Power Drains and Climate Change

Houston    A head scratcher for me around climate change has always been the issue of how much energy we waste in the slips between the cup and the lip, so to speak.

Oil pipelines lose from 5 to 10% by some estimates in leakage from inadequate maintenance, breakdowns, and, for those following the issue in Mexico and Nigeria, criminal tapping of the lines for use and resell.  Transmission lines for electricity also lose an estimate of at least 5% of the total energy produced, and, believe me, if that’s what the industry is conceding, it’s likely higher.  Given the cost in expended natural resources throughout the supply and delivery system, this becomes incredibly damaging to the environment and expensive to the consumer and impacts entire economies.  Where infrastructure is older and more fraught, like India, the impacts multiply wildly, and in India coal is still a major factor in powering generation.

What I had missed somehow, while fingering my worry beads, is how much phantom or so-called vampire energy we lose in the normal course of the day in our home and work.  Reading Morality and the Environmental Crisis, a new book by Professor Roger Gottlieb, a professor at Worchester Polytechnic Institute, who I was interviewing on Wade’s World,  in making his case for “ecological democracy” and a different ethical approach to climate change, he cited a statistic on phantom energy.  He claimed the loss was more than 5% of generated capacity!  Jiminy Pete!

I looked it up.  This whole vampire thing is based on the amount of wattage being drained from various pieces of equipment while they are turned “off.” Turns out phone chargers, power strips, and computers along with televisions, cable boxes, and other pieces of equipment are sucking power steadily.  Multiplied by a number of devices over a year, it adds up significantly in terms of both your electricity bill and your environmentally footprint.  Using certified “energy smart” devices on things like power strips can make a difference.  I’ve sometimes seen the symbols, but never paid much attention, and I bet I’m not the only one.  Heck, I leave a ton of stuff constantly plugged in.  My bad!

So, sure we recycle what the city is willing to take, but the impact of all of our recycling might not make as much difference for the environment as much as just unplugging some stuff and making sure we’re being energy smart.  We learn something every day, and it’s never too late to change some tricks even for old dogs.

So that’s my excuse, late to the game, but waking up.  What’s the excuse for the industry, generators, producers, and delivers?  They have always known about the “leakage” and loss problem.  Why haven’t they fixed it, way before now?  And, if not now, when?


Finding the Organizing Handles for Climate Change at the Local Level

Baltimore    The crowd that gathered in the teachers’ union meeting hall in Towson, Maryland was old and young, current and former organizers with unions, ACORN, activist and well-traveled others, so watching “The Organizer” for them was in many parts a good spirited time with laughs and wisecracks at all the right moments.  The post-screening questions were a different and more sober and subdued affair.  These were veterans, hard cases who had been to the rodeo and had the scraps, scars, and broken bones to show for it.  They were worried about the arc of contemporary politics and the current organizational capacity on the ground and in the workplaces to meet it face to face.

The questions weren’t pattycake.  Was this a time of movement?  What had I learned that would protect other organizations from attack in the future?  How did I see 2020?

Larry Ginsburg, old comrade and friend from Local 100, ACORN, SEIU, and now the Teachers Association of Baltimore County (TABCO) who I had dragooned into organizing this event after he made the mistake a year ago of saying that he wanted to see the movie in the area, asked one of the closing questions about climate change.  Starting from the premise that climate was one of the dominant issues of our time and affected not only our legacy as organizers, but the future of our own children and future generations, Larry wanted to know what were our organizations doing to meet this challenge?

It’s an important question, and Larry is right to put it on the table.  In the same way we have to answer as organizers and, frankly, as people where did we stand and what did we do to help achieve civil rights or oppose war or bring justice to women and others, our work and lives may be also judged on what we did to try to meet the challenge of climate devastation.

My answer was less adequate now, than I hope it is in a year or two.  I responded that we were probing and pushing more environmental issues for consideration of our members for action and campaigns, especially about water.  At one level we were fighting over the quality of water.  Our union had led the fight to get water and fountains tested and replaced in schools in Houston and other cities where we worked.  Our affiliates had focused on the impact of lead in deteriorating water pipes in other areas.  Water in general has focused a lot of work.  In places like New Orleans where climate is a constant concern post-Katrina, ACORN’s affiliate, A Community Voice, is organizing around the creation of bioswales in some vacant lots to mitigate future flooding and of course the campaigning around levee and other flooding barriers is a constant endeavor.

Climate and our response had been an issue for discussion in our North American Year End Meeting as well as our recent meetings of our European and other organizers.  We don’t think we have found the handles and developed the campaign infrastructure that addresses climate change as the first level threat that concerns organizers like Larry.  We’re debating among ourselves, and we’re searching, but we haven’t found the right mix of issues and targets that allows our members to feel that this issue is truly theirs and at the core of their lives with the same immediacy and effectiveness that others issues have.  We don’t believe we’re engaging this eye to eye at the level it demands.  We’re searching for a way to have this campaign move our members deeply and trigger action.

We’d love to buy a clue, so if others are ahead of us, point the way for us to follow.  We’re happy not to lead, but we want to offer our members at every level a way they can find a place in the fight.