The Skywriter

The year in climate: People power


The year in climate: People power


As I write this post, the year 2010 is now known to be the hottest on record globally. Climate scientist James Hansen predicts that, once we get beyond the cooling effects of La Nina this winter, 2011 will be even hotter. Time is running out for the U.S. to show leadership in slowing the rate of climate change from greenhouse gas emissions.

Legislative action to slow the rate of climate change through reduced greenhouse gas emissions was a disappointment in 2010. But that doesn't mean progress wasn't made. It is reassuring to find successful grassroots actions to combat climate change, taking on Big Oil and Dirty Coal in the process. One broadly successful movement was the push against Dirty Coal's mountaintop removal mining (MTR). Although easier than drilling (for coal companies), MTR employs fewer miners, destroys pristine and irreplaceable habitats, and creates a mining waste disaster that is truly catastrophic. Only an executive order by the Bush administration makes disposal of MTR mining waste (think 'top of a mountain') feasible. But that's changing with the current administration. Appalachia Rising, a protest against MTR supported by many groups (including 1Sky), drew thousands of citizen activists to Washington D.C. in September. More than 100 activists were arrested in the peaceful demonstration:

“The science is clear, mountaintop removal destroys historic mountain ranges, poisons water supplies and pollutes the air with coal and rock dust,” said renowned climate scientist James Hansen, who was arrested in today’s protest at the White House. “Mountaintop removal, providing only a small fraction of our energy, can and should be abolished. The time for half measures and caving in to polluting industries must end.” Appalachia Rising is being led by residents of West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee – Appalachian states directly impacted by mountaintop removal. ...“I have talked, begged, debated, written letters to officials, published op-ed pieces in newspapers and lobbied on the state and federal level to end mountaintop removal,” said Mickey McCoy, former mayor and lifelong resident of Inez, Kentucky, who was also arrested today. “Being arrested? That’s such a small price to pay for being heard. My home and people are paying the real price for mountaintop removal. They are dying.”

The week after Appalachia Rising, Mountain Justice Fall Summit was held on Kayford Mountain in West Virginia: a weekend of 'education, training, and momentum building to end mountaintop removal.' There was also a chance to make a statement about the farce of MTR 'reclamation,' with a tree plant on a Patriot Coal Company site.

This is just the latest salvo in a year of grassroots success against Dirty Coal. The first-ever regulation of coal ash, the toxic residue from coal-burning power plants, was proposed by the EPA, in part as a result of the devastating coal ash spill in Kingston, TN in December 2008. Hearings were held in August and September at seven locations around the country affected by coal ash. Many groups called out their grassroots to respond, and the turnout was overwhelming, including in Colorado and North Carolina. Partly as a result of grassroots actions, the EPA announced withdrawal of it's Clean Water Permit for the Spruce Fork No. 1 MTR mine in West Virginia. Financiers are feeling the pressure, too, refusing to lend to MTR mining operations. PNC Bank in London became the 7th large bank to no longer lend to companies extracting coal with MTR!

PNC Bank, the top funder of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining, has announced that it will end its support for the ecologically devastating practice. ...Before this decision, PNC provided financing for six of the biggest MTR coal mining companies — Massey, Arch Coal, Patriot Coal, Alpha, International Coal Group, and CONSOL — who were responsible for nearly half of all mountaintop removal mining in 2009.
Speaking of coal, nearly one hundred new coal-fired power plants were denied application after protests by local communities across the country.
The Navajo Nation, led by a Dine’ (Navajo) and Hopi grassroots youth movement, forced the cancellation of a Life of Mine permit on Black Mesa, Ariz., for the world’s largest coal company -- Peabody Energy. ...Nearly two thirds of the 151 new coal power plant proposals from the Bush Energy Plan have been cancelled, abandoned, or stalled since 2007 -- largely due to community-led opposition. ...Community-based networks such as the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Energy Justice Network, and the Western Mining Action Network have played a major role in supporting these efforts to keep the world’s most climate polluting industry at bay.
You can find more information about proposed coal plants halted in their tracks here and here. Finally, I want to give a big shout-out to Northern Rockies Rising Tide, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and many other grassroots groups for putting the brakes on over-sized shipments of equipment on rural roads through pristine environments in Idaho and Montana, on their way to the tar sands in Alberta and oil refineries in Billings, MT. Some background on the Alberta tar sands:
Thanks to Alberta’s Athabasca oil sands, Canada is now the biggest oil supplier to the United States. A controversial billion-dollar industry is heavily invested in extracting crude from the tarry sands through a process so toxic it has become an international cause for concern. Four barrels of glacier-fed spring water are used to process each barrel of oil, then are dumped, laden with carcinogens, into leaky tailings ponds so huge they can be seen from space. Downstream, the people of Fort Chipewyan are already paying the price for what will be one of the largest industrial projects in history.
You can read more about the devastating, far-reaching effects of the Alberta tar sands here. It started as a protest of a new 'high and wide' route through Idaho and Montana. Asian companies (South Korea and China) are hoping to shortcut the current high-wide corridor through the center of the country by offloading barges of large equipment at Lewiston, Idaho and transporting them through Idaho and Montana. Loads are in the process of being permitted by state agencies in Idaho and Montana, but once the process met the light of day, the brakes were put on the permits, at least for now! (Hearings on the movement of over-sized loads and their impacts on residents of Idaho will be held later this month in Boise.) The movement is building. Northern Rockies Rising Tide hosted a summit with other grassroots groups two weeks ago in Montana.
The summit, hosted by NRRT and the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) ... brought together nearly 100 activists from around the US and Canada who are concerned about tar sands development. Workshops about tar sands issues and trainings in a diversity of tactics for resisting the industry’s growth helped connect the dots between anti-tar sands struggles in places from Oklahoma, to Montana, to northern British Columbia and elsewhere. ...While the eyes of the world are on the oil wars in southwest Asia, a corporate-state free-for-all is spanning North America, with Ft. McMurray, AB at “Ground Zero”.
Grassroots groups can be powerful. By linking together, diverse groups with common interests can learn from one another and work together to fight battles and win! Earlier this year, members of the 1Sky Board posted an open letter to the grassroots about moving forward on climate change in the absence of action from the Senate. The movement needs to grow even more from the bottom up. The grassroots responded, in an open letter to 1Sky (posted on Grist.) It's a great perspective on the past year, with a powerful list co-authors. In addition to highlighting successes from 2010, they note that
In D.C., corporate power rules because they can concentrate energy, resources, and relationships there -- in ways we cannot. However, when confronting these same corporations in our tribes, cities, and towns, we reveal that they are not nimble or powerful enough to defeat our communities.
Janelle Corn, Ph.D., is an ecologist and wildlife biologist living in western Montana. She has lived and worked in the western U.S. for 30 years, and is currently an activist for addressing climate change before it's too late. Her new blog is Natural History Now. The author's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the 1Sky campaign.
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