Thoughts on effective responses to the oil spill

Last week I had an action packed night figuring out how best to respond to the BP Oil Spill in Seattle and I wanted to share my thoughts that came out of the night.  I started off at a work party helping an awesome urban farm group called Alleycat Acres harvest lettuce and other veggies to donate to a local food bank (by bike).  From there I biked to an oil spill/BP protest at a park.  A big banner read “Boycott BP” and a number of people gave short speeches to the fairly quiet crowd of maybe 75 assembled people.  We then went on a short march around the park and along the street, culminating at a busy intersection where cars honked in support (ironic?)  From there I biked to Seattle U and joined a conversation hosted by a socialist group on the nationalization of BP and other related topics.  Then a quick jaunt up the stairs to yet another meeting convened by the Huffington Post by a number of concerned but a little confused citizens who were trying to figure out, “How to shame Obama by tomorrow.”

At the end of the night, I did some reflection and decided that of all the activities that night, I felt best and most effective at the garden work party.  Not only was it calming and peaceful, but I directly impacted, even if in a small way, our dependence on oil.  I recently had a chance to ask Bill McKibben’s advice on how best to scale back our out of control society and he gave me a ratio.  He said 80% of the time we should be in our own communities, working directly on transitioning from fossil fuels, over consumption etc.  That means urban farming, energy efficiency retrofits, etc.  The other 20% should be reserved for policy work, working for policies that make it easier to do that 80% work.  That made a lot of sense to me.

So, my advice, if I may so humbly offer it.  We’re all busy tackling the paramount problem of transitioning to a green energy economy.  But the next time you have to choose between sitting in a meeting or helping out at an urban farm or putting up some solar panels, pick the garden 80% of the time and take a direct bite out of our oil dependence.

Montana High School Students Gear Up to Fight Coal

Posted on behalf of Allison Lawrence, a student at Big Sky High School

We are SSEEJ: Students for Social Economic and Environmental Justice, based in Missoula, MT. We began as an Environmental Club two years earlier, but soon realized justice should not be exclusive to just the environment. In the fight for justice, you cannot neglect the economic and social aspects. SSEEJ is working to expose the active injustices in our community and in our world. Our past campaigns have included: working to convince our school’s coffee cart to sell only one-hundred percent organic and fairly traded coffee, made by JustCoffee, and planting a salsa garden in hopes of providing Big Sky students with healthy lunches.

Currently we are taking the Montana State Land Board to task regarding their decision to mine for coal deposits in Otter Creek in Eastern MT. These tracts of land are on Northern Cheyenne tribal land, and for the first time ever the tribal government is pro coal. The State Land Board, at their December 2009 meeting, voted to begin the bidding process for this land. The money from the sale would go to funding for the public school system, but as students who would directly benefit from this money, we say no to this coal powered money.

[Editors note]  Check out video of Big Sky High School students staging a walk out to protest the Otter Creek Coal deal.

Create Our Climate: The Mountain Lady

I was recently given the writing prompt: “Describe something destroyed.”  Then I watched the amazing movie Coal Country and this was what I wrote.

First her hair was shaved off. Overburden they called it, hiding the rich seems beneath the skin and bone. Then they came with drills and they bore down into her cheeks, her chin, her forehead. Attempting to protest she found her tongue had been cut, her voice taken away. They filled the holes with explosives, fire moving through her like a flood. And then they ignited it and her face rose and fell in a giant fleshy wave. The bone underneath cracked and protruded from the skin at odd angles and her skin flaked away. Then they brought in the machines to remove what was left, to scrape away at her skin and bone. They scraped away her cheeks, her nose and her chin, shoveled it from her face down onto her neck and chest until the weight of it caused her to gasp for breath. Finally, with the flesh and bone gone, they went at the prized muscle, at the power. They scooped it out in giant buckets, her red, pulsing muscle, and dumped it on belts to take it away to power something else, somewhere else. When the last scoop was gone, they shoveled back her skin and her bone and patted it down onto her hollowed out face. Gave her a smear of lipstick and a spot of rouge, called her good as new.

It’s Getting Hot In Here: Create Our Climate is a month-long series to feature the creative work of the youth climate movement.  Through poetry, prose, visual and performance art, we aim to use these different media to communicate the passion, struggle and imperative of our work tackling climate and energy issues.  Please join youth leaders for posts on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout April.

