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Diagnosing Fossil Fuel Delusion Syndrome

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 14:28

2014 was Earth's hottest year ever. 14 of the hottest 15 years on record have occurred in the 21st century. Virtually all scientific organizations, from NASA to the World Health Organization to the EPA, and at least 97 percent of qualified scientists agree that the world is heating up and human activity is to blame. And, an overwhelming majority of Americans are demanding Congress act to protect our communities and public health by curbing carbon pollution.


Yet, inside the walls of Congress, we are seeing signs that some elected officials are living in what seems to be an altered state of reality. In fact, there is ample evidence of some politicians discarding common-sense and scrambling in the opposite direction of where science, public opinion and logic are pointing. It’s left many experts scratching their heads, concerned that some strange condition may be afflicting these denizens of the beltway.


Yet preliminary research and investigation seem to indicate that what we are seeing amongst many Congressional Republicans may be evidence of a dangerous political condition known as fossil fuel delusion syndrome (FFDS).


It’s a serious condition. All the cases on record exhibit scary symptoms for the carrier: confusion, logic loss, delusions of grandeur, destructive behavior and worse. The results for the friends, families, and constituents of the afflicted are just as bad -- legislation crafted by those with FFDS has been shown to result in dirtier water, dirtier air, and dirtier politics.


So, what causes FFDS? There’s only one known factor: long-term exposure to fossil fuel cash. It appears that the prevalence of this condition among Republican members of Congress and their allies is a result of the fact that they have taken extraordinarily large sums of campaign money from the fossil fuel industry, potentially exposing them to extreme amounts of oily fumes that -- when inhaled -- cause this dreadful condition.


For those who feel they may be vulnerable to FFDS, its important to watch for the early warning signs. Please examine these test cases. But, be warned, some of these cases are disturbing to sensitive readers or those who care about healthy communities and a safe climate.


Jim Inhofe: Experts point to Senator Inhofe as one of the earliest examples of FFDS in Washington, given the extreme measures he has gone to in order to try and claim climate science is a “hoax.” Most recently, however, it seems Inhofe has suffered from a flare up of this condition. Last week, Inhofe took to the floor of the Senate with a snowball in hand and subsequently meekly threw it across the Senate floor -- inappropriate behavior for the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body and bizarre, to say the least.


Inhofe attempted to explain his behavior by suggesting that since it had snowed in February, his snowball was evidence that climate science is not real. Of course, that sort of scary lack of reasoning that’s common amongst those suffering from FFDS, and an examination of Inhofe’s political history shows all of the warning signs were there. In fact, the Senator has taken over one million dollars from the fossil fuel industry, long-term exposure that unfortunately has been shown to cause FFDS in other politicians as well.


Interestingly, Inhofe is a known associate of another FFDS case, also known to be extensively exposed to toxic fossil fuel cash, namely...


Willie Soon: Dr. Soon is one of the few scientists who’ve released academic studies denying climate science - a flag for anyone checking for the warning signs of FFDS. However, the extent of the danger for Soon wasn’t made clear until recently, when it was revealed that those paying for Soon’s work are none other than some of the biggest names in the fossil fuel industry. In fact, Soon reportedly took tens of thousands from the Koch Brothers, ExxonMobil, and a subsidiary of Southern Company -- and he then failed to disclose those facts to not just the academic journals publishing his “work,” but also to Congress. Its a lapse in judgement that’s often observed in those suffering from FFDS, while Soon’s resulting confused studies are also manifestations of the devastating effect of FFDS on logic. The fact that another FFDS sufferer -- Senator Inhofe -- regularly cites Soon’s work is even further evidence of the toll this condition is taking on both.  


Roger Wicker: Perhaps the most extreme flare up of FFDS in Congress came fromSenator Roger Wicker, of Mississippi. Wicker recently stood alone as the only member of the upper chamber to oppose legislation that simply stated “Climate Change is real and not a hoax” - a frightening sign that FFDS may have been affecting Wicker for a considerable amount of time. Even more disturbing, Wicker justified his actions by comparing himself to famous scientists, thinkers, and movie actors, exhibiting delusions of grandeur that experts warn are among the worst symptoms of FFDS.


"I include Galileo as pretty good company right now. Copernicus [too],” Wicker told the National Journal after the vote. Subsequently, Wicker pointed to a scene from the Hollywood film The King's Speech in which a speech therapist challenges a doctors' recommendation that King George keep smoking as evidence that "the smartest people of our time might be wrong and that some of the very learned and educated contrarians on the issue of climate change will turn out to be vindicated.”


Its a pattern of absurdist, surrealist behavior that shows just how devastating FFDS can be to our politicians. Indeed, fully manifested FFDS can be a frightening thing. Again, the warning signs were there: Wicker has taken over $700,000 in fossil fuel cash, which should serve as another warning sign to our younger politicians to avoid such toxic substances and choose alternatives like small-dollar donations and public matching funds where possible.


In conclusion, these examples of FFDS should serve as a warning to all those tempted by oil, gas, and coal money: quit before its too late. A world in which Willie Soon would win a Nobel Prize, Jim Inhofe would win a Cy Young award, and Roger Wicker would win an Oscar is the terrible conclusion if these habits are not halted early in a political career. If you or anyone you know exhibits the FFDS warning signs outlined above, you should stop taking dirty money right away, and see a real scientist immediately.


