This is international Blog Action Day and the theme, the Power of We, is especially applicable to environmental action and sustainability. The idea of a “power” in mathematics means that you increase something’s value – but exponentially. So, for example, 33, is not just three times three, but it is three times three, three times. 3 x 3 = 9 x 3 = 27.
That’s, in a very real sense, what you get with environmental action. If, for instance, there is a growing global recognition that burning coal is not only wreaking havoc on the climate system but is contributing to significant economic loss and extraordinarily dire health impacts, then people get motivated to act. But multiply that motivation and that action by hundreds of local groups all around the world fighting against coal plants and the despicable practice of mountaintop-removal mining and other insults, then you get results. The Sierra Club’s successful Beyond Coal campaign has leveraged the lobbying and legal expertise of the Sierra Club with the on-the-ground work of scores of community-based organizations. Beyond Coal has helped block or retire hundreds of coal plants in the US. But the power of the campaign lies in the synergy of the groups that are involved with the Sierra Club, not to mention the other key environmental groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council. Then, add in the multiplying effect of the regulatory authority of the Obama EPA, applying the law as they are charged to do, and you really start hitting them out of the park.
Here’s another illustration: environmental groups in the American Northwest have been opposing new coal ports in their region. As coal use declines in the US, Big Coal wants to send its Powder River Basin product to Asia. There are local opponents throughout the Northwest and their voices are now being amplified by those of the many indigenous nations there. As the NY Times reported the other day: Tribes Add Potent Voice Against Plan for Northwest Coal Terminals. These tribes have juice! “The cultural claims and treaty rights that tribes can wield — older and materially different, Indian law experts say, than any argument that the Sierra Club or its allies might muster about federal air quality rules or environmental review — add a complicated plank of discussion that courts and regulators have found hard to ignore.” That, my friends, is the power of we.
Power Past Coal is “an ever-growing alliance of health, environmental, clean-energy, faith and community groups working to stop coal export off the West Coast.” This campaign is but one more example of how effectively the environmental and sustainability movements have employed coalitions, community action, legal intervention, legislative and regulatory focus, and just plain old people power to effect massive change. We’ve been doing it for decades and we’re not going away.
See this excellent short video on the fight against the coal ports.