This is a Moms Clean Air Force exclusive interview with Zephyr Teachout:
Zephyr Teachout is a law professor and antitrust expert. She ran for governor of New York in 2014. During her campaign for governor, she became well-versed in New York’s fight to ban fracking, and has become a champion for clean energy in the Empire State. Moms Clean Air Force recently spoke with her; what follows is a condensed and edited version of our interview.
You work a lot on corruption in US politics. What do you see as the intersection between corruption and climate change?
A lot of the corruption I talk about is fully legal corruption. Corruption that’s the biggest threat right now is campaign contributions and outside [political] spending. There’s not an area where the connection between corruption and poor health is clearer than with climate change. It’s so crude – that’s not a pun! You see the Koch brothers who have an active investment in fossil fuels, and an active opposition to renewable energy, recently announcing they are going to spend close to a billion dollars in the 2016 election.
But it’s not just the amount of money. They have built an incredible power network around keeping politicians as well as public intellectuals in their pocket.
This is a multi-game project to protect fossil fuels. The effects are really disastrous. All the health impacts of climate change really can be laid at the feet of this legal form of corruption.
What do you see as the major solutions to slowing and stopping greenhouse gas emissions?
This is the question of our age. We need to continue to protest and really work on stopping building out more [fossil fuel] infrastructure. Every time we build infrastructure we’re recommitting to a climate destruction machine – to a health destruction machine. We’re committing to poisoning ourselves. It’s why I think the protest against the Keystone pipeline is so important.
Also important is laying out a very clear, credible vision for how and why we can get off fossil fuels. That’s what I’ve been focused on this past month. I’m going to 20 towns and cities around the state with Josh Fox, the director of Gasland, trying to talk to people about two things: How and why New York can be 100% renewable; and how and why they themselves can switch over to make sure that their own electricity bill isn’t funding the Koch brothers but is funding renewable energy sources.
Last year, on one day at least, Germany powered over 75% of all its electricity needs with solar alone. I think people often think that solar sounds nice, geothermal and renewable energy sources sound nice, but they imagine them as only a fraction of the answer. There’s the sense that we haven’t come up with the technological solution yet. That’s actually not true.
Just using New York as an example, with current technology, and current consumption rates, solar alone could power ten times our electricity needs. Laying out the particular technological possibilities is important to get people over a sense that renewables is naïve or a pipe dream.
New York uses a lot of natural gas. How do you think New York can transition to renewables?
New York has so many opportunities for renewable energy development. We have extraordinary solar capacity. Here’s Germany with, on certain days, 75% of its electricity needs being met by solar, and it has the solar capacity of Alaska. New York’s solar capacity is greater by a lot. Another opportunity is offshore wind. The offshore wind proposals are more than 20 miles offshore, so no one will be able to see them. In New York we have really consistent, strong offshore winds.
Every state is going to have a different energy blend. But every state has some blend of energy sources that can lead it to 100% renewables.
I also support the efforts within New York to stop particular [fossil fuel] infrastructure development, because we’re building our syringes for our natural gas addiction. If we stop building the mechanisms for our addiction, I think we’ll get off it a lot easier.
Do schools have a role in the climate movement?
An essential part of any education is understanding your ecologic environment. If we see kids only as widgets to be fit into a workforce, I think that’s a very diminished view of education. Education is the infrastructure of democracy. What that means is that we have an obligation in our education system to teach about water, about soil, about health, about the full world in which the child is going to grow up in — and not just the skills that might make the child a better worker.
What should parents be doing to address climate change?
Parents are the most important advocates. They bring an extraordinary passion that comes from the love of another person. I think everybody responds to the mother or father standing up to protect their child.
We’re taking on big money. There’s no question that we’re taking on some of the wealthiest people in world history here. Local clusters of parents have more power than they realize.