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“Clean Energy” is a Dirty Joke

We Suspect Silence

November 14, 2016

By Michael Swifte

 

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“Clean Energy” is a rhetorical device of unprecedented scope. A poorly defined but effective shield for any pundit, mouthpiece or messaging agent to use when speaking of a seemingly uncertain energy future. “Clean Energy” has given its name to many formal processes, organisations, and campaigns. Our climate leaders use the term when they talk about targets, and renewables, and “low carbon” futures. And for whatever it may signify “clean energy” does have a Wiki page, but (at the time of writing Nov 14, 2016) it is unpopulated and redirects you to the Sustainable Energy Wiki page.

As someone who is hellbent on finding a way to destroy fossil fools there is one thing that is certain, this juggernaut will not rest till it’s all gone. That’s how fossil fools have always played their cronyistic, monopolistic, deeply networked game. That’s how I look at motive and likelihoods.

When I discovered that some of the very same people who were presenting the most popular arguments for why we should #keepitintheground were also paving the way for carbon capture and storage I began asking questions about the development of this particular form of energy generation. Questions like: Why would organisations that are telling us about carbon bubbles, carbon budgets, unburnable carbon, and stranded assets be supporting the continued burning of gas, coal, and trees, and the expansion of geological storage of CO2 under the North Sea in old oil and gas fields owned by Shell and Statoil? Surely they care about ending the destruction?

I quickly realised I was asking the wrong questions. I shouldn’t be asking why, I should be asking how? How do fundamentally economic concepts like unburnable carbon, stranded assets, and carbon budgets work for the inevitable continuation of fossil fuel extraction and the wholesale destruction of forests? How much political will for carbon capture and storage is out there and how is it expressed? How are pundits, mouthpieces or messaging agents able to use “clean energy” to mask their support for energy that is in no way clean?

It’s impossible to answer these questions without going on the journey to understanding how conflated logics and rhetorical devices appear, are transmitted, and express themselves in language. This is the very heart of psychological warfare, the understanding of the spread and power of particular logics, and how the management of information, it’s architecture and the imperatives behind it’s production facilitates mass deception and behaviour change.

My broad methodology for understanding the messaging sphere and comprehending the logical underpinnings of key pieces of language is this: follow the money, interrogate the messaging, and analyse the networks.

LEADERS – Politicians, corporate executives, high level public servants and UN chiefs

This is my messaging interrogation methodology for leaders: When I hear a leader use the term “clean energy” I compare that to the policy, technology, and investment objectives for which they speak, vote, develop networks, and maintain silence.

Here are some very stark examples:

US Department of Energy, Research and Development webpage has “CLEAN ENERGY R&D” emblazoned at the top, near the bottom of the page is carbon capture and storage, and nuclear energy. US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has publicly thanked Senator Whitehouse for bringing forward a new bill aimed at providing tax credits for carbon capture utilisation and storage projects ( I’ll go into more detail later). Key projects funded by the US DoE involve CO2 scrubbed from coal-fired plants being used for enhanced oil recovery projects where CO2 is sequestered. Moniz has also publicly echoed James Hansen’s belief in nuclear energy as a key to “solving climate change”.

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Jeremy Corbyn talks a big “clean energy” game, but he also voted in support of the pro carbon capture and storage policies Labour took to last year’s election. He  once talked about reopening coal mines saying in an early interview

“The last deep mine coal mines in South Wales have gone but it’s quite possible that in future years coal prices will start to go up again around the world and maybe they’ll be a case for what is actually very high quality coal, particularly in South Wales, being mined again.”

In that same interview he responded in favour of CCS hinting at cost as a downside

“It’s complicated. At one level it looks very expensive but the advantages also look quite attractive”.

Of course he has since disingenuously distanced himself from his remarks about returning to coal mining saying “It was one question about one mine, I’m not in favour of reopening the mines.”

Canada’s environment minister Catherine McKenna stated in May this year that Canada’s carbon capture and storage projects were a

“real opportunity for Canada to export solutions” and made her support absolutely clear saying “So when you have carbon capture and storage, that’s certainly an innovative solution — a made-in-Canada solution,”

Compare those statements with her remarks at the Canada 2020 conference November 20, 2015, “And we’ll support progress in clean energy—because innovations in our energy sector can be commercialized, scaled up and exported. Done right, this will create good middle class jobs, grow our economy and reduce pollution, including greenhouse gases.”

