Photo: Getty / Sean Gallup
This editorial is part of our GREAT DEBATE feature ‘What Resource Do We Most Need For Our Future?‘Listen closely, because here’s something you might not expect to hear from the executive director of the Sierra Club: As we switch from using dirty fossil fuels to clean sources of energy, I don’t think our most important resource will be solar power, wind power, geothermal power, or any other single source of energy.
Before you seize my Prius and demand a full review of my eco-credentials, hear me out. Seriously, listen to me for a moment, try to genuinely understand what I’m saying, and I’ll do the same for you. Because this is what I’m talking about: Our most important resource is a different kind of natural resource. It’s a human resource: our ability to hear one another, understand each other, find commonalities in differing perspectives, and work together to develop clean energy in the smartest, best way possible.
For starters, we might realise that we almost all agree that clean energy is worth pursuing. I don’t think I’ve ever heard even the most rabid supporter of fossil fuels declare that clean energy is inherently bad. Some people might worry that it will take too long, or that it can’t “scale up,” or that this just isn’t the right time. But if an energy genie suddenly offered us the chance to switch overnight to clean, abundant, sustainable power, we’d all (or almost all) jump at the chance and find something else to argue about.
Unfortunately, there’s no energy genie in sight. So let’s just agree that having more clean energy would be a good thing and start talking about what we can do together to achieve that goal. And the first step is to listen.
Let’s listen to all sides of the debate about how we to make the transition to cleaner energy successful. I certainly have my own ideas about what I think will work best and how quickly we can make it happen. What do you think? Community solar gardens? Sounds like a great idea — what would it take? “Clean” coal? Well, I’m deeply sceptical, but I’m willing to hear you out. (Bear in mind, though, that just calling your dog “Beyoncé” won’t make her sing.)
Let’s listen to our workers. They are the ones who would be left behind if our nation doesn’t keep pace with the clean-energy innovations that are already happening around the globe. And let’s face facts: Workers at old and dirty coal plants and refineries face uncertainty as those plants are retired and replaced with clean energy. Let’s hear from them about how best to handle this transition. My own experience is that most workers are open to new ideas, technologies, and industries — in fact, they’re eager to get going. Through our BlueGreen Alliance, the Sierra Club has been listening to our colleagues in the labour movement for years, and it’s made a difference.
Let’s listen to businesspeople. They’re often forced to weigh short-term profits against long-term social and environmental good. They don’t always choose badly (especially when they get a respectful nudge in the right direction). What’s more, I don’t believe we’ll solve this challenge without their commitment, expertise, and entrepreneurship.
Let’s listen to our young people. They won’t fall into the trap of believing we have to keep doing things the way we always have. They’ll challenge us and keep us honest because they have the most at stake as we decide what kind of future we’re going to build.
And let’s not forget to listen to the rest of humanity, with whom we share this ever-shrinking world. What countries and cultures best protect their forests to store carbon, and how? Who are the leaders at efficient design, and what can we learn from them? The global village may be a cliché, but it’s rooted in reality. And who wants to live in a village where the neighbours never talk (or listen) to one another?
The alternative, of course, is to stick our fingers in our ears and stare across no-man’s land at each other while lobbing the occasional rhetorical grenade. That won’t get us anywhere and, in the long run, we’ll all be the losers.
Don’t get me wrong. The Sierra Club is committed to doing everything possible to put clean energy first in this country. Listening well doesn’t preclude forceful and principled organising against those who, for whatever reason, are resisting that change. But it does mean leaving room to understand their viewpoints. Developing clean energy is perhaps the single greatest challenge facing our nation — and the world. We cannot meet that challenge if we don’t listen to — and enlist the help of — everyone who’s ready to be part of the solution.
Thanks for listening.
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