Fossil Fuel Independence Now!

Future Hope column, October 5, 2008

By Ted Glick

It was encouraging to see, as I was literally sitting at my computer getting ready to start this column, an email from 1Sky urging people to write to the Democratic and Republican Presidential campaigns expressing concern about recent problematic statements both have made “about the role coal plays in the climate crisis. There is no such thing as ‘clean coal.’”

Please check this out and take action by going to:

It has been disturbing to see the turn that the Presidential debate has taken in the last couple of months regarding the urgent issue of the climate crisis. The sad reality is that with both Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin, the rhetoric has become very similar. Both campaigns are advocating an “energy independence, all of the above” approach in which little is said about the climate crisis.

What’s the difference? Aren’t “energy independence” and “addressing global warming” the same thing? No, they are not. What we really need is independence from fossil fuels, drastically reducing our use of carbon-emitting coal, oil and natural gas.

You can support “energy independence” and support drilling for all the oil and natural gas that can be found in the USA, on land, in the sea, in shale and in tar sands. Shale and tar sands energy extraction, in particular, are highly energy- and water-intensive.

You can support “energy independence” and be a strong advocate for coal mining in the U.S. and for coal-to-liquids fuel, a process which emits twice as many greenhouse gases as the refining of oil into gasoline.

And you can support “energy independence” and advocate for more and more fertile U.S. farm land being used to grow crops for the agro-fuel market. Such policies will drive up food prices, increase hunger worldwide and, depending upon the specific food crop, may do little to reduce carbon emissions while costing many billions of dollars in government subsidies.

In the meantime, our climate crisis continues to deepen.

An article a week ago in The Independent newspaper in England reported on scientists finding “the first evidence that millions of tons of [methane,] a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is being released into the atmosphere from beneath the Arctic seabed. The Independent has been passed details of preliminary findings suggesting that massive deposits of sub-sea methane are bubbling to the surface as the Arctic region becomes warmer and its ice retreats.”

And an article a few days ago in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper reported that, “weeks before world leaders meet to discuss the next big international treaty on cutting emissions, the scale of risk posed by failing to act rapidly is spelt out today by the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre.” The Hadley Centre is one of the most prominent and respected climate research centers in the world.

“The study shows that cutting global emissions by 3% a year from 2010 offers the only possible hope of avoiding a global temperature rise of more than 2C—-widely recognized as the threshold beyond which the worst impacts of sea level rise and drought become a significant risk.”

What are Obama’s and McCain’s targets for reducing emissions? Over the next 12 years, by 2020, both support exactly the same objective for how much greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced: 15% below current levels, back to where they were in 1990. This is their position even though most of the scientists and world leaders who have taken this issue seriously are calling for industrialized countries to reduce their emissions 25-40% BELOW 1990 levels by 2020 if we are to have any real chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

In other words, they are both calling for not 3% per year reductions but a little more than a 1% reduction.

What else is wrong with the “debate” between Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin over what we do about the climate crisis?

Both support nuclear power. Both support non-existent “clean coal.” Both support drilling for oil and natural gas on land and in the sea. Both support going after oil and natural gas in shale.

However—and this is an important “however”—McCain advocates 45 nuke plants by 2030, while Obama advances no specific number and is much less enthusiastic. McCain and the Republicans have used consumer anger about $4/gallon gas to make “drill baby drill” a central aspect of their energy agenda, while Obama has reluctantly supported a compromise drilling plan. In Obama’s climate plan on his website, he does raise the idea of “ban[ning] new traditional coal facilities” as a way to expedite moving toward “low carbon coal technology,” indicating that, as President, he might support some version of a coal moratorium. Obama has been calling consistently for many months for a $150 billion/5 million green jobs/greening the economy agenda; McCain has put out no specifics along these lines. And until the last couple of months, when McCain and the Republicans went loud and often with their 45 nuke plants, “drill baby drill” and “clean coal” agenda, Obama mainly talked about “wind, solar and bio-fuels” as far as the new energy future he envisioned.

These are not insignificant differences, especially given the fact that the Democrats in Congress generally—-by no means all Democrats—-have been definitely better on clean energy and climate issues than the Republicans.

But the climate movement cannot, absolutely cannot, count on the Democrats to do the right thing if Obama is elected President, which at this moment looks increasingly likely, and if the Democrats strengthen their hold on Congress. The weakening of the Obama campaign’s rhetoric on these issues, its unwillingness to stand up to the Republican nukes/clean coal/drill mantra, is but the latest reminder that the Democratic Party has a long history of accommodation to, rather than a confronting of, Republican backwardness. After all, there are a lot of Democratic Senators and Congresspeople who are getting substantial campaign donations from the oil, coal and nuclear interests.

The climate movement needs to be planning now to aggressively ramp up the political pressure during the first part of 2009. Our objective must be legislation within the first 100 days which explicitly addresses the climate crisis at a scale and with a seriousness to match what the science is telling us.

Such legislation must be framed as a major part of a program to deal with the economic crisis. Money can be raised by enacting a steadily-declining cap on carbon emissions and putting a price on the production and sale by corporations of coal, oil and natural gas. That money can then be divided up, some going to taxpayers as a rebate/dividend to help with rising energy and other costs, and some invested in energy efficiency and clean energy technology programs which will produce many millions of jobs.

