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Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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Horsemen of the Apocalypse

This is an excerpt from Dick Russell's and my new book, Horsemen of the Apocalypse, an eye opening exposé of the people and corporations most responsible for today's climate crisis and their roles in President Trump's new administration.

Not long ago, the legendary economist Amory Lovins showed me two photos, taken 10 years apart, of the New York City Easter Parade. A 1903 shot looking north from midtown showed Fifth Avenue crowded with a hundred horse and buggies and a solitary automobile. The second, taken in 1913 from a similar vantage on the same street, depicted a traffic jam of automobiles and a single lonely horse and buggy.


That momentous shift occurred because, over a 13-year period, Henry Ford dropped the nominal price of the Model-T by 62 percent. While wealthy New Yorkers led the transition, the remainder of America quickly followed. Between 1918 and 1929, according to Stanford University lecturer Tony Seba, American car ownership rocketed from eight percent of Americans to eighty percent - because DuPont and General Motors devised a financial innovation called car loans, which soon accounted for three quarters of auto purchases. The buggy drivers never saw it coming.

Compare that platform for disruption to the economic fundamentals of today's solar industry. Over the past five years, photovoltaic module prices have dropped 80 percent, and analogous home solar financing innovations have spread like wildfire. Three-quarters of California's rooftop solar has been innovatively financed, with no money down, including the system I installed on my own home. NRG Solar leased me a rooftop solar array with zero cost to myself and a guaranteed sixty percent drop in my energy bills for twenty years. Who wouldn't take that deal? And solar costs continue to drop every day.

Dramatic drops have also plummeted the cost of utility-scale solar plants to around $1 billion a gigawatt. Compare this to the $3 to $5 billion per gigawatt cost of constructing a new coal or gas plant, and the $6 to 9 billion per gigawatt cost for a nuclear plant. We can make energy by burning prime rib if we choose to, but any rational utility seeking the cheapest, safest form of energy is going to choose wind or solar. That's why, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in the first eleven months of 2016 renewables constituted more than 50 percent of newly installed electrical generation capacity—surpassing natural gas, nuclear power, coal and oil combined. Let's face facts. The carbon incumbents are looking at their own imminent apocalypse.

And the real savings for solar and wind comes at the back end—ZERO FUEL COSTS! Unlimited photons rain down on the earth every day for free. Transitioning to clean fuel only requires that we build the infrastructure to harvest and distribute the photons. That infrastructure will bless America with a magical promised era of "free fuel forever."

Internal combustion engines are racing toward the same kind of apocalyptic disruption as the horse and buggy. According to calculations by John Walker of the Rocky Mountain Institute, the current operating cost of an electric car is about one-tenth the cost of an internal combustion engine. The range and performance of EVs now exceeds those of traditional gasoline cars. That's why the world's 15 top auto companies all launched new EVs in 2015. If you believe in free markets, then the day of the internal combustion engine is over.

The markets have already seen the future. The top 50 coal companies are now either in Chapter 11 bankruptcy or on the brink. The three largest coal companies—Arch, Consol and Peabody—have lost 80 percent of their value over the last two years. Looking at these landscapes, Lovins remarked to me, "The meteor has hit. The dinosaurs are doomed. It's just that some of them are still walking around causing trouble."

With these rich indices of imminent change, America, prior to the 2016 election, was on the verge of leading the global transformation away from destructive reliance on the dirtiest, filthiest, poisonous, addictive, war-mongering fuels from hell, to a sunny new age of innovation and entrepreneurship, of abundant and dignified jobs, of a democratized energy system and widespread wealth creation, powered by the clean, green, healthy, wholesome and patriotic fuels from heaven.

Renewable energy like wind and solar create high paying jobs, promote small businesses, create wealth, democratize our energy sector, give us local, resilient power and reduce dependence on foreign carbon. They are therefore good for the economy, good for our national security and good for democracy and our country.

And every American will benefit from the cornucopia of economic and political bounties that accompany a decarbonized nation—no more poisoned air and water, but clean rivers and bountiful oceans, with fish that are safe to eat. No more exploded mountain ranges. No more crippling oil spills in the Gulf, in Alaska or Santa Barbara. No more worries about acid rain deforesting our purple mountains majesty and sterilizing our lakes. No more fretting about acidified oceans destroying our coral reefs, and collapsing global food chains and fisheries. No more ozone and particulate pollution sickening and killing millions of our citizens. No more damaged crops and corroding buildings. No more tyrannical petro-states subjugating their peoples and victimizing their neighbors. And no more oil wars.

While enticing to most Americans and consistent with the historical idealism of an exemplary nation, this portrait of the future represents a fearful nightmare for a certain segment of our population—a segment that is willing to mount all-out civil war to prevent it from happening, an apocalyptic war that threatens to sacrifice the planet.

And we are engaged, as Abraham Lincoln declared, "In a great Civil War." In the 1860s, it took a bloody Civil War for America to transition away from an archaic and immoral energy system—one dependent on free human labor. In 1865, the entrenched interests who profited from that system were willing to sacrifice our country and half a million lives to maintain their profits.

This time, instead of a slave-holding gentry, the entrenched defenders of the system are the carbon tycoons described by Dick Russell in Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These are the apocalyptic forces of ignorance and greed that are out to liquidate our planet for cash.

Russell shows that, to the extent they have a moral compass, it's pointed straight at hell. Like the Horsemen from the Book of Revelation, these actions are herding humanity toward a dystopian nightmare of their creation. The archetypal Horsemen are David and Charles Koch, whom you will meet in Chapter Eight. Koch Industries, you will learn, is not a benign corporation. It's the template of 'disaster capitalism,' the command center of an organized scheme to undermine democracy and impose a corporate kleptocracy that will allow greedy billionaires to cash in on mass extinction in our biosphere and the end of civilization. To the Koch brothers, the renewable revolution is their personal apocalypse that must be averted at all costs.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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