[HCCN] fw: Coal Plant CD
jrobbins at mainecoastmail.com
Wed Feb 25 18:14:31 EST 2009
Friends, stay alert to this action in Washington in a few days --
there are a few local people involved, so we will get to hear a
firsthand report later. Most likely Common Dreams will have news of
the march. -- J.R.
Published on Wednesday, February 25, 2009 by Environment 360
Why I’ll Get Arrested To Stop the Burning of Coal
On March 2, environmentalist Bill McKibben will join demonstrators
who plan to march on a coal-fired power plant in Washington D.C. In
this article for Yale Environment 360, he explains why he’s ready to
go to jail to protest the continued burning of coal.
by Bill McKibben
It may seem odd timing that many of us are heading to the nation's
capital early next month for a major act of civil disobedience at a
coal-fired power plant, the first big protest of its kind against
global warming in this country.
After all, Barack Obama's in power. He's appointed scientific
advisers who actually believe in... science, and he's done more in a
few weeks to deal with climate change than all the presidents of the
last 20 years combined. Stalwarts like John Kerry, Henry Waxman, and
Ed Markey are chairing the relevant congressional committees. The
auto companies, humbled, are promising to build rational vehicles if
only we give them some cash. What's to protest? Why not just give the
good guys a break?
If you think about it a little longer, though, you realize this is
just the moment to up the ante. For one thing, it would have done no
good in the past: you think Dick Cheney was going to pay attention?
More importantly, we need a powerful and active movement not to force
the administration and the Democrats in Congress to do something they
don't want to, but to give them the political space they need to act
on their convictions. Barack Obama was a community organizer - he
understands that major change only comes when it's demanded, when
there's some force noisy enough to drown out the eternal hum of
business as usual, of vested interest, of inertia.
Consider what has to happen if we're going to deal with global
warming in a real way. NASA climate scientist James Hansen - who has
announced he plans to join us and get arrested for trespassing in the
action we're planning for March 2 - has demonstrated two things in
recent papers. One, that any concentration of carbon dioxide greater
than 350 parts per million in the atmosphere is not compatible with
the "planet on which civilization developed and to which life on
earth is adapted." And two, that the world as a whole must stop
burning coal by 2030 - and the developed world well before that - if
we are to have any hope of ever getting the planet back down below
that 350 number.
That should give you some sense of what Obama's up against. Coal
provides 50 percent of our electricity. That juice comes from
hundreds of expensive, enormous plants, each one of them owned by
rich and powerful companies. Shutting these plants down - or getting
the companies to install expensive equipment that might be able to
separate carbon from the exhaust stream and sequester it safely in
some mine somewhere - will be incredibly hard. Investors are planning
on running those plants another half-century to make back their money
- the sunk costs involved are probably on the scale of those lousy
mortgages now bankrupting our economy.
And if you think it's tough for us, imagine the Chinese. They've been
opening a coal-burning power plant a week. You want to tell them to
start shutting them down when that coal-fired power represents the
easiest way to pull people out of poverty across Asia?
The only hope of making the kind of change required is to really
stick in people's minds a simple idea: Coal is bad. It's bad when you
mine it, it's bad for the city where you burn it, and it's bad for
Happily, there's no place that makes that point much more easily than
the power plant Congress owns not far from the U.S. Capitol building.
It's antiquated (built today, it wouldn't meet the standards of the
Clean Air Act). It's filthy - one study estimates that it and the
other coal-fired power plants ringing the District of Columbia cause
the deaths of at least 515 people a year. It's among the largest
point sources of CO2 in the capital. It helps support the mining
industry that is scalping the summits of neighboring West Virginia,
Virginia, and Kentucky. Oh, and it would be easy enough to fix. In
fact, the facility can already burn some natural gas instead, and a
modest retrofit would let it convert away from coal entirely.
Not only that, but it's owned by Congress. They don't need to ask any
utility executives. They could just have a vote and do it - as easy
as you deciding to put a new, clean furnace in your basement. It
would even stimulate the local economy.
All of which means it's the perfect target. Not because shutting it
down would do much, except for the people who live right nearby. But
because it's a way to get the conversation started. When civil
disobedience works, it's because it demonstrates some willingness to
bear a certain amount of pain for some larger end - a way to say,
"Coal is bad enough that I'm willing to get arrested." Which is not
the biggest deal on earth, but if you're going to be asking the
Chinese, say, to start turning off their coal-fired plants, you can
probably keep a straighter face if you've made at least a mild
There are dangers in this kind of strategy too. It could turn people
off, make them think that global warming protesters are crazy hippies
harkening back to the '60s. I don't mind hippies in the slightest,
but when the writer Wendell Berry and I sent out the original
invitation to this action, we asked that those who wanted to be
arrested wear their dress clothes. And not just because it's serious
business - but also in hopes of discouraging the hardcore anarchists
and troublemakers attracted to such events, sort of in the way that
convenience stores play classical music to keep folks from loitering
The other danger is that it might convince activists that this is the
most important work to do, the main tool in the toolbox. That's
almost certainly not true, which is why it's appropriate that
Powershift , the huge gathering of young people the same weekend in
D.C., will focus on lobbying on Capitol Hill that Monday morning of
the protest. Lobbying first, sitting-in second. And third, and most
important of all, the suddenly swelling movement toward symbolic
action next fall on a global basis. 350.org, the campaign I helped
found, is looking for new ways to make a point, with a global day of
action on Oct. 24 that will link people up from high in the Himalayas
to underwater on the Great Barrier Reef to... Your Town Here.
A little Facebook, a little Twitter, and a little sitting down in the
street where the police don't want you. We've got to see what works!
© 2009 Yale University
Bill McKibben is the author of many books, including his latest: Deep
Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future . McKibben
is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College, and cofounder of
Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org
URL to article: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/02/25-8
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