In preparation of the September 20th beginning of the Global Student Climate Strike, it is important to understand the importance of the movement for this generation. Hot button phrases like “Global Warming” and “Climate Change” have lost much of their power as the debate on whether or not the phenomena is real has drowned them. So let’s put it in perspective, starting at home:
In the US, children that are being slaughtered by right wing militants in their schools will be walking out of school to strike for the climate.
The reality is that, for decades, scientists from around the world have forecasted a global climate shift, caused by humans, largely as a result of widespread use of fossil fuels for energy. The premise is simple enough: Taking resources from underground and continuously burning them en masse in the finite layer of our atmosphere will cause global atmospheric toxicity and warming. Literally the same as having a bonfire inside a house without ventilation.
However industry has largely suppressed that data, while adding their own feel-good spin. Almost 30 years ago, as a small child, I remember protests against the oil companies, with signs reading “No Blood for Oil!” But the energy racket has kept it’s place by controlling a fine balance of fear, misinformation, and growth. The fact that they’ve managed to create such a strong public pushback against such a simple and obvious concept is a testament to the fact that mass psychology is the new political science, and the new political science is being used by corporate world against us.
Now, as the effects of our in-house bonfire are felt worldwide, there are a few steps we as a species must take, in quick succession:
First, we have to break a window. We are suffocating on toxic misinformation and false science, from the grassroots level to the major lobbyists. We must let scientists speak and be heard.
Next, we have to start putting out the flames at the foundation while we save the suffering. That means nixing corporate subsidies for fossil fuels, NOW. Fossil fuel giants already know that their time is coming- fossil fuels are not renewable, and they have always known that. The beauty of being in the business of mining for nonrenewable, monopolized fuel is that energy needs will continue to grow while the supply of fuel diminishes. Economics 101 will tell you that this means the value and price for these goods will rise drastically, even as the costs for mining and production largely stay the same. These companies are absolutely willing to switch over to renewables- many already are, at least in a symbolic-gesture kind of way. It is their inevitable future. But in the meantime, all they have to do is stunt the growth of renewable energy for a few more decades, and they will reap the unimaginable rewards of selling high-priced fossil fuels to people and governments worldwide who were duped into not setting up renewable options for themselves ahead of time.
Finally, we have to put out the smoldering ashes that would flame up again to burn us. I would credit fossil fuel companies with being uncannily subversive in their tactics. Fake news is one thing. Suppressing science? Effective, but hardly new. False flags and warmongering for access to resources? Old school evil. But it doesn’t stop there- these guys get Medieval and sell false salvation to those that desperately want them gone. Tactics so insidious that academic institutions and politicians with great reputations have fallen for them.
In a strategy I call Managed Reciprocal Growth (MRG), these companies have even co-opted the renewable energy market. Every news article you read that touts new wind and solar farms, every win for renewables by environmentalist groups that gets heralded far and wide, actually serves their interests, without being funded by or tied to them in any way. Growth in the green energy sector is managed alongside fossil fuel growth. In fact, every time you hear about an institution “Going Green” by investing in “100% Renewable Energy,” you are being duped into believing that real progress is being made against the fossil fuel industry.
And a cursory glance at those claims would have you believe them even more. These institutions are legally allowed to say they use 100% renewable energy. They are even giving money to renewable energy plants. It all sounds good and green. It is only after a dive into a world of confusing initialisms and legalese that you find the dirty MRG strategy at work.
Since the early 2000’s there has existed a commodity known as a Renewable Energy Certificate (REC). One REC is made available for every Megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity produced using renewable resources. Sold very much like stocks on wall street, an organization can purchase RECs, at which point they can claim them, and the REC is supposedly taken off the market, as that MWh has been claimed. But are these organizations actually using green energy? Not at all. There is no way to separate energy by source once it has made it to the grid. As of 2009, the electrical mix in of renewable energy in US grids was only around 10.5%. An REC is literally a separate, fiat certificate that lets an organization legally CLAIM it uses 100% renewable energy, for pennies on the dollar compared to actually building the local infrastructure. Does that money go to renewable plants? Sure. Does that money also stifle those same plants from getting better subsidies? Most likely. Does that money help fund future development? Supposedly.
Over time there developed a need for an oversight agency for RECs. Buyers wanted assurances that their money was actually making a difference. After all, anyone doing their homework could see that they were buying green “Energy Attributes,” not actual green energy itself. Questions started to arise in some circles, like “If I am paying for these attributes after the energy has been created and used, is my money actually promoting new growth in the renewable sector?” As well as “Are there any assurances that these RECs aren’t being sold and resold over and over?” The answer was largely no, until some global oversight leaders took charge of regulating the whole process.
