If things seem a bit darker Saturday, March 31st, it’s because people are responsibly turning off the lights. The world celebrates Earth Hour at 8:30 p.m., March 31st in every time zone across the planet. Be a part of it by turning your lights out for an hour here in Portland. Read more
Dispatches from the DC Enviro Film Fest
Photo: Bruce Guthrie / DCEFF
When the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital kicked off 20 years ago, it was attended by 1,200 people. Now in its 20th anniversary, the festival draws crowds of over 30,000 at venues around the city. This year's festival which wrapped up last weekend was the biggest yet: 180 films; environmental leaders and big name filmmakers like Ken Burns; packed movie houses around the city. We saw only a small fraction of the movies, but even these few generated lots of exciting discussion. Here’s a run-down of what we saw:
Revenge of the Electric Car
Synopsis: Large automakers (GM, Nissan) and small upstarts (Tesla, Greg Abbott) alike roll out their electric vehicle offerings in the face of dwindling oil supplies and a fluctuating economy. The film focuses on the leadership of these companies, their unique, sometimes over-the-top personalities and their reasons for betting their chips on electric vehicles.
Take Home Message: It was neat to see former GM CEO Bob Lutz, long known for producing gas-guzzlers, embrace the Chevy Volt as his company’s crown jewel. Panelist after the film explained that Revenge captures a specific moment in time and that battery and alternative fuel technology is moving at an even faster pace than the movie portrays. Ultimately, though, the design of our cities will be more central to the future of mobility than the design of our cars.
EarthShare members working on the issue: Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (Mark Gorton kicks off “Re-thinking the Automobile” in Delhi); NRDC (Broad coalition shows electric cars can bring relief at pump); Environmental Defense Fund (Timeline: cars and the environment).
Synopsis: A proposed wind farm off Cape Cod, Massachusetts (Cape Wind) sets off a firestorm of local and national political debate, legal wrangling, media coverage and strange bedfellows for and against the project. A case study of American politics in action, the film gives each side of the debate equal coverage, revealing the difficulty of reaching consensus on environmental and energy issues.
Take Home Message: It’s important to have good communication with local people when planning energy projects. Other coastal states around the U.S. are considering their own projects – will they be as contentious as Cape Wind was? Meanwhile, Europe churns out energy from its own 53 offshore wind farms.
EarthShare members working on the issue: Oceana (Why We Believe in Offshore Wind); Sierra Club Foundation (Sierra Club Applauds Opening of Leasing Process for Offshore Wind).
Synopsis: Most of us take the word “progress” for granted, particularly technological and economic progress. This film, produced by Martin Scorsese, proposes that conventional notions of progress are actually putting us on a collision course with environmental disaster. Based on Ronald Wright’s best-selling book, A Short History of Progress, the film is grand in scope and visually stunning.
Take Home Message: The technological solutions that we create to address environmental problems often cause new problems. In the end, the most important changes should come not from technological innovation, but changes to our cultural values. Start by asking yourself what the most important things in your life are (loved ones, strong communities, health, purpose) and build solutions from there.
EarthShare members working on the issue: Friends of the Earth (Global coalition calls for oversight of synthetic biology); Earthjustice (Engineering an Environmental Disaster); Physicians for Social Responsibility (Technology and toxics).
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom
Synopsis: Shortly following Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, director Lucy Walker travels to the ravaged Tohoku region to interview survivors about their relationship to the country’s steadfast symbol: the cherry blossom.
Take Home Message: Nature’s persistent character provides solace for those suffering under even the most horrible circumstances. To hear survivors talk about their personal reflections on cherry blossoms while in the midst of tragedy captures the sorrow and remarkable tenacity of the human spirit.
EarthShare members working on the issue: American Forests (Signs of Spring); Restore America’s Estuaries (Storms, Tsunamis, Coastal Wetlands, and Carbon); Arbor Day Foundation (Japanese Flowering Cherry).
Waking the Green Tiger: The Rise of the Green Movement in China
Synopsis: A film crew and domestic journalists visit rural villages in China to help local people find their voice in the fight against dam projects. The film also looks at the history of environmentalism in China from its dark days under Mao’s Zedong’s Cultural Revolution to today's glimmers of democratic protest.
