You, dear reader, already know why we need a price on carbon. You know that burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, raising the average temperature of the earth and drastically affecting the global climate. You’re also well-versed in modern economic theory, and understand how negative externalities in a market can be mitigated by determining the cost to society and then including it in the price of a good or service. So you don’t need to be lectured on how putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions would use market forces to equitably reduce the threat of climate change and promote sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels. Good for you.
Sadly, though, there are some out there who don’t get it. According to some surveys, close to half of all Americans don’t get it. So, today I am going to give you two powerful tools to use in your quest to knock some sense into people:
I got to thinking the other day after Alan wound up with a vehement comment accusing him of armchair environmentalism because he isn’t out raging against the machine in the streets and because he tends to express reservations about unaccommodating social tactics. Now, to be fair, he and I do spend much of our time in a shabbily awesome armchair (indeed: here I am right now), but there’s more to the story here.
The only way to be green?
The question of how to face up to the machine idols of our civilization has been asked for thousands of years, long before the Industrial Revolution made it concrete – asked by John of Patmos, by Marcus Aurelius, by Machiavelli, by Marx and Nietzsche, by Foucault and Borges, by Thoreau and Muir, and by Edward Abbey. And rage continues to be – as it has always been – only one of the options. Because the funny thing is, like I learned in aikido class, sometimes you have to gracefully use the momentum of your opponent to destabilize him and change his stance.
And I got to thinking: wait a second, I’ve heard this punchline before.
Sounds like someone has been suckling at the sweet teat of Van Jones’ vision for the next wave of environmentalism, one which embraces and transformes the economy rather than raging against it. The quote here isn’t anything new, but I hope it proves emblematic of an approach that is becoming more and more mainstream, more and more well-recognized as basic economic good sense rather than a wingnut effort.
(P.S. The link above takes you to a really solid source for international news related to renewable energy and the economy. They’re based in England and keep their fingers on the pulses of both the innovator and the investor communities.)
A few words, Mr. President?
“Now, the choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline. We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy. We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc across the landscape, or we can create jobs working to prevent its worst effects. We can hand over the jobs of the 21st century to our competitors, or we can confront what countries in Europe and Asia have already recognized as both a challenge and an opportunity: The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy.”
Considering how much we rag on reporters and their “reporting” on things green, we feel that it’s only fair to complement the good stuff when we see it. This, thanks to the Real Live MC, (who we think might have had a hand in it’s creation) is a bit of reporting that seems to actually have sense of the scale of what is going on and why it matters.
WSJ FTW! Which, frankly, is funny to me, because a lot of the video that I see coming from them is so focused on making the bank that it a) doesn’t tell stories and b) glosses over stuff pretty heavily. This is not a sweeping endorsment of the WSJ stance on the environment, lets just put it that way.
Global Warming: it’s an issue that many recognize as serious, but one that still only resonates with most folks as affecting some point in the future. The jury is out on when it’s going to hit, with some people viewing it as something years down the line and others convinced that its a more immanent threat, but a common theme in discussions about climate change has to do with acting now to prevent some future disaster.
Which of these fall under "environmentalism"? Or, which dont?
In part, this future reality thinking is a good thing. I don’t think that we, as a culture, are all that good at keeping focus if something is already a done deal, and if too many Americans felt that climate change is inevitable, then they would have even less impetus to do anything to help reduce their own carbon footprint. However, there is this new study from the Earth Institute at Columbia University that has started looking at what to do with the changes that have already occurred or are currently happening. They don’t suggest that we throw up our hands and stop working to limit carbon:
It’s not that we are giving up on preventing additional damage, it is simply that some of the damage has already been done, and we need to learn to cope.
But rather suggest that some things could be done in the mean-between times (especially with the stimulus money?) to mitigate the effects of nature actually rearing up and smacking us in the mouf. Clearly, this article is a focus specifically on New York, but there are many places around the country, especially in major urban areas, that should begin thinking along these lines. The example that springs to mind is Katrina: the change has already begun to create storms and conditions unlike what our system is prepared to handle. (I don’t mean to suggest here that what happened in Katrina is as linear as “new infrastructure = less problem,” but a levy system with a new level of hurricanes in mind would certainly have helped.) (more…)
As we all know, Capitalism breaks everything I love.
More evidence: Dark Days for Environmentalism. It turns out that, in these grim economic times, people are not down for the high initial investment costs of installing green energy devices in their homes. This should surprise no one, but some of the numbers in that article are very depressing.
Factories building parts for these industries have announced a wave of layoffs in recent weeks, and trade groups are projecting 30 to 50 percent declines this year in installation of new equipment, barring more help from the government.
Prices for turbines and solar panels, which soared when the boom began a few years ago, are falling. Communities that were patting themselves on the back just last year for attracting a wind or solar plant are now coping with cutbacks.
The places that we think the stimulus package might actually be effective are places like this: Large gobs of cash would help the start up costs of building big wind turbines and the like. Defraying that initial cost lets the companies who make ‘em keep chucking them out, it lets people keep those jobs, and it means that the entire system doesn’t grind to a halt.
It certanitly LOOKS smart. Maybe TOO smart...
