The Skywriter

Blog Archives

Cry for an oil spill

You wonder when we as a country will ever learn.”

That's a quote from blogger John Atchison in his Helium piece on the latest oil spill disaster in our country.

Last week, a million gallons of oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River in southwest Michigan. My wife grew up on that river. She recalls a childhood watching the ducks, egrets, and fish that populated the river just out her back door. We were married right along the river on a warm day in July fourteen years ago. For us, it was a symbol of the flow and continuity of life. My wife sobbed as we watched the news reports about the spill, knowing it may or may not converge into Lake Michigan and that the clean up is expected to take months.

Share |

Organizing tip: shadowing your senators in August


By 1Sky intern Amy Plovnick. -- Luis

If, like me, you are frustrated and angry that the Senate has failed to pass legislation to address the climate crisis, you might be wondering what you can do about it. Clearly, senators need to hear that it is unacceptable that they did not address the biggest challenge of our time. We need to use grassroots pressure to show our senators that they must do their job on climate – and if they don’t, they will risk facing the consequences. But how can we deliver this message?

One way to put pressure on elected officials is through shadowing them at town halls, candidate forums, and other public events. Shadowing, also known as bird-dogging, involves going to public (and sometimes private) events and asking elected officials questions that will get them to take a strong position on climate or expose their lack of effort on the issue. Throughout the August congressional recess, when members of Congress return to their districts, 1Sky volunteers will be asking them to rise above the influence of Dirty Coal and Big Oil and do their job to address climate change.

Here are some tips for making your shadowing event successful, based on the experiences of 1Sky volunteers:

  • Shadowing is a team effort: A successful shadowing squad involves more than one person asking a difficult but relevant question to their elected official. There are plenty of other ways to be involved in an essential way, such as by contacting the media before the event, making signs, recruiting people, and documenting the event. Which brings me to…
  • Take pictures and video: Recording the event is critical for getting the word out, especially if the elected official says something notorious like this:

    So make sure that you have people assigned to record and photograph the question being asked and the senator’s answer, as well as your group with signs and props. To capture a great, compelling photo, remember to…
  • Use visuals! This August, we will be using the visual of oily hands to convey the scope of our addiction to fossil fuels and show the influence of dirty energy money in Congress. You can also make large signs that convey your message. Make sure that the person or people you have designated to ask the question are not holding signs or visuals, as it might make the elected official less likely to listen to them. When you do get to ask a question…
  • Be assertive, and don’t be afraid to follow up. Practice asking the question beforehand so you feel confident about it. If there is a limited amount of time, be assertive so that you have the opportunity to ask your question. If the elected official tries to give an easy answer ( “I support clean energy”), ask a follow-up question to get them to take a strong position on the issue (“What will you do to make sure that we transition to a clean energy economy and don’t invest in new coal-fired power plants?”).

If you follow these suggestions and come up with creative ideas of your own, your shadowing event is sure to be a success. By keeping the heat on our elected officials, we can turn our anger into action, and our action into a reality in which Congress comes to its senses and addresses climate change.

Share |

1Sky Policy Update 8/4/2010 - House passes spill bill, Senate punts

US Capitol small

UPDATE: Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) postponed a vote on oil spill response legislation due to opposition from the entire 41-member Republican caucus and 2 moderate Democrats. Reid hopes to revisit the legislation after the August recess.

With hope of a climate bill this summer stamped out by partisan politics, the House and Senate have been working to pass narrowly-focused oil spill response and drilling reform measures. The House bill passed on Friday, 209-193, with two Republicans supporting it. The Senate bill failed to attract bipartisan support, and is being postponed until after recess. Members of the House are on recess beginning this week, and the Senate will follow suit after voting on Elena Kagan's Supreme Court confirmation later in the week. August recess will be a key time to hold senators accountable for their inaction on climate and energy.

