Published on Thursday, April 22, 2010 by CommonDreams.org
Earth Day, Paying Dues and Shades of Green
by Rachel Smolker
It’s Earth Day and oh how my heart aches.
Yesterday it came to my attention that Environmental Defense Fund, an organization my own father cofounded, is supporting the construction of several new coal plants in Texas! Environmental Defense is supposed to Defend the Environment as I understood it. Haven’t they heard James Hansen the climate scientist repeating ad nauseum his message that eliminating coal is the single most important step we can take to address global warming? Did they fail to even notice the noisy protest outside EPA offices a week or two ago, demanding that Lisa Jackson see firsthand the effects of mountaintop removal coal mining in Southern Appalachia that has resulted in clear-cutting thousands of acres of some of the world’s most biologically diverse forests, burying crucial headwaters streams (nearly 2000 miles already) and contaminating the groundwater with lead and mercury?
EDF’s Jim Marsten reassures us that these new coal plants will be “models” of “green-ness” because they will capture the CO2. Oh good…. Then they are going to use that CO2 for “enhanced oil recovery” — pumping it into nearby oil wells to create pressure that will push the last stubborn bits of oil out.
Hmmmm… burning coal and capturing the emissions to get more oil out of wells… Is that good for the environment, or a little less bad, or perhaps worse?
The plants will also waste less water. That’s good, I think.
But instead of using water to cool the plants, they will use fans run off electricity, which will require more coal burning.
They will also have to burn more coal because it turns out that capturing carbon and pumping it into the oil wells, requires a lot of energy.
So after we burn more coal in order to capture the carbon and cool the plant, what will happen to the more CO2 after it is pumped into the ground to squeeze out more oil? Will it leak out of the wells and into the sky in the end there to mingle with the CO2 from all the other coal burning, and enhanced oil recovery to wreak further havoc on earth? The Greenpeace report “False Hope” says CCS is unproven (a few demonstrations but not likely ready until 2030 at earliest), expensive (nearly doubling plant costs), energy intensive (using 10-40% of the energy produced), risky (CO2 could well leak out slowly or abruptly with severe consequences for human and ecosystem health and climate).
It’s hard to figure how EDF considers this a “victory” for the environment. Maybe board member Stanley Druckenmiller can explain it for us — he knows a few things about coal, what with 200 million shares in Massey Energy.
Massey Energy. They own the mine that exploded a week ago, killing 29 miners and they are responsible for blasting in Coal River next to the Brushy Fork impoundment containing 8.2 billion gallons of toxic slurry waste that, if it were to break, would obliterate an entire community. Somehow EDF’s Earth Day “victory” just doesn’t feel very inspirational. I think I can hear my father rolling over in his grave again.
Johann Hari’s recent piece in The Nation spelled out how the big greens have either prostituted themselves to corporate foundation funders, or become so paralyzed by the constraints on political feasibility within the DC beltway culture (again, a construct of corporate influence), that they have been rendered inert. Hari’s piece was followed by another recent article in Common Dreams by Gary Houser, who passionately implores the big greens to regrow their spines and actually BE green. Maybe that’s possible…
Or maybe it’s up to us once again. Just as the failure of Copenhagen stimulated the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, going on now in Bolivia, perhaps we can light the fires of an alternative environmental movement in the U.S.. Real environmental groups abound — groups like Indigenous Environmental Network, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, WEACT, Energy Justice Network, Global Justice Ecology Project, Rising Tide and a host of others don’t have the big bucks, nor the “ties that bind” that come along with corporate sponsorship. Nor do they have the Big Green “branding” and name recognition. What they have is the guts and integrity to fight for what is right and to know green when they see it.
I know where my membership dues will go!
Let’s hope next Earth Day offers real reasons to celebrate.
Rachel Smolker is codirector of Biofuelwatch, and an organizer with Climate SOS. She has a Ph.D. in behavioral ecology from the University of Michigan and worked as a field biologist before turning to activism. She is the daughter of Environmental Defense Fund cofounder, Robert Smolker, and she engaged in direct action at EDF offices to oppose their advocacy for carbon trade. She has written on the topic of bioenergy, carbon trade and climate justice. She was arrested protesting outside the Chicago Climate Exchange in November as part of the Mobilization for Climate Justice day of actions, which she wrote about for CommonDreams.org.