Environmental Consciousness in Portugal

After a wonderful week visiting four cities in Portugal, I noticed a lot about the state of green consciousness there. Obviously, visiting only four of hundreds of communities is only a sampler, but certainly enough to share with you.

Renewable Energy

For such a sunny country, Portugal has remarkably empty rooftops. We saw a few dozen photovoltaic arrays, mostly just a two to five panels and maybe two or three larger installations. And hardly any roofs had solar hot water heaters, even though other sunny countries, like Israel, have them on practically every house and they’re far less expensive than PV, with very quick payback.

Large building with rare photovoltaic solar array, Aveiro, Portugal. Photo by Shel Horowitz.

Large building with rare photovoltaic solar array, Aveiro, Portugal. Photo by Shel Horowitz.

We passed one wind farm, and a few installations with a turbine or two. I didn’t see any hydro or geothermal facilities, but we weren’t in the mountains where they’d be more likely to be built.

Overall, Portugal appears to be trailing in this area. But appearances can be deceiving. In 2016, an astounding 58 percent of Portugal’s electricity generation and 27.2 percent of overall energy was renewable—and those ranges are typical of the past several years. For four days in a row in May 2016, the country generated all of its electricity renewably. The country has also invested heavily in wind and solar farms and even opened (and then quickly closed) the first commercial ocean-wave energy capture facility in Europe.


Trash sorting stations for metal/plastic, paper/cardboard, glass, and undifferentiated (the world looks a lot like “indifferent”) were very common in Sintra (where they were enormous and hard to miss), and somewhat more sporadically—and in smaller bins—in Lisbon, Porto, and Aveiro.

In places, litter is a problem, especially around the edges of some of the plazas and parks.

Green Food Movement

It was easy to get vegetarian options in every city we visited. All of them also have a small natural foods community with places to get organic, vegan, gluten-free, and other options. In two cities, we stayed with families, and both served us farm-fresh eggs (one from their own chickens). For every vegan cafe, there are hundreds of traditional cafes and restaurants serving almost entirely meat or fish or seafood, but there would usually be one or two vegetarian options such as an omelette or a baguette with cheese. Artisanal cheeses are commonplace (and scrumptious). Choices are much more limited for vegans.

Some of the more artisanal vineyards and port wine cellars use organic grapes—and in fact we’ve enjoyed organic Portuguese wine in the US for several years, particularly the vinho verde, young, “green” wine. In-country, we sampled a number of wines and were especially impressed by some of the reds.

Fruits were often amazingly delicious, and fresh-squeezed orange juice (sumo laranja) is available almost anywhere. Many natural food cafes and smoothie bars will also juice carrots, mangos, and other fruits and vegetables, to order.


In Lisbon and Porto, it was possible to get most places via metro, bus, antique tram, modern tram, or funicular, and both cities have at least three intercity train stations (including the one across the river from Porto in Vila Nova del Gaia). Transit was inexpensive. Taxis were also inexpensive, and tuk-tuks were available as well. Car-sharing networks exist but don’t seem heavily used.

The small communities of Aveiro and Sintra were much less well served. Most of central Aveiro is built along canals, and there are plenty of boats, but more for sightseeing than actually getting someplace. There’s a nice bike path going from town to both halves of the university. Sintra has frequent commuter rail service to Lisbon, Queluz, and several other towns along its one rail line. Sintra had local buses serving the downtown area, hop-on/hop-off service to the palaces and parks from at least three companies, and rather poor service to the outlying areas.

Open Space

Every community we visited had lots of parkland, public plazas, and nearby farms. Sintra is particularly phenomenal, with vast and magnificent nature reserves in and surrounding the town. Three of the four (Lisbon, Aveiro, and Porto) had active waterfronts with good public access, and Aveiro had public salt marshes. High marks on this one.

Overall Environmental/Climate Change Consciousness

Several times, when someone realized we were from the US, the other person would bring up the presidential decision a few days before our visit to exit the Paris Climate Accord, signed by 193 countries including the US. This decision is seen as a disaster in Portugal. We did not meet a single person who supported it—and our president is seen as either a madman or a laughingstock. This survey was based only on those who started conversations with us, but it was consistent. Not one person who started these conversations had anything good to say about the new US regime.

Interest in eating organic and natural foods seems to be rising rapidly.

Small cars are still extremely dominant, as was true in most of Europe until about 20 years ago. There are surprisingly few motorscooters and motorcycles, and even fewer bicycles—but you see almost no large cars. I saw two Jeeps (one small, one larger) and one Hummer. Most everything else was no bigger (and often a lot smaller) than a Toyota Corolla. This may be based in economics as much as environmental awareness, or even just a reaction to the narrow streets in all the historic sections—or it may have to do with carbon consciousness. Almost all the cars have manual shifts, which is no longer true in other European cities we’ve visited in the past decade. Of the cars I happened to look into, only one (the big Jeep Wagoneer) had an automatic.

