Wednesday, August 25, 2010

the most powerful Green in the world

Meet Adam Bandt, the new Green member of Australia's House of Representatives and arguably the most powerful Green in the world.

Bandt won his seat from the governing Labour Party in last Saturday's inconclusive election, which left no party in overall control, and he now finds himself in a pivotal role. A few seats short of a majority, Labour has to look to Adam Bandt and the handful of independent members of parliament in order to stay in power.

Why do I call Bandt the most powerful Green in the world (other than because of my penchant for hyperbolic headlines)? Because Australia's greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 were 537 million tonnes, "the largest amount per person of any developed country," according to the Sydney Morning Herald (May 28, 2010), and the sole Green legislator is uniquely positioned to ensure that the next government takes a big bite out of the country's GHG output. Coal is at the root of Australia's growing CO2 discharge, and a one of the main issues in the general elections was a proposed tax on coal profits. With his leverage, Bandt could force Labour to increase the coal-tax rate and push Australia away from coal and toward renewables.

So Adam Bandt, age 38, Ph.D., labor-lawyer turned legislator and a vocal supporter of marriage equality, has real power. Acquiring, maintaining, and using political power is the purpose of electoral politics, a fact lost on too many candidates of all stripes. But Bandt is one Green who is not afraid to use the word "power." See for yourself in his short campaign video.

In two minutes, Bandt defines himself, his party, the voters, and the issues. It's a masterful piece of persuasive advocacy, in my opinion, and I would welcome your comments on Bandt's message and how he presents it. In particular, I hope you'll notice the tried-and-trusted rhetorical devices.

Friday, July 23, 2010


So, no federal climate-and-energy bill until after the November elections.

As you may have read, the Democratic leadership shopped the carbon-cap bill around the Senate, did a head count, discovered that the Republicans didn't like the bill, and decided to let it go.

Oh well, thank goodness it's not urgent (please forgive the sarcasm).

Where does our own Senator Scott Brown stand on climate change? It's hard to tell. Yesterday evening, during a Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) meeting in Worcester, I called Nat Hoopes, the senator's legislative assistant in DC, and left a voicemail asking whether Senator Brown would support a comprehensive climate-and-energy bill. No word back yet.

According to UCS, when he was a state senator Scott Brown was pretty good on environmental issues. But (as I blogged) during the special election candidate Brown claimed that climate-change was something scientists had yet to reach agreement on. Now, I suspect, he's moved on to full-blown denialism, especially since he voted for an amendment that would have stripped the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases. But I live in hope and would welcome a reassuring call from the senator's office.

Do you share my curiosity about Scott Brown's voting intentions? Would you like to know whether he would support a carbon-cap bill that would bring clean-energy jobs to Massachusetts?

Here's the number to call: 202 224 4543. Ask for Nat Hoopes, Senator Brown's legislative assistant who is handling the issue. If you do manage to speak with him, please let me know.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On the Beach

We Vickerys are creatures of habit, especially when it comes to our summer holidays. We go to the same place every year, namely Bethany Beach, Delaware. Not exactly Biarritz, I know, but it's walkable, not too overbuilt, and family friendly.

During this year's trip to Bethany Beach we decided to attend the nearest Hands Across the Sands event to protest offshore drilling. The organizer was a high-school student, which was encouraging. She told us the start time and gave us clear directions. All we had to do was walk about one quarter of a mile up the beach to the rendezvous point, join hands with other climate-action types, pose for a few photographs for uploading to the Hands Across the Sands website, and head home for lunch with a warm glow of worthiness.

Moving two adults and three kids along a quarter mile of sand is a straightforward task (it's just Bethany Beach, not the Oregon Trail) and we should have accomplished it in under 15 minutes. We set off at 10:45, aiming to be there for the great hand-holding ceremony on the dot of 11 o'clock. But before we'd reached the garden gate Pixie (12) decided she had to change footwear (flip-flop issues), and then -- when we were properly under way -- Arthur (5) noticed several pieces of driftwood in need of protracted inspection, and Peter (43) spotted dolphins out in the bay and how can you not stop to watch the dolphins? Needless to say, ours were not among the Hands that joined across the Sands.

We had the best of intentions but we dawdled, foot-dragged, and failed to take note of time slipping away. Do I need to spell out the moral of the climate-change parable?

