July 3, 2013

Repaving the Road to a Sustainable, Just Energy Future

One of my proudest moments as an organizer was three years ago when I marched alongside hundreds of young activists and community members through downtown Pittsburgh ­ to rally outside the David Lawrence Convention Center where Karl Rove was telling the nation’s top gas industry representatives that “climate is gone…I don’t think you need to worry.”

Karl should have been shaking in his boots on that podium because, a few days later, the City of Pittsburgh made history when city council passed a resolution to prohibit drilling for natural gas using hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) within city limits. It was the first local ordinance of its kind in the country, and there have been many more since. Pittsburgh’s government leaders understood the risks that unconventional extraction of natural gas from deep shale can pose to air quality, clean water, and public health; and they acted in the best interest of their constituents.

It would have been easy to take off my organizer hat and say to those who marched with me, “we’ve paved the road for a just energy future, and now we can enjoy the ride”. Yet, a few weeks later I took a trip just beyond Pittsburgh city limits to visit a family whose well water had been contaminated by unconventional gas drilling. I will never forget looking in the tank of their toilet, which didn’t use the expensive clean water from a massive cistern in their garage, and seeing the cloudy soup coming from their well that had practically ruined the pipes and stained the white porcelain orange with corrosion. They told me about the putrid smells which occasionally belched from the well pads and processing stations near their house, and how they feared what the odors could be doing to their bodies. Of course, they couldn’t move away because their dream house was practically worthless on the market.

There were potholes in our seemingly smooth road. I returned to my friends in Pittsburgh, sounded the alarm that all was not well, and we turned up the heat on the gas industry that has kept them shaking in their boots ever since.

As with any struggle for massive social change, the broader movement beyond dirty fossil fuels to legitimate clean energy solutions has been riddled with obstacles too. I am thrilled with the road that Obama paved for transitioning America to a clean energy future last Tuesday in his speech, but it’s not perfect. There are many pot holes on his road, and the continued reliance on natural gas proposed by the president is more like a sink hole. It will swallow us if not mended before we are underway. We are learning that the impacts of developing natural gas extend beyond the disastrous effects of the extraction process. This low-carbon fuel can contribute significantly to climate change, and a warming planet affects us all.

We are all in this together. Pittsburgh is not known for mending pot holes with expedience, but I think there’s hope if we join forces with over 10,000 powerful young organizers from across the country. I look forward to walking out the Convention Center’s open doors on October 21st with thousands of young, freshly trained and motivated organizers and taking our movement to the next level. We succeeded in proving that Karl Rove and his industry buddies have every reason to worry, and now it’s time to finish what we started by paving a road of our own to the right side of history -- the side where we produce and use energy responsibly without dirty fossil fuels like natural gas.

Will you join me?

Join the push back against fracking in President Obama's climate plan: http://www.wearepowershift.org/nofracking