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Think Globally, Act Locally: Bill McKibben & PERI Tell You How

The Trump administration is determined to boost fossil fuels and diminish renewable energy. Is there anything we as individual citizens can do? Bill McKibben and Robert Pollin have some ideas.

A report published January 31 by The Hill claims the budget the Trump administration will release later this month will take an ax to renewable energy funding and carbon reduction research. Specifically, its sources say the administration intends to slash the Department of Energy’s energy efficiency and renewable energy programs by a whopping 72%. In addition, the proposed budget would cut research on fuel efficient vehicles and bio-energy by 82%. Funding for solar energy technology research would suffer a 78% cut. In the process, 250 DOE employees would lose their jobs.

Sun, Sit, and Sell/Sue

Bill McKibbenBill McKibben, author of Oil & Honey and founder of, told The Guardian on February 1 that any hope the federal government will take the lead on climate change or renewable energy was dashed by the State of the Union speech and the Democratic response. Both utterly failed to address climate change, arguably the most serious existential threat ever to humanity and all the species currently sharing the planet with us.

McKibben writes, “If we’re going to make progress on climate change, it’s not going to come through Washington DC — not any time soon. The strategy that’s been evolving for US climate action — and for action in many other parts of the planet — bypasses the central governments as much as possible. That’s because the oil industry is strongest in national capitols — that’s where its money is most toxically powerful. But if frontal attack is therefore hard, its flanks are wide open.”

Channeling Timothy Leary, the 60s era counterculture guru who told us all to “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out,” McKibben has a three part prescription for what we as individuals can do to move toward a renewable energy future without fossil fuels and carbon emissions. He calls it Sun, Sit, and Sell/Sue and it works like this.

Sun: “The first — joining in work pioneered by groups like the Sierra Club — is to persuade towns, cities, counties, and states to pledge to make the transition to 100% renewable energy. This is now easy and affordable enough that it doesn’t scare politicians. Cities from San Diego to Atlanta have joined in, and they will help maintain the momentum towards clean energy that the Trump administration is trying so hard to blunt.”

Sit: “Job two is to block new fossil fuel infrastructure. In some places, that will be by law. Portland, Oregon, recently passed a bill banning new pipes and such, over the strenuous objections of the industry. In other places it will take bodies — tens of thousands have already pledged to journey to the upper Midwest if and when TransCanada decides to build out the Keystone XL pipeline that Trump has permitted.”

Sell/Sue: “Third is to cut off the money that fuels this industry — by divestment, which has now begun to take a real and telling toll ($6 trillion worth of endowments and portfolios have joined the fight, and studies show it is cutting the capital companies need to keep exploring for oil we don’t), and by the kinds of lawsuits that New York, San Francisco and a host of other cities have already filed.”

McKibben concludes his argument with these words: “Those actions keep the industry off balance, affecting its future plans and weakening its balance sheet even as solar and wind get cheaper all the time. If you want a shorthand version: Sun, Sit (in) and Sell/Sue. Yes, it would be easier if the country, and the planet, were acting together — if Washington were leading the fight the way the planet’s superpower obviously should. But since it isn’t, the pressure will find other outlets. This fight is going aggressively local, and fast.”

The PERI Research Study

Robert Pollin is a researcher at the Political Economy Research Institute located at the University of Massachusetts — Amherst. He and his colleagues have been commissioned by groups in the states of New York and Washington to chart a course that would allow both states to move forward with their plans to create a green economy without assistance from the federal government. PERI has worked for governments and organizations in China, India, sub-Saharan Africa, Spain, Brazil, South Korea, South Africa, Germany, Indonesia, and Puerto Rico.

“It is obvious that nothing good on climate change is going to be coming out of the federal government under Trump,” Pollin tells TruthOut. It is equally obvious that we can’t wait around on climate issues (and many other matters) until somebody less awful gets into the White House. We therefore have to take the most forceful possible actions at the level of state politics. This is what the coalitions are doing in both New York and Washington states.”

It should be noted that both studies are intended to find ways for labor advocates and environmental advocates to work together rather than opposing each other. “Trump and others on the right have feasted on the divides between labor and environmentalists, claiming that if you are for the environment, then you have to be against working people and their communities. These studies show in great detail (some might even say excruciating detail) that these Trump claims are flat-out wrong.” Both studies can be accessed at this link if you wish to delve deeper into this topic.

Both states have set aggressive targets to lower their carbon emissions — 40% by 2035 in Washington and to zero in New York by 2050. Pollin and his colleagues predict that the green energy investments they propose — which amount to about 1.5% of each state’s GDP — will result in significant job growth. Washington could create 40,000 new jobs a year under the PERI plan. For New York, that number is 100,000 per year.

“We develop specific proposals for supporting both the workers and communities that are currently dependent on the fossil fuel industry, to minimize the negative impact on these workers and communities from the year-by-year contraction, leading to the total shutdown of the fossil fuel industry in New York state.” The same consideration for workers applies to the Washington state proposals as well.

“I should emphasize that through investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, neither businesses nor households should ever have to pay more for energy as the economy transitions out of fossil fuels,” Pollin says. “This is because energy efficiency investments, by definition, save money for consumers. Meanwhile, the average costs of wind, geothermal, small-scale hydro and clean bio-energy are already at rough cost parity with fossil fuels. Solar energy is still a bit more expensive, but its costs are coming down rapidly.”

The task, as Bill McKibben suggests, will be hard and the road is long. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, according to a Chinese proverb. Both McKibben and Pollin have no illusions about what it will take to succeed at converting to a green economy, keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and keeping carbon emissions from overwhelming the earth’s ability to cope.

Pollin says, “We simply have to defeat these people and their interests — both the outright opponents among the fossil fuel giants and liberal policymakers who talk a good game, but are unwilling to commit to policies that will deliver on their promises. Getting victories against both sets of forces will require huge amounts of very effective organizing.” Activism is equal parts love and anger. Let the organizing begin!

[Note: TruthOut provides independent journalism that is largely supported by donations. The Guardian refuses to hide its content behind pay walls but asks for donations as well. If you are looking for a small way that you can personally make a difference, contributing $10 to $25 to either or both organizations would be a good place to start. I have and encourage our readers to do so, too. Thanks.]

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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