Take Home Message: Stories about environmental issues in China tend to focus on global competition for energy resources (where China’s growth is often used as a scapegoat for inaction elsewhere), factory conditions or pollution. Waking the Green Tiger interviews some of the strongest voices in China’s domestic environmental movement, providing a different and hopeful perspective on the country’s challenges. Also shows how closely cultural survival is linked to environmental concerns in places like China’s wild and beautiful west.
EarthShare members working on the issue: Rainforest Alliance (Community Forestry in China); American Rivers (Making Hydropower Dams Work Better); The Jane Goodall Institute (Beijing: Dr. Goodall’s Gombe 50 Tour of Asia).
A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet
Synopsis: Providing much-needed historical and global context to today’s environmental challenges, A Fierce Green Fire charts the origins of the modern environmental movement along with its major players, its setbacks, victories and future challenges.
Take Home Message: Whether it was the Sierra Club working to prevent dams in the Grand Canyon or homeowners fighting for their family’s health during the Love Canal crisis, environmental activists have always had to work against great forces to get their voices heard. Still, contemporary issues like global warming and the rapid loss of biodiversity present an even greater imperative to work together for the future of the planet. Inspiring.
EarthShare members working on the issue: Everyone!
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Green Tips: Sustainable Investing
So you volunteer and make responsible purchasing decisions and give to environmental charities through the EarthShare @ Work program, but is it possible your retirement fund and other investments are undermining those efforts? How can you ensure that your financial investments aren’t hurting the planet? Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) and Impact Investing offer ways to finance businesses that are doing good while securing your financial future.
Here are some tips for getting into green investing:
- Examine your holdings. Have you ever taken a careful look through the holdings in your mutual funds? Surprised to find some industries in there you find distasteful? The first step in green investing is understanding how your money is being used and asking if your personal financial gains are worth the cost to the environment or society.
- Ask your financial advisor if they offer socially responsible mutual funds. Most of the common financial companies now offer such options. In addition to environmental concerns, they may also screen for human rights, product safety and more. Make sure you understand the methods used to screen the companies in these funds.
- Consider green investment companies. Besides the major financial companies that offer SRI options, there are many well-established companies that specialize exclusively in SRI funds. These include Calvert, Pax World, Winslow Green, and Domini among others. Check out socialfunds.com to learn more.
- Do some research. Read the fine print to find out about fees you might have to pay. Decide whether you’d like to invest in small or large companies, domestic or international, or some mix. SRI funds have slightly underperformed their less scrutinizing counterparts historically, so plug your fund’s code into a website like Morningstar to get a sense of potential returns.
- Invest in the community. Investing doesn’t have to be a dry, distant process. Many sites like Kickstarter, Kiva and Acumen Fund allow you to interact with the people benefited by your investment and stay engaged with the results. Whether you want to help someone set up an urban farm in North Carolina or run a small textile business in India, small-scale investing is rewarding beyond a financial statement.
- Go beyond mutual funds. Have a friend who’s trying to start up a clean tech company? If you’re savvy enough, you might consider buying individual stocks in companies you care about. Find a green financial advisor or read books on the topic for advice on this trickier, but potentially more rewarding, domain.
- Get active. As a stockholder, you have more sway with a company than the average person, so use your position to advocate for sustainable change. Known as “shareholder activism” stockholders can attend annual meetings, participate in proxy votes, communicate with management and more to suggest changes to company policies. Shareholders at ExxonMobil, for example, petitioned the company to take stronger steps to address climate change.
Socially responsible investment is a means to interact with your money beyond mere numbers. With SRI, you can harness the power of your investments for the betterment of society and the planet.
[The content here is provided for your personal information only, is not intended for trading purposes, and cannot substitute for professional financial advice. Always seek advice of a competent financial advisor with any questions you may have regarding a financial matter.]
In Conservation, Youths’ Actions Speak Loudest
by Dale Penny, President, Student Conservation Association [cross-posted at the SCA website]
A recent study purports that, based on four decades of youth surveys, Millennials are less inclined than Generation X or Baby Boomers to protect our environment.
