Al Gore Praises Inslee's Climate Plan

At the Seattle Westin today, Al Gore spoke to a full banquet room at a fundraiser for Jay Inslee. Gore offered praise for the Washington Governor’s much vaunted plan to combat global warming. Inslee has proposed putting a price on carbon, improving public transportation, encouraging energy efficiency, and increasing use of solar power and electric cars. It remains to be seen how much of this agenda can come to fruition with Republicans still in control of the State Senate.

Nonetheless, it is worth noting that taking a strong stand on addressing the climate crisis has now become an effective campaign fundraising technique. Not so long ago, such a topic would have earned barely a mention from an elected official with such a high profile as Inslee. Gore, author of An Inconvenient Truth, Earth in the Balance, and other books calling for action to address climate change as well as founder of The Climate Reality Project, called Washington’s Governor the best of all U.S. governors on this critically important issue.

While giving a nod to the importance of fully funding education as mandated by the McCleary decision, Inslee spoke at length about his plans to find “market-driven” solutions to the problem of reducing carbon emissions, telling the crowd of likely Democratic donors the importance of seeing the current crisis as not just a danger to be averted but as an opportunity for Washington State to lead the nation and the world in 21st Century green energy technologies, drawing on our State’s history as a leader in the aerospace and software industries. Gore recited a familiar litany of dire predictions of climate chaos, but he also pivoted to a more hopeful message: the cost of clean energy technologies is dropping at rates much faster than predicted just five years ago. When the former Vice President spoke of the lower cost and higher efficiency of solar panels, a couple at my table who had recently installed solar panels on their home gave each other a quiet high-five. (They also told me that homeowners buying solar panels from a Washington State based company can look to having the cost recouped in the form of lower power bills in no more than five years.)

p4pBut while Gore and Inslee were inspirational, the star of the day was 9 year-old Abby Snodgrass, a member of Plant for the Planet, who has taken it upon herself to help in the effort to plant “a thousand billion trees”. She believes children planting one million trees in every country on earth could offset CO2 emissions all on their own, while adults are still talking about doing it. Each tree binds a CO2 intake of 10 kg per year. Abby called on all the adults to follow her example and choose not to be a bystander just because the climate problem seems too big to solve. Abby is right. The message of the day is that we will never solve the problem of global warming by doing nothing. The scope of the problem requires all of us to work together. The plan put forward by Governor Inslee won’t solve the problem by itself, but like Abby planting dozens of trees, it’s a meaningful step in the right direction.

We're All Responsible for Climate Change

Every one of us in the Western world has contributed to climate change. – Bill McKibben, American environmentalist, author, and journalist

Recently, I organized a couple of events with the goal of showing people how their choices and actions can make a real difference in the effort to end our dependence on fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. I hosted a movie about the Koch brothers at the Auburn library. Less than a week later, I went to Les Gove Park with a petition to the CEO of our regional power company urging them to stop using coal and to move us decisively in the direction of clean energy.

Charles and David Koch are heavily invested in fossil fuels. They own 1.1 million acres of land in Alberta, land that could be exploited for the extraction of tar sands bitumen, the dirtiest fossil fuel known. The Koch brothers would profit enormously from the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and through such front groups as Americans for Prosperity, they spread lies and propaganda across the American heartland, promising lower gasoline prices and more jobs from this environmentally destructive project. The truth is, of course, that the jobs created would be few and temporary and the pipeline would pump more foreign oil onto the world market with the possibility of an upward effect on Midwestern gasoline prices where there is already a glut of domestic Bakken crude.

I am involved with the NoKXL Pledge of Resistance, a group dedicated to opposing the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The pipeline has been delayed again and again over the last 5 years by the concerted efforts of groups like ours employing tactics ranging from email petitions to civil disobedience. Today the KXL pipeline has no legal route through either Nebraska (where the route has been challenged in a lawsuit) or South Dakota (where the permit has expired due to delays). These successful efforts show how regular people working together can oppose and win against extremes of wealth and entrenched political power.

Here in the Northwest, we face increasing train traffic as fossil fuel companies try to get land-locked deposits of coal and oil to markets in Asia. Burning coal anywhere in the world releases carbon into the atmosphere, carbon that was captured and placed into long-term storage millennia ago by natural processes. Rapidly undoing the work that took nature millions of years in just a few decades has resulted in a completely unprecedented and unnatural spike in global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. NOAA_DataCO2 is a greenhouse gas that traps the energy of the sun, warming the oceans, and changing the pattern of our climate so that now sudden and violent storms are becoming the norm. Storms and floods in one part of the world translate to intense heat and drought in others. Both extremes threaten agriculture, putting the global food supply at risk, at the same time human population is growing at an unsustainable rate.

Some of the damage and suffering caused by anthropogenic climate change cannot be prevented. But we can make changes in our daily lives that will make a difference and turn us as a society onto more sustainable paths. It’s that sense of urgency that got me out of my house to host these gatherings. I must have spoken to a couple of hundred people in just the past couple of weeks. Many are not ready for the change, but others are, and I take hope from that willingness to see that up to now, we in the Northwest have been lucky to escape the worst depredations of the climate crisis, but that does not lessen our responsibility to be a part of the solution, and to begin making our voices heard in the global effort to bring about an end to the era of unlimited burning of fossil fuels.

So what can we do? First, stop buying products made by Koch Industries. Vote with your dollars and your feet. If your bank funds mountain-top removal coal mining, take your money to a local credit union. If your investment company sells funds including stocks from companies like Exxon and Monsanto, find another broker who sells a greener, socially responsible fund. If your university or church has investments, urge them to divest from fossil fuels. Buy a more fuel efficient car, insulate and weatherize your home, plant a tree (plant ten trees!) and above all, when you have the opportunity to make a public comment on civic projects to build infrastructure for fossil fuel exports, make your voice heard loud and clear: No Coal Trains and No Exploding Oil Trains should be allowed passage through the Great Northwest.

