Tag: Sierra Club

Standing up for the future.

This is no sinecure – the future of mankind is at risk.

Very often I find a topic for Saturday that is easy on the mind. But I make no apologies for republishing, with Jennifer’s permission, a post that she published over on Transition Times yesterday. When you read it you will see clearly that promoting this today is right. For many readers may well be able to join thousands of others in showing their support for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

ooOOoo

World War III Has Begun: Which Side Are You On?

Although you wouldn’t know it from scanning the front pages of the mainstream media, a major battle in what Bill McKibben has called World War Three, the war to save the planet from human destruction, has been going down in Indian Country for the past six months.

Thousands of Native Americans, members of a whole host of tribes, have gathered at Standing Rock, North Dakota, to protest the North Dakota Access Pipeline (#NoDAPL), which was sited by the Army Corps of Engineers to run dangerously close to the Missouri River and the Standing Rock Reservation.

But as the protesters say, they are not just defending Indian country, they are defending everyone who relies on the Missouri for water—and not just humans but all life.

If there is anyone to look back at this turbulent period in human history on Earth—now coming to be known as the Anthropocene—they will surely wonder at the suicidal tendency of human civilization in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Why, they will ask, would such an intelligent species willingly—even enthusiastically—engage in the poisoning of its waterways and underground water resources; the destruction of its forests; the chemical contamination of its soils and oceans; the overheating of its precious atmosphere by relentless burning of fossil fuels? Why would humans put so much of their intelligence and technological prowess into developing ever more lethal weapons of mass destruction, used to bludgeon each other? Why would they preside blithely over the extinction of millions of other species, the vicious ripping of the great ecological web of life on Earth?

Why indeed?

I know it’s hard for any of us to escape the clutter of our everyday lives, with the constant pressures and worries that beset us on the personal level. But this is precisely what is being asked of us now.

The courageous defenders out at Standing Rock dropped their ordinary lives to be part of the historic encampment protesting the stranglehold of the oil companies on our waterways and our lands. They are fighting in the courts, through the media, and most importantly with their physical presence, standing up to the bulldozers, the attack dogs and the pepper spray.

dakota
Image source: Democracy Now!

This is what McKibben’s World War Three looks like—it’s already begun. It will be fought locally, as communities and individuals wake up to the implications of the destruction and decide that hell no, they won’t take it any more.

pipeline_line_map
Oil and gas pipelines in the U.S. Image source: https://projects.propublica.org/pipelines/

In my own corner of the world, we are under assault from General Electric, wanting to create toxic waste dumps right in the middle of our small rural towns. We have a gas pipeline being constructed, despite vehement protests, through a pristine old-growth state forest. We have oil tanker trains running constantly right through our communities. Despite a thriving organic and biodynamic farm renaissance, we still have far too many pesticides, herbicides and fungicides being used locally, and too many trees being cut down.

I have been thinking and writing for some time now about how important it is to align the personal, political and planetary in our own lives and in the way we relate to the world around us. On all three of these levels, 21st century American life is way out of balance.

It is time to focus, each one of us, on using our brief lifetimes to create balance and harmony on Earth. Sometimes the way to harmony leads through protest and discord, as is happening now in Standing Rock. Sometimes it can be as simple as choosing to support local, low-impact agriculture rather than industrial agriculture. Leaning on our political representatives to move faster on policy that will shift our society to renewable energy is key.

Wind farm in Ireland. Source: http://www.iwea.com/_wind_information
Wind farm in Ireland. Source: http://www.iwea.com/_wind_information

There are so many ways to get involved in this War for the Planet, many of them quite peaceful. The important thing is to get off the sidelines. Get involved. Feel the potential of this moment—it’s literally a make or break period for the future of humanity on Earth, and many other living beings too.

The brave defenders at Standing Rock are reminding us that we are all “natives” of this Earth, and we all have a stake in protecting her. Which side are you on?

14184457_10154517767299394_1637715510123189394_nooOOoo

Yes, we are all natives of this world and that includes our dear animals and our wonderful animal companions.

