Wisconsin utility WE Energies recently proposed a hike in electricity rates on consumers, singling out residents who have opted to generate their own electricity through solar panels. The extra charge on residents who sell their excess power back to the grid has incited outrage at local and national levels. The utility claims the charges will cover the operating costs to the grid for customers with solar panels who aren’t paying the traditional rates, but all of the evidence surrounding the proposal suggests that this plan is little more than a reactionary measure from a company whose business model is in serious trouble.
The proposal would raise the fixed charge on all residents’ power bills from $9 to $16 per month, and impose an additional fee for those who sell their excess electricity back to the utility through a policy known as “net metering.” A Wisconsin solar installer stated, “The demand charge of $3.80 per kilowatt (kW) per month works out to about $220 per year for a 5 kW system, a deterrent for potential solar customers and an unfair penalty for those who have already chosen to go solar.”
A spokesperson for WE Energies said the company is seeking modest increases for the purpose of improving and modernizing their grid and complying with environmental standards. The company believes that it is unfair for those who generate their own electricity to use the grid without paying the same portion of the costs to maintain it as those without rooftop panels. In addition to this “demand charge,” the utility wanted to purchase excess power back from generators at a lower price than they currently pay. Punishing customers for installing rooftop panels and generating more power than they use is a big step in the opposite direction of a clean-energy future.
Homes with rooftop solar panels compose only a fraction of a percent (<1%) of WE Energies’ customer base, yet all of its customers would bear the burden of the rate increases. This raises serious questions about the legitimacy of the utility’s claims that energy generated from solar is eating away at their operating budget. Currently, WE Energies’ customers pay the second highest rates in the state of Wisconsin. Prices have increased 51% since 2005, and the utility’s parent company is currently in the process of a multi-billion dollar acquisition of another Chicago-based company. The evidence presented suggests that the proposal is an attempt to squash the solar industry’s growth rather than a legitimate concern over the utility’s operating costs. A recent testimony by an analyst from the Public Services Commission asserted that the short-term sales risk to the utility as a result of rooftop solar power generation was low, and that the company should open a more general investigation into the effects of solar on prices before proceeding.
Though this proposal is not likely to pass, the effects of successful policies that shove out solar could be dramatic. A future where traditional utilities and fossil-fuel-generated electricity dominate the market will certainly lead to negative environmental outcomes, including increased air pollution and a higher risk of climate-change-related events. On a level that resonates with people from both political parties, the move represents an attempt to take away the freedom to choose how the electricity you use is produced. Utilities are quickly realizing that their monopoly on household electricity is in jeopardy. Solar power is gaining momentum at an amazing rate in the US, and even anti-renewable policies such as the one proposed in Wisconsin, as well as similar proposals in Utah and actual policies in Oklahoma will do little to reverse the tide. To learn more about solar power and how you can become involved in shaping the world’s electricity future, please visit http://www.greenamerica.org/programs/climate/cleanenergy/solar.cfm.
The global fossil fuel divestment movement has been gaining a lot of steam over the past year, enough to elicit a response from one of the largest oil companies in the world – ExxonMobil. In a blog posted to their website, the oil giant attempted to explain why the continued use of oil, gas, and coal to power our economies is the only viable way forward, while dismissing both the potential of renewable sources of energy and the costs imposed by a changing climate. The reality is that fossil fuels still provide the lion’s share of the global energy supply, but the assertion that it has to be this way couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In the blog post, Exxon outlines their case for fossil fuels, stating “divestment represents a diversion from the real search for technological solutions to managing climate risks.” Exxon’s idea of a technological solution to managing a climate risk, of course, is the natural gas boom currently underway in the United States. In addition to creating plenty of jobs along the supply chain and accounting for a sizeable chunk of the nation’s GDP, natural gas is supposedly responsible for the return to 1990’s emissions levels that the US has experienced over the past few years. Even ignoring the obvious environmental risks to soil, air, and groundwater associated with natural gas production, fugitive methane emissions from drilling sites are often understated and likely have a greater impact on climate change than fossil fuel advocates would like to believe. And, now that the US economy has started to gain ground, tracked greenhouse gas emissions are rising rapidly.