Urban architecture is primarily row houses, which are energy-efficient because they have fewer outside walls. In the few houses we entered, the appliances seemed pretty large. Portugal clearly values historic preservation, though many of the buildings are only 100-130 years old, but look centuries older.

Water-saving dual-mode toilets were very common, though there were still plenty of single-mode ones.

In short, Portugal is moving nicely along with the rest of its European Union neighbors on the full range of green issues, even though it’s one of the poorer countries in the federation.

Posted in Eco-friendly, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Green Living/Green Lifestyles, Politics Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

Why I Don’t Hate “The Donald” (and What I Feel Instead)

I would not consider DT a success. Yes, he’s got a bajillion dollars and has the most powerful job in the world. But he strikes me as a deeply unhappy person. I would even use the word “wounded.” His Id is out of control, his Ego (in the Freudian sense—in the more common use, of course, it’s utterly dominant) is weak and unstable, his Superego doesn’t seem to exist, and neither does any sense of compassion other than misguided self-pity. Both his ethics and his style of personal interaction are appalling. The only part of being President he actually seems to enjoy is power-over-others. The only thing he’s actually good at is marketing to a very narrow base. I’ve seen exactly two pictures ever where he was smiling. Much as I hate 98% of what he says and does, I don’t hate HIM. I feel sorry for him!

Prior to the current few months, I called W the worst president in our history. DT has already taken over that dubious distinction. When W was president, I was able to find a few things to like: his endorsement of hydrogen cars at a State of the Union address, the amazing green initiatives at his Crawford ranch (a far greener home than Al Gore’s mansion, ironically), his ability to laugh at his own foolishness, and the quiet lifting of restrictions on importing really good cheese. (I never saw a single news story about this, but I noticed it in my area supermarkets).

Effigy of "the Donald," photographed by Shel Horowitz at the Climate March, April 2017, Washington, DC

Effigy of “the Donald,” photographed by Shel Horowitz at the Climate March, April 2017, Washington, DC

I can so far only find two good things to say about DT: he is opposed to the terrible TPP (though for the wrong reasons—he opposes international trade agreements in general, when the real issue is the way TPP removes so many national and local consumer protections)…and his words in his victory speech (too bad they were yet another DT lie) about unifying and being a president for all Americans. That’s a pretty damn thin list.

Posted in Ethics in Government, Politics, Psychology Tagged with: , ,

Fight On, Beautiful Planet!

How often do you see companies like Monsanto and ExxonMobil joining forces with environmental leaders like Patagonia, Goolge, Tesla, and Walmart—not to mention practically every scientist, head of state, and subject expert, as well as a large percentage of business analysts from IBM to Goldman Sachs? They were all part of the coalition that joined with DT’s own Secretary of State and his daughter to convince him to keep the Paris Climate Accord.

Yesterday, he-who-thinks-he-knows-better-than-any-expert-on-any-subject rejected their good counsel and announced that he would withdraw the US from the accord. Fortunately, this will take four years and there’s a good chance someone who is sane and thoughtful will be in charge by then.

I will not repeat the numerous arguments about how the US would benefit economically by continuing its leadership through this agreement. I will not repeat the huge blow this is to the poorest of the poor around the world. I will not repeat the idiocy of his arguments, based on what the New York Times called “dubious data.” I will not repeat the condemnation of this really dumb move from almost all quarters, or the happy fact that numerous municipalities and states are rejecting his stance and pledging to meet the targets.

Earth Lightning, by Stephanie Hofschlaeger

Photo by Stephanie Hofschlaeger

I will only say this: We, the people of the United States, and the people of the World, will continue to do what we can to protect our beautiful planet. And its people, including those without sufficient resources to tackle this on their own. Justice demands it.

Posted in Activism, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Politics, poverty, Protests and Crackdowns, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , ,

13 Ways Democrats Could Have Won in November

Six (almost seven) months after the election, and 200 days into the disaster of Trumpian government, Democrats still want to blame it all on the Russians, or on their new hero and recent villain James Comey.

Those are real factors. But the Democrats are not blameless. The soullessness of the Democratic party had a lot to do with DT’s victory despite losing the popular vote.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton face off. Screenshot from CBS News.

