Tim DeChristopher: Solar Mosaic “transforms our energy system in the fundamental way” we need

Cross-posted from Solar Mosaic Energy 2.0 Blog

Tim DeChristopher understands why he’s going to jail. As he told Rolling Stone in a recent interview, “What I did was a threat to the status quo, so I understand why those in power want to put me away.”

Tim represents a new breed of disruptive, bold climate activists who are putting their lives on the line to bring about the transformational change we need. And he considers Solar Mosaic part of that transformation. Asked what it would take to fundamentally transform our energy system, he pointed to Solar Mosaic as proof that we’re on our way. For the folks at Solar Mosaic, this is both a huge compliment and a great expectation to fulfill.

A quick recap on Tim: One the eve of Obama’s inauguration, a 27-year old economics student from Utah entered an auction set up for oil and gas companies, became the top bidder, and won the lease rights. He had no intention of paying for the land; he was acting to protect public land from destructive extraction. Despite the fact that the leasing plan was flawed and has since been revoked, Tim faces up to ten years in prison for his actions. His sentencing was recently rescheduled for the tenth time and is slated for late July. To read Tim’s full story, click here.

I take a lot of inspiration from Tim, for his personal resolve and his commitment to confronting the inadequacies of the grey economy and spurring on a new energy transformation. I’m also inspired to witness this new paradigm taking hold in concrete ways around the country. Indeed, Solar Mosaic – which aims to democratize clean energy in Oakland, California and around the country – represents a radical departure from traditional top-down fossil fuel systems.

DeChristopher speaks of a future that promotes local power, justice and prosperity for all, and an economy based on human goodness. Solar Mosaic embodies these tenants, putting the energy in the hands of people, creating jobs and helping community institutions save money, and building an economy that reflects the values we strive to live by.

Will Obama Stand Up to Fraud and Protect Blair Mountain?

Tomorrow, thousands will gather at Blair Mountain to protect this historic site and end mountaintop removal.  They are marching toward a mountain that is slated to be destroyed because Big Coal used dead people’s names on their petition to re-open if for mining.  I’m not kidding.

Monday’s Washington Post story on the march revealed that Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources, the two companies seeking to mine the coal-rich Blair Mountain, are the ones intimidating the National Park Service into keeping it off the National Register. To remove Blair Mountain from the historic list, the coal companies submitted names of residents who opposed the listing: ie, people who no longer lived there, couldn’t be located by the West Virginia Attorney General’s office, and yes, dead people.

When confronted about the fraud, Obama’s National Park Service did nothing.  Despite his promise to raise the bar for government ethics and accountability, Obama has so far watched as the agencies under him answer to Big Coal. As Obama continues to let corrupt, dirty industries rule, young voters are growing skeptical of his promise to bring change to Washington.

The marchers are also facing the treachery the coal industry, when their private campground reservations were cancelled thanks to Big Coal’s stranglehold on the region.  The coal companies are using fraud and intimidation because they are scared that this movement of people might convince Obama to come out firmly on the side of ethics and American heritage.

In his piece covering the March on Blair Mountain, Bobby Kennedy Jr. writes that the men and women protecting this historic site stand strong against the “ascendancy of unsheathed corporate power that threatens now to overwhelm American Democracy.” Will Obama stand with the people and stand up to these corrupt industries?

President Obama has the opportunity to begin meeting his promise to stamp out government corruption, by restoring Blair Mountain’s place on the National Register.

Powder River Basin: The New Energy Frontier?

This morning, Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar announced plans to open up 7,400 acres of federal land in Wyoming’s coal-rich Powder River Basin for lease to coal mining companies, including Peabody Coal and Arch Coal. This first round of leases are among over a dozen tracts to be auctioned over the next three years. This announcement stands in stark contrast to the kind of “new energy frontier” that Salazar described in his speech to the thousands of youth attending Power Shift 2009, the youth climate conference that welcomed in a new presidential administration. I was one of the youth in that crowd, filled with idealism and excitement for what seemed to be the dawning of a new clean energy future. Two years later, this speech not only feels like a dream, but a ruse.This decision is disguised as an effort to promote job growth and American energy security, but in reality is a result of the concerted efforts of the world’s largest coal companies seeking to expand their profits by shipping U.S coal overseas for Asian consumption. 

Powder River Basin: "the expanding frontier of western coal production has already begun"

The expanding frontier of western coal production has already begun; currently, 70-80 trains leave the Powder River Basin daily, shipping out the equivalent of 40% of total annual U.S coal consumption. According to Salazar, “Coal is a critical component of America’s comprehensive energy portfolio as well as Wyoming’s economy.”But in reality, the coal industry currently accounts for less than 3% of total Wyoming workforce and hundreds of thousands of tons of this coal is exported annually to countries like China, South Korea, India, and Japan. Counter-intuitive to all the energy security rhetoric, US coal exports have seen a massive jump over the past six years, growing nearly 71% between 2004 and 2010. 

