Of Advocates and Activists

The 30th Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) was held at the University of Oregon’s William W. Knight (yep, NIKE Phil’s dad) Law Center March 1- 4. The weather was spectacular; the panels, plenaries and parties…excellent.

Some people saw my pre-PIELC warning essay as a “rip” of PIELC itself http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2012/03/the-cycle-of-environmentalism. Not at all the case. I highly respect PIELC and the brilliant students who yearly pull it off.  In fact, Professors John Bonine and Mike Axline, the godfathers of the conference, are heroes of mine. I know intimately well that the Ancient Forests I love at Breitenbush and Opal Creek in the Oregon Cascades would not be standing today if not for their skilled efforts supporting our work to save them. I don’t hold it against them at all that PIELC has industry and Agency representatives – the school’s job after all is to find jobs for its grads wherever they can be found.

Sure, I have a problem with the large carbon footprint of such confabs. I wouldn’t go myself if it wasn’t nearby. If I had to burn enough carbon to kill a polar bear to get there, I’d pass. And, every one of the panels I attended was 100% PowerPoint presentation (except for Matthew Koehler weighing over Skype in opposition to “collaborative” timber sales in Montana) – such stuff could easily be done on-line.

The great thing about PIELC is that it is a fabulous up-to-date, one-stop source of what’s going on re: Gaia. One can find out:

1) what the corporations and government Agencies are up to. The relevant ones are there as they hire young environmental attorneys to undo the work of other eco-attorneys and activists – rinse/repeat cycle…;

2) what the corporate foundation-funded environmental groups are up to, especially their endless efforts to suppress grassroots opposition. The smartest of the spokespeople from these groups are there. That’s why I constantly quote Andy Kerr – he’s very articulate for that position even if I often strongly disagree; and,

3) what the front lines activists are faced with and what they plan to do about it. Many seasoned frontline activists attend.

Advocates and Activists

One thing I learned is that the professional greens – “collaborators;” executive directors and various other non-profit employees – just about anyone drawing a paycheck from one or another environmental issue/project – wish to be identified as “Advocates,” rather than as “Activists.’” A journalist made the mistake of calling a self-important careerist an activist and got drilled in response as to the distinction.

After attending a provocative panel on the pros and cons of collaboration, I’m certain the volunteer or underpaid activists have no problem with the nomenclature. They’ve always made the same distinction anyway; usually, with far less neutral terminology.

A Dissertation by Dr. Caitlin Burke of  North Carolina State University was unveiled at that Collaboration: Pro and Con panel. Her research examined just why “Advocates” collaborate and why “Activists” do not: “The results show that large, more professionalized organizations and those with multiple values use a collaborating strategy; small, less professionalized organizations and those with a single environmental value use a confronting strategy.  In other words, collaboration is not representative of all environmental groups – smaller groups and more ideological groups are not involved.”http://ncfp.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/envgroupscollaboration_researchsummary2012.pdf .

25 by 25 Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)

Getting the rosters straight is always a worthy task; but, here’s the most important issue I learned about – with the farthest-reaching impacts on survivability and biodiversity – the Renewable Portfolio Standard.

Most of the panels I attended had to do with “renewable” energy of some sort. A panel on Wind Power presented the industry view and minimally addressed issues like noise, vibrations, viewsheds, wildlife impacts, etc. The rest of the panel was a DC-based environmental attorney’s presentation on the large-scale impacts on winged wildlife – important birds like eagles and mammals like bats; over a million birds and bats are killed each year by wind turbines. Issues like how much imbedded energy is contained in each wind tower/turbine, just how much useable energy we can get from Wind, new transmission lines/service roads and their impacts were left unaddressed.

A couple other panels dealt with Biomass and did address the monumental impacts of burning trees for electricity. Biomass, wind and solar are heavily subsidized by the taxpayers. None of these technologies would even exist if it were not for the massive tax breaks, loans and outright direct money.

The common Denominator? It’s the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that has been pushed by the Democrats , Big Greens and their Foundation funders on the national level and in many state legislatures. Here is the promise and definition of RPS from Obama’s website http://www.barackobama.com/record/economy :

 “(I) will create a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that will require 25 percent of American electricity to be derived from renewable sources by 2025, which has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs on its own.”

That was from 2008. Since that time, no movement at all has occurred on the federal level. 2009’s Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade bill which would have implemented the standard went nowhere, as didn’t several other bills that went from 25% to 20% to 15% on their way down.

But, even though the RPS is stalled at the federal level, some 24 states have already adopted some form of RPS from Maine’s 40% by 2017 to Oregon’s 25% by 25 to Pennsylvania’s 8% x 2020http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/states/maps/renewable_portfolio_states.cfm As a result, billions of dollars worth of subsidized Big Wind and Biomass industrial installations have sprouted up across the land while next to nothing goes to decentralized off-grid, roof-top solar, etc.  Industry, the Democrats and the Big Greens have garnered these state RPS standards by funding the shadowy Apollo Alliance to do the necessary lobbying and media work AND to suppress grassroots opposition http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_Alliance

And, the Federal Government and the Democrats certainly haven’t given up on the federal level, either:

“By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all.” — President Barack Obama, 2011 State of the Union Address.

Therein lays the rub: nukes, coal and natural gas, as well as Biomass are considered “renewable” for the purposes of the RPS. And, as I noted in my prior piece https://www.counterpunch.org/2012/03/01/when-environmentalists-collaborate/ , the grid requires baseload steam generators to keep balanced. Neither wind nor solar…not even hydro can provide the steady power necessary. Since a Biomass or a Nuke or a gas-fired incinerator/boiler can do the job AND comply with the RPS…it’s a recipe for ecocide. Already massive biomass extraction schemes are underway. This dirtiest of all energy sources is leading to the stripping of forest habitats. All of the “Collaborative” logging plans contain provisions to utilize the removed biomass for electricity. Existing biomass-to-electricity burners are always the biggest polluter in their local area.

