Really Cool Event About “Doing the Math” and Taking on the Fossil Fuel Forces of Doom

Oct 23, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

There comes a time when you just have to say that enough is enough.

That is where we are in the world of climate advocacy.

As Bill McKibben laid out in his essay on Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math we can no longer ignore the deep and fundamental need for action to save our climate, our families, our communities and our environment from catastrophe – and that there are powerful, entrenched and well-financed forces who will do just about anything to thwart our efforts.

The primary tools that CLF employs in the fight for climate protection are law, science and economics.  We fight for a thriving New England in court and work with smart business people to build markets for renewable energy like wind farms and to foster energy efficiency, the clean resource all around us.  And we are fighting to ensure that the governments of the region live up to their pledges to create great places where there is more walking and less driving and more of the remaining cars pollute less. We know that this work is essential if we are going to win the war to save our climate.


But sometimes we need to do more. One thing we need to do, in addition to our calm and civil lawyerly work, is to get angry and push back in the right ways at the right times and in the right places.  This is the spirit behind the Cape Wind Now! campaign that CLF and its partners have launched to call out the fossil fuel powered interests fighting against renewable energy. It is also the driving force behind the Do The Math tour and campaign led by 350.0rg.

And now it is coming to a concert hall near you. This event is a unique blend of “multimedia lecture . . . organizing rally [and] live musical performance” that is not to be missed. CLF has helped to arrange for this important effort to land at the historic Orpheum Theater in Boston on November 15 – tickets are still available!

Before coming the Boston the tour stops in Portland Maine on November 13 and then off on a cross-country odyssey from New York to Los Angeles, to Seattle and then Colorado and many stops in between and on the way.

The Price of Cranberries: Other Crops Rise & Fall With Changing Climate

Oct 16, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

New England Cranberry Harvest. Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs @ flickr

Cranberries. Fall is the season for the sweet-tart fruit from this New England crop, grown and enjoyed across the region for generations. According to a recent story in the Portland Press Herald, this year’s crop looks especially abundant due to unusually warm weather. But these changes could come at a cost that’s greater than the price of cranberries to accompany your holiday turkey.

According to a Cooperative Extension cranberry specialist quoted in the Press Herald, the reason for the bumper crop may be warmer weather related to climate change. What’s more, this trend could make it possible to successfully grow other crops not usually found in northern New England, like peaches. One farmer has already decided to plant kiwi.

CLF is partnering with the American Farmland Trust and the New England Sustainable Agriculture working group to advance the regionally-produced share of agricultural products in our grocery stores, and to sustain New England’s working farms. With that goal in mind, this expansion of crops and diversification of business may seem like good news.  As any working farmer will tell you, adapting to changing conditions by selecting new varieties and hedging against loss is something they do all the time. But as that same farmer would tell you, gaining the opportunity for one new crop will likely come at the expense of losing another.

Cranberries did well this year because of an exceptionally early thaw. Many maple syrup producers, on the other hand, struggled with a much shorter tapping season, a situation that is becoming more likely every year. The maple trees will still be there (they grow as far south as Virginia), but the sap we love as syrup won’t flow if the ground hasn’t frozen for the required time.

Up with cranberries and down with maple syrup – the rise of one may come with the fall of the other. Is this a cost we are willing to accept?

Even though the exact path of climate change affecting both New England and New England’s agriculture remains uncertain, one thing is clear: our climate is changing – a reality already documented in the northern migration of harmful insects and the redrawing of the USDA plant hardiness map.  While we may applaud the efforts of New England farmers to adapt to changing circumstances and become more “climate resilient,” we can’t afford to ignore what’s causing the changes in the first place.  We need to do more to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution causing global warming. Our current climate trajectory involves risks, the scope of which we’re still trying to understand – and likely won’t be able to fully map until it’s far too late.