While at the park on the 4th of July, gathering signatures for the Sierra Club petition, I saw older, uninterested passersby, parents with teens or young adult kids, move past our booth as quickly as possible. But it was the young people with them who hung back, saying, “Sure, I’ll sign” or “Tell me more.” That young people get this, more than anything else, gives me hope for the future. Sometimes the older folks would look at me askance and say, “I don’t buy all this liberal crap. I’m a conservative.” Well, I’d say, “SO AM I. I think we have a really great planet here, and since there aren’t any other nice planets in this general vicinity, I’d really like to keep THIS ONE in good operating order, thank you very much. Now that’s what I call conserving your resources!”

I did meet a smart young man who took issue with our petition to get Puget Sound Energy to stop buying power from coal-fired plants in Montana. He denied that climate change was even happening, much less that it is caused by humans. He claimed that solar and wind are not able to supply our power needs, and that we have to keep using fossil fuels because the industry employs so many people. We showed him evidence that investing money in building solar arrays or wind farms creates more jobs than investing similar amounts of money into extracting fossil fuels. We talked about the fact that companies externalize the costs of cleaning up pollution and treating human illnesses directly caused by the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. I explained to him that the US has a policy of underselling coal leases on public lands, creating a hidden subsidy to coal companies, paid for by the American taxpayer, without their knowledge or consent, and that when the cost of coal includes fair prices for leasing public lands AND the cost to repair damage to the environment and public health, coal won’t be economically competitive with renewable forms of energy. On top of that, wind and solar ARE ready and able to supply the planet’s needs. Germany has seen days where as much as 75% of its power comes from solar generation. We can, too.

I don’t think I convinced the young man; but maybe I opened a crack of light into the dark bubble he’s living in. For the sake of his kids, I hope so.

 

–Originally published in the Auburn Reporter, July 25, 2014

Short Term Profits or Long Term Survival?

The science is in. Climate change is happening, and it is caused by human activity. Yet the oil and gas industries continue to use their immense cash reserves to fund the campaigns of politicians who are climate change deniers. There is a perfectly understandable reason for them doing so: it is profitable.

Bought-and-paid-for politicians granted exemptions to the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts to allow drilling for natural gas using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) ensuring enormous profits for extracting gas from a huge geological region of the Midwest called the Marcellus Shale. But when the National Academy of Sciences reports “geochemical evidence for possible natural migration of Marcellus Formation brine to shallow aquifers” nothing changes. The scientists are telling us that the gunk the oil companies are pumping deep into the Earth to crack the shale and release the gas is polluting the groundwater, but the gas companies don’t even have to disclose the list of chemicals they use. What we do know is in there (such as formaldehyde and benzene) are not things you would want in your baby’s formula. Cracking the shale also causes micro-quakes that could lead to a major seismic event. Oh, and keep lit matches away from your kitchen tap—it just might catch fire. (If you think I am exaggerating, watch the move Gasland.)

Keystone XL, anyone? How could it possibly make any sense to destroy whole landscapes in Canada then pipe the resulting sludge across one of the biggest and most important aquifers in the entire United States? Pipelines, oil rigs and tankers always spill; it is just a question of when and how much. All of this just to ship the oil to overseas markets. We’re not even talking about using the fuel here in the US.

King Coal is literally blowing up mountains to get at coal deposits. Studies show that people who live near these sites are suffering much higher rates of cancer and birth defects, yet the coal-fired congressional allies of the industry continue to deregulate, removing health and environmental protections in the law. Judges elected with money from the fossil fuel industry turn a blind eye when coal executives put increased production over worker safety. Twenty-nine miners died in a preventable explosion in April 2010.

How does all this affect us here in the Pacific Northwest? Well, now King Coal wants to strip mine the Powder River Basin in Montana, put the dirty coal onto trains, spewing toxic coal dust and diesel exhaust all across Washington State, including a long stretch through the 31st Legislative District, then put the millions of tons of the dirtiest fossil fuel of them all onto container ships and schlep it all the way to China. When they burn the coal in China, we’ll get the blowback in the form of more carbon in the atmosphere and mercury-laden soot carried to our shores via the jet stream.

The coal industry will make an obscene amount of money selling coal to China, but who will pay for the costs? Exposure to coal dust causes increased rates of asthma in children, as well as lung and heart disease in adults. We’ll lose salmon runs and discourage economic development at our ports. Traffic congestion will increase around busy rail crossings slowing commuters, commercial vehicles, and emergency responders alike. But these ‘external’ costs won’t be paid for by the coal companies. You and I will have to foot the bill.

If I am elected, I will oppose all efforts to build coal export terminals in Washington State. But more than that, I will work to change the perception that environmentalists are the cause of our economic problems. Far from it: ecological politics is based on the idea that if we retool our industries and lifestyle to a more just and sustainable model that relies on renewable energy sources, there will be an expansion of opportunity and an improvement in the quality of life that has not been seen since the 1950s and 60s. We can do this.

Remember, I am accepting campaign contributions only from individuals who live in Washington State. I will not accept contributions from any special interest organization, including corporations, PACs, unions, or non-profit groups. I won’t be owned by the out-of-state interests who want to pollute our air and water in the name of profit.

Brian L. Gunn
Candidate for State Representative, 31st District, Position 1
http://peopleforbriangunn.com/