Kristin Casper is a campaigner for Greenpeace Clean Energy Now!. She works with schools, cities, and the state of California to invest in clean energy and protect the climate and future generations from global warming.

Monday, 29 Jul 2002

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif

I like Monday mornings. As a Clean Energy Now! campaigner for Greenpeace, I spend most of my weekends recruiting new volunteers, getting people to sign postcards, or even powering concerts with our solar/bio-diesel truck, The Rolling Sunlight. The truck has a solar array powerful enough to provide juice for three energy-efficient homes for an entire day. Compared to the long hours spent organizing at the local level on weekends, Mondays are relaxing.

Plus my day got off to a good start. I woke up this morning, jumped on my bike, and rode to the rock gym. Bouldering in the gym in the mornings starts my day right and provides me with the energy I need to get through yet another seven-day work week. After a short session on the wall, I arrived at the office and was happy to find no urgent deadlines awaiting me on my desk — just my coffee, my email, and me. When I clicked on the “Receive” button, my inbox was flooded with messages from around the world. Some sample subject lines: Greenpeace UK Launches New Stop Esso Guerrilla Website; Greenpeace Mexico Blocks Another Shipment of Genetically Modified Corn.

The Greenpeace world is vast, and once you are in, rumor has it you’ll never leave. In my experience as an activist, it is at once the tightest and largest network of people working together on a shared commitment to social and environmental change; at times, that commitment is such that it overrides all of our personal lives.

I am relieved to see an email from my Thai counterpart, Dao, Greenpeace Southeast Asia climate campaigner. She sent me a quick note providing vague details on one of our ships, the Rainbow Warrior, which is now on tour in the Philippines. She must have been too excited to bother with punctuation, but her message is clear: The Southeast Asia team is successfully stopping dirty coal-powered plants, and the community installations of wind and solar power are going smoothly. No surprise from a woman who was able to get all of the executive directors of Greenpeace and a group of Buddhist monks together for the blessing of solar panels on a school in a rural Thai village.

Dao and I first worked together on a campaign to stop the construction of a power plant in Bo Nok, Thailand. Thai villagers had been protesting the plant already for eight long years. They organized massive civil disobedience actions, and at one point thousands of protestors blockaded a major highway. Greenpeace Southeast Asia was inspired by this grassroots uprising and decided to help out by focusing international attention on the struggle. The Thai people did not want dirty energy — in fact, not even the prime minister wanted the coal power — but the California-based Edison Corporation was pushing the huge coal project on to the villages.

When Greenpeace Southeast Asia realized that the main instigator was a California company, they gave us a call in San Francisco. We agreed that Edison should not build power plants abroad that would violate environmental regulations in California. It was clear that Greenpeace U.S. had an obligation to join the campaign and expose the dirty double standard.

This past April, activists, including myself, put a fake power plant in the middle of the parkway at the corporate headquarters of Edison International, down in southern California. By converting an old school bus, painting it black, and constructing smoke stacks, we visibly showed Edison what it is like to have a power plant in its community, while also sending a direct message to the CEO that the company should leave Thailand unless it changes its investment from dirty energy to clean energy. After being locked down to the fake power plant for over 24 hours, the activists were sawed out by Irvine police.

Recently, the prime minister of Thailand put the plant on hold instead of canceling it outright, fearing that the country would have to pay Edison for not fulfilling the contract. The Southeast Asia office continues to work with the local village and the Thai government to establish a clean energy economy that will support the livelihood of the area. Meanwhile our team in California keeps pushing for corporations to invest in clean energy at home and abroad.

I wrote a quick email back to Dao wishing her luck with the rest of the Rainbow Warrior tour. I will always remember the lesson I learned from the villagers and campaigners: Strong and aggressive action is necessary to bring about social and environmental justice.

The rest of my day was filled with my usual recruiting, planning, and researching. And finally I rode my bike home to my apartment — which has an extra room for Greenpeace folk that are on the road and need a place to crash. No one was there, but I expect someone could roll through by nightfall.

Tuesday, 30 Jul 2002

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.

Last night, while hanging around with my coworkers (literally “hanging around” — we were at an action-climb training session), I was impressed all over again by how much all of us try to fulfill our vision of a sustainable lifestyle. Not only do we try individually, we try collectively; the entire Greenpeace office is committed to practicing what we preach (thanks in large part to our office manager, Krikor, who is by far the most dedicated sustainability activist I know in the city).

