You don’t know me but, right now, I am deeply affecting your future.
I am the CEO of a Fortune 250 company, NRG Energy, which generates enough electricity to keep the lights on for roughly 40 million Americans. That’s a lot and that’s a good thing. Indeed, all of us at NRG are very proud that what we do enables the interconnected lifestyles that define the human experience in the 21st century.
But we at NRG are concerned that the predominant fuels we and the other companies in our industry are using—and have used since the time of Thomas Edison—to keep you energized are ultimately exhaustible and, of even greater and more immediate concern, are having a damaging and potentially irrevocable impact on the world that you are in the process of inheriting from us and ultimately will bequeath to your own children.
A remarkable consensus of the world’s leading scientists and academic experts, some of which come from your own university, tell us that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent (from present levels) by 2050 in order to avoid potentially catastrophic harm to the Earth’s environment. In a growing world, that size reduction is breathtakingly difficult to accomplish. You can be assured that it won’t “just happen.”
Now I am pretty sure that you don’t spend much of your day worrying about the state of the environment 36 years from now and that is a good thing. If life has taught me one thing so far, it is that you should try to “live in the moment” to the fullest extent possible.
But spare one of those moments now to think about where you will be in 2050.
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“Action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary…” —Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”
Henry’s jaw would’ve dropped. This morning, for a moment, at least, a higher law—the law of conscience—held sway in Massachusetts.
OK, I know that sounds a bit much. But something truly remarkable, a kind of blessed unrest, took place today at the Bristol County courthouse in Fall River, Massachusetts, where climate activists Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara (Nation readers will remember them from this piece last year) were going to trial for blockading a coal freighter at Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset—using an old wooden lobster boat christened theHenry David T.—for the sole reason of addressing the climate crisis. In what looked to be an unprecedented case in the United States, they were set to be the first to use a “necessity defense” in a direct-action civil disobedience case centered on climate change, arguing that what they did was justified for the sake of public health and safety. James Hansen, one of the world’s top climate scientists, and 350.org’s Bill McKibben, among others, were lined up as expert witnesses.
And what happened, the truly remarkable thing, was this: the prosecutor, Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter, not only dropped the charges (which could have resulted in months, or even years, of jail time); he then proceeded out to the courthouse plaza where he made a statement to the media and to the hundred or more people gathered in support of Ken and Jay. Here’s what he said:
The decision that Assistant District Attorney Robert Kidd and I reached today was a decision that certainly took into consideration the cost to the taxpayers in Somerset, but was also made with our concerns for their children, and the children of Bristol County and beyond in mind.
Climate change is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced. In my humble opinion, the political leadership on this issue has been gravely lacking. I am heartened that we were able to forge an agreement that both parties were pleased with and that appeared to satisfy the police and those here in sympathy with the individuals who were charged.
I am also extremely pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that symbolizes our commitment at the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office to take a leadership role on this issue.
The crowd (myself included) went wild.
Then, if possible, it got better. When the cheering settled down, someone asked. “Will you be a model for across the country?”
“Well,” Sutter said, “I certainly will be in New York in two weeks,” referring to the much-anticipated People’s Climate March on September 21, just ahead of the UN climate summit convened by Ban Ki-Moon. “How’s that?”
The crowd thought that was pretty swell, too.
He added: “I’ve been carrying around Bill McKibben’s article in Rolling Stone“—and brandished the magazine (Jack White and all).
OK, maybe this guy’s running for office.
Still, I didn’t think it could get any better, but it did. A reporter then asked if he was sending a message condoning this kind of action violating the law. He said no, that’s not the message. “I’m sending a message that this was an act of civil disobedience, that we had to reach an agreement. I’m not at all disputing that the individuals were charged, but this was the right disposition, it was reduced to a civil infraction.” (To be precise, there were four charges: conspiracy, disturbing the peace, failure to act to avoid a collision, and negligent operation of a motor vessel. Sutter dropped the conspiracy charges and reduced the other charges to civil infractions. Ken and Jay will also pay $2,000 each in restitution, not fines, to the Town of Somerset).
“Just to be clear,” the reporter asked, “what would you say if people say in fact you’re encouraging other people to blockade tankers?”
“This is one case, one incident, at a time,” Sutter responded. “I think I’ve made my position very clear. This is one of the gravest crises the planet has ever faced. The evidence is overwhelming and it keeps getting worse. So we took a stand here today.”
And so, sometimes we win. It’s a small victory, in the scale of the climate. But it’s something.
