Why Cleantech Should Join the Fight Against Tar Sands

Why Cleantech Should Join the Fight Against Tar Sands

A lot of people in our country earn their living in the clean economy -- 2.7 million, according to a recent Brookings Institution study. They are working in wind, solar and bio-fuel; in smart power grids; in green materials, buildings and products; in green residential, commercial and industrial services; in electric vehicles; and in other promising areas. Others are providing related legal and financial services and scientific research. A great many of you work in manufacturing.

We want to tell you about a political action that we are planning for the end of the summer. It is against a proposed pipeline that would bring oil from the Alberta, Canada tar sands into the country for processing.

What we are planning is civil disobedience, the broadest in the history of climate activism. We believe you in the clean economy will be motivated professionally and morally to support and even join us.

Before talking about the tar sands, or about the civil disobedience itself (at the White House, daily from August 20th through September 3rd), we want to touch on the opponent common to the clean economy and those of us focused specifically on the fight to contain and reverse climate change. We also want to touch on our common purpose.

Our common opponent is, of course, fossil energy interests. Led by the likes of the Koch brothers, and oil and coal companies, it fights the clean economy in every theater: on efficiency (think of the stonewalled "Cash for Caulkers" bill, proposed by John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins), on renewables, on offshore wind, on empowering the EPA, on... well, look, or have your policy people look, and there they'll be.

In 2010, their big win was the annihilation of President Obama's energy legislation. This bill, The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, if you recall, had been a sign of hope to the clean economy for two reasons.

First, it proposed to put a price on CO2 emissions. This would have changed a game the clean economy plays in but can't win, because the dice are loaded. The social costs of coal and oil are not part of the product costs. We pay a hidden bill for CO2 emissions in military costs and health care costs, among other budget areas, but the direct products -- gas at the pump, electricity from coal -- remain relatively affordable.

The "clean" in clean economy is what has to play with fair dice. A cleaner product or service costs more to develop, and until volume deployment cuts costs, it costs more to buy. Yet fossil interests relentlessly oppose pricing CO2.

Secondly, the 2009 energy bill also would have provided, if not national standards, at least greater support for efficiency and renewables. Fossil energy interests, which simply want to sell as much oil and coal as they can, as fast as they can, wherever they can, led the successful fight to kill these proposals, too.

It is so far a glum story to present, and one that has touched the clean economy through layoffs, lowered forecasts, and reduced investments (with venture funding down nearly 50 percent from 2010). Just ask any trade group to contrast where their sector is versus where it could be.

Yet there are signs of hope and common purpose, and of the Tar Sands action being a catalyst. A number of large, politically adept industries that work in the clean economy should see it in their self interest to oppose the Tar Sands pipeline.

The specifics of the Alberta tar sands issue are that, later this year, President Obama will decide whether to grant a permit for a pipeline running from them to Texas refineries. These tar sands hold the world's second biggest pool of CO2 after Saudi Arabia.

The oil they contain is far harder to extract than the Saudi oil, with the result that CO2 costs per barrel of oil are three times higher. If we tap substantially into the tar sands, says the noted NASA climatologist Jim Hansen, "it's essentially game over for the climate."

The fossil energy-financed lobbying on this issue is, of course, enormous. The same political forces that have been pinning down industry trade associations and citizen advocacy groups in state, regional and national battles around efficiency, renewables and CO2 pricing are going for a big win on this pipeline.

Once the big investments are made and the junk has its market, well, fait accompli. The price at the pump is kept low, for another half-decade, anyway, and then forget about investments in electric cars, or in infrastructure to power transportation with renewable energy.

Who, at a business level, should want to fight this? We think, first, that the power utility industry should, and this is very important. Until recently, it saw its interests aligned with fossil energy, but its strategy has been shifting, and it knows a move in transportation from fossil fuel to clean electricity would increase its business 50 percent.

We also think high tech industries will want to fight. From providing sensors to semiconductors to data networks to social networks, they are full tilt in the clean economy and very often shaping the innovations. Yet they expect fact-driven business environments, which enable planning. And developing the tar sands without accounting for CO2 is about idiocy and influence, not, surely, about facts.

Put all this together, add the many clean energy-specific industries like wind, solar and energy storage, and you have the global clean economy, potentially the biggest business ever. But fossil energy interests see their fight clearly. Support by the clean economy for the Tar Sands Action will show that it sees this fight clearly, as well.

There is, finally, a moral case to be made, and the one we think suits people in the clean economy has a special twist. You have the education to take climate change seriously, to meet it with worry, a call for action, even fear. But you also know, better than most, that we are fighting against time. We have at most a few decades to achieve a re-industrial program, of a size never before attempted. We don't know if time lost now can be made up.

Please join us or support us at the White House. Find out how at TarSandsAction.org

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