I had no idea when I wrote the first sentence of the first article in this series that I would still be writing weeks later. Today’s installment—the last in the series—identifies some of the fissures I see forming in the advocacy community. That is, the group of dedicated renewable energy and environmental advocates whose commitment and diligence to the task of saving the world from itself has gotten us this far down the path to sustainability.
Are these clefts the canary in the coal mine? Doubtful. Do they represent circumstances of uncertainty that impede the pace of the transition to sustainability? Undoubtedly.
The advocate community is extremely diverse; it ranges from the Left to Right and back again. Uh huh, yes, I said it. The Right. Don’t type cast—not every Republican is Donald Trump or Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the House Energy Committee. I refer you to the group republicEn. There are others out there as well—Google Republicans advocates for clean energy.
My point here is neither to defend nor explain portions of the Republican Party; it is simply to indicate that the advocacy community is quite diverse. As a broad body of interests, one could reasonably expect that not all sing the same song.
I know climate defender and renewable energy advocates that gag at the thought of nuclear, while others I have shared a meal with ardently believe it will prove impossible to prevent falling off the climate cliff without revanche to nuclear. As I have written before, environmental protections and renewable energy policies are not interchangeable policies.
What I am addressing today are fissures I see beyond what may be considered “normal” or anticipated divisions in the community. I can offer no better example than the current and past battle over renewable energy projects on public lands. Although an old bone of contention, it has been revitalized by Secretary Clinton’s proposal to “make public lands an engine of our clean energy economy through a ten-fold increase in renewable energy production on public lands and waters within ten years.” John Bicknell writing in Roll Call unequivocally states:
For environmentalists more concerned about conserving public lands than bending to the crony capitalists profiting from climate-change disaster-mongering, that’s a declaration of war.
This is not just a variation on the NIMBY theme. It runs deeper than that, as it denotes basic philosophical divisions within the traditional ranks of the environmental community and between the environmental/conservation community and the renewable energy sector.
The most obvious fissure—or perhaps just the most ironic—is reflected in the calling of renewable energy developers “crony capitalists.” Oh, how far and fast we have come. Wasn’t it just a few days ago we were called “tree hugging environmentalists” by the very crony capitalists we are now accused of being?
The less apparent fissure in Bicknell’s characterization is the actionable divide that exists between environmentalists and conservationists and between big greens and little greens. Take for example the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert.
This large-scale, green-energy project splintered environmental groups. On the one side were large national organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council; on the other were smaller groups like the Wildlands Conservancy. The big’s threw their weight and support behind this industrial-scale solar installation on public land. The not-so big’s opposed it for its likely impact on wildlife habitat.
Before construction, [April] Sall’s of the Wildlands group publicly stated:
…the nation’s largest environmental organizations are scarcely voicing opposition. Their silence leaves the conservancy and a smattering of other small environmental organizations nearly alone in opposing energy development across 33,000 square miles of desert land.
Ironically, this very plant—backed by $1.5B in federal loans—is now in danger of being shut down because it is not producing the promised energy.
The growing division between the environmental and crony capitalistic renewable sectors and the divide between environmental and conservation groups do not define their relationships; although, they are disturbing. Neither are these the only fissures to be found.
In recent weeks an internal conflict between top AFL-CIO leaders and the leadership of seven of its building trades unions has arisen. Seven building trade unions, representing over 3 million members, e.g. North America’s Building Trades Unions and the United Association Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, and Service Technicians, expressed very strong opposition to a new political partnership between the umbrella labor congress and the hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer and his NextGen Climate PAC.
Leadership of the dissenting unions cast their opposition in the following terms:
We are not climate science deniers and have merely sought to ensure that the employment prospects of our members are not negatively impacted in any economic and energy transition.
The support of organized labor has proven a significant factor in the growth of renewable energy industry. Labor’s willingness to recognize climate change as a significant societal problem and renewable energy technologies as a source of investment and employment opportunities has served our industry well—particularly in politics. Isn’t it in the interests of these dissenting unions to support a transition to renewables? Of course it is.
So why the exception? Labor is frightened. Despite their acceptance of climate change and support of clean energy, much of labor sees in the plight of the coal miners a redundant future. No Keystone pipeline—no work. If there is work, e.g. with a solar company, they fear they will not be paid as well; many barely make ends meet as pipe fitters, plasterers and carpenters.
Blue collar workers fear the loss of identity; identities they worry will be lost to billionaire liberals who are change-makers. It is the draw of the demagogue.
Big versus little, rich versus poor, strong versus weak, conservationist versus environmentalist, solar versus wind, wind versus biomass, biomass versus environmentalist, science acceptor versus denier, state government versus federal—we are a global community divided.
What divides us elsewhere, divides our effort to combat climate change. To remove the uncertainty of change, we must replace it with the certainty of collaboration. How do we prevail? Perhaps by seeing ourselves as others see us.
Remember—it ain’t over until it’s over.
Read more in this series: