In a new paper, “Green Electricity or Green Money? Why some environmental groups hamper clean energy,” the National Institute for Science, Law & Public Policy seeks to foster dialogue about possible impediments to courageous leadership by environmental organizations.
Excerpts from a new paper by Timothy Schoechle, PhD:
Why do some of our largest environmental organizations increasingly collaborate with the fossil fuel industries to obstruct, mislead, or divert efforts to revamp our energy economy? Some of the biggest environmental groups are doing exactly that. They seem to be taking on the growing role of “Judas goat” for the oil and gas and electricity industries by misleading other environmentalists into compromises or concessions. Why is this happening? What are the implications?
This article examines two of the three largest environmental organizations, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and offers specific cases where they appear to have lost their way and are failing us when we need them most. These cases show the pitfalls of the compromises and accommodations that many environmentalists have made in order to raise money and support their organizational growth as well as their political and other goals. They also show that true leadership and change can only spring from the people and not from governments and entrenched institutions.
The case below of the EDF looks at its vigorous advocacy of “smart meters”, devices that have been shown to have dubious energy merits and serious environmental, privacy, and public policy drawbacks. The promotion of smart meters has diverted massive financial resources in directions tangential to the goals of a truly intelligent electricity grid and integration of community-based clean energy, and has fed public cynicism about the “smart grid” — the last thing one would expect a leading environmental organization to do. The case also looks at EDF’s role in fostering the deceptive siren call of the supposedly “green” energy investment mirage by venture capitalists, financiers, and government.
Americans needs to look carefully at environmentalism today to make certain those in leadership positions in this field are reflecting their values, and are, in fact, achieving the desired goals.
In failing to understand, or ignoring the grassroots public pushback against smart meters, Krupp, Marston, and their EDF, as well as the NRDC, have again lost touch with their public and its concerns. The rebellion against smart meters, having spread to many states as well as to Canada, Australia, Europe, and the UK, may be really only one symptom of a broadly dysfunctional, entrenched, institutionalized, and polluting electricity and energy economy that EDF and NRDC are abetting. The shortcomings and failures of state and federal electricity policy exemplified by the preoccupation with smart meters has been extensively documented (Schoechle, 2012).
A recurring pattern has emerged. An exclusive club of supposedly “green” investors get the government to put up big money to lever their self-serving “green” technology ideas. These deals suck up all the oxygen and the smaller, possibly more promising, entrepreneurial projects don’t get funded. Marston and Krupp seem to be insiders in this club, pushing ill-considered “green” ideas like smart meters so that their cohorts, like Doerr and Gore, can benefit.
A lesson that can be learned from the EDF and NRDC experience concerns the potential pitfalls of “career environmentalism” — environmentalism as a business rather than as a cause. What were the leadership at these organizations thinking? Have they lost sight of their founding purposes and roots? It may indeed be necessary to work with governments and corporations to hammer out agreements, legislation, and joint projects and many of these may require compromise and accommodation. However, such work must be undertaken from a position of strength. That position of strength can only be derived from the support of the public and their politics; and the roots of political legitimacy lie in the local community. Political power is a “bottom-up” process. Local organizing must, once again, be the starting point and source of the political power of environmental movements. This is where EDF and NRDC have lost their way—and perhaps their legitimacy.
Without a community basis of political power, the environmental organization can lapse into the role of selling their “legitimacy” by signing on to or “blessing” polluting, heavily compromised, or counterproductive corporate or government projects — similar to the medieval church practice of selling “indulgences” to sinners. They can also come to serve as industry’s “Judas goat” leading the other environmentalists into the “slaughter” of compromise and capitulation. This kind of dependency relationship also accounts for the phenomenon of “regulatory capture” whereby regulators (e.g., state Public Utility Commissions) tend over time to serve the interests of the entities they regulate, or their own interests, rather than the interests of the public.
The grassroots rebellion against smart meters is indeed taking place and although it may have originated by specific concerns over unnecessary radiation, it may be symptomatic of a much larger problem. For example, the personal data privacy issues around meters have only begun to be recognized and could grow dramatically in the context of emerging revelations about a growing “security state” and flagrant government and corporate spying and lying. … We have the necessary ingredients for change, including the passion of citizens expressing their values from which the large environmental groups today appear to have disconnected.
There is abundant evidence that [changing the energy economy] will not come from corporations and non-profits heavily invested in existing practices — nor will it come from governments and politicians, and regulators heavily compromised and committed to the existing order. It will likely be left to the people to reinvent the electricity system largely through bottom up community initiatives and disruptive technologies — motivated by the desire for a clean energy future, control of energy costs, economic growth, and local control of environmental health.
Therein may be found many possibilities for a renewed role for environmental organizations, if they can get back to the people. EDF and NRDC can begin by listening more closely to their critics at the local level and by better understanding the technologies they are promoting — and then by re-considering their energy policy recommendations and cleaning up their conflicts of interest. Otherwise, opportunities to have a positive impact will continue to pass them by.
For the complete article, refer to: http://gettingsmarteraboutthesmartgrid.org/green_electricity_or_green_money
Media Advisory at: http://gettingsmarteraboutthesmartgrid.org/green_electricity_press_release
Green Electricity or Green Money_11-3-14 (PDF Document – 28 pages)