I was in New York City last weekend, and Sunday morning when I checked my email someone new was following me on Twitter. When I sent her a message, I noticed her most recent tweet about the Arctic Sunrise, Greenpeace’s icebreaker, docked at Pier 59 and open for tours during its campaign against dirty coal and for clean energy. So my family headed over, and it was great to tour one of the three Greenpeace ships. I’d been a Greenpeace canvaser in 1984 for a couple of weeks, and had followed Greenpeace’s campaigns over these many years. This campaign included a trip up the east coast to various ports to educate the public.
The tour started off with a view of the ship – a former sealing-turned-anti-sealing vessel in a bit of sweet karma. The rough belly of the ship – with sprayed-on insulation covering all the walls and ceiling – was decorated with a disco ball and a peace dove. At the stern, a group of actors performed a sales pitch for real estate on the top of a mountain – a mountain with its top removed (as in mountaintop removal, a method to obtain coal that is decimating Appalachia). The snarky, though amusing, skit made its point, sort of. But I wondered if visitors with no awareness of mountaintop removal and strip mining really came away with any understanding of what this is doing to communities across Appalachia or how horrifically destructive this form of mining is. Those who already knew didn’t walk away with a plan of action. We just walked to the next phase of the tour.
That last part of the tour included a Greenpeace compilation video of campaigns (without much educational value but interesting to watch) and a brief talk about the campaign and about clean energy versus dirty coal. I asked what Greenpeace’s position was on Obama’s plan – mentioned in his recent State of the Union – about having the U.S. using 80% renewable energy (including “clean coal,” natural gas and nuclear) by 2035. Because he’d been on the ship during the State of the Union address, he said he didn’t know much about what Obama had said; this seemed odd to me, as Obama’s energy plan is certainly easy to find, and, one would think, relevant to Greenpeace and worth a response. My 17-year-old son asked what Greenpeace’s energy position was. How would they replace coal? The response was with solar and wind power, and more efficiency.
When we left, my son was frustrated. The answer seemed so unrealistic. That’s the problem. And I was disappointed that Greenpeace hadn’t done the hard work of coming up with an actual plan to present to us, a “roadmap” toward a clean energy future. We left the tour uncertain, really, of its purpose.
Coal must go, that’s certain. So let’s devote our personal energies to figuring out how to transform our global energy supply successfully and create a truly clean energy future. This will take a massive commitment, a huge investment of funds (probably public funds), a revamping of our energy grid and infrastructure, the full engagement and partnering of disparate utilities, our brightest scientists and engineers and inventors, and a willing and eager public supporting the costs involved.
Right now, we have an administration that understands a clean energy future to be an important goal, but we don’t have a large enough willing populace to forge ahead very easily. And so the real work of those of us who consider ourselves activists for a healthy and humane world, and those groups, like Greenpeace, which have been dedicated to these issues for decades, needs to be to enlist a skeptical public, use our talents and knowledge toward truly viable solutions, and build support for innovation, partnership, and investment in a clean energy future. No easy task.
My goal here isn’t so much to be a critic of Greenpeace, although I realize I have criticized them; it’s to implore all of us who consider ourselves on the forefront of the efforts to create a sustainable future to be strategic, smart, and savvy about what it will take to meet our energy needs. It’s to engage us all as successful solutionaries.
For a better world through humane education,
Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
Image courtesy of Osvaldo Gago via Creative Commons.
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Filed under: citizen activism, critical thinking, energy policy, politics, systemic change, U.S. policy | Tagged: citizen activism, clean energy, coal, critical thinking, energy, Greenpeace, mountaintop removal, politics, problem solving, renewable energy, solutionaries, systemic change, U.S. policy | Comments Off