Exxon’s other main argument is that “A moral imperative exists – for policymakers as well as large energy companies – and it is to seek economic ways to expand the use of modern energy sources to the billions of people around the world currently living without them.” Certainly, access to electricity for cooking, heating, and pumping clean water is one of the key factors in reducing widespread poverty. The post cites an IEA study that projects renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal will account for only 15% of energy production by 2035, leaving the fossil fuel industry to pick up the slack for the other 85%. What the post fails to mention, however, is that the study did not consider policy changes in support of renewables over this time period. Other studies indicate that renewables in developing nations are poised to grow much faster than in countries with established fossil fuel energy infrastructure. With the correct policies in place, it will be cheaper and faster for developing countries to implement renewable technologies that provide the electricity they need while minimizing environmental damage.
The main problem with Exxon’s argument is that while they claim to be helping and protecting the least advantaged in impoverished nations, the very nature of their business is causing harm. The developing world is often environmentally ravaged by fossil fuel production, which generates massive economic and political corruption. Developing countries will also have to increasingly devote resources to damages from climate-change related issues, like coastal flooding or droughts. In the absence of severe climate-related damages, developing countries could focus on education, healthcare, or building new infrastructure. In a future where the climate implications of continued fossil fuel use are ignored, these countries will bear the highest costs.
It’s easy to understand why Exxon is pushing back against the growing divestment movement. To date, over 181 institutions and local governments, and 656 individuals have pledged to divest over $50 billion from fossil fuels. This number is not nearly enough to halt production of fossil fuels in the years to come. That is not the intention of the divestment movement. Divestment is not about suddenly severing the world from the availability of fossil fuels; it’s about putting pressure on oil and gas companies to adopt better practices, treat developing nations and their natural environments with more respect, and devising and executing a plan to move the world and the way it consumes energy forward while confronting the reality that Exxon and its competitors’ products put the global climate at serious risk.
Clearly, the fossil fuel divestment movement has caught Exxon’s attention. We need to build pressure – both from individuals and institutions. To learn more about fossil Fuel divestment and how you can invest your money towards a greener world, visit http://www.greenamerica.org/fossilfree/.
You may have taken our “carbon food-print” quiz and wondered how well it reflects your personal level of “green-ness.” The truth is, not very. In the quiz we focused down on the biggest indicators of your carbon food-print – mainly the type and quantity of the animal products you eat.
Yet there are so many other choices we make that influence our impact on global warming, our local economy, the well being of animals, our own health, and the health of other people. You wrote to us to tell us stories about your ways of greening your food supply. And your sustainability tips go far above and beyond what’s captured in the quiz. We like to share some of these solutions:
1. Growing and Raising Your Own Food
Some survey takers reported growing a significant amount of food they eat – even raising their own animals including backyard chickens. In addition to removing the transportation cost of food, home gardening has a number of other benefits such as creating a market for heirloom seed stock, serving as a great source of organic food, reducing your dependence on industrial agriculture, connecting with neighbors, exercise, and even increasing your intake of healthful bacteria via the soil!
2. Purchase Locally Grown Food:
According to the Environmental Working Group’s Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change, “buying locally can significantly reduce the climate impact of vegetable production (10-30 percent).”
In addition, eating locally and sustainably grown foods supports your local economy, protects the health of your community by reducing the amount of pesticide sprayed and creates an alternative to the incredibly destructive industrial agricultural practices. For more resources, take a look at some of the articles in our issue on local food.
3. Eating Sustainable Meat and Dairy
According to the Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change, buying locally raised meat has only a 1-3% impact on the amount of CO2 produced. Yet buying locally produced meat is important for number of reasons.
As author, Denis Hays told us in an interview, “raising cows correctly, whether for beef or milk, is incredibly hard work. Doing it on a small scale eliminates economies of mass production. Organic, grass-fed and -finished beef operates on deep commitment and small margins. If no one is willing to pay a premium for a healthy product from a local rancher who treats his cows as sentient beings, sustainably raised cows and their keepers will disappear.”
One of our member related walking down her own driveway and across the street in order to buy beef – about as local as you can get. “These animals are treated very, very well,” she told us. “I know because I see them whenever I want.” Another member noted that she eats “grass-fed, free-range, hormone free, locally grown beef, pork, lamb and turkey.” Check out this article to get tips on lowering the environmental impact of the dairy you consume.
Do you go above and beyond what is captured in our food-print survey? We want to hear about it! Leave your ideas in the comments section below!
The global chocolate industry commands more than $83 billion annually, but how much of this gets back to the farmers? Since most chocolate on US store shelves comes from West Africa, Green America has been persistently pressuring US cocoa companies to step up and take care of the workers—and child laborers—in their supply chains. This infographic traces the conventional cocoa supply chain in an effort to show where the majority of the money consumers spends ends up when they buy a chocolate product.
Purchasing fair trade chocolate from companies that have more direct relationships with farmers is important, as is ongoing pressure on manufacturers, processors, and traders, to improve the situation for farmers and their families.
Want to take this with you to share with others when you trick-or-treat? Download our 1-page version.
Last year, Americans collectively spent more than $2 billion on Halloween candy. This year, the National Retail Federation estimates that the average person will spend nearly $80 on Halloween items, including candy, costume, and decorations! What if all this money went to support businesses committed to people and planet, rather than conventional businesses, with little regard for workers’ rights or environmental protection? This year, consider shifting your own candy spending from conventional products to ones that align with your values. For chocolate, this means choosing brands that have made long-term commitments to the farmers they work with and have taken steps to prevent child labor on cocoa farms. More than 60% of cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate, comes from countries in West Africa. Working on a cocoa farms is hard work, and not very profitable. In fact, most cocoa farmers and their families live in absolute poverty. Some must result to using inexpensive migrant or child labor to harvest their cocoa. Tulane University has estimated that 1.8 million children are involved in the production of cocoa. Not all chocolate is made this way though. A few smaller chocolate companies pride themselves on their commitment to the small-holder farmers who provide their cocoa year after year. Divine Chocolate With offices in London and Washington, DC, Divine is the only chocolate company that is both fair trade and farmer-owned. The Kuapa Kokoo farmer cooperative in Ghana, owns shares in Divine, holds 2 seats on the company board, and plays a key role in business decision making. Divine Chocolate offers both milk chocolate and dark chocolate minis for your trick-or-treaters, at 10% off until October 20. Equal Exchange Equal Exchange is a worker-owned business based in Massachusetts. The company’s mission is to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers. For Halloween, Equal Exchange has put together a number of fair trade-themed resources including e-cards, jack-o-lantern stencils, recipes, and an educational infographic. And, importantly, fair trade chocolate minis for your trick-or-treaters, on sale this month at the discounted, wholesale price. Every time you spend money you are voting with your dollars. Take our “Chocolate Scorecard” with you this year when grocery shopping to help you chose the best and most responsible Halloween treats. Photo credits: Divine Chocolate USA and Equal Exchange.
In Lusby, Maryland, Eastern Shore residents are worried about the future of their homes on the delicate Chesapeake Bay, following a recent action from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC approved the retrofitting of a liquid natural gas (LNG) processing plant so that it will be fit to export the product to markets in Asia via Cove Point, MD. The decision raises a myriad of concerns for residents of the Cove Point area, as well as for fracking opponents across the nation.
After a long campaign, with rallies in Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Calvert County, opponents of the facility were dealt a serious blow with the final approval of the LNG export terminal, which sits in some cases less than a hundred yards from residents’ homes. Dominion Resources, the company behind the plant, will begin construction of Offsite Area B in Solomons, Maryland, which will consist of a pier to receive ships of equipment to build the liquefaction train and the related facilities. Karl Neddenien, Dominion spokesman, said construction was to begin Tuesday, just over a week after FERC’s final order on the project.
A massive network of refrigerators and pipelines will chill natural gas fracked from the Marcellus Shale to -161.5o C (258.7o F) before it is then piped to ships waiting at the end of a long dock jutting out into the Chesapeake. There is much outcry surrounding the planned activities of the facility, rooted in environmental, economic, and safety concerns.
An export facility this close to the Marcellus Shale region would surely increase the pace of natural gas extraction in the area, and could very well entice Maryland state leaders to open the state’s western regions up to fracking and natural-gas related activities. This could have devastating consequences on the ecology of the Chesapeake, one of the largest watershed regions on the East Coast. Despite the promise of 3000 construction jobs and 75 permanent positions, many Marylanders are becoming increasingly vocal in support of alternative, clean energy sources.
Exporting natural gas to foreign markets will also increase the demand for the product, likely raising prices at home. For a fuel touted as a cheap, clean bridge to an energy independent future, increased prices make some of the negative environmental impacts of its extraction, like water and air pollution, increased seismicity, and increased strain on natural resources like sand and fresh water that much harder to overlook.
Personal safety for the residents situated near the facility’s site is perhaps the most immediate concern. LNG facilities have an alarming track record of explosions, with one happening as recently as this past April in Washington State. Large tankers traveling up into the shallow waters of the Chesapeake pose a threat to recreational boaters as well as the small-scale commercial fishermen that rely on the bay for their livelihood.
While the Cove Point facility is now officially approved, there will be a petition for a rehearing on the decision within the next thirty days, says Jocelyn D’Ambrosio, associate attorney for Earthjustice. Environmental groups are poised to file a lawsuit against FERC should a rehearing not be granted. While the future of Cove Point remains unclear, there are still many battles looming in the war against dirty energy. Take a look at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s website to learn all about the Cove Point terminal and stay tuned for updates on the project.
Exactly two years ago, Hershey announced it would source only ethically certified cocoa by 2020. This announcement came after years of pressure on Hershey to prevent child labor on West African cocoa farms from Green America members and our allies Two years later, we’re checking on Hershey’s progress and on how these commitments have impacted cocoa growing communities. But first, a little back story… 2000-2009
In 2001 the world was shocked by stories of horrific forced child labor in West African cocoa growing communities. In response, a “slave-free” label was proposed by US lawmakers. The chocolate industry defeated this proposal and instead signed on to the Harkin-Engel protocol, to voluntarily fix child labor in their supply chains. A decade went by with the industry missing deadline after deadline to stop child labor, as their profits soared. Very little progress was made to prevent child labor among most major chocolate companies. September 2010 Green America and our allies grew tired of waiting for big cocoa to act on its own to fix child labor. We launched our Raise the Bar, Hershey! Campaign, calling out Hershey, the largest US chocolate manufacturer, as a laggard in addressing child labor problems in its supply chain. In 2009, Mars had already committed to sourcing 100% sustainable cocoa by 2020.
September 2011 With growing consumer awareness and outrage, Green America published “Still Time to Raise the Bar” to keep the pressure on Hershey. The report called out Hershey’s failure to address child labor and other labor abuses in its supply chain (a topic that Hershey failed to mention in its own corporate responsibility report). The report acted as a catalyst for tens of thousands of people to write to Hershey. Consumers and religious allies took part in protests at Hershey stores, and investors called on the company to address child labor as well. January 2012 Green America and our allies planned to run a Super Bowl add targeting Hershey for child labor. In response, Hershey agreed to purchase Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa for its Bliss chocolate products August 2012 Consumer pressure continued to escalate on Hershey, and retailers started putting pressure on the cocoa giant as well. Green America united food coops, specialty retailers, and Whole Foods to voice their concerns regarding child labor in Hershey products. Whole Foods agreed to drop all Hershey products from its stores. October 2012 Hershey announced it would ethically source 100% of its cocoa by 2020, but does not disclose an incremental timeline or which certification it will use. March 2013 In response to ongoing pressure, Hershey shares it plans to worker with Fair Trade USA, Utz and Rainforest alliance for certification, and that it will reach 10% certification by the end of 2013, 40-50% by 2016. January 2014 Hershey announced it was ahead of its original goal, reaching 18% certified cocoa. Today: Green America is pleased that Hershey has followed through on its plan to move to certified cocoa, and is in fact ahead of schedule. Eight years is a long time in the life of a child, so the sooner Hershey can purchase cocoa that comes from farms that screen out child labor, the better. Child labor remains an urgent issue in West Africa’s cocoa sector, and one that stems from extreme poverty. The average income of West African cocoa