to be moving forward on the latter with a trial run under way in Mysore as we speak. A move that is followed closely by the Parikh commission, which although delayed, is set to lower subsidies in a month's time (and in so doing save 10 percent of the entire subsidy bill the government incurred last year).
Once these subsidies are removed, or redirected, the economics of solar will be unleashed for a much deeper strata of the population. It also means the poor will have the choice to spend their money on far superior and cleaner lighting products that aren't forced to compete with a heavily subsidized, and heavily polluting, alternative. It's cliché but it's really win-win.
The best part is that removing these subsidies does not imply simply shifting subsidies to solar. In Bangladesh they have steadily ratcheted down the end-user subsidy (with the invaluable help of consumer finance) while growth has skyrocketed. In fact, they now believe they could remove the subsidy entirely and not affect market growth. It's worth saying that again: off-grid solar in Bangladesh no longer requires subsidies to maintain dramatic growth rates.
Of course, any number of other things is needed in addition to dealing with kerosene subsidies to move India's off-grid solar policy towards a place where it actually drives deployment rather than scares entrepreneurs off. From avoiding technology specifications, to providing consumer finance, to streamlining processes for distributing subsidies, the solar mission has a ways to go (For an excellent set of ground truthed suggestions check out SELCO's policy paper on the National Solar Mission here).
But a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. It's time to use the CAD crisis as an opportunity to move beyond kerosene subsidies. It would be a first, and much needed step, towards letting the sun shine on rural India.
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International
Just one week after a report from Oil Change International revealed how the World Bank Group's International Finance Corporation (IFC) is circumventing the prohibitions on funding for coal plants in the new energy strategy by using development policy loans and financial intermediaries to finance over 40 coal projects in Indonesia, Japan's Electric Power Development Co. (J-Power) announced new delays in securing the $4 billion it needs to construct the IFC-supported 2,000-megawatt Central Java coal-fired power plant. The Central Java plant exemplifies almost everything that is wrong with massive coal projects, and the fact that these issues are forcing repeated delays puts new pressure on the World Bank to close the loopholes that allowed the IFC to provide a $33.9 million guarantee for the project.
Aside from forcing people from their homes, massive coal-fired power plants like Central Java pose an immediate threat to nearby communities that will be forced to live with contaminated air and water. It is for this reason that more than 7,000 local residents are strongly opposed to the project, with many citing the environmental impact of the plant as their reason for refusing to sell their land. And despite the massive financial interests behind the project, activists are winning very real victories. Construction was supposed to begin in October of 2012, but with 2014 just around the corner, J-Power's inability to secure land and issues around environmental assessments have effectively stopped the project in its tracks.
Perhaps most vexing, though, is that the IFC not only continues to support projects like Central Java over protests from impacted communities and clear impacts on public health and the environment, but they continue to claim these projects will help address the very real problem of access to electricity. But the International Energy Agency has shown that over half of energy services must be provided by clean, off-grid renewables if we are ever going to reach 100 percent energy access. Too often local communities are forced to contend with all of the devastating effects of coal-fired power plants, while transmission lines carry the energy to industries that can afford to pay more for electricity.
The Sierra Club celebrated the directive to end funding for coal plants in the World Bank's energy strategy as a testament both to President Dr. Jim Yong Kim's leadership as a public health advocate and in the fight against climate disruption, as well as President Obama's commitment enforce his Climate Action Plan, which calls for an end to financing for oversees coal with public funds. However, without strong implementation, the energy strategy and the Climate Action Plan are just words. Now is the time to close the loopholes and end support for dangerous and financially risky projects like the Central Java coal plant.
-- Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International and Trade Representative
Of all the avoidable consequences of the government shutdown -- a ruined wedding, a stranded T-Rex, and so many more -- this one might be the most absurd. On Wednesday, as the government moved into its second day of shutdown, Republican Representative Randy Neugebauer (TX) - who was among those in Congress who refused to vote for routine legislation that would keep our government open -- publicly demanded a Park Ranger apologize for the impossible circumstances of the shutdown as she tried to do her job at the World War II memorial. You read that right -- a Republican Congressman who voted for the shutdown demanded a Park Ranger apologize for it.
