Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Power Dialog

See below for an announcement about an exciting new project aimed at getting students civically engaged around the Clean Power Plan, and share with teachers and students who might be interested:

Dear Colleagues,

Over the next two years, students have a unique and critically important learning and civic engagement opportunity.  Student voices can impact the scope and direction of state implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, mandating global warming pollution cuts in the electric power sector.

We are circulating this call to help organize a Power Dialog in March of 2016: hundreds of college, graduate, and high school level classes in states across the country taking field trips to meet with their Department of Environmental Conservation heads to discuss state implementation of the EPA’s new rules.

State agency leaders are already seeing their calendars fill up with meetings with utility executives and coal industry lobbyists. Why not our students?

By 2017, each state is required to come up with a plan to meet the targets set by the EPA. New York, for example, has to cut the emission rate from the power sector by at least 44% by 2030; in Ohio the required target is 28%; in Texas, 38%. These are big numbers. They could be bigger. State level plans can be more ambitious then the EPA requires. Yet the states and EPA are being pressured to relax the targets.

According to Dr. Dallas Burtraw, Senior Researcher at Resources for the Future, the climate policy dialogue has moved “outside the Washington beltway to 50 state capitals where stakeholders have long-term relationships and a long-term stake in the outcome. Citizen input is a critical part of the process-- whether it is technical, or simply provides the decisionmakers with information that the public cares about the issue.”  

Typically, it is the state DEC or DEQ that is the lead agency in drafting these plans. With the action now beyond the partisan wrangling of Washington and the state legislatures, students can gain both a powerful learning opportunity and a real voice in the policy process.

DEC officials will welcome visits from unusual suspects. Hearing the voice of students—young people who will live to see the late 21st century first-hand-- will provide a fresh perspective, focused on the long-term impacts of today’s policy decisions.    

This is not a lobbying effort. We have no collective policy agenda for which we are advocating. Rather it is a learning opportunity for students, and also a chance for students to share their own individual thoughts and policy insights with state officials.

If you are interested in helping organize a class field trip, along with colleagues in your state, to visit your state capitol for a meeting with the relevant state officials, please sign up here. As we move forward with an organizing plan, we will connect you with other interested professors and university staff in your state, and will develop and circulate learning materials to prep your students for the conversation.

The Power Dialog will take place in March 2016, so there is lead-time for planning. The Bard Center for Environmental Policy will be hosting a dial-in conversation on February 18 at noon eastern to brainstorm how to help build a power dialog in your state over the coming year.

Learn more about the EPA’s Clean Power Plan here, or listen to a podcast by RFF’s Burtraw about the EPA’s program and the importance of state level engagement. As a group, we will start scheduling our trips to Phoenix, Nashville, Salem, Tallahassee, Boston and Peoria. 
Sign up here to learn more, and thank you for the work you are doing.

Eban Goodstein, Ph.D.
Director, Bard Center for Environmental Policy
Director, Bard MBA in Sustainability

David Blockstein, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist
National Council for Science and the Environment


Stay going. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Fossil Fuel Divestment Day

Fossil Fuel Divestment Day is tomorrow (and Saturday) -- it's a big global push to keep building the fossil fuel divestment movement's momentum.  This video tells the story:

The really interesting part of this is the coordinated counter attack from the fossil fuel industry. Earlier this week, a report commissioned and funded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America was released. It was highlighted in the NY Times, and the report's author penned an opinion piece in the WSJ. It makes a dubious case that divestment could hurt college endowments.  And then this amazing video from the 'Environmental Policy Alliance' (a PR group) that suggests the alternative to fossil fuels is going back to the time of Adam and Eve (only without food): 

We all know fossil fuels have brought us tremendous benefit and advances that have immeasurably improved the lives of countless people. They've also set the stage for us to take the next step, especially now that we know the incredibly dangerous unintended impacts of our burning them.

We have what we need to maintain, even improve, quality of life while getting off fossil fuels. It won't be easy, and our future won't look the same, but it doesn't have to be worse.  Dramatic increases in energy efficiency and reduced need for transport from smart building and community design can reduce our overall demand for energy. An LED bulb doesn't decrease quality of life; and it uses 90% less electricity, saving money over the life of the bulb. Passive House design can eliminate the need for heating and cooling systems altogether. People in walkable communities don't need cars. And with that reduced demand, and the rapidly decreasing costs of renewables, it's entirely possible to get off fossil fuels

Here's a compelling vision for getting there:

As the Guardian piece evaluating the oil industry divestment report notes, this scenario is playing out like a text book Ghandian change movement: "first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Feels like we're just moving into the 'laughing at you' phase. The 'fight you' phase could get really ugly. But, a clean, healthy, sustainable future will win. For all the talk of how the divestment movement is ineffective, it seems to be having quite an effect.  #Divest.

Stay going.