Not only is this enterprise encroaching upon Wyoming communities; in Washington, several energy companies are pursuing permits to build coal ports, to transport this coal overseas. Two proposed coal port sites in particular are undergoing controversial permitting processes.

Millennium Bulk Terminals, a joint venture between Arch Coal and Ambre Energy, is currently pursuing a coal port site in Longview, Washington. Millennium recently announced it would withdraw its current permit and reapply after being caught reporting an expected 5 million tons of coal exports annually, 15 times less than internally discussed amount of 80 million tons. While this site would likely be a major provider for China’s coal imports, estimates show it would provide fewer than 70 jobs to the community. Continue reading ‘Powder River Basin: The New Energy Frontier?’

Field Notes from Cancun and Four Resolutions for the Movement in 2011

This year, the UN climate talks in Cancun felt markedly different than last year’s much-anticipated conference in Copenhagen. Since the last negotiations, a major shift has taken place in the youth climate movement.

Throughout 2010 our movement has experienced major growing pains and witnessed major failures on the part of our politicians. Last year’s Conference of Parties in Copenhagen ignored the cries to the millions of world citizens demanding a FAB, fair ambitious and binding treaty. Instead we got a ‘FLAB’ deal: full of loopholes and bull$**t. American youth saw their leaders dilute and ultimately dismiss the climate legislation we’d been calling for. This fall, dozens of climate deniers and Big Oil politicians were elected into office.

These experiences have produced a lot of despair and disillusionment within our generation around the current system; political obstacles feel insurmountable, the corrupt fossil fuel interests are too powerful, and any significant agreement on an international level just seems impossible.

Youth at the Conference of Parties before Cancun

But the vexing reality is that these challenges cannot be     insurmountable, too powerful, or impossible. We have no    option but to face them. We know that our survival and      the survival of entire vulnerable communities count on it.    So what are we going to do about it?

Over the past two weeks, youth in Cancun have showed    our tenacity, our innovativeness, and our  uncompromising idealism. While youth recognize the    agreement coming out of Cancun as an important step  to stabilizing and building a foundation for future    negotiations, we know there is much work to be done    and much of the foundation hinges on what happens in  the coming year.

The following are lessons and resolutions from Cancun- on the current state of our movement and directions moving forward, into the light. In 2011, we must:

1) Improve upon our models for tracking and measuring our efforts and use our findings to build and refine our strategy.

2) Further engage our communities and change public opinion by utilizing earned and social media.

3) Continue to build our technical skills, employ creative methods, and utilize technological innovations.

4) Ask ourselves everyday: how can we connect our efforts to the source of bold, credible, and real hope? How can we communicate this real hope to others?

Please read on for further explanation and reflections from Cancun.

Continue reading ‘Field Notes from Cancun and Four Resolutions for the Movement in 2011′

U.S and China Race to the Clean Energy Future PART 2: Taking Action

This piece can also be found at: http://huff.to/gpT0Ee

Outside of the Cancun Messe at the international climate talks, runners Kevin Osborne from the U.S and Yingao Chen from China take their mark at the starting line. A sports commentator calls out: “It’s a beautiful day! The sun is shining, the wind is blowing and our two competitors are ready to begin this epic race for a brighter and more prosperous world”. At the sound of a whistle, the runners take off, racing toward the clean energy future.

What is the story behind this race? The U.S and China are major emitters and major economies with a complex relationship and huge opportunities to lead the clean energy economy…

At this moment in time, U.S is falling behind during a time that  we most need economic revitalization and a competitive new  job sector. While China has taken huge strides in building their  renewable energy sector, much of their turbines and solar  systems are exported while more new coal plants are  constructed to meet growing energy demands.

U.S leadership has come empty-handed to the negotiations and continues to accuse China of holding up progress. Relations between U.S and China remain tenuous and marked with antagonism and mistrust.

Can the two countries overcome their differences and rise to the challenge? Who will emerge victorious in the clean energy economy?


Continue reading ‘U.S and China Race to the Clean Energy Future PART 2: Taking Action’

U.S and China Race to the Clean Energy Future PART 1: Discourse on Action

Adapted from a press briefing between American and Chinese youth in Cancun. Click here to see a clip from this briefing aired on China Central TV.

For the past two weeks at the U.N negotiations in Cancun, youth representing the major world powers, from the Chinese Youth Delegation, Sierra Student Coalition, SustainUS, and Cascade Climate Network, have converged in Cancun to form the U.S China Youth Climate Exchange, an innovative, multi-pronged initiative and to demonstrate the sort of cooperation and creativity that our nations’ leaders should be working toward to solve the climate crisis.