You can see the video captured by NBC Washington and reported by Gawker here.
The memorial, along with all other memorials and national parks, was closed to the public because of the government shutdown that House Republicans like Neugebauer forced. After they refused to pass routine legislation to fund the government without toxic political riders, government functions deemed “non-essential” shut down Tuesday.
Even though the memorial is officially closed to the public, Park Service rangers have been allowing World War II vets to enter the memorial. But the rangers haven’t allowed the rest of the public to enter the space. And even though he is part of the reason the facility is closed in the first place, Neugebauer decided to open his mouth and make a scene about the situation.
Its a shameful example of politics at its worst: one of the legislators who forced the shutdown to occur trying to pass the blame onto the people who his actions directly impacted. And Neugebauer admitted in an interview on Tuesday that he wants to continue the shutdown “as long as it takes” to extract toxic political concessions.
It’s easy for him to say.Neugebauer is one of the few who can still collect a paycheck from the federal government - unlike hundreds of thousands of Americans who have been furloughed, sent home from their jobs without pay - including 9 out of 10 employees at the Environmental Protection Agency. Meanwhile, everything from Head Start programs to critical research facilities to firefighting capacity to our parks, forests, and refuges are crippled by his inaction.
When Neugebauer starts looking around for people who need to apologize, the first place he should go is to a mirror.
--Athan Manuel, Director, Sierra Club Lands Protection Program
Last month, historic flooding slammed Colorado, and the effects and loss are still being felt. The unprecedented disaster has displaced thousands of families, and several people have been killed or remain missing. It has triggered over a dozen oil and fracking spills throughout the state. And some places will remain "unlivable" for months.
As communities continue to pick up the pieces, several groups, including the Sierra Club, will be hosting "Colorado Flood Recovery Weekend" this weekend across the state, marking an opportunity for volunteers and communities to offer a hand during this time of crisis.
Colorado Flood Recovery Weekend events will be taking place in Boulder, Longmont, Lyons, and Greely, among some of the hardest hit places. Volunteers will be asked to assist with clean-up efforts in homes and parks Saturday and Sunday morning. The weekend will then close with a volunteer appreciation event featuring music, food, and speakers. Featured speakers will discuss the importance of taking direct action both locally to help our neighbors and nationally with supporting measures to combat climate disruption, such as the new Environmental Protection Agency's recently announced carbon pollution regulations. Click here to RSVP.
The coalition includes Mudslingers, Boulder Flood Relief, Habitat for Humanity, Samaritan's Purse, Rocky Mountain Christian Church, and the cities of Boulder and Longmont. We are proud to be a part of this effort. Click here to get involved and support the flood recovery effort.
-- Bryce Carter, Sierra Club Associate Organizing Representative for Beyond Coal, Colorado
If you're like me, you're looking for some positive news as the government shutdown and stalemate continues to affect millions of Americans. Let me help - check out the inspiring students of the University of North Carolina Beyond Coal team.
Recently, after two years of pressure, the UNC Board of Trustees' Finance and Infrastructure Committee agreed to meet with these hard-working students to discuss moving the school's $2.1 billion endowment out of the coal industry and into clean energy (that's them at the meeting above).
By the time October 25th arrived, the buzz around this meeting had reached a peak online, in the media and on campus. That day's edition of the on campus newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, featured UNC Beyond Coal in three separate places.
And at a large rally before the meeting organized by UNC Beyond Coal and other student organizations, thanks to live tweeting and facebook posts all morning by UNC Beyond Coal members, the Mayor of Carrboro (which borders Chapel Hill) showed up and spoke about the importance of coal divestment.
During the Finance and Infrastructure committee meeting, the board members said they were open to further discussions about divestment. "We can be committed with the University to not table this and continue the discussion," said Steve Lerner, chair of the Finance and Infrastructure committee.
