The Elephant in the Boiler Room
All left-wing parties in the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something which they do not really wish to destroy. They have internationalist aims, and at the same time they struggle to keep up a standard of life with which those aims are incompatible.”
– George Orwell, from his essay on Kipling
The Revolution will not be Funded
Substitute the words “left-wing parties” with “professional environmentalism” and Orwell has laid out just why with so many points on the data line, the greatest “security” threat humankind has ever faced – anthropogenic Global Warming – has been met with denial, self serving politics and wishful-thinking, at best.
One time in around 1990, I explained to a top foundation manager exactly what I thought had to happen if we were to save the Pacific Northwest’s Ancient Forest Ecosystem. I went way beyond mere necessary saving of the remnants of the original ecosystem – to full-on restoration of degraded land and, keeping it all inviolate as a necessary part of sequestering carbon to lighten Climate Change impacts. I tied it to survival of us clever apes, as well as, to many hundreds of other species.
The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Tom Wathan, responded, to his credit in a weird way, “We fund Reform; not Revolution.”
Snatching Defeat in the Age of Collapse
In a devastating critique of the “Reform” politics and strategies behind the failure of Cap and Trade legislation and pretty much any legislative efforts to combat carbon pollution and resulting Global Warming, Theda Skocpol places the blame for the failure squarely on the Big Green establishment despite the fact that “for carbon-capping legislative efforts, hundreds of millions of dollars were invested by major foundations and wealthy donors, surely more in total than was invested in laying groundwork for health reform.”
Cap and Trade is based on a system where “the cap” is the level of total allowable emissions that is determined to be lower than the amount that would cause irreversible harm. And, “the trade” is a system of selling pollution allowances as the means of reducing emissions to that predetermined level. This includes “off-sets,” such as purchasing and setting aside a tropical forest which are then tabulated as a type of negative emission.
Skocpol places the most culpability squarely on Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Frances Beinecke from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and their “strange bedfellows” United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) and on the ClimateWorks coalition of Foundations that, like a Gingrich SuperPAC, pumped over $200 million per year into failed efforts.
Skocpol notes how USCAP was “asymmetrical” with far more industry representatives than true environmentalists. She also observes that, as could be expected, industry reps did everything they could to water down any regulatory efforts and garnered ultimate success at it, when the “environmental” members of USACP, instead of fighting back or walking out – in an all-too-familiar spasm of environmental malpractice -went along: “How could Fred Krupp of EDF possibly allow a collapse in these negotiations, given that his entire career was premised on the notion that “third way” bargains with business are the key to saving the environment? Not surprisingly, the major environmental groups that stuck with USCAP throughout 2009 and 2010 steadily gave ground on issues like free allowances and offsets to carbon polluters. They steadily lost leverage, because they could not simultaneously stand up for negotiated compromises with their business partners in USCAP and have their own organizations push unremittingly for tougher, more environmentally friendly legislative provisions.”
Skocpol analyzes just how much more effective the Tea Party and other GOP-led Climate deniers were in their efforts: “During the run-up to the 2010 elections, Republican Senators pushed back against any climate-change legislation, and nineteen out of twenty ‘serious GOP Senate challengers… declared that the science of climate change is inconclusive or flat out incorrect.’ The Tea Party, in short, became the enforcer for the lock-step anti-compromise course that GOP leaders Boehner and McConnell might not have been able to pull off on their own in the 111th Congress.”
At no time did or have the Beltway “Greens” held Obama and the Democrats’ feet anywhere near as close to the fire. During and ever since, the professional greens have given Obama and the Dems a pass (as does Skocpol).
The rout culminated in the 2012 elections where “Global warming and possible actions to address it did not come up in the 2012 presidential debates and both presidential candidates avoided climate-change issues. Media coverage of campaign issues largely followed suit, even as adverse weather events punctuated the campaign season and warnings from climate scientists escalated. No sense of urgency came from the 2012 election, in short. And the results left Republicans in control the House of Representatives, as most of the GOP winners backed by the Tea Party in 2010 managed to keep their seats in 2012.”
At the same time they were losing on Cap and Trade, the Beltway Greens refused to back the one legislative proposal that would have directly impacted the consumption levels that underpin the entire issue (much more on consumption coming up). Industry itself, thru Duke Energy, introduced the concept of a carbon tax – a relatively easy to administer consumption tax levied on the carbon content of oil, coal, and natural gas. It was projected to bring in $208 billion per year, reduce the Federal deficit and put downward pressure on consumption. It had/has bi-partisan support, but was rejected by the Big Greens, despite the fact that it directly influenced consumption and would have reduced the deficit.
