In defense of environmental extremism

David Brower and friends

David Brower and friends

The other night, I saw A Fierce Green Fire, a documentary history of the environmental movement, as part of the excellent DC Environmental Film Festival. The movie was OK, worth seeing, but not great, a bit PBS-like in its sweep.  By trying to cover a  lot, the filmmakers mostly skim the surface: Here’s Sierra Club  founder John Muir, there’s Rachel Carson and Silent Spring, remember when Jimmy Carter put a solar heater on the White House roof, say hello to Stewart Brand and Bill McKibben, meet Wangari Maathai, and let’s not overlook environmental justice and the Copenhagen climate talks, and wasn’t that Buckminster Fuller? Nor does the film look critically at environmentalism; it’s narrated by Robert Redford, Ashley Judd, Van Jones, Isabel Allende and Meryl Streep, which pretty much tells you all you need to know.

FierceGreenFire_posterHaving said that, the film, sometimes by design and sometimes inadvertently, manages to deliver a useful reminder about radicals and rabble-rousers: They are often the ones who drive change. Had Barry Goldwater been an environmentalist, he might have said that extremism in defense of the earth is no vice and that moderation, when it comes to climate change, is no virtue. The environmental movement’s heroes, at least in this telling, are David Brower and Lois Gibbs and Chico Mendes and Greenpeace, and not those who work inside the Beltway or travel to UN conferences. At the very least, grass-roots, bottom-up activism created the conditions that drove change in Washington.

Consider, for example, these stirring words from a presidential State of the Union address, which is (too) briefly excerpted in the movie: [click to continue…]

2012’s green business heroes

Bill McKibben does the math

Bill McKibben does the math

Some say, and with reason, that 2012 was the best year ever. Never in the history of the world has there been less hunger, less disease and more prosperity. Of course there’s plenty to worry about–the fiscal cliff, gun violence, chaos in Syria and the Congo–as always there will be. But, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, the long arc of history bends towards a more just and sustainable world.

In the little corner of the world that occupies much of my attention–the places where business and sustainability intersect–it has not been a good year. Global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. We’re burning more coal, oil and gas than ever. Policy is stuck, in the US and internationally. This will be the hottest year on record in the US, and still people don’t accept the science of climate change. Go figure.

That said, in this final blogpost of 2012,  I’d like to salute some people (again, mostly from the world of business and sustainability) who fought the good fight during the year  just past. Some are business people, others are politicians, activists and even journalists, but they are all doing what they can to bend the arc of history. They’re my green business heroes for 2012. [click to continue…]

Sierra Club’s Brune: We’re stopping coal

Michael Brune

“We are starting to create the ecological U-turn that David Brower talked about, decades ago. On coal, it’s dramatic. We’ve seen a halt to the coal rush.”

“Primarily because of regulations (from)  the Obama administration, we can now project a future where our oil consumption will decline.”

“It’s not sufficient to address the problem, but it’s a positive trend.”

So says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. [David Brower, who was made famous in John McPhee’s Encounters with the Archdruid, was one of his predecessors.] Others fret that the environmental movement is on the defensive these days. Mike, an optimistic, sees progress.

Indeed, Mike argues that the effort by Republicans in the House to roll back a slew of environmental regulations as a sign that the enviros are winning.

“Republicans in Congress and their corporate benefactors are worried about the threat to the status quo in the energy industry,” he says. “That’s the reason this is happening. We’re making progress.” [click to continue…]

Mike Bloomberg takes on coal

Sierra Club's Mike Brune, Rep. Jim Moran and Michael Bloomberg

In a gutsy move, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg today announced that his Bloomberg Philanthropies has pledged $50 million to the Sierra Club to fight coal plants.

He didn’t do it quietly, either. Bloomberg chartered a boat to take about 100 Sierra Club activists, friends, TV cameras and reporters out onto the Potomac River for a press conference in front of an Alexandria, Va., coal plant that environmentalist have been try shut, so far without success. Fittingly, he came to D.C. on a day when the heat was sweltering and authorities declared a “Code Orange,” an alert meaning that the air is too dirty for kids to play outside.

“The burning of coal does terrible harm to mothers, children and families across the country,” Bloomberg declared, calling coal a “self-inflicted public health risk.”

Bloomberg and Mike Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director, set an ambitious goal for the group’s “Beyond Coal” campaign: They want to shut down about one-third of the nation’s coal plants and replace them with clean energy as quickly as possible.

“If we succeed, and I believe we will,” Bloomberg said, “we will save millions of lives and we will help millions of children avoid asthma and its debilitating effects.”

For those who care about climate change, air pollution and public health, this is the best news out of Washington, D.C., in some time. It comes in stark contrast to the goings-on on Capitol Hill, where House Republicans are doing everything they can to tame the EPA. [click to continue…]