I frankly have a hard time buying that.
When comparing generations, it must be noted that 40 years ago, Earth Day was brand new and the idea of being an “environmentalist” was considered rather radical. Since then, views and practices have changed significantly. We no longer take for granted resources like clean air and water, and most Americans practice at least some degree of conservation. It’s part of a modern lifestyle and young people often don’t feel the need to report these actions – they just take them.
Ironically, as this new study broke, SCA was hosting a record number of college students in nationwide “alternative spring break” programs at national parks across America. The leadership example set by these and other outstanding young stewards provides an important counterbalance to the Millennial study.
At Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California, 30 college students spent their spring break reforesting a burned-out hillside and pulling invasive plants “as big as Saint Bernards” according to one participant. “During one particularly miserable dig,” recalled Jonathan Shafer, an Auburn University grad student, “two of us took turns hewing our way through what felt like solid rock. After half an hour’s work, we managed to dig a hole 18 inches deep, just big enough to settle a new Joshua Tree. As a group, we repeated this task 105 times over several acres of the burn site.
“None of us really wants to go back to school,” Jonathan continued. “But we return home with a new respect for natural spaces, our impact on them, and the importance of maintaining them for future generations.”
Taylor Holan is a first-year student at John Carroll University in Ohio, who joined an SCA crew in the Everglades to remove noxious Brazilian pepper plants from the park’s infamous Hole-in-the Donut. In our wired world, Taylor believes conservation service prevents nature from “getting lost among all those gigabytes floating around.”
“I’m here,” she notes, “to learn as much as I can in the Everglades – about ecosystems, threatened species, restoration plans, and more – and share that knowledge with anyone willing to listen. When someone has a passion for something, it’s contagious, and I plan on infecting everyone around me.”
In an op-ed column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, SCA’s Timarko Mitchell, a student at UA Pine Bluff, wrote eloquently about why he applied to NPS Academy, a workforce diversity program jointly sponsored by SCA and the National Park Service designed to prepare underrepresented students for park careers. “Our national parks, monuments, battlefields and historic sites are permanent gifts to our country, touchstones of a common legacy. In many ways, they represent the soul of America. I look forward to helping other people—young and old, of all colors and cultures—celebrate our diverse national heritage.”
Timarko closed his column by noting the newest national park is the memorial in Washington, D.C. to Dr. Martin Luther King, and then quoted King as saying “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” Timarko’s message is hardly that of a disengaged Millennial.
As national service surges in popularity thanks to waves of young adults who seek only to only give back, conservation is consistently among their top priorities. When federal officials conducted their recent America’s Great Outdoors listening tour, they asked young people what they most wanted from government. The answer: more service and career opportunities in national parks, forests and other public lands. And as summer approaches, SCA is looking at yet another all-time high in applications.
I’m sure there is much to be learned from those 40 years of surveys but over the past 55 years, more than 65,000 young men and women have protected nature through SCA and many more have served with other corps.
Young people’s actions speak for themselves.
We agree! Want to learn more about how today's youth are preparing to be the conservation leaders of tomorrow? Check out Preparing for A Green Economy with SCA.
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Green Quiz Challenge – Film Industry Footprint
Lots of movie stars get press for their commitment to environmental causes, whether it’s Leonardo DiCaprio for his work with tiger conservation, Mark Ruffalo for his fight against gas fracking or Cameron Diaz’s involvement with environmental books, concerts and film. But making movies carries a heavy carbon footprint with its demanding electricity needs. LA’s film industry, in fact, is the second-largest polluter in the city, next to the oil industry!
For April's Green Quiz Challenge, we’re testing your knowledge of green films.
Some producers are stepping up to change Hollywood’s dirty image. Which big studio film was the first to be produced carbon neutral?
A. The Matrix, 1999
B. Erin Brockovich, 2000
C. Syriana, 2006
D. Slumdog Millionaire, 2009
The correct answer is C. Syriana. Congratulations to our green quiz winners: Julie E. Gabrielli, Randy Baranczyk, and Lisa Siniscalchi!