The two candidates debate

Consider these influences on the outcome—and note that the Democrats could have easily fixed items 1 through 6 in 2009 when memories of GWB’s failures were strong and they had a clear mandate for change. They also own full responsibility for items 7-10 in 2016. So of these baker’s dozen factors, only three were external forces:

  1. Republican purges of the voter list and discarding of likely-Democratic ballots, including 90,000+ likely-Democratic voters in Florida in 2000 (and 350,000 in Ohio in 2004—read this very thorough analysis by none other than Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.).
  2. Hackable voting machines lacking traceable paper ballots (#1 and 2 alone are probably the biggest two factors in the two GWB victories).
  3. Gerrymandering.
  4. Special-interest lobbying and campaign funding, creating a system that works against real change—and should have been replaced years ago by meaningful public funding across all parties receiving 5 percent or more.
  5. Failure to institute ranked-choice voting, so that a third-party vote or a vote for your top choice in the primary is not a spoiler that helps elect your least favorite candidate (DT would have never even been the candidate if the Republicans had used this in their primaries; one DT voter in my family told me he was her “seventeenth choice” among 17 Republican candidates).
  6. And yes, the electoral college that disenfranchised a majority of voters twice in the last five elections.
  7. Messaging: if you’re not following the issues closely, would you rather stand strong and “Make America Great Again” or blubber out a wimpy, incoherent “I’m With Her”?
  8. In 2016, Obama refused to force the issue on Merrick Garland, not only losing the seat to an ultra-rightist but setting an absolutely terrible precedent that he, a constitutional law scholar, could have certainly seen coming. To progressives, that was (among other things) a message that the Democratic Party was not even willing to support itself and the constitution, so why bother?
  9. Also in 2016, even though Hillary would have probably gotten the nomination honestly, the double-dealing and shenanigans against the Bernie campaign gave some people—maybe enough to upset the election—reasons to stay home on November 8.
  10. Worse, nobody on her campaign seemed to notice that her primary victories were heavily tilted toward the Deep South, where it was abundantly clear that she wasn’t going to win in November–and they took the midwest for granted. Hillary made exactly zero trips to Wisconsin between nomination and election day, even though Bernie cleaned her clock in the primary by 13 points. These folks were hard-hit by the recession and they watched Obama bail out the banks and Wall Street while doing precious little for underwater working-class homeowners. This was not a victory strategy. It was only because DT was so disgusting that it was even close in states like that.
  11. Russian interference, and we may never know what really went on.
  12. Comey’s “October Surprise” last-minute disclosure of more suspicion around Hillary’s emails
  13. Fake news. Lots of it.

This is not a comprehensive list; I could easily list another dozen factors. Here’s the reality: we will never know exactly which factors shifted the results; probably each contributed a little bit to DTs razor-thin, non-popular-vote victory.

But we do know that nine items on this list were avoidable or fixable. And despite the worst presidency in the history of the US, they still don’t understand what they need to do to fix things.

Posted in Democracy, Demographics/Psychographics, language, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, Politics Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

How do You Know When Advertising Claims are Real?

Someone posted a breathless, gushy letter to potential investors in a new solar technology and asked the members of the discussion group if we thought it was real.

Here’s a piece of this over-the-top marketing letter (don’t try to click the links; I have disabled them and removed all identifying information).

hypey sales letter for investing in new solar tech

hypey sales letter for investing in new solar tech

I thought my answer was worth sharing the relevant parts with you here:


Lets look at this as an opportunity to educate ourselves, because these kinds of issues come up regularly. And as climate advocates, we need to have some familiarity…While I agree that the scheme is off-topic, the general idea of where we’re at with solar is quite germane–and so is the need to understand the marketing world. Be sure to read at least to bullet #3.

  1. This is hypey marketing copy promising a ridiculous high return on an investment with an unknown company. That to me is a whole bunch of red flags, and I echo the caution that others have urged.
  2. As someone who makes part of my living writing (non-hypey, fact-based but emotionally driven) marketing copy for green businesses, I can tell you that not all copywriters take the time to thoroughly understand the products they’re hired to write about. I would want to see independent verification of all these claims, and to know whether this is an independent analyst or (as I suspect) someone who either was paid by the company/is earning sales commissions from the people who click–or dipped lavishly into the work of someone who was.
  3. BUT there have been major advances in solar (and other clean energy) technology in the past few years, and we as energy/climate advocates should be at least vaguely aware of them. the stuff that IS real provides major talking points in converting former climate skeptics. As an example, there have been tests of some solar collectors that achieve efficiencies above 40 percent, which is about double the typical collector of today. That makes solar a lot more practical for homeowners (maybe even tenants) and also more profitable as a business venture.
    There’s a lot of hope in using approaches based in biomimicry: studying and imitating nature. Most green leaves are about 90% efficient as solar collectors. Many of these new technologies use something other than silicon. I’m even aware of one research team that’s looking at DNA as the medium for capturing and harnessing energy.
  4. Even today, solar panels are far more efficient and affordable than they were a decade ago. Add innovations like solar roofing tiles that serve both roofing and power generating functions as well as the tremendous breakthroughs in affordable battery storage and solar is suddenly a whole lot more attractive.
    I’ve been using solar for almost all my hot water since 2001, and for about 1/10 of my electricity since 2004. Were I to put the same size arrays up today, I’d be able to get about 1/3 of my electricity, as it’s improved by about a factor of 3–even better if I had collectors that track the sun.
    I live in cloudy, cold Massachusetts. If I can make it work, every building in Arizona that isn’t blocked by a mountain, tall trees, or a taller building ought to be solarized by now. And while gas and oil prices have fallen thanks to fracking, their impact on the environment has worsened. Meanwhile, the price of solar has dropped so much that even with the cheaper fracked gas and oil, it’s often competitive now, and it doesn’t threaten our water supply (something far more precious than petroleum).
Hope this helps!


