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Starting a Clean Energy Revolution with Common Sense

Frances Beinecke

Posted November 6, 2009

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Book coverI have been an environmental advocate for more than 35 years. And throughout that time, I have written policy briefs, magazine articles, and blog posts, but never before had I been inspired to write a book. 

That changed several months ago. I realized that we had arrived at a critical moment.

Not only do more and more Americans now recognize climate change as one of our most significant environment, economic, and humanitarian crises, but in the weeks ahead, Congress, the White House, the United Nations, China, India, and all the countries of the world will turn their focus to climate change.

From the Senate to the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, leaders will be crafting the policies that will shape our energy future and our planet's future.

Never before in my lifetime have the stakes on this issue been higher. Never has there been more momentum for change.

Now is the time for people to speak up and tell our lawmakers that yes, we want to solve global warming. We want to create green jobs, reduce our reliance on foreign oil, and put America at the forefront of the global clean energy market.

That's why I wrote a book with the help of my talented NRDC colleague, Bob Deans. I want Clean Energy Common Sense to be a part of the climate conversation now, when it matters most.

And I want the book to reach beyond the typical ideological divides. This is not a political treatise. It is not a partisan screed. It is an invitation to solve this crisis together.

While I was drafting the book, I kept a certain audience in mind: the people who have heard a lot about climate change from both sides but are not sure what to believe.

I talk with these people all the time. They approach me after I give a speech or at gatherings when they find out what I do. And they ask me solid, probing questions.

They might be skeptical of my answers at first, but they are willing to listen.

I wanted this book to be worthy of that attentiveness. I am not asking readers to take my word for it that we must confront climate change. I ask them to listen to the most authoritative experts in the field.

When I write about the alarming rate at which summer sea ice is melting in the Arctic, I reference scientists from NASA. 

When I say that climate change poses a serious threat to national security, I quote Marine Corps four-star General Anthony Zinni, U.S. Navy Admiral Lee Gunn, and CIA Director Leon Panetta.

And when I explain that creating a clean energy future is affordable, I cite research from the Congressional Budget Office, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency. These places are home to the best energy economists in the world. They are not in the service of any one but the public's interest. And they agree that fighting climate change will cost American families less than 44 cents a day.

Most of all, I want the book to be accessible.

When Bob and I were first discussing the book, we were inspired by essayist Thomas Paine who, with his with his 47-page pamphlet Common Sense managed to frame the debate for the American colony's break from British rule in 1776.

Like Paine's piece, our book is a quick read. It is an inexpensive paperback designed to be digested quickly and passed around. We want to get this book into people's hands when it matters most: now, while Congress debates the single most important vote of our generation.


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Dr. James SingmasterNov 7 2009 02:38 AM

President Beinecke: Coal can never provide clean energy so WHY is NRDC supporting the useless CCS concept in China? I wrote a comment on the Nov. 4 Green,Inc. NYTimes blog about the report NRDC and WRI are making for CCS in China. I said that CCS is foolishness and cited a number of problems that NRDC chooses to ignore even when Rob Perks at NRDC had pointed them out. How can Common Sense of not polluting the environment allow NRDC to call for coal use when the ashes are now recognized as a major problem with the mess in Tenn. Perks reported that Google geographic surveying showed 40+ other US sites with ash piles.
Perks also reported about the other contaminants in smoke that will be getting scrubbed out with their getting dumped with little recognition by environmental authorities of what is occurring(On Perks Sept. 28 Switchboard posting). Of course all the polluting health hazard messes with mining here that NRDC has many postings about can be overlooked in China.
Clean energy has to be renewable with both fossil and nuclear fuel having to be dumped because they are releasing more trapped energy to become free heat energy to be adding to global warming. For clean energy you can call for much more energy from wind mills and solar collectors, but CCS and Clean Coal are not going to get clean energy. For supporting CCS, NRDC may soon have an albatross hanging on its neck.
Dr. J. Singmaster

Rob PerksNov 9 2009 01:35 PM

With respect to Dr. Singmaster's comments, yes indeed I have slammed coal as dirty and dangerous in all phases. I lead NRDC's campaign to end mountaintop removal coal minng and our efforts to regulate coal ash storage. NRDC is a leading proponent of clean energy and efficiency, but the fact of the matter is that coal does and will continue to provide a substantial part of our energy until that switch to alternatives takes place. As such, NRDC believes that for coal to play a continued role, it must fix all of its threats to health and the environment. We have been clear that CO2 is only one of those threats. Our mission is to address all of these issues in a timely manner.

Dr. James SingmasterNov 10 2009 12:58 AM

Thank you Mr. Perks, but until coal and power cos. acknowledge the messes with the ashes and the scrub water that you got attention to Sept. 28, I do not think NRDC should be appearing to coddle those interests. The recent NRC report indicates that it is costing too much in terms of health effects to keep coal going unless electricity costs jump several fold to cover past and future expenses of health effects and other environmental damage. However, we still will be stuck with the growing overload of heat energy from releasing trapped chemical energy in burning fossil fuels; that means GW will continue worsening.
NRDC should come out for much more action on renewable energy using windmills and solar collection and especially for developing hydrogen from the splitting of water using a catalyst and sunlight.
I have pointed out elsewhere that "Clean Coal" CCS process involves large amounts of highly flammable and toxic capturing chemicals, and that CO2 can be dangerous if large quantities get suddenly released as occurred at Lake Nyos a few years ago. Such a release could be easily triggered by a terrorist with a stick or two of dynamite.
How will you feel about supporting this unthought out mess, if an incident occurs taking a few lives? Dr. J. Singmaster

David WheatNov 10 2009 03:04 AM

I am eagerly looking forward to reading Clean Energy Common Sense. But I don't have $14. When will it be available on line? I am sure Thomas Paine would have distributed his Common Sense on line if he had been able. This would save some paper, printing emissions, transportation emissions, and disposal emissions too.

Frances BeineckeNov 10 2009 12:52 PM

Dr. Singmaster, as my colleague Rob Perks pointed out, NRDC has advocated for clean energy solutions for more than 35 years. From helping to draft some of the first energy efficiency standards in the 1970s to pushing for clean energy incentives in this year’s climate bills, NRDC has been a tireless champion for renewable power.

But the reality is that coal is used widely today and coal-fired power will be with us for some time to come. Around the world hundreds of new coal plants have been built in just the past few years and they will operate for decades. We simply must figure out the best way to capture carbon emissions from these plants even as we shift to renewable power and energy efficiency. Carbon capture is a tool that can be used for more than coal too. If applied to sustainably-grown bioenergy, carbon capture can help cut the global warming pollution we already have put in the atmosphere.

David, thank you for your interest in my new book. I will be including excerpts from the book in my blog here at Switchboard, so please keep checking in.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

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