Here’s that Sierra Club piece I promised.
It’s Not Easy Being Green: Are Some of the Biggest Enviro Groups Giant Sell-Outs?
Jason Mark, Alternet
May 15, 2013
About a year ago, on March 26, 2012, Sandra Steingraber, an environmental writer and activist against natural-gas fracking, wrote a public letter titled “Breaking Up with the Sierra Club.” Breakups are never easy, and the letter, published on the website of the nature magazine Orion, was brutal from the start: “I’m through with you,” Steingraber began.
The proximate cause of the split was the revelation that between 2007 and 2010 the nation’s oldest environmental organization had clandestinely accepted $26 million from individuals or subsidiaries associated with Chesapeake Energy, a major gas firm that has been at the forefront of the fracking boom. “The largest, most venerable environmental organization in the United States secretly aligned with the very company that seeks to occupy our land, turn it inside out, blow it apart, fill it with poison,” Steingraber wrote. “It was as if, on the eve of D-day, the anti-Fascist partisans had discovered that Churchill was actually in cahoots with the Axis forces.”
The Sierra Club, under the leadership of its previous executive director, Carl Pope, wasn’t the only prominent environmentalist organization heralding natural gas as a bridge fuel that could take our energy system from carbon-intense coal to renewables like wind and solar. (When burned, gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal.) Among the most vocal proponents of natural gas today are Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, founders of the Oakland-based liberal think tank the Breakthrough Institute. Nordhaus and Shellenberger ticked off greens in the early aughts with the essay “The Death of Environmentalism,” which urged green groups to rethink the core assumptions of their political strategy. The pugnacious pair is often bashed for their rhetoric, but the two are genuine in their hawkishness on the climate and their commitment to global equity.
(S)ince the fracking boom began in earnest, a larger, anti-fracking grassroots has emerged. Small towns in the East that were unaccustomed to the thrum of the fossil-fuel industry have been shocked to find themselves surrounded by trucks and heavy machinery and with compressors in their back lots whirring all night long. Some homeowners had their wells contaminated with flammable methane. Places like Ohio and Arkansas that weren’t used to seismic activity started to experience earthquakes when underground wastewater injections stimulated geologic faults. Today, the movement against gas fracking has become a cause célèbre (Yoko Ono and Mark Ruffalo have an “Artists Against Fracking” group) and is one of the most invigorating issues among grassroots environmentalists. At February’s Forward on Climate rally near the White House, easily a fifth of the placards in the crowd of 35,000 had to do with gas drilling.
“Of all the forms of fossil-fuel extraction, fracking is the only one that is wrapped up in a green myth,” says Sandra Steingraber, who wrote the letter against the Sierra Club. “The demand for energy is not some inexorable thing like gravity. We control that. And it’s plain to me that we could reduce our energy use by half and entirely run our economy on renewables.”
Whether the question is shale-gas development, nuclear power, utility-scale solar and wind, or GMO crops, the core of the debate among environmentalists comes down to what’s realistic. That, of course, is the same dilemma that confronts any political movement, whether on the right or on the left. But environmentalists’ conundrum is especially complicated because it involves a system beyond our control: Earth.
Nordhaus and Shellenberger say their pragmatism is grounded in what is politically possible given a range of shitty options. In the other camp, Steffen, Steingraber, and Stephens also claim the mantle of pragmatism, one based on geophysical necessity. The existential threat of climate change has become a sort of projection screen: Either it confirms that we are locked into business as usual, or it’s proof that we need to make a societal 180-degree turn in how we relate to the planet.
“Those of us who are calling ourselves the latter-day abolitionists, our idea of what’s possible is grounded in physical and natural laws. How much water and land and resources do we need to feed ourselves?” Steingraber says. “My hope that is that we can help people imagine, have a vision of a future when blasting gas out of the ground to make our tea kettles whistle is just barbaric, which it is.” It’s a view Nordhaus and Shellenberger call naïve.
Of course The Sierra Club also sells out for access advocacy.
Who’s being naive now Kay?