Posted: 14 Apr 2013 09:31 AM PDT from the Center for American Progress

Martin Luther King in Birmingham jailVan Jones and I have published the following op-ed in “The Miami Herald” and many other McClatchy newspapers. It will be the first in a series on the moral dimensions of climate change.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,”wrote Martin Luther King Jr. from a Birmingham jail on April 16, 1963. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”The Atlanta-based King was explaining why he was in prison for nonviolent demonstrations so far from home, responding to a critical public statement by eight Southern white religious leaders.His words are timeless and universal in part because King was a master of language but primarily because he viewed civil rights through a moral lens. The greater the moral crisis, the more his words apply.The greatest moral crisis of our time is the threat posed to billions – and generations yet unborn – from unrestricted carbon pollution. Now more than ever, we are “tied in a single garment of destiny,” cloaked as a species in a protective climate that we are in the process of unraveling.Many have criticized the demonstrations against the Keystone XL pipeline, which would open a major spigot to the Canadian tar sands, as unwarranted and untimely – unwarranted given our broad dependence on fossil fuels and untimely because of our struggling economy. We disagree.We think there has been far too little direct action, given the staggering scale of the threat. As the International Energy Agency has explained, we must leave the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground if we are to preserve a livable climate and avoid levels of warming that “even school children know” will be catastrophic for us all. The tar sands would be near the top of any list of the largest, dirtiest pools of carbon that must be forsaken for the sake of humanity.

King explained in his letter, “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action.”

Has there ever been a problem where more facts from more unimpeachable sources have been collected and ignored than climate change? Every major scientific body and international group has taken to begging and pleading for action.

Last fall, the World Bank – no bastion of eco-consciousness – issued a report aimed to “shock us into action.” It warned that “we’re on track for a 4-degree Celsius warmer world marked by extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.”

If we don’t act now, then, within decades, a large fraction of the world’s 9 billion people will find themselves living in places whose once stable climate simply now can’t sustain them – either because it is too hot or arid, the land is no longer arable, their glacially fed rivers are drying up, or the seas are rising too fast.

The overwhelming majority of those suffering the most – in this country and especially abroad – will be people who contributed little or nothing whatsoever to the problem.

This would be the greatest injustice in human history, irreversible on a time scale of centuries.

Has there ever been a problem subject to more failed negotiations? The international climate talks have been going on for a quarter century, full of sound and fury, but thwarted in large part by a U.S. Senate that itself talks to death every serious climate bill.

 

By “self-purification,” King meant preparing the group of protestors for the rigors and trials of nonviolent demonstration. But it’s his thoughts on another group that strike nearest now: “I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate,” he wrote in words that apply to today’s moderate, status quo intelligentsia of every color. “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

We understand why the fossil fuel industry works to block Congressional inaction and funds what has become the most effective disinformation campaign in history. We are bewildered by those who claim to accept climate science, but feel no urgency to act.

As King put it, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Especially relevant are King’s words about time: “All that is said here grows out of a tragic misconception of time. It is the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills.”

As King explains, time “can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will.” We feel the same.

Certainly nothing compares to the centuries of racial injustice King was impatient about. But each year brings an ever-worsening array of megadroughts and superstorms juiced by global warming like a baseball player on steroids. Each year brings higher emissions and ever more dire studies.

We know we’re fast approaching climatic tipping points — the loss of Arctic sea ice, the disintegration of the great ice sheets, the release of vast amounts of carbon from the permafrost, Dust-Bowlification of much of the world’s arable land – that are irreversible and catastrophic.

Even once-reticent climatologists are speaking out because, as Dr. Lonnie Thompson has written, “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.” Others, like James Hansen and Jason Box, have themselves joined direct action and been arrested for it.

It is past time for many more to speak out, and for many more to join direct action.

We end with King on the need to act now: “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”

ABOUT THE WRITERS

Van Jones is president of Rebuild the Dream and author of “Rebuild the Dream.” Joseph Romm runs ClimateProgress.org and is author of “Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga.”

    

Silver Linings Playbook: Exxon Says Wildlife Hit By Arkansas Spill Were Mostly ‘Reptiles, Primarily Venomous Snakes’Posted: 14 Apr 2013 08:06 AM PDT

Oily snakes — or snake oil?

Sure, you thought nothing good could come from ExxonMobil’s pipeline spill of some 200,000 gallons into the residential streets of Mayflower, Arkansas. After all, it was “low-quality Wabasca Heavy crude oil from Alberta.” And a technicality has spared Exxon from having to pay any money into the fund that will be covering most of the clean up costs — a 1980 law ensures that diluted bitumen is not classified as oil.