Shel Horowitz – “The Transformpreneur”(sm)
Watch (and please share) my TEDx Talk,
“Impossible is a Dare: Business for a Better World”
Contact me to bake in profitability while addressing hunger,
poverty, war, and catastrophic climate change
Twitter: @shelhorowitz
* First business ever to be Green America Gold Certified
* Inducted into the National Environmental Hall of Fame
Award-winning, best-selling author of 10 books. Latest:
Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World (co-authored with Jay Conrad Levinson)
Posted in Abundance and Prosperity, Advertising, Business Ethics, Energy & Sustainability, Green Business, Greenwashing, language, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, propaganda Tagged with: , , , , ,

What I Told the Democrats, and Why

There’s one Democratic Party candidate for Congress whose annoying emails just pushed me over the edge. But the Democratic Party is routinely guilty of this, and I’ve gotten off many of the lists of their various front groups. And probably, so are the Republicans (I’m not on their lists).

As I moved a full 100 emails received in the past month from this candidate’s organization or the Democratic Party on behalf of this candidate, I noted once again the in-your-face headlines. Here are just some of the examples from just the past week, in the order I received them (spacing, emoticons, and capitalization in the originals):

  • Special Election RUINED
  • TERRIFYING prediction
  • this just got WORSE (Paul Ryan)
  • ? Paul Ryan = FURIOUS ?
  • please, please, PLEASE
  • HUGE mistake
  • No!!!!!!!
  • R U I N E D

I’m a copywriter. I know what this candidate’s team is doing, and why. I know which hot buttons they are trying to push. But just as too much of the finest food still gives you a bellyache, too much hot-button-pushing makes the mechanism seize up. I’ve received 14 separate messages since Sunday morning (I’m writing this on Tuesday morning). It feels like marketing by assault rifle.

My response mechanism seized up. I put them on the not-giving-any-more-money list and unsubscribed. The form asked for a reason, and here’s what I wrote:

I don’t like your constant-crisis approach. I just deleted 100 emails from you all screaming at me, most unopened. I’m really sick of “the Republicans are out to get us, send us money again.” And also sick of “we’re on the verge of victory, send us more money.” I wish [Candidate name] well and hope he wins, but I want the Dems and especially [Candidate name] to market to me via intelligence and not fear. I am a marketer and have run successful campaigns.

Can’ we be better than this? I want candidates who will tell me what they will do FOR their district and their country, and not just that a powerful opponent hates them.

A citizen votes. Photo by Kristen Price.

A citizen votes. Photo by Kristen Price.

Remember: you are in someone’s email box because of the recipient’s good graces. Don’t abuse the relationship or overstay your welcome. If you annoy, you don’t get read, and eventually, you lose a subscriber. You could even find yourself blacklisted for spam.

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Copywriting, language, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, Politics, propaganda, Psychology, Shel's Personal Life Tagged with: , , , , , ,

What I Told the DT Administration: Business Case for Paris Accord

Here’s a letter I wrote to US Cabinet Secretaries Tillerson, Perry, and Pruitt (State, Energy, EPA), and to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (with a different subject line). Please write your own letter. You are welcome to model mine. Click to send an email directly to Pruitt and Perry and link to Tillerson’s contact form.

"I wrote a letter to the US government" (picture of handwriting)

“I wrote a letter to the US government”

As a business owner, I ask that you maintain the US’s role in the Paris Climate Accord. The Paris Accord marks a wonderful opportunity for American business to make headway against the widespread perception that European businesses are more environmentally focused. American businesses cannot win back the international market share they’ve lost to environmentally forward-thinking European companies if our own government is seen as sabotaging progress. It would not even shock me if, should the US pull out, activists start organizing boycotts on all US-based companies. Boycotts like this are economically disastrous for the US, just as similar boycotts created enormous pressure on South Africa during the apartheid years and are now beginning to affect the economy of Israel over its presence in Palestinian territories.

I am a consultant to green and social change companies, and I see the positive bottom-line impacts of meeting or exceeding climate goals over and over again. Industries have found that climate mitigation, done right, lowers costs and boosts revenues, thus increasing profitability. I recently attended a conference with speakers from Nestlé, IBM, Google, Pirelli, Coca-Cola, Paypal, clothing manufacturer VFC, and many other global corporations, and the message from every speaker was about the bottom-line benefit of greening their company. This is why companies as diverse as Monsanto, Intel, Dupont and General Mills are among the 1000 companies that signed a public letter this winter urging the US to stay in the Paris agreement.