--Sierra Club Media Team

From Compass

Oregon Passes Bill to Open Voting for Hundreds of Thousands

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 11:06

To put it simply, if we don’t have a healthy democracy, we can’t expect to have a healthy environment. Any system that shuts out the voices of those who are on the front lines of the worst abuses by corporate polluters and the worst effects of the climate crisis is shutting out the voices of those who need to be heard the most in the effort to protect our air, water, and climate. Yet, for a few years, there has been a dangerous trend of legislation in states across the country that puts up new barriers to the right to vote that threaten to sideline low-income voters, communities of color, young people, and seniors. We’ve seen restrictive voter suppression bills pop up from Texas to Wisconsin to Florida. But, now, there is good news and some evidence that the tide may be turning.  

Yesterday, Oregon made history by tearing down obstacles to voting, not putting them up. That’s because the State Senate passed House Bill 2177, advancing legislation that will add hundreds of thousands of Oregonians to the voter registration rolls.

The bill is intended to “put a ballot in the hand of virtually every eligible Oregonian” -- giving all who are eligible access to the vote. It does that by enhancing the state’s Motor Voter program by automatically registering eligible Oregonians to vote when they obtain or renew their driver's license. In a democracy, the responsibility to create and maintain voter rolls should be with the state, and Oregon is the first state to make this historic commitment.

Traditionally, Oregon does well in participation of registered voters in elections, but not so well in the proportion of citizens who are registered. This legislation stands to change that. House Bill 2177 is estimated to add about 300,000 voters to Oregon’s current total of just under 2.2 million registered -- or about half of the 800,000 eligible but currently unregistered voters.

That’s a huge step forward. That’s why this legislation is a big victory for everyone who agrees that every citizen should have the same opportunity to have their voice heard in our democracy.

Our democracy can only thrive when everyone is on a level playing field, which is why registering to vote should be easy, fair, and transparent. The Sierra Club applauds all those who fought for this bill that recognizes that essential American principle.


-- Andy Maggi, Oregon Chapter Director

From Compass

Help UNC Go Coal Free!

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 11:01

Over the last four years, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Sierra Student Coalition has constantly adapted its campaign to effect change. It all began in fall 2009, when SSC met to create a student movement against burning coal to power our campus.

After a series of galvanizing moments, including former NASA climate scientist James Hansen’s support of our cause at the campus cogeneration plant, Chancellor Holden Thorpe announced that UNC would cease to burn coal on campus by 2020. But our campus’s endowment, currently valued at $2.7 billion, still supports the very industry that the university has vowed to quit sourcing its energy from.

So our campaign adjusted accordingly, and by fall of 2011 we were lobbying the Board of Trustees to recognize our shared stake in divesting from the Filthy Fifteen. These companies jeopardize public health, contribute to climate change, and concentrate their pollutants on low-income communities, and most importantly to the managers of our endowment, prove a losing investment for large stakeholders.

Since we began our divestment campaign, we’ve had both triumphs and troubles. In 2013 77% of UNC’s student voters came out in favor of divestment from coal, and similar support was provided by Student Congress. Last fall,  nearly 3 years after the divestment campaign began, the Board of Trustees agreed to target clean energy in future investments. This provided a recognition by university leaders that renewable energy resources have a sound return on investment.

But the BOT’s agreement has still not signaled a willingness to divest from dirty coal companies. UNC is still implicated in these companies’ egregious actions, whether or not it targets clean energy investments.

In February, we met with Joshua Humphreys of the Croatan Institute to discuss the launch of a partnership with his organization and the Responsible Endowment Coalition. In conjunction with members of the fossil fuel divestment group at UNC-Asheville, we created the North Carolina Divestment Coalition, which will help divestment groups in the UNC system coordinate action and increase the collective impact of our campaigns. A few weeks ago, SSC held its spring semester kickoff meeting and led a discussion on UNC’s Climate Action Plan with other leaders in campus sustainability.

Though senior members of our group prepare to graduate in the spring, UNC Chapel Hill’s divestment campaign will not leave campus with them. Younger voices and fresh faces are ready to step up to lead the movement through the next series of challenges and victories.


Want to help UNC and all universities go coal free? Sign the Sierra Student Coalition's #SeizeTheGrid Campaign petition for 100% clean energy by 2030!


Brian Vaughn From Compass

Nation's First Offshore Wind Farm Comes to Rhode Island

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 14:01

When Samuel Slater sneaked out of England in the late eighteenth century with smuggled plans to build an innovative textile mill, little did he know that his bold idea for Pawtucket, Rhode Island, would ignite the Industrial Revolution that would transform America in major and inspired ways.

Now, once again, Rhode Island is making history, with the first offshore wind farm in North America. Local company Deepwater Wind recently announced its plans for a fully funded wind farm off the coast of Block Island with five wind turbines that will be able to provide 30 megawatts (MW) of power -- enough to provide clean energy to all Block Island residents, cutting electric rates in half.