Obama, upon reelection, addressed Climate for the first time in the entire election cycle. In response to a reporter’s question on Climate as priority, he answered: “There’s no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices and understandably, you know, I think right now the American people have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth that if the message somehow is that we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anyone’s going to go for that. I won’t go for that.”
The response to this trouncing from green groups has been threefold: 1) no real soul-searching and change of tactics at the top – of all the groups, involved only the Sierra Club (SC), the sole such group with a voting membership, saw a long-overdue change at the top and a commitment to quit allying with carbon industries. The SC leadership change came shortly prior to the Club being exposed for secretly taking $26 million from the natural gas fracking industry to pimp natural gas as the “bridge fuel” between coal and nukes and “clean energy;” 2) a greater effort to push for investments – err, tax subsidies - in “renewable energy;” and, 3) a huge effort to demonize the fossil fuel industry with the goal of getting people and institutions to Divest from the industry – putting pretty much all their eggs in the later two baskets. (The Sierra Club’s former Golden Boy president Adam Werbach is now well-compensated as Wal-Mart’s “Green Advisor .” EDF has its own Wal-Mart “on-site partnership” right inside Wal-Mart’s Arkansas HQ.)
It’s the Consumption, Stupid
But, at no time has unsustainable consumption – Darth Cheney’s “Non-negotiable American Way of Life” – been foremost in Big Green Climate efforts. As Orwell noted, it’s just not in the personal interests of the players and organizations involved. Not many people have stock in fossil fuel corporations, but everyone consumes their product. It is several orders of magnitude easier to forego holding energy stocks than it is to forego energy use beyond heating your home or commuting to work. Just what are necessary uses of energy and what are discretionary luxuries? And then there’s the Social Justice aspect. If everyone on Earth lived the “non-negotiable lifestyle” of Americans, we’d need another five planets of resources to cover it.
The very large personal carbon footprints of greens, themselves, are perhaps the greatest tool the deniers have at their disposal. After all, if Al Gore won’t change his high-carbon lifestyle, then it cannot be as serious as he says, now can it? If green activists brag to the media, as they did, about flying in to DC for 350.org’s Keystone Pipeline Protest to get arrested and, catch and release later, fly back to California the same day on jets fueled with Tar Sands-derived fuel, who can possibly fault the average American’s skepticism?
While overuse of electricity is the biggest contributor, one cannot overlook jet travel and the massive carbon it releases high in the atmosphere where it does even more damage than an equivalent amount released at ground level. If EDF, the Sierra Club and NRDC continue to hold board and staff meetings at far-flung resorts and social network sites are littered with vain updates from professional greens and green-identified progressives’ about their globe-trotting travel adventures, why would the average person change habits?
The instant-on TVs, the arrays of computers in households and in every “Green” outfit’s far-flung empire and other modern appliances – iPhones, tablets, etc. , not only have blood Coltan embodied in them – a rare earth mineral the mining of which has led to mass killings of humans and other primates; they also consume the equivalent of five coal-fired power plants – when off!
Speaking of this massive electricity use, we keep being told by Green Central and the White House, that “Renewables” will get us off of fossil fuel while we keep the lifestyle. Other than continued ginning up of the Police State and overseas Empire, “renewable energy” has been the top recipient of Federal and State Democrats’ largesse with tax dollars for the past decade. Billions in subsidies have already been poured into that bucket; we can analyze the results.
As of 2011, the US consumes approx. 40,000 trillion BTUs of electricity per year, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Of that, 18,000 trillion comes from coal, steadily going down from its peak of 21,000 in 2005; but, King Coal is still by far the largest source, trailed by Nukes at 8200 and then increasingly from Natural Gas at 7700. Salmon-killing hydroelectric dams come in next at 3150.
Then we get to “renewables,” with wind tops at 1200 (.03% of the total use), with Biomass at 144 and with solar at just 18 (clocking in at .0005%). With projected annual increase in electricity production and consumption at 1.07% per year over the next 20 years, with 428 trillion BTUs as the current baseline, then covering just the incremental annual increase with “renewables” proves impossible, unless we were to cover an area the size of Italy annually with industrial wind “farms” and solar arrays! The physics of it alone are impossible.