One crucial aspect of our efforts is a shared action to send the message to U.S. and Chinese politicians; we need both China and the U.S rising to the occasion, racing toward the clean energy future. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to work closely with Yingao, my counterpart on the Chinese youth delegation to plan and drive forward this action. In planning this action, what began as a very tactical alliance turned into a much more meaningful and beneficial experience than I had ever expected.

U.S and Chinese youth met with lead-negotiator Jonathan Pershing to voice our vision for greater cooperation between our two countries.

As a young person from the U.S, I am very concerned with our nation’s role in climate change, and in stalling progress on international cooperation. I am also committed to the notion that in order to make a difference as youth, we have to be blunt and we have to be specific. Specifically, in order to fulfill our mitigation responsibilities and make a real contribution to international progress in time for COP17 in South Africa, we need to demand that President Obama match China’s solar growth rate and double wind capacity in the next year.

After my first few meetings with Yingao and other Chinese youth delegates, I began to realize that American and Chinese youth have very different perspectives on our governments and the best way to inspire political progress. As I encountered these differences, I began to fear that my vision for this action would be compromised and so I asserted my own will as if it was inherently at odds with those of the Chinese youth. These meetings left me feeling somewhat discouraged and fatigued- and as if I was coming up against a wall.

Then things started to shift- the platform on which U.S and Chinese youth were interacting and collaborating was expanding under my feet- the action was just one, important but not self-sufficient, aspect of these efforts. Throughout the first week of the negotiations, I participated in many eye-opening experiences. I attended a workshop led by U.S and Chinese youth on our unique histories and educational backgrounds, our governments and their approach to tackling climate change, and a philosophical evaluation of our own cultural assumptions and patterns of behavior between people from such distinct nations.  Also, during an “open space” session at our “diplomacy dinner,” I conversed with Chinese youth on issues as diverse as the role of religion in China, national security in U.S and China energy policy, and the Kyoto Protocol “Common but Differentiated Responsibility” clause.

"I took a philosophical glimpse at the cultural assumptions and patterns of behavior between U.S and China"

The overarching message and importance of the U.S China shared action was as evident in the planning process as it was in the execution of the action. I felt firsthand what it feels like to negotiate one’s own values, principles, and objectives with those of someone from a very different background. I also began to realize the importance of engaging the other and of acting in the spirit of cooperation, rather than opposition. As I got to know Yingao and other Chinese youth as individuals, we started examining our cultural assumptions and explaining our histories and the reasoning behind our beliefs. Once we began to share these insights, it became clear that we did not inherently disagree- in fact, most times we could understand where the other was coming from. Our dialogue did not feel like a series of traded concessions- it felt like a collaboration.

I say all this because I firmly believe that in order for our countries to reach any agreement and enable international progress to solve the climate crisis, we need to learn, use, and listen to the language of shared understanding. It is my hope that U.S and Chinese negotiators examine their own assumed boundaries to cooperation and begin to find opportunities for mutual collaboration.

Stay tuned for Part 2, Taking Action

Moving Beyond Dirty Politics and into the New Energy Economy

After months of debating and endless news coverage, the congressional elections are finally behind us. Though the results of these elections will determine much of our nation’s direction for the next few years, the elections themselves have told us something significant about our country and where we stand today.

A controversial yet prescient ad illustrating the role of Big Oil in Congress,

As a young person and a voter, I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed by what has become a custom among candidates: all over the country and among both parties, politicians welcomed the influence of dirty money into the political process. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon Off-shore drilling disaster last April, candidates raked in campaign contributions from fossil fuel industries, some accepting sums totaling over $1 million. How should I have confidence in our leaders when the very industries that funded their campaigns are those corrupting the political agenda, last year spending a combined total of $175 million on lobbying?

But it’s clear that for these industries, this is money well worth shelling out: in the oil industry alone, federal subsidies and tax breaks range between $6 and 39 billion annually. Between 2002-2008, federal fossil fuel subsidies totaled $72.5 billion, going toward tax expenditures, foregone revenues, grants, and direct payments. $14 billion of this total goes to funding oil production overseas; that’s money going to major polluters and not toward creating jobs at home. In 2006, tax expenditures to oil and gas companies made up approximately 88% of total federal subsidies. Most of the largest dirty energy subsidies have been written into the U.S Tax Code as permanent provisions. We’re channeling taxpayer dollars into an industry that is already well established and wealthy and locking ourselves into the gray energy economy.

Continue reading ‘Moving Beyond Dirty Politics and into the New Energy Economy’

What’s Next, Obama?

***Please reply to this posting with ideas for how we can creatively message these demands on Thursday evening, or other ideas for getting vocal.***

This past Monday, I was invited to join a youth environmental leader’s call hosted by the White House, geared toward energizing young voters around Obama’s environmental agenda. At the end of the call, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson fielded a few questions, including one from me; I asked her what Obama would do to make up for a lack of congressional action on climate change, both here in the U.S and in the lead-up to the U.N international climate negotiations in Cancun this November. Not surprisingly, her answer was vague and indirect.