In addition to making history and setting up Rhode Island as a leader in clean energy, the new wind farm will also free Block Island from burning more than a million gallons of dirty diesel each year.

The Block Island project is a big step forward for the offshore wind industry and for Deepwater Wind -- but it's just a small piece of what is to come for New England. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has designated a wind-management area off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts that has the potential of 9,000 MW of clean wind power. That means cleaner air and water for New England families.

The potential for offshore wind power in New England is huge -- and if history shows us anything, it's that one splash in Rhode Island can start a wave of transformation all over the nation.

-- Drew Grande, Sierra Club organizing representative

From Compass

Nation's First Wind Offshore Wind Farm Comes to Rhode Island

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 14:01

When Samuel Slater sneaked out of England in the late eighteenth century with smuggled plans to build an innovative textile mill, little did he know that his bold idea for Pawtucket, Rhode Island, would ignite the Industrial Revolution that would transform America in major and inspired ways.

Now, once again, Rhode Island is making history, with the first offshore wind farm in North America. Local company Deepwater Wind recently announced its plans for a fully funded wind farm off the coast of Block Island with five wind turbines that will be able to provide 30 megawatts (MW) of power -- enough to provide clean energy to all Block Island residents, cutting electric rates in half.

In addition to making history and setting up Rhode Island as a leader in clean energy, the new wind farm will also free Block Island from burning more than a million gallons of dirty diesel each year.

The Block Island project is a big step forward for the offshore wind industry and for Deepwater Wind -- but it's just a small piece of what is to come for New England. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has designated a wind-management area off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts that has the potential of 9,000 MW of clean wind power. That means cleaner air and water for New England families.

The potential for offshore wind power in New England is huge -- and if history shows us anything, it's that one splash in Rhode Island can start a wave of transformation all over the nation.

-- Drew Grande, Sierra Club organizing representative

From Compass

Court Ruling Means Cleaner Air for Millions of Americans

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 10:43

This week, we secured an important victory for public health when a federal court approved a timeline and framework for protecting Americans from an especially harmful type of air pollution. Sulfur dioxide pollution is a dangerous air pollutant -- so much so, that even short term exposure for as little as five minutes is associated with breathing problems like asthma attacks, particularly among vulnerable populations such as the elderly and asthmatics. And the medical community has established connections between chronic exposure and even more serious conditions, such as aggravation of cardiac conditions, hospitalization, and even premature death.

In the U.S., sulfur dioxide pollution comes overwhelmingly from coal-fired power plants.  Some of the worst areas for this pollution are in Texas, Alabama, and across the Midwest, where massive, outdated coal plants still emit huge quantities of sulfur dioxide every year.

To help protect families from this harmful pollution, in 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new health-based air standard for sulfur dioxide. When fully implemented, the health standard is expected to prevent 2,300-5,900 premature deaths and 54,000 asthma attacks annually, and save tens of billions of dollars from reduced hospital admissions, emergency room visits, work days lost due to illness, and cases of aggravated asthma and chronic bronchitis, among other benefits.

However, issuing and implementing the standard are two different things.  The first step EPA has to take is identifying what parts of the country suffer from unsafe air, and what parts don't. Thus far, EPA has only identified a tiny fraction of the country -- just 29 areas comprising roughly 40 counties out of roughly 3,000 counties nationwide -- leaving the rest in limbo.

But thankfully, that will end soon. This week the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California approved an important legal framework that serves as a big step towards providing relief for thousands of communities across the country now suffering from dangerous sulfur dioxide air pollution. The road map imposes deadlines for the EPA to identify areas that exceed the sulfur dioxide health standard.

The court's decision approves a settlement with EPA in a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council under the federal Clean Air Act. The lawsuit cited analysis which estimates that potentially hundreds of counties across the country fail to meet this important public health measurement.

This week's court decision put the agency on an enforceable timeline to complete the process, and fix air quality status for the entire rest of the country, focusing first on areas with some of the largest emitters of sulfur dioxide.

It is long overdue that EPA put a road map in place to clean it up. Families -- especially those caring for a loved one with respiratory problems--can breathe easier knowing that we are one step closer to cleaning up this dangerous coal plant pollution.

My colleague Zachary Fabish said it well: "This decision is a victory in the fight to protect the most vulnerable Americans from runaway air pollution. Major emitters of harmful sulfur dioxide, like the coal industry, must be held accountable for their pollution, and this helps ensure that they will be."

This is great news for air quality nationwide and we look forward to seeing the standard finally implemented, and steps taken to truly clean up the air in the most polluted areas and beyond.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Leaked Canadian Report Lumps Climate Activists with Terrorists

Thu, 02/26/2015 - 14:50

It looks like Canada may be on the brink of entering the twilight zone.

A stunning "intelligence assessment" by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police recently made public contains some shocking statements about what that force views as a dramatic threat within Canada’s borders and beyond. What's the problem? Well, the Mounties are alarmed about a “highly organized and well-financed” movement in Canada that, they believe, could “jeopardize the health and safety of its participants, the general public, and the natural environment.”

