By John Byrne Barry
What would happen if, instead of making backroom deals that then become policy, energy executives and government officials sat down with environmentalists and labor leaders to develop an energy plan that works for everyone? Since the Bush administration apparently isn't interested in exploring such possibilities, Sierra magazine put together its own "task force" for its July/August 2002 issue.
Determined not to make Vice President Dick Cheney's mistake in reverse by including only like-minded environmentalists, Marilyn Berlin Snell, Sierra writer/editor and coordinator of the energy forum, invited an oil company executive, an electric utility advocate, a labor leader, the head of California's energy agency and an auto plant architect to join the discussion at the Sierra Club's San Francisco headquarters.
Though they didn't agree on everything, this small group of big thinkers reached a consensus that the Bush administration's plan is off-track and that a peaceable and sustainable energy plan is within reach.
One breakthrough moment, says Snell, came when David Freeman, once responsible for some of the nation's largest nuclear plants, said that in this age of terror, "we've got to be out of our minds to build more [of them]."
The forum was so successful and generated such good will that we are encouraging Sierra Club activists to host them in their communities.
Snell suggests starting with an invitation to the head of your public utilities commission, a power plant operator, union leaders and an alternative energy supplier.
She emphasizes the importance of creating a safe, hospitable environment, making people feel welcome. "I stressed to the reps from industry that they wouldn't be ambushed, but listened to." The Sierra forum was closed, says Snell, because, "We wanted them talking to each other, not grandstanding."
She recently attended a forum where, after the panel discussion, the audience broke up into informal groups around a topic of interest to them. The panelists came down off the stage and joined the groups. "Sometimes an 'expert' wasn't in the discussion group," she says, "but people quickly realized it didn't matter."
You can read about the energy forum in Sierra magazine's July/August issue. If you want help planning a forum, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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