For example: At the office today, a solar contractor gave us an estimate for a new solar thermal system. Mateo, our West Coast action coordinator, and J.P., my partner in spurring the new clean energy economy, are obsessed with getting our new Protero Hill office solarized and using as few kilowatt-hours as possible. Before we put in a solar photovoltaic system, we want to make sure that we are using the absolute minimum amount of electricity; why make energy if you are just going to waste it? Conservation always comes first.

Mateo, man of a thousand trades, installed a meter on our hot water heater to gauge its use. No electron will go to waste. J.P, meanwhile, is in charge of tracking our greenhouse gas emissions and registering us under the California Climate Registry — a voluntary program set up by the state for businesses and government agencies to track and ultimately reduce emissions, with the hope that someday we will all be Kyoto-compliant or better.

Greenpeace activists fly a hot-air balloon with banners reading, “Clean Energy Now!” and “Stop Global Warming.”

Ben Fonnesbeck, Greenpeace.

There are a million and one people like us in the U.S. — people who are obsessed with saving energy. During the 2001 energy crisis, California Gov. Gray Davis (D) called on people to save energy (not to mention his reputation); in places like San Diego, where the crisis hit the hardest, Californians succeeded in reducing energy consumption by 10 to 15 percent. During that crisis, residents showed that they have the capacity to be green heroes.

And so, really, do all of us. There are loads of good people in the U.S. doing what they can to protect the climate, and one of Greenpeace’s goals is to support them in their work. As part of that mission, we are sending 10 youth activists from across the United States to South Africa this August for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The youth — clean, green heroes in their own communities — will hold the government accountable for not fulfilling the promises made at the first Earth Summit in 1992. They will pressure the official delegates to commit to concrete action, such as making renewable energy account for 10 percent of all energy use by 2010. Most important, they will prove to the rest of the world that although the White House refuses to commit to sustainability, U.S. youth care and are taking action at the local level to stop global warming. In doing so, they will hopefully inspire other youth to fight global warming in their schools and communities.

This afternoon, I helped the 10 youth activists get their local media outfits to cover the work they’ve done in their communities and the role they will play at the summit in Johannesburg. As far as I’m concerned, each one of these young activists deserves a front-page article in Time magazine. For example, Tricia, a student from Alabama, has engineered a methane digester using hog waste to help power her college. Nadia from Los Angeles has been working with communities of color and low-income communities to fight the relaxing of air pollution restrictions on power plants and get utilities to invest in clean energy. These are just two amazing heroes out of the 10. Their message is clear: Bush, don’t burn our future.

We are only four weeks away from the summit, and anxiety is setting in. A recent doomsday report by World Wildlife Fund predicts that by the time I am in my golden years, the Earth will be toast. In addition, Bush looks like he won’t attend the summit, and the delegates he is sending will hold the party line of non-commitment. What hope is there? Well, for starters, there is the hope embodied by these 10 youth. Despite the lack of national leadership and the challenges facing them, they are walking the talk in their own communities.

Wednesday, 31 Jul 2002

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.

I read the newspaper every morning, but try to avoid the stories from the White House, which tend to make me nauseous. Instead, I go straight to the Bay Area section, hoping to be inspired by local news and events. Typically, the headlines are totally different. Rather than something like, “Bush Supports Drilling in All National Parks,” the headlines read, “Governor Signs Historic Bill to Stop Global Warming.”

The debate on Capitol Hill earlier this spring about the Bush-Cheney energy plan made it clear that if our federal government calls the shots, our national energy will come from fossils fuels, large-scale hydropower, and nuclear energy. In other words, if you want cleaner, better, more sustainable energy solutions, you better look to your own community to take the lead.

There are good examples of cities, schools and other institutions in California moving ahead with energy plans that counter the Bush-Cheney fossil foolishness. For example, there is a bill sponsored by state Sen. Byron Sher (D) for a state renewable portfolio standard — not to mention the recently signed historic legislation to regulate global warming pollution from cars and light trucks.

Even though these are excellent efforts, none of them speaks directly to the youth of this country. Because young people can’t vote and aren’t generally encouraged to participate in the political process, legislative efforts like those mentioned above don’t necessarily capture their attention. But we all know (or at least I hope we do) that the key to stopping global warming and achieving sustainability is making long-term plans that engage the sector of society that will implement these policies in the future: today’s youth.

After reading the paper this morning, I was ready to jump into work. Today, I’m focusing on my primary campaign, which is to encourage all nine (soon to be 10) University of California campuses to become the leaders in green buildings and clean energy. True to our commitment to youth, Greenpeace is working with students to convince the behemoth UC institution to change.

Greenpeace volunteers hand out leaflets encouraging San Franciscans to vote yes on a clean energy bill for California.

Rosemarie Lion, Greenpeace.

