From Sept 20th-23rd, PSR PA joined impacted community members, grassroots organizations, and indigenous land defenders in Pittsburgh for the Clean Energy Justice Convergence, a series of events and protests in solidarity with people around the world working to advance truly clean energy justice and calling on leaders to hasten the break from fossil fuels and the false solutions that will allow fossil fuel companies to continue extracting. Alongside a student-led climate strike and a press conference spotlighting indigenous voices, local organizers offered tours of the steel, petrochemical, and methane gas industries that have taken a heavy health toll on southwestern PA residents. (Stay tuned for details of those tours here, with audio from impacted community members and tour guides.)
The four-day convergence coincided with the Global Clean Energy Action Forum, an international conference that invited leaders from government, technology, and industry to take part in panels around climate solutions. Although the conference had the potential to address the climate crisis with real solutions that centered environmental protection and voices of frontline communities, crucial indigenous and minority voices were largely absent. Instead, the conference was, in part, led by industry giants who cemented fossil fuel dependency in the last several decades even while their own internal research was revealing how destructive fossil fuels are.
Alongside events and tours, organizers from the Clean Energy Justice Convergence underscored how the Forum centered voices of politicians and industry members that are most responsible for climate harm, like Joe Manchin. When the senator who demanded streamlining permitting processes for natural gas pipelines in the Inflation Reduction Act held a fireside chat, protesters showed up as “Demons for Manchin” - die-hard fans from hell, to highlight how the senator is most popular with and is heavily funded by companies who put profit over sustainability - questioning why the West Virginia senator who received the highest donations from natural gas pipelines during the 21-22 election cycle ,three times as high as the next highest donated senator, was a speaker at a “clean energy” conference.
Critics pointed out that rather than focusing on decreasing fossil fuel and overall energy use and protecting resources like forests that already exist, the conference centered false solutions promoted by fossil fuel companies because they enable continued fossil fuel reliance. These nascent technologies include carbon capture and sequestration, which is energy intensive and already has far more demand than supply can provide with companies writing it into long term sustainability plans to avoid cutting emissions; and hydrogen blending, 95% of which comes from natural gas, requires energy to produce and therefore should not be used for more than a very limited number of hard to decarbonize industries. Both of these proposed solutions require more fossil fuels for power while using untested technologies that continue to require sacrificing frontline neighborhoods located near infrastructure that releases many of the same chemicals that have plagued neighbors near coal and gas plants and pipelines.
It is no accident that the Forum was held in Pittsburgh, a city that has been home to the coal industry since the late 19th century when Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick began US Steel. The plants that turn coal into the coke essential for producing steel still operate today, exhaling chemicals that increase cancer and asthma rates for miles around, while gas fracked in nearby communities travels directly through the city in what residents call “bomb trains." Pittsburgh hopes to once again be a home to new industries that claim to be America’s energy solutions. But these solutions need to focus on moving away from the fossil fuels that have devastated the region, not doubling down on them.
Pittsburgh could become a green leader by rejecting the natural gas-powered blue hydrogen hub Governor Wolf wants to build in the western part of the state and closing coal plants. Officials could limit any increase in natural gas infrastructure and address the centuries of harm done to local neighborhoods from extractive industries and steel.. With so little time to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, Pittsburgh’s leadership as a city with its particular history of exploitation is actually an essential asset, because its leadership is uniquely positioned to listen to its impacted communities and uphold justice for a truly sustainable future. To do this, Pittsburgh’s elected officials need to act quickly and courageously, standing up for the communities they serve and against the false solutions they have capitulated to in the past.