Yet, all across the country we have legislative efforts to require that each state has an “Energy Portfolio” made up of “renewables” Most are sloganeered as “20 by 20” or “25 x 25”- meaning 25 percent of all energy used in a state must come from “renewables” by 2025. Obama has called for a “25 x 25” at the Federal level, as well. These tax subsidy plots are sponsored by well-compensated pro-Democrat astro-turf “green” groups like the Apollo Alliance and it’s overseer, the Blue-Green Alliance, and pushed by non-profit professionals like Obama’s former “Green Czar” Van Jones.
The corporations involved connive for obvious monetary reasons and so do the “gotta get paid” non-profit minions. The Blue-Green Alliance also touts it because of vastly inflated job projections – completely missing the point that there are NO jobs on a dead planet.
And, no, half of Germany’s electricity does not come from citizen-owned solar as the ever popular Facebook meme would have it. And, nope again, Germany has not gotten off of Nuclear power. In fact, Berlin’s entire plan for phasing out all nuclear power plants by 2022 and producing 80 percent of the country’s electricity from “renewable” energy by 2050 is at a standstill.
It all leads to Biomassacre
Of course, regardless of jobs, regardless of any carbon foregone, since solar and wind cannot possibly cover even the incremental increase in power consumption, not to mention less than 1 percent of aggregate use, the conspirators have lobbied for Hydro, Nukes, Municipal Trash Burners and even the fantasy that Obama has called “Clean Coal” to be considered “renewable” under the portfolios’ terms.
Ultimately when you talk of any “25 x 25” plan you are talking Biomass, which is one of the vaunted “renewable” under the portfolio terms, as that is the one source that can be ramped up to meet demand (for a short time, as burning every tree in America would cover but one year’s electrical energy use!). Biomass can also power the Baseload. Baseload power is the steady, steam-generated power that is critical to the functioning of the distribution grid. Even Hydro is too fluctuating to suffice; wind and solar, even more so. In recent years, with the huge build-up of subsidized wind facilities in the Pacific Northwest, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has been sued by Big Wind because the agency has refused to take any more wind-generated power into the fully-loaded grid every spring when winds are at their peak, as snow-melt run-off is also at its peak and hydro generates enough non-baseload power to fill the grid. Wind was taken off-line, while the coal-fired and nuclear steam plants were kept running to cover the Baseload.
Not surprisingly, every time a depressed community or Pollyannaish college is targeted for a Biomass swindle, the Apollo Alliance sends in their troops to tout its green benefits. When Apollo has been successfully resisted, it has been the result of concerted real grassroots efforts by regular folks/residents in these places; fighting back against these faux “greens.”
And, back to the Climate-changing pollution issue, burning trees for electricity is 1.5 times more polluting than burning coal – “clean” or otherwise! According to a recent report from the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, “Black carbon is the second largest man-made contributor to global warming and its influence on climate has been greatly underestimated… Accounting for all of the ways it can affect climate, black carbon (i.e. soot) is believed to have a warming effect of about 1.1 Watts per square meter (W/m2), approximately two thirds of the effect of the largest man made contributor to global warming, carbon dioxide.”
Not only does Biomass exacerbate the very issue it purports to address, it also will lead to ecocide by deforestation. Ironically, had we not discovered fossil fuel, we likely would have already perished from deforestation on a planet long without whales, as well, as we were well on our way to burning all these magnificent creatures in our oil lamps. After all, vast swaths of primeval forest and most of the large animals that depended on them were already gone long before the advent of fossil-fuel-driven industrial society’s emergence. How much longer could that have continued even without oil, gas and coal? Somehow, going back to burning trees to power a society that is going forward in population and consumption levels is an option?
Hand-in-glove with the Apollo Alliance, the Big Greens are touting massive Public forest “ecological thinning” cons all over the West. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and The Nature Conservancy lead such an effort in the Southwest called the Four Forests Initiative, and only cried foul when the Forest Service chose to award the forest-leveling and use of the “product” contracts to their own cronies instead of to CBD’s own ally. The ecological devastation of the largest government timber sale in SW history goes unaddressed by the co-conspirators. (I expect yet another hostile, projection-laden response to writing this.)
Similar efforts are at play nationwide with foundation-dependent, no voting membership groups. In Oregon, the once-admirable forest protection group Oregon Wild has proposed, along with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Big Timber), the “ecological thinning” of nine million acres of Eastern Oregon National Forests with the “product” going to Biomass electricity generation, pellet plants for wood stoves, etc. Faux progressive blowhard Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Big Timber), who was first elected with hefty support from grassroots greens, has been Big Timber’s point man on Biomass, bragging about fighting off Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) attempts to regulate the industry’s soot, not to mention landscape devastation.