Share |

Clean energy biz: South Dakota's Black Hills Solar


By Jesse Hart, owner of Hart Homes LLC/Black Hills Solar in South Dakota. -- Luis

My wife and I started Black Hills Solar about four years ago with the idea that we would build energy efficient and low maintenance homes for the people in the Black Hills area. To save the homeowners money every month on their energy bills, we used structural insulated panels for the exterior walls and blown fiberglass insulation in other areas. On the outside of the homes, we used products that don't need annual maintenance and have long warranties so people don't have to repaint and maintain their house every year.

As the housing market changed, so did our business. We went from building new homes to remodeling and fixing existing homes, but we still try to help customers lower their energy usage and make their home require less maintenance. We look for many ways to help customers reduce their energy demand, such as adding more insulation or installing new windows.

I always tell my customers that first you conserve energy and then you start making your own power. There are a lot of choices out there for solar and wind products, and I try to use products that are manufactured here in the U.S. For solar products I use a company that is starting to make solar thermal systems and solar electric (PV) panels in the U.S. They will also make evacuated tubes, which were once only made in China. The wind company that I deal with is a U.S. company but makes products overseas. I am also trying to work with a wind energy company that will be manufacturing in my hometown.

Solar and wind products bring lots of well paying jobs to the area. For example, when I install solar electric (PV), I get panels that are made in the U.S. and I also hire a licensed electrician to run the electrical and wire to the house. When I put up a wind turbine, I need to hire an electrician, and buy concrete and the turbine, which comes from a local manufacturer. Right now my business is small but in addition to the employees who work for me, we create jobs in other areas, such as manufacturing, shipping, and trained professional jobs.

Share |

How should scientists communicate about climate?


By 1Sky blogger Janelle Corn, Ph.D. See her bio at the end of this post. -- Luis

Alex Bea recently posted a review of a publication (.pdf) that will help us all communicate more effectively about climate change. This led me to consider how I, as an ecologist, might add to the discussion about effective communication.

Share |

Weekly Round-Up 8/6/10: Enviros finger-pointing and the state of the climate (VIDEO)


This week started with ire over the Senate's delay in bringing a climate bill to vote before the Senate recess. And the week ends with... ire over the Senate delaying in bringing a BP accountability and efficiency bill to the floor! The Senate can't even get 60 votes to pass a small, "no-carbon capping" bill with number of non-controversial measures that easily passed bi-partisan Senate subcommittees, like Home Star?

Share |

An open letter to all people and organizations working to combat global warming


This open letter was originally published on August 6, 2010 in response to the Senate's failure to pass climate legislation. Please share it widely and you haven't already, consider making a generous tax-deductible donation to 1Sky, then tell your friends and family to do the same. -- Gillian.

From members of the 1Sky Board of Directors: Jessica Bailey, KC Golden, Bracken Hendricks, Bill McKibben, Billy Parish, Vicky Rateau, Gus Speth and Betsy Taylor

As we find ourselves surrounded by the tatters of the climate debate in the U.S. Congress, it seems fitting to take a moment to step back and ponder where we go from here. While the blogosphere is buzzing with assignments of blame for the failure of the Senate to act, we are much more concerned about how we move forward with urgency and clarity of purpose. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury to pack our bags and go home as the Senate did only moments ago. We just staggered through the hottest six months in recorded history worldwide. People everywhere are being impacted by the damage we have done through decades of carbon loading, and it is clear that our ailing planet will not sit idly by as our political leaders have done.

In reflecting, we find ourselves returning to the founding principles of 1Sky when we formed in 2007: We must redouble our efforts to unite American society across all divides in an unyielding call for action on the scope and scale of the enormous challenge and opportunity we are confronting. We are galvanized by the understanding that the political, human rights and economic repercussions of climate change transcend the ‘environmental issue’ label, and present a nation-wide challenge requiring a unified response. As United States citizens, we understand our moral and ethical responsibility to act with resolve – both as members of a global community, and as the leading per capita emitters of global warming pollution. We must succeed in building a nationwide movement that changes the politics of what is possible to deliver what is necessary; our very lives depend on it.