Sounds dangerous, right? Maybe cancel that trip to Vancouver? Don’t. The fact is, that language isn’t being used to refer to an international terrorist group or a racist militia, but people like you and me. In fact, the report in question is about a so-called “anti-Canada petroleum movement.” Or, as we like to call it, people who don’t want to see ancient forests destroyed so the dirtiest oil on the planet can be dug up and burned.

A proposed anti-terror bill in Canada -- C-51 -- effectively labels any action that opposes so-called "critical infrastructure" or "interferes with the economic or financial stability of Canada" as "activity that undermines the security of Canada." Under that definition, if you peacefully oppose a particular pipeline, voila! You are now thrown into the same league as violent anti-government terrorists.

It's an absurd categorization that doesn’t pass the laugh test. After all, climate activists, public health champions, and First Nations voices across Canada and the U.S. who oppose the dirty Keystone XL pipeline and the expansion of toxic tar sands extraction are doing so specifically because they care about protecting their friends, their neighbors, their communities -- and their kids and future generations. They've seen firsthand what happens when polluters are allowed to run wild in the tar sands, from skyrocketing cancer rates to higher incidences of leukemia in nearby communities. They've seen how destructive tar sands pipeline leaks and oil train derailments can be to waterways, homes, and farms. They know about the extreme weather tragedies spurred by the climate crisis, fuelled by dangerous emissions from sources like burning tar sands.  That's why they're standing up to big polluters in the oil industry and demanding clean energy solutions.

Speaking of clean energy, it's hard to make the argument that climate activists are undermining the economy while they are pushing clean energy sources that create three times as many jobs as fossil fuels.

Of course, logic plays no role in the alternate reality where governments become the agents of the fossil fuel industry. The twilight zone mentality that has befallen the Canadian government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on the verge of putting the needs of oil companies ahead of the rights of its own citizens. It's a scary proposition, a red flag for doing business with the Harper government, and one more reason why President Obama should stand with the people and not the polluters by saying "no" to Keystone XL.

-- Marc Weiss, Volunteer Lead, Sierra Club Tar Sands Campaign

From Compass

How Sprog Helped Me Succeed

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 11:44

Caring about environmental conservation is a passion that I’ve had during all my life and even a detail about some of my first memories. This was something I always thought I could do as a small hobby until I started to study at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus. During my early college years I got involved into the Eco-Environmental Society, a student environmental organization that allowed me to notice that students could have a significant voice over environmental issues. While participating in this group, I was approached by a professor who wanted to research about plastic bottle waste in our campus and was looking for collaboration from our group. This started in 2010, were we learned about the massive quantity of plastic that was consumed at the university and noticed that very few students knew about this.

One thing that made me feel uncomfortable about many projects on campus was the fact that great things were being studied, but no actions were taken later on in order to fix the issue that the participants were working on. Having this in mind, I felt that the plastic bottle issue was too important to stay only in a poster or document and decided to start No more bottles, an educational campaign about the environmental impacts of bottled water.

At the beginning I was putting a lot of effort on this campaign but I didn’t know what exactly I was doing. I felt stuck on educating and was insecure on how to move forward to action, how to engage more people in this issue or what exact steps I needed to take to have my campus join the list of universities around the world that banned the sale of bottled water.

Around the time I started to feel some frustration about this campaign, I learned that the 2011 Puerto Rico Sprog was accepting applicants. I read the description of the program and it mentioned exactly the leadership skills I was looking to learn. I applied, got accepted and was really excited to learn how to succeed at organizing.

This program opened a new world of opportunities and gave me all the organizing knowledge I needed to work on No more bottles and the Eco Environmental Society while also looking forward to pursue other interests in the environmental movement. During this week I learned all the skills I needed to allow the campaign and organization to succeed; like recruiting, managing volunteers, working with communities, fundraising, campaign planning and much more. This was also the first time I saw that I could professionally dedicate my life to organizing and the first space where I found a large group of people that shared my same interests and passion for conservation.

All the motivation gained helped me to go back to campus and help the organization grow. I succeeded in finding passionate volunteers and redesigning the No more bottles campaign to move forward in banning bottled water on campus.

The following years we worked extensively in education with a research background, addressing the issues that people didn’t know about and the areas of the campus where we had not previously worked. We evaluated whether our campaign was being effective and what actions were helping spread our message. Additionally, we worked on having more accessible tap water by petitioning to have new drinking fountains, cleaning these and selling reusable bottles. After gaining more support from the community, we wrote a proposal to officially ban the sale of bottled water.

Even though we had done a lot of work, we still had to wait a year until the chancellor of the university agreed to meet with us in October 2013. After this, the proposal received a lot of support from wonderful professors, students and the administration. Later, in October 2014, we celebrated our victory in becoming the first campus in Latin America and the Caribbean to ban the sale of bottled water.

Currently, we are looking to expand this to the whole University of Puerto Rico, which consists of 11 campuses. We also continue to work on education about the importance of reducing plastic use. In our country, tap water is safe and accessible yet around 60,000 plastic bottles are consumed each month on campus and many people distrust this resource. Bottled water brings a series of issues like water privatization, oil extraction, lack of regulations and BPA, but it’s most noticeable impact in our island is the large quantity of waste and the fact that we lack recycling at a large scale, as well as landfill space.

