Note: The public hearing on the Pleasant Prairie Solar Energy Center, a 250 MW solar project proposed for southwest Franklin County, was held Monday, July 19, 2021. Here is my testimony.
Chair French and members of the Ohio Power Siting Board,
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you tonight. My name is Cathy Cowan Becker, and I am chair of Ready for 100 Ohio, a campaign of the Sierra Club to ask cities to commit to 100% renewable energy. I am also executive director of Simply Living, a Columbus nonprofit that promotes sustainability, environmental awareness, and our local economy. I am also a member of the sustainability committees for both Columbus and Grove City.
That’s a lot of titles, but at heart I am a climate activist, as well as a neighbor of the Pleasant Prairie Solar Energy Center – and in every one of these capacities, I strongly support this project.
As a climate activist, I am used to reading bad news about storms, droughts, floods, heat waves, and melting ice. But with increasing frequency a climate story crosses my desk that turns my stomach. Last week was such a story – of over 1 billion sea creatures – mussels, clams, sea stars, and snails – literally cooked to death by the heatwave in the Pacific Northwest.
I bring this up because Darby Creek, near where the Pleasant Prairie Solar Energy Center is proposed to go, is home to 44 species of mussels, some of which are rare or endangered. During my local conversations about how the Pleasant Prairie project might affect these species, I have rarely heard anyone mention the effects of the climate crisis.
Yet if left unchecked, the climate crisis will do more damage to Darby Creek, and the creatures that live in it, than this solar project ever could. I hope that you as members of the Ohio Power Siting Board will keep in mind the urgency of the climate crisis when making your decisions about renewable energy projects in Ohio, the sixth-highest carbon-emitting state.
I became a climate activist because of the enormous gulf between what the science says must be done and what we are actually doing to safeguard our health and environment.
In 2017 I founded the Columbus Ready for 100 campaign. With the help of other volunteers, we organized and led dozens of meetings and events; tabled at community festivals; held neighborhood dialogues; and collected over 5,000 signatures on our petition asking the city of Columbus to commit to 100% renewable energy.
One major step we see for cities in Ohio to reach this goal is electric aggregation for 100% renewable energy. We began talking to Columbus city leaders about this years ago.
Cincinnati has long been aggregated for 100% renewable energy, and Worthington took this step in 2018. But these cities began their programs by buying renewable energy certificates, or RECs.
RECs are not bad – they support renewable energy overall, and bring down the cost for everyone. But they are not the same as generating renewable energy at home. They send our money out of state instead of investing in our local community.
For that reason, Ready for 100 asked the city of Columbus not just to pursue aggregation for 100% renewable energy, but also commit to seeking local sources of renewable energy, through construction of renewable energy projects here in Ohio, preferably in Central Ohio.
And that’s exactly what the city of Columbus – as well as Grove City – did. Last year both cities put electric aggregation for 100% renewable energy on their ballots, where both initiatives passed by a landslide, committing these cities to 100% renewable energy generated here in Ohio.
The Pleasant Prairie Solar Energy Center is a perfect example of such a local clean energy project. But because of its location near Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park, which I visit at least weekly, I wanted to make sure the developer is adhering to strong environmental practices.
- Through several conversations with project staff, I learned that Invenergy plans to:
- Plant diverse native vegetation throughout the project site
- Use wildlife friendly fencing
- Increase setbacks and screening
- Use anti-glare coating on solar panels
- Leave the land in as good or better condition than it started in decommissioning the project.
I was impressed with the extent of public outreach Invenergy has done to hundreds of neighbors in the project area, through letters, phone calls, and door knocking. They have also met with numerous local officials, government agencies, and community groups. Because of input from these conversations, Invenergy has changed some of its project plans.
For those who have not seen Invenergy’s application for the Pleasant Prairie project, I urge them to go to the case documents. The application consists of thousands of pages in 25 parts covering all manner of environmental, economic, and social considerations.
The environmental benefits of the Pleasant Prairie solar project are clear. If approved, this project would generate enough clean electricity to supply almost 50,000 homes, reducing carbon emissions equivalent to taking over 54,000 gas cars off the road.
According to EPA calculations, moving to this much clean energy would lower pollution enough to cut health-care costs by $75 million, and result in 8 fewer deaths, 233 fewer cases of breathing illness, and over 2,300 fewer missed school days.
Besides the benefits to our environment, the Pleasant Prairie project is also an investment in our local economy. It would create 800 construction jobs, and four full-time operations jobs. Project developers would also pay millions of dollars in taxes to county and township governments each year to support our schools, libraries, and emergency services.
For all these reasons — as a neighbor of the project, as a climate activist, and as all the titles I mentioned — I strongly support the Pleasant Prairie Solar Energy Center, and urge you as members of the Ohio Power Siting Board to approve it.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify, and I would be happy to answer any questions.
Simply Living, a Columbus nonprofit that promotes sustainability, environmental awareness, and our local economy, has begun a Renew, Rebuild, Relaunch initiative that includes two new board members and a new executive director, along with several new initiatives to be announced at its online annual meeting at 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 18, 2021. Registration is at bit.ly/SimplyLiving2021.
New Board Members
Simply Living is pleased to announce that Kai Landis and Robert H. Sloan have agreed to join its Board of Directors.
Kai Landis is founder and CEO of Green Roots LLC, a women-owned and MBE/EDGE certified small business located in Columbus. Green Roots is a sustainability-minded consulting firm helping clients meet their event and project goals while taking into consideration the environmental, financial, and social impact. Kai founded Green Roots to help businesses and non-profits implement projects with a lighter environmental footprint without sacrificing style or interfering with the financial bottom line.
As a community servant, Landis currently serves as the President of the Young Women’s Christian Council and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She is a past chair of the Community Engagement Committee for the Columbus Mayor’s Green Team, African American Leadership Academy Advisory Board, the boards for Yay Bikes and Green Columbus, and the Wexner Center’s Shumate Advisory Council.
Landis holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from The Ohio State University and attended Case Western Reserve School of Law (Ohio).
Robert H. Sloan is owner at Sloan Saxbe Creative, Columbus. Sloan Saxbe creative strives to boost clients’ brands and help build revenue with great graphic design and promotions, having been in business since 2016. Bob is a down-to-earth graphic designer and writer with extensive print, print purchasing, curriculum design and web design, including corporate and agency, experience.
Bob received his BFA degree in graphic design from the Columbus College of Art and Design in 1982, and was at University of Cincinnati in the 1976-1977 academic year.
Sloan is also affiliated with the Ohio Art League, the Worthington Area Art League and the Greater Columbus Arts Council.
Appointment of Executive Director
Simply Living is thrilled to announce the appointment of Cathy Cowan Becker as executive director.
Cathy Cowan Becker is a longtime leader on environment and sustainability issues in Columbus and Ohio. Most recently, she has chaired the Ready for 100 campaign, asking cities to move to 100% renewable energy. Cathy led the campaign in Columbus from 2017-2020, when it was instrumental in advocating for putting Community Choice Aggregation for 100% renewable energy on the city ballots of both Columbus and Grove City. She also works with Ready for 100 teams in Dayton, Toledo, and more.
Cathy is a trained Climate Reality leader (Iowa 2015, Denver 2017, Atlanta 2019), and started the Columbus chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby in 2014. She is a member of the Sustainable Columbus Advisory Committee and Grove City Environmental Committee, as well as elected member of Franklin County Democratic Party Central Committee from Columbus Ward 79, member of Westland Area Commission, and a fellow at the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity.
In her professional life, Cathy has a 25-year career in journalism, communications, and public relations. She recently earned a dual master’s in public administration and environment and natural resources from The Ohio State University.
It’s that time again! It has been quite a year since we last convened for the Simply Living Annual Meeting. This year’s event — a virtual dinner — will take place Sunday, April 18, from 5 to 7 p.m. We are excited to welcome our members, allies, and the public as we share our progress and goals for this onward year.
Register for this online event at bit.ly/SimplyLiving2021
Last year we awarded Cathy Cowan Becker the Carol Fisher Award for Community Service, and this year we are pleased to introduce her as our new executive director. To no one’s surprise, she has carried the torch, taken the reins, and charged out of the gate full-throttle. We’re thrilled with all we’ve accomplished under her direction, and we look forward to sharing what’s in the works.
Cathy will pass the community service torch in recognizing exemplar Claus Eckert of Green Columbus who will receive the Carol Fisher Award for Community Service. We will also recognize bright beacon Rita Haider as Outstanding Volunteer, unwavering anchor Lisa Kreischer as Outstanding Staff Member, and social-media-post-savvy Savannah Smith as our on-board social media amplifier. In addition, we have added the Momentum Award to recognize organizations, and will recognize Sunrise Movement Columbus Hub for their momentum in the sustainability movement. Hub leader Vicky-Abou Ghalioum will be on hand with several hub members.
A Virtual Dinner? Order takeout from Simply Living affiliate restaurants
This year’s Simply Living Annual Meeting will be a virtual dinner with people encouraged to order takeout from two restaurants affiliated with Simply Living: Freedom Ala Carte and Sassafras Bakery!
Please share this information with interested friends.
About Simply Living
Simply Living promotes sustainability, environmental awareness, and our local economy through educational outreach and partnerships within our community. We have been educating the residents of Central Ohio about how to live more sustainably since 1992. Simply Living serves as the Central Ohio hub for the national Transition movement. Our Sustainable University community calendar on SimplyLiving.org showcases events and learning opportunities for living locally and sustainably. By making life good together, Simply Living aspires to create a more compassionate and sustainable world through personal, community, and cultural transformation.
Posted on November 4, 2020
A seismic shift is happening in the energy landscape in Ohio. Yesterday, Columbus voters approved Issue 1 and Grove City voters approved Issue 10. Both measures enact Community Choice Aggregation for 100% renewable energy. #YesForIssue1 #YesForIssue10
Issue 1 in Columbus and Issue 10 in Grove City were the culmination of years of work by our all-volunteer grassroots Ready for 100 Columbus and Ready for 100 Ohio campaigns. We are absolutely thrilled to see both initiatives approved by voters!
