Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, Monsieur Mestrallet

December has arrived so I am gearing up for Christmas.

I'm what Richard Dawkins would call a cultural Christian, as opposed to a Christian of the religious variety, which means (among other things) that I celebrate Christmas. I do so with such gusto that I start listening to Christmas carols several weeks before Thanksgiving, even though the other members of the household consider this borderline felonious.

I mention this because I'm about to ask you for a Christmas present. Do not be alarmed. All it will cost is fifteen minutes of your time, the price of one sheet of paper, an envelope, and an air-mail stamp. I am asking you to write a letter to Gerard Mestrallet, CEO of GDF Suez, the company that owns the coal-burning Mount Tom power station, asking him to convert Mount Tom from coal to solar.

Last March about 40 climate activists gathered at Mount Tom and made the same request, but so far we haven't heard back. Now that the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research has published a report predicting that by the end of this century ocean levels will have risen enough to threaten some of the world's biggest cities, the time seems right for us to send a reminder.

Regular readers of Mass Greens may recall that GDF Suez is one of the biggest energy companies on the planet. In fact, according to the corporate website, GDF Suez is the "No. 1 independent power producer in the world." Another claim the company's website makes is this:
By helping to prevent climate warming, preserving fossil fuels and natural resources, and promoting environmentally friendly energy, GDF Suez is working to control the impact of its own activities and those of its customers on the environment.
Here's one more quote, this time on the subject of solar power:
[GDF Suez will] take all measures to increase the share of this
clean, renewable energy in its energy mix, by being active across the value chain: from research to the construction and set up of facilities.
Hmm. Last March we gather at Mount Tom to demand that GDF Suez stop burning coal, and suddenly (eight months later) the company starts touting its commitment to climate-change solutions. Coincidence? Well, yes!

But while we can't claim credit for changing the hearts and minds of the energy giant's leaders, we can seize the opportunity to hold them to their "we're-ever-so-green" propaganda. Earlier today I wrote a short letter to Gerard Mestrallet asking him to transform Mount Tom from a coal-burning plant to a solar facility. I cited the claims on his company's website and compared them with his company's actions here in Western Massachusetts where it pumps over a million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. I told that him that the company's work on photovoltaics in Belgium is something to be proud of, but that exacerbating global warming via Mount Tom is not.

I am under no illusions that he will take my advice. But nor do I imagine that the people who run energy companies will get serious about climate-change solutions without us (the active citizens) pushing them.

If we had a Green governor in Massachusetts, or a Green speaker of the house, it wouldn't be left to active citizens alone to do the pushing. Monsieur Mestrallet and his colleagues would be receiving correspondence on State House letterhead and getting the message that if GDF Suez wants to do business in Massachusetts it had better switch from coal to renewables a.s.a.p.

But we don't have any Greens in the State House (yet) so the job falls to Greens -- and small-G greens -- outside the State House to send the message. Lyndon B. Johnson once said that being president involves telling people to do what they should be doing without the president having to tell them to do it. I think the same applies to active citizenship.

So let's tell Gerard Mestrallet to do what he should be doing. By way of an early Christmas present to yours truly, please send your letters to:

Monsieur Gerard Mestrallet
GDF Suez
22 rue du docteur Lancereaux
Paris 75392

Friday, November 20, 2009

Time to Start Running

Who should be running for the Legislature next year? Click here for my suggestion:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lima Uniform

"Stop your vessel. You are running into danger."

That's what the signal flags Lima and Uniform mean.

And those signal flags should be flying from the flagpole at the Massachusetts State House, where the ruling Democrats are gearing up to auction off over 28,000,000 (yes, twenty-eight million) tons of CO2 pollution permits next month.

The energy companies that buy the permits through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) acquire the legal right to dump 28,000,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere during the year 2010.

Auctioning pollution permits through cap-and-trade schemes is a Wall Street approach to the climate crisis, akin to trying to dig our way out of the recession using mortgage-backed securities. It just won't work.

For example, are those energy companies doing what NASA climate scientist James Hansen has called for, i.e. phasing out coal? No, at least not so far as I could tell last time I drove past the coal-burning plant at Mount Tom.

And last time I checked what scientists are saying about sea levels rising because of climate change, the news was not good. The current rate of increase is 0.75 mm per year according to the BBC's report based on the latest edition of the journal Science. Burning more coal is one sure way to keep pumping up those sea levels.

The Beacon Hill Democrats need to understand that we can get serious about tackling climate change or we can carry on burning coal, but we can't do both. Encouraging speculation in CO2 pollution through the RGGI scheme reveals not only a lack of seriousness, but an irresponsible roll-the-dice approach to the most serious crisis our species has confronted. Fortunately, the voters are paying attention to the Lima Uniform signal flags even if their state reps and senators are not.

What the Legislature has failed to catch up with is the shift in public opinion that Christine MacDonald describes in the current edition of E Magazine (Why the End May be Coming for Coal), writing that "a sea change has taken place in the last few years, as the media has focused more attention on the debate and the public has become better acquainted with coal's dark side."