Having a successful campaign was no easy task. It took years of patience, of learning from mistakes and looking really hard for solutions to some problems. This could have never been possible without good organizing skills, good motivation, a network of support and a great team that cares deeply about the cause. I gained all of this after attending Sprog and through the connections I made during that week.

It doesn’t matter how difficult your cause may seem, there is always a way to start and a place where you can make a real difference for the environment and society. I invite you to apply to Sprog and give yourself the best opportunity to meet passionate people who will help you grow as a leader while also gaining the skills that will take part in helping you make the change you want to see in the world.

From Compass

North Carolina's Brevard College First to Divest in the Southeast

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 12:40

College students, faculty, and administrators at North Carolina's Brevard College are cheering at Friday's news that the school will divest from fossil fuels by 2018 -- making it the first university in North Carolina and in the entire Southeast U.S. to divest!

The school has a robust group of student organizers (Divest Brevard and the Brevard College Greens) who've been rallying, speaking, and working hard toward this goal since 2013.

"Divestment is important to our students because Brevard College is a place that, to quote from the mission statement, '(i)nspires social action,'" says Brevard student and co-president of Brevard College Greens Emily Crowley. "As students we feel it is important to embrace the inspiration Brevard has given us to ignite a movement that is important to all facets of the world."

The students worked closely with Jim Reynolds of the Sierra Club North Carolina's Pisgah Group - who is also a professor at Brevard. Together they got more than 400 students and faculty to sign on in support of divestment. The students also organized a sit-in - which prompted Brevard College President David Joyce to invite students to present to the Board of Trustees.

"Part of our mission is to teach students to connect knowledge to action," said Joyce in a statement after Friday's vote. "The process and outcome of this issue demonstrates our commitment to encouraging personal growth and inspiring social action."

Once again, I am so inspired and impressed by the leadership of young people in the move away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy in the U.S. These Brevard College students are to be commended - and I hope more colleges and universities in the state and across the Southeast follow the school's lead.

"Divestment for us means that our school is taking climate change issues seriously, that our administration cares about the desires of its students, and that our administration is committed to doing all that we can to contribute to solving issues that directly affect social, economic, and personal values and lives," said Crowley.

Congratulations to Emily, Jim, and the many, many others who helped make this happen.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Duke Energy Continues to Foul North Carolina's Air and Water

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 11:14

An alarming report out Tuesday demonstrates that Duke Energy's Asheville coal plant has been emitting harmful sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution at levels considered unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the past several years. Areas affected include parts of South Asheville, Fairview, and Leicester, as well as trails in the Bent Creek Forest.
The analysis by Air Resource Specialists shows that concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the air near people's homes downwind of the Asheville coal plant are up to 3.5 times higher than what EPA has determined to be safe. According to the study, the plant's pollution has exceeded these minimum public health standards approximately one out of every three to four days since 2010.
Add to that another sad fact:  Nearly 20,000 children and adults suffer from asthma in Buncombe County.
"It is beyond my moral imagination that Duke Energy would permit this public health hazard to endanger our community," said Richard Fireman, M.D., retired Emergency Medicine Physician. "We know that air pollution from sulfur dioxide triggers asthma attacks and airway constriction. It exacerbates other respiratory problems including bronchitis and emphysema, requiring emergency medical treatment and hospital admissions. Sulfur dioxide can also form other toxic sulfur compounds that can aggravate existing heart disease, causing hospital admissions and unexpected, premature death."
Previously, watchdog groups have discovered dangerous pollution from the plant's coal ash pits, including mercury, leaking into the French Broad River in violation of the Clean Water Act. The plant is also the largest source of carbon pollution in Western North Carolina, making it the leading contributor to climate disruption in the region.
Also out Tuesday, news that Duke Energy will soon be facing up to $100 million in fines for Clean Water Act violation. But that's not the end of the company's woes regarding coal ash contamination:

A grand jury settlement won't affect state lawsuits over Duke's ash ponds or DENR's investigation of groundwater contamination, said Drew Elliot of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
"This is not some sort of global settlement," he said. "This is far from over."

From coal ash in the water to coal pollution in the air - how much more pollution will Duke Energy force on North Carolinians?

“While we've just learned about the extent and intensity of SO2 pollution in Asheville's air, Duke's coal plant has been a known source of pollution affecting our water and our climate for decades," said Kelly Martin, North Carolina representative for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.
"It's time for Duke to take responsibility for this pollution and protect the health of our communities, not just some of the time, but all the time."

Heather Moyer From Compass

#COP21: Coming Together To Combat Climate Change: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 12:47


In the lead up to the COP21 climate negotiations this December in Paris, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is currently hosting its annual Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) session in Geneva, Switzerland. This session, ADP 2.8, comes just two months after the conclusion of COP20 in Lima, Peru, and presents the Parties -- the negotiating bodies for each country -- with a need to further develop and clarify the text that came out of Lima. This text will be used during the final 2015 climate negotiations in Paris.


Janice Meier is a volunteer with the Sierra Club who volunteers on the Club's behalf as a co-chair of the Climate Action Network's Technology Working Group. She was blogging from Geneva.