That's a big move for the board, which had for two years refused to meet with students about this issue. Some members of the Board have seen and heard from UNC Beyond Coal Students have held rallies and meetings calling for the campus to move beyond coal and divest, and a remarkable 77 percent of the student body voted in favor of coal divestment at the end of last year.
"This meeting marks a pivotal moment for our campaign and for the University," said Jasmine Ruddy, grassroots coordinator of the Sierra Student Coalition's UNC Beyond Coal campaign. "The Board is finally considering student voices and laying the groundwork for the University to become a leader in smart investments that create a clean, safe future for me and my fellow graduates."
The continued tenacity and strategic organizing of UNC Beyond Coal is an inspiration - UNC-Chapel Hill was one of the first colleges to launch the divestment movement in 2011 after student-led organizing secured a retirement date for the on campus coal boiler. Now there are more than 300 campuses calling for divestment nationwide, and students aren't waiting around to be led:
"This movement is happening whether UNC wants it or not," said UNC student Jasmine Ruddy. "The question is not 'if,' but 'when' do we want to be a leader."
Young people like those at UNC are at the forefront of ensuring campuses and communities are sustainable, reducing our carbon footprint, and divesting from fossil fuels. On October 18 - 21, thousands of young people from all across the country, will join together at the annual Power Shift conference to call on campuses, communities, elected officials and corporations to take action on climate. Click here for more information on Power Shift.
With student support, the Administration at UNC Chapel Hill has made tremendous strides on the issue of coal on campus, and I look forward to UNC leading yet again for schools in the south and state institutions nationwide by divesting from coal.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
A child swings with a fracking rig in sight.
This week, an electronic copy of a quietly filed lawsuit was unearthed, exposing the fact that oil and gas company Lone Pine Resources is moving forward with a $250-million North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) lawsuit against Canada. Why is Lone Pine suing Canada? For the “arbitrary, capricious, and illegal revocation of the Enterprise’s valuable right to mine for oil and gas under [Quebec’s] Saint Lawrence River.” Lone Pine is suing Canada over Quebec’s timeout on fracking. (I wrote about this when Lone Pine filed its intent-to-sue notice last year.)
It sounds impossible to believe, but it’s true. NAFTA’s chapter on investment gives foreign corporations the right to sue a government over laws and policies that corporations allege reduce their profits or, in Lone Pine’s words, reduce the “expectation of a stable business and legal environment.” When a new policy or regulation is put in place that a corporation doesn’t like, it can bring the government to a private trade tribunal where the case will get heard by three private sector attorneys, behind closed doors, for taxpayer compensation.
Lone Pine is suing the government of Canada for $250 million dollars, claiming that the moratorium on fracking, put in place by Quebec’s provincial government, was a violation of its “right to mine.” As if a quarter of a billion dollars wasn’t enough, Lone Pine is also asking to be paid for the full costs associated with any arbitration proceedings, including all professional and legal fees and disbursements; interest at a rate to be fixed by the tribunal; and – why not? – “further relief as an arbitral tribunal may deem just and appropriate.” This is all so that Lone Pine can be compensated for a policy put in place to protect communities and the environment.
Let’s take a look at what Lone Pine is claiming, specifically, in its notice of arbitration.
1. Lone Pine “submits this arbitration on behalf of the Enterprise…for the arbitrary, capricious, and illegal revocation of the Enterprise’s valuable right to mine for oil and gas under the St. Lawrence River by the Government of Quebec without due process, without compensation, and with no cognizable public purposes.” (I never knew there was a right to mine!)
2. Lone Pine is upset that “suddenly, and without any prior consultation or notice, the Government of Quebec introduced Bill 18 into the Quebec National Assembly on May 12th, 2011 to revoke all permits pertaining to oil and gas resources beneath the St. Lawrence River without a penny of compensation.” (How dare a government do its job!)
