Making a Renewable Energy Revolution
What is needed if we are to have a chance of enacting a renewable energy revolution in enough time to prevent widespread and catastrophic climate disruption?
Revolutions happen when:
~~A majority of people are either actively or passively in support of the changes that, cumulatively, would constitute a revolution;
~~The ruling powers-that-be are divided, unsure of how to handle rising resistance and with some going over to the side of the revolution; and,
~~The revolutionaries are organized and united.
As far as the first requirement, broad mass support, results from a recent poll by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication show that we’re in pretty good shape. Among other findings, the poll found that:
“About half of Americans (53%) say they would sign a petition about global warming if asked by a person they ‘like and respect.’ About four in ten say that, if asked, they would sign a pledge to vote only for political candidates that share their views on global warming (39%), attend a neighborhood meeting to discuss global warming and actions people can take (38%), or attend a public meeting or presentation about global warming (38%). Nearly four in ten (36%) have joined or would join a campaign to convince elected officials to pass laws increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy as a way to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels.
“About half of Americans (48%) say that they intend to engage in consumer activism over the next 12 months – rewarding companies by buying their products and/or punishing companies by not buying their products – based on whether or not companies have taken steps to reduce global warming.
“One in four Americans would support an organization engaging in non-violent civil disobedience against corporate or government activities that make global warming worse (24%), and about one in six (17%) say they would personally engage in such activities.”
These are significant findings, a clear indication that, though this mass base must be broadened, it is already massive and oriented towards support of activism.
As far as the second requirement, divisions among the powers-that-be, this is a more mixed reality. On the one hand, you have people like billionaires Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg and Larry Page of Google taking visible and public action on climate. There’s former Vice President Al Gore and all that he has been doing for years. There are leaders of establishment groups like the World Bank, International Energy Agency and the United Nations making strong statements about the need to shift away now from fossil fuels to renewables. However, taking Bloomberg as an example, his climate activism is far from consistent; he is a supporter of fracking most particularly. Indeed, from what I’ve experienced and read, fracking is the issue least appreciated for its seriousness by those in the corporate and government world who get it on the urgency of the climate crisis. The vast majority of Democrats in Congress, for example, following the lead of Barack Obama, either don’t get it on fracking, caught up in the false idea that natural gas is a “bridge fuel” to a renewable energy-based economy many years down the road, or if they do get it, they’re hesitant to be vocal about it.
Given the continuing, growing evidence of massive methane leakage throughout the lifecycle of both fracked and conventionally-produced natural gas, as well as the certainty that the growth of fracking will slow down the transition to renewables, it is clear that those of us who are about a renewable energy revolution need to step up our efforts to resist fracking and set back the plans of the oil and gas industry to export their false solution all over the world. This is key, strategic work right now.
Finally, are we climate revolutionaries organized and united?
I should first be more specific about what I mean when I use the term “climate revolutionaries.” My definition: A climate revolutionary is someone who works for a rapid and just transition away from oil, coal, gas and nukes to an economy powered primarily by wind, solar and geothermal energy, with energy sources increasingly decentralized and community-based, with society-wide energy conservation and energy efficiency, and with a conscious plan to ensure that this transition is done in a way which creates living wage jobs both for the currently unemployed and for workers in the fossil fuel industry who lose their jobs because of the shift to renewables.
There are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of activists in the United States who I believe are in general agreement with this perspective. They are part of the numerous local, state, regional and national groups which prioritize the climate issue in some way.
From an organizational standpoint, there is no question that these climate revolutionaries are NOT united.
But there’s also no question that there ARE national connections among many of us, primarily through email, websites and blogs, social media, issue-oriented conference calls and less frequent face-to-face gatherings; e.g., the 40,000 who came together at the Forward on Climate rally on February 17th in DC last year or October’s 6,000 at Power Shift in Pittsburgh.
Bill McKibben wrote six months ago about how he sees the organizational reality of the climate movement as a whole today:
“For environmentalists, we have a useful analogy close at hand. We’re struggling to replace a brittle, top-heavy energy system, where a few huge power plants provide our electricity, with a dispersed and lightweight grid, where 10 million solar arrays on 10 million rooftops are linked together. The engineers call this ‘distributed generation,’ and it comes with a myriad of benefits. It’s not as prone to catastrophic failure, for one. And it can make use of dispersed energy, instead of relying on a few pools of concentrated fuel. The same principle, it seems to me, applies to movements. . .
“It’s our job to rally a movement in the coming years big enough to stand up to all that money, to profits of a sort never before seen on this planet. Such a movement will need to stretch from California to Ecuador — to, in fact, every place with a thermometer; it will need to engage not just Chevron but every other fossil fuel company; it will need to prevent pipelines from being built and encourage windmills to be built in their place; it needs to remake the world in record time.
“That won’t happen thanks to a paramount leader, or even dozens of them. It can only happen with a spread-out and yet thoroughly interconnected movement, a new kind of engaged citizenry. Rooftop by rooftop, we’re aiming for a different world, one that runs on the renewable power that people produce themselves in their communities in small but significant batches. The movement that will get us to such a new world must run on that kind of power too.” http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175737/tomgram%3A_bill_mckibben%3A_a_movement_for_a_new_planet/
Do we think we can get to that remade world in record time without a higher level of regularized communication, movement-wide strategic discussion and a 21st century type of organization than what exists right now? Shouldn’t this be something we are talking about, at least?