When the Koch Brothers sit around their mansions at night, do they throw darts at an image of Bill McKibben (the champion of climate change information)? Along with other lonely warriors such as Michael Mann and James Hansen, he is swimming upstream against a tide of climate denial funded by the Kochs, ExxonMobil, and anyone else who stands to make a buck off of poisoning the world with the effluent and detritus created by extracting, transporting, and burning fossil fuels.
Propose, Don’t Oppose
Being the canary in the coal mine is a thankless job. Despite the vituperation his efforts engender, still he has persisted. His latest attempt to shake the world out of its oil-soaked lethargy is called Keep It 100. Here’s how McKibben describes it: “The knock on environmentalists is that they’ve been better at opposing than proposing. Sure, being against overheating the planet or melting the ice caps should probably speak for itself — but it doesn’t give us a means. So it’s important news that the environmental movement seems to be rallying round a new flag. That standard bears a number: 100%.
“It’s the call for the rapid conversion of energy systems around the country to 100% renewable power — a call for running the United States (and the world) on sun, wind and water. What Medicare for All is to the healthcare debate, or Fight for $15 is to the battle against inequality, 100% Renewable is to the struggle for the planet’s future. It’s how progressives will think about energy going forward — and though it started in northern Europe and Northern California, it’s a call that’s gaining traction outside the obvious green enclaves. In the last few months, cities as diverse as Atlanta and Salt Lake have taken the pledge.”
McKibben is no political partisan. He fought with the Obama administration tooth and nail over the Keystone XL pipeline. He and many of his supporters were arrested during their campaign to force Obama to shut down that project. “Barack Obama drove environmentalists crazy with his ‘all-of-the-above’ energy policy, which treated sun and wind as two items on a menu that included coal, gas and oil,” McKibben says. “That is not good enough. Many scientists tell us that within a decade, at current rates, we’ll likely have put enough carbon in the atmosphere to warm the Earth past the Paris climate targets.”
It’s About The Money, Stupid
Keep It 100 focuses on pure economics. Given a choice, people will vote with their wallets. It’s the “Always low prices,”strategy that has made Walmart into a global powerhouse. “In any event, we no longer need to go slow.” McKibben says. “In the last few years, engineers have brought the price of renewables so low that, according to many experts, it would make economic sense to switch over even if fossil fuels weren’t wrecking the Earth. That’s why the appeal of 100% Renewable goes beyond the Left. If you pay a power bill, it’s the common-sense path forward.”
McKibben has nothing but praise for Mark Jacobson, the director of Stanford University’s Atmosphere and Energy Program who with a team of scientists has just proposed a menu of actions that would allow 139 of the world’s nations to use 100% renewable power. “If you want to know how many acres of south facing roof you can find in Alabama or how much wind blows across Zimbabwe, these are the folks to ask,” he says.
More Than Just Politics
It’s not a partisan issue, McKibben points out. “72 percent of Republicans want to accelerate the development of clean energy. That explains why, for example, the Sierra Club is finding dramatic success with its #ReadyFor100 campaign, which lobbies cities to commit to 100 percent renewable. The U.S. Conference of Mayors had endorsed the drive, and leaders were popping up in unexpected places. Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin put it this way: ‘It’s not merely an option now; it’s imperative.’ In May, one California utility executive put it this way: ‘The technology has been resolved. How fast do you want to get to 100 percent? That can be done today.'”
It’s not just muddle-headed reactionaries who oppose renewables. Last fall. the AFL-CIO, which includes the powerful North America Building Trades Unions, issued a statement supporting the Keystone XL pipeline “as part of a comprehensive energy policy,” saying “pipeline construction and maintenance provides quality jobs.” As a candidate for president, Hillary Clinton refused to join Obama in trying to block the pipeline. After meeting with the heads of the building trades unions, Donald Trump approved the project early in his presidency. The first oil flowed through the pipeline the very same afternoon that Trump declared that America would withdraw from the Paris climate accord.
What About Jobs?
That’s nuts, McKibben says. He urges advocates for renewable energy to emphasize the quantity and quality of jobs that renewables will create. “Already, more Americans are employed in the solar industry than in coal fields, and the conversion is only just beginning.” Federal legislation introduced by Bernie Sanders and others that would require the federal government to transition to 100% renewable energy would create 4 million job opportunities in the years to come.
“Revolutions come with losers as well as winners,” McKibben writes. He proposes a program akin to the GI Bill to provide retraining for fossil fuel workers and assistance finding work in new industries. That would require proper funding, something a comprehensive tax on carbon emissions would make possible.
Divide & Conquer
But the existing power structure will not be easily deterred. “In January,” McKibben says, “the New York Times reported that the Koch brothers have begun to aggressively (and cynically) court minority communities, arguing that they ‘benefit the most from cheap and abundant fossil fuels.'” The implication is that poor people won’t be able to afford the higher utility bills and transportation cost that renewables will require. “Their goal is not only to win black voters to the GOP’s energy program, but to stall renewables in majority-black-and-brown cities like Richmond, Calif.” Divide and conquer strategies funded by Koch Industries money are largely responsible for the fractured political landscape that confronts America today.
“There are a few reasons why 100% Renewable is working — why it’s such a powerful idea,” says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “People have agency, for one. People who are outraged, alarmed, depressed, filled with despair about climate change — they want to make a difference in ways they can see, so they’re turning to their backyards. Turning to their city, their state, their university. And, it’s exciting — it’s a way to address this not just through dread, but with something that sparks your imagination. But in this case, the politics are as distributed as the solution. It’s people working on thousands of examples of the one idea.”
Comments Are Revealing
McKibben’s most recent manifesto was published by In These Times on August 22. Like most online sources, including CleanTechnica, people are free to leave comments if they wish. I browsed through the ones left at the end of McKibben’s article and am sharing a few of them with you just so you can have a feel for the amount of resistance there is to the idea of doing anything at all about fossil fuels and the destruction to lives and property they cause.
♣ “There’s a huge windmill ‘farm’ in Alberta, being decommissioned for the end-of-life. Nobody plans to replace them, it is just biting the dust … lack of subsidies and tax breaks.”
♣ “I was just in Nome, Alaska and all of the multi-million dollar wind turbines are off-line due to lack of maintenance. Another boondoggle.”
♣ “Solar kills birds indiscriminately all the time, but wind turbines are bird Cuisinarts. Typically, the companies that operate these things pay a small fee to the federal government for a ‘permit’ to essentially kill all the birds of protected and endangered species that come along. All they have to do in return is report to the government how many are killed. Tens of thousands of wind turbines operate in areas where bald eagles and other protected or endangered raptors hunt. Those big blades hum along at around 170 mph. The birds never even see them coming.”
♣ “Clack et al. correct the record by pointing out that Jacobson’s scheme would require ‘nearly 500,000 square kilometers, which is roughly 6 percent of the continental United States, and more than 1,500 square meters of land for wind turbines for each American.’ In other words, Clack found that Jacobson understated the amount of land needed for his all-renewable dystopia by a factor of 15. When you’re off by more than an order of magnitude, you haven’t the faintest idea of what you’re talking about.”
The point of reposting these comments is to show the opposition is firmly entrenched and implacably opposed to the transition to renewables, thanks in large measure the willingness of the Koch Brothers and their allies to protect their own interests by any means fair or foul, even if it means the earth and all living things upon it must die. Apparently, they are under the impression that you can take it with you.