Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Protect Renewable Energy Policies from Attack

By Tom Schuster, Beyond Coal Campaign Representative

Alternative energy policies are meant to spur innovation and build a clean energy economy, but across the country and right here in Pennsylvania, dirty energy interests are trying to pollute the best clean energy job creator we have.
Cleaner Tier I sources are required to supply at least 8% of our electricity by 2021, which includes 0.5% of total electricity sales from solar.  This law has already helped spur development of enough wind and solar power to more than compensate for the recently retired coal plants in the state, and has helped create thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania's wind and solar industries.

Cleaner Tier I sources are required to supply at least 8% of our electricity by 2021, which includes 0.5% of total electricity sales from solar.  This law has already helped spur development of enough wind and solar power to more than compensate for the recently retired coal plants in the state, and has helped create thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania's wind and solar industries.

Cleaner Tier I sources are required to supply at least 8% of our electricity by 2021, which includes 0.5% of total electricity sales from solar.  This law has already helped spur development of enough wind and solar power to more than compensate for the recently retired coal plants in the state, and has helped create thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania's wind and solar industries.

In 2004, Pennsylvania passed the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) - our state's most meaningful action to address climate disruption to date. This law requires electricity distributors and suppliers to deliver a minimum percentage of electricity from alternative sources by 2021.  The sources are divided into two tiers.  

Similar laws exist in 30 states, and many have more aggressive targets than Pennsylvania's.  And they are having an impact. So far in 2013, 82% of all new generating capacity, nearly 1900 MW, has been wind and solar. Nine US states now get at least 10% of their electricity from wind, and Iowa and South Dakota both get over 20%.

The recent success of renewable energy has finally caused the fossil fuel interests to see these energy sources as a threat to their polluting business model.  Renewable energy standards are now under attack in many states, as part of a coordinated campaign by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the climate change denying Heartland Institute, and the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity.  Here in Pennsylvania, the Beacon Hill Institute, an ALEC front-group, released a biased report in late 2012 attacking our AEPS, similar to reports in other states that are facing challenges to renewable energy standards. The report's methods and conclusions were thoroughly debunked by Synapse Economicsbut the arguments persist.

In April, two bills were introduced in the Pennsylvania House that would weaken or effectively repeal the AEPS in this state. HB 1151 would make energy from garbage incineration eligible for Tier I credits under the AEPSTier I credits are reserved for cleaner energy sources, like wind, solar, geothermal, and low-impact hydro power.  This could allow incineration to absorb 30-50% of the credits that would otherwise spur more investment in cleaner sources.  This bill has been referred to the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

The other bill would effectively repeal the AEPS entirely if it became law. HB 1073 would make electricity from natural gas an eligible Tier I fuelBecause we already get more electricity from natural gas that the AEPS requires by 2021, the requirement would be meaningless.  This bill has been referred to the House Consumer Affairs Committee.

Incinerators emit extremely toxic air pollutants, like dioxins and furan, and even more carbon and mercury pollution per unit of energy, than coal plants. These pollutants can lead to severe health problems such as cancer, birth defects, and respiratory problems. Composting and recycling can conserve 3-5 times more energy than can be recovered from incineration, so we should be promoting these solutions over burning of trash.  Natural gas, meanwhile, is an established fuel that does not need any government incentives.  It already commands the third-highest market share in the state, and is therefore not an "alternative."  It does not help us address our climate problem because fugitive methane emissions throughout the production and distribution chain make it comparable to coal in terms of total greenhouse gas emissions.  And of course there are the well documented threats to water quality posed by fracking.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

American Style Consumerism

By Jack Miller, Chapter Vice Chair

One of the greatest threats to our planet is American style consumerism. While the resources of the planet are limited, our appetite for more, newer, and bigger stuff has no limits. This consumer virus is spreading throughout the world. To meet our appetite for stuff we will need several more planet earths.

The corporations and their propagandist advertisers spend billions of dollars each year to keep us spending in search of that "new smell". They have so indoctrinated us that we equate life satisfaction with the acquiring of new stuff. It matters little if we have no need for these items or they replace perfectly good items. Through artificial devices like "style" the corporations create massive waste. Perfectly usable items now must be discarded. We seem to be unable to distinguish between real needs and the artificial "needs" that advertisers create. It seems that shopping is our greatest form of recreation. 

The basic economic measure of health used in this country is the Gross Domestic Product. It purports to measure the total of goods and services in a given time period. It is not a measure of our growth as a society. It gives equal measure to dollars spent on items that will shortly end up in the trash as to dollars spent on preventive immunizations. It gives equal value to money spent on insulation as it does for money spent for wasted heat and energy. It is a measure that the corporations love because it like them only cares about money spent and their profits.

American's desire for more stuff is nothing new. It was a major criticism of Henry Thoreau more than 150 years ago. He could not understand why the Christian Churches did not preach against their congregations' desire to accumulate stuff, when Jesus preached against the laying up of treasure's on earth where moth and rust corrupt. We hear virtually nothing from religious leaders today on American consumerism and its destructive results. Our blind consumerism is as emotionally destructive as it is environmentally destructive.