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In my blog post of May, 2015 ‘The Climate Chief, the Summit, and the Silence’ I highlighted how then Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, in a Q & A session as part of the 2nd annual Australian Emissions Reduction Summit, derailed a question on “draw down” of CO2 (presumably through agricultural soil sequestration) to speak in favour of carbon capture and storage investment. I noted the absence of responses from the commentariat. One of the few organisations to take note of the climate chief’s words was called CO2-CRC a carbon capture and storage research project which is chaired by former Australian energy and mining minister Martin Ferguson. CO2-CRC are currently pumping sequestered CO2 under the Ottway Ranges in Victoria, Australia. Another organisation to take note (they actual used a meme I created without giving credit) was SaskPower CCS, the most advanced coal-fired CCS project on the planet.

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NON-LEADERS – Journalists, NGO and think tank spokespeople, celebrity spokespeople

Leaders represent institutions, corporations and political processes that impact on material change in the world. Non-leaders deal with ideas and supposed facts, and in essence seek to shape thinking for the better as they are paid to conceive it. As a representative of a media institution or a non-profit entity non-leaders are compelled to steer certain talking points, and observe relationships and platforms developed and defended by their particular institution or entity. Pointing out the contradictions between rhetoric and reality is simple, but if pointing out those contradictions helps to unpack or highlight an issue then non-leaders will largely ignore the contradictions, avoid unpacking the issue, and avoid engaging in meaningful discussion. Non-leaders with significant reach and networks are pivotal to the dissemination of talking points, conflated logics, and rhetorical devices.

My messaging interrogation methodology for non-leaders goes like this: When I read a piece from a key pundit/commentator/mouthpiece working with a media entity, think tank, or NGO I look for adherence to particular talking points and conflated logics. Most authors have sets of talking points suffused with conflated logics passed on to them through the media and through their networks of allies and affiliations.  My provisional assumption when reading a piece is that the author is not inclined to fully unpack an issue lest they stray into uncovering some inconvenient truths. Avoiding certain talking points signifies to me that the author would rather not give credence to those talking points. Silences are created by failing to speak to significant talking points. Silence is the hardest thing to identify and the most challenging component of messaging interrogation.

Non-leaders in the media employ what I call attending behaviour in avoiding certain talking points and triggers for unpacking inconvenient ideas and information. For the attending non-leader it’s all about speaking to an issue without really opening it up, not being utterly silent, erecting a defensible position which makes any real challenger seem petty.

Lets look at two non-leaders from the media, George Monbiot at The Guardian, and David Roberts at Grist and Vox.

Here’s a quote from a recent piece by Monbiot where he recognises the reality of increased demand for negative emissions and the role envisaged by many for CCS as a solution, then dismisses it – hyperlink to a story about last year’s cancelled 1 billion pound CCS competition in the UK.

“The only means of reconciling governments’ climate change commitments with the opening of new coal mines, oilfields and fracking sites is carbon capture and storage: extracting carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of power stations and burying it in geological strata. But despite vast efforts to demonstrate the technology, it has not been proved at scale, and appears to be going nowhere. Our energy policies rely on vapourware.”

Reading this for the first time sent my head into a spin. Monbiot appears to be arguing that CCS would be alright if it worked. I tweeted Monbiot a bunch of memes with quotes which got the attention of the International Energy Agency, Green House Gas Research and Development Program Twitter account.

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Here’s a quote from a recent piece by Roberts called ‘No country on Earth is taking the 2 degree climate target seriously’.

“What is clear is that we are betting our collective future on being able to bury millions of tons of carbon. It’s a huge and existentially risky bet — and maybe one out of a million people even know it’s being made.”

In making his assertions on the state of political will for mitigation technologies like CCS, Roberts cites an obscure UNFCCC report from the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice titled: ‘Report on the structured expert dialogue on the 2013–2015 review’ It’s one hell of a document, I could sense that the delegates were drooling over the idea of pulping forests. Roberts is right in his conclusions about political will for bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and CCS, but – here’s where the attending behaviour kicks in – including a hyperlink to a document doesn’t constitute unpacking the political will. Not when the title of your article refers to inaction from countries, and countries have politicians who are on record giving their support for carbon capture and storage investment. There are any number of documents, links, and names he could have shared that would have revealed the punchline, but he didn’t. We can’t say he didn’t attend to the subject, but we can’t say he smashed that pinata.

