Moving the global economy away from fossil fuels is the biggest undertaking in human history. The urgency and scale of that imperative has compelled journalists to cross the line into direct political action. How can reporting on energy, presented as opportunity or catastrophic risk, compete against grumpy cat memes and economic woes? Is there a secret to breaking through the flood of information to make a meaningful impression on the public?
While working as a staffer on Capital Hill to impact public policy,Antonia Juhasz, author of Black Tide and Investigative Journalism Fellow at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, witnessed “the incredible power of the fossil fuel industry.” She decided that she could be more effective if she left Capital Hill and worked on research, writing and advocating against big oil.
Juhasz spoke of the “social environmental system,” of the past, “which used to, back in the day, be known as regulation.” Today, she said, many are shocked to learn that we’ve given the fossil fuel industry a free hand regarding where they can operate, under what conditions, and the impacts of their activities. There used to be pushback. “But that pushback doesn’t exist any more,” she said, and, pointing to the Bush administration, added, “that was by design.”
Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and author ofEaarth: Making A Life on a Tough New Planet, spoke of the amount of money the oil industry spends lobbying on Capital Hill, “corrupting the system.” They create their own incentives and structures. “This is the only industry on earth that’s allowed to throw out its waste for free,” he said, “and that’s why they’re the richest industry on earth.” In order to protect their position, they spend more than anybody in DC and a lot of other capitals. “Until we face up to that, the incentives and structures will remain the same and so will the outcome.”
He spoke of a growing divestment campaign. On some 340 colleges campuses today, he said, students are making the case that “good people should not be in bed with bad companies, that their future, their education, can’t be paid for by investing in companies whose business plan guarantees there’ll be no planet to carry that education out on.” While this won’t bankrupt the oil companies, he said “we’ll start morally bankrupting them.” He also spoke of Germany’s focus on renewable energy. “The scariest thing the oil industry can hear is that there were days last summer when Germany generated half the power it used from solar panels within its borders.”
How do we move away from oil? According to Juhasz, “One of the best ways to make that happen is to open this door to the fact that we actually can limit where the industry gets to work while we invest much more heavily in the meaningful alternatives.” She sees public transportation as of greatest importance. Referring to the Keystone Pipeline, McKibben spoke of the need to wean ourselves from big oil.