America Needs a 12-Step Program
By Kari Fulton
May 20, 2009 - 12:18pm ET
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It is a Monday morning in Washington, D.C. and the children of River Terrace Elementary are walking past carry-outs, liquor stores, traffic, and plumes of smoke from the Benning Road Peaking Power Plant dancing in the sky. The dance ends with a sprinkle of pellets of chemical warfare falling onto the community below. Scientists at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry call it "particulate matter" and it has been linked to the area's high rates of asthma, bronchitis and cancer .
A few states away, at Marsh Fork Elementary in West Virginia, little children are also filing into class, smack dab in the middle of coal country. Sludge fills their drinking water, so they are told not to drink it. Sometimes they cannot even go out to play, because the cracks in the playground are oozing out toxic coal sludge. Why?
Why are these children and so many more people around the world suffering from cancer, disease, chemical warfare, increased violence and economic instability? All for the sake of fossil fuels. Brittanica Encyclopedia defines fossil fuels as, "any of a class of materials of biologic origin occurring within the Earth's crust that can be used as a source of energy. Fossil fuels include coal, petroleum, and natural gas. They all contain carbon, and were formed as a result of geologic processes acting on the remains of (mostly) plants and animals that lived and died hundreds of millions of years ago." This ancient source supplies 90 percent of all the energy used by industrially developed nations. It turns on our lights, heats our stoves, fuels our cars.
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For almost a century, scientists have been developing technology to make us less reliant on fossil fuels. In 1910, American Engineer Frank Schuman built one of the first practical industrial scale solar plant, at Meadi, Egypt. Schuman proclaimed enthusiastically, "Sun power is now a fact and no longer in the 'beautiful possibility' stage... It will have a history like aerial navigation. Up to twelve years ago it was a mere possibility and no one took it seriously."
Unfortunately Schuman's innovative technology and his solar powered predecessors have been placed on the back burner, as world economies lean toward less expensive, but more dangerous fossil fuel. This dependence on fossil fuels has become a monkey on our back that we cannot seem to shake. Almost 100 years later, we are still facing the threats of oil shortages and struggling with an addiction to this dangerous, life threatening commodity. But why?
Why. Because the fossil fuel industry is so addicted to the profits from controlling the masses with oil and coal, that they even have the audacity to call it "clean".
Please, don't believe the hype. Ain't no such thing as clean coal. Ask the parents of the children at Marsh Fork Elementary, who live in the Appalachian mountains, and work in the coal mines blowing up mountaintops to gather up coal.
Thedirtylie.com, found that in the past twenty years, "mountaintop removal has obliterated an estimated 470 mountains in Appalachia, crushing 1 million acres of the world’s most productive and diverse temperate hardwood forests and smothering 1,200 miles of streams. At the current pace, the coal industry will have decimated a piece of Appalachia the size of Delaware - more than 1.4 million acres — by the end of the next decade."
The falling rock from mountaintop removal tumbles and hits the homes of the Appalachian people below. With one stroke, seven, nine, ten generations of memory falls to pieces. The rock breaks the homes, but the work breaks the soul.
In Nigeria, the quest and acquisition of fossil fuels has also lead to oil related violence. A 2004 Fact Finding Report by the Human Rights Watch, “Rivers and Blood: Guns, Oil and Power in Nigeria’s Rivers State,” found companies like Shell have taken over indigenous land and partnered with corrupt politicians to maintain control over oil markets and Nigeria's government. Since late 2003, the running fight for control of these villages and towns has resulted in the deaths of dozens of local people and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes. Schools and businesses have closed. Homes and property worth millions of dollars has been destroyed. Hundreds of mostly young male fighters have also been killed. The violence has created a profound climate of fear and insecurity in Rivers State, leaving local people reluctant to return to their homes or to seek justice for the crimes committed. Although it is dangerous, the people work in the mines because that is all they know. They are now addicted too, but crying for a twelve step program.
Please America, check-in to rehab from fossil fuels. Please America, go into rehab for our souls. We are watching the earth die, not realizing that the same things that are killing our planet are the same thing that are killing us too.Greenhouse gases are the number one cause for climate change around the world. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that over half of the greenhouse gas emissions from United States come from power plants like the Benning Road Peaking Plant, in the River Terrace Community, in Washington, DC. Another third comes from transportation and the exhaust that comes from automobiles fueled with oil from oil refineries like the ones in Nigeria's River State. As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions, our energy usage is causing the world to heat up with vengeance.
This addiction is worse than any drug, and runss so deep that most of us don't even realize we are fiends; from petrolatum jelly vaseline to cars that run on gasoline, to month after month of making ends meet to pay a light bill, or heating bill — while Mother Earth continues to be pimped for our comfort and satisfaction.
But can you really blame the people when you have fossil fueled fiends running our markets and our country? They introduced us to the good stuff and said we had to have it to succeed; to run that red-hot corvette and thaa private jet is what will really make you feel free. Unfortunately, this type of "freedom" doesn't come to many. So most people in the world are just reading the advertisement and breathing the fumes from car exhausts and jet fuels. Particulate matter slowly falling is inhaled, causing yet another child to miss a day of school. The doctor will say it's just another asthma attack.
There is another way to freedom. Today, more and more countries are revisiting the work of engineers like Frank Schuman who saw renewable energy such as wind and solar as more than just a "beautiful possibility". As an activist in the Youth Climate Movement and organizer with the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, I've had the honor to work with amazing leaders from around the world, all working together to spark a truly clean and just energy revolution that creates healthy and sustainable jobs, preserves our planet and frees millions of people around the world from addiction to fossil fuels.