Make a promise to yourself to make a difference; even one small difference. With that in mind, if you want to find an event close to you then the Sierra Club have a page where you can look up which event you would like to attend.

Make a difference!

The Keystone XL protest event.

A guest post from Tom Engelhardt.

As regular followers of this blog know, Tom Engelhardt of Tom Dispatch fame has very kindly given permission for essays on Tom Dispatch to be republished on Learning from Dogs.  I try to be circumspect about which essays I do republish.

I’m away from my desk for the next two days which seemed like a great reason to republish this reflection from Tom on the Keystone XL protest event held in Washington D.C last February 17th.

oooOOOooo

Tomgram: Engelhardt, Climate Change as History’s Deal-Breaker

Where Is Everybody?
Why It’s So Tough to Get Your Head Around Climate Change 
By Tom Engelhardt

Two Sundays ago, I traveled to the nation’s capital to attend what was billed as “the largest climate rally in history” and I haven’t been able to get the experience — or a question that haunted me — out of my mind.  Where was everybody?

First, though, the obvious weather irony: climate change didn’t exactly come out in support of that rally. In the midst of the warmest years and some of the warmest winters on record, the demonstration, which focused on stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline — it will bring tar-sands oil, some of the “dirtiest,” carbon-richest energy available from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast — was the coldest I’ve ever attended. I thought I’d lose a few fingers and toes while listening to the hour-plus of speakers, including Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island, who were theoretically warming the crowd up for its march around the (other) White House.

And I also experienced a moment of deep disappointment. When I arrived early at the spot in front of the Washington Monument on the National Mall where we were to assemble, my heart sank.  It looked like only a few thousand protestors were gathering for what had been billed as a monster event.  I had taken it for granted that I would be adding one small, aging body (and voice) to a vast crowd at a propitious moment to pressure Barack Obama to become the climate-change president he hasn’t been.  After all, he has a decision to make that’s his alone: whether or not to allow that pipeline to be built.  Nixing it would help keep a potentially significant contributor to climate change, those Albertan tar sands, in the ground.  In other words, I hoped to play my tiny part in preserving a half-decent future for this planet, my children, and my new grandson.

Sixty environmental and other organizations were backing the demonstration, including the Sierra Club with its hundreds of thousands of members.  Given what was potentially at stake, it never crossed my mind that the turnout wouldn’t be substantial.  In fact, on that frigid day, lots of demonstrators did turn up.  Evidently, they knew the dirty little secret of such events: that much talk would precede a modest amount of walking and inventive slogan shouting.  So they arrived — poured in actually — late, and in real numbers.

In the end, the organizers estimated attendance at somewhere in the 35,00050,000 range.  Media reports varied between the usual “thousands,” generically used to describe (or, if you’re in a conspiratorial frame of mind, minimize) any demonstration, and tens of thousands.  I have no way of estimating myself, but certainly the crowd was, in the end, sizeable, as well as young, enthusiastic, and loud.  It made itself heard passing the White House. Not that President Obama was there to hear anything.  He was then on a golf course in the Florida warmth teeing up with “a pair of Texans who are key oil, gas, and pipeline players.” That seemed to catch another kind of climate-change reality of our moment and strongly hinted at the strength of the forces any such movement is up against.  In the meantime, Keystone builder TransCanada was ominously completing the already green-lighted first half of the Texas-Oklahoma leg of its prospective future pipeline.

In the end, I felt genuine satisfaction at having been there, but given what was at stake, givenFrankenstorm Sandy, the devastating Midwestern drought and record southwestern fires of 2012, the Snowmageddon winter storm that had recently dropped 40 inches of the white stuff on Hamden, Connecticut, the blistering spring and summer of 2012, the fast-melting Arctic sea ice, and the fact that last year broke all heat records for the continental United States, given the build-up of billion-dollar weather disasters in recent years, and the growing emphasis on “extreme weather” events on the national TV news, shouldn’t hundreds of thousands have been there?  After all, I’ve been inantiwar demonstrations in which at least that many marched and in 1982, I found myself in my hometown in a crowd of a million demonstrating against the possibility of a world-ending nuclear war.  Is climate change a less important issue?

