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Support CMD's Fight Against King Coal
Perhaps you are making some year-end decisions to donate money in a way that makes a real difference. If you have not contributed recently, I would urge you to support SourceWatch and the work of the Center for Media and Democracy. Here is one more reason why: your donation makes possible CMD's crucial work on global warming and the fight to stop the destructive and dangerous use of coal.
My friend, author and activist Ted Nace, is CMD's partner in the CoalSwarm wiki inside SourceWatch. Ted has written a new book titled Climate Hope: On the Front Lines of the Fight Against Coal, his most recent since his much-lauded Gangs of America. Climate Hope tells a dramatic story:
When US power companies revealed plans to build over 150 new coal-fired power plants, climate scientists sounded the alarm. If this wave of massive plants were built, there would be little chance of preventing greenhouse gases from reaching truly dangerous levels. In response to the crisis, hundreds of local and regional groups, along with a handful of national groups, rose to the challenge of blocking the wave of proposals. Through courageous action on a variety of fronts -- from sit-ins at coal mines to blockades at big-city banks -- the anti-coal movement succeeded ins stopping over 100 power plant proposals, bringing the coal boom largely to a halt.
The Center for Media and Democracy is playing a crucial role in this struggle through our partnership with Ted in creating the CoalSwarm wiki. Ted tells this story in his book, excerpted below. It's a success story that many other activists and organizations working on other issues could also repeat if they would follow Ted's example and partner with CMD to create their own wiki inside SourceWatch.
As you read this excerpt below, please consider donating to CMD's important work maintaining SourceWatch. As you see, it is a dynamic online information system that is invaluable to environmental, social justice and democracy activists, as well as journalists and the public at large. Success like this, often unheralded, is only possible with your ongoing support.
The report that 17 (coal) plants had been canceled was astonishing, yet I began to think that the actual number would end up being even higher because our own status list showed that in several instances utilities had canceled plants quietly without notifying the press. In November (2008) I met with several organizers from RAN (Rainforest Action Network), and the discussion turned toward how the various groups in the far-flung anti-coal movement could most readily share the various informational resources on coal plants. Scott Parkin, one of RAN's organizers, gave me the names of several activist wikis and suggested that I contact them. One was SourceWatch, an information clearinghouse sponsored by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) in Madison, Wisconsin. I emailed John Stauber and he immediately wrote back inviting us to merge our status reports on the 151 proposed coal plants into the 35,000-article wiki database that CMD had already built on topics including the public relations industry, climate change, nuclear power and Big Tobacco.
Stauber's invitation was appealing for two reasons. First, by piggybacking onto an existing wiki rather than creating a wiki from scratch, we'd save ourselves time and money. Second, SourceWatch had already accumulated a high degree of 'Google juice,' that is, the tendency for search engines to give high rankings to content in the Sourcewatch wiki. This was due to the large number of Web sites that already linked to SourceWatch articles, as well as the denseness of internal linkages among SourceWatch articles. Both factors are judged by Google's engine to be indicators of a Web page's usefulness to someone seeking information.
Stauber and his CMD collaborators had already thought long and hard about the usefulness of wikis for building activist communities and enhancing collaboration among groups. Through their efforts, SourceWatch had developed ways for each topic focus within the wiki to develop its own unique identity and sense of community. To identify SourceWatch pages on the topic of coal, we settled on the name CoalSwarm to reflect the anarchic diversity of the no-coal movement and designed a suitable 'badge' featuring a cluster of bees.
It took just a few weeks for our small crew to convert our database of coal plants into wiki format. Kaethin Prizer spearheaded the effort. Once we had finished moving the coal plant information into the CoalSwarm wiki, we began creating additional wiki articles on power companies, lobbying groups, citizen groups and protests, as well as on topics such as clean coal and mountaintop removal.
CoalSwarm quickly turned into a popular site for activists, journalists, students and others to find information on coal, and over the following months the site attracted hundreds of thousands of visits and grew to over 2,000 pages of information. I was particularly pleased that anyone, anywhere, could post information -- some posts came from activists as far away as Australia and Europe. In order to create a page or add information to an existing page, the only prerequisite was to create a log-in name. What kept things honest was that, according to the rules of SourceWatch, every morsel of information had to be linked to a published source. Anyone using CoalSwarm didn't have to take our word for any piece of information on the site; they could click on the footnote and judge the veracity of the data for themselves.
On occasion, we were asked why we didn't simply post the information we collected onto Wikipedia, the original wiki and by far the largest. An advantage of SourceWatch over Wikipedia is the team of professional editors employed by CMD to police the site. Without the editorial oversight provided by SourceWatch, Wikipedia proves to be a poor tool for muckraking because information on business misdeeds and controversies is often quietly deleted by image-conscious corporate officials and public relations firms. SourceWatch's editors prevent that from happening, making it a more reliable place to build a clearinghouse on controversial industries such as coal or tobacco.
By the time we had completed our database of proposed coal plants, our list of projects that had been canceled, abandoned, or placed on hold during 2007 had grown to 59. This struck me as a newsworthy number. I called Matt Leonard at RAN, and we agreed to issue a joint press release. Within days of the release, the information was popping up on blogs and in online environmental newsletters. Eventually, it was picked up by the mainstream media as well. The utility and coal industries did not like the publicity about plant cancellations. 'This is part of a concerted effort to grossly exaggerate opposition to coal-based electricity generation,' said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association. In an interview with environmental reporter Steve James, Popovich complained that environmental groups were on a 'jihad' and were 'exaggerating anecdotal evidence to conclude that coal is on the way out.'
But the evidence was not anecdotal. Each cancellation was well documented, and the press release made no attempt to overstate the role of the anti-coal movement in the cancellations. While Popovich and other industry spokespeople sought to dispel any sense that King Coal was in trouble, it was hard to dispute the fact that something significant was afoot. Lester Brown, chairman of Earth Policy Institute, wrote: "What began as a few local ripples of resistance to coal-fired power is quickly evolving into a national tidal wave of grassroots opposition from environmental, health, farm and community organizations and a fast growing number of state governments."