By passing Issue 1, Columbus voters have approved the city’s contract with AEP to provide 100% renewable energy at bulk purchase rates. What’s more, the electricity will be supplied through construction of all NEW clean energy projects in Ohio and Central Ohio.
Community Choice Aggregation for 100% renewable energy will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Columbus by 1.2 million metric tons – equivalent to taking 260,000 cars off the road. It’s between 11% and 19% of our total emissions, depending on how you count.
It will also kick off a new clean energy industry in Central Ohio, creating jobs while cleaning our air and improving our health. Over 1000 MW of solar and wind energy projects are already in development in Ohio to furnish the renewable energy demand for Columbus.
What’s more, the program will generate up to $1.7 million in community grant funds to address energy inequities in the opportunity neighborhoods of Columbus. It could be used for energy efficiency, renewable energy, solar panels for schools, or lowering power bills for tenants.
The Columbus electric aggregation program will be the largest in the Midwest and third-largest in the country. We thank Councilmembers Rob Dorans and Emmanuel Remy for their championship of 100% renewable energy, and Mayor Andrew Ginther for leading the way.
But perhaps even more remarkable than Columbus passing Issue 1 is Grove City passing Issue 10. Grove City is a majority Republican community, and leaders in some prominent environmental groups told us outright that Issue 10 would fail. They were wrong.
The people of Grove City care about sustainability. They care about clean air, clean water, and the legacy they are leaving for their children and grandchildren. The Grove City Sustainability Committee unanimously endorsed Community Choice Aggregation for 100% renewable energy.
With approval of Issue 10, Grove City can now move forward in seeking a utility to provide 100% renewable energy supplied by wind and solar facilities built in Ohio. It will reduce emissions by almost 75,000 metric tons, equivalent to taking almost 16,000 cars off the road.
Grove City Councilmember Ted Berry championed electric aggregation through city government and co-chaired the campaign to pass it with our Ready for 100 Ohio chair Cathy Cowan Becker. It was truly a bipartisan endeavor with participation from both Republicans and Democrats.
If Issue 1 can pass in Columbus and Issue 10 can pass in Grove City, then Community Choice Aggregation for 100% renewable energy can pass in any community in Ohio. We hope to see Ohio cities, counties and townships everywhere get on board.
Energy aggregation has been around in Ohio since 1999, and over 400 communities have used it. It’s a way for local communities to take control of their own energy supplies. Any community can use it to demand 100% renewable energy supplied through local clean energy generation.
Ready for 100 is proud that our all-volunteer grassroots activism, including gathering more than 5000 signatures in support of 100% renewable energy, is driving this to happen in Central Ohio. We look forward to the day when all power everywhere comes from 100% clean energy!
Posted on October 15, 2020
This November, voters in Columbus — the 14th-largest city in the country — will decide on Issue 1, while voters in Grove City — Central Ohio’s largest and fastest-growing suburb — will decide on Issue 10. Both initiatives would enact Community Choice Aggregation for 100 percent renewable energy.
If approved, Issue 1 and Issue 10 would allow each city to obtain bulk purchase rates for electricity for all eligible residents and businesses, without raising taxes or electric bills. By pooling together their electricity demand, Columbus and Grove City could get a better product for the same or lower price.
But there’s more. Through Community Choice Aggregation, these cities could work with a utility that’s ready to build out a local supply of renewable energy – new solar and wind projects that would create good-paying jobs in manufacturing, construction, and maintenance here in Ohio.
While Grove City is waiting until after the election to seek a utility supplier, Columbus has moved forward with the selection process. In its request for proposals, the city sought a utility that could provide 100% renewable energy with new construction of wind and solar projects in Ohio, while creating equity programs for eight opportunity neighborhoods: Franklinton, Hilltop, Linden, Near East, Northeast, Northland, Southeast, and the Southside.
Of four utilities vying for the Columbus aggregation contract, the city selected AEP Energy, which plans to invest $1 billion in building out 700 megawatts of new solar and wind energy that will displace use of fossil fuels. The aim is to kick off a clean energy industry in Central Ohio.
Moving each city’s electricity to 100 percent renewable energy will significantly lower carbon pollution in Central Ohio. If voters in Columbus approve Issue 1, the city’s greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by 1.2 million metric tons annually — equivalent to taking 260,000 cars off the road. Passing Issue 10 in Grove City would reduce emissions by almost 75,000 metric tons annually — like taking almost 16,000 cars off the road.
Hundreds of communities in Ohio have already aggregated their electricity supply. Last year, voters in Worthington approved electric aggregation for 100 percent renewable energy, saving residents and businesses there almost $100,000 in the first 10 months of the program.
Issue 1 in Columbus and Issue 10 in Grove City give voters the choice to save money, create jobs, lower pollution, improve our health, and invest in our own community — all in one program. Anyone who doesn’t want to participate can opt out with no penalties or fees.
If you would like to volunteer to help pass Issue 1 and Issue 10, please sign up here.
Posted on September 9, 2020
I am going to post something that some of my friends, even some of my close friends, may not like. But I’ve thought long and hard, and these are the conclusions I have reached based on what I’ve seen and experienced.
I am going to vote Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for president and vice president. Am I happy with these nominees? No. Biden sponsored the crime bill, sponsored the bankruptcy legislation that makes it impossible to discharge student loan debt, and said he would veto Medicare for All.
So here’s why I am voting for Biden — and why as the Central Committee representative for Columbus Ward 79, I will do my best to get voters in my ward to vote for him too.
1. Climate. The climate crisis is an existential threat. There are no jobs, no health care, no nothing on a dead planet. If we don’t significantly reduce carbon emissions by 2030, the biosphere that supports life will come apart, and will be unable to continue supporting human civilization and life on earth. It will be an ugly death full of famine, disease, displacement, extinction, and war. We must do whatever we can to avoid that.
Joe Biden’s platform on climate is actually pretty decent. It promises to roll out thousands of clean energy jobs and move the country to 100% renewable energy by 2020. It doesn’t do enough to confront fossil fuels — for example, it doesn’t ban fracking — but the act of moving to 100% renewable energy would itself reduce dependence on fossil fuels. That opens up a window of time in which we can continue to work for an end to fossil fuel consumption.
By contrast, if Trump is re-elected, it is nothing less than the end of a livable planet. During his first term, Trump has gutted hundreds of environmental regulations, including on methane regulations from fracking operations. Methane is 86 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. A continued expansion in methane emissions would destroy our biosphere.
Trump is also attacking our nation’s bedrock environmental laws — the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and more. So far environmental organizations have been able to sue and prevent the worst of these attacks from bearing fruit. But another four years will chip away at that bulwark and those laws will be gone. The incredible natural spaces in this country will be unrecognizable after four more years of Trump. Our iconic species will be hunted, trapped, poisoned to extinction.
2. Democracy. Trump openly admires the most ruthless dictators around the world — for example, in Brazil, North Korea, Russia, and the Philippines. He sees the U.S. government as an extension of himself, and believes the function of government — for example, the office of the attorney general — is not to serve the American people but to serve himself.
Right now Trump is actively trying to undermine the main threat to his re-election — voting by mail — by destroying the post office. He is doing this openly — everyone can see it. Behind the scenes, billionaires including Trump are funding operatives all over the country to destabilize the vote and set up claims of voting fraud — in reality almost non-existent. Funding for such operations has sharply increased leading up to the 2020 election.
Are the Democrats great at democracy? No. We all saw what they did to Bernie not once by twice. I will never forget the dirty tricks throughout the 2016 primary. In 2020, in an effort to overwhelm such fuckery, Bernie built the largest base of campaign volunteers and small-dollar donors in U.S. history — but a few calls from Obama at a key moment got most of the other candidates to fall in line behind Biden, and soon after Bernie was out.
Now Bernie is urging his supporters to vote for Biden, in a move that some call sheep dogging. I don’t believe this is sheep dogging. Unlike most of us, Bernie literally suffered the loss of most his family on his father’s side to the Nazis during WWII. Most of us learned about WWII in the history books or from movies. Bernie grew up in its shadows. It shaped his formative years. Bernie has personally experienced the results of allowing a fascist dictatorship to take root. He doesn’t want that to happen here — and neither do I.
If Donald Trump is re-elected, the things we are seeing happen right now in the streets of Portland and Kenosha will look like child’s play compared to what we will see rolled out across the country. We have seen that large swaths of our police departments are willing to carry out the wishes of a fascist regime. We have seen that a significant portion of our fellow Americans will applaud them for doing so. We have seen that the major targets are black people, poor people, young people, and people of color in general.
In the words of Werner Herzog, we are waking up to the reality that one-third of our citizens would kill another third of our citizens while the rest watch. Well, I can’t stand by and watch. We have two months to prevent this, and I am going to do whatever I can to keep it from happening. It’s not that I think Joe Biden is great — but he’s not going to turn the country into a fascist dictatorship, and it is not an exaggeration to say Trump will. In just the first four years, Trump has done a lot of damage to our democratic processes already worn thin by 40 years of corporate rule. Another four years will let him loose to do whatever he wants. There likely won’t be another chance to hold him accountable by voting him out because there likely won’t be a 2024 election. Are things bad now? Yes, they are — but they could get much worse.
We are at a perilous moment in our country’s history, and I feel it is imperative to act in a way that minimizes the peril. Is the Democratic Party partly responsible for putting us in this situation? Absolutely they are. But right now our house is on fire. Right now a cancerous growth is overtaking our body. Use whatever metaphor you want, but we are in an existential crisis. We have to deal with that first, or it will be too late for anything else we do to matter.
3. Theory of change. “But if you vote for Biden,” I can hear some of my friends say, “what leverage do you have to get him to change? If you promise your vote from the outset, how are you going to get Biden to do anything about Medicare for All, student loan debt relief, affordable housing, criminal justice reform, and all the other progressive priorities we need?”
