Focus The Nation: Austin Town Hall meeting

April 20, 2009

Back story: last year’s round of Focus The
Nation attendees included Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nancy Pelosi, and
then-presidential-candidate Barack Obama.  This year, there are 103
summits around the nation– and by clicking here you have delved into Austin, the
city with the most climate-conscious utilities (electric grid) in the United
States.

Representative Lloyd Doggett was first to
speak to the room of roughly a hundred people.

“Our gathering is both timely and
untimely,” he began.  Timely because, in Austin at least, a
pre-emptive Earth Day weekend celebration flourished outside.  Untimely,
because it was at the capital of the state that only very recently lost its
title of worst polluting state in the worst polluting country in the world.

“Texas has been where the problem
emanated from, but it will also be where the solution emanates from.”

Today, he described us as “an involved
citizenry that won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.  I know we will not get the
attention in Washington that we need unless they see the same urgency
throughout the United States.”

The rest of the House of Representatives,
from waht Doggett had heard on the floor, had done much to avoid feeling
exactly that sense of urgency– and in that, Texas was one of the worst
offenders.  He named no names here.  Among the arguments: “Look
for shade.”  Humans will adapt.  (A man who it seems has not yet
been in Texas, in the shade, in August.)  Others describe things
like an energy tax as “a tax on every American who flips on a lightswitch
or pays at the pump.”  A tax which, according to a recent study at
Austin Community College, would cost American 2 cents per kilowatt-hour for a
complete switch to present renewables.

Audience members then asked everything from “how
high can you set standards (in Congress) and expect them to pass?” to “did you
get my T-shirt?” (Answer: he has and occasionally wears the shirts given to him
by Re-Energize Texas and 1Sky).

Susan Meredith, published author of “Beyond
Light Bulbs”, rose from the seats to suggest her own take on dealing with a
divided Congress: eschew mentions of global warming altogether. Republicans, Democrats and those uninvolved
can all agree on issues such as independence from foreign oil. And climate change aside, most people want to
preserve the earth’s resources. Most
people want to clean the air of neighborhoods with playgrounds across the
street from coal plants, from where asthma has become the #1 child illness in
the nation.

Jeff and Linda, of Austin-based green home remodeling
company “Ultraverte,” knew dizzying amounts about energy waste and toxins in housing. Promoting “an obtainable way to make a
sustainable home,” they offered connections to companies that used the
lowest-flow toilets in the nation, and saved even more by using sink water in
that porcelain bowl beside it. Lists of
different local plants, which used less water than traditional Turf Grass and
non-native species, were offered in their website. Even carpet could be made more sustainable:
they offered a type made from recycled plastic bottles.

Most of the improvements, they added, now
come with tax rebates. A roughly $200 low-flow
bowl comes with a $200 tax return. All
one needs to do is bring in the receipt.
Solar hot water tanks come with a 30% rebate as well. The change pays for itself, even without the
rebate.

–We interrupt this town hall meeting for
important messages from Moveon.org, 350.org, van Jones and Nancy Pelosi!

-David Redwine, of Democratic nonprofit MoveOn.org,
has officially signed on to the climate movement. Allied alongside organizations such as Green
For All and Repower America, they urge all their 5.5 million members (and
non-members) to contact their congressmen and push for the creation of “green
jobs.” The jobs would be non-exportable,
offer living wages and provide job training to those new to the job. Hopefully, with the Fossil Fuel industry’s
weakening, those displaced by it would be offered job priority with the new
businesses, since they are already familiar with power plants and energy.

-350.org asked for a similar activism for a
more international goal: to reduce global CO2 levels to 350
parts-per-million. Presently above 380
ppm, the organization stresses the need for outreach and increased awareness,
via presentations, rallies, and even this computer you’re sitting at… right…
now.

-Van Jones, Green Jobs adviser for the Obama
Administration and former Executive Director of nonprofit Green For All, could
not be here in person today. Instead, he
and Nancy Pelosi appeared via Quicktime file.
The other hundred Focus The Nation town halls would have been quite disappointed
if he had ditched them and they had to watch him livestream from Texas, of all
places. “This is the time to reinvent
the economy,” he stressed, “across lines of class and color.” President Obama has already appointed
Recovery Czars in every major city to monitor clean energy use.

-Nancy Pelosi, Speaker for the House in D.C,
spoke on the most specific and pressing concern: the Waxman-Markey bill
currently being written as it prepares to reach the House. Its current draft has cap-and-trade policies,
and a reduction of carbon emissions by 19%.
According to scientific predictions, this may not be enough to even curb
the worst effects of global warming.

The remainder of the time was given to four
panelists, each from a different sector working for American sustainability,
and their answers to questions from the audience.

-Susan Librock, of the Sustainable Food Center, works with
sustainable farmers throughout Austin.
Rather than go through the mountains of paperwork required to register a
food as “organic,” the Food Center offers sustainable foods grown by ordinary
Austin residents, in varieties that standardized farming does not offer. (Few of us could remember the name of the
turnip-like vegetable Librock brought in and thumped down on the desk next to
her.) The (excuse this pun) “field” of
locally-grown foods has (excuse this pun as well) “grown” 300-500% in the past
year.

– Chris Riley, Candidate for Austin City Council, works to
offer sustainable housing in Austin, to reduce dependence on automobiles (he
bikes when possible, carpools when necessary and doesn’t own a car of his own),
and to wean Austin off its coal plant and onto more sustainable fuels. “We are poised for some very big changes on
the part of the city,” he hints. “30%
[reduction of emissions] by 2020 ought to be a floor, not a ceiling.” If elected, he aims to put solar panels on
every possible building in Austin. Austin
Energy is at the will of City Council, and both of them have the power and the
budget to change to other sources of energy, but need to hear it from the
people they serve.

-((((())))) from Meridian Energy Systems inc. is the largest
Solar Panel company in Texas. A company
that the founder admits he began in his grandmother’s garage, he is happy about
everything at the business except its lack of proximity to Mr. Natural. A close second in terms of disappointment is
his malcontent with the underuse of solar panels. Austin has the best Solar energy program in
the country, and the state of Texas has more potential for solar energy than
any other state (if it secedes, then more than any other nation), but in five
years it has only put solar panels on 800 rooftops. But the upcoming years seem promising—Solar
is one of the few industries that is experiencing growth in this economic
downturn.

-Stacy Giegerich, from Texas Campaign for the Environment,
pressures companies to manufacture cleaner products, and has historically
persuaded Dell and other electronics companies to offer electronic recycling at
all their store locations. Reusing the
materials that normally make it to landfills in the U.S. can create jobs and
save money. Toxic chemicals like lead
and mercury can be extracted from trashed monitors and televisions, and the
process can create 250 jobs for each ton of now-obsolete electronics.

So now, you.

Mm-hm, you.

Write to your legislators.
In order for them to see that they can be elected without the help of
special interest companies, they must see evidence that voters are willing to
go through the effort of hand-writing a letter and sending it in.

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