Nick is a Justmeans staff writer for the Climate Change and Energy & Emissions categories, with a background working on climate and energy issues both on the ground and online. Nick is particularly interested in the interplay between the written word and the creation of on-the-ground change, which he examined in-depth in his senior thesis while at Pacific University. Since graduating from col...
Can Pro-Carbon Decisions be Countered Using Online Media?
President Obama has been saying some great things about cracking down on dirty energy and emissions from the fossil fuel industries, in the wake of the BP oil spill. But even as the president takes some initial steps to invest in clean energy technology, the Obama administration is also giving the green light to decisions that increase carbon emissions and our dependence on dirty energy. It's a frustrating case in which the administration seems to be counting on its good deeds to mute criticism of its negative ones. Perhaps the only antidote is to raise a virtual uproar whenever the Obama administration makes a choice out of line with its own clean energy vision.
A couple of recent decisions from the administration stand out in especially stark contrast to Obama's words. For instance while the president talks about transitioning away from oil to avoid catastrophes like the BP spill, the Department of the Interior has opened 1.8 million acres in Alaska to potential oil and gas development. The land is set to be opened for auctioning beginning on August 11th of this year. The Department of the Interior's press release couches the announcement with reassurances that the highly sensitive area around Teshekpuk Lake will not be included in the sale. Yet this doesn't hide the fact that in the midst of the worst oil spill in US history, the federal government is opening nearly two million acres to new drilling.
In coal country the administration has also said a lot of good thingsbut recent signs cast doubt on how well words will be followed by action. This spring the Environmental Protection Agency announced sweeping new guidelines supposed to protect Appalachian communities from the social and environmental costs of mountaintop removal mining. The news was heralded by environmental groups that hoped the new rules might bring permitting of new mountaintop removal mines to a near or complete stop. Yet just a few months later, EPA approved the permit for the new Pine Creek mountaintop removal mine, which will entail filling three valleys in West Virginia's Logan County with rubble and toxic mining waste.
My point here isn't simply to lambast the Obama administration. Under Obama's leadership, the federal government has also taken important steps to reduce dirty energy consumption and emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Obama has done more to stimulate the green economy than any president since Jimmy Carter; but that's not exactly a high standard to aspire for. If the administration is serious about moving beyond fossil fuels and their attendant carbon emissions, it won't be enough to give out a solar grant here and a wind farm there while coal mines and oil auctions move merrily along. Curbing carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels means leaving these fuels with their high carbon footprints.
So what's the solution? I would argue (as humbly as possible, I hope) that it may lie in sites like this one. Online commentary centers and social media news forums have become a tool for the public to rapidly respond to national policy decisions. In an age where nearly every non-profit and clean energy company has its own web site, entrepreneurs and change-makers can quickly make their voices heard. And while we should praise the administration for positive steps taken, we shouldn't be shy about coming down on the unwise, the risky, and the downright stupid decisions, either. The web's plethora of sustainability-minded blogs and web sites can make sure each new oil lease and every approved coal mine is held up as a step backwards for clean energy and for emissions reduction.
What do you think? How can web-based media be better harnessed to hold decision makers accountable?
Photo credit: Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition