From Coal to Climate: the Evolution of an Activist

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press, September 22nd, 2016

So, here is a question: what’s about as likely as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly jointly admitting that pretty much everything they’ve ever said was wrong?

climate activist

Before I knew what coal looked like. And smelled. And tasted.

Answer: that a guy with my background would end up as an active member of 350.org.

I grew up in Kansas, famous for Dorothy, sunflowers, and voting against your best interest (as in What’s the Matter With…). I remember my father vehemently wishing he could vote against Ted Kennedy. My mother railing against the Equal Rights Amendment, saying she liked having men open doors for her. Umm, I guess that such chivalry was banned in the bill’s text somewhere. Both of them mourning angrily that the country was ruined, now that Carter had been elected.

Not to spare myself, I also remember a Charles Kuralt interview in which he wondered what conservatism ever brought us. I turned to Dad and said—without a trace of irony—the money for everyone else to live on. I was maybe eighteen at the time, swimming with the rest of the fish in the Republican Kansas water. Unnecessary to point out?

An engineering degree landed me a job going around the country starting up coal-fired utility scale power plants. Doing that, I liked to reflect on the fact that I worked with some of the biggest “engines” in the world. I thought seriously about building my own small power plant, natural gas fired, and selling power to the grid. What fun it would be, I thought, but then found that the economics of small scale were a bit less than profitable. Regardless, it seemed to me that those of us in the industry were like priests of old, tending the sacred fires around which their civilizations turned.

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