And so, as much I enjoy Maine peaches, it’s important that we recognize that there will be climate change winners and losers. Not only will this be on the farm: it will be true across New England’s economy. CLF’s support for sustainable regional agriculture, whether in a vacant lot in Boston or northern Aroostook County, Maine, will be critical.

Wind Power Key to Solving Climate Change

Oct 4, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of Dave

Wind power plays a key role in addressing climate change. Developing wind power and other clean sources reduces the use of fossil fuels, reduces carbon dioxide emissions, and helps to stabilize our climate.

Climate change, with record-breaking droughts, catastrophic floods, and unprecedented heat waves, is upon us.  The only way to keep the crisis from getting much worse is to sharply reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

We can do a lot with efficiency. We can insulate and air-seal our homes, businesses, and public buildings. We, as a nation, can choose to build and drive more fuel-efficient cars. We can drive our cars less, choosing to carpool, bicycle, or take public transportation whenever possible.

But efficiency is not enough.  As long as we use electricity, it must come from somewhere. That’s why all the New England states have specific goals for getting more electricity from renewables.

Every wind turbine, solar panel, or hydro turbine reduces the use of fossil or nuclear power. Eighty-eight percent of the electricity used in New England is generated from either fossil fuels or nuclear power. Nuclear power leaves behind radioactive waste that remains poisonous, essentially, forever. We urgently need to generate more clean, low-carbon, renewable power. We need to use all clean sources, use them together, and use them now.

All energy production takes its toll on the environment. In addition to the climate impacts of fossil fuels, all energy has local impacts where it is mined or produced. Because of this, our first priority must be to be to use less energy through efficiency and conservation.

But we also need to decide where the energy we do use comes from. When we in New England get our energy from fossil fuels and large hydro, we export some of our environmental impacts. By making our own energy, we take responsibility for ourselves.

Wind power is one of the cheapest and most abundant sources of renewable energy. According to the federal Energy Information Agency, electricity from new, utility-scale wind projects costs one-third less than comparable large solar projects. A 60-MW solar project, large enough to replace the wind power from Sheffield or Lowell, would also take up a lot of land – about 1 square mile, or 640 acres.

Home-scale power generation, such as rooftop solar, provides an essential piece of the puzzle; but it alone, or even coupled with efficiency, is not enough to meet our power needs. We still need other sources of power.

Every day, people and businesses in New England use electricity. We turn on lights, TVs, air conditioners and computers. Every time we hit that switch, the electricity comes from somewhere. Wind power generated in New England is part of a responsible choice to meet our power needs and tackle climate change.

Cleaner Cars, Cleaner Air

Oct 1, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

photo courtesy of

Cleaner cars are on the way. In an important step for climate change and air pollution, Vermont is updating its vehicle air emission rules so we can all have cleaner cars and breathe easier.

The rule follows California’s standards and reduces the allowed emissions and greenhouse gases from cars beginning with the 2015 car models.

The greenhouse gas reductions contained in the proposed amendments are expected to reduce new passenger vehicle carbon dioxide emissions by about 32-36% by model year 2025.

Cars that are 1/3 cleaner. That’s a huge step in the right direction. Transportation is responsible for nearly half of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions. These emission controls are vital to achieve Vermont’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

CLF and Vermont have a long history of support for cleaner transportation. In a lawsuit where CLF provided key support, Vermont defeated a challenge from the automobile industry to previous emission rules. The decision was followed in other states and continues to pave the way for reduced emissions.

Conservation Law Foundation joined with other organizations and submitted these comments in support of Vermont’s rule.

CLF is working in other New England states to advance adoption of these important rules.

Thune for Thought: Is Climate Change Really Happening or is it Not?

Sep 26, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), if airlines were a country, they would be the world’s seventh biggest polluter. Aviation carbon emissions are expected to rise to 3.5 billion tons by 2050. The European Union’s requirement that all airplanes landing in the EU reduce the carbon pollution that is causing global warming, would lower carbon dioxide emissions by 70 million tons per year – equivalent to taking 30 million cars off the road.

