As more of us tune in to increasing media coverage of environmental crises and political wrangling, we’re participating more often through online petitions, letter-writing campaigns, and in-person rallies. Groups are more sophisticated with their educational and engagement initiatives, and they provide useful access to live feeds of public meetings and daily updates of legislative efforts. 

Last fall, members of the Climate Action Team attended vigils outside the Public Service Commission’s headquarters and provided public comment about Georgia Power’s Integrated Resource Plan to commissioners. We joined with other congregations’ green teams to add our voices to the work of intervening groups like Georgia Interfaith Power and Light. Ultimately, the PSC voted in favor of the utility’s plans, and a considerable rate increase will affect the state’s customers for each of the next three years. 

All of the work of the environmental lobbying groups, all of the petitions’ signatures, all of the charts and statistics and emotional testimony, all of it met with… defeat.

December 20, 2022: Georgia PSC Approves Georgia Power 2022 Rate Plan

“What’s truly jaw-dropping about the PSC-approved plan,” wrote Charline Whyte, Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign in Georgia, “is Georgia Power’s maximum profit ceiling, which is over 2% higher than the national utility average. Georgia Power and Southern Company earn millions in profits on an essential service while hardworking Georgians might now have to decide whether to buy medicine or keep the lights on – a choice no one should ever have to make. The PSC cited rising interest rates and inflation as rationale for why Georgia Power, a monopoly utility provider in much of Georgia, should get to earn more. It’s revealing that the Commission charged with protecting consumers only cares about inflation when it comes to Georgia Power’s profit, not when it comes to Georgia families.”

“The holidays look especially bright for Georgia Power this year, but much gloomier for everyday Georgians that are already struggling to pay the bills during these difficult economic times,” says Codi Norred, Executive Director of Georgia Interfaith Power & Light. “We’re disappointed the Commissioners failed to open up the net metering program for more rooftop solar customers. Net metering would make it much more affordable for congregations and families to go solar and reduce monthly electric bills.”

You can’t win ‘em all, right? We’ve got to be realistic, so many of us turned our attention to the state’s 2023 legislative session. We learned from and organized with the partner-rich Georgia Water Coalition around two particular pieces of legislation. The first bill would prevent the unapproved dumping of untreated industrial sludge waste (think human excrement and slaughterhouse waste) under the guise of agricultural “soil amendments.”

The second proposal would prevent destructive mining in the biodiverse Okefenokee Swamp. Environmental groups across the state and country weighed in on the disastrous prospects of allowing titanium mining. The bi-partisan bill had the attractive appeal of dozens of co-sponsors. Four members of the Climate Action Team joined others for Georgia Conservation Day at the statehouse last month to speak with representatives and urge support of the legislation. What happened? Read on.

March 6, 2023: House Bills Fail to Make It out of Committees

HB 477, the soil amendment bill, was assigned to the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee but did not get a hearing and a vote prior to Crossover Day, so it cannot pass in the 2023 legislative session. According to the Georgia Conservancy, this bill “would provide local county governing bodies greater ability to monitor the application of soil amendments to lands in their jurisdiction. Some soil amendments, often used in agriculture can have a detrimental ecological effect on land, water, and air. This bill would allow for greater transparency in what soil amendments are being used at the local level and strengthen a county’s understanding of where applications are taking place.”

Although there are now more than 91 co-signers to the Okefenokee Protection Act (HB 71). This bill was assigned to the House Natural Resources Committee but did not get a hearing and a vote prior to Crossover Day, so it cannot pass in the 2023 legislative session. The legislation “would prohibit the Georgia Department of Environmental Protection (EPD) from issuing, modifying, or renewing any permit or accepting any bond to conduct surface mining activities on the geological formation known as Trail Ridge along the eastern edge of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge,” the Georgia Conservancy explains. “The Okefenokee is a federally-protected wilderness and a globally-significant wetland bordered by Trail Ridge. The ridge itself is a complex of hydrogeological settings – essentially a saturated sandhill. Forming an eastern barrier to the swamps and wetlands of the Okefenokee, Trail Ridge is not only ecologically important in and of itself, but also serves as scaffolding for the health of the Okefenokee.”

Influencing action is easier said than done, and it’s discouraging to be a part of a thoughtful, conscience-driven campaign to enact policy change and see it not succeed. Professional lobbyists develop a thick skin and get used to setbacks. Those of us who only dabble in the political game are more vulnerable to disillusionment.

We have to catch our breath, shake off the demoralizing frustration, and reassure ourselves that at least we have a leader at the top who gets it. “If we don’t keep it below 1.5 degrees Centigrade, we lose it all,” President Joe Biden said in July. “We don’t get to turn it around. And the world is counting on us.  And this is the United States of America.  When we put our hearts and minds to it, there’s not a single thing beyond our capacity – I mean it – when we act together. And of all things we should be acting together on, it’s climate. It’s climate.” And then this week…

March 13, 2023: Biden Administration Approves Huge Alaska Oil Project

“The Willow approval by the Bureau of Land Management would allow three drill sites, which would include up to 199 total wells,” reports The Seattle Times. “‘We are too late in the climate crisis to approve massive oil and gas projects that directly undermine the new clean economy that the Biden administration committed to advancing,’ said Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen. “We know President Biden understands the existential threat of climate, but he is approving a project that derails his own climate goals.”

“Approval of the Willow Project is an environmental injustice,” Senator Ed Markey said in a March 13 statement. “The Biden administration’s decision to move forward with one of the largest oil development projects in decades sends the wrong message to our international partners, the climate and environmental justice movement, and young people who organized to get historic clean energy and climate investments into law last year.”

Ugh. How do we deal with the setbacks, the assaults on our idealism, the fear that we the people lack agency? Reporters from Time Magazine spoke with organizers of the youth climate organization Sunrise Movement last March as they processed their frustration. “For Sunrise, the failure to enact federal climate legislation has prompted a kind of identity crisis – a painful process of sifting through the wreckage and trying to chart a way forward, recognizing that the strategy of the past six years hasn’t delivered results. ‘It was deeply devastating, honestly, to see the way [Build Back Better] stalled out,’ Sunrise’s 28-year-old executive director Varshini Prakash tells TIME. ‘It’s like, we voted, we marched, we striked, you know? There were, like, 16-year-olds doing phone banks. What more do we need to do to win?’”

The reporters zeroed in on what preserves the young activists’ motivation to keep trying: the gratification of being a part of something bigger than oneself. “Activism, they suggested, had become its own reward, offering a sense of belonging and commitment. ‘As a person I’m really small, and before that might have made me feel ineffective,’ Kidus Girma says. ‘But now I see that a lot of small people add up to something big, and I feel big in my smallness.’”

Let’s keep our chins up and remember the wisdom of this twenty–something activist. Let’s be fueled by the selfless, soulful, collective energy of this work. We owe it to them and the generations ahead who desperately need us to remain motivated in solidarity.

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JOURNEY WITH US: The Climate Action Team extends a radical welcome to activists, contemplatives, readers, meditators, questioners, tree hugging hippies, scientists, policy wonks, radicals, pacifists, nature enthusiasts, and all who seek community as we navigate our changing times together. Learn all about the group here, and check out our lending library and Carbon Offset Fund grant opportunity. Contact Nicole Haines to connect to the CAT and join us on Zoom for our monthly meting on Monday, March 20!