Before you go to purchase something, consider what all is involved. Probably the item was made from some natural resource that had to be destructively ripped from the earth. Then the factory had to use energy and cause pollution it its production. Then it was shipped to the retailer where the item is bought. Within 6 months 99% of all that went through this stream of production, sale, and use will end up in a landfill or incinerator. Pretty sober to consider before we buy. We can't forget the presence of so many toxic chemicals in the production and waste of these products.

We Americans seem to think that we are entitled to the resources of the world; none more than oil. One of the reasons we have over 700 military bases around the world is to have access to so many raw materials. We remain blind to the social and environmental damage we cause to so many people around the world including people in the sacrifice zones of this country. Most of these people are poor people who we exploit for our comfort.

We can never find real satisfaction by becoming part of the consumer society. After the new smell wears off we are forced to buy again. There will always be a new, bigger, fancier, and exciting gadget to be had and we won't be happy until we have one. Styles will change with each season so the only way to be in style is to buy again. It is a never ending treadmill that our friendly corporations have created.

We all must be consumers. There are real needs to be meet. There are also those "tools" that we use to bring ourselves some joy. If you love to play tennis you certainly need a tennis racket, but you don't need a new one every time a manufacturer comes out with a new model. The person holding the racket will determine the outcome of the match, not the racket! Being an environmentally sensitive consumer requires a lot of thoughtful action and often inaction.

The economic crash 2008 was primarily caused by the greedy, selfish, and criminal actors of Wall Street. I don't want to shift the blame from them, but many families suffered more than necessary because of their living the life of the American consumer. Beginning in the 1970's wages for middle class employees flattened. Even as productivity of each worker increased their wages did not increase as prices rose. The increased profits of corporations went to the already wealthy. To keep up with their past consumer habits, too many people borrowed more on their homes and when the economic crash came they found themselves "under water" with their mortgages.

It is time for the old time values of thrift and the purchase of quality products that are functional, meet real needs, and are durable. We should consider where the product is produced. What types of materials of which is it produced. Is it made of recycled materials? Can it be recycled or passed on to another user like an out grown child's toy? We can no longer be blind consumers brainwashed by corporate propaganda. Are we willing to give up something so that there is enough for others now and in the future? We must find real joy in living life. Joy can't be found by filling our attics, garages, and rental storage units with more stuff.

Friday, May 10, 2013


We, the people, get it.  Why not our leaders?

By Tom Church & Sheila Gallagher

        We were just back from the D.C. rally - Forward on Climate - attended with 40,000+ of our friends and neighbors. Marching past the White House, past the fence where several days before Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune, the Club’s President Alison Chen,’s Bill McKibben had hand-cuffed themselves.  How seriously do they take the concept of Global Warming?  These scary, awesome weather events and impacts to our homeland that continue to occur at astounding rates.

Bill was arrested last summer.  But this was the first time in the 120-year history of the Sierra Club, that the usually non-combative organization, went beyond their lobbying role … allowing Mike and Alison to take  “one giant step for mankind,” outside our legal system, and plunge themselves into civil disobedience.  Polls now show that most people believe, not only that the climate is changing, but that we humans are responsible and that we continue to dig a hole we may never be able climb out of.   Most of our “leaders” are still sitting on their hands.  They are not leading.  In fact, they are not even following.  Not following the science or common sense.  They were elected to protect the interests of the people they “serve”.  Who are they serving if not the “people?”  The “personification” of corporate business interests is affirmed by the Citizens’ United Case? Following their tails?  We don’t really know.  They don’t get IT!  Yet!

      Not too long ago, people, and yes, the corporations were asked to recycle.  Many dragged their feet.  Some even lay down and had tantrums. Others had to be dragged kicking and screaming.  Remember the TV ad that had an employee telling his boss being green by recycling saved his company money?  Saved money is made money.   Suddenly, the executive was growing leaves.  Getting on the bandwagon.  Getting with the program.  Getting IT.

      All over the world other governments are taking Global Warming challenges very seriously, making serious headway toward sustaining their futures.  Meanwhile our supposed “leaders” are stuck in their uncompromising gold-plated bubbles.  Or if they somehow believe that the ice caps are melting and the seas are rising, they also believe some miracle will preserve their status quo.

       Guess what?  We won’t beat Mother Nature.  We can’t even compete. We’re not in the same league.  We are the “wanna bes” and if we don’t join Her team we are surely gonna be the “has beens.”  We think we’re winning in a Universe we’re still struggling to understand?   Parasites sucking the bodily fluids, mining the minerals, and pumping toxic wastes into our host as She suffers, and eventually dies.  We continue to kill our pollinators and poison our food supply with pesticides, or worse.   Why?  Have we not learned anything from the ancient civilizations?  They succeeded in destroying themselves.  We study them, criticize them, and skip merrily down the same path.  But this time, it’s our planet Earth that’s at stake, not the Roman or the British Empires.  This is the only Earth we have.  Or are you counting on the one leader we haven’t found yet?  Do you expect to be transported to some other “pie in the sky” when we are done eating this one?

