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James Hansen, the NASA scientist whose warnings about human-caused climate change go back 30 years, puts coal at the top of the enemies list. He believes that “coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet.” He calls coal “the enemy of the human race” and has proposed a moratorium on all new coal-fired power plants in the United States.  He believes that we are at a “tipping point” and that we no longer have the luxury to do nothing.

On the surface, mainstream environmentalists stand four-square behind  Hansen and embrace his dire warnings.
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says, “Coal is America’s dirtiest energy source — and the country’s leading source of global warming pollution….There are,” it insists, “far cleaner and cheaper ways to meet America’s energy needs. Yet industry apologists are spending millions of dollars to block clean energy solutions and persuade Americans that they can keep using coal without the consequences.”

The Wilderness Society’s Director David Moulton says, “If we do not reduce carbon pollution it will reduce us – our drinking water, our forests, our competitiveness in a global economy. The public is tired of seeing Big Oil and Big Coal dumping their wastes into the atmosphere for free, endangering the public health and the public lands.”
Here on the Colorado Plateau, the Grand Canyon Trust notes, “Air pollution is obscuring the vistas of the Colorado Plateau, damaging ecosystems, depositing mercury on the land and water, and potentially impairing people’s health. In addition, the Plateau is particularly vulnerable to climate change caused by burning fossil fuels.”

And last year the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) filed suit to stop a new strip mine near Bryce Canyon National Park.

Clearly, there is an anti-coal fervor among green groups across the country.

Wendell Berry, the noted author and poet from Kentucky, agrees.

At 75, Berry is one of the most admired and respected writers in America. He has written more than 50 books—poetry, essays, fiction; he lives with his wife Tanya in the same house on the same farm that has been his home for decades. His family has lived in the area for more than two centuries.

Years ago, Berry donated many of his personal papers to the University of Kentucky archives. But last summer, UK named a new basketball dormitory “Wildcat Coal Lodge” in response to a major donation from the coal industry. For Wendell Berry, a UK alumnus, this was out of line; he subsequently pulled his papers from the UK collection and severed his decades long relationship with the university. He wrote, “The university’s president and board have solemnized an alliance with the coal industry, in return for a large monetary ‘gift,’ granting to the benefactors, in effect, a co-sponsorship of the university’s basketball team.” That decision brought, “an end to my willingness to be associated in any way officially with the university.”

For Berry, it was more than a symbolic gesture. For most of his life he has tried to live true to his beliefs, though he is the first to say he’s “not a fanatic.” He simply finds few pleasures in the 21st Century’s modern conveniences. He does his writing on an old mechanical typewriter and recently told a reporter for the Kentucky Journal that, so far, he’s managed to live without a TV, a computer, the internet, an answering machine and a cell phone.

He says that, “Climate change is an effect and the causes are greed, pollution, waste and this insatiable appetite we have for convenience, comfort and the rest of it. What we need to be talking about is a change that ultimately is going to be a cultural change, that’s going to be a change in the way we live.”

You would be hard-pressed to find an environmentalist who disagrees with any of Berry’s comments or lifestyle choices. But does their commitment to climate change match his?

Within the mainstream environmental movement, what constitutes a “hero?” It depends on who you ask.
There has never been a more bewildering or contradictory hero to the green movement than wealthy financier David Bonderman. He is a major contributor to Utah’s SUWA and Red Rock Forests.  He sits on the boards of directors of The Wilderness Society, the World Wildlife Fund and the Grand Canyon Trust, whose president calls him “one of the great conservationists today.” He donates lots of money.

Forbes values his personal worth at $1.9 billion and he spends much of his time in a Gulfstream jet. He owns two homes, each more than 12,000 square feet, in Aspen, Colorado and Moab, Utah. When he turned 60 in 2002, he threw himself a party. For entertainment, he hired the Rolling Stones. The evening set him back about $7 million. He made his fortune in the private equity market; he is the co-founder and genius behind Texas Paciific Gulf (TPG) which specializes in leveraged buyouts. Among the feathers in his cap:

* TPG took over Luminant Energy, the giant utility company in Texas; the acquisition was hailed by environmentalists, including the NRDC who helped orchestrate the deal, when he agreed to scale back its coal-producing plans. But Luminant moved forward with the three dirtiest plants and negotiated a compromise with the Sierra Club to operate its Oak Grove lignite-fired power station. Lignite is a low-grade “brown” coal that requires extensive refinement before it can be burned.  Five tons of lignite generate as much energy as one ton of hard coal and produce three times the pollutants.

*   Bonderman oversees Ryanair, the discount airline in Ireland. His handpicked CEO, Michael O’Leary, has also steadfastly and loudly opposed efforts to place environmental restrictions on the airline industry. According to the UK newspaper, The Guardian, “Mr O’Leary said: ‘Most of this environmental hysteria is an excuse for the government to raise tax revenues. People are being scammed here.’”
Ian Pearson, the UK Environment Minister responded: “Like every other industry, the airline industry must take its share of responsibility for combating climate change and the European Union’s proposal is the vehicle by which they can do just that.” And he had these words for Mr. O’Leary and his airline: “When it comes to climate change, Ryanair are not just the unacceptable face of capitalism, they are the irresponsible face of capitalism.”
Recently they installed pay toilets on their jets.

* TPG’s Asian partner PT Northstar Pacific, has invested heavily in exploiting Indonesia’s natural resources. According to Bloomberg/Business Week, “TPG’S founding partner, David Bonderman, wants…to keep trolling for fresh prospects, especially in the resource sector.”
Trolling includes the extraction of large natural gas, coal and copper deposits. The country is also the world’s largest palm oil producer and old growth forests throughout Indonesia and Malaysia have been sacrificed for lucrative palm plantations. Massive quantities of carbon are released as a result, when the forests are cut and the underlying peat bogs are drained.

To quote the philosopher, “It’s a wonder nobody’s written a folk song about him.”

None of the mainstream environmental organizations who benefit from Bonderman’s power and success have ever uttered a word of disappointment or despair for his apparent lack of sensitivity. While green leaders maintain that our planet’s very survival teeters precariously on the brink of extinction, and advocate a less-consumptive lifestyle, David Bonderman almost flaunts his excesses. And, while he should be castigated, he continues to be hailed for his financial contributions.

Back at Port Royal, Wendell Berry still resides on his 117 acre farm; he still pecks out poetry and prose on his old Royal typewriter in a small studio without electricity. He told a reporter recently, “I go up there and I may build a fire in the winter, and I drink the air on these humid summer afternoons.”
If there is one Wendell Berry quotation I depend upon, it is his observation:

“…this is what is wrong with the conservation movement. It has a clear conscience….To the conservation movement, it is only production that causes environmental degradation; the consumption that supports the production is rarely acknowledged to be at fault.”

Berry’s antitheses, David Bonderman, manages to degrade the Earth both ways. He takes consumption and extraction to the extreme. And yet his Green reputation remains untarnished.

Can men like Wendell Berry and David Bonderman, with such divergent values, both be heroes to the same cause? Or is money the great equalizer? In the modern–and increasingly irrelevant–environmentalist movement, the answer to both questions is yes.




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