Fighting climate change: an idea whose time has come.


This was the Venezuelan delegate’s summary of where we were on the last day of the Geneva climate negotiations. It’s a beautiful vision, and one that I see as potentially achievable, but as in all things outside the “negotiating bubble,” prospects of that vision face a stark reality.


To begin with the reason for optimism: We’ve met the ADP’s mandate to finish a (voluminous) draft text for negotiation in Bonn, Germany in June, and we’ve gone further to agree on a direction to narrow down that text. Despite some initial confusion, the negotiations finished a full three days early, and Parties continued into the last day to praise the transparent manner in which decisions were made. This resulted in a true Party-owned text. In a marked turnaround from Lima, inter-Party cooperation and confidence in the Co-chairs seems to be leaving Geneva on a high note.


And some hoped we would go even further. In a last-day Contact Group session, the EU pointed out that we “did the bare minimum” of what was expected, pointing to the huge volume of text that needed sifting. I infer from the EU’s intervention that they were disappointed that we hadn’t begun culling the text, but then again, the EU was not responsible for making certain that the text “stayed banked,” the co-chairs were. Essentially, there are times for caution as well as ambition.


And nearly every Party speaking in the first ADP contact group on Friday said that without a rapid scale-up of success facilitated by careful steering from the Co-chairs in a quick reflection note and/or detailed scenario note addressing a variety of matters -- from no more than two (or three) parallel sessions to the suggestion to balance Work Stream 1 (WS1, long term goal) and Work Stream 2 (WS2, pre-2020 work), adaptation and mitigation, and all of the above together with Means of Implementation (MOI, Finance, Technology, and Capacity Building) -- the agreement in Paris may be but a vision.


And now the starkness: This was the easiest meeting of the year. We broached some sensitive issues but didn’t “negotiate” them. Now the rubber meets the road because during the June meeting in Bonn and at the two subsequent meetings in late August and October, we need to massage this mass of thoughts into strategic choices, including framing issues for decisions through Minister-level negotiations in Paris. These issues could include differentiation (how should countries at differing levels of development be treated differently), completeness (what is the scope of required information in the “contributions” — do they include information on the provision of MOI), cycles (what period of time the contribution covers),, comparability (common methodology for metrics to facilitate comparing effort) balance between focus on adaptation versus mitigation, the spectre of Loss and Damage ( how are vulnerable countries compensated when adaptation is no longer possible) and more.


So in my view, we are in good position but at a crossroad. Nearly all parties are cooperating. But all Parties, especially our beloved United States, will need “continued motivation” on the road to Paris as well as assurance that we do intend to hold their feet to the fire.


So what are we, fellow Sierra Clubbers and Civil Society, going to do to keep up the support and the pressure? Perhaps bring home some of that Geneva Spirit and get cooperation in high gear to ensure everyone gets the message that now is the time for action.

From Compass

Tanzania's President Kikwete Promises One Million Solar Homes

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 14:28

Photo courtesy of Cleantech Finance

India’s Prime Minister Modi is dreaming big on solar, aiming to use this clean resource to bring electricity to the 300 million Indians currently living without it. Ambitious as that is, it turns out he’s not the only national leader turning to solar to power development.

Today, Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete announced a goal of providing one million Tanzanian households with reliable solar electricity by 2017. The initiative, “One Million Solar Homes,” will be implemented by leading beyond-the-grid startup Off-Grid Electric. Achieving this goal would be a milestone on the way to President Kikwete’s longer-term goal of achieving universal energy access for Tanzania by 2030.


Tanzania’s announcement fits nicely into President Obama’s Power Africa goals. In fact, it was in Tanzania in June 2013 when Obama announced the Power Africa initiative, a U.S. government initiative that aims to double energy access in sub-Saharan Africa. Tanzania is one of the six focus countries of Power Africa.


Most importantly though, Tanzania’s announcement cements the importance of beyond-the-grid solutions -- distributed clean energy options like solar home systems for those living beyond the reach of the centralized grid. In a country like Tanzania where the vast majority of those without power live in rural areas and where 86 percent rely on kerosene and candles for light, these solutions offer the cheapest, fastest most direct way of putting power directly in the hands of people. Tanzania’s new announcement shows that political leadership now understands the transformative power of these solutions.


That’s really important because, when Power Africa was first established, only 2 percent of all funds were explicitly committed to beyond-the-grid solutions. But thanks to a rapid increase in investment from the private sector and exciting start ups like Off-Grid Electric, the initiative quickly changed course establishing the “Beyond the Grid” initiative and driving over $1 billion into this rapidly growing market.


It looks like that initiative is already bearing fruit given that the “One Million Solar Homes” initiative includes an investment of $7 million from the International Finance Corporation and financial contributions from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures program, SNV (Netherlands Development Organisation), and SunFunder. That is an important step forward for these agencies and should be applauded. Of course, these agencies are still nowhere near where they need to be when it comes to investing in new innovative solutions.             


Perhaps Tanzania’s leadership will help Power Africa focus its resources where they can have the most direct impact today -- beyond-the-grid energy access solutions.