I get that. But with all due respect, I disagree with that theory of change, which argues that we must use progressive votes as leverage to get what we want while Biden is still a candidate, because we won’t have that leverage after he is elected. Here is why I disagree with that approach.
a) Right now we don’t have leverage with the Democratic Party. Do the Democrats care what progressives think? Watch the DNC convention to get an answer to that. Clearly the Democratic Party is going after votes from never-Trump Republicans. They care more about John Kasich than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. People who think withholding their vote will create leverage over the Democratic Party misunderstand the party’s priorities.
b) If we withhold enough votes, especially in key swing states, then it won’t matter whether we have leverage over a Biden administration because Trump will win. The leverage theory seems to be predicated on the idea that Biden will be president, but that is not a given. In fact, the Democratic Party — whether out of incompetence, arrogance, or being sold out — seems to be doing everything it can to alienate the voters it needs, such as the people of Flint poisoned by former Gov. Rick Snyder, whose endorsement they touted last week. We can’t prevent the Democratic Party’s missteps, but we don’t need to add to them — not when the alternative is fascism.
This party has not learned a damn thing from 2016. Why would we expect them to learn anything from losing to Trump again in 2020? We have to proceed as if it’s a given that the Democratic Party leadership is arrogant, incompetent, and incapable of seeing what is obvious to everyone else.
At the same time, we also have to hold on to our democracy and our climate — and to me, that is a higher calling than sticking it to the Democratic Party. Yes, it’s true that party leadership scorns progressives and doesn’t act in our or even their own best interest. But I will still do whatever I can to keep them from losing, because if that happens, we will lose everything we hold dear — everything our lives depend on — in the process. That price tag is too high for me. I would rather swallow my pride and live on to fight on another day.
So here is my theory of change. It is too late now to vote for the candidate who we could have trusted to fight for the progressive agenda that we all know this country needs without us having to push. Instead, we should use our votes to choose the candidate who we can get the most traction from for our progressive agenda if he becomes president — and that candidate is Biden.
If Biden wins, I am not going back to sleep. I will be out there on Day 1 fighting for an end to fossil fuels, for Medicare for All, for student debt forgiveness and tuition free college, for criminal justice reform such as an end to private prisons, civilian review boards, and legalization of marijuana, for making billionaires and corporations pay their fair share of taxes, for a living wage and affordable housing, workers rights, and expanding animal and environmental protections. And I will be demanding Biden make good on his promise to create millions of good-paying jobs in a clean energy economy.
Can such a movement work? Hell, yes it can. I have seen that with my own eyes in Columbus, Ohio, where this year as a result of grassroots efforts, city leaders have put two critical initiatives on the November ballot: community choice aggregation for 100% renewable energy by 2022, and a civilian police review board. I helped lead the grassroots effort that get the renewable energy initiative, and others led the campaign that got the civilian review board and other criminal justice reforms. None of that was done without people-powered campaigns. It was 5,000 signatures we gathered that helped get renewable energy done. It was thousands of people flooding the streets after the murder of George Floyd that helped get police reform done.
We have made real progress here in the 14th-largest city in the country. If it can be done here, it can be done anywhere — but not against a Trump administration. In Columbus we have what is basically a one-party Democratic machine. It’s not like we had much leverage with our votes because they were going to win regardless. Where we had leverage is in people — strong grassroots campaigns. That is how we made change.
But it can only work in a democracy — even a flawed democracy. It doesn’t work in a fascist regime. We cannot risk moving this country to fascism to get what we want, because then what we want will be gone forever.
That is why, even though I am not a fan of Joe Biden, I will be voting for Joe Biden. I will not vote shame or pressure anyone else, but I will make the case for why I am voting for Biden, and I hope other progressives will consider what I have to say here, especially if they live in a swing state.
Regardless of whether we agree on this specific strategy and theory of change, I hope I can continue working with my progressive friends to enact the policy agenda we all know this country needs. Part of the reason we are on the precipice of fascism in the first place is 40 years of a neoliberal corporate regime that has taken over both parties. The policies we support would lower the risk of fascism, but we have to pull ourselves back from the brink first.
I also understand the role of third parties in this fight. As Marianne Williamson told the Movement for a People’s Party convention, third parties played a critical role in winning abolition of slavery, votes for women, and Social Security. The inside-outside strategy will be critical moving forward.
But while a third party will be important in the fight ahead during a Biden administration, it’s not a factor in my vote. I would love to have a truly multiparty system like many other countries have, but we aren’t going to get a viable third or fourth party by November. Our realistic choices in 2020 are Biden or Trump — and while neither are what I want, there is a difference. One allows us to live on to fight another day, while the other does not.
The choice seems pretty clear to me.
Image credit: Vote Trump Out campaign by RootsAction
Posted on August 11, 2020
Note: I sent this message to Our Revolution Ohio supporters in OH-15 to explain my vote since I am representing them as the only remaining Bernie delegate from our Congressional district.
Greetings! Many of you I know, and some of you I don’t know, but I am sending this message to everyone on the Our Revolution Ohio list in Ohio’s Congressional District 15. Many of you turned out back on January 7 to vote for delegates to represent Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Convention this year.
It feels like a lifetime ago now — Bernie suspended his campaign in April, and we’ve been hit by a pandemic and economic recession — but that day was hopeful as you can see from the faces of the OH-15 delegates in the photo above — from left to right, Cynthia Vermillion, Brian Meyers, Portia Boulger, Michael Grom, Cathy Cowan Becker (me), Drew Ullman, and Brittany Alexander.
Out of all of us, I am the only delegate from OH-15 left standing for Bernie at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, which officially starts next week. Across the state Bernie garnered only 13 elected pledged delegates, 5 at-large delegates, and 3 party leader delegates. By contrast, Biden got 76 pledged delegates, 24 at-large delegates, and 15 party leader delegates.
The good news is, even though we are vastly outnumbered by the Biden folks, Bernie delegates are activists, and we are punching above our weight. Nowhere is that more evident than the votes we are casting at the DNC. Although the virtual convention starts next week, voting has been going on since last Monday, August 3. And today, hundreds of us are coordinating to cast our votes at 3 p.m. That’s what I am writing to you about.
Here are the votes that I and almost 800 other delegates will cast today:
Ballot #1 — Nomination for the Democratic Candidate for President
The choices here are Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Abstain. I am voting for Senator Bernie Sanders as I was elected by you all to do and I am pledged to do. Although Bernie suspended his campaign, he did not drop out as the other candidates did, but kept his name on the ballot. I am fulfilling my pledge to vote to nominate him for president.
Ballot #2 — Approval of the Democratic Party Platform
The choices here are Yes, No, and Abstain. I am joining almost 800 other delegates from around the country to vote NO on the Democratic Party Platform. Although the platform did include some good things to address climate change, it failed to include Medicare for All. The Platform Committee would not even vote to extend Medicare to people age 55 and older, a policy that Hillary Clinton supported in 2016.
Instead the DNC platform calls for a public option — but here is the problem with a public option. As soon as we have a taxpayer-funded option, but private insurance is still allowed to exist for profit, the private corporations will dump their oldest and sickest patients into the public system. Then the public system will go bankrupt trying to pay for a disproportionate amount of care, while the private corporations continue to make a profit. Eventually the case will be made that public health care doesn’t work, and it will be defunded.
When we say we need Medicare for All, we mean ALL. The entire point of insurance is that it covers everyone. That allows the majority of people who are healthy to cover the minority of people who are sick. It also incentivizes preventive care and healthy lifestyles, including cleaning up the environment, so people don’t get sick in the first place. This is how it works in many other countries.
The United States is the only major country on earth without a publicly funded health care system. Why? Medicare for All would cover a lot more people for a lot less money. With a single-payer publicly funded health-care system, people can go back to school or start a new business without having to worry about getting sick or hurt. They can spend the money they would have been forced to pay to insurance and pharma executives on family necessities.
Most important, we are the only major country on earth where 40,000 people die per year due to lack of health care and 650,000 people go bankrupt each year due to medical costs. It is wrong and immoral that we as a country tolerate this, and it has to stop.
Historically the Democratic Party has fought for universal health care, from Harry Truman to Teddy Kennedy, and even Hillary Clinton in the 90s. We must become the party that fights for people and not corporations again. It’s time to take our party back, and that’s what this vote is about. Look on social media for the hashtags #M4AllNow and #DrawTheLine for more.
Ballot #3 — Approval of a Resolution Recommended by the Rules Committee
The choices here are Yes, No, and Abstain. I am voting YES. This vote pertains to the proposal by the Rules Committee for the selection of the Democratic nominee in upcoming elections. As you may know, progressives fought hard to remove superdelegates from the DNC nomination process. I went to the DNC meeting in Chicago where this decision was made, to lobby DNC leadership (see photo below). Superdelegates — or automatic delegates who can vote for whoever they want and are not pledged to any candidate — were created in 1982. There are 764 superdelegates, or about 16 percent of all DNC delegates who choose the nominee. If a primary is close, they could end up choosing who the Democrats nominate for president.
In 2018, the Sanders members of the Rules Committee fought to eliminate superdelegates altogether. We were basically asking them to remove themselves from the nominating process. We didn’t get that, but we did get the stipulation that superdelegates could not vote in the first round of the primary unless their share of the vote would make no difference in the outcome — and even that reform was put into the “Call for the Convention,” which sets the rules for the 2020 convention but would lapse after that if not extended.
So the task of the Sanders delegates on the Rules Committee in 2020 was to get that reform made permanent. We did not get that, but we did get it extended to the 2024 convention. Thus, by voting on YES on the Rules Committee resolution, we are preventing superdelegates from returning to the first round of the Democratic primary in 2024. We are preventing a scenario where the media counts superdelegate votes before the votes are cast, as they did in 2016 when they continually made it look as if Bernie had no chance against Hillary, when clearly he did. We do not want that to happen again. Although no one wants to abolish superdelegates altogether more than I do, that proposal is unfortunately not on the table right now. But at least I can vote to vote to keep superdelegates from coming back again in 2024.