But ExxonMobil reports from the Mayflower Incident Unified Command Joint Information Center that even this cloud of oil has a silver lining:

The majority of the impacted wildlife has been reptiles, primarily venomous snakes.

Strangely, HuffPost reports, “According to its Facebook page, the Helping Arkansas Wild Kritters (HAWK) Center, which has worked to help scores of animals hurt by the March 29 spill, has not rescued any venomous snakes, but has cared for many birds.”

    

Is 70 Percent Renewable Power Possible? Portugal Just Did It For 3 MonthsPosted: 14 Apr 2013 06:06 AM PDT

Alto Lindoso (Image credit: Energias de Portugal)

Portugal’s electricity network operator announced that renewable energy supplied 70 percent of total consumption in the first quarter of this year. This increase was largely due to favorable weather conditions resulting in increased wind and water flow, as well as lower demand. Portuguese citizens are using less energy and using sources that never run out for the vast majority of what they do use.

  • Hydropower supplied most: Hydroelectric power supplied 37 percent of total electricity — a 312 percent increase compared to last year.
  • Wind turbines broke a record: Wind energy represented 27 percent of the total share, which is 60 percent higher than last year. This is 37 percent above average and good for the highest amount generated by wind in Portugal, ever.
  • 2.3 percent less energy used: Energy consumption has fallen every year since 2010 and is now at 2006 levels. Some of the drop this quarter was due to fewer working days and a warmer winter, but even controlling for those factors, there was still a drop of .4 percent.
  • Not so much solar: Solar energy supplies only .7 percent of total energy demand, according to 2012 figures (Q1 2013 figures were not available for solar). This constitutes 225.5 MW in total photovoltaic capacity.
  • Dropping the fossil fuel habit: Portugal’s electricity had 29 percent less coal and 44 percent less gas in it from 2012 figures. The country must import the fossil fuels it burns.
  • For sale: Portugal exported what would have been 6 percent of total electricity consumption to other countries. It will also be able to sell a chunk of its allotted carbon credits offered by the EU’s carbon trading system.

Actually 70 percent isn’t unheard of for Portugal. For a few hours in 2011, Portugal was entirely run on renewable power. Yet this was the first time so much was sustained for a quarter.

Portugal’s investment in modernizing its electricity grid in 2000 has come in handy. Like in many countries, power companies owned their own transmission lines. What the government did in 2000 was to buy all the lines, creating a publicly owned and traded company to operate them. This was used to create a smart grid that renewable energy producers could connect to (encouraged by government-organized auctions to build new wind and hydro plants). In 2010, the New York Times reported on Portugal’s renewable energy push that started in earnest in 2005:

Five years ago, the leaders of this sun-scorched, wind-swept nation made a bet: To reduce Portugal’s dependence on imported fossil fuels, they embarked on an array of ambitious renewable energy projects — primarily harnessing the country’s wind and hydropower, but also its sunlight and ocean waves…. Nearly 45 percent of the electricity in Portugal’s grid will come from renewable sources this year, up from 17 percent just five years ago.

There was a massive amount of skepticism over the plan at the time. The Prime Minister at the time, José Sócrates, noted that the nation’s network of electric car charging stations elicited ridicule — including former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Burlusconi who jokingly offered to build him an electric Ferrari. While a totally electric version isn’t available, the fastest Ferrari ever wasunveiled last month, and it’s a hybrid.

Some locals complained about higher utility bills or the green economy bypassing them, while others were thrilled. The Mayor of Moura explained that the reason his town got the nation’s largest solar plant was because it “gets the most sun of anywhere in Europe and has lots of useless space.”

So now that it demonstrated the ability to generate 70 percent renewable energy for 3 months, where does Portugal go from here? Oddly enough, it does not have much in the way of offshore wind capacity — only 2 MW. The recent economic situation and austerity programs have endangered not only jobs and commerce, but continued investment in renewable energy and electric vehicles. Yet saving on the cost of having to import fossil fuels will be helpful for decades to come, and as its economy improves, it will have a strong renewable electricity grid to rely upon.

Other countries have been making steps of their own on renewable power production. The U.S. had a record-breaking year for wind energy in 2012, growing by 28 percent. Sweden is looking to haveno dependence on oil by 2020. Australia could be looking at 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. Global solar power world will soon be a net-positive energy source.