“There Is No Planet B”

While protesting that Sunday, I noted one slogan on a number of hand-made signs that struck me as the most pointed (and poignant) of the march: “There is no planet B.”  It seemed to sum up what was potentially at stake: a planet to live reasonably comfortably on.  You really can’t get much more basic than that, which is why hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, should have been out in the streets demanding that our leaders begin to attend to climate change before it’s quite literally too late.

After all, to my mind, climate change, global warming, extreme weather — call it what you will — is the obvious deal-breaker in human, if not planetary, history.  Everything but nuclear catastrophe pales by comparison, no matter the disaster: 9/11, 70,000 dead in Syria, failed wars, the grimmest of dictatorships, movements of hope that don’t deliver — all of that’s familiar history.  Those are the sorts of situations where you can try again, differently, or future generations can and maybe do far better.  All of it involves human beings who need to be dealt with or human structures that need to be changed.  While any of them may be the definition of “the worst of times,” they are also thedefinition of hope.

Nature and the weather are another matter (even if it’s humanity that, by burning of fossil fuels atincreasingly staggering rates, has created its own Frankenstein’s monster out of the natural world).  Climate change is clearly something new in our experience.  Even in its relatively early but visibly intensifying stages, it threatens to be the singular event in human history, because unlike every other disaster we can imagine (except a full-scale nuclear war or, as has happened in the planet’s past, a large meteorite or asteroid impact), it alone will alter the basis for life on this planet.

Raise the planet’s temperature by three to six degrees Celsius, as various well-respected scientific types and groups are now suggesting might happen by century’s end (and possibly throw in some more heat thanks to the melting of the permafrost in the north), and if you live in a city on a coastline, you’d better watch out.  And that only begins to suggest the problems humanity will face.

The world, at best, will be a distinctly poorer, less comfortable place for us (and from there the scenarios only get uglier).

Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m no scientist.  I doubt I’d even be considered scientifically literate (though I try).  But the scientific consensus on the subject of climate change seems striking enough to me, and what’s happening around us is no less striking as a confirmation that our world is changing — and remarkably quickly at that.   Whether you read about melting glaciers, the melting Greenland ice shield, melting Arctic waters, melting permafrostacidifying oceans, intensifying storms, greater desertification, wilder wild fires, or so many other allied subjects, doesn’t it always seem that the rates of bad news are on the rise and the word “record” is usually lurking somewhere in the vicinity?

So I continue to wonder, given our situation on this planet, given our future and that of our children and grandchildren, where is everybody?

Can You Organize Against the Apocalypse?

Don’t for a second think that I have some magic answer to that question. Still, as it’s been on my mind, here’s an attempt to lay out at least some of the possible factors, micro to macro, that might have limited the size of that crowd two Sundays ago and perhaps might tend to limit the size of any climate-change crowd, as well as the mobilizing possibilities that lie in the disaster awaiting us.

Outreach: Yes, there were at least 60 groups involved, but how much outreach was there really?  Many people I know hadn’t heard a thing about the event.  And while climate change has been on the human agenda for a while now, a real movement to deal with what’s happening to us is in its absolute infancy.  There is so much outreach and so much education that still needs to be done.

The slowness of movements: It’s easy to forget how long it can take for movements of change to grow, for their messages to cohere, penetrate, and begin to make sense or seem meaningful to large numbers of people in terms of their everyday lives.  Despite its obvious long-term destructive power, for many reasons (see below) climate change might prove a particularly difficult issue to link to our everyday lives in ways that mobilize rather than demobilize us.  On a similarly difficult issue, the nuclear movement, it took literally decades to grow to that million-person march, and even early anti-Vietnam War protests were smaller than the recent Keystone demo.