Roberts’ article is ostensibly a response to a report released by Oil Change International (OCI) in September this year titled THE SKY’S LIMIT: WHY THE PARIS CLIMATE GOALS REQUIRE A MANAGED DECLINE OF FOSSIL FUEL PRODUCTION.Roberts  introduces the themes of “cognitive dissonance” and “psychological schism” at the state of the collective response to climate change. He then presents the OCI article stating “This cognitive dissonance is brought home yet again in a new report from Oil Change” Indeed the OCI report written with “collaborators” that you could only call “the usual suspects” (climate cartel) elicits cognitive dissonance for the sheer number of qualified statements on CCS in the context of carbon budgets. The phrase “in the absence of CCS” and other similar phrases appear on more than half a dozen occasions. The below quote summarizes the position of the world’s leading green groups on carbon capture and storage.

“If CCS is eventually proven and deployed, it might provide a welcome means of further lowering emissions.”

In the end the OCI authors cite prudence as the most important consideration.

“However, we take the view that it would not be prudent to be dependent on an uncertain technology to avoid dangerous climate change; a much safer approach is to ensure that emissions are reduced in the first place by reducing fossil fuel use and moving the economy to clean energy. Therefore, we apply that assumption throughout this report.”

My feeling about David Roberts who is a colleague of Bill McKibben at Grist.com is that his job is to postulate on the things Bill McKibben can’t (lest he be compelled to unpack). While I agree with the earlier quote and recognise that I am probably one of those “one out of a million people”, I find it concerning that David Roberts can comprehend that we are indeed “betting our collective future” on carbon capture utilization and storage, but not attend to who and what constitutes the political will. I’ve formed the opinion over time that David Roberts conforms to the same remit and talking points as Bill McKibben, and that he has permission to go as close as possible to the hard limits without triggering the unpacking of political will.

There is an endless array of non-leaders from think tanks and NGOs that we could explore, but lets look at someone who has piped up and finally given a clear message about investment in the lead up to COP22.

Nicholas Stern chairs the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment. This is the research institute/think tank that I alluded to earlier when I explained what set me off on the journey of discovery into how fossil fools are manufacturing continued demand. While I have been watching Grantham and their allies closely for the last 3 years, it was only recently that I was able to find a quote from the horse’s mouth (Stern) that was succinct enough to share. The following quote is from a speech given at The Royal Society on October 31, 2016. It’s a very telling quote because it comes from an entity that promoted and repeatedly supported the divestment movement as well as hashtags/campaigns like #keepitintheground, and yet it clearly pushes for investment in CCS as a negative emissions technology.

“What can be done to achieve negative emissions? Carbon capture and storage technology is key.”

Here it is in meme form. Feel free to share it.

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GRUNT WORK

Here’s a quote from The Principles of Psywar by Jay Taber. I’ve worked to these two fundamental principles since I first read them.

“The first principle of psywar is never repeat the talking points of your enemy. The second principle is to deny them a platform to misinform.”

I’ve found these principles are great for maintaining the discipline of staying on-message during difficult discussions and developing a more succinct communication style.

Applying these two principles has given me stamina and strengthened my resolve. Grunt work requires hours of immersion in deflating, boring, and propaganda riddled content. My enemies are manufacturing hope, and funding every avenue that leads to new people, cultures, and markets to co-opt. But I can be realistic about the enormity, pervasiveness, and shape of the enemy because I have a strategy against their constant destabilising tactics.

Grunt work is the true revolutionary work.

FEEBLE RESISTANCE

Putting up feeble resistance is a way of manufacturing silence. This is precisely what is happening this year in the US with critical pieces of legislation introduced to congress seeking to facilitate the growth of the carbon capture and storage sector with a particular interest in CO2 enhanced oil recovery (EOR). Here I will discuss two pieces of complimentary legislation that have received bipartisan support, support from industry, support from the Natural Resource Defense Council, and support from one of the largest union organisations in the US, the AFL-CIO. Both bills seek to modify provisions in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (bail out). I will show that the resistance is barely even visible. NGOs who claim to represent workers and/or the environment, organisations like the Labor Network for Sustainability have barely even acknowledged the existence of these new bills.