Another short piece after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Create Our Climate: The Mountain Lady’

WV Gov Manchin has competiton in MT’s Gov Schweitzer

Last month the Montana land board voted to award Arch Coal a huge new contract to mine a vast chunk of Montana, Otter Creek Valley. The move was hotly contested by environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Northern Rockies Rising Tide.  But now MT Governor Brian Schweitzer has taken the rotten deal a step further, blackmailing local officials in an effort to build public support for the new coal deal.  He promised funding for local projects that have been short on cash since the economic downturn in return for “a letter confirming that you support the use of coal money for the completion of your project/projects.”

“Governor Schweitzer hasn’t been able to win public sentiment for his proposed coal mine, and now he seems to be trying to extort support from county officials,” said Brad Hash, a Sierra Club representative in Montana.

Schweitzer, trying to explain the letter, said, “There are certain communities in Montana, whether because they don’t live near hydrocarbon production or other reasons, simply don’t like resources from coal to come to their community,” Mr. Schweitzer said, “and if there’s anybody like that, they need to tell me now.”

So, I suggest we tell him.  MT doesn’t need his dirty coal money or his extortion.  Is it just me, or does corruption and injustice just seem to cling to coal like white on rice?

Montana Pushes Forward with Coal: Tries to Bribe Student Protesters

Montana’s governor Brian Schweitzer loves coal.  He once described the state as the Saudi Arabia of coal and, while half heartedly championing wind power, continues to push coal forward in Montana. I know there’s been

a lot of focus on the incredibly destructive mountain top removal practices in Appalachia, but I wanted to remind folks that Montana (and Wyoming) coal is also a huge player in the national coal scene.

Just yesterday, Arch coal, a St Louis company with mines in Appalachia, Wyoming and elsewhere, bid $86 million for  572 million tons of state-owned coal in southeastern Montana’s Otter Creek Valley. (Arch coal already bought up a privately owned piece of Otter Creek, bringing the new total to 1.3 billion tons of coal).  Back in December, after years of speculation, the Montana land board voted to open up the public land to mining, but set a high price on the coal at 25 cents/ton, roughly twice what Arch coal was willing to pay.  The decision was seen as a minor victory…for about a month, until Arch coal complained and no other companies bid on the coal and the board simply reduced the cost to 15 cents/ton which Arch coal promptly agreed to pay.

The decision was hotly contested by environmental groups, including a high school group from Big Sky high school in Missoula who protested at the hearing and staged a walk out from school.  Hoping to placate students, the land board directed the money from the Arch coal’s bonus bid towards school funding, but admitted that, “The directive is not binding on the Legislature.”

Continue reading ‘Montana Pushes Forward with Coal: Tries to Bribe Student Protesters’

The Politics of Complaint

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the new loosely joined movement called the Tea Party.  My initial reaction, like many liberal progressives, was to simply ignore them, to brand them “tea baggers” and assume they would dissipate as quickly as they had appeared.  But that didn’t happen and the more I read about the movement, the more I worry.  But I worry not because I’m afraid of Sarah Palin running for president or Glenn Beck calling the shots.  I worry because the tea party is made up of a diverse group of folks; Obama voters, gun lovers, out of work people, evangelicals, young and old.  And as far as I can tell, they’re all united by one thing: complaint.  Not a unified vision for a better America.

Now I know there’s a lot to complain about right now.  The economy stinks, China is rapidly passing us up, folks are out of work (including my father), Wall Street execs are receiving lavish bonuses as they fail the American people.  But it’s the lack of a solution oriented focus that has me worried.  United by complaint, the Tea Party is able to grow, but in the end, what more can the outcome be than simply more complaint.

I see a similar reactionary complaint style in the climate movement, especially in the Big Greens.  We complain about Copenhagen, we complain about the Clean Air Act under fire, we complain about Obama and the Senate.  Myself included.  But it’s heartening to see some of the grassroots groups forming in the wake of Copenhagen.  Like the fine folks of Show Me Democracy and the Consequence Campaign as well as the older but still great Summer of Solutions.

If I had one wish for the youth climate movement in 2010, it would be for us to get more proactive and less dependent on big business, government and big green.  They’ve gotten us nowhere so far and it’s about time we started showing America what solutions look like.  The politics of complaint that the Tea Party movement embodies will only continue to dig us into a partisanship quagmire.

Clean Energy In the State of the Union Address?

I’m sitting here listening to President Obama’s state of the union address.  I’m still amazed by his charm, his authentic smile and his ability to make his points clearly.  But one thing made me jump out of my seat with not only surprise, but dissapointment.  It was his bit on “clean energy.”

“But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.”

Where are the windmills, the electric cars, the solar panels?  I know there’s been a lot of discussion on this blog and elsewhere about whether a climate bill or simple energy investment is the best track to tackle climate change.  But if more nuclear, coal and oil is what we get either way, then what’s going on?