Many people doubt that we can mobilize a student movement against global warming strong enough to sway the UC administration. But perhaps we know something they don’t: Youth today are fired up to be a part of local change. Young people witness what is going on at the White House and are disgusted. But working on federal and state legislation can be intimidating and is too far removed from their reality. Yet in my experience, students are experts in campus politics and yearn to feel the positive impact of a successful clean energy campaign.

Students at Los Angeles Community College proved this earlier this year while working on a campaign with Greenpeace. Thanks to pressure from the student body, the LACC Board of Trustees unanimously voted in favor of the cleanest renewable energy policy and green building standard ever set by an academic institution in the U.S. Now, that is an example of youth empowerment in action!

This effort would have never succeeded without student mobilization. Now the LACC students are challenging other colleges to do the same. And University of California students are rising to that challenge.

Part of my work today involves following up on the UC student training, hosted a few weeks ago by the UC-Santa Barbara Environmental Affairs Board, a rocking student organization. In a mere two and a half days, 20 UC students representing six out of the nine existing campuses democratically wrote a resolution aimed at being passed simultaneously this fall by all of the UC student senates. It is critical to the students that there is a university-wide consensus on the goals and that the Board of Regents heed their call before the new Merced campus (the 10th UC school) is built. The university is planning to break ground on that campus this fall. Some students say they won’t let construction start until the Board of Regents adopts a strong, system-wide policy for green buildings and renewable energy. Yet all the students agree that cooperation and coordination among students, faculty, and staff is critical. And that is my role — to connect the students, administration, staff, and political figures.

After sending out the final draft of the UC student resolution to the “go solar” listserv, I hit the phones, calling the governor’s office, state senators, renewable energy companies, and nonprofit organizations to gain their endorsement of the initiative. Luckily, no one is saying no. It’s unanimous: We all want green buildings and clean energy. No longer is it students versus the administration; it is all of us against the imminent destruction of global warming. And if we educate and empower the students, we will all come out winners.

Thursday, 1 Aug 2002

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.

Do you remember one of Greenpeace’s oldest ships, the Peacock, that tracked Russian whalers and stopped them from slaughtering hundreds of whales? Did you know that in the 1980s, cockroaches invaded the Greenpeace Fort Mason office, forcing campaigners to flee?

Every Thursday at lunchtime, Greenpeace legend Richard Dillman, the special services office and warehouse manager who has been with Greenpeace San Francisco for a quarter-century, tells our staff stories about the history of the organization. Each week after listening to him, I’m inspired to hop on a ship or participate in an epic action — but the reality of my work in San Francisco is not quite as romantic as the Greenpeace legends.

Instead of being on a ship far out in the Pacific Ocean, I am organizing in schools, testifying at city hall, and meeting with community activists at the local pub. Organizing local climate initiatives is not the same as putting your body in front of a harpoon — but the passion and the effort required are just the same.

After Richard’s Greenpeace History 101, I return to my desk to work on the text for our website, www.cleanenergynow.org, which is going to be fully revamped in September. Because the Clean Energy Now! campaign has proved successful in California, it will move beyond the state’s borders this year, working in Florida to force Jeb Bush and Janet Reno to make climate change an issue in the governor’s race and to promote solar energy in the sunniest state in the U.S. Our hope is to repeat the San Francisco solar success story in both Orlando and San Diego.

San Francisco became the nation’s solar leader in November 2001, when the electorate voted in support of two renewable energy initiatives on the ballot. The first (which garnered a stunning 73 percent of the vote) was for $100 million worth of revenue bonds to be spent on 40 megawatts of wind- and solar-generated electricity for the municipal power supply, along with increased energy efficiency in city buildings. The second allows the city to issue further financing to support business and private residences that want to go solar.

Greenpeace and other community groups, labor unions and environmentalists join forces at the Powershift rally.

Gerry McIntyre, Greenpeace.

How did Greenpeace, Vote Solar, Local Power, and others convince San Franciscans that the answer to the energy crisis (or energy scam) was not more dirty power plants? The key to the victory was visibility. Greenpeace worked with five stellar Green Corps organizers to win the two solar initiatives. Within two months, the organizers recruited close to 300 volunteers who distributed flyers and called over 50,000 voters.

Local politicians support clean energy — or at least their constituents are forcing them to. So why does President Bush not get it? Because corporations like ExxonMobil have intentionally sabotaged action on global warming by widely publicizing misinformation and maintaining very close personal and financial ties with the Bush administration — that’s why.

