Occupy sustainability: the 1% is blocking the transition to a renewable energy economy

January 10, 2012

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

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In order to make our society sustainable, we have to deal not just with environmental issues and climate change, but with the economic crisis and the depletion of natural resources. The most effective responses will deal with all four at once. While climate change response has mostly been blocked, the Occupy movement is rapidly emerging as a major political force.

Occupiers are planning next steps for 2012, looking at new ways to get the public involved, and refining their visions for a more just society.  We need to protest and withdraw from corrupt, unsustainable systems and simultaneously create new systems that are both equitable and sustainable.  The transition to a sustainable, renewable energy economy can be a valuable addition to this discussion, since it addresses environmental issues and climate change, slows depletion of natural resources, and builds an economic infrastructure not controlled by the financial elites. 

The 1% absolutely does not want us to realize how urgently this transition to a renewable energy economy is needed. Their power and profits depend on keeping the unsustainable fossil fuel economy running as long as possible.

They’re heavily invested in it.
Of the 10 largest global corporations, 6 are oil companies. The International Forum on Globalization has identified the world’s top 50 individuals whose investments benefit from climate change and whose influence networks block efforts to phase out pollution from fossil fuels.  To continue making as much money as they can, they would have us wait until it’s too late to make a successful transition.

The consequences of our addiction to fossil fuels include the terrible pollution associated with fracking, tar sands development, offshore drilling spills, and coal-fired power plants, and vulnerability to volatile fuel prices and unstable foreign energy supplies.  Perhaps we could tolerate those costs of the energy status quo, but we can’t live with the catastrophic climate change it will surely trigger. The pushers of fossil fuels, the world’s largest corporations and their allies, don’t want us to know another world is possible. 

Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, says that climate change response requires immediate adoption of policies hated by the free market right: reversing privatization; relocalizing much of the economy; scaling back overconsumption; bringing back long-term planning; heavily regulating, taxing and even nationalizing corporations; and cutting military spending. As she says, “Climate change supercharges the pre-existing case for virtually every progressive demand on the books, binding them into a coherent agenda based on a clear scientific imperative.” Right wing activists understand that climate change response and the abuses of unchecked free market capitalism are just not compatible. 

But climate change response of the scale needed to work will only take place if there is a massive, popular effort to get corporations out of politics.   The 1% is opposing this.  It is lobbying to reduce regulation and oversight on fossil fuels, which will make these pollution problems and climate change worse.

The 1% also doesn’t want us to know that getting off fossil fuels is inevitable, and that a successful transition to a renewable energy economy is not guaranteed.  It’s only possible if we stop the 1% from blocking the transition, and start building it now, while we still can. 
World crude oil production has been on a plateau since 2006, despite efforts to find more. Discovery of new oil fields peaked in the 1960s. Many analysts – including the US military – predict that in the next few years oil supply will fall short of demand and go into permanent decline. This will lead to shortages and high prices, which will continue the economic slowdown, and high unemployment. Of course, this is on top of whatever financial crises are already waiting in the wings. The longer we wait to get the transition started, the more difficult and costly it will be. 

Climate change and the limits to fuel supplies and natural resources may be abstract, but lead to very material consequences including food shortages, natural disasters and wars.   The world’s largest corporations have calculated that they profit more from maintaining their monopolies on the world’s food, commerce and transportation systems than from preventing human suffering and death.  Blowing the whistle on the financial elites blocking the renewable energy transition is one place to start. Another is by organizing to create the renewable energy economy at the local level.  

Further collaboration between the Occupy and sustainability movements

To respond to climate change, resource depletion and economic injustice our society has to be transformed from top to bottom: from energy, housing, food and agriculture, transportation, urban planning, and local economic development, to industry and manufacturing.

Although transformative federal action in these areas may be blocked, organizers may find opportunities to address these matters locally with little resistance. Projects can benefit the 99% by offering relief from continuing economic turmoil, encouraging production of local goods and services, lowering bills, redirecting the flow of money from large corporations to small businesses, and laying the groundwork for more democratic and just communities. Such projects would be natural ways to extend the values central to the Occupy movement, get more citizens involved, and pressure elected officials to do their parts. They might look less like protests, and more like other parts of the alternative economy now getting underway – consumer and worker cooperatives, barter networks and credit unions.

Two areas to explore for potential projects are energy use and the food system. Residential energy conservation retrofits still offer low hanging fruit. They reduce energy bills, reduce fuel use, reduce pollution and carbon emissions, improve health and can create vast numbers of weatherization jobs.   Unlike the rest of the NYC manufacturing sector, food production is steadily growing. The thriving local food movement and city officials are working together to create a regional food system, which can employ many more area residents in all phases of agriculture and food production.  

Projects that enable people to benefit from accelerating the renewable energy transition locally could appeal to broader audiences than the sustainability and social justice movements have activated so far.  We need to connect the dots between the many such projects already out there and the broader context of why they’re needed.  Sharing the stories of these projects widely will help them get replicated, and catalyze the creation of new projects.  With a world to be transformed, we’ve got all the motivation we need.

Read the full version of this article.

Please post your suggestions and comments below, or contact beyondoilnyc@yahoo.com.  


Full spectrum sustainability: bringing together the climate change and economic justice movements
Dan Miner, Beyond Oil NYC

A sustainable world that works for the 99% is possible, if we can respond to climate change, economic injustice and resource depletion at the same time. The transition to a renewable energy economy can be a valuable frame for that discussion.  Just as the financial elites brought about the economic crisis, they are blocking the renewable energy transition to reap more profit from their fossil fuel investments. Because of fuel depletion as well as climate change, further delay may prevent a successful transition. Social justice and sustainability advocates can blow the whistle on the 1% for this issue too, and collaborate to speed up the transition locally.   Read full article

Tags: Activism, Building Community, Electricity, Food, Fossil Fuels, Oil, Politics, Renewable Energy