Progress on climate will also have beneficial effects in the wallets of ordinary Americans–because it will improve health. Reducing asthma and other carbon-related diseases means more discretionary spending and thus an economic boost.

Finally, the long-term picture of addressing climate change in a meaningful way means the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the energy, manufacturing, and agriculture/food sectors as well as a more livable world for our children and grandchildren. If anything, the Paris targets should be seen as a starting point. And if the US embraces this fully and uses its technological leadership, it will create market opportunities around the world for US companies selling the technologies to make this transition.


Shel Horowitz – “The Transformpreneur”(sm)
Watch (and please share) my TEDx Talk,
“Impossible is a Dare: Business for a Better World”

Contact me to bake in profitability while addressing hunger,
poverty, war, and catastrophic climate change

Twitter: @shelhorowitz

* First business ever to be Green America Gold Certified
* Inducted into the National Environmental Hall of Fame

mailto:shel@greenandprofitable.com * 413-586-2388
Award-winning, best-selling author of 10 books. Latest:
Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World (co-authored with Jay Conrad Levinson)


Posted in Activism, Corporate Social Responsibility, Democracy, Energy & Sustainability, Entrepreneurship, Environment, Green Business, language, Politics, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

Sustainable Flooring Options for 21 st Century Designers

(Guest Post) Sustainable builds are environmentally sensitive and use less energy. Solar energy is a commonly used strategy for harnessing sunlight to generate electricity, and in some parts of the world, wind power is equally as effective. However, while these strategies are a step in the right direction, designers need to look beyond the obvious and put more effort into using sustainable materials for their architectural projects.



Cork Flooring

Cork is a sustainable material. It is warm underfoot and nice and soft to stand on, which makes it a popular choice for the modern home. Cork comes from the bark of the cork oak tree. When sourced from a renewable forest, cork is harvested without causing any lasting damage. Cork bark grows back quickly, so it is eco-friendly. The only downside is that it is not as long lasting as some types of flooring.


Bamboo grows incredibly quickly and is regarded as a sustainable building product all over the world. Bamboo forests are fully rejuvenated four years after a harvest so bamboo flooring is eco-friendly and a great alternative to natural hardwood flooring. Bamboo is easy to maintain and can be treated just like timber. The downside to bamboo is that it only grows in certain areas of the world, so importing bamboo to North America generates carbon emissions.

Decomposed Granite Aggregate

Decomposed granite aggregates are a green solution for commercial environments. A range of different materials, including granite, glass, porcelain, asphalt and concrete, are crushed to size and used as a replacement for natural stone. The resultant aggregate can be used to create water permeable pavers and paver grit, which absorb rainfall back into the water table and prevent flooding and runoff. When white quartz, porcelain, and birchwood are used to create a roofing material, energy costs are lowered due to reduced heat absorption.

Recycled Glass

Recycled glass is an attractive flooring material for commercial and residential environments. Glass comes from local recycling initiatives and can be re-used to make glass tiles. This saves tons of waste glass bottles and jars from ending up in landfill sites. The main disadvantage of using recycled glass tiles is that they can be expensive and tricky to install.

Recycled Rubber

Recycled rubber tires can be repurposed to make rubber matting and tiles for commercial flooring. Rubber has excellent shock absorbency properties, it is water resistant, and it lasts for around 20 years before it needs replacing. Before investing in rubber tiles and matting, make sure you source products made from recycled materials rather than new rubber.

Reclaimed Timber

Timber is not eco-friendly unless it comes from sustainable forests. Unfortunately, some hardwood flooring is irresponsibly harvested from forests where trees are not replaced, so it is not an eco-friendly option. One solution is to use reclaimed timber flooring instead of new hardwood. Reuse wood from old buildings or boats. It will look beautiful and be far kinder to the environment than alternate options. Pre-seasoned wood is also less prone to natural movement once installed.

Choose your flooring wisely, as some options are not as eco-friendly as they first appear.

The author wishes to remain anonymous. The siteowner was compensated for one of the links in this article.

Posted in Eco-friendly, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Green Living/Green Lifestyles

40 Years Ago Today, We Changed the World (Part 5, Fighting the Battle Again)

Chernobyl and Fukushima

Chernobyl rendered a big swath of Ukraine uninhabitable. While a few more travelers are gaining permission to enter the dead zone, nobody lives there, and nothing you’d want to eat grows there.

After that disaster, the nuclear industry experienced a long series of accidents that could have been very serious, but were contained.

Then came Fukushima.

