We are in a transformational moment in US energy history, and Leslie Moyer of Post Carbon Institute thinks it’s time we take an honest look at our energy predicament and change course.
Leslie is director of the Energy Reality Campaign, which, as she says in our interview below, highlights the true costs, benefits, and limitations of all our energy options. Prior to her work at PCI Leslie worked with the 5 Gyres Institute researching plastic marine pollution and educating the public on the global impact of plastic debris in the world’s oceans. Before her global sailing adventures, she worked in the social justice field, at a nonprofit media firm and as a freelance copyeditor.
Read on to learn about Leslie’s work with artists and energy, the undeserved un-sexiness of energy conservation and a particularly mind-blowing uphill car ride.
Tell us about the Energy Reality campaign.
The Energy Reality Campaign has been a two-year energy literacy project of Post Carbon Institute’s in the effort to gain a shared understanding of the true costs, benefits, and limitations of all our energy options, including renewables. The campaign uses the book ENERGY: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth (a group effort by PCI, Foundation for Deep Ecology and Watershed Media) as the educational centerpiece. Over the last 15 months, we’ve distributed 5,000 copies of this large-format coffee table-style book across the country (and 14 other countries, actually) to grassroots organizers, independent activists, educators and national environmental groups. The website for the project, energy-reality.org, is full of free resources as well.
We’ve used imagery as a driver of awareness on this campaign. In addition to handing out free books and resources, we also partnered with photographers to create five "extreme energy" photo essays depicting what we’re fighting against and, just as important, what we're fighting for. We connected viewers to calls to action of partner organizations (for example Credo Action’s Pledge of Resistance to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline and Food & Water Watch's petition to ban fracking on public lands in the US) so they can take action after being motivated by the images.
Energy is one of those invisible necessities that usually doesn’t get a second thought. When our lights go out, that’s the only time we stop to think about energy as a finite and miraculous thing.
Lastly, we're about to roll out the final installment of the campaign, which I'm most excited about: the Public Energy Art Kit. We partnered with 12 artists to create poster art that’s both a deep critique of our current energy system and also offers a hopeful vision of a new energy future that emphasizes community-scale energy generation, durable economies, and personal resilience. The 16-page full-color art kit (including interactive inserts reading "This ___ Could Be Solar/Wind Powered") is being printed in the form of a newspaper, and we're putting out a call for people to strategically get 35,000 P.E.A.K. newspapers and their digital counterparts into public view by sharing copies in highly-trafficked areas, hanging individual posters conspicuously in public spaces, and sharing the art digitally with their greater community over social media.
What do you think is the biggest single energy challenge facing us today?
There is a lot of rhetoric pushing renewables as the end-all solution to our fossil fuel dependency and one that will lead us out of climate disruption. The truth is, that’s not going to cut it – we’re going to need massive depowering to get us out of our energy predicament. We have to move away from dirty energy and renewables will be a major part of that, but they won’t be able to provide for the entirety of our energy needs unless we drastically downscale. Alternative energy itself depends on a fossil fuel based infrastructure (from raw materials to manufacturing to transportation). Conservation isn’t as sexy necessarily as glossy pictures of windmills and solar panels, but we need to embrace that we will be living with less.
What was it like working with these 12 artists?
A learning experience, for sure! It was actually a lot of fun. All of our artists brought their own unique perspective to the issue they depicted in their poster, and while we had some concerns initially that they might not share, and thus represent, PCI’s worldview (we didn’t art direct at all), it turned out a lot better than if we had told them how to do their job. We were really happy to be able to work with Steve Lambert as the lead artist on this project.
When did you personally take an interest in the future of energy?
I was driving my car one day through Bolinas, a tiny town in Marin County, California, after I’d been riding my road bike particularly a lot in the weeks prior. As I was going up a steep grade, I found myself thinking how much easier it was to drive a car than ride a bike up a hill. It suddenly dawned on me that while it was comparatively easy for me to step on the accelerator pedal than ride my bike uphill, the fossil energy required to move a 3,000 pound car up a hill versus the human energy needed to move an 18-pound bike and a 115-pound person up that same hill is staggering. I thought about what went into that bit of gasoline I used: the creation of the hydrocarbons themselves and the extraction, refining, and transportation needed turn the crude oil into gasoline at the pump. And that’s not even considering the production of the machinery and infrastructure to process crude oil into gasoline, or what’s required to produce a car, or the road I was driving on. It all kind of blew my mind right then. I know it probably sounds silly but after that, I really started thinking for the first time about the energy infrastructure needed to support our world, and wondered what the unseen costs were. Energy is one of those invisible necessities that usually doesn’t get a second thought. When our lights go out, that’s the only time we stop to think about energy as a finite and miraculous thing.
Have you been inspired to make any big changes in your own life based on your experiences at PCI?
I have! Not just on the level of energy awareness and personal energy literacy, but I’ve also been inspired by the work we do around resilience. Since coming to PCI 18 months ago, we’ve installed seven raised beds in the back yard for vegetable gardens, made a wooden-pallet compost bin, learned the arts of fermentation, and now have four beehives. I was already headed in this direction but our work at Post Carbon Institute gave me added incentive to get my homestead going full force.