I know this isn’t the DNC convention we were hoping to have as Bernie delegates. 2020 has been a topsy-turvy year with developments no one could have foreseen, such as a $61 million bribery scandal at the Ohio Statehouse in which the House speaker was arrested on evidence gathered by a Koch brothers-affiliated Republican operative wearing a wire for the FBI. I don’t know about you, but I did not have THAT on my 2020 Bingo card!
But the fact is, our movement is making progress. Look at our recent elections. People like Jamaal Bowman, Mondaire Jones, and Cori Bush are joining the Squad in Congress, and current Squad members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib have been re-elected by wide margins. Our movement isn’t going anywhere, and is in fact making progress. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and we must build the world we need from the ground up. It won’t be done overnight, but it will be done. I know that from the incredible spirit and will of the Bernie delegates and progressive candidates from around the country that we have at the table now.
I encourage you to stay involved. Please consider joining any of the progressive organizations working to advance our issues and elect our candidates in Ohio. Theses include Our Revolution Ohio, Democratic Socialists of America, Sunrise Movement, and more. Because when we organize, we win!
Posted on June 30, 2020
Ohio Power Siting Board
Case Number: 00608581
Testimony of Cathy Cowan Becker
Chair, Ready for 100, Ohio Sierra Club
Members of the Ohio Power Siting Board,
Thank you for allowing me to testify today on the proposal by Ohio State University to build a combined heat and power plant to be powered by fracked gas on the west side of campus.
My name is Cathy Cowan Becker, and I am chair of the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign in Columbus and in Ohio. Ready for 100 is a campaign to ask cities to commit to transitioning to 100% renewable energy. So far 165 cities, 13 counties, 8 states, DC, and Puerto Rico have all made this commitment. That means 100 million people — or 1 in 3 in the United States — live in a jurisdiction that is committed to transitioning to 100% clean energy.
In Ohio, we have four cities that have formally committed to transitioning to 100% renewable energy by passing a resolution in their city councils and integrating the steps for how to get there in their city’s climate action plan. Those cities are Cleveland, Cincinnati (city 100), Lakewood, and South Euclid. We also have active campaigns in several cities including Columbus, Dayton, Marietta, Toledo, and Worthington. Two cities — Bexley and Maple Heights — have mayors who have signed a pledge to pass this commitment in their cities.
As you know, carbon emissions are driving the climate crisis. Over the past few years, one study after another has come out warning us that the window of time to preserve a livable planet is rapidly closing. According to the science — much of it from Ohio State — under business as usual scenarios by the end of the century we are looking at:
- Large swaths of the planet becoming unlivable at a time when human populations are at an all-time high
- The collapse of human agriculture and natural food systems due to droughts, floods, fires, and ocean acidification
- Up to 1 billion climate refugees forced to flee their homes – something civil society cannot withstand
- The extinction of up to 1 million species — other creatures who evolved and share this small planet with us wiped out.
While it is too late to avoid the effects of the climate crisis altogether, scientists say that by taking swift and decisive action now, we can avoid its worst effects. To do that, we must cut carbon emissions 7.6% every year for the next 10 years.
That is a very tall order, but one way it can be done is by working with cities, which are responsible for 70% of carbon emissions. If we can get cities to transition to 100% renewable energy, that will take a big bite out of climate change.
For the past three years, the Ready for 100 Columbus campaign has been working with city government to push for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean transportation programs that will make a material difference in lowering the city’s carbon emissions. We have seen a lot of progress in that time. Among other things, the city of Columbus has:
- Set a goal of conducting 30,000 home energy audits, especially in low-income areas where people have high energy burdens
- Developed a Residential Property Assessed Clean Energy program to finance clean energy upgrades at homes, similar to the program the city has for commercial buildings
- Passed a transparency ordinance requiring owners of large buildings to disclose their energy use, so the city can better track specific sources of emissions
- Exceeded its goal for adoption of electric vehicles, with plans to set an even higher goal in coming years.
Currently the city of Columbus is putting together its Climate Action Plan, with targets for reducing emissions in multiple sectors including Buildings, Renewables, Vehicle Electrification, Transit, Land Use, Waste, and Finance, with the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
One of the most important steps for achieving this goal is the city’s plan to pursue Community Choice Aggregation for 100% renewable energy. Through aggregation, local governments can use the buying power of many customers in their communities to purchase electricity or natural gas on their behalf. Aggregation is usually used to negotiate for lower prices in energy, but it can also be used to negotiate the source of the energy supply.
During his 2020 State of the City address in February, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther announced a plan to pursue Community Choice Aggregation for 100% renewable energy by 2022. Last month Columbus City Council voted to hire a firm to oversee writing initiative language and putting aggregation on the November ballot. This month the city issued a request for utilities to submit proposals on how they would provide 100% renewable energy to the city of Columbus — the entire city and its almost 1 million residents, not just city operations — by 2022.
It is hard to overstate what a game-changer Community Choice Aggregation will be for the energy supply, not just in Columbus but across Central Ohio. Worthington has already aggregated for 100% renewable energy through a 2019 ballot initiative that passed by 75%. Now Bexley, Grove City, Dublin, and other suburbs are looking at doing the same.
Even more exciting is the source of the renewable energy to fulfill these aggregation contracts. Rather than simply buying Renewable Energy Certificates, basically carbon offsets, cities in Central Ohio want to use aggregation for 100% renewable energy to leverage financing to build out local renewable energy projects that would create good-paying jobs right here in Ohio.
It’s a model that Cincinnati is successfully using in its aggregation program, through which it committed to buying power from a solar farm under construction in Highland County. Cincinnati had long been aggregated for 100% renewable energy, and until recently had fulfilled its contract by buying RECs. When Cincinnati committed to buying the power for its aggregation contract from a local solar plant instead, that’s what got the banks to okay financing the project.
As Community Choice Aggregation for 100% renewable energy spreads across Ohio, we expect to see significant improvements in the energy mix of our grid. Currently Ohio is the sixth-highest carbon emitting state. By pooling together our customers on the local level, we can create good-paying jobs for Ohioans, clean our air, improve public health — and help ensure a livable planet for future generations. There is literally no downside to aggregation.
That’s why I was so surprised — and dismayed — to learn that Ohio State University — where I recently earned a dual master’s degree in public administration and environment and natural resources — wants to build a plant to be powered by fracked gas in the middle of campus. Not only does the university want to invest millions of dollars in fossil fuel infrastructure — they have even made a fracked gas plant the centerpiece of their own climate action plan. At a time when the rest of the state is pursuing a clean energy future, this makes absolutely no sense.
Here are some of the specific issues we have with the proposed fracked gas plant at Ohio State University and the university’s overall climate action plan:
- The university claims the gas plant will immediately reduce emissions by 35% compared to the current grid in Central Ohio. However, nowhere does the university take into account that the source of energy for all of Central Ohio will be changing very soon, as Community Choice Aggregation for 100% renewable energy takes effect and helps lead to build out of new renewable energy projects to supply energy in our local area. To claim a 35% difference in emissions to the current grid is not relevant when the grid is likely to be completely different by the time this gas plant would be built.
- The plan accounts for the lower emissions of gas burned at the site of the plant, but does not account for emissions from methane that is flared during the fracking process or leaks during the transportation and pipelines of fracked gas. As a greenhouse gas, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over 20 years — and it just so happens the next decade is critical to addressing the climate crisis. The last thing we need to be doing is putting more methane into the atmosphere. In fact, new research is finding that methane emissions from fracking have wiped out the advantage of gas over coal. Add to that the damage to the water, air, and land of the Appalachian regions where fracking takes place, and Ohio State is basically outsourcing its dirty fossil fuel pollution to some of the poorest most disadvantaged areas of the state.
- Most of the rest of the university’s claimed reduction in carbon emissions — a full 55% — is attributed to the development of “green hydrogen,” which the university’s climate action plan says will take the place of fracked gas in 10 years. Yet the plan itself admits that current green hydrogen technology is 40 times more expensive than gas, and there is no guarantee this technology will be any more viable in the next decade. In fact, the entire argument is remarkably similar to claims of “clean coal” made over the decades that have never materialized. Coal plants don’t use clean coal technology because it would cost more to install and operate than the profits they make from burning coal. Why would this technology be any different — and why should we bet more than half the university’s carbon emissions on the claim that it is, when the university could be moving forward with clean energy technology that we know is financially viable right now?
- The university has not taken a serious enough look at renewable energy as an option for supplying the energy needed at Ohio State. Renewable energy can be obtained in a number of ways. Although buildout of large-scale solar may not be possible on the Columbus campus, it could be done on the branch campuses where there is more room. The university could also work with local utilities and financing agencies to construct new renewable energy projects in Central Ohio to supply the campus, much as cities are starting to do. Heating could be moved to heat pumps that are used in much of the rest of the world, powered by electricity, as well as an expansion of geothermal which is already in use in some buildings at Ohio State. Additional energy could also be purchased from renewable energy providers as the energy landscape in Ohio changes.
- If allowed to be built, the gas plant would worsen local air pollution, adding 40 tons of fine particulate matter pollution to central Columbus and Franklin County. Long-term exposure to air pollution has been shown to increase the risks of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, as well as COVID-19. The air quality of Franklin County is already badly polluted, receiving a grade of “F” in the American Lung Association’s 2019 State of the Air report. All of this would significantly affect the health of 60,000 students who attend Ohio State University, faculty and staff who work there, patients at their medical facilities, and people who live and work in the surrounding community.
In sum, the proposal to build a fracked gas plant in the middle of the state’s flagship university campus, in the middle of our capital city, during a climate crisis makes no sense — especially when we have much cleaner, cheaper, and more viable renewable energy alternatives that cities in Central Ohio are already exploring, but that the university has not taken into account.