The 1Sky platform ( spells out the direction we need go more fully. Also important is the recent proposal of Al Gore to set a goal of producing 100% of our electricity from renewable energy sources within 10 years, by 2018.

Craig Altemose, a leader of the profoundly important and hopeful student climate movement, organized on over 600 college and university campuses and high schools, has written of why Gore’s proposal should be widely supported:

“100% Carbon-Free Electricity by 2018 is immediate. It requires a complete re-powering of our economy within 10 years. There is no time to lose.

“100% Carbon-Free Electricity by 2018 is bold. It is arguably a task equal to the challenge at hand.

“100% Carbon-Free Electricity by 2018 allows us to hold our politicians accountable. It is a quantifiable goal that requires those who are in power now to act now, and it demands action from our next president, who will likely be in office for 8 of the next 10 years.

“100% Carbon-Free Electricity by 2018 is not comprehensive. It addresses only electricity, and does not include targets for transportation and other sectors of the economy. However, if the 2018 goal is met, concurrent R&D would allow us to eliminate the vast majority of emissions from transportation by having plug-in electric cars receive their electricity from the carbon-free electricity grid. As we embark upon this very ambitious goal for our electricity sector, we can set and hit similarly ambitious goals for the remaining sectors of the economy.

“100% Carbon-Free Electricity by 2018 is forward-looking, inspirational, and positive in its imagery. It requires us to build big and build bold. There is nothing about stopping, reducing, or cutting; but instead about starting, growing, building, and re-powering.

“100% Carbon-Free Electricity by 2018 is as scientifically-based as any solution yet proposed, because it is the fastest target proposed by someone with a high degree of legitimacy. Science tells us we are killing ourselves, and that we need to stop. NOW. This target immediately sets us upon that goal.

“100% Carbon-Free Electricity will create green jobs now. We will need to not only construct hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of solar panels, windmills, and install countless small-scale hydro, geothermal, and tidal energy producers, but we will also need to re-wire America to enable a new large-scale distribution system for this electricity. Such an undertaking will require a mobilization of domestic American labor in a way not seen since FDR’s New Deal Programs during the Great Depression.”

Students and climate activists are not the only ones who support this ambitious goal. Who else does? Our country’s hunters and fishermen, that’s who!

In a national poll conducted July 27-31 by American Viewpoint for the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund and released a month ago, these were the results:

“More than 80% of America’s hunters and anglers believe the United States should set a bold, new vision on energy policy, and set a goal to achieve 100% of our electricity from clean, renewable sources of power within 10 years, according to a new poll commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund.

“70% of these voters believe the country is off on the wrong track when it comes to meeting our current and future energy needs. 81% agree with this statement: ‘The United States needs to set a bold new vision on energy policy, and set a goal to achieve 100% of its electricity from clean renewable sources of power within 10 years.’

“85% agree with this statement: ‘We can improve the environment and strengthen the economy by investing in renewable energy technologies that create jobs while reducing global warming.’

“66% agree that global warming is occurring. And 73% agree with the statement, ‘We have a moral responsibility to confront global warming to protect our children’s future.’”

This poll reminds me of an experience I had in August of 2005 in Detroit. I was there in support of students from Middlebury College who were ending a “Road to Detroit” summer campaign. In early June eight young people got on a 14 year old, rickety-looking, bio-diesel bus that ran on vegetable oil for what ended up as a 13,000 mile trip through 26 states. Along the way they collected close to 15,000 signatures on clean car pledges calling upon Detroit automakers to build union-made cars that get at least 40 miles per gallon. They interacted with or were seen by hundreds of thousands of others, perhaps many more.

For two and a half months they traveled to red states and blue states, literally scrounging for vegetable oil from restaurants along the way, reaching out to Bush voters, liberals, independents, non-political folks and anyone who would listen. They traveled through the hot plains of summer and over the Rocky Mountains, breaking down several times. And as a finale, they attended the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit, described by the Detroit Metropolitan Airport News as “the world’s largest one-day celebration of car culture that attracts over 1.7 million visitors, and more than 40,000 muscle cars, street rods, custom, collector and special interest vehicles. This mid-summer classic celebrates the heydays of the ’50s and ’60s when Woodward Avenue was the heart and soul of cruising in the city that put America on wheels.”

For several hours the students cruised up and down Woodward Avenue with a big sign on the side of their bus, “Cruisin’ Ain’t Easy at $3.00/Gallon. Oil is Over. Drive the Future,” and, to their surprise, got a positive response from the many car-lovers out for a good time with other car-lovers.

Who would have thought it? Car-lovers responding positively to an “oil is over” message. Or hunters and anglers ready to back a proposal of Al Gore’s for a genuine clean energy revolution.

We have 210 days left until the end of the new government’s first 100 days. We can settle for nothing less than an all-out effort to get our government, finally and firmly, to do what a majority of the American people want: put us on the right side of the worldwide effort, indeed, in a leadership role to stabilize our seriously disrupted climate.

In the words of Christopher Fry,

“Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave until we take
The longest stride of soul (we humans) ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.”

Ted Glick is the Policy Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network/U.S. Climate Emergency Council. Past Future Hope columns and other information, including contact information, can be found at