     In our house we’ve stopped reading the newspaper.  We’ve stopped listening to the politicians on the TV.   It’s akin to watching the Marx Brothers or the three Stooges make fools of themselves.  We liked watching the old comedians.  They were supposed to be fools. They made a great living being fools.   Well, come to think of it …. our leaders have too. As we marched down the street toward the White House, Tom spouted stories about working for a natural gas company back in the 1980s and 90s, experiences that that might have funny if they weren’t so dysfunctional and upsetting.

      It is time for all of us to transition from the parasites we’ve become.  It’s no longer a “want;  it’s now a “need.”. We need to be hanging out with others from around the world laughing and telling stories.  Real ones. Funny ones.  Sipping Margueritas cooled by our renewably, naturally powered refrigeration.  Getting it FREE because our energy links are harnessed to nature - the solar, the wind, the waves.    We can’t continue to exist on Mother Earth without consequences, without sacrifices on our part.  Sprinting toward disaster is stupid. If we aren’t aiming our incredible ability to solve problems to achieve a symbiotic relationship with our Host, that is insanity!

    Will we, with our “leaders” still be standing here in our dirty coveralls, screaming to be heard over the din of the drilling rigs, over the “dirty” politicians and the naysayers of the “Know Nothing” parties? 

Friday, May 3, 2013

The State of Ignoranance

By Jack Miller, Chapter Vice Chair

There are some real advantages to living in a state of ignorance. One doesn't have to trouble themselves with issues of conscience. We can live in a blissful state of ignorance. We can bury our head in the sand of trivial life issues like who will NCAA basketball tournament. We can live in our own little Eden where our eyes have not yet been opened to good and evil. If some real information seeps through our defensive filters we can just turn to denial to protect ourselves from dealing with issues which may trouble our conscience and force us to ponder and act.

We have long figuratively left the Garden of Eden and there are so many issues and problems with which we must deal. We as a nation are in denial about so many of them. While the focus here is on environmental and health issues, since as John Muir said everything is hitched together, these issues permeate a wide range of our lives. We face life altering environmental decisions each day that we don’t have to trouble our conscience with if we are ignorant or in denial.

Life is often a difficult struggle. Many times our difficulties are of our own creation. We are great at making “mountains our of mole hills.” We don’t want to burden ourselves with issues that may seem beyond ourselves, but each of our individual actions has implication that go beyond our immediate selves. Your decision to turn on a light switch has implication for the asthmatic child somewhere up the power line grid. It may be a crushing thought to some, but most decisions we make have a moral content. No wonder ignorance appears to be such a key to happiness.

One of the keys of life is finding a balance between concerned action and finding joy in our everyday lives. Sometimes we will find this balance and sometimes it will slip away for a while. Dealing with the concerns and problems we face can be most satisfying and rewarding. A simple decision that I don’t need a perfect lawn dependent on chemicals can reward us with simple satisfaction many times. Knowing that the electrons we use are renewable, clean energy can reward us many times when we think about no child becoming ill because of my use of electricity.

At first the thought that a large number of the decisions we make have environmental and health implications, may seem daunting and overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be so. Just as we deal with many of the everyday decisions of life with routine almost automatic behavior, we can develop habits which are environmentally positive. It we are personally committed to lighten our footstep of the planet, then, many decisions require little consideration.

Some of most revolting people for me are those who become deniers to promote their own selfish greed. The tobacco industry knew as early as the 1950’s that cigarettes caused cancer yet for decades they muddied the scientific water to protect their profits. Climate deniers financed by Big Carbon have purposely attacked the truth that the best climate scientists have discovered through dedicated research. They have been joined by the politicians whose pockets they line. It’s a whole lot easier for many others to accept the lies than to take responsible actions to lighten their carbon footprint and demand that government and industry take action.

Our need for knowledge and awareness goes beyond just our individual actions. As citizens we also have responsibility for the decisions our political leaders make. Our desire for cheap energy blinds us to unspeakable devastation. The price of gasoline seems to be one of the greatest concerns of our citizenry. We disregard the destruction of the environment and human health if the price is right. I wonder how many Keystone XL Pipeline supporters have any concept of total earth devastation that occurs when the tar sands are ripped out of the earth.

Do they understand that billions of gallons of toxic water in lakes that can be seen from space already exist? They blow mountains out of existence so we can have cheap coal and cheap electricity. What kind of people are we?

We seem to worry a great deal about our style of life which is too often confused with quality of life. Even though the amount of stuff we have and the energy we use have grown almost exponentially since the 1950’s, studies show that we are less satisfied with our lives. Our happiness hasn’t grown with the size of our houses. Will a few less TV’s and a few less square feet in our houses really lower the quality of our lives? Why are we entitled to such a disproportionate share of the earth’s resources? We have to destroy the notion that more and bigger are the keys to happiness.

We have to learn to live with more joy and less stuff. We have to realize that our individual decisions have effects which radiate beyond us. Can we use energy with restraint? Can we live with less so that some who have little can live with a little more? Can we accept the demands that living a conscientious and caring life demand? Can we learn to accept these challenges knowing that we sometimes will fall short?