While it wasn’t nearly as destructive as Chernobyl, it still contaminated a 11,500-square-mile area and required the permanent evacuation of 230 square miles (evicting—and causing massive economic loss to—159,128 people). Much agricultural land had to be abandoned. Japan shut of most of its nukes for several years, causing great economic stress and forcing more intensive use of carbon fuels to replace the lost energy in a hurry.

And the world discovered that nuclear power plants, which are usually located next to water for cooling purposes, are not designed to withstand a significant flood.

I had written my first book about why nuclear power makes no sense, published all the way back in 1980. Following Fukushima, a Japanese publisher tracked me down and asked about bringing it back into print. I researched and wrote ten-page update that convinced me that nuclear power is still an absolutely terrible technology. If you’d like a copy, please download at http://greenandprofitable.com/why-nuclear-still-makes-no-sense/


Zombie Nukes are Back from the Dead

The safe energy movement made nuclear energy too expensive economically and politically for many years. But all of a sudden, the zombie power plants are back from the dead.

The two-reactor Watts-Bar plant in Tennessee was permitted back in 1973, but even more than most nukes, it was plagued by delays. Unit 1 took 23 years, going on-grid in 1996. Unit 2 took another 20 years, going online in late 2016. No US nuclear plants went online between those two dates. And meanwhile, these plants use obsolete, unsafe, 1970s design—a frightening specter.

A newer design, the Westinghouse AP1000, was selected for the two double reactors permitted during the George W. Bush years in Georgia and South Carolina. The idea was to prefabricate much of the reactor and thus shave time and costs. Instead, however, the plants have faced delays of many years, massive cost overruns, safety crises, and the resulting bankruptcy of Westinghouse (and near-collapse of parent company Toshiba).

The crazy thing is this: never mind the safety issues, the citizen opposition, or all the other stuff—why would anyone want to tie up billions of dollars for a decade or more constructing an n-plant that will never be economically competitive, uses unproven technology, and generates enormous opposition? There are very good market-based reasons why the US nuclear industry shriveled up after Three Mile Island. It’s hard to imagine any sane company or investors going there.


The Carbon-Friendly Magic Bullet Myth

The last several years, some environmentalists have embraced nuclear because they think it’s a big step forward on the path to a low-carbon planetary diet.

But they’re wearing blinders:

  1. Why do we want to reduce our carbon footprint? To protect the earth! Ask people who used to live near Chernobyl or Fukushima and were forced to evacuate if they think nuclear protects the earth.
  2. It takes over a decade to get a nuclear plant built and generating power—and that’s when everything goes smoothly (which is almost never, as we’ve seen). Climate change is an emergency and we can’t wait decades to solve it.
  3. We can lower that carbon a lot faster by investing in true green solutions. Rocky Mountain Institute’s Amory Lovins notes that dollars invested in conservation and renewables will reduce carbon up to 10 times as effectively and 40 times faster than dollars invested in nuclear. I quote his figures in some depth on Page 10 of the Fukushima update.
  4. Nuclear has quite a bit more carbon impact than most people realize. Every step in the process other than actually running the fuel through the reactor—and there at least eight other steps—adds to the carbon footprint (and consumes fuel, too): mining, milling, transportation, processing, building the reactor and the massive concrete containment vessel, removing the spent fuel, storing it for 250,000 years, etc. (It’s still less than fossil fuel, but it’s far from zero.)


The “Gen 4 Will Be Safe” Myth

The thorium and pebble-bed technologies do look better than the old boiling-water or pressurized-water designs, from my non-scientist/informed layperson’s perspective. BUT they are untested. And they will also take at best more than 20 years to come online, if all goes well (and history indicates that I probably won’t).

We know this: the Generation II nukes were supposed to be much safer than the Generation I plants, even though they were rated to generate up to 10 times as much electricity, and thus were built much more massively, with more things to go wrong. Gen II plants failed at Fukushima. A Gen II plant came close to failing several times at Vermont Yankee. Even when that plant was new, its safety report to the federal government was extremely disturbing, going on to document incidents for many pages within the first year.

Cooling tower failure, Vermont Yankee

Vermont Yankee cooling tower fails, 2008. Photo by ISC ALC, Creative Commons license

The European Commission claimed at the time I wrote the update that Generation IV are the first nukes to be built with public safety integrated from the beginning. That creates yet another reason to shut down all the Gen I, II, and III plants (which are aging, going brittle, and increasing the danger to us)—and second, makes me wonder if in 20 years, after some of these plants have gone online and experienced catastrophic failures, if some scientists won’t be spouting similar rhetoric about Generation VI or VIII plants being the first to really be safe. The needle keeps moving on nuclear safety, as each previous reactor technology starts to fail.

Interestingly, the link I used in my post-Fukushima update now redirects to a page that does not make this claim, and in May, 2017, I couldn’t find anything about safety being built in to the new reactor designs anywhere on the organization’s website.