Vrinda Manglik From Compass

How Many Electric Cars Do We Need to Save the Planet?

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 13:01

Compared to conventional cars, plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  This is true even after accounting for the power plant emissions from the electricity to charge them. That's why environmental groups have been calling on policymakers, automakers, the media, and the public to support an accelerated switch to plug-in cars, while simultaneously slashing fossil fuel emissions in other ways -like improving mass transit and expanding solar power.

In his state of the union address four years ago, President Obama said, "we can break our dependence on oil and become the first country to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015." Today we can more accurately estimate that we'll have roughly 400,000 EVs on the road by the end of 2015.  We will likely hit the 1 million mark around 2018. Still, not a bad start for a new category of passenger vehicles. EV sales have grown faster out of the gates than hybrid cars first did.

But we can – and should – do much better. Indeed, late last year, EVs made up only about .85 percent of total U.S. auto sales.

Sierra Club, the major environmental group, hired AlterAction - a behavior change consultancy -- to produce an in-depth analysis of the U.S. EV marketplace.  One finding really struck us: the U.S. needs 10 million EVs on the road by 2025 to have a shot at avoiding the worst effects of climate change.

Even AlterAction's sunniest market projection indicates that we'll have only four-to-five million EVs on the road by 2025 if we charge ahead at the current modest pace of growth.  But we believe an aggressive campaign promoting the most effective EV programs and policies in the right locations could bump that number to 6-8 million EVs by 2025. And with many more NGO, government, and corporate stakeholders making this a priority issue, we could actually reach that 10 million EV mark within the next decade.

How do we get there? As we wrote in our last post in this blog series, some EV programs clearly are already working and should be expanded and replicated. These include high-level EV taskforces put in place by state government leaders, consumer incentives that make EVs cheaper to buy and more convenient to operate – such as cash rebates and carpool lanes access, initiatives that encourage the installation of charging equipment at places of work, and utility programs, such as off-peak charging rates and outreach to their customers.

And where in the country do we focus our attention? Part of the answer is the eight Northeast and West Coast states whose governors have already committed to the Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan.  That plan promises 3.3 million EVs will hit the roads by 2025. There is A LOT of work to be done in these states to meet these commitments. Recently, a coalition of businesses and NGOs provided some specific recommendations and urged the governors of all the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to ramp up their EV programs.

We shouldn't ignore certain other pockets of the country where we can accelerate EV adoption, too. For example, Georgia is among the most popular states for EVs because of its generous $5,000 EV consumer credit, which advocates are currently fighting to defend. A recent report shows that EV drivers in Georgia are currently saving a combined $10 million a year in fueling costs, and last year these Peach State drivers prevented 22,000 tons of GHG emissions. Additionally, Kansas City Power & Light recently announced it plans to install 1,000 EV charging stations, which could boost EV sales in part of the Midwest.

In California, Pacific Gas & Electric just announced its plans to install 25,000 new EV charging stations, including at two of the most important types of locations for EV chargers: at workplaces and multi-unit dwellings. The air quality is so bad in parts of south and central California that policymakers have set a goal to electrify nearly all passenger vehicles on the road by 2032. Translation: even the Golden State, the EV capital of the U.S., needs to significantly ramp up its ambitious EV programs.

Getting to 10 million EVs in the U.S. by 2025 will be a major challenge, but we know a lot already about what works and where to focus. In our next post, we’ll lay out a vision for how to get the public charged up and demanding these cars.

Mike Walker is the founder and CEO of AlterAction, and his blog is here. Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club's Director of Electric Vehicles Initiative. Emily Norton and Jeff Fisher also contributed to this post. Photo credit: Gian Metzger.

From Compass

UK Takes Historic Step to Fight Climate Disruption and Phase Out Coal

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 12:05

While the U.S. was celebrating the President’s Day weekend, and shortly after the Republican-led Senate rejected legislation upholding climate science, the leaders of the three main parties in the United Kingdom signed an agreement to work together across party lines to tackle the climate crisis head-on. Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron joined forces with Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg as well as Labor Party leader Ed Milliband to:

  • Seek a legally binding, global climate deal that limits temperature rises to below 2°C.

  • Forge an agreement on carbon budgets according to the Climate Change Act.

  • Accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy and to end unabated coal for power generation.

This announcement comes after sustained advocacy by groups working to protect the health of UK citizens from both the danger of climate disruption and pollution from coal-fired power. According to the Health and Environment Alliance pollution from coal plants cause 1,600 premature deaths, 363,266 lost work days, and over one million incidents of lower respiratory symptoms every year in the U.K., costing $1.7 to $4.7 billion each year. Moreover, the nation is forced to find coal from unfriendly sources, spending around $1.5 billion on coal imports from Russia even as the situation deteriorated in Ukraine and new sanctions were introduced.

But this new pledge goes far beyond simply addressing domestic concerns around the use of coal and climate – it sets the tone as we go into the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris later this year. While the naysayers like to claim the U.S. would be acting alone, it is clear that there is global momentum for action. From the historic agreement between the U.S. and China in November, to this news out of the UK, we are seeing proof that countries around the world are prepared to take concrete steps to counter climate change.