Politics: Attitudes toward climate change have largely polarized along left-right lines, so that the issue seems politically ghettoized at the moment (though there was a time when Republicans of some stature were concerned about the subject).  To my mind, it’s part of the insanity of our moment that the preservation of our planet as we have known it, which should be the great conservative issue of our era, is now pure poison on the right.  Even American paleo-conservatives, who are willing to make common cause on American war policy with left anti-imperial types, won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.  When this begins to change, you’ll know something of significance is happening.

Enemies: Here’s a factor it’s easy to ignore, but no one should.  Giant energy companies and energy-connected right-wing billionaires have for years now been funneling staggering amounts of money into a network of right-wing think tanks and websites dedicated to creating doubts about climate change and promoting climate denial.  In the latest revelation about the well-financed climate-denial movement, the British Guardian reports that between 2002 and 2010, $120 million dollars was shuttled, “using a secretive funding route,” into “more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change.” It all came from conservative billionaires (and not just the Koch brothers) who were guaranteed total anonymity. And it “helped build a vast network of think tanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarizing ‘wedge issue’ for hardcore conservatives.”  The funders of this “movement” and their minions should, of course, be disqualified on the spot.  They are almost all identified with and profit from the very fossil fuels that climate-change scientists say are heating up the planet.  But they — and a few outlier scientific types they’ve scrounged up — provide the “balance,” the “two sides,” that the mainstream media adores.  And they play upon the arcane nature of Science itself to intimidate the rest of us.

Science: When you have a bad boss, or your country is ruled by a dictator, or your bank cheats you, it’s within your everyday experience.  You have some body of personal knowledge to draw on to understand the situation.  You are personally offended.  But Science?  For most of us, the very word is intimidating.  It means what we didn’t understand in school and gave up understanding long ago.  To grasp climate change means teaching yourself Science with no professors in sight.  Filling the knowledge bank you don’t have on your own.  It’s daunting.  Oh yes, the Ice-Albedo feedback loop.  Sure thing.  If the boss, the bank, the dictator takes your home, you get it.  If Superstorm Sandy turns your home into rubble, what you get is an argument.  What you need is an education to know just what role “climate change” might have played in making that storm worse, or whether it played any role at all.  Similarly, you need an education to grasp the dangers of those tar sands from Canada.  It can be overwhelming.  Doubts are continually raised (see “enemies”), the natural variability of the weather makes climate change easier to dismiss, and sometimes, when Science takes the lead, it’s easier just to duck.

Nature: Science is bad enough; now, throw in Nature.  How many of us still live on farms?  How many of us still live in “the wilderness”?  Isn’t Nature what we catch on the Discovery Channel?  Isn’t it what we pay a lot of money to drop in on briefly and ogle while on vacation?  In our everyday lives, most of us are, in some way, no longer a part of this natural world of “ours” — not at least until drought strikes your region, or that “record wildfire” approaches your community, or that bear/coyote/skunk/puma stumbles into your (urban or suburban) neck of the woods.  Connecting with Nature, no less imagining the changing natural state of a planet going haywire (along with the likelihood of mass, climate-changed induced extinctions) is again not exactly an easy thing to do; it’s not what comes “naturally” to us.

Blame: Any movement needs a target.  But this isn’t the Arab Spring.  Climate change is not Hosni Mubarak.  This isn’t the Occupy moment.  Climate change is not simply “Wall Street” or the 1%.  It’s not simply the Obama administration, a polarized Congress filled with energy-company-supported climate ignorers and deniers, or the Chinese leadership that’s exploiting coal for all its worth, or the Canadian government that abandoned the Kyoto treaty and supports that tar-sands pipelineor the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has put its money where its mouth is in American electoral politics when it comes to climate change.  Yes, the giant energy companies, which are making historic profits off our burning planet, couldn’t be worse news or more culpable.  The oil billionaires are a disaster, and so on.  Still, targets are almost too plentiful and confusing.  There are indeed villains, but so many of them!  And what, after all, about the rest of us who lend a hand in burning fossil fuels as if there were no tomorrow?  What about our consumer way of life to which all of us are, to one degree or another, addicted, and which has been a model for the rest of the world.  Who then is the enemy?  What exactly is to be done?  In other words, there is anamorphousness to who’s aiding and abetting climate change that can make the targeting on which any movement thrives difficult.

