Can Local Co-Ops Challenge Corporate Carbon Pharaohs? | Sojourners

Can Local Co-Ops Challenge Corporate Carbon Pharaohs?

Two truths: President Joe Biden continues to call for unity; the bitter opposition between two halves of the country's political energy remains. Can we wait for slow dickering and compromise to produce unity?

It’s not easy when each half believes the other is itching to scrap the Constitution and its vision of a democratic America. Worse still, unity is not possible when one side has hard evidence that we are mired in the existential crisis of an Earth that does not wait for compromise — and the other side thinks that evidence is a hoax. The disagreement threatens paralysis. Paralysis spells catastrophe. Is there any way beyond it?


Embodying the future in the present makes it possible for the change to become the present and the future. For example, large numbers of Americans bitterly opposed “Obamacare” when it was still mere ink on paper, yet came to support it once it went into operation and affected their lives. In a similar vein, Solar United Neighbors, a national nonprofit helping people go solar, is future-casting by campaigning for “30 million solar rooftops.” For us at The Shalom Center, this carries with it a complementary concern for both technological and spiritual change, and we propose that the U.S. enact a program of federal grants to neighborhood solar and wind energy co-ops in all sorts of neighborhoods — rural, small-town, metropolitan, middle-sized, and suburban. These new energy systems would radically reduce the costs of electricity, increase the rapid spread of renewable energy and its jobs, reduce asthma and cancer rates in neighborhoods near coal-burning plants and oil refineries, and greatly reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that are poisoning and scorching all Earth.

For some neighborhoods, the co-ops themselves might become grassroots political challenges to the corporate carbon pharaohs that are making hyper-wealthy profits by burning Earth, preparing the way for enormous floods, hurricanes, droughts, fires, and famines.

The co-ops could also mean serious jobs — and serious money in the pockets of people whose factories were shuttered, who couldn’t afford the taxes to pay for their children's schools or for the seed to plant next spring's crops.

These solar or windmill co-ops might remind some farmers of the Rural Electrification Act, part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal legislation that brought electricity to farms in the 1930s through farmer co-ops. In some situations, perhaps the REA co-ops, on long-term coal-power contracts, are ready for a revitalization through wind or solar power; members could get them to change direction by emphasizing job creation and the drop of energy prices through solarization.

This approach could serve as a model of what a community-based, compassionate, justice-seeking U.S. — simultaneously “global” and “neighborly” — would look like. The point would be to emphasize neighborhood co-ops. Dealing with folks who live down the farm road instead of a suspect federal bureaucrat who appears out of nowhere could make a great difference.

But given the bitter opposition in our political system, is a federal program like this even possible? I think it is. First, President Biden could use an executive order to re-appropriate agriculture money to create these energy co-ops. Both parties' local leaders in states whose senators are up for reelection in 2022 would need to appeal to economic values to generate support for these policies, even against the wishes of incumbent senators. The actual offer of funds in desperately needy locales would make more of a difference than global climate theory.

Some communities of faith still have enough compassion to affirm those on the “other side” of the great divide that has paralyzed us. It is incumbent upon them to provide energy for this massive change.

There is a great teaching at the very end of Malachi: God proclaims that a “day is coming that will burn like a furnace” but that a “a sun of justice” with its “beating wings” will be its remedy; Elijah will turn the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of children to parents, so that the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, the Spirit of the World, will not come as a Hurricane to devastate all Earth. Youth movements like the Sunrise Movement have sought to turn their hearts to their elders to see the sun – solar energy – as a remedy for the scorching of our planet. Let us hope that in neighborhoods of every sort, elders can respond with open hearts to heal their neighborhoods and all Earth.

Editor's note: The Shalom Center was invited by the Solar United Neighborhoods to help coordinate a faith contingent to support the Thirty Million Solar Homes campaign

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