Is Raising Awareness Enough?

Is protesting for awareness enough?

Yesterday activists began arriving to Anacortes, WA for Break Free 2016 to protest the use of fossil fuels. Similar activists are showing up all over the world: Denver, Colorado; Albany, New York; Johannesburg, South Africa; and Vancouver, Canada. They are all united together in an effort to raise awareness for the clean energy movement by congregating around oil and fossil fuel companies. Although I am a big fan of clean energy and feel we need to be good stewards of the environment, frankly, I’d like to ask the protesters if their efforts to raise awareness are worth the trouble, or maybe there’s something more they should be doing.

The aim of the closest protest to my home is the Shell Puget Sound Refinery located on March Point, just east of Anacortes. Last night protesters blocked train tracks leading into the refinery and now masses are gathering in the area. Traffic has been congested due to the activists’ efforts and additional state and federal law enforcement is ensuring safety. I went for a morning run before the bulk of protesters gathered, dodging my way around people carrying camping gear and a few shoeless activists. No one bothered me, I didn’t bother them, but in my head I criticized them for wasted efforts. Here’s why: in most efforts, protesting with signs is merely complaining about a problem, it’s void of solutions that can actually spark a change.

Close Down the Refinery!

According to the company website, the Shell Puget Sound Refinery processes up to 5.7 million gallons of crude oil daily. Most of the oil comes from Alaska’s North Slope. The processed oil is then turned into gasoline and various fuels such as propane and butane. About 700 residents in the surrounding areas work in the refinery, to include Anacortes, with total salaries reaching around $80 million per year. Western Washington University conducted a study where it found the Shell refinery and a neighboring refinery support 10-14% of all jobs in Skagit county, spending more than $125 million annually. Suffice to say closing down the refinery tomorrow would have detrimental effects on the area’s economy, making it a poor short-term solution. After the protesters leave the refinery will continue operating, it will continue to process oil.

Use Less Oil!

This is essentially a cry for individual citizens to take responsibility for their oil energy consumption. For some this comes easily. In my home we turn out lights in rooms when we leave them, chargers are plugged into power strips which can be completely turned off when not in use, and we drive fuel efficient vehicles, but carpool when practical. One day we hope to install solar panels on our home, but right now we move every three years, so that’ll have to wait.

Others may struggle with energy saving habits, in which case activists can certainly provide education with informational pamphlets. I’m sure there are individuals right now educating themselves after seeing the widespread protests, which is great! Now more and more people will practice energy saving tactics. The goal for raising awareness was accomplished, but that Shell Refinery still isn’t going anywhere.

Solutions

I said it before and I’ll say it again: protesting with signs is merely complaining about a problem, it’s void of solutions that can actually spark a change. Raising awareness isn’t enough, most people already call for clean energy. Most people recognize global warming as a palpable threat. Many of these protested oil companies already acknowledge the future of energy is wind and solar (though it might be from the declining supply of oil, not necessarily public opinion). Here’s what I like to know from the activists: when you’re not sitting on train tracks what are you doing to propel clean energy usage? Are the engineers among you developing more affordable electric cars and airplanes that utilize less fuel? Are those business savvy activists offering plans to oil companies for restructuring and allocating efforts towards wind energy? Is anyone consulting with local businesses to decrease their oil energy consumptions? Are those writing to congress suggesting alternatives, not just demanding something be done?

Every day thousands of men and women create innovative ideas for clean energy and cutting down oil consumption, they work at places like Tesla building electric cars and Uber promoting ride sharing. They operate the wind farms in Indiana, and spearhead installing motion detectors in office buildings around the world. They are making a difference in how we create and use energy. When you’re not sitting on train tracks, are you doing the same?