Syriana, a political thriller about the global oil industry was a natural candidate for carbon offsetting. The plot follows a cast of characters including a CIA agent, energy analyst, refinery workers, and the prince of a Gulf country as they clamor for the world’s dwindling oil supplies. Warner Bros. Pictures and Participant Productions offset 100% of the film’s production emissions (travel, hotel use, generators, shipping, and more) by helping to fund the construction of a methane generator and wind farm on native land in the Midwest through NativeEnergy. The production company chose to offset the film’s emissions because “Participant exists to use films as a means for social change and this is one more way we can lead by example and help to bring awareness to the industry that offsetting carbon dioxide emissions is a viable option.”
Get Involved > 2012 Anacostia River Cleanup
If you live in the D.C. Metro area, join EarthShare and the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) as we celebrate the 18th Annual Earth Day River Cleanup on Saturday, April 21st, 2012!
EarthShare is sponsoring the Kingman Island site in NE DC, but there are more than 50 sites throughout MD, DC & VA where you can get involved and make a difference! Cleanups will be from 9:00am – 12:00pm at all sites throughout the watershed.
Volunteers are also invited to the post-cleanup Earth Day Celebration at Kingman Island for free food and entertainment! Come share the satisfaction that comes with taking care of our communities and natural resources!
Who: EarthShare, the Anacostia Watershed Society, and YOU!
What: The 18th Annual Anacostia River Cleanup and Earth Day Celebration
RSVP: Fill out the form below. Or send your name, email address, where you work and how you heard about the event to firstname.lastname@example.org / 240.333.0318.
What should I bring?
- Long, sturdy pants (jeans or another thick fabric)
- Shoes or boots that can get dirty and wet
- Sunscreen and hat
- Water bottle (with water in it of course!)
- Work or gardening gloves
* We’ll provide bags and plastic gloves *
You’re also encouraged to bring canoes and kayaks along with the appropriate safety equipment (life preservers).
We proudly partner with the organizations below who share our commitment to supporting our community and creating a cleaner environment:
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Welcome to the new Portland [1Thing] website. We are proud of our latest efforts and want to thank you for being some of the first visitors to the site. Please take some time, search around and get used to the new look and feel. We have plenty of great information, tips, community events, and even videos from some of the great musicians and actors that visit us locally and throughout the country.
If you have any comments, suggestions or just want to share some great earth-friendly information with us, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re gearing up for a big Earth Day in April and will have plenty of Earth Month sustainability articles, blog posts and tips, so check back often.
Catching up with Bethesda Green
David Feldman was working for the British Embassy in the 2000s, helping businesses from the U.S. set up shop in the U.K. and vice versa when he was struck by how aggressively the U.K. was courting clean energy and other sustainable companies. The U.S., meanwhile, lagged behind on such ventures. Recognizing that green businesses here could use a champion, Feldman left the service of the Queen in 2007 and joined a consultancy, The Livability Project, to help communities in the U.S. grow sustainable infrastructure and services.
The consultancy has helped a handful of cities in Maryland and California establish green community hubs through some combination of public/private/nonprofit partnerships. Earlier this month, EarthShare had a chance to tour one of the country’s most successful models, the nonprofit Bethesda Green, founded in 2009.
Bethesda Green, an EarthShare Mid-Atlantic member charity based in the Maryland city of the same name, has established a plethora of programs and events that benefit the community including a city recycling bin fundraiser, a green internship fair, and local farm visits. They also hold workshops on everything from clean tech and building efficiency to composting. But perhaps their most unique program has been their Green Incubator.
Business incubators aren’t a new idea, but an incubator devoted to green ventures is a rarity (do a web search on “green incubator” and you’ll find Bethesda Green has all the top hits). The incubator supports 14 businesses and nonprofits from a LEED certification specialist and rain barrel company to an environmental filmmaker and local nature conservancy. The many organizations share a welcoming space in a downtown Bethesda building provided by Capital One. Offices, educational displays and meeting rooms fill the suite.
Mark Leisher, a filmmaker and one of the green incubator tenants
Typical economic development assumes a model of competition while Bethesda Green values collaboration above all else. “This isn’t a traditional incubator,” says Feldman. “It’s a community.”