The future:  In the environmental movement, there is some serious discussion about why it’s so hard for climate change to gain traction among the public (and in the media).  It’s sometimes said that the culprit is our brains, which weren’t set up, in an evolutionary sense, to deal with a problem that won’t deliver its full whammy for perhaps close to a century or more.  Actually, I wonder about this.  I would argue, based on the historical record, that our brains are well enough equipped to face distant futures and their problems.  In fact, I think it’s a reasonable proposition that if you can’t imagine the future, if you can’t imagine building something not just for yourself but for your children or the children of others and of future generations, then you probably can’t build a movement at all.  All movements, even those intent on preserving the past, are in some sense future-oriented.

The apocalypse: Here’s the thing, though.  It’s difficult to organize for or even against a future that you can’t imagine yourself and those children and future generations in.  The thought of world-ending events may simply close down our operative imaginations.  The end of the world may be popular in fiction, but in everyday life, I suspect, the apocalypse is the version of the future that it’s hardest to mobilize around.  If the prospect is that it’s already hopeless, that the suffering is going to be largely down the line, that we’re all going down anyway, and the planet will simply be destroyed, well, why bother?  Why not focus on what matters to you now and forget the rest?  This is wheredenial, the almost involuntary turning away from unpalatable futures that seem beyond our power or ability to alter, comes into play.  If the future is essentially over before it begins, then better to ignore it and go about your still palatable enough daily life.

Putting Your Money on Climate Change

Add all these factors (and others I’ve probably ignored) together and perhaps it’s a miracle that so many people turned out in Washington two weekends ago.  As we’ve already learned in this nuclear age of ours, it’s quite possible for a grid of exterminationism, a sense of hopelessness about the distant future, to descend upon us almost unnoticed.  That grid in no way stops you from thinking about your own life in the present, or even about the immediate future, about, say, getting married, having a child, making a living, but it’s crippling when it comes to mobilizing for a different future.

I’ve always believed that some of the vaunted organizing power and energy of the famed Sixties came from the fact that, in 1963, the superpowers achieved an agreement on the testing of nuclear weapons that sent them underground and more or less out of consciousness.  The last end-of-the-world films of that era appeared in 1964, just as bomb-shelter and civil defense programs were heading for the graveyard. By 1969, the National Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy had even eliminated “nuclear” from its own name.  Without necessarily being aware of it, many (especially among the young), I suspect, felt their energies liberated from a paralyzing sense of doom.  You no longer had to think about scenarios in which the two Cold War superpowers would destroy the planet.  It made almost anything seem possible. For a brief period before the Reagan presidency raised such fears again, you could look to the future with a sense of hope, which was exhilarating.

Can there be any doubt that, to steal a phrase from that era, the personal is indeed political?  On the other hand, the apocalypse, particularly an apocalypse that features Science and Nature in its starring roles, seems anything but personal or stoppable — unless you’re a farmer and a pipeline filled with a particularly nasty version of oil runs right through your nearest aquifer.  The real issue here is how to make climate change personal in a way that doesn’t simply cause us to shut down.

One of the cleverer approaches to climate change has been that of Bill McKibben, the man who organized 350.org.  In a determined fashion, he’s been breaking the overwhelming nature of climate change down into some of its component parts that can be grasped, focused on, and organized around.  Stopping the Keystone XL pipeline and encouraging students to lobby to make their schools divest from big fossil fuel companies are examples of his approach.

More generally, climate change is, in fact, becoming more personal by the year.  In the “extreme weather,” which so regularly leads the TV news, its effects are coming closer to us all.  Increasing numbers of us know, in our hearts, that it’s the real deal.  And no, it doesn’t have to be the apocalypse either.  The planet itself, of course, will survive and, given a few hundred thousand or even a few million years, will recover and once again be a thriving place of some unknown sort.  As for humanity, we’re a clever enough species.  Sooner or later, we will undoubtedly figure out how to survive as well, but the questions are: How many of us?  On what terms?  In what kind of degraded state?  And what can we do soon to mitigate climate change’s worst future effects?