The next day, I received exciting news from the White House. After a month of pressure from grassroots groups, President Obama made a symbolic step toward committing to clean energy leadership, by agreeing to outfit his home with solar panels and a solar water heating system. Despite the pride I feel for this movement victory, I am still left wanting.


After a long hiatus, Obama has given the green light to have solar power reinstated on the roof of the White House



Our country is lagging behind when it comes to building the clean energy future. Our largest clean tech investment thus far came from the stimulus package, and our federal government still insists on funneling money into destructive dirty energy projects. In the U.S oil industry alone, federal subsidies range from roughly $6 billion to a staggering $39 billion annually.

Meanwhile, our leaders’ lack of action has obstructed any meaningful progress on the international front. Not only has Congress failed to produce climate legislation, but this week at the U.N intercessional climate negotiations in Tianjin, China, instead of making headway in the lead-up to Cancun, U.S negotiators insisted on pointing the finger at developing countries for not taking enough action.

Youth in other countries are noticing this hypocrisy too. The day before Obama’s announcement to install solar on his roof, youth around the U.S circulated a letter written from Chinese youth and their university professors, addressed to U.S Special Envoy on Climate Change, Todd Stern, calling on the U.S to follow China’s example and make real strides toward clean energy development; by doubling domestic wind capacity and matching China’s solar growth rate within one year. Continue reading ‘What’s Next, Obama?’

Why This Fall is Going to Be Full of Victories and Fun!

On Wednesday night, I got to hear firsthand how electoral organizing is actually a great excuse to showcase our victories, build youth power, and have FUN. After a month full of one-on-one dialogue, planning, and statewide conversations, leaders from around the country, from Arkansas to Florida to Missouri to Massachusetts, joined one another on the phone and over the interwebs (via our online chat room), to share how we can ROCK THE VOTE this fall!

First, we got a rousing warm-up from Ben Wessel, who’s been working hard on the Race to Replace in Vermont (more on that later )- we celebrated the Cape Wind victory, called on our Southern politicians for leadership, and cheered on the potential for the clean energy to be the new economic driver in the Midwest!

Next, we heard from a handful of leaders who laid out how they’re going to MAKE CHANGE and ENGAGE OUR GENERATION this fall and have a really good time while they’re at it!

  • Ben shared his plan for the Race to Replace- which is about saying goodbye to dirty nuclear and hello to 100% clean electricity, 100+ bikers, lobbying in Montpelier, potlucks in Burlington with UVM students, concerts, partnerships with utilities, and politicians getting behind our vision! Check out his video here.
  • Erika Zarowin in Ohio also told us about Making Green a Primary Color, which will build off the groundwork laid during Ohio Power Shift, bringing youth climate demands to the forefront of the Ohio Congressional Primary.
  • There are so many other good stories and ideas to take from nearly twenty states working to make this fall about SAYING YES TO WIND and clean energy, NO TO COAL and dirty fuel, and PUTTING THE POWER IN THE HANDS OF THE YOUTH! You can check out these plans and more on our Build Our Electoral Campaign Page.

After hearing all the excitement and visions of state and local leaders around the country, we took it to the next level to discuss with one another: common themes and messaging to share, resources and tools that we could collaborate on developing, and  how we can continue to support one another between campuses, communities, and across state lines! Lots of sweet ideas that came out of that, and I’m excited to see them taken to the next level! Continue reading ‘Why This Fall is Going to Be Full of Victories and Fun!’

Planning to Rock the Vote, One Community, One State at a Time

My post last week introduced an exciting process for us to build an electoral campaign from the ground up – I’m back to report that it’s working, that we are starting to see the results, and to share with you some next steps!

The basic idea is that (1) in communities across the country we are having discussions on what we hope to achieve moving forward — for many of us this would build off our Define Our Decade events and discussions — (2) then we are having statewide discussions to develop collective goals, objectives and talk coordination, and finally (3) we’ll pull it all together on a conference call (RSVP!) for each state to share their ideas, discuss how to weave our efforts together, and make plans to work with and support one another.

Based on a few reportbacks I’ve heard, people are really narrowing in on how we can use the election to build power and support behind our issues. Whether it’s offshore oil drilling in Florida, or clean energy opportunities in the coalfields of West Virginia, people are identifying the most important issues to work on that will inspire lots of people to engage. And the discussion isn’t just about turning people out to vote, there’s talk of bird-dogging candidates, running spoof corporations for office to expose the influence of dirty money on politics, and other creative tactics!

A few state network discussions have already happened, but there are a bunch more planned (and it’s not too late to plan your own)! Check out the listing below, and http://www.energyactioncoalition.org/BuildOurElectoralCampaign for updates.