Heather Phipps, program manager at the nonprofit Rock Creek Conservancy (one of the incubator organizations) agrees. “It’s been a wonderful partnership for us,” she says. “It’s a hotbed of green activity.” The other tenants echo the sentiment: having many passionate, environmentally-minded people gathered in one place is a great source of creativity and support.
Monthly incubator meetings, guest speakers, a partnership with the University of Maryland and strong relationships with the local chamber of commerce, businesses and government bodies have allowed the incubator to flourish after just three years. Now many other city leaders in the region are coming to the incubator to learn how to set up similar programs in their own communities.
“We’ve done an incredible amount with very little money,” Feldman says. Funding for Bethesda Green comes primarily from corporate sponsorships and in-kind donations. Other sources include the incubator’s own revenue, events, donations, foundation support, local government funds, and the EarthShare @ Work giving program.
While this particular funding mix has worked for Bethesda Green, programs elsewhere may have a different approach depending on their community’s resources.
Feldman has found that communities seldom lack for an interest in sustainability; they often just don’t know how to assess their resources or implement their ideas. “Part of what we do is connect the dots and accelerate the process,” he says.
Bethesda Green has proven to be a test kitchen of sorts for sustainable business. Feldman sees the organization growing not necessarily in size, but in results and connections, ensuring its example will be adopted around the region and beyond.
Bottom photo: Heather Phipps of the Rock Creek Conservancy holds an artist’s rendering of Rock Creek Park.
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Over the past decade, plans for 160 new coal fired power plants in the United States have been scrapped, largely due to rising costs and an inability to compete in today’s energy markets. That’s because the cost of once-“expensive” clean energy has fallen dramatically, while “cheap” fossil fuels are increasingly expensive in economic, health, and environmental terms. As a result, in many parts of the world, wind is the least-cost source of electricity. In addition, in the sunniest parts of the United States, long-term forecasts are for incredible growth in solar energy and natural gas, but not for coal.
The international political discourse needs to catch up to this new energy reality that California and others are leading. That’s why for over a year I was honored to work at the World Bank as its first Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency – its “clean energy czar.” I worked with talented and dedicated individuals across the institution and saw important strides taken to share this knowledge with governments around the world.
Today, less than four months since I left to return to my academic post at the University of California Berkeley, I see a critical decision point where the World Bank, the U.S. government, and other international players can chart a path suitable for the 21st Century, and empower political leaders to lead the charge for a clean energy future for the Kosovar people – or we can collectively fumble a chance to usher in a new secure and sustainable energy economy.
Kosovo is a very poor country that suffers hours of power cuts every day, and yes, it sits on vast reserves of lignite coal. Lignite is often referred to as “brown coal;” it is a soft, brown fuel somewhere between coal and peat in characteristics. It is considered the lowest rank of coal in terms of energy content, so it is burned in high volume, releasing even more carbon dioxide than combustion of higher grades of coal. The full costs of this high-carbon energy option are too high for the people of Kosovo, and the international community has the resources and opportunity to assist in charting a different path. California, as well as Portugal, Denmark, Kenya, and Australia all show the possibility and the power of an integrated plan – across a diverse set of energy resources, systems of government, and starting positions.
Recent analysis by a former chief U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official working with the Sierra Club found that addressing the country’s vast losses alone (up to 40 percent of power generated) eliminates the need to put Kosovo’s environment or the health of their citizens at risk with a new coal plant. They also found that a new coal plant is far more expensive than policymakers had planned, risking dramatic increases in electricity rates and 1 billion euro (about $1.3 billion U.S.) in debt at a time when the financial crisis is raging across Europe.
My own research team at the University of California Berkeley analyzed the alternative energy potential for the country. We found that a far more sustainable option exists. (See “Sustainable Energy Options for Kosovo.”) Investing in energy efficiency and upgrading the transmission and distribution system, exploiting wind and biomass resources, and engaging in regional partnerships with Albania on excellent hydropower resources provide more power than the proposed new lignite coal power plant. These options also produce more jobs and avoid the health and environmental damages of decades more coal-fired energy.
