More than 50 activists and supporters of clean energy gathered at Philadelphia’s Independence Mall on April 8th to urge President Obama to take action on climate change.
During his inaugural address and again during the State of the Union, President Obama committed to taking action on climate change. In March and April events are taking place across the country to pressure the president to move forward as a climate and clean energy leader.
The demonstration was co-sponsored by the Sierra Club, Public Citizen, Philadelphia Neighborhood Network, the Clean Air Council, The Blue Green Alliance, and Protecting Our Waters -- an example of how climate change is creating partnerships among organizations with wide-ranging missions.
Billed as “guerilla theater” a literal tug-of-war was staged to depict the competing interests of clean energy and fossil fuels. Fossil fuels were represented by a few tuxedoed cigar-smoking “fat cats”. Opposing them were people costumed to represent clean energy supporters such as asthma sufferers, hikers, bikers, farmers, scientists, health care workers and people in green jobs.
Billions of tons of heat-trapping gases are pumped into the earth’s atmosphere every year and much of it will not break down for hundreds of years. “Most of the CO2 produced during my lifetime will be in the atmosphere throughout the lives of my children and grandchildren. So it is urgent to stop burning fossil fuels and to stop building infrastructure for even dirtier sources” says Iris Bloom, from Protecting Our Waters, referring to the Keystone XL Pipeline that is proposed to transport tar sands oil across the U.S. from Canada.
The comment period for the pipeline expires in April. Opponents have been conducting actions against the pipeline for months, including a rally in Washington D.C. on February 17th that drew an estimated 35,000 protesters, and a demonstration that greeted President Obama at a recent fund raising trip to San Francisco.
“The March 29th tar sands spill in Mayflower, Arkansas shows us what can be expected if Keystone XL is built” says Sierra Club organizer Sue Edwards “except a Keystone XL spill would be many times worse due to the higher volumes it would transport.”
The Ogalalla Aquifer, which the pipeline would cross, supplies about 30 percent of all ground water used for irrigation in the U.S. and supplies drinking water to 82 percent of the people who live in the High Plains.”
Organizations fighting for more action on climate change give Obama credit for steps taken to increase fuel-efficiency standards for cars, and to better regulate mercury emissions and sulphur in gasoline. But they are disappointed by the delay in issuing standards on coal-fired power plant emissions and indecision about the Keystone XL pipeline.
They were further disappointed when Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey voted to support the pipeline in a recent non-binding budget proposal passed on March 23rd.
It is not just scientists and environmental groups trying to prod the President to more action. On February 14th, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued its biannual high risk analysis report. According to the report “Climate change poses significant financial risks to the federal government, which owns extensive infrastructure, such as defense installations; insures property through the National Flood Insurance Program; and provides emergency aid in response to natural disasters.”
The report went on to say “GAO added this area because the federal government is not well positioned to address the fiscal exposure presented by climate change and needs a government-wide strategic approach with strong leadership to manage related risks.”
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency report on Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2012, renewable energy accounts for almost half of new electricity capacity installed and costs are continuing to fall.
But a number of oil and gas-specific tax credits remain in place today, some put in place nearly a century ago when oil extraction was a fledgling industry, at many times the levels of those available to help emerging clean energy technologies.
Protesters also called on Congress to eliminate oil and gas subsidies, and to put a price on pollution through a carbon tax.
Fossil fuels enabled the industrial revolution, and for much of the 20th century the effects on climate were unknown. “But it is now time for the clean energy revolution” according to Matt Walker from the Clean Air Council, “and the good news is that renewable energy is catching up to fossil fuels on price and is already providing more jobs than fossil fuels per dollar of government investment.”
“Most of the fossil fuels still in the ground will have to stay in the ground.” he said.
Another co-sponsor of the demonstration, the United Steelworkers Union, is part of a coalition of labor and environmental organizations called the Blue Green Alliance. The goals of the alliance are to create jobs and transform the economy through renewable energy, energy efficiency, mass transit and rail, a new smart grid and other solutions to global warming.
Health impacts are also closely linked to burning fossil fuels. Researchers have ranked air pollution seventh on the list of risk factors for deaths worldwide, contributing to as many as 3.2 million deaths in 2010, based on data collected by the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study and reported in the British medical journal The Lancet.
Stanley Shapiro from Philadelphia Neighborhood Network points out that “approximately 22 percent of Philadelphia children under 18 have been diagnosed with asthma—nearly double the national rate.” And according to the American Lung Association about 23 million Americans suffered from asthma in 2010. Exposure to increased pollution heightens sensitivity to allergens, impairs lungs, and triggers asthma attacks.
2012 was the hottest year on record in the lower 48 states according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A paper recently published in Nature Geoscience reported that global warming predictions by climate scientists have proven to be highly accurate, based on data going back several decades.
“Reliance on dirty energy has resulted in climate disruption on a global scale. To further delay the shift to a clean energy economy means greater threats to our public health and ability to ensure a livable planet for future generations. We cannot allow fossil fuel interest to keep standing in the way of public interest. The stakes are far too high.” Said Allison Fisher, Outreach Director for Public Citizen’s Energy Program.
The Sierra Club is America's largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.1 million members and supporters nationwide. The Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying and litigation.
Philadelphia Neighborhood Network is a culturally and racially diverse organization of Philadelphians dedicated to advancing social equality, economic justice and resource stewardship by influencing political decision-making from a grassroots level.
Public Citizen, founded in 1971, seeks to ensure that all citizens are represented in the halls of power. Public Citizen's energy and climate program advocates for affordable, clean and sustainable energy, promotes the strong regulation of energy markets, educates the public on the dangers of continued reliance on dirty energy sources.
The Clean Air Council, founded in 1967, is a member-supported, nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to protecting everyone's right to breathe clean air. The Council works through public education, community advocacy, and government oversight to ensure enforcement of environmental laws.
Protecting Our Waters is a Philadelphia-based grassroots nonprofit organization committed to protecting the Delaware, Susquehanna and Ohio River Basin and the southeast region from unconventional gas drilling and other threats to drinking water, the environment, and public health.
The Blue Green Alliance a national, strategic partnership between labor unions and environmental organizations dedicated to expanding the number and quality of jobs in the green economy. Launched in 2006 by the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, this unique labor-environmental collaboration has grown to include the Communications Workers of America (CWA), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA), Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association. The Blue Green Alliance unites more than eight and a half million people in pursuit of good jobs, a clean environment and a green economy.
***PRESS RELEASE FOR APRIL 8***
Contact: Sue Edwards or William Kramer
Phone: 610-717-7202 Phone: 732-589-8024
Email: sueedwards79(at)gmail.com Email: william.kramer(at)sierraclub.org