We can tackle climate change or we can carry on burning coal. We can't do both. As the latest issue of Union of Concerned Scientists publication Catalyst points out, "coal-fired power plants are the United States' largest source of heat-trapping emissions." And the time to march away from coal is not tomorrow, but yesterday. Vickery-style footdragging is not an option.

Fortunately, the legislature of Minnesota can boast greater alacrity than the Vickerys. Back in 2001, it told the state's power giant, Xcel Energy, to clean up its act. With their eyes on Xcel's coal-burning plants the state's lawmakers established a body to supervise the company's reduction of global-warming gases. Last year the company unveiled one of the results: a power station that used to burn coal but now uses natural gas. You can read more about the coal-to-gas conversion here.

By the way, Xcel also runs a hybrid solar-and-coal power station in Grand Junction, Colorado. Did it come up with the idea all by itself? No, the Colorado legislature passed a law -- predictably christened "the Clean Air - Clean Jobs Act" -- mandating the change. Despite opposition from the mining industry and some labor unions, lawmakers instructed Xcel to retire, repower, or retrofit its coal-burning stations, and switch to natural gas or other low/zero emission energy sources.

To recap, the state legislatures of Minnesota and Colorado have compelled the power companies that do business in their states to quit burning coal. Is the coal industry crying foul and predicting catastrophic consequences, e.g. electricity prices going through the roof, unaffordable heating bills, puppies with frostbite, etc.? Of course. But the power companies are complying and converting their power stations from coal to less harmful fuels.

Our commonwealth is host to a dozen coal-burning plants, including Mount Tom in Holyoke, a facility that belches a million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. Here in Massachusetts we burn coal from mountain-top removal sites in West Virginia (mining without miners), and surprisingly perhaps, even more of it from Colombia. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists' 2008 figures, Colombia supplied 83% of the coal burned in Massachusetts. So it's not as though our coal habit is helping keep American coal-miners employed.

As the Xcel story shows, it is perfectly feasible to convert power stations from coal to other energy sources. The technology and know-how are there. The only other essential ingredient is political will.

Colorado and Minnesota are leading the way, forcing the power companies to do what they won't do of their own accord. Is our overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature racing to pass a similar measure here in Massachusetts? Don't bet on it. You'd be safer putting your money on the Vickerys making it to a beach protest on time.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Gold Medal for Gall

First, my apologies to the neighbors: Watching the Winter Olympics the other night I think I uttered a sound somewhere between a Lindsey Vonn triump-shriek and a Howard Dean scream. What was the cause of my outburst? Was it Yevgeny Plushenko's haircut; Apollo Ohno's annoying little beard; or the dearth of Olympic-level Welsh snowboarders? No, it was the coal commercial.

What glued me to my seat during the the commercial break (the point at which I usually head to the kitchen) was a coal ad that managed to combine carbon sequestration with a soldier serving overseas. I couldn't quite connect the dots but, after my initial high-decibel response, I reflected on the sheer scale of the achievement and raised my beer in a salute to the spin doctors of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, the fossil-fuel front group. Riding high on their success in snagging $3.8 billion of our money in last year's stimulus bill, the coal industry has pulled off the truly Olympian feat of bracketing their climate-changing, asthma-inducing product with athletics and heroism.

Climate vandalism as athletic patriotism; I hadn't thought of it that way before. If I was in charge of medal distribution, they'd get a gold for gall.

But I'm not in charge of medal distribution, nor am I in charge of tax-dollar distribution. That's the remit of the Democratic Congress and White House, which recently treated their fossil-fuel and tree-burning allies to a few bucket-loads of loot while underwriting loans for the nuclear lobby. For example, they're giving $1 billion to the coal industry to build a new "clean coal" (sic) plant in Illinois and $8 billion in federal loan guarantees for two new nuclear reactors in Georgia. That's spreading the wealth around, all right.

On a happier note, before settling down with the family to watch the Winter Olympics I had been at a Green Party meeting in Amherst where two statewide candidates, Jill Stein (running for Governor) and Nat Fortune (running for State Auditor), made the case for voting GRP in the November elections.

When a member of the audience asked Jill what we should do about the coal-burning power station at Mount Tom, her answer was simple and direct: "We need to close it down."

Amen to that.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


The number of Britons who acknowledge the reality of climate change has fallen, according to a recent BBC poll.