One of the unique aspects of our revamped website will be the community center, where individuals and organizations will be able to post information about their activities. This will be an indispensable feature, because there is a lot of synergy happening in the climate activism community. The Stop ExxonMobil Alliance, in which Greenpeace participates, consists not just of climate activists, but also human rights, labor, social justice, and general environmental groups. For years, we have all been targeting ExxonMobil, but not until recently has the group gained strength and seen positive results — such as the unmistakable message ExxonMobil shareholders delivered in a vote demanding that the company outline its future plans for the promotion of renewable energy.

Earlier this month, Esso France (ExxonMobil is called Esso in Europe) briefly succeeded in silencing its opposition when a French court agreed with the company and censored a parody logo posted on the Internet by anti-Esso activists. In response, the activists plan to switch their website to a U.S. carrier, where it will be protected by First Amendment freedom of expression guarantees. And, even more creatively, the ExxonMobil activists are attacking the oil Goliath with a parody logo contest. If you get bored today at work, design your own mock ExxonMobil/Esso logo and send it to info@stopesso.org.

Unfortunately, I am too drained from staring at my computer all day to come up with any witty ideas, so I look forward to seeing yours!

Friday, 2 Aug 2002

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.

Thursday nights are the start of my weekend. I kick them off with salsa dancing at Club Cocomo, an island-like oasis tucked away in the industrial sector of San Francisco. The club is very close to the Greenpeace office, making it all too convenient. I like to tell myself that staying up till 2 a.m. is actually enhancing my career: I get to learn Spanish and meet lots of bands that want Greenpeace to power their concerts with the Rolling Sunlight, our solar demonstration truck.

Last night was a long one, but J.P., a policy analyst and my Clean Energy Now! buddy, is back from a trip to San Diego and Mexicali, and he always improves my mood. I get overwhelmed when I am alone in the office, and his presence lightens up the vibe (and the workload).

J.P.’s trip was hot, in every sense of the word. He drove around the Southern California desert visiting a Native American reservation, concerned residents in Mexicali, and activists in San Diego. Greenpeace is building a coalition to oppose Sempra Energy’s development of a “Dirty Energy Export Zone” in northern Mexico to feed Californians’ undying thirst for power. Through the zone, Sempra would essentially export to Mexico the pollution problems and global warming liabilities created by California’s profligate energy consumption. (For more information, check out our website.) This kind of hypocrisy will create a negative relationship that the U.S. does not need to have with its closest neighbor.

Greenpeace’s solar powered truck, the Rolling Sunlight.

Mateo Williford, Greenpeace.

Today, I’m meeting with J.P. and Ashby (Clean Energy Now’s spitfire outreach campaigner) to nail down plans for the Rolling Sunlight’s Southern California tour at the end of August. We hope that by powering gatherings of a Boys and Girls Club in San Diego, students in Tijuana, and activists in Mexicali, we can demonstrate that there are clean energy alternatives to Sempra’s scam. One of my favorite uses of Rolling Sunlight is to power the production of food, but J.P. and I disagree on the best solar snacks. I like solar fries, so we can say things like, “Sempra, don’t fry the planet.” But J.P., after experiencing the 120-degree heat in Southern California, is feeling partial to cold smoothies.

When I get back to my desk, the red light on my phone is flashing. I check my messages and hear the excited voice of my youth activist amigo, Dan Jones of SustainUS. Dan works with a network of students and youth groups dedicated to sustainable development. They waged a bet with President Bush that the nation’s young people could collectively conserve 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide by July 31. The stakes: If the youth won, Bush would go to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to be held in August and September in Johannesburg, South Africa. The youth won the bet, with an additional 1,800 tons to spare! With the numbers tallied, it is official: Bush must go to the summit.

The mission of SustainUS is to educate U.S. youth about the WSSD. The program started with a handful of people who were pumped up after an international youth conference in Sweden, and has grown into an extensive and well-organized force of young people empowered to hold youth and the government accountable for solving global warming. The bet with Bush is over, but if you are a youth, you can still get involved in the network by checking out the SustainUS website.

Guadalupe, a student at UC-Berkeley and our incredibly efficient and effective intern, is gone for the day, but I have to get in touch her about this weekend’s Aloha Festival in the Presidio in San Francisco. She is going to table with me on Saturday, but getting out there on public transportation with a box of T-shirts, table, banner, postcards, and the whole get-up is something of a logistical nightmare. Hopefully, she can meet the volunteers and me at the office tomorrow morning, so we can all carpool together. She is not going to like getting up that early on the weekend, but campaigning next to the ocean, under the Golden Gate Bridge, on a sunny Saturday is not such a bad job.

Want to join us tomorrow at the park or volunteer for the Clean Energy Now! campaign? Email me at kristin.casper@sfo.greenpeace.org.

Take care,

Kristin