Award-winning eco-expert and freelance journalist Simran Sethi is both a co-host and writer for Sundance Channel’s THE GREEN [www.sundance.tv]. Simran is the Lacy C. Haynes Visiting Professional Chair at the University of Kansas, School of Journalism, where she currently teaches a course on Media and the Environment and a contributing environmental correspondent for NBC News. She is writing a book for Harper Collins on the impact of American consumption and was the contributing writer of “Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy,” a companion guide to the first PBS series on sustainable business which she also wrote and hosted.
Lauded in Vanity Fair’s 2007 green issue as environmental “messenger” and identified by Variety as a Woman of Impact, Simran was also named as one of the top Eco-Heroes of the Planet by the British newspaper, The Independent. She hosted a forum on global warming with Nobel Laureate Al Gore for MSN.com, moderated a panel on climate change action at the first Clinton Global Initiative University effort, and has appeared on talk shows include Oprah and the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
In Season 2 of THE GREEN [www.sundance.tv], Simran is featured on Sundance Channel’s original program BIG IDEAS FOR A SMALL PLANET [www.sundance.tv] and hosts ECO BIZ [www.sundance.tv]. She is also the creator of the Sundance Channel web series THE GOOD FIGHT [www.sundance.tv], highlighting global environmental justice efforts.
Simran would like to thank Heather Mueller, Managing Editor of Elephant Journal, for her research and thoughtful contributions towards the following responses.
1. What’s your favorite political movie?
THE CONTROL ROOM [www.imdb.com]. The documentary looks at how the US government shaped media coverage during the war in Afghanistan and influenced general public perception of the news outlet Al-Jazeera [english.aljazeera.net]. It reminds us to think critically about the stories that are told…and the ones that are obscured.
2. What role do you feel art plays in politics?
Art has the potential to speak truth to power in ways that political rhetoric cannot.
3. What do you think is the biggest issue for the next generation of Americans?
It is never just one thing-all challenges are systemic. Pitting the economy against the environment creates a false opposition. It’s the justification used to pillage our natural resources and keep the United States shackled to big oil companies and rapidly dwindling resources.
The economic recession compounded by the impending impacts of climate change and oil shortages leaves future generations with great challenges and opportunities. Green-collar jobs are an essential start. They address our economic and environmental woes, and reach populations that have been largely overlooked in past economic and energy policy decisions. In 2006, renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies generated 8.5 million new jobs, nearly $970 billion in revenue, and more than $100 billion in industry profits. The new United Nations Report on the Environment [www.unep.org] predicts the global market for environmental products and services will double by 2020.
Green jobs demonstrate what’s good for the economy can and will be good for communities. This is especially important during a time when home heating costs are predicted to rise 20% since last winter (and 65% since the winter of 2003/04). The most vulnerable members of our society could be pushed into fuel poverty. We have an urgent imperative to act. This isn’t just an issue of economics, it’s a matter of justice [www.alternet.org].
4. Who was the first political candidate you were excited to vote for and why?
I was excited to write in Jerry Brown’s name in the 1988 primaries but most excited to vote for Dennis Kucinich in the 2004 primaries. Kucinich was consistent in his support of everyday Americans through the policies he espoused. He spoke truth about what was right, rather than popular, and knew that public policy had to be good for all people, not just the citizens and corporate citizens who could swell his campaign coffers.
5. What factors are important to you in choosing a president?
Truth-telling, consistency, and integrity. Neither candidate is perfect, but Barack Obama, his running mate, and his constituents have clearly demonstrated more of these traits than John McCain, his running mate [features.csmonitor.com], and his people [www.youtube.com].
6. What issues would you like to see politicians focus more on?
Politicians seem more intent on kowtowing to mercurial public opinion than scientific fact. We need to better understand the relationship between our economy, our environment, and the pursuit of prosperity. The whole notion of “energy independence” is predicated on the belief that we have sufficient resources here at home. We do and we can if we start to ramp up and fund renewable energy infrastructure. Instead, we are urged to “Drill, baby, drill.” Our politicians, economists, and scientists know better [www.huffingtonpost.com]. Offshore drilling is described as a cure-all to our energy pains and economic headaches. It is not.
As for getting oil from “people who don’t like us very much” (as John McCain describes), our top resource for crude and petroleum is Canada. I think they do like us. They’re displacing indigenous communities and destroying their land to squeeze tar from sand to support our oil addiction. Extracting oil from tar sands has been called the most environmentally-damaging act on the planet. Find out more here [www.sundance.tv].
7. Which issues would you like to see politicians focus less on?
Name-calling and grandstanding about which candidate is the more authentic American eclipses authentic dialogue about the issues. We don’t need to focus on fewer issues, we need to stop the [url= http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kp-ClbnrEs]hate-baiting[/url] and [url= http://www.factcheck.org/elections-2008/factchecking_debate_no_3.html]distortion of voting records[/url] and talk more about the issues so voters garner greater insight into what will actually be done.
8. Which candidate’s initiatives do you feel better address environmental concerns?
Without question, it’s the Obama-Biden ticket. McCain has done great work co-sponsoring climate change legislation with Joe Lieberman but his choice of Sarah Palin eclipses those great efforts. Her environmental track record speaks for itself [podcast.cnbc.com].
9. What do you need to get off your chest?
Clean coal is a lie [www.greenpeace.org]. The catch-all term is used by politicians and coal advocates alike to lull the American public into complacency: It’s okay, we can build more coal plants, they’re clean. They include technologies like flue gas treatment, carbon storage and capture and gasification. While there’s been a lot of talk about these efforts, there’s been very little action because of the cost and other barriers to implementation. There are no commercially-viable clean coal plants in existence, yet politicians volley around the term as if they are abundant.
One of the most popular components of “clean coal” technology is carbon sequestration, which involves capturing carbon dioxide from coal plants and pumping it deep into the ground. But sequestering carbon doesn’t solve our pollution problems. Coal-fired plants are the largest source of mercury contamination in the country. Their emissions cause acid rain, smog, water pollution, and depletion of our ozone layer.
Instead of pouring one more penny into making a dirty industry slightly cleaner by 2015, we should be funding infrastructure and technologies that will get us out of this carbon sinkhole and create sustainable jobs and build competitive advantage for America in the global marketplace.
Yes, we can phase out coal. The naysayers that think this can’t be done are mistaken. Iceland used to get 100% of its energy needs met by imported oil and coal back in the 1970’s. Today, they’re 70% energy independent through the application of homegrown geothermal and hydroelectric power. (The island-nation also used to rank as one of the poorest nations in Europe. Now, the International Monetary Fund ranks it as one of the wealthiest.) Sweden’s making the same strides—and also reaping economic benefit. In 2006, they announced they’d be fossil fuel and nuclear-free by 2020 which has sparked innovation in hydroelectric, geothermal and cellulosic biofuels. Even countries with petro-resources (like Norway) recognize we have to look to renewable energy.
10. Do you have any recommended links, books or movies so people can learn more about the issues you care about?
Meet the Bloggers: The Environment [www.youtube.com]
Fuel Poverty [www.alternet.org]
Interview with Indigenous Rights Activist Clayton-Thomas Mueller [www.sundance.tv]
Clean Coal is a Lie [www.greenpeace.org]
Sarah Palin’s Empty Promise [www.huffingtonpost.com]
Weaning Us Off the Teat of Foreign Oil [www.huffingtonpost.com]
Powering the Planet [podcast.cnbc.com]
Extra Credit: Fill in the blank. _________ for change.
RE-ENERGIZE for a change.