Is BigWind creating tension between ‘environmentalists’ and ‘conservationists’?

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We have long argued that the only thing about renewable energy that is “green” is the money. If the press from the past few weeks is any indication, others are starting to wake up to the fact that green energy is not necessarily environmentally friendly. The article presented today present a fascinating picture of the march toward what could become a battle. As Pogo so famously put it “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Ironically, cartoonist Walter Kelly coined this phrase 46 years ago to help promote environmental awareness and publicize the first annual observance of Earth Day. Today we can employ the phrase to describe the fight brewing between “environmentalists” and “conservationists” and renewable energy…

I had no idea when I wrote the first sentence of the first article in this series that I would still be writing weeks later. Today’s installment—the last in the series—identifies some of the fissures I see forming in the advocacy community. That is, the group of dedicated renewable energy and environmental advocates whose commitment and diligence to the task of saving the world from itself has gotten us this far down the path to sustainability….

I know climate defender and renewable energy advocates that gag at the thought of nuclear, while others I have shared a meal with ardently believe it will prove impossible to prevent falling off the climate cliff without revanche to nuclear. As I have written before, environmental protections and renewable energy policies are not interchangeable policies.
What I am addressing today are fissures I see beyond what may be considered “normal” or anticipated divisions in the community. I can offer no better example than the current and past battle over renewable energy projects on public lands…
The most obvious fissure—or perhaps just the most ironic—is reflected in the calling of renewable energy developers “crony capitalists.” Oh, how far and fast we have come. Wasn’t it just a few days ago we were called “tree hugging environmentalists” by the very crony capitalists we are now accused of being?
The less apparent fissure in Bicknell’s characterization is the actionable divide that exists between environmentalists and conservationists and between big greens and little greens. Take for example the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert.
This large-scale, green-energy project splintered environmental groups. On the one side were large national organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council; on the other were smaller groups like the Wildlands Conservancy. The big’s threw their weight and support behind this industrial-scale solar installation on public land. The not-so big’s opposed it for its likely impact on wildlife habitat.
Before construction, [April] Sall’s of the Wildlands group publicly stated:
…the nation’s largest environmental organizations are scarcely voicing opposition. Their silence leaves the conservancy and a smattering of other small environmental organizations nearly alone in opposing energy development across 33,000 square miles of desert land.
Ironically, this very plant—backed by $1.5B in federal loans—is now in danger of being shut down because it is not producing the promised energy.
The growing division between the environmental and crony capitalistic renewable sectors and the divide between environmental and conservation groups do not define their relationships; although, they are disturbing. Neither are these the only fissures to be found.
In recent weeks an internal conflict between top AFL-CIO leaders and the leadership of seven of its building trades unions has arisen…
Leadership of the dissenting unions cast their opposition in the following terms:
We are not climate science deniers and have merely sought to ensure that the employment prospects of our members are not negatively impacted in any economic and energy transition.
The support of organized labor has proven a significant factor in the growth of renewable energy industry. Labor’s willingness to recognize climate change as a significant societal problem and renewable energy technologies as a source of investment and employment opportunities has served our industry well—particularly in politics. Isn’t it in the interests of these dissenting unions to support a transition to renewables? Of course it is.
So why the exception? Labor is frightened. Despite their acceptance of climate change and support of clean energy, much of labor sees in the plight of the coal miners a redundant future. No Keystone pipeline—no work. If there is work, e.g. with a solar company, they fear they will not be paid as well; many barely make ends meet as pipe fitters, plasterers and carpenters…
Blue collar workers fear the loss of identity; identities they worry will be lost to billionaire liberals who are change-makers. It is the draw of the demagogue.
Big versus little, rich versus poor, strong versus weak, conservationist versus environmentalist, solar versus wind, wind versus biomass, biomass versus environmentalist, science acceptor versus denier, state government versus federal—we are a global community divided….

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