Could political protest win economic justice?
Bill McKibben Will Get Arrested on Monday (and Wants You To, Too)
Are humans emitting too much carbon? The best way to cut emissions, better than clean fuels and clean motors, is to stop subsidizing coal, and to create compact cities. Put buildings side by side so they leak less heat. And with density higher, people switch from driving to riding. So reverse sprawl and put vacant lots to good use. Geonomics, explained below, achieves that. This 2009 article, from Yale Environment 360, was posted on AlterNet Feb 24. The author, who just published Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont, which has a Geonomic Institute.
by Bill McKibbenIn the second month of Barack Obama's administration, environmentalists have organized civil disobedience in the nation's capital against a coal-fired power plant, the first in this country against global warming.
This is the moment to up the ante. The administration and the Democrats in Congress need political space to counter coal. Barack Obama was a community organizer -- he understands that major change comes when it's demanded, when there's a force noisy enough to rise above vested interest and business as usual.
A good place to get arrested is a power plant that Congress owns not far from the Capitol. It’s among the largest nearby point sources of CO2. One study estimates that it and the other coal-fired power plants ringing the District of Columbia kill at least 515 people a year. It helps support the mining industry that is scalping the summits of neighboring West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky. And with a modest retrofit, it could be converted from coal.
NASA climate scientist James Hansen -- who has announced he, too, plans to trespass with us March 2 -- argues that any concentration of carbon dioxide greater than 350 parts per million in the atmosphere is not compatible with the "planet on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted," and that the world as a whole must stop burning coal by 2030 -- and the developed world well before that -- if we’re to get back below that 350 number.
Coal (solid carbon) provides half our electricity from hundreds of plants. Shutting them down -- or getting the companies to install equipment that might be able to separate carbon from the exhaust to sequester it somewhere -- is a challenge. Investors expect to run those plants another half-century to make back their money; the sunk costs involved are high (perhaps equivalent to the mortgages in default).
If you think it's tough for us, imagine the Chinese. They've been opening a coal plant a week. You want to tell them to start shutting them down?
I suggest sticking in people's minds a simple idea: Coal is bad. It's bad when you mine it, it's bad for the city where you burn it, and it's bad for the climate.
Coal is bad enough that I'm willing to get arrested. Which is not the biggest deal on earth, but if you're going to ask the Chinese to turn off their coal-fired plants, you can probably keep a straighter face if you've made at least a mild sacrifice yourself.
When Wendell Berry and I sent out the invitation to this action, we asked that those who wanted to be arrested wear their dress clothes in hopes of discouraging the hardcore anarchists and troublemakers attracted to such events, sort of the way that convenience stores play classical music to keep folks from loitering outside.
Civil disobedience is not the only tool in the toolbox. PowerShift, the gathering of young people the same weekend in DC, will focus on lobbying on Capitol Hill. Both actions build the movement toward 350.org and its global day of action on Oct 24 that will link people up from the Himalayas to the Great Barrier Reef to … Your Town Here.
A little Facebook, a little Twitter, and a little sitting down in the street where the police don't want you. We've got to see what works!
JJS: Humans tend to be clear on what’s bad, not so clear on what’s good. In this case, to shift from burning fossil fuels to burning nothing but instead using renewables like solar, wind, wave, geothermal, etc, prices need to be on the side of the shift. Now, public revenue policy distorts price, favoring coal and other entrenched fuels. Along with their direct subsidies, consider this:
1, there’s no charge (tax or fee) for emitting pollutants;
2, there’s no Ecology Security Deposit;
3, there’s no Restoration Insurance;
4, there’re no fines for exceeding ecosystem constraints; and
5, there’s little public recovery (via tax, dues, fee) of the value of coal untouched, only claimed, in the ground;
1-5 leave coalers with too much capital for undercutting competitors and lobbying politicians;
6, there’s little public recovery of the value of sites (not buildings), which allows speculation’s vacant lots, which in turn causes sprawl;
7, there is a tax on buildings, which penalizes quality construction, so buildings are cheaper heat-leaks, needing more fuel, exaggerating demand for fuels, including coal.
8, there is a tax on business and/or sales, which is harder on a start-up than an institutionalized player; entrepreneurs trying to open a store or mail-order business to sell energy-saving devices and other apt-tech have a harder time than a big old business like coal;
9, there is a tax on wages, which makes more costly the labor-intensive enterprises like "house-doctoring", a job that reduces demand for fuel and coal; and
10, there is a tax on profit, which thins the reward for taking risk and makes "blue chips" more attractive than cutting-edge technology, such as novel ways to produce electricity.
All this leaves a greater market share to coal.
So whether you protest against coal or not, you still need to use government’s power to raise revenue in an Earth-friendly, geonomic way. Then you’ll have the full force of a free and fair market on the side of clean energy and efficient industry in general.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
UN urges phase out of energy subsidies to help poor
Companies discover going green pays off
Car exhaust alters climate, kills kids, and is cut by taxing land
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