Hair on Fire Oregon is a micro-group of activist citizens working outside of constraints of bureaucracy to alert sentient humans to the clear and present danger of climate change.
In early 2015, we were alarmed to learn that a Canadian corporation, Veresen, was planning to build a 36” high pressure natural gas pipeline through our neighborhood in Southern Oregon. When we looked further into this project, we learned that it’s purpose was to deliver gas produced by fracking throughout the intermountain states and provinces of western North America to Coos Bay, Oregon, where it would be liquified and exported to Asia.
Although construction of Veresen’s Pacific Connector Pipeline would involve significant damage to the forests, rivers, wetlands and rural communities of our region, we learned that fracking and transmission of natural gas has much broader implications. Methane, which constitutes about 95% of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas, trapping about 84 times as much heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. The current boom in natural gas production, made possible by fracking (i.e. fracturing of geological strata), is releasing huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere. According to researchers and writers who have studied the complexities of global warming, the vast reserves of natural gas that have been produced in North America over the past decade, if fully utilized, will push the temperature of our planet well past the 2° Celsius increase over historical levels that scientists consider tolerable.
The Pacific Connector Pipeline is part of a huge investment in natural gas production, transmission and consumption that will move the energy economy of our planet in exactly the wrong direction. This massive undertaking on the part of the carbon fuel industry will accelerate climate change, destabilize weather patterns and undermine the agricultural practices that make human civilization possible.
To those of us who live in the mountains of Southern Oregon, climate change is already visible and tangible. Over the past several years, we have seen winter droughts, violent storms, arctic intrusions, increasingly destructive wildfires and wells running dry. Our fellow Oregonians and Americans, including our children and friends who live in large cities, do not seem to be fully aware of trends that are obvious to us. Apparently we are canaries in a climatological coal mine: the first to sense impending disaster.
We are alarmed and we believe that time is short. Of course we are not alone. Activists like Bill McKibben, environmental organizations, world leaders meeting in Paris, the Pope, a few politicians and others share our perception that we face an existential threat. But the vast majority of Americans and human beings around the world are proceeding with business as usual. A few self-serving or deluded individuals and organization, including carbon moguls and a majority of our Congressional representatives, are working actively to head off effective action.
In this context, how can we best use our limited resources of time, talent and money? Here is our mission, as we understand it:
1. Sharp focus.
We feel that only comprehensive solutions (as opposed to piecemeal efforts aimed at specific industries or projects) are likely to be effective. In Oregon, for example, this means that we must concentrate on establishing an economy-wide regulatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions via legislation. (In the recently ended 2015 session, we supported HB 3470, a measure that would have advanced the state toward this goal.)
We have also been involved in campaigns aimed at specific projects like the Pacific Connector Pipeline. However we believe that our chances of winning battles involving agencies controlled by the energy industry (such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or FERC) are slim. We hope that the Pacific Connector project can be derailed but we see local and statewide fights against such carbon industry initiatives primarily as a way to build support for comprehensive climate protections.
Concerned individuals and organizations are working hard in various endeavors related to climate change but they do not usually focus on educating the public as large. We feel that there is an important, mostly neglected, niche in the realm of mass communications, particularly in the social media realm. Reactionary actors like the Koch brothers and their ilk spend vast sums generating story lines in ‘think tanks’ and propagating misinformation via various media, including radio. No comparable function exists in the progressive sector.
3. Lobby the lobbyists.
We see larger environmental organizations as somewhat set in their ways. Historically, they have devoted most of their attention to specific issues like protecting a tract of land or regulating a particular industry. In Oregon, the major green organizations declined to support the model established in 2006 by California with the passage of AB32, a statewide cap and trade initiative. At this point, as the climate change crisis becomes more obvious, they do not seem to share our sense of urgency or conviction that only comprehensive measures will make a difference. However, these organizations are composed of motivated, intelligent, hard-working people. Our role, as outsiders, is to push their organizational cultures in the direction of emergency action.
4. Educate legislators.
We have discovered the Oregon lawmakers of significantly understaffed and often uninformed about climate change. We have devoted considerable time to providing information and analysis to receptive local legislators. We have also welcomed the direction of allied public officials with regard to targeting our communication efforts.
With these four mission elements in mind, we have produced a variety of media and programs, including a video documenting the significance of the Pacific Connector Pipeline; printed communications such as op-ed pieces, columns and advertisements; and a series of TV spots. In each case, we have attempted to leverage our resources by informing decision makers and other citizens of the global climate crisis that we see at our doorsteps.