In 2007 the Energy Action Coalition, which is made up of 50 organizations, including EJCC, came together to host the first ever youth summit on the Climate Crisis. The event gathered together over 6,000 young people from the U.S. and Canada. With Power Shift 2007, we held the largest lobby day on climate in U.S. history. Power Shift 2007 engaged a nation and helped to make climate change and renewable energy a major topic in state and national elections.
In January of 2009 the Energy Action Coalition came together once again within the first 100 days of President Barack Obama's term for Power Shift 2009. Through Power Shift 2009, we gathered 12,000 young people from around the U.S. and the world, all in solidarity for a truly just renewable energy economy. We gained the attention of our local senators and congress people by storming the halls of Capitol Hill, wearing green hard hats symbolizing a unified call for more green jobs and investment in a new green economy.
With a new administration, the voices of the Youth Climate Movement and the calls from the grassroots advocacy of communities living near the coal fields, power plants and oil refineries are finally starting to be heard. On March 24, 2009 the Environmental Protection Agency announced it will suspend and review permits for two mountaintop removal coal mining operations — and putting hundreds more mountaintop coal-mining permits on hold until it can evaluate their impact on our nation’s streams and wetlands. On April 17th, the agency announced its findings from a 2007 Supreme Court Ordered report and found that greenhouse gases are a serious threat to public health and welfare. With a sense of hope for the future, EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson announced, “This finding confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations....This pollution problem has a solution – one that will create millions of green jobs and end our country’s dependence on foreign oil.”
Within the first 100 days of the Obama Administration, the United States has taken the first steps in a twelve step process to end our addiction to fossil fuels. We have acknowledged that we have a problem and it is directly connected to the fossil fuels we consume. If we want to live free, if we want to continue living in our perceived luxuries, we must take a moment to reduce our waste, reduce our pace of energy consumption, and thinkt.
Today is the time to make a decision. Just like the workers in the coal mines of West Virginia, we are reaching our rock bottom and it is time for an intervention and introduction to a twelve step program to end this addiction to fossil fuels. By reviewing the twelve step program developed in 1935 by Alcoholics Anonymous founders Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, I have created 12 steps the United States and the American people must take to alleviate this addiction and truly reach Eco-freedom and Environmental Justice.
Step 1. Admitting we have a problem, and that the United States is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases that are causing climate change. We are dependent on unhealthy and unstable fossil fuels, and are playing a role in the destruction of ourselves, others and the planet.
Step 2. Start to believe there is a power higher than ourselves. For whatever reason, that higher power allowed us to live on this planet. We must give thanks by tending to this planet as the planet has tended to us.
Step 3. Make a decision to embrace the "WE" mentality instead of the "ME" mentality. The world is more that one person. At this stage, we begin to live our lives with conscious respect for the planet and all beings inhabiting this world.
Step 4. Take a soul searching and fearless inventory of our personal practices, and the social circumstances that have allowed this addiction to fossil fuels to run our lives.
Step 5. Continue our soul searching quest, and publicly admit to ourselves, Mother Earth, and the world the exact wrongs we have done to the earth and to our bodies through this addiction to fossil fuels.
Step 6. Be entirely ready to transition off of fossil fuels and unsustainable habits, purchases and practices.
Step 7. Work together to create a grassroots and mainstream culture of support in removing our countries over materialistic and consumerist shortcomings that allow this addiction to fossil fuels to grow larger as a threat to our planet and our humanity. Humbly ask and listen for guidance and support from Mother Nature and the international greater good.
Step 8. Making a list of people countries and environments we have harmed and be willing to make amends to them all. This will be quite a feat for United States, or almost any developed nation, to accomplish. However, in our own lives we can begin by making a list of environmental hazards in our communities or in communities that may receive the waste from our community.and pledging to advocate for land remediation and support with environmental justice concerns.
Step 9. Making direct amends to the communities, countries and environments that we have harmed due to our addiction to fossil fuels, except when to do so would injure them or others. While we must make amends for our wrongs, we must listen to the needs of people we have wronged first, and make sure they even want our help. We can make direct amends to the earth and to communities impacted by our environment by giving back through tree planting, advocacy work, fundraising support for local grassroots actions and clean-up/service projects to restore our communities and our environment.
Step 10. Continuing taking personal inventory and not be afraid to admit when we are wrong. As a world leader, America must shred an misconceived image of superiority. This image has helped greatly in allowing us to fall into one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression. At this step we won't allow our pride to keep us from saving people and the planet.
Step 11. Staying connected and in tune with a higher power, grassroots community efforts and to the mission of our country that is expressed in the constitution. Through a process of deep thought and research making sure that we realize who we truly are in this world and in this universe. Becoming more aware of the deeper role America can play in protecting our environment and reducing the threat of drastic climate change.
Step 12. At this point our country will have experienced such a dramatic sociological and cultural shift that if asked we could truly work with other countries like China, India and Europe as we all overcome our addiction to fossil fuels.
However in order to reach step twelve, we must all take step one.
The Environmental Protection Agency, grassroots environmental advocates and everyday people around the world have started taking the first steps towards Eco-freedom. We are gathering together to make sure our country makes the first step as well. This year, 2009, is a critical turning point in our future. Major legislation on climate change is being debated on the floors of Capitol Hill, and in December, leaders of industrialized nations around the world will come together in Copenhagen, Denmark for the 15th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference.
For 8 years the world has been waiting for the U.S. to make a statement. This year will be the first time the Obama administration will be a part of the negotiations, and it is the hope of the world that the U.S. will take a lead in addressing global climate change by making true steps to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. The decisions we make today will decide the future of our children and generations to come. It's time to listen to seven generations from today. It's time to drop the fossil fuel habit and start creating the beautiful reality of a renewable energy economy that is based on justice, human rights and sustainability!
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Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future