Lessons for Today’s Movements

We’d need a whole book to cover all the lessons today’s activists can bring back from the Clamshell experience. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Don’t just be against things; propose and organize for positive alternatives—and incorporate this in the framing you offer the media, the public, and to your opponents
  • Remember not just your short-term goals but also the ultimate goals. Clam had a short-term goal of stopping the plant and a medium-term goal of stopping nuclear power nationally and globally. But Clamshell also had positive long-term goals. On energy, the goal was not simply to build a non-nuclear power plant but to power society through a variety of clean and renewable technologies—and on process, to move the whole society in a more democratic inclusive direction
  • Organizing works best when you find ways of bringing the issues to the unconvinced—while not neglecting the deeply committed
  • You can find allies where you weren’t expecting to
  • When organizing people through active nonviolence, it will be much easier to win people over to your side; if you switch to violence, you’ll lose much of your natural constituency and your work will be harder
  • Enforcing a rule that participants must be trained for actions with personal risk (such as arrests or physical harm) is a very good idea
  • Agree on a governance structure, and stick to it (unless you get the whole group’s agreement to change it)
  • Perhaps most important of all—understand that whether most of your movement believe you can win or believe you will fail, you’re probably right. Come in with the attitude that you WILL succeed, and the chances of succeeding become much higher. Stress this in all your outreach. Phrase things positively but realistically; don’t promise overnight results you can’t achieve. Emphasize that your fight is a long-term struggle, and publicly celebrate every small victory along the way.
Posted in Democracy, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Greenwashing, propaganda, Protests and Crackdowns, Shel's Personal Life, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , ,

40 Years Ago Today, We Changed the World (Part 4: Shifts in the Culture)

Part 4 of a series of reminiscences of the April 30/May 1, 1977 occupation at the Seabrook, NH nuclear power plant construction site, and its aftermath. If you missed Part 1, read it here, and then follow the links to Parts 2 and 3.

How Clamshell Changed the Consensus on Nuclear Safety

Remember the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear accident near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in March 1979? How about Chernobyl in the Ukraine, 1986, or Fukushima, Japan, 2011?

Of course you know about these three accidents. They received extensive news coverage at the time, and now they’re part of our history.

But unless you’re actively involved in the safe energy movement, you probably never heard of the near disasters at the Enrico Fermi breeder reactor in Michigan in 1966, or the one at Brown’s Ferry, Alabama, in 1975. These were at least as serious as TMI. In fact, there have been at least 100 potentially devastating nuclear accidents since humans began harnessing “the peaceful atom” to generate electricity.

But one important thing had changed between 1975 and 1999. By the time of TMI, nuclear power safety questions had become newsworthy. Why were they suddenly newsworthy? We can’t know the answer for certain, but I’d say the odds are very good that it was because of Clamshell and the national citizen action movement it sparked. Those efforts caused a lot more people to learn about nuclear power, and to become scared, and to take action, which inspired more people, etc.

In other words, the 1414 of us who got arrested, and the roughly 600 involved supporters who kept the lines of communication open between those of us inside and the wider world, made a difference not just in the immediate struggle but in the national consciousness. We uncorked the bottle with our questioning and our very public action, and once that bottle was uncorked, the magic spread. As a country, we learned to question the authority of nuclear utilities and of the regulators who granted them permission. We learned that the system was not protecting us. We made the issue of nuclear safety important enough to the media that they reported immediately on what was happening at TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

Even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission admits this. Tom Wellock, a historian there, told the Boston Globe,

What happened with the Clamshell Alliance at Seabrook is that it really nationalized consciousness about nuclear power and inspired similar groups around the country. Their influence on policy-makers certainly mattered.

Rebecca Solnit notes, “Sixty-six nuclear power plants were cancelled in the wake of Clamshell.”

And Harvey Wasserman, one of the safe energy movement’s early activists and chroniclers, noted in 2007 that the protests led to an important secondary impact:

Inspired in part by the protests, Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas’s China Syndrome, happened to open in theaters just as TMI went to the brink. The industry took the double body blow of a terrifying disaster and a Hollywood blockbuster.

What Clamshell Changed About Later Activism (Occupy, DT resistance, Sugar Shack Alliance, etc.)

Organizationally, Clamshell Alliance provided many lessons to later social change struggles. Nonviolent resistance in the US—the iconic strategy of the Civil Rights movement—had been fairly dormant since the US military pulled out of Vietnam in 1975. Clam revived it, and our spiritual younger siblings around the country like the Abalone Alliance in California and the Sunflower Alliance in Kansas spread it far and wide.

