Setting An Example

I thought this blurb from a “green” investment company (Green Century Capital Investment, Inc.) would be of interest to readers. It suggests that there are companies — and individuals — that are serious about saving the planet despite the fact that they cannot count on huge subsidies from the government as does Big Oil.

Deep in California’s Santa Clara Valley lies one of the most influential companies of the 21st century — Google. It has revolutionized how we find information, transformed advertising, and radically altered the way we work.

And today, recognizing the catastrophic threat posed by climate change, Google is using its influence to change how and where we get our energy.

The company has been carbon neutral since 2007, and is committed to getting 100% of its energy from clean, renewable sources.
Already Google gets more than a third of its energy from renewable sources, thanks in part to the 1.9 megawatts of solar panels on its Mountain View campus, and to its status as the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy. Plus, Google’s data centers get 3.5 times more computing power out of the same amount of electricity than they did five years ago.

To that end, the company is using its resources to support the growth of the renewable energy industry. Google has invested $2 billion in renewable energy projects around the world. In addition, it recently announced “Project Sunroof,” an ambitious effort taking advantage of the company’s mapping software to make it easier for consumers to see their own solar potential.

Good news, indeed, at a time when we desperately need some!

 

Truth To Tell

In an interesting half-page in the current ONEARTH magazine published by NRDC, there’s a lesson in telling it like it is. The author, John Walke, who is director of NRDC’s clean air project, corrects a number of mistaken statements in a letter written to the Washington Post by the president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. Now we know by this time that “clean coal” is a misnomer: there is no such thing. There is just “cleaner coal” — which is to say, coal that is cleaner than it was a few years ago. This is thanks to the EPA which has forced the coal industry to a higher standard, though the coal industry would like us to think it was their idea.

The letter claims, for example, that the coal industry has cleaned up its act and would dearly love to take credit for pulling their hand out of the cookie jar, though we can see them hiding another cookie behind their backs!  Walke points out that the EPA has brought the cleanup about and while the coal industry claims that coal is “almost 90 percent cleaner than it was 40 years ago,” in fact it has been forced by the EPA to be 90 percent cleaner by 2015: it hasn’t reached that benchmark yet, and it is moving in that direction only because of federal legislation, not the desire to be good citizens. The coal industry also claims credit for “more than a dozen clean coal technologies” when, in fact, they have lobbied for 40 years against clean air safeguards and they are still fighting — along with Big Oil, of course. In the final paragraph of the letter, the coal industry correctly points out that energy demand will increase in coming years (duhhh) “and that demand cannot be met without coal.” Walke points out that in the U.S. “renewable energy, natural gas, and simple economics have steadily reduced demand for electricity generated by coal. California is on track to use no coal-based electricity by 2025. Clean energy technologies can produce both good jobs here and energy for export.”

The letter by the coal industry commits what logicians call the “neglected aspect” fallacy. They simply ignore alternatives to coal, especially clean energy alternatives like solar and wind, in order to scare people into thinking that they are the only alternative to an otherwise bleak future without adequate energy for teeming populations. And, of course, they ignore the alternative of population control which would go a long way toward solving not only this country’s energy problems, but the planet’s as well. But that’s another story for another day — though it is not much talked about, sad to say.

In a word, we know that corporations are not beneath making public statements that not only stretch the truth and wallow in half-truths, but actually state bald-faced lies — all in order to hoodwink the public and sell their products. We must always consider the source and never forget that the name of their game is “profits,” and when they start to spout data to prove their innocence they are not above saying what they think we want to hear rather than what we ought to hear — since the latter might interfere with the bottom line. A healthy skepticism is always in order.

Another Close Call

It is a wonder that the wind industry is not only surviving attacks from the political right and its wealthy supporters but is doing remarkably well under the circumstances.

In the recent battles over the “fiscal cliff” the relatively meager subsidies from the Federal government barely escaped the sharp knife that is constantly wielded by those who would prefer to see the country go the way of Big Oil. In fact, there has been an ongoing battle against alternative energy funded by an array of opposition groups supported by billionaire oilmen Charles and David Koch. This movement hides behind such seemingly respectable names as the “Manhattan Institute” and the “American Energy Alliance” and is geared toward promoting the agenda of Big Oil and bringing the growth of clean energy to a halt — regardless of how many lies and deceptions it requires.

Australian Canunda Wind Farm. South Australia         (Wikipedia)

Australian Canunda Wind Farm. South Australia (Wikipedia)

One such lie is that wind energy will not really help climate change. In fact, as we can read in this month’s Sierra magazine, “the Renewable Energy Laboratory says otherwise, finding that every gigawatt of wind power annually offsets 2.6 million tons of CO2. The Department of Energy estimates that if the United States could generate 20 percent of its power through wind by 2030 it would eliminate 825 million tons of green house emissions.”