It is clear Kosovo has another path, and I will be bitterly disappointed if the World Bank, the U.S., and EU governments, who all mean well in support of the energy- and economically poor nation of Kosovo, choose to support plans for a business-as-usual lignite-coal-fired power plant. This decision will lock Kosovo into carbon-intensive energy for decades to come when European Union membership – the stated goal of Kosovo – comes with a mandate to cut emissions by 20percent or more over the next decade. It will also force residents in Obilić where the coal-fired power plant would be built, and in Kosovo’s capital Pristina, to breathe polluted air that in the United States kills 30,000 Americans every year. This is a devastating legacy for a young nation that we know can have a different path.
In 2010, my laboratory at UC Berkeley conducted a similar analysis for the Malaysian state of Sabah. The Prime Minister and his team examined our findings, and agreed to adopt a mixture of renewable energy and natural gas to meet the state’s energy needs. (See: “How a Malaysian Village Found a Coal Power Alternative.”) Now the same story of a transition from fossil-fuel based plans to clean energy plans could become Kosovo’s. There are increasingly strident calls from civil society to found the young country’s future on clean alternatives that will provide far more jobs and ensure energy access for all. The world has changed, now Kosovo needs the World Bank to seize the opportunity to champion sustainable development and help them join a new clean energy path.
Daniel M. Kammen is the Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy at the University of California, Berkeley, in the Energy and Resources Group and the Goldman School of Public Policy, where he directs the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory. From 2010 to 2011 he was the inaugural Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency at the World Bank. His Kosovo analysis can be found at http://rael.berkeley.edu/kosovoenergy.
As the first anniversary of Japan’s nuclear crisis approaches this Sunday, religious and civil groups in Taiwan are preparing massive protests to stop the construction of a fourth atomic plant.
On March 11, nearly 100 organizations, including Green Citizens’ Action Alliance (GCAA), are expected to stage a “Bidding Farewell to Nuclear Power Parade” in Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung. Protesters want the government to decommission three existing nuclear plants and to abandon any further nuclear power plans.
Japan’s earthquake, tsunami, and the ensuing disaster at Fukushima Daiichi had inevitable implications in Taiwan, as both are islands that lie along the Pacific Ring of Fire, a zone of frequent volcanic and seismic activity.
Lungmen, the fourth nuclear plant, began construction in the late ’90s and has been beset by delays and budget woes. State-owned Taiwan Power is operating the project, which involves two advanced boiling water reactor units on the northeastern coast, each with a capacity of 1,350 megawatts. It is now expected to supply electricity by 2016.
More than half of Taiwan’s electricity currently comes from fossil fuels, with the largest share (29 percent) going to coal, according to a Taiwan Power report. Another 20 percent comes from natural gas, and 19 percent comes from nuclear plants. Taiwan’s oldest operating unit is the Chinshan plant on the northern coast, which began operation in 1978.
Taiwan’s earthquake-prone geography and aging reactors are just part of the challenge it faces in pursuing nuclear power; the issue of how to handle nuclear waste is another hot-button concern.
(Photos: Energy in the Forces of Nature)
Taiwan does not have a proper policy to tackle this problem, which has led to the in situ storage of this surplus for over 34 years. The state has turned to villages such as Nantian and Orchid Island, off Taiwan’s southeastern coast, to dispose of its nuclear waste. The government is also evaluating proposals to have the material recycled overseas.
In a government meeting on the issue last year, Hung Shen-han of GCAA noted that no foreign country had been willing to lease land to Taiwan for the storage of nuclear waste, and said that even overseas recycling still would require the storage of unstable nuclear material in Taiwan. He likened situation to a ticking time bomb, according to news reports.
Despite the vocal opposition, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou, who was re-elected in January, has not shown any signs of backing down on his commitment to bring the Lungmen plant online within the next four years.
“We shouldn’t be selfish and insist on using nuclear power without thinking about the consequences it could have for our offspring,” Ng Tiat-gan, a pastor in Taiwan who also lived for a year in Fukushima, was reportedly said at a press conference ahead of this weekend’s protests. “The government should immediately shut down the three existing nuclear plants, suspend the construction of the fourth plant, and develop clean energy to guarantee the sustainable use of energy in Taiwan.”