farmers and their dependents is well below the level of absolute poverty, according to the Cocoa Barometer. Poverty is a major driver of child labor. In order to address the extreme poverty faced by cocoa farmers, chocolate companies must develop long-term relationships with the farmers they purchase from and pay prices that cover the farmers’ cost of production, including the costs of additional hired labor and necessary fertilizers. The added benefit of chocolate companies paying a higher price for their cocoa is that it guarantees the future supply of chocolate, for chocolate companies and all their chocolate loving consumers. Two years after Hershey’s announcement to ethically certify its chocolate products, we’re celebrating the impact consumers can have when they band together to make change happen! Over the next two years, we’ll continue to monitor Hershey, to ensure the company meets or exceeds it 2016 commitment of 50% certified. We’ll also put pressure on companies who have not taken steps to trace their cocoa supply, like Godiva. Thank you for taking action with us!  http://www.greenamerica.org/PDF/Still-Time-to-Raise-the-Bar-Hershey-Report-2011.pdf  https://www.greenamerica.org/about/newsroom/releases/2012-02-01-Hershey-Will-Offer-Certified-Chocolate-Following-Consumer-Driven-Campaign.cfm  http://www.thehersheycompany.com/newsroom/news-release.aspx?id=1741328  http://www.thehersheycompany.com/newsroom/news-release.aspx?id=1798984  http://www.thehersheycompany.com/newsroom/news-release.aspx?id=1894137
Settled in the heart of the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of downtown Washington, DC, the George Washington University is characterized by its diverse student body, robust international affairs and political science programs, and high cost of attendance. Tuition fees go towards everything from funding events on campus space to acquiring new properties, but the institution was never known for its commitment to developing low-income communities around the District. That changes, however, with 20-year-old Zach Komes’ program GW Bank on DC – a plan to funnel $250,000 of university cash holdings into community development banks around the city.
A community development bank is different from a name-brand megabank in a few ways. Both types of institutions will offer services like checking and savings accounts, debit and credit cards, loans, and mortgages. Unlike a megabank, however, a federally certified community development bank must invest 60% of their funds into low-income communities in order to maintain their distinction. This incentivizes both sustainable and profitable investments in neighborhoods with significant infrastructural needs like housing and transportation.
There are many benefits to investing in community development banks. Research indicates that an investment in a local CDB can create jobs and channel capital to low-income communities, simply because CDBs provide more opportunities to low-income families and small business owners than other banks. Keeping that investment with an institution that serves local residents and entrepreneurs ensures that money circulates within low-income communities and not away from them.
As policy director for the GWU chapter for Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, a student-run policy think tank, Komes hopes to make the university a leader in socially responsible investment decision-making. “We don’t have to sacrifice financial return for social return. Through our proposed plan, GWU can support local neighborhoods, while meeting fiscal and policy goals,” Komes says.
Green America supports GW’s decision to take an active interest in its city and invest money where it is needed most. By keeping investments local, we can continue to build a sustainable, resilient community full of small businesses, happy citizens, and bright horizons.
Supporting local communities through banking is not only for institutions, as individuals, we can also direct our money to banks and credit unions that benefit low income communities around the country. To learn more about community investing, please visit our page.
We now officially come to the end of our “Don’t Have a Cow” blog series. Since many of the posts have been focusing on vegetarian or vegan eating, I’m going to take a different tack….
As part of my quest to eat healthier with my family, I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know what my local options are. I telecommute for Green America from the Midwest, and it’s pretty easy to find fresh, local food here at harvest-time among all the family farms.
But could I eat three meals a day from local sources for ten days, with only a handful of non-local foods allowed (like, oh, chocolate?)?
That’s the question behind Vicki Robin’s new 10-day Local Food Challenge. Vicki recently published a wonderful book, Blessing the Hands that Feed Us: What Eating Closer to Home Can Teach Us About Food, Community, and Our Place on Earth, which was all about what she learned by eating food for a full month that came from no further than ten miles from her home.
The challenge she’s issuing now is less stringent: You pick any ten days in October and eat only food that has come from within 100 miles or less of your home. And you can pick ten “exotics”, or foods from afar—like coffee, chocolate, or olive oil—“to make it doable.”