Instead of using discredited Wall Street methods that help enrich the coal-burning energy giants, the Legislature and the Executive should be rewarding and encouraging the people who are doing the most to tackle climate change here in Massachusetts: our small, locally-owned green businesses and our organic farmers.

If clean-energy activists are right about the sea change, the Democrats on Beacon Hill had better start paddling hard to catch the tide. On the other hand, perhaps a few of them should jump overboard and make room for some Green legislators.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Green Wedge

Regular readers are used to me going on about how we need a Green presence in the Legislature, a kind of Green wedge. Well, I am increasingly confident that over the next few election cycles the Greens are going to pull it off.

Curious about how the GRP will do it? Come along to the party's statewide convention on Saturday, November 21, 9:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. at Tilton Hall, Clark University, 950 Main Street, Worcester.

You don't have to be a registered Green to attend (but you do in order to vote during the afternoon business session) and you can sign up to attend the convention right here. If you're thinking about joining the party, the convention is a wonderful opportunity to meet like-minded, action-oriented people and to dip your toe in the water of Green politics.

By the way, Scott Laugenour, the Massachusetts Greens' membership director, made some important corrections to my Join the Party posting. He pointed out that would-be Green candidates (like me) do not, in fact, win the magic G after their names on the ballot by choosing the Green Party USA designation. So there goes my reason for opting for Green Party USA over the GRP! Thanks to Scott I went to Amherst town hall yesterday and registered as a GRP voter.

For the full story please check out Scott's post.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pre-Convention Thoughts

In the run-up to the GRP convention on November 21, I have been thinking about how our 2010 candidates should strike the right balance in talking about climate change. We want our campaign to be prescriptive as well as descriptive, by which I mean we want to offer real solutions in addition to explaining the nature of the emergency. We don't want to scare people. Or do we?

Greens in other places are wrangling with this issue and coming up with innovative approaches. For example, check out this video from the Australian Greens, called Climate Code Green. If you're so inclined, please let me know what you think.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Join the Party

I am delighted to hear that Greens are already coming forward to run in the 2010 legislative elections, so here's a tip for anyone thinking of joining the candidates club.

Running for office as a Green requires registering as a Green voter. If you're already a registered Green, no problem. But if you're registered as a Democrat or Unenrolled, now is the time to switch.

Switching to Green is a two-step process. Stage one is easy. All you have to do is go to your city or town hall and let the election officials know that you want to change your party affiliation. Stage two is a little more complicated because it involves a choice; you have to let the election officials know which of the two Green designations you're opting for.

Yes, there are two Green designations in Massachusetts: the Green-Rainbow Party (GRP) and the Green Party USA. When I defected from the Democratic party I opted for the latter, mainly because if you run for office under the Green Party USA designation you get the letter G after your name. In contrast, the GRP designation enjoys (if that's the right word) the letter J.

One of these days I plan to run for office again, and I would like to make things as easy as possible for the voters. I'll be reaching out beyond the core of registered Greens to people who have traditionally voted Democratic, voters who are used to seeing the letter D after their chosen candidate's name because (at the risk of laboring an obvious point) D is the first letter of the word Democratic. It would be a reasonable assumption on their part that the Green candidate's name will be accompanied by the first letter of the word Green, i.e. G.

Persuading large numbers of traditionally Democratic voters to vote Green will present challenges aplenty before the voters enter the polling booth, so I don't want anything -- and I mean anything -- putting them off at the very last moment. For those wavering voters who won't decide how they will vote until they are actually holding the pen over the ballot I would like to remove as many deterrents to voting Green as possible, including the cognitive dissonance that could set in at the sight of the word Green followed by the letter J.

For me, then, there are advantages to registering as a G. On the other hand, registering as a J makes you part of the GRP, a political party with almost 7,000 registered voters (compared with the Green Party USA's tally of roughly 1,000 Massachusetts voters) an infrastructure and a respectable electoral track record. For example, in 2006 the GRP's nominee for Secretary of the Commonwealth, Dr. Jill Stein, won more than 350,000 votes and the GRP nominee for Treasurer, James O'Keefe, did nearly as well with about 320,000.

Winning over a quarter-million votes in Massachusetts was a significant achievement and I think it's safe to say that in 2010 the GRP will do even better if it contests any of the statewide offices. So for Massachusetts voters on the lookout for an organized, on-the-ground Green presence the GRP is the only game in town. Another reason for registering J as opposed to G is the ability to participate fully in the GRP. For historic reasons, full voting membership in the GRP is not open to people who, like me, are registered G.

My advice in a nutshell: If you're completely and utterly hung up on the silliness of the J issue or simply cannot bring yourself to join a party with the word "rainbow" in its name, register G. Otherwise, tell your voting officials that you would like to affiliate with the GRP. Either way, now is the time to turn Green. If you look in the mirror and see a Green join the party.