Tag Archives: climate action

After We Win: Sewage Power

Very often discussions about renewable energy focus on solar and wind power, and other sources fall into the background. To be sure, these two will form a significant part of the new system, but they are not all there is. Aside from geothermal energy, tidal energy, and various forms of crop-based biofuels, we also have an abundant form of energy available that is directly proportional to the number of people living nearby.


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Playing with trains: grid level storage

One of the most important aspects of a society powered by renewable will be power storage. Fortunately, we don’t need to wait for new technology, and we don’t need to build huge chemical batteries. There are a number of grid-level storage options available that work off of potential energy alone.

Case in point: Advanced Rail Energy Storage – a company that stores energy by moving heavy trains uphill when there’s excess power, and letting them roll downhill again when more power is needed.

Off the Deep End: After we “win”

With every decade being hotter than the last, on a global scale, it seems appropriate that every climate rally is bigger than the last. The upcoming march on 9/21/14 is expected to be the biggest gathering of people in America to call for action on climate change.

And there’s a LOT of political action needed. Our government’s policy, on the whole, is still in limbo on what’s happening in our climate, with one of the two parties in power having denial as a crucial part of its science platform.

Conventional wisdom is that if we can threaten their ability to get re-elected, the Republicans will come around on the issue, and it seems likely that that’s the case. Gingrich, Romney, Bush, McCain, and many others have all acknowledged the reality of our warming climate at one point or another, so it’s clear that at least some members of the GOP are aware of what’s going on. What’s less clear is how long it will take for public pressure to override the flood of money unleashed by recent relaxations in campaign finance laws.

In time, however, we will get there. In time, and with continued pressure and protests, we will come to a national recognition that there is a problem, and that we have put it off too long for anything but drastic measures to be taken. In time, we will begin the work, as a nation, of dealing with global climate change.

And here is where climate change differs from every other important issue in history. With labor laws, there was a long, hard fight, lives were lost, livelihoods destroyed, and in the end, the battle was won, laws were passed, and employers were required to treat their workers with a minimum amount of respect and dignity. With Segregation, the battle was won, and laws were passed changing how humans were allowed to treat each other, and providing legal frameworks to give some power to those who had none, and some defense to the defenseless. With leaded gasoline, there was a nasty political fight with powerful, wealthy corporations misleading the public and politicians alike, but in time, laws were passed, tetraethyl lead was banned, and the amount of lead we were exposed to began to fall almost immediately.

On many of the problems we’ve solved there is still much work to be done, both in America and in the rest of the world, but in the end, as tangled and complex as human interaction is, these problems all improve as people stop taking certain actions. On the surface, global climate change may seem the same. If we stop burning fossil fuels, we will have “solved” the problem, right?


If we had addressed global warming in the 1980’s, a couple decades after the first warnings came, or even in the 1990’s, after it became unequivocal that the planet was warming and humans were to blame, then we might have been able to follow the old model. We could have passed laws, phased out fossil fuels, and been done.

Now, in 2014, it’s too late for that. The amount of CO2 we’ve added to the atmosphere would keep warming the planet for another 20 years or so even if we stopped adding to it today, but even that isn’t the whole story. The heat we’ve already added to the planet has been enough to trigger a number of feedback loops that are increasing the rate at which the planet warms. Lowered albedo, melting of the permafrost, increased evaporation through higher temperatures, and decreased photosynthesis through heatwaves and droughts – all of these may to be enough to drive continual warming for centuries to come.

So, if the protest movement is successful, and the problem is acknowledged, what comes next? If we can’t stop the warming, then is there any point in trying?

In a word, yes. There is a point. But the goal has changed. We are no longer fighting to stop the warming, we’re fighting for the long-term survival of our species, and of our civilization.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about what that means, the kinds of action we can take, and the sort of changes we need to make in how we think as a society. In this series, I’m going to cover topics like food production, energy generation, energy storage, water use, disaster preparedness, and the art of thinking generations ahead.