On Saturday, September 22, 2012, a bill to prohibit operators of civil aircraft of the United States from participating in the European Union’s emissions trading scheme to reduce carbon pollution from airplanes passed in the United States Senate by unanimous consent. The Senate bill, S. 1956, co-sponsored by Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), will allow U.S. airlines to ignore the European Union’s requirement that they reduce their carbon pollution that is causing global warming. If the U.S.-based airlines choose to ignore the E.U. law, they could be on the hook to pay huge penalties, which undoubtedly and inevitably will be a cost passed on to consumers.

I am less concerned about the price of my airline ticket than I am about the significant costs that come with our federal government’ and our Congress’ inability to get out of its own way when it comes to responsibly acting to reduce the threat of climate change. I understand that this is election season, and some of the Senate races are tight, and airlines can be powerful lobbyists, but, it is 2012 and an anti-climate emissions control bill is passing via unanimous consent in the United States Senate? Either climate change is really happening or it isn’t.

I expect Fox News, the Tea Party, and even the Wall Street Journal to get its facts wrong about climate change. They have attempted to undermine climate science conclusions by cherry-picking data and attacking individual scientists every chance they get. And, I am not so naïve to think that control of emissions responsible for climate change will ever happen with a Republican majority in Congress (even though the United States Supreme Court said carbon dioxide could be regulated by the federal government nearly 6 years ago). But, I am completely flabbergasted by the fact that the United States Senate unanimously acted to defeat the effectiveness of a good climate reduction law. Not a single Senator stood up in opposition. Not a single Senator even used this as an opportunity to speak publicly about climate change and the implications that passing an anti-emissions control bill via unanimous consent would have on our collective campaign to stop climate change.

For 650,000 years atmospheric carbon dioxide has never been above 300 parts per million. Today, it is screaming toward 400 parts per million. The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world, under the auspices of the United Nations, concluded there’s a more than 90 percent probability that human activities over the past 250 years have warmed our planet.

And, the rocket scientists agree. That’s right. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s or NASA’s website states that “the current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.” The scientific evidence for the warming of our climate is unequivocal and the cause of it, which should be obvious at this point, is the uncontrolled global burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas). The effects of a warming climate are only slightly more obvious than the fact that the climate is warming and humans are causing it.

For example, this is the second time in less than two years that the Petermann Glacier in Greenland has calved icebergs double and quadruple the size of Manhattan. Global sea level rose almost 7 inches in the last century, but the rate in the last decade is nearly double that of the last century. Arctic sea ice is retreating and thinning at unprecedented rates, West Nile Virus is now something for which people cancel summer events and New Englanders are still recovering from significant storm events that have wiped out whole communities.

At 2 a.m. on September 22, 2012, the United States Senate voted by unanimous consent that U.S. airlines could choose to ignore the European Union’s requirement that all airplanes landing in the EU reduce their carbon pollution that is causing global warming. Either climate change is happening or it isn’t. But, once you look at the data, once you subscribe to the opinion that it is happening, you have an affirmative obligation to take all reasonable steps to responsibly address the problem. If the Senate believes the evidence of 1300 scientists, NASA, and their own eyes, they should vote accordingly.

Smooth Sailing with Clean Diesel

Sep 19, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

In 2011, CLF Ventures, the strategy-consulting arm of CLF, received a grant from the EPA to help two New England fishing/whale watching vessels replace the aging, inefficient engines on their vessels with cleaner-burning, more efficient four-stroke diesel engines. In this video, Captain Brad Cook of the Atlantic Queen II and Captain Chris Charos of Captain’s Fishing Parties reveal how the EPA grant and CLF Ventures enabled them to update their vessels’ technology, reducing emissions and substantially cutting their fuel use:

The EPA’s National Clean Diesel Funding Assistance program is designed to reduce air pollution and exposure to diesel fumes by covering up to 75% of the cost of an engine upgrade or repower. Replacing an outdated engine with the clean-burning technology used by Captain Brad and Captain Chris reduces asthma-causing particulate matter emissions by 63 percent and smog-producing nitrogen oxide emissions by 40 percent.