Interestingly, a group of disillusioned protestors, impatient with the slowness of nonviolent struggle, formed the Coalition for Direct Action at Seabrook in 1979—a group willing to use property destruction and to physically battle with law enforcement. CDAS’s actions were failures, serving mostly to discredit the protestors in the eyes of some locals—a failure that would be repeated in “The Battle in Seattle,” a protest against the World Trade Organization in 1999 where the small number of violent protestors dominated the media coverage and alienated many people.

Later struggles, such as Tiananmen Square and Arab Spring, returned to committed, principled nonviolence. This was also much in evidence in the South African struggle against its apartheid government in the 1980s (though not all elements were nonviolent).

Many movements in this current decade of the 2010s built directly on Clamshell’s process and tactics: Occupy, the stop-fossil-fuel-pipelines struggle (including Standing Rock), and the intersectional movement of resistance against the Trump administration.

Occupy’s ultra-democratic process no-leader, with innovations such as using a human chorus as a microphone to repeat a statement so others could hear, would probably never have evolved if it weren’t for the process innovations of Clam.

From that article by Rebecca Solnit linked above:

Their spirit and their creative new approach inspired activists around the country and helped generate a movement…Clamshell Alliance and many of the antinuclear groups that followed developed non-hierarchical, direct-democracy methods of organizing since used by activists and movements throughout the U.S. and beyond, including Occupy Wall Street, whose consensus-based general assemblies owed a lot to a bunch of hippies no one remembers.

Pipeline opponents took many leaves from Clamshell’s playbook, including naming their resistance groups. For example, the name of the Sugar Shack Alliance near me, contesting pipelines across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, reminds us that gas and oil pipelines threaten the maple sugaring industry—as does the severe climate change that fossil fuel infrastructure enables. Members pledge to train in nonviolent resistance and its code of conduct (click Nonviolence Training on the group’s home page) is almost identical to Clamshell’s 40 years earlier. In fact, just this week, 18 people were arrested at a Sugar Shack Alliance sit-in to protect trees in Otis (MA) State Forest that the pipeline company had gotten federal permission to cut down (in violation of state law). Meanwhile, in North Dakota, Water Protectors at Standing Rock opposed to a different pipeline waged a months-long occupation combining Native American spirituality and deep nonviolence in the face of serious repression.

And the post-election resistance understands the power of multiple sustained actions and on addressing multiple issues and constituencies while focusing on a more targeted immediate goal. It’s exciting to see these movements (and to participate in some).

Activists for a Lifetime

Clam not only changed the landscape in terms of resistance to nuclear power, but also changed the lives of many (perhaps all) who were involved. Over the years, I’ve constantly discovered that many people who were doing some of the best organizing work in sector after sector turn out to be Clamshell alumni. And as I prepare to attend a Clamshell reunion this weekend, I look at the list of attenders (and their email signatures) and I see that lots of them are still deeply involved in social change (as I am). I was one of the younger Clams, so many of these folks are well into their 60s and beyond.

My own life was impacted in lots of ways. One of those was my decision to live in an intentional community populated heavily with Clam veterans steeped in nonviolence theory and practice—the group that had developed the small-to-large consensus process, in fact. I lived at the Philadelphia Life Center in 1980-81, and learned much about meeting process, social change theory, and how personal growth can integrate with organizing.

A second was Save the Mountain, the movement I founded in 1999 (and devoted more than a year of volunteer time to) that saved our local mountain. I used many tools I’d learned at Seabrook and in that later nonviolent activist community.

Climate marchers in front of Trump Hotel, Washington DC 4-29-17 (Clamshell Alliance's spiritual heirs)

Climate marchers in front of Trump Hotel, Washington DC 4-29-17 (Clamshell Alliance’s spiritual heirs)

More recently, starting in 2013, I’ve focused my career on combining both marketing and community organizing to achieve social change and environmental justice: leveraging the business community to turn hunger and poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance—not through guilt and shame, but harnessing enlightened self-interest. Among other things, this involves helping businesses develop and market profitable products and services that directly address these goals.

Nuclear’s Deep Sleep (only 1/10 of Nixon’s goal)

The final impact I want to discuss (there were others) was the end of the industry’s dream Richard Nixon called for 1000 nuclear plants in the US; it topped out at 112 and is now at 99 or 100. And nuclear power plant construction ground to a nearly complete halt for decades. After 1996, the next new commercial reactor in the US only went online in 2016. Four are under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, but these have been plagued by cost overruns, delays, manufacturing issues, and horrible economics including a bankruptcy by the reactor designer, Westinghouse, directly related to these projects; experts predict that they will never go online. Meanwhile, several plants including Vermont Yankee won a license extension from the NRC only to close just a few years later.

This series will wrap up with Part 5, on the current state of nuclear power and how the safe energy movement can organize to block a “zombie nuclear return from the dead.” Stay tuned!

Posted in People Helping People, Politics, Protests and Crackdowns, Shel's Personal Life, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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