3. Lone Pine claims that enacting the legislation constituted an expropriation of its right to mine for oil and gas, which is unlawful because “there no valid public purpose to the moratorium” (umm?) and the Bill was introduced “without any notice or consultation with Lone Pine or the Enterprise,” and was supposedly “rushed through the parliamentary process. . . without any meaningful consultation with Lone Pine.”
4. Finally, Lone Pine claims, the moratorium on fracking violated the provision of NAFTA’s investment chapter that offers investors a “minimum standard of treatment” and “fair and equitable treatment.” To Lone Pine, fair and equitable treatment means that a government can never pass a new law or policy, since it is claiming that “the Act violated Lone Pine’s legitimate expectation of a stable business and legal environment.” (What about my legitimate expectation that my air and water won’t be contaminated?)
If all this isn’t crazy enough, here is the real kicker. Cases like this one are proliferating under free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties. In fact, Exxon Mobil, Dow Chemical, Chevron, and others have filed more than 500 cases against more than 90 governments. And that pattern is likely to continue. Governments—including the US government—are actively engaged in expanding the very rules that led to this harmful case. Investment rules very similar to the ones in NAFTA are set to be included in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, and may also be included in the U.S.-EU trade pact.
Enough is enough. It’s time that governments stop signing trade and investment pacts that put the rights of corporations above the rights of communities and the environment. My right to clean water, clean air, and a healthy planet for my family and community has to come before Lone Pine’s right to mine and profit. Doesn’t it?
--Ilana Solomon, Director, Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program
It's finally fall in Delaware, the air feels fresh and crisp and we have left behind the bad air quality days of summer. Thankfully, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) is moving forward with clean car standards that can help us make code red days a thing of the past. Last week, at a public hearing in Dover, Sierra Club delivered the message that DNREC must finalize these clean car standards as soon as possible.
Cars and trucks remain the leading source of smog-forming pollution in Delaware, contributing to health-threatening high ozone days. In a recent report, the American Lung Association awarded air quality in Delaware's three counties two F's (New Castle and Sussex) and one D (Kent) due to the frequency of high ozone days. The proposed standards will reduce smog-forming pollution from our passenger cars and trucks by 75%, preventing premature death, reducing asthma attacks, and giving Delawareans cleaner air to breathe.
At the same time, DNREC is proposing to move forward with an incentive program to increase the number of electric vehicles within the state. While this is a strong step forward, DNREC must work with stakeholders to ensure that the public has a voice in how such an incentive program is structured.
To put a serious dent in our dependence on oil and significantly reduce tailpipe pollution, Delaware must move forward with the process of adopting the state-level Zero Emission Vehicle program as soon as possible. This program would set a clear goal for the adoption of plug-in electric vehicles within the state and ensure that Delaware consumers have cleaner choices at the showroom.
DNREC is accepting public comments on its proposal to reduce air pollution with clean car standards. I urge you to send the department a quick email and tell them to finalize clean car standards as soon as possible. With your help, we can put bad air quality days in the past.
-- Stephanie Herron, Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator, Sierra Club Delaware
Last week, thousands of Bangladeshis completed a nearly 250-mile, 5-day march from the capital city, Dhaka, to Rampal, in the Sundarbans area of southwest Bangladesh and home to the world’s largest mangrove forest. The participants -- men and women, students and professionals -- joined this massive undertaking with one unifying goal: to stop the 1,320-megawatt Rampal coal-fired power plant backed by the Indian state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and the Bangladesh state-owned Power Development Board (PDB).
Home to rich biodiversity, including the planet’s largest mangrove forest, the endangered royal Bengal tigers, and nearly extinct Irrawaddy dolphins, the Sundarbans was a finalist for the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and remains a UNESCO World Heritage site. But it is also so much more. The marchers know that toxic pollution from the plant will not only endanger this rich biodiversity, but also people who breathe the same air and drink the same water. The destruction of mangrove forests will devastate the local economy, costing nearly $7 billion (5.4 trillion taka), according to Professor Anu Muhammad, Secretary Chair of National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports.