Nicole Ghio From Compass

A Love Story for Global Divestment Day!

Sat, 02/14/2015 - 10:06


To kick off Valentine's Day weekend, the University of Illinois Beyond Coal Campaign is hosting  “Breaking Up with Coal,” an event in honor of Global Divestment Day featuring a twenty foot long comic about breaking up with coal.


Starting Friday afternoon, UIUC students can stop by, grab a valentine, warm up with a cup of hot chocolate, and participate in a photo petition to call on U of I to break up with coal.


The UIUC Beyond Coal Campaign has come a long way in the fight to divest. Last November, the campaign launched a major petition drive and achieved an unprecedented 6:1 vote on a ballot initiative from the student body in favor of coal divestment. Currently, it is estimated that $5.1 million dollars of the active University endowment pool, of about 1.81 billion dollars,  is invested in the “Filthy Fifteen” largest coal mining and utility companies.

Transitioning from coal to a clean energy future will prevent premature death, asthma attacks, and heart attacks. So this Valentine’s Day, we are asking students to pledge to save a heart by taking part in a photo petition supporting UIUC’s breakup with coal.  

Divestment campaigns across the nation will be hosting flash-mobs, vigils, sit-ins, pledges, and rallies to pressure their institutions to divest from fossil fuels. Recently, Stanford University, the City of Seattle, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and countless other religious organizations and institutions have committed to divesting from coal.


The University of Illinois is making significant headway on addressing climate change. U of I is the first Big Ten university to submit a climate action plan, pledging to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, end coal combustion from the local Abbott Power Plant by 2017 and just broke ground on a 5 MW solar installation. The University is also writing new plans that look at moving up its carbon neutrality date, which includes 100% clean energy purchasing.   


As UIUC leads the way for large universities and clean energy, one crucial step will be for the University to divest. The University’s achievements regarding carbon neutrality will always be limited by its investments in coal.

Join UIUC for Global Divestment Day! And take the pledge to go fossil free today!

Erika Weir From Compass

#COP21: Geneva: Effort Rising In The Face Of Challenge And New Strategies

Fri, 02/13/2015 - 13:59

In the lead up to the COP21 climate negotiations this December in Paris, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is currently hosting its annual Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) session in Geneva, Switzerland. This session, ADP 2.8, comes just two months after the conclusion of COP20 in Lima, Peru, and presents the Parties -- the negotiating bodies for each country -- with a need to further develop and clarify the text that came out of Lima. This text will be used during the final 2015 climate negotiations in Paris.


Janice Meier is a volunteer with the Sierra Club who volunteers on the Club's behalf as a co-chair of the Climate Action Network's Technology Working Group. She is blogging from Geneva.


The story for this ADP session is shaping up to be one of excellent cooperation and stepped-up Party effort as the new Co-chairs’ strategic planning seems to be engendering effective cooperation. While this session must produce a draft negotiating text by May in preparation for an agreement in Paris, the co-chairs approach of focusing first on Parties’ text additions seems to have reassured Parties that they are being heard and inspired their focused effort.


This is not to say that differences have disappeared. There has been reference made to the disagreement on differentiation (how countries at different levels of development should be treated differently) being papered-over in Lima, that make clear that “slick language” won’t save the agreement. Then there is the question of handling “Loss and Damage,” that is, what happens in the most vulnerable countries when the impacts of climate change are beyond adaptation. And there are a host of others as well.


But, overall, the mood in the rooms has been upbeat in Geneva, and already, we’ve seen dramatic shifts from the process in Lima -- where you couldn’t pay a delegation to moderate the length of their interventions in Lima, in the opening plenary in Geneva, we had Parties agreeing to hand in text for file rather than read out their interventions. And in the ADP sessions since, Parties have engaged constructively to follow the new Co-chairs lead, including focusing first on new text submissions as a definitive way to put to rest Parties’ fears that text was being ignored.


And there have been real wins for environmental non-governmental organizations as a number of Parties took up ECO’s Human Rights challenge and almost competed to introduce the text that was suggested in an ECO article, and likewise, offered long sought after text on the assessment of potentially risky climate technologies


But mid-week, the process seemed to hit a snag when the Co-chairs suggested reverting to the Lima text and announced that the results of the “streamlining process” that was about to be embarked on would not be reflected in the new draft text. What was not made immediately clear is that their reason for doing so was to protect the draft text that they had. Had they re-opened that text and if any disagreement had ensued they risked not having enough time left to get to agreement again this week and missing the mandate for text before May.


In essence, the process was a victim of its own success. Because Parties agreed to the draft text so quickly, there was unplanned time, but because the draft text needed to be protected, no further change could be made to it. The meeting adjourned a bit early, and the next morning began with a discussion on guiding questions that gave the parties time to better understand each other’s positions. In the afternoon the streamlining work began, again with Parties cooperating to find solutions.


Yes, this process has challenges and is likely to have many more between now and Paris -- including how to deal with a voluminous text -- but the good news is that if this new-found effectiveness carries through 2015, we may be on the high road to a successful Paris agreement. Let’s give the negotiators kudos and all the support we can muster.

From Compass