June 24, 2016. The March for a Clean Energy Revolution filled the streets of Philadelphia from City Hall to Independence Hall with about 10,000 people from across the country marching and chanting about the issues surrounding climate change on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. The anger and frustration with a political system that has ignored or opposed actions to reverse climate change rose in waves of passionate demands: “Stop Fracking Now!” “We Are the Revolution- Go Solar Now!” “Stop fracking wealth and protect public health!” People gave voice and testimony through their presence to their outrage over laws that protect corporations’ interests over workers’ health, profit multinational corporations while destroying communities’ water, land and air, and subsidize fossil fuels while placing roadblocks for renewable energy systems.
Many of the marchers spent the previous day at the Summit for a Clean Energy Revolution at the Friends Center. Chief Perry of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation set the tone of the whole day by lifting up the pleas of over 200 indigenous peoples for all people to return to the old ways based on an ethic of respect for “our Father Sky and our Mother Earth.”
Powerful stories punctuated the day:
- Robert Nehman told of the effects of sand mining that destroys formations over one million years old to grind into sand for the fracking fields in states distant from Iowa and has workers suffering from silicosis.
- Ashley McCray, Absentee Shawnee Tribe-Ogala Lakota Nation, spoke of her decade of protests against the threat from gas pipelines and the infrastructure of fracking that had shaken her lands for ten years with earthquakes, pipeline spills, and the noise, air and water pollution that fracking brings – protests only recognized when richer white neighborhoods were affected also.
- Diane D’Arrigo, of the Nuclear Information Research Service, described the environmental injustice associated with nuclear power from uranium mining through the enrichment process to power plant operations and fuel management –all steps of the process produce radioactive wastes that fall disproportionately on Navaho lands, and on people in disadvantaged communities.
- Sandra Steingraber documented the health effects of fracking noting that 15 million Americans live within a mile of fracking operations and that incidences of asthma in these areas is four times higher than background levels. (All of the presentations will be posted by Food and Water Watch – Summit for a Clean Energy Revolution)
The Clean Energy Revolution Summit: Breakout Session #3- A Visionary Ambitious Transition Plan – with Arjun Makhijani, Russell Greene, Micah Gold-Markel and Patricia DeMarco.
Remarks of Patricia DeMarco:
Climate change is the existential issue of our time. The fact that the earth’s climate is changing rapidly in response to human actions since the Industrial Revolution presents a series of ethical and moral challenges. This Clean Energy Revolution is not a technology problem… it is an ethical problem. The laws of nature – chemistry, physics, and biology – are NOT negotiable. It is we who must change our behavior to adapt the way we interface with the natural world. The pace of change accelerates as warming of the atmosphere and increasing acidity of the oceans change the geochemistry of the Earth. We must move quickly to reverse greenhouse gas production, or life as we know it will not survive.
The technology for moving the global economy from a fossil base to a renewable energy base is already in hand. No super innovation is required to begin the conversion to a clean energy future. Climate change is essentially an ethical issue on four levels:
- Intergenerational justice: this generation as a moral obligation to the unborn children of the 21st century to preserve the life support system provided by the living earth – oxygen-rich air, fresh water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species of which humans are but one part.
- International justice: people living in the industrialized northern hemisphere are the principal causers of the escalation in greenhouse gas emissions, but the most immediate devastating effects from sea level rise and drought are being felt most acutely by people who did not contribute much to the problem – people from island nations, equatorial countries and arctic communities.
- Local environmental justice: people living close to fossil fuel industries are most acutely affected by health effects from pollution, community devastation from mining and waste disposal, and safety hazards from spills, explosions and water and land contamination. Low income and disadvantaged communities suffer the impact while the profits benefit distant corporations.
- A just transition for workers: For the workers and retirees of the oil, gas and coal industry, the transition to a renewable and sustainable energy system presents a challenge that is not covered by bankruptcy laws. Corporations like coal companies that see a fall in their markets have bankruptcy protections to keep their shareholders whole, but the workers are “offloaded’ to shell corporations that go bankrupt leaving workers without pensions, health benefits or a way forward for their children and families. This practice may be technically legal, but it is not right!
These ethical issues must be addressed in a comprehensive way to mobilize the full might and ingenuity of our country on the problem of climate change. A change in attitude to make climate change an urgent issue for every person, every day, every way can begin to turn the American lifestyle from one of conspicuous consumption and profligate waste to one of preservation, conservation and wise resource use. An energy policy based on “all of the above” including fossil and nuclear resources is not sufficient to the magnitude of the task. If you are headed toward a cliff at 55 miles an hour, slowing to 30 miles an hour will just delay the time before you drive over the edge. We need to take a new direction in energy policy. The following actions can set a beginning for a renewable and sustainable energy base to the global economy:
- Leave fossil fuels in the ground. Eliminate the subsidies for fossil fuels, including investment and production tax credits, below market leasing on federal lands, federally funded research and development on fossil fuel extraction and combustion, trade advantages, and investments in fossil resource infrastructure such as pipelines, export facilities and processing facilities. Invest in land reclamation, watershed restoration and community re-development instead. Focus on efficiency improvement and retrofit for existing fossil-fueled buildings and operations.
- Support and promote renewable and sustainable energy systems with the full force of law. Adopt federal standards promoting passive and active solar design for all new buildings. Provide technical assistance and community development grants for renewable energy systems on all public buildings. Stabilize the business environment for renewable energy with permanent investment and production tax credits for renewable resources and the associated infrastructure to support American manufacture and production of components.
- Plug the “Haliburton Loophole” immediately to curtail the harm to workers and communities from its exemptions for hydraulic fracking from the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and worker protections under Occupational Safety and Health Administration. No industry should be allowed to operate under suspension of basic public health protections.
- Establish a “Superfund” for displaced coal miners and fossil fuel industry workers. The pension benefits, health benefits and four years of retraining with salary support for families can redirect the human capital of workers with dignity and respect. Bankruptcy protections must provide for workers first, not only stockholders.
Addressing climate change will require empathy for the plight of people most acutely affected, whether they are next door, across the ocean, or yet to be born. It is time to stand up and demand an energy policy that protects our children and their grandchildren rather than the corporate greed of fossil fuel developers. The solutions are at hand. We need only the courage and commitment to pursue them as rapidly as possible, not as slowly as is expedient. Be the leader among those you reach. WE are the Clean Energy Revolution!