When Republican congressman Mike Conaway presented his bill the Carbon Capture Act in February 25, 2016 Brad Markell, Executive Director of the AFL-CIO’s Industrial Union Council had this to say as part of a “diverse coalition” which included Arch Coal, Peabody Coal, and Summit Power.

“CCS is absolutely critical to preserving good-paying jobs in manufacturing and industrial and energy production, while reducing the environmental footprint of these activities. The financial incentives in this legislation will also support much-needed construction jobs as we build projects and infrastructure for CCS. Representative Conaway has proposed a win-win for our economy and environment.”

Markell’s colleague D. Michael Langford, National President, Utility Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO had this to say on the same press release.

“There are few real examples of technology that are both good for the economy and good for the environment. Carbon capture technology is one true example. Incentives to develop and deploy carbon capture will have a positive effect on our economy while at the same time, reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A permanent extension of tax credits for Section 45Q of the Tax Code will be essential in building a twenty first century economy that provides large numbers good paying jobs while addressing environmental concerns.”

I challenged Joe Uehlein, Founding President of the Labor Network for Sustainability (LN4S) and former AFL-CIO strategist to put the position of LN4S forward in response to AFL-CIO support but his response was flat, defensive, and not worth posting. It wasn’t until Democrat Senators Whitehouse and Heitkamp introduced their bill, the Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage Act, that the resistance went from virtually nothing to slightly more than nothing.

Senator Whitehouse’s press release announcing the introduction of his bill neglects to mention coal based carbon capture or CO2 based enhanced oil recovery. Instead the focus is put on non fossil fuel based processes like industrial water treatment and algae biomass projects. This is also the theme he lead with on social media as you can see from the below image.

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This is when Friends of the Earth US stepped in with a letter to congress calling the 45Q tax credit amendments for which both bills were created, a CO2-EOR subsidy. The closing sentence of the letter highlights that it’s not coal based carbon capture and storage or even the storage of CO2 in old oil reservoirs that FoE US and the long list of cosignatory NGOs (photo below) are taking issue with, but the purported increase in oil that can be recovered.

“Enhancing oil recovery is not a climate solution. Neither is further subsidizing the oil industry. In fact both are a step in the wrong direction. That is why we ask you to oppose any attempts to extend or expand the Section 45Q tax credit.”

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There are more than 30 co-signatory NGOs to the FoE US letter but when they went to social media it all fell flat. None of the usual cross promotional back patting and content sharing that allied NGOs are well known for happened.

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INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE AND NETWORKED STRUCTURES

There is a global group called the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) which holds forums, events and discussions for energy ministers and secretaries. Within this arrangement there is the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, this is where the real “clean energy” action happens. Below is a screen grab from the Carbon Capture Use and Storage page of the CEM website which you should have a look at. If you do you will see that details of their position on CCUS is buried away. Similar structuring-out exists in the US for the Clean Energy States Alliance which leaves the definition of “clean energy” to be determined by the vagaries of energy infrastructure development and regulation for each state.

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DEMAND FOR NEGATIVE EMISSIONS TECHNOLOGY

The propagandists have effectively manufactured demand for negative emissions. Power only ever makes win-win plays. Every failure to deliver real emissions reductions creates more demand and there are legions of mouthpieces looking for good metrics, ready to pump the hopium and spell out the technofixes. The propagandists know that the biggest risk to their agenda comes from free, open, and informed discussion. A thorough and relevant discourse has never occurred for carbon capture and storage. The CCS loving Bellona Foundation (Twitter admin) all but acknowledged this to me recently.
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COP22 will deliver “clean energy” finance and climate finance. The punchline to the dirty joke has been protected. Senior editors, NGO trustees, impact philanthropists, and senior bureaucrats all know how to guide inquiry away from the no go zones. They know that the worth of everyone who works under them is contingent on their ability to discern the dog whistles and self censor.

MITIGATION TRADING

While nations struggle to implement carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes new CCS projects have developed that when the time comes will be able to demonstrate that they have the capability to sequester carbon at scale. Australian economist Allan Kohler theorised that the Australian Emissions Reduction Fund, Safeguard Mechanism  could represent a “proxy ETS”. It could come to pass that the Gorgon Gas Project which began sequestering CO2 under Barrow Island off the coast of Western Australia this year could retrospectively claim a subsidy for their efforts. Will Australia in the near future use this sequestered carbon to satisfy their climate commitments?