The program also cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions by improving efficiency and reducing fuel use by up to 14 percent. Fuel use is a serious concern for the fishing industry. A 2005 report published in AMBIO revealed that in 2000, the industry consumed about 13 million gallons of fuel, or 1.2 percent of global consumption. If the fishing industry were a country, it would be the world’s 18th-largest consumer of oil—on par with the Netherlands. Fishing is also one of the only industry sectors to consistently become less fuel-efficient in recent years. With declining stocks sending fishermen farther from shore, this problem will only become more severe without significant investments and improvements in technology. Programs like EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Program play an important role in greening the fishing fleet and helping to make fishing more sustainable.

The program isn’t just good for the environment; it’s also good for fishermen. A more efficient engine can save a fisherman 9,500 gallons of fuel per year, cutting fuel costs and increasing profit margins. Crew aboard these vessels reduce their exposure to harmful diesel fumes, which were recently classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization and placed in the same category as deadly toxins like asbestos and arsenic.  Consumers asking for sustainable options will appreciate the reductions in emissions and fuel use, too, and recreational fishermen and whale watchers aboard vessels with new engines can enjoy a quieter, cleaner ride.

Still, new engines can only go so far in cleaning up the fishing fleet. The industry is built on technology that made sense decades ago, when fuel was cheap, fish were more plentiful close to shore, and consumers weren’t demanding sustainable seafood choices. Down the line, greening the fleet will mean rebuilding it from the water up and introducing lighter, safer vessels that inherently use less fuel.

Does the Environmental Movement Expect Too Much Head and Not Enough Heart?

Sep 10, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A New York Times opinion piece titled “Is Algebra Necessary?” caught my eye the other day. My first job out of college was teaching algebra to teenagers. I can still factor a quadratic equation, and I actually find it kind of fun. However, many students, at the high school and college levels, fail the required course in algebra and drop out. The eloquent author of the piece – an emeritus professor of Mathematics – argues that quantitative reasoning is essential, but mastery of algebra is an unnecessarily narrow measure of quantitative skill, and our society is poorer for excluding students who are befuddled by algebra.

In other words: a too-rigid insistence on a particular analytical technique (algebra) is tripping up people who “get it” (have a sufficient general grasp of quantitative issues), and we are worse off as a result.

In a recent edition of Rolling Stone, Bill McKibben beautifully demonstrates the importance of not getting tripped up on details, but firmly understanding the big quantitative picture. In “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” (which I highly recommend), McKibben avoids the trees and tells the lesson of the forest, in its blindingly obvious and powerful simplicity: We have to change dramatically, and quickly, to preserve the planet as we know it.

McKibben’s message stirs you deeply. It evokes an existential, even spiritual response. And it does so by appealing to our hearts and our guts. There’s enough math to convince our heads, but his message is not aimed at our heads. We know what’s going on in the world. We can feel it. McKibben knows that, and aims to connect with us where we feel things, not in the left side of our brains.

Which leads me to the question: does the environmental movement have the equivalent of an algebra requirement? Do we tacitly insist that everyone master the complex facts before they get involved? If so, should we? Does everyone need to be a left-brained, deep diver into the complexity of the debates, or is it sufficient that they feel strongly that it’s time to act, and are compelled to do so by their heart, their gut or their spirit?

This is somewhat uncomfortable terrain for us. Let’s acknowledge that. We have seen examples in the public realm of policy being based solely on faith, without regard to evidence from the real world. Sometimes this can be disastrous. And it is a rock-solid principle of our movement that policy must be based on sound science and evidence. All of that is entirely true and I would never veer from it.

