[HCCN] fw: Coal Plant CD

Judy Robbins 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  
the climate.

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  
sacrifice yourself.

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  
350.org .

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

URL to article: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/02/25-8
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