The city of Rotterdam has put itself forward as a future CO2 export hub and the Teesside Collective industrial decarbonisation project still claim they are “leading the way in low carbon technologies”. Remi Erikson, CEO of DNV GL clearly thinks that a North Sea CO2 storage hub is bankable.

Another meme to share.

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Storage capacity for CO2 has been successfully commodified before any kind of discussion about the international agreements that are meant to cover activities like undersea storage have even happened. The London Protocol and Convention which is administered by the International Maritime Organisation is not ready to manage the development of undersea storage, and the maritime area managed by OSPAR Commission north of the Atlantic has permitted under sea storage in the North Sea at Norway’s Sleipner field. OSPAR are very supportive of investment in carbon capture and storage. Here’s a quote from the Quality Status Report 2010.

 “Capturing carbon from combustion at source and transporting this to sub-seabed geological reservoirs could help mitigate climate change over century-long time scales and thus help with the transition to a lower carbon economy.”

THE SHOW WILL GO ON

I tried to find the source for the proliferation of “clean energy” as a pivotal propaganda term. Looking at the list of attendees at the 2009 Getting to 350 conference was very enlightening. Lewis Milford who heads up the Clean Energy States Alliance was there as was James Hansen who advocates nuclear over renewables. Members of Al Gore’s Climate Project were there along with ecological economist Bob Costanza and the nuclear and carbon capture spruiking Jesse Jenkins.

I found the likely source of “clean energy” by digging into the Podesta emails and following the trail back to 2006 and the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting (link has already disappeared) where Podesta was championing the “Clean Energy Investment Boom”. The Clinton Global Initiative had a key role in bringing 350.org to global prominence. Podesta recently sat down with US Energy Secretary , Ernest Moniz  and I’ll let the meme tell you what they both agreed on.

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New US president? Makes little difference. There was no ‘war on coal’. The clean power plan was never clean. “Clean Energy” has paved the way for the financing of carbon capture utilization and storage as critical to the development of our energy systems, and fundamental to the decarbonisation of industry.

Let’s give Al Gore the last word $$$$$$$$$

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Sierra Club, NRDC & Big Greens Thank Obama for Granting Drilling Permits to Almost all the Oil Resources in Alaska’s Reserve

“It’s like saying, without any irony: “Thank you so much for putting poison in my living room, kitchen and bathroom, but sparing my bedroom so my family can still cling to our ‘habitat’ that is ‘conserved’!  Thank you for being so considerate!  We’ll be sure to tell everyone to elect you again!”.  Never mind the contamination to air, headwater, groundwater, rain, the fragmentation of habitat, damage to biodiversity, and the threat of spills in these extremely sensitive ecosystems! – Scientist Maggie Zhou

 

October 30, 2012

Under the Obama administration, for the first time in history, production permits were issued to oil and gas corporations for drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, both onshore and offshore.

Of little surprise, Sierra Club [link], NRDC [link] and other “big greens” are asking American citizens to thank Obama for striking “a needed balance between responsible development and conservation of special areas within the Reserve.” [Direct quote taken from Sierra Club’s “Personalize Your Message” as found on their website, captured in screenshot below]

The Obama administration’s own press release states:

“The approximately 11.8 million acres that would be available for leasing under the preferred alternative – which makes the vast majority of projected oil resources in the NPR-A available for leasing – are estimated to hold approximately 549 million barrels of discovered and undiscovered economically recoverable oil and approximately 8.7 trillion cubic feet of discovered and undiscovered economically recoverable natural gas.” [Emphasis added]

So thank you Obama for eagerly bringing the total destruction of our planet’s climate and ecosystems.  And thank you, professional “environmentalist” sycophants, for, as always, not demanding what is actually necessary. We certainly do not expect these corporate cockroaches under the guise of environmental NGOs to crawl out of their funders’ deep pockets.

Of course this is nothing new. We have witnessed such faux “victories” before. Yet most remain unaware that many of the big greens behind The Tar Sands Action campaign (including RAN, Greenpeace, and the David Suzuki Foundation) are the same organizations that sold out the Boreal Forest in 2008 and 2010. (View this sublime 1 minute video with Greenpeace below or here.)