Perhaps a modern, post-religious version of seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal’s famous bet is what’s needed.  He argued that it was in the interest of those who remained in doubt about God to place a wager on His existence.  As he pointed out, with such a bet, if you win, you win everything; if you lose, you lose nothing.

Something somewhat analogous might be said of climate change.  Perhaps it’s time to put your wager on the reality of climate change, on its paramount importance to us and our children and our children’s children, and to bet as well that your efforts (and those of others) will in the end make enough of a difference.  Then, if you win, humanity wins everything; if you lose, well, there will be hell to pay.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Tom Engelhardt

The potential for the USA!

A powerful ‘good news’ story.

I am republishing in full a recent report from the Earth Policy Institute.  It underlines how wringing our hands in the face of so much doom and gloom, while perfectly understandable, can hide the fact that mankind can and does change, frequently for the better.  This EPI report is a tad ‘dry’ but still a great read.  As an incentive, let me show you the final sentence, “If so, the United States could become a world leader in cutting carbon emissions and stabilizing climate.

Here’s the full paper.
NOVEMBER 02, 2011
U.S. Carbon Emissions Down 7 Percent in Four Years: Even Bigger Drops Coming
Lester R. Brown


Between 2007 and 2011, carbon emissions from coal use in the United States dropped 10 percent. During the same period, emissions from oil use dropped 11 percent. In contrast, carbon emissions from natural gas use increased by 6 percent. The net effect of these trends was that U.S. carbon emissions dropped 7 percent in four years. And this is only the beginning.

The initial fall in coal and oil use was triggered by the economic downturn, but now powerful new forces are reducing the use of both. For coal, the dominant force is the Beyond Coal campaign, an impressive national effort coordinated by the Sierra Club involving hundreds of local groups that oppose coal because of its effects on human health.

U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 1950-2010, with Projection for 2011

In the first phase, the campaign actively opposed the building of new coal-fired power plants. This hugely successful initiative, which led to a near de facto moratorium on new coal plants, was powered by Americans’ dislike of coal. An Opinion Research Corporation poll found only 3 percent preferred coal as their electricity source—which is no surprise. Coal plant emissions are a leading cause of respiratory illnesses (such as asthma in children) and mercury contamination. Coal burning causes 13,200 American deaths each year, a loss of life that exceeds U.S. combat losses in 10 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The campaign’s second phase is dedicated to closing existing coal plants. Of the U.S. total of 492 coal-fired power plants, 68 are already slated to close. With current and forthcoming U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air quality regulations on emissions of mercury, sulfur, and ozone precursors requiring costly retrofits, many more of the older, dirtier plants will be closed

In August, the American Economic Review—the country’s most prestigious economics journal—published an article that can only be described as an epitaph for the coal industry. The authors conclude that the economic damage caused by air pollutants from coal burning exceeds the value of the electricity produced by coal-fired power plants. Coal fails the cost-benefit analysis even before the costs of climate change are tallied.

In July 2011, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a grant of $50 million to the Beyond Coal campaign. It is one thing when Michael Brune, head of the Sierra Club, says that coal has to go, but quite another when Michael Bloomberg, one of the most successful businessmen of his generation, says so.

The move to close coal plants comes at a time when electricity use for lighting will be falling fast as old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs are phased out. In compliance with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, by January 2012 there will be no 100-watt incandescent light bulbs on store shelves. By January 2014, the 75-watt, 60-watt, and 40-watt incandescents will also disappear from shelves. As inefficient incandescents are replaced by compact fluorescents and LEDs, electricity use for lighting can drop by 80 percent. And much of the switch will occur within a few years.

The U.S. Department of Energy projects that residential electricity use per person will drop by 5 percent during this decade as light bulbs are replaced and as more-efficient refrigerators, water heaters, television sets, and other household appliances come to market.

