Happy News

My buddy, the “old fart,” insists upon looking at the glass half full. When I question him about it, he insists that I look again. As he likes to remind us all, there are good people out there who never make the news and there are good things that happen that don’t make the headlines. This is certainly true, and in the spirit of the old fart’s pointing finger I have culled the Sierra Club magazine this month and pulled out the bits and pieces of good news about the things that are happening to protect our environment and help our planet to survive. I have skipped the bleak news as that only muddies the waters (no pun intended).

• Solar power is hot on the heels of fossil fuels. In 2013, residential, non-residential, and utility-scale solar installations in the United States added 4,863 megawatts of electricity to the nation’s generating capacity, second only to natural gas, at 6,861 megawatts. (Left in the dust, appropriately, was coal power at 1,507 megawatts.) Through the first half of 2014, 53 percent of all new electric capacity installed came from solar power.” [And this despite the fact that Big Oil gets the major subsidies from the U.S. government and solar and wind power get very little and must beg for what they get.]
•California banned single-use plastic bags. It is the first state to do so. [Taking the lead again, as usual.]
• Statoil, Norway’s national energy company, shelved its plans for a multibilion-dollar investment in Canada’s tar sands.
• President Barack Obama designated 350,000 acres of Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains as a new National Monument.
• The Massachusetts District Attorney dropped charges against climate activists who used a lobster boat to block a load of coal bound for the Brayton Point Power Plant because he said he agrees with the protesters.
• More than 400,000 people in New York City joined the People’s Climate March, the largest such demonstration ever.
• Another major investment company has emerged, the New Alternatives Fund, that encourages people to invest in solar and wind power exclusively, investments that have been extremely profitable for folks like T. Boone Pickens, Warren Buffet, and Al Gore. [One wonders if and when Big Oil will climb on board. The train is picking up speed.]
• Denmark supplies three out of four of the world’s offshore wind turbines and is on track to be free of fossil fuels by 2050.
Happy New Year to all and to all a good night!! (And thanks, BTG, for being so positive in a world that drags so many of us down.)
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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.