In their attempt to shut down the clean energy movement, the Koch brothers have put pressure on Congress to eliminate the subsidies that were initiated by President George H.W. Bush and are essential for any industry starting up. For example, while the clean energy industry must beg for renewals of Federal subsidies on a year-to-year basis, the oil industry has enjoyed guaranteed subsidies for many years: between 2002 and 2008 these subsidies for Big Oil amounted to $70.2 billion while a mere $12.2 billion went to all renewables combined.

Fearing the discontinuance of subsidies during the recent fiscal cliff fiasco, the wind energy industry, which previously employed 75,000 people, had to lay off hundreds of employees while the near-miss spooked investors, slowed down production, and brought new wind farm projects to a grinding halt. As mentioned above, it is remarkable that the industry has survived at all. Given the serious need for alternative energies to offset our reliance on foreign oil, not to mention the need to save the planet, one can only wonder how successful this country might be if the Congress had given clean energy the sort of support the fossil fuel industries have enjoyed in the past.

Because of wind energy’s close call this past year and the slow-down that followed, 2013 will not be as remarkable a year for clean energy as was 2012. But since the tax credits will be extended beyond this year for projects started this year, 2014 promises to be a much better year. Now, if only the Congress would make a ten-year commitment, as they have done with Big Oil, things would really start to take off. We might even catch up with Germany and China.

But I do believe that the will and determination to reverse the current trend is there and that it will eventually win out. It’s just a question of time. But that time is running out and it would come so much faster if people like the Koch brothers were to wake up, realize that theirs is a finite resource and that clean energy can not only create thousands of jobs — as it has already shown — but also make the investors a ton of money. Just ask smart investors like Warren Buffett, T. Boone Pickens, and Al Gore.

Bombs Away!

We live in an age that defies logic and disturbs our moral sensibilities. There is a growing number of nations that are busily building up their supply of nuclear weapons — any one of which is six times more powerful than the bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan in the mid-1940s. And there are other bellicose nations that want desperately to join the fray. During the Iraq war President Bush actually contemplated using “limited yield” nuclear weapons but settled in the end for 500 pound “bunker-buster bombs” that burrow deep into the ground and destroy everything above and below ground for miles around.

The latest episode in this absurd nightmare is Israel’s request for a few bunker bombs from the United States — along with some planes that can carry the bombs closer to Iran without refueling. At this writing it is not clear whether this request will be met by the Obama administration, but a paragraph in a recent news story is worth a moment’s pause:

A front-page article in the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv on Thursday said Obama had told Netanyahu that Washington would supply Israel with upgraded military equipment in return for assurances that there would be no attack on Iran in 2012.

Again, this may or may not be true. But one bizarre feature of the story is that Obama’s hesitation (if there is any) is apparently due to his concern with his own reelection — since a war between Israel and Iran would raise oil prices precipitously thereby damaging his chances for reelection. We apparently don’t care if Israel attacks Iran as long as it occurs after the election: it’s OK if you attack, but just not yet! The fact that a President’s main concern seems to be with his own reelection rather than the carnage that would result from the sale of the planes and bombs — not to mention the possibility that the United States might well be drawn into the war as an ally of Israel — beggars belief.

As I write this the Sierra Club is desperately trying to get people to write their Congressmen to help save jobs in the clean energy industry. There is an immanent threat of lay-offs which has dampened investor’s enthusiasm for alternative energy. In their plea, Sierra Club says, “By failing to act, Congress is holding the fate of more than 40,000 jobs in the clean energy industry in its hands. Already, their lack of commitment has caused orders for new wind turbines to dry up and has created a crisis where layoffs are imminent.” Do you see the connection here? Our President worries that gas prices will go up if Israel goes to war with Iran, but he and the Congress are reluctant to support a movement that could help us break away from our dependence on foreign oil! I sometimes think I have passed through the looking glass.

What this government needs to do is get squarely behind the clean energy movement and make a serious attempt to get adequate funding for research and meaningful tax breaks for industries that will in the end make alternative energy a viable alternative and affordable by all. Imagine the benefits that would accrue if we simply took a fraction of the money we spend on “defense” and put it into clean energy research. With sufficient funding it is possible that nuclear fusion could replace nuclear fission. As things now stand, we stumble about on the issue of alternative energy and focus our attention on factors that might raise oil prices — as though the latter are what really matter. They don’t. What matters is taking a long view and committing to a path that will deliver us from a world that seriously contemplates destruction on a mass scale and worries only about the cost of gas at the pump.