I shall be offering no prizes (repeat, no prizes) for guessing the source of climate confusion in the land of my birth. But if you guessed "oil companies," give yourself a pat on the back.

ExxonMobil is one of the fossil-fuel giants behind a network of right-wing think tanks successfully pushing climate-change-denialism into the popular media, says the UK's Independent newspaper.

The bright side? It's not only Americans who are falling prey to corporate-sponsored climate-change denialism. Apparently a British accent is no predictor of intellectual ability or an indication of inherent authority after all, although any of my students (or offspring) who happen to have stumbled across this blog should disregard that last comment. I really do know best.

In the face of the Right's success in making climate-change denialism part of the debate among grown-ups who ought to know better, how should green social democrats respond? One option is to continue supporting Democratic office-holders who talk a good game about climate-change solutions but vote for decidedly dodgy cap-and-trade non-solutions like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). For a strong indictment of carbon-trading I recommend Mark Schapiro's "Conning the Climate" in the current Harper's Magazine.

Another option, popular among Democratic activists and voters alike during the senatorial special election, was to take what I think of as the Comfy Chair Option. My goal in this post is to urge readers to renounce that option and all its works. But I do understand its appeal.

After a decade of directionless Democratic supermajorities in Massachusetts and a year of Democratic under-achievement at the national level, many Bay State progressives are feeling disappointed, disaffected, and distraught. Yes, there is a welcoming home waiting for them in the Green Party, but even I (a Green with the zeal of the convert) have to admit to a continuing dearth of legislative candidates and active local branches. And on the path from Democratic to Green is the comfy chair of alienation.

Some contributors to the Dem blog BlueMassGroup are having a healthy and robust debate about the merits of fighting on within the party as opposed to supporting third-party candidates, among them my friend Leo Maley, who managed my successful 2004 campaign for Governor's Council. One of Leo's observations that jumps off the screen is that the 25 open seats in this year's legislative elections present progressives with an opportunity to change the dynamic of the State House for the next decade.

As the manufacture and dissemination of news increasingly becomes the preserve of the major corporations, it becomes even more important to jump into the public arena and stay there, particularly the part of the arena dedicated to electoral politics. Whether progressives devote their resources to fighting on within the Democratic Party or to taking it outside by joining the Greens matters less than their decision to shun the comfy chair.

I would like some of those 25 districts Leo mentions to end up in Green hands, but in the absence of Green candidates that hardly seems likely. On the other hand, potential Green candidates reading this should note that it's not too late to take out papers. Or persuade a friend to run. Or if you're sticking with the Dems and yo're in one of those 25 districts, support the greenest social democrat in the race. Anything but the comfy chair.

By the way, regular readers may have noticed that whatever the question I happen to pose in Mass Greens, the answer is usually "run for office as a Green." So stay tuned for my upcoming post "What should we do about the Celtics ranking 29th out of 30 in rebounding?"

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Green: Not Brown

Tuesday's special election presents a challenge to Greens. At difficult times like these I turn for guidance to the words of Woody Allen, who wrote:
"One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly."
When I go into the booth at the North Amherst fire station after work on Tuesday, I intend to vote for despair and utter hopelessness. In other words, I'm voting for the Democrat.

In reality I didn't have to think too long and hard about it. Scott Brown is a global warming denialist who opposes marriage equality. To quote another great humorist, VP Joe Biden, let me say that again (after a dramatic pause, looking straight into the camera): Scott Brown is a global warming denialist who opposes marriage equality.

Slam dunk, as we Americans say.

I shall be casting my vote simply to keep Scott Brown out of the U.S. Senate. I would vote for Scott Brown's Democratic opponent even if it was Stewie Griffin, Family Guy's diminutive evil genius bent on world domination. I would slap Vote Stewie bumper stickers all over my car, max out on contributions to the Stewie for Senate Committee, and make GOTV calls for Stewie until hoarse. Part of me wants to move to Brown's Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex state senate district so I can vote against him there too. In real life, I will even go so far as to vote for Martha Coakley.

In an IRV election with a Green in the race would Martha Coakley get my first preference? No. But this isn't an IRV election with a Green in the race. It's a choice between a Democrat, a libertarian sailing under the Independent flag, and (in case you weren't paying attention) a global warming denialist who opposes marriage equality.

On Tuesday, please join me in voting for despair and utter hopelessness. Early and often.