But there are many people who could be our allies who are not, even though they know the same truth: we need to change in order to save the planet as we know it. And to avoid massive human suffering in the near future. And to protect species faced with extinction. And to deliver a more equitable world. And even to help promote a world better aligned with spiritual forces much larger than us.

Does our preoccupation with matters of the head prevent us from reaching those for whom matters of the heart and soul are more motivating? Is that our “algebra”?

My hunch is that as a movement we expect too much “head” and not enough “heart,” in general. We look for people who can “figure out” what to do next, and trust that if we can win people’s minds either their hearts will follow or we don’t even need their hearts.

What if we attracted to our movement people who appeal to the hearts of others, to begin with? Who see water pollution in the lower Mystic River in Boston, for example, not as an issue of discharge pipes and toxicity but as an issue of hunger and hope, exclusion and unity? What if we talked about climate change not as sea level rise and drought, but as a threat to our spiritual wellbeing?  Would we reach different audiences, and could they help us achieve our mission, having become part of us?

Recently I read two books, one new and one old, on the subject of environmentalism and spirituality, or at least environmentalism and much bigger, existential themes.

The first, Between God and Green, is by Katharine Wilkinson, who is a friend and former classmate of CLF staffer Ben Carmichael. The Boston Globe recently reviewed the book, saying:

Wilkinson tells a vitally important, even subversive, story at the heart of this carefully researched book. Over the past 30 years or more, even as the culture wars raged, an honest-to-God “evangelical Center” came to life in the political no-man’s land between the old-guard religious right and the secular liberal establishment. And as Wilkinson shows, one of the most significant expressions of that increasingly assertive center — as it seeks to broaden the “evangelical agenda” beyond abortion and sexuality to include global poverty, health, and social-justice issues — is a far-reaching environmental movement, based on the theology of “creation care,” and the effort by a new generation of moderate leaders to put climate change on the evangelical map.

I was struck by this more general observation by the author (p.8), about how messages grounded in spiritual terms can be more powerful than those aimed at the head, which we normally rely upon: “The guilt-based, fear-inducing messages that have often dominated can lead to paralysis rather than action, but religion is in the business of communicating a future worth fighting for. It can generate new meanings for climate change that drive engagement.”

The second book was Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. It is a true New England original – written in a snowy winter in the Berkshires (looking out at Mt. Greylock, in fact), also describing New Bedford and Nantucket in some detail, and expressing (it seems to me) the New England Transcendentalists’ view of the natural world and humans’ place in it. My colleague at CLF, Robin Just, like me, also just re-read this great fish tale and pronounced it “a strange and wonderful book.” I concur. It’s worth the time and investment, yielding sentences you stop and re-read several times, just for the joy of it. But I was arrested by this famous passage, from ch. 35, the Mast-Head, where Ishmael explores his spiritual connection to nature, high aloft in a crow’s nest on the mast, scanning the sea for whales:

. . . lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reveries is this absent-minded youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature; and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him; every dimly-discovered, uprising fin of some undiscernible form, seems to him the embodiment of those elusive thoughts that only people the soul by continually flitting through it. In this enchanted mood, thy spirit ebbs away to whence it came; becomes diffused through time and space . . . forming at last a part of every shore the round globe over.

There is no life in thee, now, except that rocking life imparted by a gentle rolling ship; by her, borrowed from the sea; by the sea, from the inscrutable tides of God. . . .

If we as an organization – and a movement – began appealing more to the heart, where would this take us? What would we do differently? What would it cost, and what returns can we expect?

These are tricky questions for us, but we have to pursue them. Otherwise, we will continue to fail to include large parts of our population in our movement, just like algebra may be excluding many who should be thriving in our society, and helping it thrive. The environmental movement needs a change of “heart.” We must not steer away from evidence-based, quantitative reasoning, but we must also reach out to people’s hearts. That’s where they feel their deep connection to nature and the planet.

