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Friday, Aug 27, 2010, 7:52 am

Weekly Mulch: Fighting the Joe Millers of the World

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Joe Miller, Sarah Palin's choice candidate for one of Alaska's Senate seats, does not believe in climate change. That didn't bother Alaska voters: this week, Miller bested Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the state's Republican primary. If that weren't worrisome enough, it also emerged that the fossil fuel industry spent eight times more than environmental groups on lobbying in 2009, the year the House passed the climate change bill. It's been a bad year already for environmental causes, and as the November election edges closer, progressives might want to start working overtime to regain momentum on climate and energy issues.

Murkowski was solidly against the idea of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulating carbon. But she was willing to talk about cap-and-trade programs, and at the very least, she was willing to admit climate change was happening. Depending on how November's election shakes out, the shift towards climate-denial in Congress may only worsen. A slew of Republican candidates are convinced that, as one put it, "only God knows where our climate is going," as Care2 reports.

A tougher tomorrow

Current political trends bode badly for the planet. If Congress couldn't pass climate legislation while are in Democrats control of the House and Senate, there's little hope that lawmakers will step up when facing opponents who don't believe in climate change.

Carla Perez has a few ideas about how progressives and environmentalists can fight back — and they begin with accepting that, yes, giving up fossil fuels would mean sacrifice, but it wouldn't be the end of the world. Perez, a program coordinator at social justice group Movement Generation, appeared recently on National Radio Project's Making Contact and imagined how life would look without fossil fuels:

No iPods. No iPads. No plasma TVs. No motorized individual vehicles. No plastic bags. No pleather boots for $9.99 from Payless.... Then again, no island of plastic twice the size of Texas. No plumes of sulfuric acid over Richmond, California. No skyrocketing rates of cancer and diabetes concentrated in native and people of color communities all over the world. No spontaneous combustion of flames off of contaminated rivers.

"How bad would it be?" she asked.

Target practice

To move from iPods to environmental justice, though, people like Perez will have to keep politicians like Joe Miller out of Washington. In an interview with Yes! Magazine, Riki Ott, a marine biologist and Exxon Valdez survivor, makes a good point about the challenges that environmental advocates face.

"This BP disaster, like the Exxon-Valdez, is more than an environmental crisis—it's a democracy crisis," Ott says. "Right now we’re playing the game: Going through regulatory arenas, tightening some laws. But that’s not good enough. The real question is, how do we get control of these big corporations?"

Electing politicians that don't take corporate money or listen to industry lobbyists will help. Another way to move away from the dominance of fossil fuel companies is offering real alternatives to using their products.

Brave new NOLA

In New Orleans, in the five years since Katrina hit, the people rebuilding the city have worked to create greener alternatives, as Campus Progress reports. Here's just one example:

Go Green NOLA encourages homebuilders to think small, since smaller homes use less energy. The group also makes suggestions such as installing windows and insulation systems with special attention to local weather and climate — think: humidity, and lots of it—and using shade trees and other landscaping to help beat back the southern sun.

Change can happen without devastation preceding it. In Massachusetts, the Green Justice Coalition worked to ensure that environmental justice provisions made it into the state's $1.4 billion energy efficiency plan, The Nation reports. What's more, the coalition made certain that Massachusetts citizens would feel the impact of the new plan directly:

There will be a financing plan to make energy-saving home improvements more affordable. Many of the 23,300 jobs to be generated by the plan will go to contractors who pay decent wages and meet "high road" employment standards. Finally, four pilot programs across the state will test a radically new outreach model by going door to door and mobilizing low- and moderate-income families in building greener neighborhoods.

Women lead the way

Progress doesn't happen on its own, of course. At RH Reality Check, Kathleen Rogers suggests that female leaders make all the difference. "Women get the connections between climate change, public health and economic growth, because climate change is disproportionately affecting women," she writes. "A new generation of women entrepreneurs, leaders and civil society, have demonstrated the potential for being the solution to the climate crisis. But they must be mobilized and given an opportunity to influence government and business."

Rogers is right. Leaders are out there. Just listen to the whole of Carla Perez' comments on Making Contact. The Green Justice Coalition's Phyllis Evans also gets it. And even Sen. Murkowski was willing to work on climate change compromises, on some level.

Of course, it's not just women who can lead the country and the planet away from current environmental and democratic crises. Paths forward are emerging; anyone can follow them.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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