Moreover, Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable nations to climate disruption in the world, and the mangrove forests are one of the only protections people have against powerful storms and rising sea levels. As Professor Muhammad explains, “no people can replicate the power that the Sundarbans possess. Sunderban has played a powerful role over the years to protect Bangladeshi people during cyclones like Sidr and Aila. There are many alternatives for producing electricity but there are no alternatives to the Sundarbans. We can produce more and cheaper electricity using renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power. But instead we have arranged for the destruction of the Sundarbans for the sake of only 1,320 megawatts of energy.”
In fact, the very idea that people must choose between electricity and the environment is a false dichotomy. Centralized coal projects are actually very bad at reaching rural communities without electricity, and the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that if we are ever going to reach 100-percent energy access, more than half of services must be provided by clean, off-grid power. And the march in Bangladesh is not happening in a vacuum. People across the world are joining together to fight deadly coal projects and demand the clean energy alternatives they need to power the future.
The people of Bangladesh know that their health and well-being is intrinsically linked to the environment, and if the Rampal coal plant goes forward, it will not only poison the Sundarbans, it will poison the people and put their country’s future in danger. When clean renewable alternatives are readily available, it’s time to get on the right track.
--Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International Climate Program Representative
Were you one of the more than 35,000 people who attended electric vehicle (EV) promotion events in 98 cities this past weekend? Thanks to the third annual National Plug In Day, organized by the Sierra Club, Plug In America, the Electric Auto Association, and many local groups, the EV-curious got to learn what all the fuss is about when it comes to electric vehicles.
The future is here is what folks got to see up close: EVs are more fun to drive, cheaper to fuel, and cleaner to operate than conventional gas guzzlers.
California Governor Jerry Brown proclaimed Saturday Plug In Day and signed several EV bills into law, including those which:
- Fund programs supporting cleaner vehicle purchases (SB 359)
- Extend programs aimed at reducing state auto emissions (AB 8)
- Renew both the white and green sticker programs--which enabled plug in vehicles to drive in HOV lanes (AB 266)(SB 286)
- Established the Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Open Access Act, which seeks to make plug-in charging stations more accessible (SB 454)
- Requires the California Building Standards Commission and the Department of Housing and Community Development to establish standards for plug-in charging infrastructure in both multi-family housing and non-residential developments (AB 1092).
Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee proclaimed it Plug In weekend and celebrated the 50 recent installations of public EV chargers in his small state alone. At the Burlington event, the Vermont state government announced new financial incentives for EV charging infrastructure.
Getting "butts in cars" is what many EV advocates say is the best way to get people excited about switching to electric. According to reports by local organizers, more than 2,000 test-drives took place at events Plug In Day events nationwide, including 300 at the Sacramento event alone. In Diamond Bar, CA, the EV drivers who came to show off their plug-in vehicles added up 448, 893 "oil-free miles" among them, and the Herdon, VA event participants beat them with their combined 528,699 oil-free miles and counting.
There were Plug In Day proclamations in many cities, including Madison, WI, Carmel, IN, Huntsville, AL, Waldorf, MD, San Rafael and San Diego, CA, Putnam, CT, and Sarasota, FL. Speed enthusiasts got to see stock car racer Leilani Münter showcase her Tesla Model S at Charlotte, NC’s Plug In Day event held in conjunction with Octoberfest.
People aren't waiting until next year’s Plug In Day to continue EV test drives and purchases. This week alone, individuals, businesses, and government agencies are test driving EVs and other alternative fuel vehicles at the Plug In 2013 conference in San Diego and at the Green Fleets conference in Phoenix –where I got a chance to drive for the first time the Chevy Spark EV, the Hyundai Tucson hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, and the Ford Fusion plug-in hybrid. I was pleased to see the all-electric Zenith electric cargo and shuttle vans as well.
What is so exciting about Plug In Day is that it generates just the right kind of action that will boost the EV market: media attention (we got A LOT this year), government attention and investment in EV programs, business opportunities to show off cutting-edge technologies, and the chance for individual consumers to see up close these exciting vehicles driven by their friends and neighbors.