For all these reasons, we ask that the Ohio Power Siting Board deny the university’s proposal to build a fracked gas plant on campus. We also ask that you hold an additional hearing on this matter. This hearing is taking place in the middle of summer, postponed from April, at a time when no students are on campus. Most students, as well as most people who live in the community, have no idea this is being discussed. Further, there have been multiple problems with the OPSB website and reports of difficulties in signing up to attend the hearing today. Please hold an additional hearing on this matter so that those who will be affected most by this proposal have a chance to hear about it and participate. Thank you for your time.
Video: Ohio State University Combined Heat and Power Facility Public Hearing, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, June 30, 2020
News Story: Concerns Raised About Proposed Power Plant on OSU Campus, Columbus Underground, June 9, 2020
Action Alert: Tell the Ohio Power Siting Board: Reject OSU’s proposal for a new gas plant on campus (Must have an Ohio address – Otherwise send comments to contactOPSB@puco.ohio.gov)
Petition: Get Columbus, Ohio #ReadyFor100% Clean Energy! (Must have an Ohio address)
Photo: The proposed plant as seen from the corner of Herrick Drive and Tharp Street. Rendering by DesignGroup.
Note: This was originally posted on my Facebook page after the first major protest for racial justice in Columbus on Memorial Day weekend 2020. Photo by Paul Becker – you can see all of Paul Becker’s photos from that day here.
Paul and I are back from the Justice for George, Breonna, and Ahmaud protest today at the Ohio Statehouse. You can see my livestreams of the ministers’ action, the marchers, and some of the speakers elsewhere on my page.
After livestreaming for about 45 minutes, I left the speakers area when it became very crowded. Even though 90% of attendees were wearing a mask, I was not comfortable being in that huge crowd. As I started walking toward the car, I got a message from Paul that he was in an area that had been pepper sprayed. So I went back.
Here is what I saw.
First, there was easily 2,000 people at this protest. You can see my 10-minute livestream of hundreds marching in front of the Statehouse – that was less than half the attendees. There were more people than there was room on the sidewalks to hold them. So some people ended up stepping into the street – it was impossible not to.
There wasn’t enough room for everyone to hear the speakers, so some in the crowd started marching instead. I saw hundreds of people marching in a square around the four crosswalks at the intersection of Broad and High. They were peaceful, chanting and carrying signs. They weren’t paying attention to the signal lights, so they were jaywalking, but that was the worst “crime” being committed.
Suddenly a series of bike cops came racing in and stopped in front of them at each corner, forcing everyone back onto the sidewalk. Also arriving were a bunch of cops in full body armor, a SWAT tank equipped with an LRad, and a bunch of mounted police.
Then the tear gassing started. Police gassed people at the corner diagonal from me, then the one directly across from me. A few people were arrested and brought in front of the crowd at my corner to be loaded into a police van. People cheered for those getting arrested.
At one point there was a commotion in the street a few hundred feet in front of me, and medics including Atticus brought a few people to the nearby bus stop to wash out their eyes. I didn’t know it at the time, but that is when Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, City Council President Shannon Hardin, and County Commissioner Kevin Boyce were all pepper sprayed. Here’s more on that.
Eventually the police began to announce on a loudspeaker that they were declaring a state of emergency at Broad and High, telling everyone to clear the area. If we did not leave, “chemical dispersants” would be used to force us out, and we would be subject to arrest. Keep in mind, chemical dispersants had already been used, and there were up to 1,000 people in the area at the time.
Eventually I found Paul, who had been dealing with pepper spray and mace on the other side of the street. We stuck around to get a little bit more video and photos, and then decided to leave.
Here are my thoughts on these events.
This was a completely unnecessary show of force. The people at this protest this morning were peaceful, and the protest organizers made it a point to tell people before the protest began that it would be peaceful, with no property destruction – and there wasn’t.
It was the police who escalated the situation with their heavy handed tactics completely out of proportion to the situation. It makes no sense why they did this, and it is not how they have handled other large crowd protest situations I have been in.
Last September I was proud to take part in the youth climate strike at the Ohio Statehouse. The organizers had a permit to gather on the Statehouse steps and lawn, but not to march. After the speeches, people decided to march to City Hall, Rob Portman’s office, and back to the Statehouse. Instead of arresting us, police closed off roads to traffic to allow 800 people to cross multiple intersections.
No one was pepper sprayed or maced. No one was arrested. There was no SWAT truck or LRad and no one in body armor or riot gear. There were bike cops – that’s who secured several different intersections so we could cross.
Fast forward to today. The organizers of this event didn’t have a permit to march either. But instead of allowing people to express themselves, the police employed a disproportionate show of force. Instead of de-escalating the situation, it made everything much worse.
And all of this started at 11:15 a.m.! If police are going to instigate a standoff with 1,000 protesters at the center of town before noon, what’s it going to be like at midnight??
It’s not like we didn’t already know about the problems with the Columbus police. In 2018 the city created a task force to examine practices of the Columbus police, and the report they commissioned in 2019 found a “significant disparity of use of force against minority residents.” More about that here.
It is long past time for the city to act.
I don’t know nearly as much about police policy as I know about climate and energy. But here are some ideas from other sources.
From the 2019 report on the Columbus Police:
According to news coverage, the report “recommends the Police Division create an “early warning” program to identify potentially problematic officers. That system could be used to intervene when triggered by “more use-of-force incidents than is typical,” community complaints or other warning signs.
Among the many recommendations in the report are that the Police Division:
‒ Continue intense training, education and monitoring to address the disparity of use of force against minorities.
‒ Continue to work on building community trust.
‒ Increase training on de-escalation and procedural justice that deals with using fair processes.
‒ Address concerns raised by employees about internal and external bias.”
Here are some policy solutions tweeted by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (incidentally, elected officials were also maced in Brooklyn today):
“1. Ask your mayor & city council for strong Citizen Review Boards
- Budgets. They’re powerful. Find your city’s police budget. Compare that to the school & housing budget. More $ in fmr Rightwards arrow school-to-prison pipeline
- What does mental healthcare look like in your city? Too often our prisons are used to discard ppl struggling w mental health, housing. Invest in the latter.
- Healthcare, living wage, housing & education guarantees. Without them we feed the cycle.”
Here are some comments from Mary Jo Kilroy:
“The contract between the FOP and the city of Columbus is where the process of eliminating bad/racist officers can either be helped or hurt. It seems as if it expires in June. News reports generally focus on the economic aspects, but how complaints are investigated, and what type of discipline can occur is defined there.
This site compares cities, also shows what to look for in the contracts. For example, in Columbus, although there is progressive discipline, past misconduct can only be used for 2 or 3 years. Also accused officers must be given all of the transcripts, polygraph summaries, witness statements, complaints, etc. reasonably in advance of being questioned, access that a civilian being questioned would not have. https://www.checkthepolice.org/#project”
It sounds to me that just as with the climate crisis, we know what to do about the policing crisis. We just need the political will to do it. I hope city leaders find that political will soon.
Posted on April 26, 2020
Note: I originally published this post as a Note on my Facebook page, then reprinted it in Medium at the request of several friends. There it garnered a lot of attention, getting listed in several articles and blogs about the controversy over Planet of the Humans, and netting me several radio, video, and podcast interviews. You can now find it as a post in Medium’s Noteworthy: A Journal Blog.
I have followed the films of Michael Moore since Roger & Me came out while I was in grad school. Fahrenheit 9/11 looked at what happened to civil liberties in this country after 9/11, and Fahrenheit 11/9 looked at the betrayal of the grassroots leading up to the 2016 election. Where to Invade Next takes on our military-industrial complex, and Sicko exposes the dysfunction and suffering of our ridiculous health care system.
Michael Moore was also one of the most articulate surrogates for Bernie Sanders, explaining better than anyone how Democrats betrayed the working class and lost so many votes in the Rust Belt Midwest in 2016 that we ended up electing Donald Trump. I was proud to get this photo with him in Iowa during Bernie’s campaign in 2020, where he told us how 90,000 people who cast ballots in Michigan didn’t vote for either candidate for president — they left the top of the ticket blank — in a state where Hillary lost by 10,000 votes.
So when I heard that Michael Moore was taking on the topic of climate change, and our nation’s inaction on this existential threat, I was pretty excited to see his new film. There’s so much to skewer here — the wanton destruction of Republicans, the measly gesturing of Democrats — that I thought surely MM would do this topic justice.
But instead of attacking fossil-fuel based system we live in and the politicians who are fiddling while Earth burns, what does Planet of the Humans go after? Environmentalists and renewable energy. It not only makes no sense, but it’s toxic to the environmental movement. It feels like a slap in the face from a friend to have this released on Earth Day.
Film’s core arguments not explored
This is not to say the film has no good points, but those points are not examined. One core argument it makes is that we must scale back our lifestyle of endless consumption of natural resources. Clearly our current levels of consumption are unsustainable, and part of the solution is to get people to consume less. But how do we do that? The film doesn’t take on that question.
For the record, economists have been examining how to scale back endless growth for years. One way of getting our society to be less based on consumption is to change how we measure economic health. Instead of looking simply at gross national product, we need to incorporate measures of well-being, inclusion, and sustainability. The New Economics Foundation proposed five new measures — good jobs, well-being, environment, fairness, and health — back in 2015. Economist Jeffrey Sachs (another Bernie supporter) made this the topic of his 2015 book The Age of Sustainable Development — which he also wrote about here.
But do Moore and his longtime collaborator Jeff Gibbs, who directed Planet of the Humans, explore any of this? No.
Another core argument of the film left unexplored is overpopulation. This comes up a lot on climate discussion boards — there are simply too many people on the planet to be sustainable. Gibbs interviews several academics who make this point — but again does not begin to take on the question of what we should do about it.
This question is not nearly so straightforward as it seems. Where exactly would we begin in reducing the human population? China’s one-child policy, discontinued in 2015, led to forced abortions, infanticide of girls, and now a surplus of bachelors. More recently, the manifesto from the Walmart gunman in El Paso displayed a school of thought known as ecofascism that would resurrect eugenics in deciding who gets to procreate.