A Lobster Boat at the tipping point

“This decision by the District Attorney is an admission that the political and economic system isn’t taking the climate crisis seriously, and that it falls to ordinary citizens, especially people of faith, to stand up and take action to avert catastrophe,” O’Hara said.

The issue of global climate change is one of the most unevenly understood issues in the world. When Svante Arrhenius published the first calculations of man-made global warming via CO2, in 1896, he would doubtless have been astonished to hear people saying that his idea was invented in the 1980’s by a bunch of totalitarians, or in the early 2000’s by some guy named Al Gore.

And yet, that’s where we are, 118 years later, which probably explains why we have such different reactions to news on the issue. We have, on the one hand, a scientist who’s looking to move to Denmark for the future safety of his children, and on the other hand, a new hobby of deliberately increasing the amount of pollution put out by cars in an act of spiteful defiance that smacks of flushing hundred dollar bills because someone said that a savings account is a good idea.

All of this can be incredibly frustrating to those of us who work in climate change communication, which is why today’s ruling on the Somerset Lobster Boat Blockade is such a breath of fresh air.

At 6AM on May 15th[2013], after a short prayer on the dock in Newport, Ken Ward and Jay O’hara embarked on their 32′ white lobster boat “Henry David T” north towards Brayton Point Power Plant. On a cloudless morning, supported by half a dozen friends and colleagues on shore, the two piloted the “Henry David T” into the ship channel at the coal pier.  At 9AM they raised a “350” banner and another reading “#coalisstupid” alongside the American flag, dropped anchor, and called the Somerset police to inform them of their non-violent direct action.

Ken and Jay ended up blocking the coal shipment for a full six hours. Their legal strategy was to plead necessity – that climate change was a clear and present danger, that their action would make a difference in reducing that danger, and that there was no legal recourse for addressing the problem.

Today, Bristol County D.A. Sam Sutter dropped the most serious charges against Ken and Jay, and agreed to a fine of $2000 from each man, paid to the town of Somerset.

In the end, the coal was delivered, and burned, adding approximately 114,400 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere – carbon that had been buried for millions of years.

But the blockade got a fair amount of attention, and now, with this decision by Sam Sutter, has forced progress on dealing with the danger that is global climate change.

We’re not there yet, and we’ve got a lifetime of work ahead of us, but we are making progress in this fight.

“Protest works, indeed protest maybe the only thing that can save us,”
-Ken Ward

Disclaimer: Jay O’Hara and the author of this blog are friends, and have worked together on climate communication in the past.

Off the deep end: How to make a snowballing climate action fund.

The snowballing climate action fund is a way to start by spending a little money on climate action, and gradually increase the amount you’re able to spend on it by setting aside savings. I’m going to describe it at the level of an individual apartment, but as I’ll explain later, it’s really applicable at any level from individual households, to the entire globe.

The notion is pretty simple, and can be done in a set of easily definable steps. We’ll start with power consumption: Continue reading

Off The Deep End: How can one person influence politics?

In the last section, I talked about how artists and writers can help create a common vision of a better future that seems within reach. When this succeeds, and that vision takes hold, there are a number of reactions, and one of the more common ones is a desire to look at how to make that future a reality. Sure, we have the technology and know-how to create a better society, but do we have the collective will to do so?

Politics, in America, are daunting, to say the least. We live in an increasingly plutocratic society, in which the majority of legislators are far wealthier than the average American, and the cost of running for office seems to get higher with every election. So how can one person, or even a handful of people, make a difference in this arena?

There are a lot of possible answers to that question, so I’m going to start (as is my wont) with my own experience. Continue reading

Off the Deep End: Delayed post.

The downside of having a lot to do is that I have a lot to do. The next chapter will come by the end of Tuesday. Sorry for the delay – I should have time to make future updates ahead of time.

Tomorrow’s update will cover what one person can do REGARDLESS of their artistic or technical abilities.