(Top Albany photo by Patrick Brisson; middle photo from Huntsville, TN, courtesy of Tennessee Valley EV Drivers; bottom photo of Frenchtown, NJ, Mayor Warren Cooper taken by J. Isaacs/Bucks County Renewables.)
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club's Director of Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative
Big polluters are high-fiving today as Ron Binz announced he is withdrawing his name for consideration to chair the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The coal industry and their pals in Congress launched a tremendous smear campaign against Binz's nomination because of his legacy in supporting clean energy when he was head of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. Today, Binz told Politico that his experience should be a warning: "I think the implications of this fight are something worth pondering. If this kind of handling of a nomination becomes…the new normal, that's going to make it a lot more difficult for good energy policy to grow," he said.
The career energy regulator and consultant said his record was "spun and respun" in an effort to show he was biased against coal and unfairly in favor of renewable power sources.
"The caricature that they created had nothing to do with who I am and nothing to do with what I might've brought to FERC. It was just a blood sport," he said.
In September, Binz appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee where he was slammed by Congressional friends of big polluters for his "anti-coal" clean energy policies. Binz's record shows innovative achievement in boosting job-creating cleanenergy usage while saving consumers money on their electric bills.
"Let's be honest. Big polluters and their allies in the Senate would not be satisfied unless we had a coal or oil executive leading FERC. That's not going to happen," said Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director. "He is the kind of leader Americans need -- and, by consequence, he is exactly the kind of FERC Chairman big polluters don't want."
And so the gridlock in Congress continues, again in the form of blocking champions for clean energy, public health, and the environment. Of course, this isn't the first time this has happened. Gina McCarthy worked for both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, but still faced never-before-seen delays in her confirmation to be EPA Administrator. Our federal courthouses have vacancies on the bench as judges - like those for DC's Circuit court - are being blocked for purely political reasons. Key officials at the EPA have even been blocked for years on end.
The fact is that polluters and their political allies have resorted to unprecedented obstruction, abusing the rules of the Senate to stop any progress on the clean energy programs and jobs that they oppose tooth and nail. Until we fix the Senate and its outdated rules, big polluters and the politicians who blindly push their agenda will do everything possible to cling to their old way of fossil fuel pollution. These tactics have not only derailed the Senate and disgusted American voters -- they've also demonstrate that too many of our elected officials in Congress put special interests groups' priorities over the business of American families.
--Courtney Hight, Director of Sierra Club Democracy Programs
Beginning October 4, PBS will air a special conversation between two of the people I admire most in the world - Kentucky farmer and author Wendell Berry, and journalist Bill Moyers. Among many other topics, these two giants of American culture will discuss issues very close to my heart: coal, climate change, and the future of Appalachia and the planet. I can't wait to tune in to Wendell Berry: Poet & Prophet. I hope you will, too.
I've been a reader of Wendell Berry since I was a young woman, because he was a beloved author of two of my most important teachers and mentors - Jack Reese, a former chancellor who took me under his wing when I was an undergraduate in his Southern literature course at the University of Tennessee, and my high school English teacher Dale Gilmore, who was the kind of Dead-Poets-Society teacher that every smart kid in a small town wishes they had, and who helped set me on a path of living a life that matters, a path I still walk today.
Wendell Berry spoke to us, and so many others, because his essays, poems, and novels told a deep, clear truth about the place where we lived, about Appalachia and the South, with some of the most beautiful language I've ever encountered. That included telling the truth about coal, and the legacy of social, environmental, and economic unraveling it created across Appalachia, which stills plagues the region today. Wendell Berry brings this same lucidity and power to the topic of climate change, and the urgency to act now, before it's too late.
Another amazing thing about Wendell Berry is that he matches his words with action. He has protested and risked arrest in opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining, and to call for action on climate change. For those of us who have been working for many years to end mountaintop removal coal mining, Wendell Berry has been a prophet, a sage, and an inspiration.