The results, says Vicki, can be a life-changing exercise in connecting to your food and community. “Why do it at all? For fun, for curiosity, for integrity, for health, for the love of farmers and community, for making friends, for encouraging others to eat local food, for building an alternative to food-as-usual, for taking a stand for the food system we-the-eaters want: fresh, fair, affordable food for all,” she says.
I’d like to try it. Because the local food producers that I’ve connected with are all sources of some of the best and healthiest food I’ve ever eaten, and dedicating ten days to being mindful about finding more can only make my life richer.
There’s Jeff, the apple farmer who smiled indulgently when I asked him for a bag of Honeycrisps and then promptly sliced up some of his close-to-organic heirloom apples for me to try. I dream of those apples all year long and am overjoyed that he just opened up his orchard store again for the season.
Mrs. D. operates a small dairy ten miles away where she sells fresh milk, butter, and every flavor of ice cream we could ever want.
Alice makes homemade bread with all sorts of wonderful flavors and sells it at the local farmers market.
Bill sells organically farmed, truly free-range chicken at the same market for when my family does eat meat, which is less and less often since my animal-loving daughters prefer to eat plant-based meals—as long as their father or I don’t mess them up in the kitchen.
Lindsey and Joe operate an award-winning winery within walking distance from my house, and I’ve fallen in love with several of their sweet reds—and with the musical nights and other fun community events they throw at the winery.
I just bought a jar of the crunchiest dill pickles I’ve ever eaten at an art fair from a woman my mother’s age who cans four different types, and I’m vacationing on Lake Michigan soon, where I’ll pick up some herb-infused olive oil made only in Wisconsin.
Round it all out with mint tea and stevia syrup from my herb garden, which I swap with a friend for fresh zucchini and tomatoes (the deer got all of ours this year).
But I know I’ve only hit the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to seeking out local food treasures. I can’t wait to discover more.
As Vicki says, “If we want a GMO-antibiotic-cruelty-free, nontoxic, fair to farmers and nutritious food supply, the 10-Day Local Food Challenge gives us firsthand experience of what we stand for. We know we are participating in building the world we want, bite by bite, even as we protest and boycott the food system we don’t want.”
To learn more about and join the 10-Day Local Food Challenge, visit localfoodchallenge.org. And don’t forget to ask your local growers if they farm organic or close to it, so you can avoid pesticide residues and genetically modified organisms for your health.
—Tracy Fernandez Rysavy, editor-in-chief
Editor’s Note: We’re extending the “Don’t Have a Cow” blog series to this Thursday, Oct. 2nd, to incorporate a brand new 10-Day Local Food Challenge from Your Money or Your Life co-author Vicki Robin. Meanwhile, our Food Campaigns Director Nicole McCann blogs her experience at the Natural Products Expo East 2014 below!
As a plant-based staff member at Green America, Natural Products Expo East 2014 in Baltimore, MD, was like all of the food-centric holidays in one enormous trade show: delicious and pleasantly overwhelming. I was there manning the GMO Inside booth and schmoozing with all of my favorite vegan food companies that I know and love, as well as discovering new ones. I found some exciting vegan and organic and/or Non-GMO Verified products for which you should be sure to keep an eye out. Some of these products are so new they are not even on their parent company’s websites!
Here is a list of my top ten favorites:
- Thai Coconut Curry Hummus by Hope Foods (organic, Non-GMO Verified)
- Cheese Louise Broccoli Poppers by Brad’s Raw Foods (organic, raw, Non-GMO Verified)
- Black Pepper Vegan Toona by Sophie’s Kitchen (Non-GMO Verified)
- O’Coconut by Nutiva (organic, Non-GMO Verified)
- Forbidden Rice Ramen by Lotus Foods (organic)
- Sea Salt Caramel Kandy Kale by Alive & Radiant (organic, raw)
- Ranch Revival Salad Dressing by RawFoodz (organic, raw)
- Dandies Large Marshmallows by Chicago Vegan Foods (Non-GMO Verified)
- Red Beet & Cabbage Sauerkraut Salad by Wildbrine (Non-GMO Verified)
- Acai Berry Sorbet by Sambazon (organic, Non-GMO Verified)
Food Campaigns Director