Meanwhile, as Ken and Jay are quick to point out, the Brayton Point plant burns on. The announced 2017 closure (which came a few months after their action and a wave of protests they inspired) doesn’t come nearly soon enough—for the climate, or for the plant’s neighbors suffering its pollution.
What’s more, as Ken noted to me in an e-mail, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration, the Brayton Point plant essentially doubled its coal consumption last year, and reduced its use of natural gas, making it the first or second largest source of carbon emissions in New England, New York and New Jersey. And Ken says observed shipments of coal to the plant in recent months were increased over the previous year.
So here’s my message to DA Sutter, should he ever want to run for office as true climate champion: some people may think coal is dying a “natural” (market-driven) death in the Northeast, and therefore not much needs to be done. But if we really want to put an end to coal, we’re going to have to drive a stake through its heart, otherwise it will keep on rising from the grave.
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September 27, 2014, Crossroads at Big Creek, Sturgeon Bay
8:30 am – 3:15 pm
Coffee and pastries at sign-in (8:30-9:00) ** Lunch ** Afternoon coffee & fruit Included
Door County Climate Change Coalition & Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership
Sturgeon Bay Utilities Crossroads at Big Creek
American Chemical Society Climate Science Outreach Team (Illinois Heartland)
American Meteorological Association Atmospheric Education Program
($12 registration includes lunch & snacks)
The workshop will introduce teachers, naturalists and environmentalists to the basics of climate science and provide classroom-ready materials, as well as many interesting demonstrations that can be used in the classroom, as a laboratory experience or as outreach activities in nature centers, state fairs, etc. Free, downloadable pedagogical resources including the ACS Climate Science Toolkit and authoritative booklets from the US National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for Advancement of Science, The National Climate Assessment and the American Meteorological Society, designed for students and interested citizens, will be provided in pdf format and can be freely distributed to or downloaded by students and the public.
These materials provide factual information including the nature of greenhouse gases, the mechanism of global warming, history of earth’s past temperature swings, and the multiple lines of evidence that support the seriousness of climate change. Three expert speakers will present overviews of specific aspects of Climate Science and the implications for the future: Mr. Bruce Smith, Atmospheric Education Resource Agent and former chemistry teacher; and Dr. Alison Donnelly, botanist and phenologist, Department of Geography, UW-Milwaukee. Dr. Frank Shaw, Professor Emeritus of chemistry at UW-Milwaukee and Illinois State University, will present chemical aspects of climate change and demonstrations of climate change chemistry.
Demonstration instructions will be hands-on in the laboratory, and a resource-laden DVD/CD with lesson plans, PowerPointTM presentations, and reference materials will be given to each participant. A generous Grant from Sturgeon Bay Utilities will provide supplies and equipment for each teacher to take back to their classes. Participants are encouraged to bring existing lesson plans or demonstrations to share. Teacher’s districts will be contacted about approval of the workshop for their portfolios.
When your students pose questions about global climate change, do you have the basic scientific facts to answer authoritatively? Do you know, for instance, that carbon dioxide is not the gas responsible for the largest fraction of earth’s atmospheric greenhouse warming effect? The ACS Climate Science Toolkit and other resources obtained through the workshop will provide a basic foundation for scientifically sound classroom instructions. Bring your questions and concerns and take part in this workshop dedicated to communicating climate change facts, consequences and responsibilities.
Contact Information: Frank Shaw (email@example.com) and Bruce Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Registration (ends 22 Sept): Sherrill Anderson (LNRP) at email@example.com or 920-412-1920
Walk-ins Welcome, please contact Frank or Bruce after Sept 22nd
Click the link below for a printable flyer:
CLIMATE CHANGE COALITION OF DOOR COUNTY
INVITES YOU TO ATTEND OUR SEPTEMBER PROGRAM
Understanding Potential Impacts of Global Climate Change on Monarch Butterflies
Presented by Karen S. Oberhauser, Professor in the Dept. of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at the University of Minnesota
Karen will describe the amazing biology of migratory monarch populations, and the work of citizens and scientists in documenting monarch numbers at all stages of their migratory cycle. She will also summarize the potential impacts of a changing climate on monarchs during all stages of their annual cycle of breeding, migrating, and overwintering.
Wednesday, September 3, 7 pm at the UU Fellowship, 10341 Hwy 42 in north Ephraim
For further information call (920) 854-7559.
Click here for the entire list of events and a registration form: ClimateAwarenessProgram_2014
Welcome to the NEW Climate Change Coalition of Door County Wisconsin website!
The Climate Change Coalition of Door County is a powerful voice that educates and inspires action to meet the urgent challenges of global climate change.
Stay tuned for updates, events, and meetings.