Even as coal plants are closing, the use of wind, solar, and geothermally generated electricity is growing fast. Over the last four years, more than 400 wind farms—with a total generating capacity of 27,000 megawatts—have come online, enough to supply 8 million homes with electricity. (See data.) Nearly 300,000 megawatts of proposed wind projects are in the pipeline awaiting access to the grid.

Cumulative Installed Wind Power Capacity in the United States, 1980-2011

Texas, long the leading oil-producing state, is now the leading generator of electricity from wind. When the transmission lines linking the rich wind resources of west Texas and the Texas panhandle to the large cities in central and eastern Texas are completed, wind electric generation in the state will jump dramatically.

In installed wind-generating capacity, Texas is followed by Iowa, California, Minnesota, and Illinois. In the share of electricity generation in the state coming from wind, Iowa leads at 20 percent.

With electricity generated by solar panels, the United States has some 22,000 megawatts of utility-scale projects in the pipeline. And this does not include residential installations.

Closing coal plants also cuts oil use. With coal use falling, the near 40 percent of freight rail diesel fuel that is used to move coal from mines to power plants will also drop.

In fact, oil use has fallen fast in the United States over the last four years, thus reversing another long-term trend of rising consumption. The reasons for this include a shrinkage in the size of the national fleet, the rising fuel efficiency of new cars, and a reduction in the miles driven per vehicle.

Fleet size peaked at 250 million cars in 2008 just as the number of cars being scrapped eclipsed sales of new cars. Aside from economic conditions, car sales are down because many young people today are much less automobile-oriented than their parents.

In addition, the fuel efficiency of new cars, already rising, will soon increase sharply. The most recent efficiency standards mandate that new cars sold in 2025 use only half as much fuel as those sold in 2010. Thus with each passing year, the U.S. car fleet becomes more fuel-efficient, using less gasoline.

Miles driven per car are declining because of higher gasoline prices, the continuing recession, and the shift to public transit and bicycles. Bicycles are replacing cars as cities create cycling infrastructure by building bike paths, creating dedicated bike lanes, and installing sidewalk parking racks. Many U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, and New York, are introducing bike-sharing programs.

Furthermore, when people retire and no longer commute, miles driven drop by a third to a half. With so many baby boomers now retiring, this too will lower gasoline use.

As plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars come to market, electricity will replace gasoline. Ananalysis by Professor Michael McElroy of Harvard indicates that running a car on wind-generated electricity could cost the equivalent of 80-cent-a-gallon gasoline.

With emissions from coal burning heading for a free fall as plants are closed, and those from oil use also falling fast—both are falling faster than emissions from natural gas are ramping up—U.S. carbon emissions are falling.

We are now looking at a situation where the 7 percent decline in carbon emissions since the 2007 peak could expand to 20 percent by 2020, and possibly even to 30 percent. If so, the United States could become a world leader in cutting carbon emissions and stabilizing climate.

Lester R. Brown is president of the Earth Policy Institute and author of World on the Edge.

Copyright © 2011 Earth Policy Institute

The USA as leader of a new society.

Not quite as strange as one might think.

In Paul Gilding’s book, The Great Disruption, there is a chapter called When the Dam of Denial Breaks. On page 121 Paul Gilding writes this,

To argue we are naturally greedy and competitive and can’t change is like arguing that we engage naturally in murder and infanticide as our forebears the chimps do and therefore as we did.  We have certain tendencies in our genes, but unlike other creatures we have the proven capacity to make conscious decisions to overcome them and also the proven ability to build a society with laws and values to enshrine and, critically, to enforce such changes when these tendencies come to the surface.

So don’t underestimate how profoundly we can change.  We are still capable of evolution, including conscious evolution.  This coming crisis is perhaps the greatest opportunity in millennia for a step change in human society.

The United States of America gets a lot of stick, rightly so, for it’s greedy consumption of energy, especially the use of coal.  According to the World Coal Association, the USA in 2010 produced 932 million tons of hard coal, second in the world to China that produced 3,162 million tons.