Most recently we have the “Defend our Coast” campaign (led by Greenpeace, Council of Canadians and 350.org) claiming thatTogether we will stop the expansion of tar sands tankers and pipelines to the West Coast.” [Emphasis added – note the language. There is no plan to shut down the tar sands but only to stop the expansion.]

Council of Canadians, working hand in hand with 350.org on this pipeline campaign makes their cautious position clear stating:

“Our campaign is an extension of our ongoing Energy and Climate Justice work. We continue to call on governments to ensure Canadians’ energy security and work to transition off fossil fuels, including the unsustainable development of the tar sands. Limiting additional pipeline capacity will force a slowdown of the current relentless pace of tar sands development. We approach the climate change crisis from a justice perspective, seeking to address its root causes, which include unsustainable production, consumption and trade that are driven by corporate-led globalization. Real solutions to the climate crisis must be based on democratic accountability, ecological sustainability and social justice.” [Emphasis added]

One who has little understanding of the non-profit industrial complex may find it ironic that as far back as 2009 when both climatologist James Hansen and Dr Rajendra Pachauri, former head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) United Nations called for the shutting down of the tar sands. Yet, as the climate crisis has accelerated at a pace that paints the grimmest scenario possible, instead of demanding what is necessary, almost 4 years after the bold statements by both Hansen & Pachauri, largely conservative individuals by most anyone’s standards, the so-called “leaders” of the climate movement “demand” stopping the expansion of/limiting additional capacity of tar sands tankers and pipelines and the stopping of KXL. The Keystone pipeline, by the way, was 2/3rds complete and in operation before the “KXL” campaign even began.

The shock and surprise routine on the pandering to corporate interests by NGOs is getting stale. It is easy to publicly voice one’s disdain of Obama, Romney, the Democrats and Republicans along with all of the different people (Euro-American’s leading the charge) and corporations/industries that are destroying the Earth. Yet the liberal left continues to be silent on the NGOs at the forefront of a dead movement who lead the sheep to the slaughter.

Also dull is the the self absolution that is doled out by the liberal left: “If Obama or Amerikkka would just invest in green energy. If we would just spend more money on green technology.” The liberal left continues to immerse themselves in fantasy. Lying to themselves and each other, when the truth is that there is no renewable energy source that will allow the west to live at the level that we are living today. Further, there is no renewable energy source that is not so carbon intensive in manufacturing that it will not affect the environment and climate. That’s it. End of story. The same person who is shocked at Obama’s decision is the same person who gets up in the morning and subconsciously goes about their daily lives absolved of any person of guilt for any carbon emissions because it is the “corporations that are all the problem”… yes, they are the problem… but the Western man is also.” – Forrest Palmer, WKOG

COMMON DREAMS | Mainstream Green Groups Cave In on Climate

Note – This article has been endorsed by James Hansen.

Published on Tuesday, April 20, 2010 by CommonDreams.org

Mainstream Green Groups Cave In on Climate

Dangerously Allow Industry to Set Agenda

by Gary Houser and Cory Morningstar

“Governments will not put young people and nature above special financial interests without great public pressure. Such pressure is not possible as long as big environmental organizations provide cover. So the best hope is this — individuals must demand that the leaders change course or they will lose support.” – Dr. James Hansen

With climate scientists warning that we are in a global emergency and tipping points leading to runaway catastrophe will be crossed unless carbon pollution is rapidly reduced, one would expect groups identified as environmental defenders to be shifting into high gear. Instead, we are witnessing the unspeakably tragic spectacle of a mainstream environmental movement allowing itself to be seduced and co-opted by the very forces it should be vehemently opposing. At the very moment when moral leadership and courage are needed the most, what we see is a colossal failure of both – with potentially irreversible consequences for our civilization. If Congress chooses an inadequate response to the crisis, policies can get “locked in” which virtually guarantee that these tipping points are crossed. These organizations are using their significant financial resources to create a public impression that the “environmental community” has given its “stamp of approval” to this policy and to marginalize the voices of the genuine grassroots activists who represent the heart and soul of the climate movement. With nothing less than the future of the planet at stake, these groups must now be publicly challenged and held accountable for their actions.

