Dangerously Subtle

Lately, the news is ablaze with reports about the wildfires burning out west. Climate scientists, to the chagrin of many climate change deniers, have published studies that indicate how climate change is exacerbating wildfires, as noted recently in the Huffington Post and New York Times, just for starters.

Surely, environmental activists have been repeatedly frustrated by the denial crowd’s steadfast rejection of anything implying a more complicated dynamic in nature than they would allow, as a means of abasing concern and therefore action on environmental issues.

No academics are saying explicitly that global warming caused this fire, that drought, or those tornadoes. In the world of anthrogenic climate change, change happens over time, one subtle increment after another resulting in different long-term trends. And, as we all know by now, in the world of politically tainted discourse, subtlety knows no quarter. Perhaps debating with deniers is a lost cause, but what about the many who are “on the fence” so to speak, and the many more who are simply apathetic to the necessity of renewable energy?

The thing is, for the sake of conveying urgency in climate and renewable energy action, there exists an abundance of not so subtle, perhaps even ridiculous examples of environmental degradation that tie directly into fossil fuel consumption and thus global warming. From entire mountains disappearing in Appalachia and the ensuing toxic runoff, to people apparently being able to ignite their tap water on fire as seen in the 2010 documentary, “Gasland”, to the now infamous Gulf Spill, what exactly does it take to get people to engage?

Unfortunately, a major hurdle appears to be that only when a community is unambiguously and dramatically affected by some form of environmental issue do they take action. But, massive grassroots action is needed immediately to curtail the eventual dramatic consequences of say, a subtle increase in global temperature. Icecaps and glaciers worldwide are already melting at alarming rates, threatening our coastal cities. By the time these cities are inundated and there is no room for apathy, it will be too late. Ideas anyone?

Virginia State Senator Argues for Renewables

Chap Peterson, Virginia State Senator of the 34th Senate District of Virginia, has been a long-time supporter of clean and renewable energy, so it was no great surprise when he attended Saturday’s Northern Virginia Climate Action Network (NOVACAN) meeting. The NOVACAN coalition is made up of a number of environmentally-focused Northern Virginia organizations, including the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, with the aim of educating and empowering Northern Virginians to advocate for policies to curtail climate change.

After the meeting, State Senator Peterson reiterated his thoughts on renewable energy on his blog, reposted below. Continue reading

Green and Gorgeous

While politicians are busy arguing over the exact degree to which humans have impacted climate change, innovative designers are diving into clever new energy technologies and green designs.

The Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) competition, sponsored by the United Arab Emirates’ “clean technology zone” Masdar City, generated one theoretical wind power generation design that draws its inspiration and its visual appeal directly from field of grass. Continue reading

Washington Post Nails Coal Mine Death Crisis: Big Coal Runs "Clean Coal" Ad on Same Page?

This is written by Jeff Biggers and crossposted from The Huffington Post.

In one of the most bizarre Big Coal public relations ads yet, online readers of the Washington Post today were forced to view a fatuous “clean coal” ad prior to viewing an extraordinary photo galley on “Death at American coal mines.”

In an excellent and in-depth look into regulatory failure, Post reporters David A. Fahrenthold and Kimberly Kindy examine nine deaths in various mines since the Upper Big Branch disaster in April. The Post reporters conclude: “For safety experts and miners’ families, these recent disasters tell a familiar story: Enforcement efforts have been hampered by a backlogged appeals system and the lack of penalty for repeat offenders. The new federal crackdown still couldn’t ensure safe conditions underground.”

Even more notable: An estimated 450-500 coal miners have died from black lung disease in the last six months, according to figures from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. In one of the most scandalous crises in workplace safety in the United States, over 10,000 coal miners have died needlessly from black lung disease (from the inhalation of coal dust) in the last decade.

Black lung disease was first diagnosed in 1831. Coal mining communities wait todayfor new rules and stricter enforcement procedures.

Why are coal miners still dying today?

Continue reading

REC New Members Meeting

As some of you may know, Allegheny Power no longer exists in Virginia. The customers that were with Allegheny have been divided between Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) and their affiliate, Shenandoah Cooperative, as of June 1, 2010. In another perfect example of just how bad the transparency problem in REC is, almost none of the former Allegheny customers had any idea that they had been switched until they got their first (considerably higher) bill from REC.

The better part of Clarke County was transferred from Allegheny to REC. Almost every person I have spoken to in this area has complained about power outages ranging from a few minutes to several hours. Most people who did know about the switch were first informed when they called Allegheny to complain about these outages. Ex-Alleghany co-op members have been grateful when I’ve told them about the coal plant, the upcoming co-op election, and our clean energy candidate, Rob Marmet. It’s frustrating that the only information some of these co-op members have received has been from CCAN, rather than their new co-op.

Last Tuesday, July 13th, REC held an informational meeting for new members. Justin, Leslie, Carrie and I piled into the car and traveled from our Fredericksburg office to the Clarke County government center, where the meeting was held. We arrived just in time to find REC executives setting up refreshments and brochures and to see huge rain clouds roll in.

Incredibly, almost as if REC could control the weather, the downpour lasted almost exactly the length of our stay before, after, and during the meeting. Unfortunately, the inclement weather seemed to affect the meeting’s turnout. Luckily, one person who wasn’t deterred by the weather was our candidate for the REC Board of Directors, Rob Marmet! Rob and his wife made it just in time to talk with us for a few minutes and head into the meeting.

During the question and answer session, Rob asked why new members who may have lost or thrown away their ballot must travel all the way to a REC office to request another ballot in person. There are REC offices in Fredericksburg, Culpeper, Bowling Green, and Front Royal. The co-op area spans about 15 counties, many of which are hours from an office, and it is unclear if they will even be distributed ballots at every location or only in Fredericksburg. He also brought up the proposed coal plant near the Chesapeake Bay, but the Board of Directors managed to sidestep the issue entirely. Rob is quoted in an article about this meeting in the Clarke Daily News.

Here is an excerpt:

“Marmet said that he is running for the REC Board of Directors because he believes in the cooperative system and thinks that direct public ownership is the best approach for running a good utility. Marmet also expressed reservations about plans by Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, REC’s primary electric power provider, to build a coal-fired power plant in Surry County, Virginia.”

“Why does a Virginia utility want to invest in antiquated coal technology?” he rhetorically asked.”

Transparency…What is that?

In our recent efforts to educate member-owners and ratepayers of the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative through phone calls and door-to-door visits, I have realized that this campaign goes so far beyond stopping a coal plant. Of course at an estimated 110,000+ pounds daily of toxic emissions daily, this would be one big smokestack of doom for the Chesapeake watershed. But this is not simply an environmental issue disguised as a transparency/accountability issue to involve co-op members that are not necessarily eco-minded.

Our educating co-op members really is empowering people.

Canvassing yesterday I heard from several member-owners that they