Coal mine in Wyoming

But the one thing that the USA has shown time and time again is that it has the capacity to change very quickly, especially when the country, from its leaders to its entrepreneurs, senses a global leadership opportunity.  With that in mind, read the latest release from the Earth Policy Institute, reproduced below,

AUGUST 10, 2011
A Fifty Million Dollar Tipping Point?
Lester R. Brown

At a press conference on July 21, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he was contributing $50 million to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. Michael Brune, head of the Sierra Club, called it a “game changer”. It is that, but it also could push the United States, and indeed the world, to a tipping point on the climate issue.

It is one thing for Michael Brune to say coal has to go, but quite another when Michael Bloomberg says so. Few outside the environmental community know who Michael Brune is, but every business person knows Michael Bloomberg as one of the most successful business entrepreneurs of his generation.

The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign has two main goals. The first is to prevent the permitting and construction of new coal-fired power plants. So far 153 proposed power plants have been taken off the board. The second goal is to close the 492 existing plants. The Sierra Club lists 71 plants already scheduled for total or partial closure, most of them by 2016.

The efforts to stabilize climate will be won or lost with coal, the world’s largest source of carbon emissions. The effort to phase out coal is now well under way in the United States, the world’s second ranking coal user after China.

There are likely to be many ripple effects from the Bloomberg grant. To begin with, it may encourage other philanthropists to invest in climate stabilization.

The prospect for investment in coal, already deteriorating, will weaken even faster. In August 2010, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) announced that several leading U.S. investment banks, including Bank of America and J.P. Morgan, had ceased lending to companies involved in mountaintop removal coal mining. Now with Bloomberg’s opposition, investors will be even more wary of coal.

The Bloomberg-Sierra initiative again focuses attention on the 13,200 lives lost each year in the United States due to air pollution from burning coal. If deaths from black lung disease among coal miners are included the number climbs even higher. The number of coal-related deaths in one year dwarfs total U.S. fatalities in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. We invest heavily in protecting the lives of our troops in the Middle East, and rightly so. Bloomberg is saying let’s do the same for our people at home.

In addition, this initiative brings attention to the health care costs to society of burning coal. These are currently estimated at more than $100 billion per year, roughly $300 for every person in the United States or $1,200 for a family of four. These costs are real, but it is the American people, not the coal companies, who shoulder the burden.

Further reinforcing the urgency of phasing out coal are the more extreme weather events that climate scientists have been warning about for decades. During the first half of 2011 we watched TV news channels become weather channels. First it was a record number of tornadoes in one month, including the one that demolished Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Then, a few weeks later, an even more powerful tornado demolished Joplin, Missouri. As drought and heat sparked record or near-record wildfires in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, the lower Mississippi Basin was flooding. Searing heat waves scorched the southern Great Plains, the Midwest, and the East Coast. Intense heat has continued to break records across the country as Texas suffers its most severe one-year drought on record.

For coal, the handwriting is on the wall. Between 2007 and 2010, coal use in the United States dropped 8 percent. (See data.) Meanwhile, more than 300 new wind farms came online, totaling over 23,000 megawatts of generating capacity—the electricity output equivalent of 23 coal-fired power plants.

When people were asked in a national poll where they would like to get their electricity from, only 3 percent opted for coal. Despite the coal industry’s heavy expenditures to promote “clean coal,” it is still a loser in the public mind.

In addition to the Sierra Club, RAN, and a talented team of Earthjustice lawyers, the anti-coal movement also has allies in Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, the latter with its highly developed capacity to focus public attention on environmental issues. This was evident in May when a Greenpeace team of eight daring activists scaled the 450-foot Fisk coal plant smokestack located in Chicago and painted “Quit Coal” on it. They were drawing public attention to the deadly air pollution in the city coming from the plant.

As the United States closes its coal-fired power plants, it sends a message to the world. With Michael Bloomberg’s grant bolstering the Sierra Club’s well-organized program to phase out coal, we can now imagine a coal-free United States on the horizon. The United States could again become a world leader, this time in stabilizing climate.

Copyright © 2011 Earth Policy Institute

The United States could again become a world leader, this time in stabilizing climate.”  That would be a dream come true, a dream of unimaginable consequences.