The stage has been set for this necessary debate by publication of Johann Hari’s excellent commentary entitled “The Wrong Kind of Green“. In this piece, Hari provides important insight into some of the relevant history. He describes how in the 1980s and 1990s some of the larger environmental groups began to adopt a policy often called “corporate engagement”. The basic idea was that by participating in “partnerships” with corporations – some involving receipt of monetary contributions – there would be opportunity to exert positive influence.

It is not possible to look into the minds of those who promoted this shift. Perhaps there was a sincere hope that corporations would be moved toward more responsible behavior. Whatever the case, the critically important task at this time is not to evaluate possible motives but rather the real life consequences. To do so honestly, all self-interested blinders must be set aside.

The truth is that this policy has created a “slippery slope” leading to severely compromised stances – nowhere more apparent than in regard to the over-arching issue of climate. In 2007, a coalition was formed between corporations and environmental organizations called the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, or USCAP – whose purpose was to influence U.S. climate legislation. Some of the large groups that joined were Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Nature Conservancy, and National Wildlife Foundation. In January 2009, USCAP presented its proposals and these became the framework of the Waxman-Markey bill.

The physical context is that previously projected worst case scenarios are already being surpassed and humanity is running out of time. Ice is melting far more rapidly than expected, releasing the “albedo effect” where open water absorbs more heat and accelerates further melting. The normally quite cautious National Science Foundation is ringing alarm bells about the methane – a greenhouse gas over 30 times as powerful as CO2 – now venting from the Siberian seabeds. According to the NSF statement: “Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.” These are only two examples of “reinforcing feedbacks” that can significantly move the process closer to tipping points.

Within a context so dire that in reality a war-time level of mobilization is needed, what kind of legislation is being offered? First of all, the emission reduction targets themselves – apart from the theoretical strategies for achieving them – categorically ignore the science. The goals do not even aim at stabilization at 350 ppm (let alone the lower figures more likely to be necessary) and the time frame for enacting meaningful reductions is not even remotely close to the speed needed to prevent disaster.

Beyond the issue of targets is that of reduction strategies. USCAP would like to see a trillion dollar carbon market put into place, where traders can claim “pollution rights” to the sky and seek profits from the exchange of such “rights”. Such a system – which would determine whether life-supporting ecosystems survive or collapse – would be placed into the same manipulative hands on Wall Street that brought on the financial meltdown. As this commentary goes to press, several traders in the European carbon market (the world’s prototype) have been arrested in connection with a

), NRDC and EDF are sending their own people to promote it at carbon trade conferences.

The next immoral concession is to allow the industry to “buy” its way out of actually reducing emissions by supporting so-called “offsets” – such as forest preservation projects in the developing world. Sounding plausible in theory, offsets are actually riddled with verification issues and defects such as loggers simply moving elsewhere. But the bottomline “wrong” here is that any form of offsetting should never be looked at as an alternative to reducing emissions. It should only be seen as an additional action to take.

Then there is the unbelievable capitulation represented by the removal of EPA authority to regulate coal-burning. Now that the EPA has finally been empowered by the Supreme Court to act against a carbon-fueled ecocide, this ability has been effectively stripped from the House bill without a murmur from the USCAP “greens”. The result of all these concessions is a pathetically weak bill that the Congressional Budget Office estimates will not even begin to reduce emissions until 2018. Other studies indicate that if all available offsets are used, reductions could actually be postponed an astonishing 19 years until 2029.

The USCAP “greens” proclaim that their positions are being driven by “political expediency”. But there is a stunning “disconnect” which these groups have been reticent to address. How does one negotiate with a melting iceberg? Can the inexorable laws of physics be placed “on hold” while emission reductions are scuttled in a process of political “horse-trading”? What is the meaning of “expediency” when it leads to the collapse of society as we know it? John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Reseach, stated at the “4 Degrees and Beyond” conference at Oxford that “political reality must be grounded in physical reality or it is completely useless”.

The Sierra Club is experiencing what may be a positive change in leadership and to its credit has not adopted the policy of “corporate engagement” described, yet it has failed to truly mobilize its base against the dangerous shortcomings of the USCAP endorsed legislation. In 2008, the Sierra Club bestowed its highest honor – the John Muir Award – to climate scientist Dr. James Hansen. In presenting the award, Sierra Club President Allison Chin said: “He is truly a hero for preserving the environment”. How does the Sierra Club reconcile the honoring of this man for warning the world and then essentially ignore his core message that present climate legislation is based on false solutions that will waste precious time?