Gas Bubble

Another issue the divides along Advocate and Activist lines is the Sierra Club’s getting exposed for taking $26 million from the Natural Gas industry and other Big Green groups continuing to ally with Big Gas. Advocates seek to minimize it as “unfortunate.” Activists condemn it and see it as yet more corroboration that the Big Greens care more about budgetary concerns than they do about the planet.

Rolling Stone http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-big-fracking-bubble-the-scam-behind-the-gas-boom-20120301 magazine noted that the Sierra Club patron, Chesapeake Energy, is run by right-wing billionaire Aubrey McClendon – funder of the infamous Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry, of multiple anti-gay marriage efforts and the thankfully aborted presidential campaign of  Rick “Dumb as a Texas Governor” Perry.

The magazine’s depiction of Chesapeake centers around the myth, fully embraced by the captured Big Greens, that the US has an over 100-year supply of natural gas just waiting to be Fracked and used as the “Bridge Fuel” to a fossil-free energy future.  Rolling Stone concluded that the “100-year supply” is more likely around an eleven year reserve and thus, the fable is merely the driving force behind Chesapeake’s heavy speculation in leases – a real estate bubble that sees the company flipping leases for 5x to10x their original value.

McClendon fired back a rather weak rebuttal that the Rolling Stone author then knocked down.http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/national-affairs/rolling-stone-responds-to-chesapeake-energy-on-the-fracking-bubble-20120306?print=true

Most activists I talked with now see a great need to stop all uses of natural gas, other than to stockpile it for heating homes and buildings. 96 % of all the GMO corn grown in the US is grown with inorganic gas-based fertilizer, as are most other commercial crops. This alone consumes over 3% of all US gas production in the Claude-Haber process of synthesizing the fertilizer by combining natural gas and the atmosphere at about 900 ºF and high pressure to create anhydrous ammonia gas.

Astoundingly, 25% of all natural gas produced in the US is “flared” – simply burned off the top of oil wells and refinery distillation towers, as the companies seek the more valuable oil and gasoline and see the gas as a nuisance to be eliminated. Its impacts are not limited to its significant contribution to carbon in the atmosphere. Flaring releases a toxic stew into the air, with cancer rates around such facilities being the highest in the world. http://www.pacinst.org/reports/measuring_what_matters/issues/flaring.pdf

Treasury Mining

“Renewable” energy companies are springing up all over and going bankrupt just as quickly. It’s not just the famous case of Solyndra. ABC News reports that some 20 energy companies that have sprung up to mine the RPS market and the Energy Department’s federal loan guarantees, have failed after handing out substantial bonuses to executives. The White House’s own consultant noted that the loan program carries about $2.7 billion in “risky loans.” http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/green-firms-fed-cash-give-execs-bonuses-fail/story?id=15851653

Tribes, Fish, Fishers and the Advocates

PIELC has a history of minor protests. Given that PIELC invites controversy at times by inviting corporate apologists, it’s inevitable. Big Timber lobbyist Mark Rey, who served as the Bush Administration’s Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Agriculture – the point man on stump-creation on public lands – was a regular and he admitted he was always on the lookout for flying pies, bringing a pie to the table himself one time.

Ron Arnold, guru if the Wise Use movement was greeted with derision when he came one time and exposed the Big Oil Foundation funding behind the Big Greens.

Julia Butterfly Hill, of California Redwood tree-sit fame was protested by Earth Firsts!ers who felt she injected herself into their blockade/tree-sit and then went Hollywood.

This year saw members of the Klamath Tribe set up a demo/blockade in front of the hallway display tables of Oregon Wild, as the group continues to work to block efforts to implement a four dam removal restoration plan for the Klamath River, one of the greatest historical salmon fisheries. The plan, also widely-supported by the commercial fishing group Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, would restore salmon runs to over 100 stream miles in the upper half of the river basin. In addition to legitimate concerns about subsidies for irrigators in the $1 billion project, Oregon Wild is upset that the Klamath and other tribes will be given specified water rights for the first time as part of the deal. The Klamath see it as nothing less than an overdue, necessary effort to restore their culture.http://www.oregonwild.org/waters/klamath/a-vision-for-the-klamath-basin/the-klamath-basin-restoration-agreement

What Next?

One thing the advocates, activists, bureaucrats and corporatists agree on is: the status quo is untenable.

In the many conversations I enjoyed partaking in at PIELC, I found a range of attitudes out there;

from “the hell with it;”

to somewhat thought out views of “Go ahead. Fly everywhere. Burn all that carbon. The sooner we’re done with it, the sooner Gaia can heal;”

to “They’ll never do the right thing unless pushed. But, we can regulate the Earth-destroyers into compliance;”

to “There’s gonna be a spiritual paradigm shift. It’s already happening;”

to “There will be technological solutions. Let the Market work;”

to “The only mammals that will survive the Collapse will be small, fast and have large litters.”

How to get from the planet-destroying status quo to something sustainable or if that is even possible (it’s certainly improbable) is the issue. How many innocent species we take down on our way to sustainability or oblivion is the remaining ethical question.

Keep fighting for your favorite places and favorite planet. Resist much. Seek out Gaian allies and cherish them. And, whatever you do, don’t let ‘em get yer day, too.

MICHAEL DONNELLY lives in Salem, Oregon. He can be reached at Pahtoo@aol.com


MICHAEL DONNELLY has been an environmental activist since before that first Earth Day. He was in the thick of the Pacific Northwest Ancient Forest Campaign; garnering some collective victories and lamenting numerous defeats. He can be reached at pahtoo@aol.com