Yet if you look at actual data of fertility rates across the world, the countries where women are having the most children are not those with the highest carbon emissions, but those with the lowest. Here’s a graph posted by Zeke Hausfather of Carbon Brief:
The countries with the lowest carbon emissions are the poorest countries with generally higher fertility rates. Demographers have long studied that as well, starting with a model known as the demographic transition posited in 1929.
The model outlines three stages of population growth: 1) pre-development, with high birth rates coupled with high death rates, 2) death rates fall as a result of development and advances in medical treatment, but birth rates remain high, leading to a population boom, and 3) birth rates fall to match lower death rates, leading in to stabilizing population growth. Although the model is a broad generalization, it goes a long way to explaining the world population growth in the past century — and shows how we can bring population growth down.
Climate thinkers have gone beyond the demographic transition to examine how specifically we can get a handle on population growth in today’s world. It turns out we can do this without resorting to one-child policies or ecofascism. The key is to make education of girls, empowerment of women, and reproductive health a priority.
Project Drawdown takes this on directly. The book “describes the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming. For each solution, we describe its history, the carbon impact it provides, the relative cost and savings, the path to adoption, and how it works.”
The second-most impactful solution? Educating girls and family planning, which together result in 85.42 gigatons of carbon reduced or sequestered because women who are empowered choose to have fewer children. This is at the heart of the demographic transition.
But does Moore and Gibbs’s film explore any of this? No.
Misleading attacks on renewable energy
Instead of exploring any of these questions, instead Planet of the Humans spends most of its time attacking the major solution to lowering carbon emissions — renewables — and the enviromentalists and environmental groups that spend their time trying to get our government to move toward clean energy.
In doing so, the film repeats some of the ugliest climate denial tropes and provides fodder to the worst climate denial groups in the country. It’s no accident that environmentalists like Josh Fox are speaking out forcefully against the film while paid industry shills like Myron Ebell are praising it, and online denialists are having a field day.
When the “global warming is a hoax” crowd is touting your film, it’s time to examine yourself.
Old information presented as if it’s current
So let’s look at the attacks of this film on renewable energy. Science writer Ketan Joshi traces the ideas promulgated in the film back to the climate denial heyday of 2010–2015. “It is clear that Gibbs has been trying to make this documentary for a long, long time,” he writes. Most of the ideas in the film about renewable energy — even much of the footage — is out of date.
For example, the solar farm in Lansing, Michigan, that the film says is only 8 percent efficient and produces only 64 MWh of power per year was built in 2008. In the past 12 years solar technology has increased by leaps and bounds. A more recent installation of the same size can now generate 436 MWh per year. To leave the dates off the footage in this film is highly disingenuous. It’s like claiming a cell phone doesn’t let you surf the internet, then showing a flip phone to prove your point.
Other renewable energy installations shown in the film are also misrepresented, Joshi points out. For example, the Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS) in California — the one Gibbs and producer Ozzie Zeher called a “solar dead zone” — is actually a series of nine solar fields that generate 354 MW of electricity. The footage of an old wind farm was an installation in Hawaii that was removed in 2012 — now that site is a farm surrounding the pads the turbines once sat on.
The film also attacks the Ivanpah concentrated solar power (CSP) plant because it requires natural gas to start every morning. What the film doesn’t tell you is that this was one of the first CSPs built and that newer CSP plants do not use gas. For example, the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Facility in Nevada uses molten salt to store energy produced during the day so that is can continue to run at night.
Another denialist trope repeated in this film is that solar and wind can’t possibly work because they are intermittent — the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. The film briefly considers battery storage as the solution to intermittency, but claims that can’t possibly work because we have only a miniscule amount of storage compared to the amount of energy generated.
What the film doesn’t tell you is that we don’t need storage to equal the amount of energy generated. First, more than two-thirds of energy produced is wasted in inefficiency, so one obvious solution is energy efficiency, particularly in buildings — ranging from large office towers to single family homes — which are responsible for 39% of carbon emissions worldwide and are the top source of carbon emissions in cities. Energy efficiency is the baseline step to lowering carbon emissions, with the co-benefits of saving money and making us more energy independent. This solution is completely ignored by Moore and Gibbs’s film.
Also undiscussed is the research of Stanford civil engineer Mark Jacobson and the many research teams inspired by his work in mapping out the path to 100% renewable energy. This research makes two key points: 1) renewables generate electricity much more efficiently than burning fossil fuels, so we don’t need to build as much of it, and 2) once we reach a critical mass of renewable energy on the grid, the intermittency problem will solve itself.
To do that will require upgrading and integrating the grid across the nation, but if that happens, then even if the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing exactly where you are, it will be somewhere, and that energy can be put on the grid to help stabilize it everywhere.
All of this is why the Green New Deal must include not just a massive rollout of renewable energy, but also a mass retrofit of buildings to make them energy efficient as well as upgrading and integrating the grid — all of which will help create millions of good-paying jobs. But again the implications of this are completely untouched by Moore and Gibbs’s film.
Use of resources
Yet another climate denial trope used throughout this film is that solar panels and wind turbines require natural resources to manufacture, so they must be as bad as fossil fuels, right?
Wrong, and there is loads of research to back up this point. But think about it yourself. Let’s say you have to dig up various minerals to produce a solar panel or wind turbine. Yes, that does have an impact on the planet. No matter what kind of energy source we use, it will have an impact on the planet. Just existing has an impact on the planet.
But once you build a solar panel or a wind turbine, nothing else has to be done. It will operate for at least 20 years, creating electricity from the free and continuous resources of the sun and the wind. You do not have to continually dig up and feed those generation units with yet more natural resources to get them to produce power.
Not so with fossil fuels. Energy generation units like coal plants, nuclear plants, or even your internal combustion engine car must continually be fed with natural resources that must continually be drilled, mined, or fracked from the earth in order to produce power. Doesn’t it stand to reason that an energy generation unit which doesn’t have to be continually supplied with natural resource extraction will have less of a footprint than one that does?
Of course it does, and the research supports this. There’s an entire scientific field of research called Life Cycle Analysis — or looking at the impact from start to finish of all sorts of competing things such as high-speed rail vs conventional rail, solar and wind vs coal and oil, electric vehicles vs internal combustion engines, and so forth.
In general this research finds that while there are specific points where renewables have more of an impact than fossil fuels — for example, the need for certain rare minerals — overall fossil fuels have a much greater greenhouse gas impact on the planet than do renewables. Here’s another graph courtesy of Zeke Hausfather of Carbon Brief:
When Ozzie Zenher, the main “expert” interviewed in the film, claims, “You would have been better off just burning fossil fuels in the first place,” he is dead wrong, and copious amounts of research shows he is wrong. This is misinformation long peddled by the worst climate deniers, and now to their great delight being peddled by Michael Moore.
Another point not mentioned in the film is that when an energy plant of any sort is proposed — including a solar or wind plant — it must undergo environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. There has to be an environmental assessment, and often a lengthy environmental impact statement that covers things like air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, hazardous materials, land use, public health, socioeconomics, traffic, transmission safety, waste management, worker safety, and more. For example, here is the 1,249-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Ivanpah solar plant.
Of course this process is not always perfect. One of the key complaints about the Dakota Access Pipeline is that a full environmental impact statement was never done. Instead, the Army Corps of Engineers concluded the pipeline would have no significant impact because the oil would be transported one way or another regardless, ignoring the “no action alternative” option of leaving the oil in the ground.
If anything, given the powers behind the government agencies conducting these assessments, proposed renewable energy facilities receive more scrutiny while proposed fossil fuel facilities glide through unscathed. But Moore and Gibbs’s film doesn’t look at that.
As if all that is not enough, the film also spreads misinformation about electric vehicles — again with dated footage and bad arguments. The launch of the Chevy Volt depicted in the film was from 2010. The main argument is that the electricity being stored by the vehicle’s battery was generated by fossil fuels, so it must be pointless to drive an EV, right?
Wrong again, on two counts. First, even if the energy the EV is using was generated by coal, it is still cleaner to drive an electric vehicle. The Union of Concerned Scientists has crunched these numbers. Across the United States, EVs get the equivalent of 88 mpg as compared to gas cars. Even in areas such as Ohio where the grid is dirty, EVs get the equivalent of 56 mpg, while in California, which has a much cleaner grid, they get the equivalent of 122 mpg.
Second, the grid itself is getting cleaner. Coal plants are closing, and more renewable energy is going onto the grid. Getting more renewable energy onto the grid is one of the major goals of the Ready for 100 campaign, which works to get cities to commit to transitioning to 100% renewable energy — and so far 163 cities, 13 counties, 8 states, DC and Puerto Rico have all made some version of this commitment.
One chief way of doing this in Ohio is for cities to use community choice aggregation to leverage contracts for 100% renewable energy from utilities. Recently Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther committed to pursuing aggregation for 100% renewable energy by 2022. Cincinnati has long been aggregated for 100% renewable energy but recently used this demand to leverage construction of the nation’s largest municipal solar farm.
If adding this scale of clean energy to the grid can be done in Ohio — where the legislature and regulatory agencies are notoriously hostile to renewables — it can be done anywhere. Yet once again, Moore’s film completely ignores these successes by grassroots climate activists.
Transition to clean energy
Yet another denialist talking point promulgated in Planet of the Humans is the idea that if you have to use fossil fuels to do anything with renewable energy, that cancels out the gains you might make from renewables. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told, “If you heat your house, drive a car, or use any manufactured product, then you are a hypocrite for supporting renewables because all of that involves fossil fuels.”
Well, duh. As Leah Stokes put it, “That’s why it’s called a clean energy transition. You move away from fossil fuels by making clean energy. Eventually the entire system is clean energy.”
The argument that something is made using fossil fuels right now completely misses the point, because right now our entire system is based on fossil fuels. For now, you have to use fossil fuels to make the solar panels and wind turbines that create clean energy. But that is changing, will continue to change — and must change if we are to have a livable planet.
