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Motivation at Mohonk

“Sometimes you’re in a rut so deep you think it’s a groove” said Annie Leonard at the 25th Annual Environmental Grantmakers Association Retreat held at the Mohonk Mountain House in October. The conversation centered on how to ramp up our efforts and fight smarter on every level to change the environmental trajectory, preferably to one that...

“Sometimes you’re in a rut so deep you think it’s a groove” said Annie Leonard at the 25th Annual Environmental Grantmakers Association Retreat held at the Mohonk Mountain House in October. The conversation centered on how to ramp up our efforts and fight smarter on every level to change the environmental trajectory, preferably to one that doesn’t include our own demise. Pretty scary stuff. Every speaker whether it’s Van Jones, Annie Leonard, Yoko Ono or Prince Charles (via video) urged the crowd of environmental funders to step it up, because “there is no time left”.

Van Jones said, “if this is the critical decade, I don’t know that we’re acting like it,”  Good point.

“We had the worst drought in US history, our bread bowl has become a dust bowl, and its not part of the political campaign”. He called for a movement “not to chase the Whitehouse”, but the creation of a movement the “Whitehouse has to chase”. He added that “we don’t have time for anything less than direct action on climate change, we need to hold our elected officials accountable to our interests.”

  We have our work cut out for us. In the face of irrefutable science showing global climate change, if Mitt Romney wins the election, he would like to build more coal plants, expand the nasty tar sands (tar oil is dirtier than coal) in Canada to feed the Keystone XL Pipeline, and open precious wilderness in the Arctic to dangerous oil and gas drilling. Even more perplexing is his promise to limit the EPA’s power to regulate green house gas emissions, when the very Supreme Court ruling in 2007 that requires EPA to regulate emissions came from a suit led principally the state he governed at the time, Massachusetts:

‘Massachusetts, one of the 12 state plaintiffs, met the test, Justice Stevens said, because it had made a case that global warming was raising the sea level along its coast, presenting the state with a “risk of catastrophic harm” that “would be reduced to some extent” if the government undertook the regulation the state sought.” NY Times April 3, 2007

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney worked to reduce carbon emissions in his state and in the entire Northeast when he worked to create a cap-and-trade system for the states in the region, called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (REGGI). He closed a dirty coal plant saying “I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant — that plant kills people.”

Unfortunately, now if Mitt Romney should win, as per his website, this is one of his agenda items: “As president, Mitt Romney will eliminate the regulations promulgated in pursuit of the Obama administration’s costly and ineffective anti-carbon agenda.”

Wow, “anti-carbon agenda”? Do people really think that’s a bad thing? If your pro carbon, Mitt’s your man, but before you go that route you may just want to check in on some science.

Though many at the conference, including me, are disappointed that President Obama has not been stronger on the environment, (he also wants to build the pipeline, and appears to think hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is a safe alternative to coal), on this issue, he is by far the more rational candidate.

“More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future. And in this election, you can do something about it,” Obama said at the Democratic National Convention.

“You have to have a President willing to be moved,” said Van Jones at the EGA Retreat, “but you also have to have movement”.

 He pointed out that maybe we (environmentalists) took some time off when we thought we had the Whitehouse covered? Would we have responded differently to the Gulf Oil Spill if it had been McCain in office?

Republican or Democrat, I think we would all agree that we would like energy independence, but whether we choose the road of efficiency and renewable energy, or open the Arctic wilderness to drilling and fire up more coal plants, has become a political choice rather than a practical one.

“We have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable” said Annie Leonard “we need to be fearless, fearless about our demands,  fearless about our partners and collaborators”


During the EGA retreat we talked a lot about hydraulic fracturing, (fracking), for natural gas, especially the imminent threat to New York State where our conference was held. There are vast reserves of natural gas under our feet in the Marcellus Shale, but can we get to them safely?

Our last night, we had a presentation from Yoko Ono who has started a coalition called “Artists against Fracking”, and Dr Anthony Ingraffea, one of the leading experts on fracking in the country.

Yoko and her son Sean are launching a media campaign to protest fracking using their vast Rolodex of celebrity artists. She said through their letters, billboards, commercials and conference, Governor Cuomo “will understand we mean serious business!” Yoko left it to Dr. Ingraffea to explain the importance of resisting fracking in NY, and elsewhere.

In addition to the water use and contamination from chemicals used in fracking, it’s not even a cleaner fuel. Dr. Ingraffea explained that in the lifecycle of producing natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, there are actually more green house gas emissions, mostly through methane leaks, than there are from the same amount of energy produced by burning coal! He went on to say that the science that people are conducting now on fracking is showing global warming potential is much higher than previously thought.

“This is science that should have been done before we let the genie out of the bottle,” concluded Dr. Ingraffea.

Filmmaker Jon Bowermaster showed a movie clip from a new film he is making called “Dear Governor Cuomo” which documents hundreds of activists protesting fracking in New York. The letter, on which the film is based, describes the links hydraulic fracturing has had to cancer. It is authored by Dr. Sandra Steingraber and signed by a dozen other cancer organizations.


It is incumbent on us to speak out about the potential for a profound increase in cancer risk in New York State by the permitting of hydraulic fracturing. From Sandra Steingraber’s letter to Governor Cuomo.

 Natalie Merchant closed our 25-year EGA Anniversary with an inspirational concert! A native of NY she has also joined the battle to ban fracking, and was moved to tears as she spoke about the sickness and pollution she had witnessed from fracking chemicals. “I am fighting for my home which I do not want to see become an industrial wasteland!” she exclaimed.

Trucks service a frack well in Pennsylvania. Photo: Garth Lenz/iLCP




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Meet the Author

Shari Sant Plummer
Environmental philanthropist and ocean activist Shari Sant Plummer is President of Code Blue Charitable Foundation, Secretary/Trustee of the Summit Charitable Foundation, Board member of the Sylvia Earle Alliance, Vice President/Trustee of Seacology, Board Member of International League of Conservation Photographers, member of the Blue Ocean Film Festival Advisory Council, and member of the World Wildlife Fund’s National Council and Marine Leadership Committee. A graduate of NYU and former Design Director at Ralph Lauren in NY, Shari is now an avid diver and ocean activist, traveling extensively throughout the world and promoting ocean conservation and environmental awareness.