Already, vast swaths of the US Southeast and of the Amazon are being reduced to wood pellets that are then shipped to Europe and burned there and dishonesty checked off as non-carbon-producing against England, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries’ own versions of “25 x 25.”
In summary, the entire non-profit industrial complex’ Green wing’s US efforts are all about collaborating with industry and attempting to prop up Cheney’s American Way of Life. Instead of taking on unsustainable consumption, indeed avoiding any mention of it, while pushing fantasy, at best, if not ecocidal, at worst, distractions. As Skocpol dissects, the DC Green Establishment has been a well-compensated enabler of Climate Denial for perilously too long.
Is there any hope?
“There is hope; but, not for us.” — Franz Kafka
There are as many people living in abject poverty on the planet as there were total people – 2.5 billion – living on it when I was born. Two billon people don’t have daily access to clean drinking water (while we defecate in perfectly good drinking water and don’t even give it a second thought!) – that Justice thing, again. Everywhere you look, natural ecosystems are in terminal decline. The past year was the hottest on record. Things look pretty dire for us and a lot of innocent other species – Inter-Species Justice, as well.
The implacable climate physics Bill McKibben of 350.org always cites demands a reduction of energy use by Americans of about 90 percent per capita! Yet, I’ve yet to hear any Big Green lay out just what that serious scenario really means. They limit themselves to putting the onus on big bad fossil fuel and spend their physics-limited time on ineffective efforts to stop pipelines; divestment campaigns; those wind, solar, trees-to-electron schemes; etc.
And, therein is the fundamental problem. The Big Greens don’t address consumption simply because of the pain that 90 percent powering down means – just look at the flak Jimmy Carter got just for lowering the White House thermostat and putting on a sweater! McKibben wrote a response to Skocpol, acknowledging the painful truth in her history, but never mentioned personal or collective consumption one time.
Joe Romm trashed Skocpol’s piece. In a nasty, self-serving denial, Romm desperately divvies up blame for Cap’n Trade’s trip off the gangplank to just about anyone: the Senate 60%; the media 30%; something he labels “Think Small centrists” 5%; and the remaining 5% of blame between team Obama and environmental groups… and “for that last 5% blame, the lion’s share has to go to Obama” – anyone, that is, but the Big Greens and their and his foundation handlers .
I’ve communicated with McKibben on this. Bill’s a likeable, tireless guy and I know he’s giving it his all, even if I question the efficacy of current efforts and would like to see consumption as focus. He feels his time is best spent on the divestment campaign and that addressing consumption is up to the rest of us – fair enough, this essay will not be my last on the subject, nor will I cease looking for ways to lower my personal impact. And frankly, 350.org’s divestment campaign at American colleges is the closest thing to grassroots organizing on Climate that is going on at the national level right now – along with the movement to end the abomination of Mountaintop Removal (MTR) for Coal extraction and Idle No More, the emerging, fast-growing international movement started by First Nations people in Canada in response to Big Energy’s devastating impacts on their traditional lands.
Think Small Survivalism?
So what does it all mean? What does powering down the lifestyle mean? It means a lot more than just changing light bulbs, recycling and driving a Pius. However if you do go the light bulb route, I recommend LED lights. The Compact Florescent Bulb industry that has also been subsidized and, of course, is yet another false corporate solution. Seems that in addition to CFLs toxicity – they are toxic in manufacture and even when not in operation or broken – they don’t live up to the glowing energy savings, either.
We’re already past the Ghandian utopian view that the Earth provides enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed. Overshoot has sealed that. It means sharply lowering our species’ numbers. It means never traveling by jet again. It means living and dying in the same bioregion. It means your living space being 1/3rd its current size, with twice as many people living in it. It means over half of your possessions gone, never to be seen again. It means having access to a car about once every two weeks. It means way less factory-farmed meat and staples, including rice, which is the second source of Methane, the second biggest Greenhouse gas after CO2, clocking in at number three in total impact, right behind carbon soot. It means connecting with others to locally produce food. It means sharing as a way of life. It certainly means the end of the instant-on appliance, latest iDevice lifestyle – the end of that non-negotiable way of life.
And, to even get close, it will require the end of Democrat-toadying, corporate, no-voting-grassroots environmentalism.
Power Down; People Down is the only possible hope.
MICHAEL DONNELLY lives in Salem, OR. He can be reached at Pahtoo@aol.com