The science is extremely clear that staying on fossil fuels is a death sentence for our species and up to 1 million other species on the planet. We transition or die. That’s not to say the transition won’t be difficult and messy and take awhile — which is why it would have been much better if, instead of funding climate denial for the past three decades, Exxon and the Koch brothers would have changed their business models to not be so reliant on fossil fuels.
Fortunately, the more renewable energy we create, the cheaper it gets, allowing us to create even more renewable energy, with the ultimate goal of renewables taking over from fossil fuels. Here’s a graph of the cost of solar voltaic cells, the main ingredient in solar panels:
Here’s a similar graph for the cost of wind energy.
As a result of these price trends, investment in renewable energy is far outpacing investment in fossil fuels, and renewables are offering a higher return on investment, which will spur even more investment in renewables, thus moving along the transition. However, fossil fuels still make up the vast majority of energy we use, and the transition needs to happen faster. Films like Planet of the Humans hinder rather than help this transition.
Planet of the Humans does raise good points in two areas regarding the energy transition: gas plants and biofuels.
Regarding gas plants, the film points out rightly that although coal plants are closing, many are being replaced by gas plants, and gas is not clean. Although gas burns cleaner at the plant than coal, emissions from extraction and transportation have been undercounted. Most natural gas comes from fracking, which leaks a lot more methane than originally acknowledged. Methane is more than 100 times as potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The last thing we need during a climate crisis is more methane in the atmosphere.
This gets to another point regarding the energy transition. While we must put more renewable energy onto the grid, that by itself is not enough. We must also take fossil fuels off the grid. In other words, we must both say yes to renewables and no to fossil fuels. One tactic by itself is not enough. We can’t say no to fossil fuels without something to replace them with. But we also can’t say yes to renewables without removing fossil fuels, or we will not lower carbon emissions. The climate transition must include both.
One basic way of saying no to fossil fuels is to tax them. This is another basic tenet in economics ignored by this film — that if something is creating costs not taken into account in its price — in economic terms, an externality — then you tax it to increase the price to cover those costs. Fossil fuels are the world’s prime example, causing massive costs to the environment, creating storms, floods, and droughts that threaten our cities and ability to grow food, ocean acidification that threatens the world’s food chain, air and water pollution that threatens public health — yet none of this is accounted for in the cost.
Such taxes have worked in the case of cigarettes to bring down rates of smoking. Unfortunately, raising the price of fossil fuels but doing nothing else would cause massive hardship to working people. After all, our entire system is dependent on fossil fuels, and as we saw in France, simply raising the price is a good way to start a yellow vest rebellion.
Instead, the version of a carbon tax I like is carbon fee and dividend, which would charge the tax to the fossil fuel corporations at the point of extraction, then rebate the money to all American households in equal shares. This would give most Americans more than enough money to absorb rising costs as a result of the tax. It would also stimulate the transition to renewable energy because business and manufacturers — which would not get the rebate — would be incentivized to seek a cheaper source of clean energy.
But as we saw with the points about population and consumption, although the film raises a legitimate point, it doesn’t explore that point and doesn’t seek out any solutions. Instead it uses that point to attack those who are actively seeking the solutions.
A surprising amount of time in Planet of the Humans is spent on biomass and trash incineration, which some do count as renewable energy. Biomass can cover a lot of forms of energy including ethanol for fuel from corn or sugar cane and burning wood chips to create electricity. Trash incineration is just what it sounds like — burning waste material to create electricity. All of these sources of energy have a lot of problems explored in the film.
But while I have encountered biomass and waste incineration counted as renewable energy when looking at other countries, they are not widely practiced in the United States — and, counter to the representation in the film, are widely opposed by environmentalists and human rights activists for many of the reasons brought up in the film.
Growing corn for fuel means that crop cannot be used to feed people or animals — increasing demand for other corn on the market and raising the price of food. Growing sugar for ethanol in Brazil has led to deforestation, eviction of indigenous people, and pollution. Waste incineration results in toxic air pollution and toxic ash that must be disposed of.
However, altogether biomass and waste incineration produce only 2% of all electricity in the United States. The film spends a lot of time on such a small source of power.
That’s not to say it’s not worth exploring the problems with ethanol, wood chips, and waste incineration. It is happening and could expand. Particularly concerning are the investments in this technology discussed in the film. Forests in the Southeast are being chopped down to make wood chips to be exported to Europe. Plans to build a trash incinerator in Cleveland were only defeated by hundreds of citizen activists. It is good to be aware of these issues, and Planet of the Humans makes a good point in raising them.
If Planet of the Humans had stuck to raising questions about gas plants, biomass, and trash incineration, I wouldn’t be spending my day writing this article. But it didn’t. Instead it used these issues to attack the frontline activists leading the charge on the climate crisis.
Perhaps most disingenous and infuriating is the attack on Bill McKibben, one of our most important voices on the climate crisis. You can read McKibben’s response to the film here. While years ago he did support a small biomass plant at his college as an alternative to fossil fuels, he has since considered the ramifications of biomass at a large scale and written several articles against this technology, articles that Moore and Gibbs ignored.
Their insinuation that McKibben takes corporate money is ludicrous. The annual reports of 350.org show they get a little over half of their funding from individual donations, and a little under half from foundations and grants. This is very common in the non-profit sector.
One foundation that funds 350.org is the Rockefeller Foundation. Many years ago the Rockefellers made their money from Standard Oil, now Exxon. Moore and Gibbs seem to see that as a “gotcha” for McKibben and 350.org. Apparently the filmmakers don’t know about the long-running feud between the Rockefellers and Exxon. The Rockefellers are disgusted with Exxon’s “morally reprehensible” climate denial and business model. They tried to divest themselves of all shares of Exxon, but couldn’t because most of it was tied up in a trust. So then they tried to push through shareholder resolutions forcing the company to account for the costs of climate change. They have funded several climate initiatives, including a grant to InsideClimate News. Exxon accuses them of conspiracy against the corporation.
In my experience, McKibben is truly supportive of grassroots activists. He literally spent an hour of his time speaking for free in an event that I organized last year. I never thought he would answer my email asking him to speak, much less that he would do it without an honorarium. But he repeatedly ignored my questions about how to pay an honorarium because we are a grassroots group, and he knew that would require fundraising.
Moore and Gibbs also repeatedly attack the Sierra Club for taking money from Michael Bloomberg and supposedly for supporting biomass.
First, regarding Bloomberg. Bloomberg does support gas plants and fracking. That doesn’t mean Sierra Club supports it. Sierra Club has an entire team devoted to Beyond Dirty Fuels, primarily fracking. That team is actively opposing a petrochemical hub being built in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania to turn fracked ethane into plastic. They are also working on a campaign to oppose a gas plant proposed for construction at Ohio State University, and I hope you will sign this form to tell the Ohio Power Siting Board not to approve this plant.
Next, regarding biomass. Here are Sierra Club statements that biomass is not carbon neutral and not a climate solution. Here is the Sierra Club guidance on biomass. It’s nuanced. There may be specific instances where biomass is okay, such as using municipal tree trimmings that would otherwise end up in a landfill. However, destroying forests to use the wood or make room to plant ethanol crops is not sustainable. Likewise, capping landfills and using the methane they emit to create electricity is better than letting this potent greenhouse gas escape into the atmosphere.
The final montage of Planet of the Humans is a gut wrenching look at the destruction of forests where orangutans live, and the resulting deaths and damage to this iconic species. What is happening has been horrible to see as it has repeatedly crossed my desk over the last several years, and and it was horrible to watch in this film.
But here’s what Planet of the Humans doesn’t mention: Biofuels are not the main reason forests are being cleared for palm oil plantations. It is being done in Indonesia and Malasia mainly to produce palm oil for use in snack foods and grocery items, as well as cosmetics, soaps, and shampoos.
According to Palm Oil Investigations, consumer foods are the major driver of palm oil plantations at 72%. Cosmetics are next at 18%, while feedstock and biofuel account for about 10% of palm oil use. Further, the EU, which is responsible for most of the recent increase in the use of palm oil for biofuels, recently issued a directive that palm oil biofuel is unsustainable, making it in ineligible for subsidies, and they plan to phase it out by 2030.
While the destruction of orangutan habitat poses a very real threat to the survival of orangutans, to lay responsibility for this on climate activists is a stretch so far as to be a lie. The threat to orangutans from palm oil deserves serious treatment. It doesn’t get that here.
For all these reasons, I cannot recommend Planet of the Humans, and I am deeply disappointed with Michael Moore for not only producing it, but actively promoting it through his extensive platform, even in the face of widespread opposition and correction of its misinformation. I have to ask, why the hell is he doing this? Is it ignorance about environmental issues? A favor to his longtime collaborator? Just a general “fuck you” to the world?
Whatever it is, I hope MM comes to his senses and stops promoting this terrible film. It is doing actual damage to the climate movement by spreading climate denial misinformation, once the purview of front groups funded by Exxon and the Koch brothers, into progressive circles where people don’t know all the facts I have outlined here to counter its claims.
I am deeply disappointed in Michael Moore for attaching his name to Planet of the Humans, and hope he will reconsider and withdraw his support.
Editing note: Section on palm oil recast to add new information.
Image: Michael and me at a Bernie campaign event in Ottumwa, Iowa, in January 2020.
Posted on March 28, 2020
Note: I first posted this on my Facebook page, where it was shared over 3500 times in response to the Netflix series Tiger King.
I have not watched the Netflix series Tiger King, because I don’t need to. I lived through many of these events.
Most of my friends made here after 2014 don’t know that I started in activism working for animal protection — and specifically, the welfare of dangerous wild animals in captivity. It made a huge impact in my life, and I like to think that I made a bit of a difference too.