The Trek to Re-Energize America: Done pedaling for now

Well folks, the Trek to Re-Energize America is officially done pedaling.  We pulled into DC 40 young people strong from all across the country.  We took our stories and energy to our legislators all day on the 27th.  We let them know that all across the country, ordinary people are working in their communities to ensure a better, more sustainable future for everyone and they need the federal government to get on board.

It was an epic, beautiful, difficult and inspiring trip.  We were able to spread hope to people across the country to let them know that people outside of their communities were taking notice, that there was something larger brewing, that a movement was shaping and they were a part of it, whether they knew it or not.

We were also able to introduce a whole host of new young people to the youth climate movement, people who cared but had never heard of Powershift, who were up for an adventure but not a plane trip.  It’s through this kind of continued diversity of tactics that we will continue to draw in new activists and win in the end.

A lot of folks have asked if the Trek will happen again and my answer is always the same: If you make it happen.  If you want any tips, have any questions or just want to chat about what the Trek was all about, shoot us a message at

The Trek to Re-Energize America: It Begins

The Trek to Re-Energize America officially begins today.  It’s been a long time coming and we’ve all spent far too many hours in front of the computer screen and too few on a bike.  Nine riders from five states will be leaving Seattle this morning to visit D.C., collecting stories from Americans across the country about the need for a clean energy economy, transportation solutions, sustainable agriculture and more.  We’ll be on the road for 70 days all told (and picking up another 50 riders before we arrive in D.C.) and we’d like to invite you to follow us as we ride.  We just relaunched our site with a few new ways to keep track of us as we cross the country.  Follow us on Facebook by becoming a fan of our page.  (And thanks to the 450 of you who already have) We’d love to tweet in your ear, so follow us on Twitter if you like the Trek melody. We’re so hip, we’ll even be podcasting once or twice a week, so subscribe to our iTunes feed to listen in.  And best of all, come out and see us in person as we ride through your community.  We have riders leaving from all across the country, so check out our routes page to see if we’ll be coming near you and if so, drop us a line and say hi. Thanks for the support thus far and we look forward to keeping you posted as we turn heads, warm hearts and work for a better future. 

Sincerely, the Trek Seattle crew, 

Mindyi, JP, Sarah, Chris, Tim, Hannah, Emily, Jack, and Kate 

P.S.  Feeling generous?  You can now donate directly to us online and we’d sure be appreciative.

Face to Face: Why It’s Important to Be a Real Person

I was recently surrounded by family at a cousin’s wedding which is always interesting, especially in the past several years as my environmental activism has picked up speed.   Something happened that made me even more sure that the Trek to Re-Energize America and events like it need to happen a lot more often.  My family comes from a wide array of political thought, from my raving liberal Aunt Patty to my Fox news die hard Grandpa.  A few years ago when I admitted to my grandma that I was a vegetarian, she replied with, “Nonsense, John Paul.  If you like it, eat it.”

So it was with trepidation that I replied when asked about my current employment in the lobby of a country club before the wedding.  I currently work for the Sierra Club as an organizer with the Beyond Coal campaign, working to make the Pacific Northwest the first zone in the nation to go coal free.  That explanation didn’t set well with my grandpa, a traditionalist who has worked in the banking and real estate world for much of his life.

Later that night after the vows had been said and the cake eaten he asked me a few more questions about my work and he made a comment that really stood out to me.  He told me that instituting a cap and trade system in the U.S. would cost the average American family $3,000.  The fact hit me like a brick, not because of the cost, but because I knew it to be false.  The erroneous number started its life with the Republican Party and quickly made its way to Fox news and the rest of the media.  The number came from a report by a few MIT professors and when they were contacted regarding the number they roundly rejected it as false and a gross distortion of the $30/family number their report had actually stated.

It was fascinating and horrifying to see how a simple lie made its way out into the public and down the vine to my Grandpa.

It made me realize how important the Trek really is.  By visiting communities across the nation we will present ourselves as real, caring people, not as talking heads on cable news.  Our future has become an unnecessarily partisan issue, due largely to our own politicians and the biased media that feeds off of them.  We need to start presenting climate change, sustainable farming, clean energy, all of it with a more unifying message to wrest control back from the partisan media. I know it’s not easy, but the more we can have honest, one on one conversations about the base concept of a healthier future, the easier our work will be in the long run.

JP Kemmick

I'm an MFA candidate at the University of Montana. I'm figuring out this fiction thing, one story at a time.

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