Clean Energy Initiatives: A Personal Perspective

This guest blog post is by Ready for 100 volunteer Samuel Bean

A recent news item cited an unidentified (presumably local) source that has funded a reported quarter-million dollars worth of “dirty energy” measures. This group claims to support the wind and solar industries, but blatantly opposes CEJA (which will instate a 100 percent clean energy transition for Illinois by 2050).

This sort of thing is nothing new. Like imitators of celebrities on social media, state and local politics have often been rife with bait-and-switch campaigns playing second fiddle to their more legitimate counterparts. For instance, during an election in Dallas more than a decade ago that included an anti-toll road line item, voters were met with the following confusing slogan:

Vote NO Save The Trinity

Although the catchy signs bearing this slogan were decorated blue and green, the group behind them actually supported the toll road—which was a component of the Trinity Park Conservancy’s agenda that year. Though progressive in its outreach, the conservancy has historically supported a smattering of bridge-building projects. The Trinity Toll Road would have added a full six lanes of traffic (and resulting pollution) to the Trinity River’s eastern levee. “Vote Yes! Keep Their Toll Road Out of Our Park” was the phrase used by those who opposed the Toll Road, including my group, which was out there explaining the issue to voters (across the street literally from the “Vote NO” contingent).

Phrases like “clean coal” have been similarly misleading.  Fossil fuel industries are naturally unsustainable—relying on a finite body of sources that do more harm to the climate (and to public health) than good. Shifting a few of the standards surrounding the drilling and rigging processes a little closer to cleanliness doesn’t decrease the negative impact of fossil fuel use.  It just sanitizes the idea of it a little.

Unfortunately, misinformation in our culture is becoming all-too common.  I’ve often felt that the process of steadily decreasing our connections to coal, gas, and oil and increasing the ones we have to wind and solar is not well-understood to begin with. What’s more is that employment in the fossil fuel industries has been a way of life for a large swath of the population – one that seems to fear the loss of that element on pretty much all imaginable levels.

In my mind, this is the most crucial dilemma here—how to honor the varying sides of (any) initiative for legitimately cleaner energy. There is no easy answer for this.

During my junior year of high school, my history teacher discussed Ralph Nader’s anti-Corvair campaign as an example of how a social movement progresses from a need cited to a change affected. It’s easy to view this journey as linear—a slow climb from the bottom left-hand corner of the blackboard to the upper right-hand one.

A movement’s reality, my teacher confirmed, is actually not like that at all.  It zig-zags, spirals, loop-de-loops, and even nose-dives off the top of the board before returning to the bottom corner again and starting over.  Eventually, it does reach its goal. As far as CEJA’s goal is concerned, I’m seeing room for moving pieces like education, job training, incentives for workers changing industries, and the responsible dismantlement and/or refurbishment of nonoperative fossil plants as all being potential contributions—no matter how chaotically they would come into play.

Advocacy is not (nor ever will be) a slow ride through the woods. It’s marked with resistance, skepticism, setbacks, road blocks, shutdowns, and (yes) trickery—each of which demands a fresh strategy for surmounting.  Discerning facts from fiction is key—so is sharing your discernment strategy(ies) with concerned friends and neighbors. Perhaps there’s a story behind the fiction that’s worth examining too.