You may remember October 19, 2011, when Terry Thompson, a private owner in Zanesville, Ohio, cut open the cages for dozens of his dangerous wild animals, then committed suicide. On that rainy night the police had to slaughter 49 animals, including 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, six black bears, a pair of grizzlies, three mountain lions, two wolves and a baboon.
In public policy speak, it was a classic “triggering event” that led to a long overdue change in Ohio law.
At the time, Ohio was a hotbed for breeding and dealing of dangerous wild animals. We had no laws, so the bad players flocked here, and most of them were just as weird and crazy as Joe Exotic.
There was Lorenza Pearson, owner of L&L Exotics in Copley, Ohio, who racked up 969 violations of the Animal Welfare Act before the health department — note, not the USDA — shut him down. Even one of his tigers killing a 2-year-old didn’t get him shut down.
There was Sam Mazzola of Columbia Station, who took his bears to bars so people could pay to wrestle them, and whose caretaker was killed by a bear. He was only stopped after being found at home “bound to the bed with handcuffs, chains and padlocks” with a sex toy in his mouth.
Then there was Terry Wilkins, who owned Captive Born Reptiles, a snake breeding and dealing operation on Morse Road in Columbus. He was arrested after he took an alligator to a day care facility, and police found snakes longer than 12 feet in bad condition at his store.
The accredited zoos in Ohio tried for years to get the trade in dangerous wild animals shut down. A lot of that trade went straight through Joe Exotic’s facility, the GW Zoo in Oklahoma. If there was any state with fewer restrictions than Ohio, it was — and still is — Oklahoma.
In the wake of the Zanesville massacre, Ohio finally cracked down on this trade — and I was part of making that happen.
At the time I was spending most of my free time volunteering for Humane Society of the United States. I started in 2010 collecting signatures to pass the Humane Farms ballot initiative in Ohio, which would have given farm animals enough room to stand up, turn around, and spread their limbs.
The Ohio Farm Bureau fought that initiative tooth and nail, sending people out to follow us around and interrupt our signature gathering whenever they caught wind of where we might be.
The Farm Bureau also had a hand in propping up the exotic animal trade in Ohio by co-sponsoring the Mt. Hope Exotic Animal Auction. Paul and I visited this event, and it was one of the most depressing, disgusting, and heart-wrenching things I have ever seen.
HSUS didn’t end up taking the Humane Farms campaign to the ballot, instead working out a deal with the Farm Bureau to start a farm animal welfare board that is still in operation today. Equally important, the Farm Bureau agreed not to stand in the way of regulations in Ohio on puppy millers and breeders and dealers of dangerous wild animals.
The alliance between the Farm Bureau and the wild animal breeders was severed — which meant after the Zanesville massacre happened, we could move quickly.
Within a week Ohio House Rep. Troy Balderson of Zanesville (now in the U.S. Congress) introduced a bill with some of the strongest regulations nationally on owners and breeders of dangerous wild animals.
No longer was it acceptable to keep lions, tigers, bears, chimpanzees and more in barns, backyards, and basements. They had to be kept in enclosures that provided enough room and enrichment for the species.
Gone were the days of breeding them indiscriminately and pushing them into an oversaturated market. Not many people can keep a tiger, yet there are more tigers in Texas than in all of the wild because they are bred to use as cubs in photo ops, then thrown away. No one wants an adult tiger.
If you want an idea of what happens to adult tigers, look up Operation Snow Plow. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with several other agencies, busted a ring in which people paid to shoot tigers and other wild animals in the back of a semi; then the skins, meat, and bones were sold on the black market. These majestic animals are literally worth more dead than alive, and the financial incentives are to kill them.
Incredibly, the USDA allows people to handle tiger cubs at a very specific age — 4 to 12 weeks — so dealers like Joe Exotic breed them to be handled by humans at a time when they should be with their mothers. After they get too old for that, most end up dead or in horrible conditions.
But a few lucky ones go to accredited sanctuaries — including many of the animals rescued from substandard Ohio facilities after our law passed.
There was Clyde the chimpanzee, literally kept in a cage in a garage in Dayton for 40 years. He went to Center for Great Apes in Florida, where he learned to walk again and even got a girlfriend before he passed on.
So many lions, tigers, bears and wolves from Ohio were placed in accredited sanctuaries across the country. Bobbi Brink, director of Lions, Tigers, and Bears sanctuary in southern California was personally responsible for rescuing and driving dozens of these animals to their new homes.
Visit any accredited wild animal sanctuary — and there are many across the country — and you will find animals rescued from Ohio. Some owners like Denise Flores of Ashland accepted the new law and found new homes for their animals themselves. Others, like Kenny Hetrick of Toledo, refused to cooperate, and eventually the state took their animals away.
The Ohio Association of Animal Owners fought the law hard. They tried to get it watered down to require only a USDA permit to own and breed dangerous wild animals rather than the stronger state requirements. To his credit, Gov. Kasich said no. But the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers got the regulations on snakes watered down quite a bit.
My role was to lead the response on behalf of the sanctuaries. I solicited testimony from directors of a dozen accredited sanctuaries for dangerous wild animals, explaining the welfare requirements for these animals and the cost of food and veterinary care.
I got to take around two VIPs – Patty Finch, director of the accrediting organization Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, and Carole Baskin, director of Big Cat Rescue — to meet with key legislators who would be voting on the bill. I also testified myself.
Above is a photo of Joe Exotic giving me the evil eye as I testified for the first time ever in front of a state legislature. Yes, Joe drove here from Oklahoma for the hearing, showing off his bullet hole tattoos in the Statehouse hallway. He also followed us to our cars on the way to the parking garage, menacing enough that we had to get a security escort.
This experience is what led me to seek a master’s in public administration — and it led Paul into putting together a whole new class on animal studies as a lens into the social sciences at University of Dayton.
To support that, we conducted a multi-year research project in which we visited dozens of zoos and sanctuaries, both accredited and non-accredited, and interviewed their directors and staff.
One of the seven accredited animal sanctuaries we visited was Big Cat Rescue, and I have nothing but good things to say about the work Carole Baskin and her team does there to help animals.
The facilities at Big Cat Rescue are top notch — huge natural enclosures, up to two acres each. The staff and volunteers have an incredible routine of animal care. When dealing with animals like this, you must be on your toes at all times because one slip can be fatal — and they are. I urge anyone who has questions about Big Cat Rescue to go see it for themselves.
I can’t speak to Carole’s personal life, but you can read her refutation of her portrayal in the Netflix series here – https://bigcatrescue.org/refuting-netflix-tiger-king
I can speak to her work to help big cats, and it is some of the most important work in the world. Not only has Big Cat Rescue taken in dozens and dozens of big cats from horrible conditions all of the country, they have also been instrumental in passing better laws for big cats, not just in Ohio but nationally.
Like other accredited sanctuaries, BCR has cats from Ohio. In 2002, they took in several lions and tigers from Siberian Tiger Foundation of Gambier, operated by Diana McCourt aka Diana Cziraky. All these animals were declawed and some were defanged – all in violation of Animal Welfare Act.
The facility chained up its cats and, for a fee, allowed up to 20 people to enter the enclosure and handle the animals. Keepers sprayed the cats in the face with vinegar if they became aggressive. At least 10 visitors including several children were bitten and mauled, with the predictable outcome that some of the cats were killed. The survivors went to BCR after the USDA finally took away Cziraky’s license.
More recently, in 2016, BCR took in a tiger from Kenny Hetrick’s place in Toledo. She had been living with four other tigers in an enclosure the size of a bedroom, and the other tigers beat up on her. When she got to BCR, she couldn’t walk, but she learned to walk and swim in her new home. (Unlike other big cats, tigers are very good swimmers.)
As part of our research project, Paul and I visited Kenny Hetrick in 2012. He seemed to care about his animals, but had no idea how to ensure their welfare and no regard for safety. He bragged about how many times he and his wife had been mauled and stitched up. He walked into the bear enclosure and left the door wide open with us standing just the other side. He showed us books about training techniques that emphasized dominance, not positive reinforcement.
One place Paul and I did not visit was Joe Exotic’s zoo in Oklahoma. We didn’t think it would be safe since we had both testified in favor of the Ohio law. But video from undercover investigations by both HSUS and PETA gives you a pretty good idea what the place was like: a hellhole in which tiger cubs were beaten to perform and surplus adult tigers were killed to make room for more.
For years we were afraid Joe Exotic would pull what Terry Thompson did in Zanesville, finding some way to kill all the animals at his zoo, or get them killed. Instead his boyfriend ended up dead and he tried to kill Carole. He had threatened her for years before he was arrested. His arrest was a relief to the entire animal protection community.
Carole is outspoken about the practices of bad actors who continue to breed and deal big cats and exploit these animals for profit. This has earned their wrath, but she speaks out anyway because it’s the right thing to do. She has also long advocated to pass national animal welfare standards with the Big Cat Public Safety and Protection Act that would prohibit breeding and selling these animals by unaccredited dealers nationwide.
It’s very sad to me to see so many people attacking Carole and the work of Big Cat Rescue because of a TV show that by all accounts hinges on the salacious details and skips over the very real issue of animal welfare.
The wildlife trade is up there with the trade in guns, drugs, and human trafficking as one of the most profitable and egregiously cruel industries in the world. Yet it is little known, barely talked about, and with few resources to fight it. The fight is left in large part to people like Carole Baskin.
It is truly disheartening to see so many people who know nothing about the plight of these animals denigrate the important work that Carole and so many others are doing because of a sensationalized TV show.
If they had any idea what it takes to run a wild animal sanctuary, what these animals have been through, and how little protection they actually have — maybe they wouldn’t be so quick to jump to salacious jokes at their expense.
It’s not just Carole who they are attacking to get their jollies. It’s every lion, tiger, bear, wolf, chimpanzee, and other animal from Ohio who I fought to get a better life for — and all those still languishing in hell holes like Joe Exotic’s old zoo — whose new ownership isn’t any better — and all the animal victims who didn’t survive this cruel industry.
They can’t speak up for themselves. It makes me really angry to see so little regard for them.