The central aspirations of our campaign as embodied in the 1Sky Solutions which have been endorsed by more than 600 allied organizations nationwide continue as our north star:

  • Reduce global warming pollution at least 35 percent below current levels by 2020, and at least 80 percent by 2050.
  • Create 5 million green jobs and pathways out of poverty by rebuilding and refueling America with a comprehensive energy efficiency mobilization including immediate investment in a clean-energy infrastructure.
  • Re-power America by imposing a moratorium on new coal plants that emit global warming pollution and replacing dirty fuels such as coal and oil with 100 percent renewable energy.

But what lessons can we learn from the last three years, years in which the advocacy for action on climate change was better funded and coordinated than ever before? We all had high hopes, and the debate was closer to center stage than it has ever been. But in the end, we are left largely empty-handed.

We feel it is imperative to pause, ask tough questions about what went wrong and why we as a community failed to achieve our aspirations, and – more importantly - to look carefully at what is most needed given the new legislative and political landscape. Toward this end, we are holding a retreat in mid-November with key allies, organizers, 1Sky staff and board, but also with leaders from other sectors to help us see in fresh ways, and to explore what role 1Sky can best play as we move into the next chapter.

As we prepare for the strategic discussions we will be having, six key lessons strike us as salient and worth offering now for discussion and debate. We don’t pretend to have the answers, but we are committed to grappling with the tough questions and to road-testing solutions. Our thoughts at this time:

Share |

Delivering "oily hands" to polluter-funded senators


Last week, the Senate adjourned for the August congressional recess without taking up narrow legislation to address the Gulf oil disaster – let alone a more comprehensive climate and energy bill to address the root problem of our fossil fuel dependence. To decry this unacceptable state of affairs, a climate coalition led by 1Sky took to Capitol Hill last Thursday to call out the Senate for failing to act.

Share |

Policy update 8/9/2010: Senate goes on recess, punts on spill bill

US Capitol small

This week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) canceled a vote on the oil spill response package, punting consideration until after the August recess. Without bipartisan support, the bill did not have the votes necessary for passage. BP's "static kill" finally plugged the deepwater well that has been spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico for over 3 months. Both houses of Congress are out on recess until September 13th. 1Sky’s board reflects on the state of affairs regarding climate action. During the recess, 1Sky will be "shadowing" members of Congress wearing giant "oily hands" to represent the dirty money from oil and coal companies that is holding our energy policy hostage in Congress.

Share |

CoolClimate Art Contest sets out to inspire climate action


These are the dog days of summer for the climate movement in every sense of the phrase. We're literally baking under the heat of the warmest summer on record, and we're figuratively "dog-tired" from a long and (so far) fruitless battle to get our dog-tired Senate to do something about climate change. We're casting about for ways to move the ball in the right direction and get more of our fellow Americans on our side in this fight. In short, we need to be inspired -- and pie charts, PowerPoints or policy papers won't cut it.

The folks at the Creative Visions, Crosscurrents and Quixote Foundations realize that art has the potential to move and inspire people the way facts and figures, necessary as they are, simply can't. After all, there's a reason why a copy of Picasso's Guernica is hanging at the U.N building instead of a fact sheet about casualties during the Spanish Civil War.

That's why they've launched the CoolClimate Art Contest, which has been running since July 12th and closes on September 6th:

The contest seeks to generate iconic images that address the impact of climate change and spurs participation in the climate change debate. Create a work that encompasses the questions above and explores our relationship with the climate – from clean energy jobs to pollution-free oceans – the subject choice is yours.

We're proud to be one of the partner organizations involved in this contest that will be judged by a who's who from the artistic, scientific and climate advocacy worlds:

  • Jackson Browne (musician)
  • Jayni Chase (philanthropist)
  • Chevy Chase (comedian)
  • Mel Chin (artist)
  • Dianna Cohen (environmental artist)
  • Philippe Cousteau (ecologist)
  • Agnes Gund (renown art collector)
  • Van Jones (environmental activist)
  • David Ross (former head of Whitney Museum and SF Museum of Modern Art)
  • Carrie Mae Weems (artist)

The deadline to submit artwork is September 6th. If you've decided to participate, good luck!

Share |