In 2011, he joined Kentuckians for the Commonwealth in occupying the office of Kentucky governor to call for an end to mountaintop removal. The protesters expected they would be arrested after a couple of hours, but Berry is a revered figure in Kentucky - awarded the prestigious National Humanities Medal by President Obama in 2011 - and so instead of arresting him, they let him stay. Berry and his fellow protesters occupied the Governor's office in what became a four-day sit in. Berry tells that story in this clip from the special.
Berry described mountaintop removal this way, in a 2005 essay: "Coal is undoubtedly something of value. And it is, at present, something we need - though we must hope we will not always need it, for we will not always have it. But coal, like the other fossil fuels, is a peculiar commodity. It is valuable to us only if we burn it. Once burned, it is no longer a commodity but only a problem, a source of energy that has become a source of pollution. And the source of the coal itself is not renewable. When the coal is gone, it will be gone forever, and the coal economy will be gone with it."
In the PBS special, Berry tells Moyers, "We don't have a right to ask whether we're going to succeed or not. The only question we have a right to ask is 'what's the right thing to do? What does this earth require of us if we want to continue to live on it?'"
The combination of Wendell Berry and Bill Moyers, perhaps the wisest voice in American journalism today, is sure to yield profound insights about the fate of our planet and the obligation each of us has to help build a better world. I hope you’ll tune in - it's sure to be moving, inspiring, and unforgettable.
Wendell Berry: Poet & Prophet airs on "Moyers & Company" beginning October 4. For more information, go to billmoyers.com.
Today, is Yosemite National Park’s 123rd birthday -- an important occasion for one of our nation’s oldest National Parks. Yosemite is among our country’s crown jewels, and voices all across the nation are wishing the park a happy birthday. Even Google updated its homepage for the special day.
Its not hard to understand why so many Americans are passionate about Yosemite. The Park covers more than 760,000 acres -- about 95 percent of which is wilderness --and draws more than 3.7 million visitors a year. Sierra Club founder John Muir described his first experiences seeing Yosemite as “a window opening into heaven, a mirror reflecting the Creator.”
Yosemite’s big day is reason to celebrate --but, unfortunately, no one will be attending it’s birthday party. In fact, any visitors already there are being ushered out of the park. Why? Because Yosemite’s birthday falls on the very first day of the first government shutdown in seventeen years.
When the clock struck midnight last night, the federal government officially ran out of funding -- and the story of how we got to this point is an example of the Washington dysfunction that is affecting Americans all across the country. Effectively, House Republicans refused to pass routine legislation to fund the government without toxic political riders. As a result, they failed to fulfill the most basic aspect of their job: keeping the government open and working for American families.
The cost falls on everyone else. Hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country will be temporarily out of work. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will furlough 9 out of every 10 employees, leaving vulnerable Americans with almost no one to monitor pollution that could make them sick. And, our national parks and monuments are closed -- to everyone but oil and gas drillers.
American families deserve better. Yosemite deserves better. 123 years is a milestone of a birthday, marking 123 years of hikes, climbs, picnics, and camping trips. This marks 123 years of visitors experiencing spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, and Giant Sequoia groves.
But, today, visitors won’t be able to see that opening into heaven. We won’t be able to celebrate this birthday in person. Because of these political games Yosemite and other national parks and monuments are shuttered -- and the communities that surround them are bracing for impact. Each day visitors can’t experience Yosemite has a financial cost, too, as Yosemite tourism creates upwards of $379 million in economic activity each year. The National Parks Conservation Association estimates that communities around our parks could lose business adding up to about $30 million for every day of the shutdown. That’s real people losing real money because of a Washington political crisis that didn’t need to happen.
Rather than make the American people pay the cost, House Republicans need to stop the political posturing and get back to work. In the meantime, the Sierra Club’s 2.1 million members and supporters are proud to wish Yosemite a happy birthday. This year, the milestone is bittersweet, as the park will have to celebrate alone.
--Athan Manuel, Director, Lands Protection Program, Sierra Club