All is not lost, however, because as capitalism taketh away, capitalism also givith. WSJ, usually the dour gloomsy-pants to the Grey Lady’s austere liberal hope, published this sweet article about SkyNet in Boulder, CO (otherwise known as SmartGrid). If you are only going to read one article we link to this month, let’s make it this one: a very apt description of what works about Smartgrids and the places that Americans are resisting the machines. SmartGrid technology is basically taking the LtAG idea of a house and expanding it to an entire city. They are discovering what points people stick on (out door fridges) and what points people are willing to compromise on (when do you run the dishwasher and dryer? How about only during off-peak energy times, or when it is real windy outside?).
Here, though, is the big sticking point, and once again where capitalism has a change to break everything I love:
“Another obstacle is beyond the scope of Boulder: Utilities, regulators and manufacturers of dozens of appliances and meters will have to settle on a uniform language so they can talk to one another.”
Uh oh. Cause, you know… cell phones all have those universal plugs that are so useful, right? And Train Tracks certainly all ran on the same gage right off the bat. Too much to ask for a little pre-meditated communication? Yup.
It’s very difficult to get people to all march together and chant “be reasonable”
– Jon Stewart
It’s all quite simple, really. Everyone needs to take a deep breath, and chill out. Sure, the economy is crashing, but for some reason, this one has not created the end of times for the environmental movement like we had thought it would! Maybe it’s because the dual focus of Green Collar Jobs provides both an economic and an ecological solution? The following is cross-posted with PhilanthroMedia.org
Jones, growing out of a background of social justice work and community organizing in Oakland, has clearly studied the environmental movement and its history. He spends the early portion of the book pointing out the same problems that I’ve always had with environmentalism: that it is rooted in a language of crisis that offers very little in terms of solution, and quite a lot in terms of the-sky-is-falling-and-it’s-your-fault guilt.
But this critique of environmentalism (which draws on the ideas expressed in books like Break Through) isn’t what makes the book so refreshing. The most interesting (and most important) point that Van Jones makes is about the significance of coming to terms with an “eco-apartheid” that has ingrained itself in the environmental movement. He sees a world divided into ecological “haves” (those with the money to invest in green goods and worry about the health of the planet) and the “have-nots” (those with more pressing concerns, like feeding their family and paying off credit card bills). With that distinction in mind, Jones sketches the reasons that average blue collar and working class Americans have felt passed over by the environmental movement. Jones also notes that minority groups, those who traditionally have not benefited from the old “dirty” economy, are still not drawn in by the promise of a cleaner solution. And the problem seems to be one of motivation; After all, how important is a Polar Bear when faced with the lack of access to basic services?
His argument is clear: if we can bring both sides of the activist world to the same table, our situation is not yet hopeless. It’s a monumental task, fighting both global warming and social injustice at the same time, but Jones draws a compelling case for why the two must fit together like interlocking gears.
I often found Van Jones’ rhetorical flourishes a little much, but I realize he isn’t writing for me. But I’m an eco-nerd, and firmly in the ranks of the converted. Drawing on his background as a leader of rallies and a coiner of slogans, Jones writes to convince people on either end of the Social Justice Vs. Environment debate, and his words try to draw everyone to the middle. Much like Jon Stewart quoted above, Van Jones sees a pretty simple path to salvation : let’s just be reasonable and take the edge off our rhetoric for a moment. It’s amazing to think of the common ground that everyone can gain when a Green Collar economy is providing good wages for Environmental work.
This is not to suggest that Jones can’t bring the fire when he wants. He is unequivocal with the central message of the book: everyone must be lifted by the raising green tide, and not only because it is the right thing to do. It will be impossible to solve the current ecological crisis without getting everyone on board for the solution, and that will never happen unless everyone is given equal access to the fruits of the green-collar economy.
Tomorrow — Part Two: Let’s talk solutions. Van Jones himself gives us a preview, (updated for current events.)
We were fired up at the beginning of the day. We had a really cool conversation (info to come tomorrow) about the Green Collar Economy. But then, we found some bad pretty bad news when scrolling through the times.
One of the things that we find the most confusing during this economic crisis is the bizarre drop in the cost of crude oil (and, theoretically, the drop on corresponding gasoline and power costs). It seems like the very real fear of economic disaster has people predicting much lower power use… and thus the gas prices are on the way down.
This fact, combined with the (oft noted) conception of green energy as secondary and essentially a luxury, and the tightening of available dollars for any sort of investment options, is already causing (according to this, from the NYTimes) a huge slow down for the big picture green energy movement.
Not cool folks. Not cool. We can’t be going back to the 1980’s here. We hate to be the people who hate on the lower gas prices… we mean, we get that others were suffering. But to date, no one this country seems able to limit themselves when it comes to energy consumption, so we were down with our wallets doing it for us.
We don’t really want to get our selves in a knot rooting against the economy. We don’t want to play into too many stereotypes here, let ourselves get carried away with being un-American and all that. Plus, we do like creature comforts, and are thrilled that we can afford to heat our house this winter. But, here we are, sitting at the key-bored trying to figure out a path to environmental freedom that doesn’t involve America suffering until we figure it out… and we, frankly, don’t see one. Asking nicely sure as shootin’ don’t seem to get no traction. So, what the heck does this economic down turn/drop in oil prices mean for the future? What path do you, dear readers, see?
We think we have something of an answer comming soon… but we aren’t sure, after today’s news, if it will be enough.