RECs now come with ID numbers and data attributes. Purchasing money can only go to “new” renewable energy facilities (New only meaning not older than fifteen years). In the US, the buying and selling process is largely regulated by an organization called Green-E, along with backing by multiple levels of the US government, including the EPA and US case law. It all seems above-board and legit. And I would dare say that a lot of the people that are working to support RECs believe wholeheartedly that they are doing a good thing for the world.
Therein lies the insidiousness of the MRG strategy. From 2009 to 2018, the renewable energy mix in the US grid system has gone from 10.5% to only 17%. Almost a decade of environmental activism, global warming warnings, carbon offsets and REC trades have netted us only gradual, controlled growth of the renewable energy sector. Meanwhile the total energy production in the US has also increased by over 5%.
The renewable energy sector production from 2009 to 2018 increased by 295,049 thousand MWh, while the total growth of energy production has also increased by 227,479 thousand MWh. Meaning that renewable energy is just barely keeping its head above water, with gains covering barely more than the incremental growth of our total energy usage over the last decade. All these numbers come from the US Energy Information Administration, along with some basic math. This is the kind of gradual growth that gives those fossil fuel companies the time it needs to suck the planet dry and make immeasurable sums of money off the suffering of all the life on this planet. And all the while these RECs are being sold to academic and governmental organizations so they can feel like they are making a real positive impact, unknowingly slowing actual green-energy progress while legally being defined as an entity that is promoting it, and reaping the rewards of constituent appeasement.
If you are still reading, congratulations! You have made it through the technical part of the article. And if you are smart, you are probably wondering where the real, solid link between fossil fuel companies and RECs lies. Sure, it makes business sense for these companies to stall the growth of the renewable energy sector, but lately they have been doing it in plain view. Look at the anti-pipeline demonstrations that have been bulldozed with help from the US government, the leaked Exxon-Mobile documents on global warming from the 70’s, the Haliburton takeover of oil fields after 9/11. Why RECs?
I would argue that the regulation of REC’s is, indirectly, the regulation of the academic and environmental left through false appeasement. The MRG strategy allows them to control their opposition. As far as a solid link, those are hard to come by. Like I stated before, a lot of the people working with REC trading probably got into it for altruistic reasons.
But there are still links.
Remember the REC certification organization I mentioned before called Green-E? Many people on their Governance Board also work for Stoel Rives LLP, an organization of lawyers merged from other organizations of lawyers with a long history of serving the railroad and energy industries in the Pacific Northwest. Also, until very recently, a Marcene Mitchell was also on the board- an odd pick, considering her 7 year history as a Finance Manager for BP and 11 year history as a global investment manager for the Chemicals Division of the IFC.
There are also non-voting members from advisory committees, such as Heather Mulligan from the Utility Green Pricing Advisory Committee, and also from Puget Sound Energy. Even back in 2010, she was a speaker at a 5-day conference for Renewable Energy Markets, touting the success of a Green Power rewards program for businesses that increased positive customer perception for businesses that bought in. She presented alongside representatives from Green Mountain Energy and Portland General Electric, all of whom were starting to sell their utility customers their own version of REC’s- promising the utility rate payer that for an extra fee, the energy they used at home would be 100% renewable energy. When in fact, that money just went to subsidize their own symbolic renewable energy facilities, cutting the utility companies’ own costs on those facilities while maintaining a more positive, green façade. The entire conference was sponsored by utility companies, pushing RECs and carbon offsets on those in attendance as viable alternatives to actual, localized green energy production.
These conferences are held every year, and now include such sponsors as Bank of America, recently under fire for its large investments in the Dakota Access Pipeline. They are designed to get energy sellers and potential buyers together, making the buyers feel good about “going green.” The conferences, it seems, come complete with post-conference schmoozing, as well. Here is an excerpt straight from the 2010 conference agenda, for the entire last day of the conference:
“Post-Conference: Wine, Wind, and the Solar Highway
Half-day wine-tasting tour includes visiting and tastings at three local wineries, a gourmet box lunch, a visit to the Solar Highway, and a ride on the 100% biodiesel ecoShuttle.”
There has been a lot of time and (excuse the pun) energy put into making RECs and carbon offsets look good. Even the EPA is on board. On the surface, they seem great. But the numbers don’t lie. These options are not solutions. When you hear that some college or some town has gone “100% renewable,” it is a bold-faced lie made to look like a green, sugary treat.
But for young people in the US today, that façade is crumbling. Not for any lack of effort on the part of fossil fuel companies, but for the fact that climate change is happening now, all around us. Claims of progress in the renewable energy sector have as much impact on todays youth as claims of climate change have on deniers. They simply aren’t enough, and it is readily apparent.
The fossil fuel companies can’t hide it anymore, no matter how insidious their methods. Climate Change is here, and if we don’t take drastic action, right now, the youth of today in the US has little to look forward to, even if they do make it out of school alive.
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