Energy | September 26, 2008 |
Gore Encourages Civil Disobedience Against Coal
While I admire the sentiment at the root of this call to arms, I’m wondering if it won’t prove to be more of a divisive force among the people pushing the shift toward sustainable businesses and activities. Up to this point, the public image of the newer sustainability movement has had a distinctly separate tone than the environmental movement of years past.
Although for many, the term “environmentalism” conjures up images of hippies, the people most associated with reducing their carbon footprint, or offsetting the impact of their Ford Excursion are generally portrayed as affluent, successful Americans, the sort of consumerists many “old” environmentalists—Edward Abbey, for example—decried in their work.
While these “new” environmentalists may have all the passion of those who strove to protect the planet in decades past, they also have a lot more to lose. Chaining oneself to heavy equipment at a coal plant construction site could have a tremendous impact on a current career and future job prospects, especially with the massive proliferation of cameras and access to information in today’s society. Furthermore, a desire for many young people to dissociate themselves with the “treehugger” image associated with past acts of environmental civil disobedience might further reduce response.
Most of all, I think that civil disobedience in this case will have little impact on effecting change. From the Salt March to Dandi to sit-ins in at segregated lunch counters in the American South, the most successful acts of civil disobedience have always presented a larger economic challenge. Illegal salt-making cut British revenues, and a sit-ins hurt businesses. But short of outright property destruction—which I doubt is what Al Gore has in mind—protests will do little to stop the construction of new plants.
Instead, Americans concerned about coal plants can do what they should—and perhaps have—been doing all along: reducing their consumption of energy. Less demand on the electrical grid severely undermines the arguments that renewable energy sources can’t provide enough power to fuel America’s needs, and reduced demand drops the price of energy in deregulated markets, limiting profits for utility companies that ignore consumer demand for clean power.
So while a bold call, I think civil disobedience in pressuring industry toward more sustainable practices will provide as much division as motivation among clean energy advocates, and in the end, prove fairly ineffective in slowing harmful climate change.
Photo by Flickr user Simone Brunozzi