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How HEATED readers are moving the needle
A recent newsletter inspired California readers to take local action. Today, we're hoping to inspire some more.
Last month, I received an e-mail from a reader, informing me that one of HEATED’s recent newsletters was inspiring a significant amount of climate activism in San Mateo, California.
Published on August 10, the newsletter called out three self-proclaimed “climate-friendly” electric utilities pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars from customer payments each year into the American Gas Association—a powerful lobbying group obstructing climate policy across the country.
Through this article, reader Mary Rose LeBaron discovered that her utility, PG&E, was among the offenders. Furious that her electric bill payments were funding an organization pushing climate delay and disinformation, she contacted organizers with the San Mateo Climate Action Team.
Together, they decided to start a pressure campaign, calling on all climate-concerned citizens in their area to email and call PG&E, asking them to reconsider its relationship with AGA, which costs the company more than $800,000 a year.
Here’s what one of the emails looked like:
LeBaron estimates that more than 150 people took part in the action. But it didn’t stop there. Days later, twenty more organizations—including national groups like Earthjustice and Public Citizen—joined the call.
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In their letter to PG&E, the groups made a forceful case against AGA as a key player in climate disinformation and policy delay. The letter read:
The actions of the American Gas Association do not align with PG&E’s values. AGA has been instrumental in undermining climate policy at the local, state and federal level. AGA uses its members’ dues to spread misinformation and fund front groups to fight the same electrification policies PG&E has supported.
AGA also fights efficiency standards that will help save Americans money and cut pollution. They have led an effort to ban local governments in dozens of states from utilizing their authority to increase energy efficiency and upgrade buildings to cut pollution and ensure residents can withstand the impacts of climate change.
Much like the tobacco industry, AGA has also done considerable harm by hiring pay-to-play toxicologists in an attempt to mislead the public about the scientific documentation of the health harms that can arise from burning gas indoors. This has restricted peoples’ ability to keep themselves and their families safe in their homes.
In light of AGA’s actions, it is difficult to see how PG&E can continue to meet its own climate commitments while financially contributing to the harmful actions of this trade association. How can the utility engage in good faith on climate solutions with investors, customers and policymakers while also propping up a key barrier to those solutions?
HEATED asked PG&E these very same questions when we were reporting our article. But PG&E did not respond, likely because they believed no one would care.
It was only once activists and ratepayers started demonstrating they did in fact care that PG&E responded—though clearly, they hoped no one would see it.
In individual email responses to ratepayers all marked “Confidential,” PG&E CEO Patti Poppe defended the utility’s AGA membership, while also trying to distance itself at the same time.
“Though we may not agree with every AGA policy position, we appreciate the opportunity to engage with our industry peers in these conversations, which allows PG&E to have a national platform to share ideas and planning around how we can together achieve a clean energy future,” Poppe wrote.
Poppe did not specify which AGA policy positions PG&E disagreed with, nor did she specify what “ideas” PG&E is sharing with AGA to justify a $800,000 annual boost to the group at the expense of ratepayers.
That’s because Poppe wasn’t actually trying to answer the concerns of ratepayers. Her wishy-washy response was merely an attempt to placate their anger, which represents a threat to PG&E’s greenwashing business strategy.
But the San Mateo activists understand that the only way to create change is to refuse to be placated. In a conversation with HEATED, they said they are now figuring out how to push the campaign forward—and could use all the help they can get.
”I think most people don’t know how to pull the levers of power, and don’t feel they can make a change or an impact,” said Michelle Hudson, one of the action’s co-organizers. ”I know I felt helpless to do anything about climate change for a long time, until I got plugged into local activism and learned how to organize with other people.”
So in the spirit of organizing with other people—and using this newsletter to do it—today we’re opening up the comments to our entire free subscriber community, composed of more than 78,000 people across all 50 states and 184 countries.
Please comment if you are looking for local climate activism opportunities in your area—or if you run a local group, and are looking for members. For those interested in activism, let us know where you live and what type of work you may be interested in or good at; for those running local campaigns, tell us where you’re running them and what you need.
If you wind up connecting with each other and starting or participating in an activism campaign around any climate issue because of it, please let us know.
Catch of the day: To make up for last week, we have two pals today. First up, reader Ellen sent us Milo the psychiatric servicedog sightseeing, and ruling over, the city of Aarhus, Denmark.
And reader Harry sent us Django, a chill boxer with the best smile.
Want to see your furry (or non-furry!) friend in HEATED? It might take a little while, but we WILL get to yours eventually! Just send a picture and some words to firstname.lastname@example.org.