The Gathering Storm

An emergency is “a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action”.  On a military vessel the response to an emergency is “all hands on deck”.  In a climate emergency, we and our communities are the hands.

 Our local City Council just declared a “climate emergency” and approved a resolution to act and advocate for action.  No money was appropriated, no programs launched, and no next steps identified.  Still, using the right terminology to talk about the situation is a very important step.  I took it a year and a half ago in a blog entitled, you guessed it, The Climate Emergency.    

Winston Churchill wrote histories from the perspective of a participant.  One of his histories, The Gathering Storm, chronicled Germany’s re-armament after World War I.  Before being appointed Prime Minister, Churchill spent a decade in what he called “the wilderness”, out of office but still vigorously lobbying for his country to prepare for future German aggression.  To hold office in the UK during Churchill’s wilderness years required agreement or acquiescence to a policy that eventually emphasized “appeasement”.  When the policy had clearly failed, Churchill was invited to take charge.  

He changed the national conversation.  He offered his country “blood, sweat and tears”.  In other words, sacrifice by all for what his fellow citizens held dear.  A former head of the British navy, he saw all citizens, as well as private and public sector capacities, as hands needed on deck.  No exceptions.  Some politicians continued to look for an easy way out, while he rallied the people.  The people responded, enthusiastically, even gratefully, to his call to pitch in. Had they not, all would have been lost. 

Perhaps this bit of history has something to teach us.  Aware of what lies ahead, California and some states, Germany and some countries, plus some large cities around the world, are not just setting goals but also making plans and monitoring progress.  

What about the people?  What about communities?  Churchill’s father was a politician.  His personal mantra was “Trust the People”.  Churchill embraced it.  His call was for sacrifice, of time, treasure, talent and, not least, of fathers’, sons’ and brothers’ lives.  It didn’t scare people.  It resonated.  Life worth living was at stake.  The “everyday heroes” stood up.   

Everyday heroes are also standing up to climate change.  California, for example, is close to achieving a long-forgotten goal of a “million solar roofs”.  Forgotten by politicians, but not by people. Nearly a million decisions in the past few years to take matters in hand, leading by example, while others remain entirely free to follow, do less, or do nothing. 

People.  Some can advocate.  Some can act.  Some can make action and advocacy possible and more effective.  Walking the talk knows no rigid distinctions.  Speaking to a politician about climate change is an action.  Putting up a solar array is action that quietly, but influentially, advocates.

Our country was born in revolution.  Thomas Paine’s words apply once more.  “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” 

Everyone can pitch in in some way.  Once they do one small thing, they will do something bolder and bigger, and then their neighbors will notice, and so on.  Outsourcing the matter to people who want to speak for us and think for us and decide for us won’t work. Never has. We all matter. Our capacity to solve problems is in our diversity and willingness to do our part while encouraging others to do theirs. 

Let our political institutions follow if they are not leading.  But especially, let them get out of the way if they are doing neither.  Reducing greenhouse emissions and making our communities more resilient is our task, individually if necessary, in community if possible, and with higher levels of government removing stumbling blocks if they can.  Indeed, they must.  It will be their best contribution. 

Stumbling blocks have been placed in our path by politically powerful companies and their legislative clients.  Energy monopolies naturally wanted us to continue to rely exclusively on them.  No doubt they meant well.  Aiming to protect a business model that had served the public very well.  Thinking to keep hard-to-manage change from happening. 

It’s time to clear the path.  The path is down Main Street.  Let community solar projects be built and their output made available to families and businesses in the community.  Without adding grid usage charges based on ideology rather than actual cost.  Let microgrids financed by Main Street exchange energy with more extensive energy grids owned and financed by Wall Street.  Let families and businesses choose zero emissions vehicles.  Let communities and vehicle owners find ways of fueling them using local resources.  Let families and businesses reduce their energy use and decide what size solar array to invest in.  And even produce more electricity than they use and be paid a fair price for it.  Let our energy regulators focus on making sure local grids can accommodate locally produced carbon-free energy without limit.  At least until a substantial share of the community’s usage is matched by local supply.

What is the best mix of locally generated and imported energy from the perspectives of cost and resilience?  The answer will be different for every community.  Should we wait for the long-promised “smart electricity grid”?  Or should our counties and cities take up the task of making local infrastructure not only smart but technically and economically well-integrated?  If so, they will be wise to collaborate with incumbent energy utilities.  And with local families and businesses as well.

Are we advocates, dreamers, or doers?  Let’s hope all the above.  The storm has gathered.  It’s time to listen to the people.    

Gerry Braun

Integrated Resources Network