NRDC and EDF, on the other hand, have gone far beyond mere silence. While their websites claim a dedication to public service ( NRDC’s motto is “The Earth’s Best Defense”), they have been actively promoting the USCAP accomodation. If they had not lost sight of their original missions, they would have sought out members of Congress willing to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and used their resources (in 2008, NRDC had an operational budget of 87 million dollars) to throw weight behind them. Instead of emboldening this kind of voice, they have done the exact opposite by allowing industry to define what is “feasible”.

The real climate movement – the one with its backbone intact and composed of grassroots activists and principled groups like Friends of the Earth and Center for Biological Diversity – is already in a “David versus Goliath” situation as it tries to confront the most powerful lobby in the country. But that task has been made infinitely more difficult by these big budget groups using their money to isolate and “box in” the smaller ones.

We close this commentary with the following direct appeal to both the leadership and the members of these groups that have chosen the path of accommodation:

The verdict is in. Your experiment in “corporate engagement” has resulted in a disastrous failure that now threatens the planet. We fully expected the massive campaign from the fossil fuel industry to strip any substance from this legislation. But you have blindsided those of us who are fighting with all our hearts for the future of the earth. Your coffers have grown and now you are using this money to drown us out.

Your stance does not represent those in the grassroots movement, many of whom are young and see the disasters that are looming within their own lifetimes. In your comfortable offices, you do not speak for those willing to put themselves on the line and engage in nonviolent civil disobedience against the very forces you seek to accomodate. The rationale for your corporate “partnerships” was the issue of exerting influence. But the question begging to be asked is who influenced whom? Though your treasury is more full, what truly has been gained and what has been lost?

Your intentions may have been honorable, but the agenda of “defending earth” has been hijacked. Along the way, your vision became blurred and you lost sight of this mission. In this “experiment’, you are the ones who have been “had”. It now appears to have been a terrible Faustian bargain, and we are all paying the price. At the very moment of greatest need for an empowered public advocacy in the face of the most overwhelming threat in human history, your leadership is not to be found.

Your accommodation and your defense of abominably weak Congressional legislation has already had a destructive global impact. It was this legislation that set the bar intolerably low in Copenhagen and instigated a “race to the bottom”. The entire world-wide movement for climate sanity has become blocked by the denial, blindness, and paralysis embodied in U.S. climate policy. When you take this stance in the name of “defending the earth”, you are actually creating an insidious and dangerous deception.

For the sake of the planet, we appeal to your organizations to reclaim the integrity of your original visions. The position you presently advocate will squander the precious little time we have to implement true reductions before the irreversible tipping points are crossed. The stakes could not be higher. We ask that you join hands with the grassroots activists and groups and support the following eight points:

1) Officially recognize that we are truly in a global emergency and that irreversible tipping points are likely to be crossed if humanity does not act in time;

2) Officially recognize that this emergency is of such a magnitude that a war time level of mobilization is needed in order to effectively deal with it;

3) Stand squarely for the necessity that climate legislation be based on the setting of emission reduction targets and a time frame which are defined by the science;

4) Due to the severe ecosystem damage that will ensue in response to a 2 degree (celsius) rise, an overall goal of no more than one degree (celsius) rise must be sought;

5) Clearly renounce cap and trade and offsets as false solutions that will squander precious time;

6) Stand squarely against any attempt in Congress to strip EPA of its authority to regulate carbon;

7) Support a comprehensive approach to the crisis that combines elements of legislation, regulation, and public investment;

8) Support a legislative component based on a continually rising carbon fee with a 100% distribution of the proceeds to U.S. citizens, with the amount of the fee determined by an emission reduction schedule driven by science.

We also ask the members of these groups to withhold their organizational support until their leadership recognizes the necessity of these changes. On this defining issue of our time, may we strive to remove the barriers that divide us and work together.

Gary Houser is a public interest writer, documentary producer, and activist with Climate SOS seeking to raise awareness within the religious community (here) about the moral issues at stake and working to create a more empowered climate movement.

Cory Morningstar, in addition to being a mom, is an activist with Canadians for Action on Climate Change and has collated latest scientific findings here.

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/04/20-1

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