At this unsettled and noisy time, it may be much easier to reach people’s hearts than their minds.


A View from Inside (and Outside) the Annual Meeting of the New England Governors

Aug 7, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Last week I found myself on the beautiful shores of Lake Champlain in Burlington Vermont at the 36th Annual meeting of the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers.

Normally, this meeting is a low key affair that doesn’t have a big impact on the place where it is being held. That was not the case this year. Protests outside the meeting drew attention to issues, like potential import of tar sands oil into New England, that were not on the formal meeting agenda.

An Op-Ed by CLF President John Kassel which ran in a number of regional newspapers before and after the meeting and can now be found on the CLF blog, as well as those protests and pointed inquiries by the press in the meeting forced drew focus towards important and contentious issues like tar sands oil imports and the Northern Pass project.

But the action inside the conference was real and important.  Some notable highlights:

  • The Governors adopted a plan for “regional procurement” of renewable energy that creates an important framework for getting much needed clean renewable energy to get built across New England
  • The Governors and Premiers came together to hail the progress that has been made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across our shared region since 2001 and to lay out a framework for further action
  • A plan was adopted for moving towards a cleaner transportation system that maintains and builds mobility while moving away from gasoline and other dirty fuels that produce a range of pollutants

The overall story here is of a cross-border region that is struggling to do the right thing for its economy and its environment.  The challenge we all face is ensuring that our states and provinces live up to the promises of their words, making the difficult transition away from dirty fossil fuels and providing leadership to both the United States and Canada to build a new clean energy economy.

Can New England and Canada Achieve ‘Frenergy’?

Aug 6, 2012 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

Against a backdrop of protesters vehemently opposing bad proposals to bring energy from Canada into New England, governors from the six New England states this week demonstrated their commitment to a clean energy future for our region. They resolved to pool their buying power, regionally, for renewable energy. This will boost wind and solar energy, among other clean sources, at the best available price — a much-needed step on our path to affordable renewable energy and independence from dirty fossil fuels.

The resolution was announced at the 36th annual meeting of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, held July 29th and 30th in Burlington, Vermont. The protesters outside the meeting had the attention of high-ranking officials from Canada, whose energy system has been linked with ours – in small ways so far – for decades.  That linkage could grow dramatically in the future, for mutual benefit.  Eastern Canada has the potential to serve markets all over New England with low-carbon, low-cost and clean electricity from renewable sources. And New England needs it, if we get it on the right terms.

The wrong terms are exemplified by the Trailbreaker proposal and the Northern Pass transmission project, the two Canadian energy proposals galvanizing protesters outside the meetings in Burlington. Trailbreaker would send slurry oil derived from tar sands in Western Canada to Portland, Maine by reversing the flow of the Portland-to-Montreal pipeline that has cut across Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine since it was built over 50 years ago. Northern Pass would cut a route running the length of New Hampshire, including through the White Mountains, for a high-voltage DC transmission line to deliver Canadian hydropower to parts of New England. In both cases, the environmental burdens far outweigh any benefits for our region.

However, long-term supplies of hydro, wind and other sources of power – that respect and significantly benefit the landscape through which they are transmitted, support rather than undermine the development of New England’s own renewable energy resources, replace coal  and other dirty fuels, keep the lights on at reasonable cost, and accurately account for their impacts – are what New England needs. The details will be complicated, but they can be worked out.

Conversations inside the meeting were tilting in the direction of such productive cross-border cooperation, and the announcement of a regional resolution to bring clean, affordable energy to New England may have provided some salve for the protesters. Still, we need to continue to be vigilant about Trailbreaker and Northern Pass and we will spend the effort to defeat them if we must. But any effort spent on these deeply-flawed proposals –whether advancing them or fighting them – is an unfortunate use of precious time for both countries, given the urgent call of climate change.

The sooner we get to the task of building our shared clean energy future the better, for New Englanders and our friends to the north.

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