Reflections on the New Energy Movement
Joel Garbon, President Emeritus, New Energy Movement (2006 – 2016)
In the spring of 2003, a small group of citizens gathered together in northern California to discuss the idea of generating grassroots support for the research, development, and deployment of breakthrough energy technologies. Dr. Brian O’Leary, an Ivy League professor of astrophysics who had been NASA-trained in the Apollo astronaut program, assembled the curious mix of folks from a wide range of backgrounds. These included an ecologist, a teacher, an investigative journalist and author, a physicist-philosopher, an organic farmer, a political analyst, and an industrial science consultant, among others. The group included men and women, black and white, liberal-minded and conservative-leaning, with a wide range of worldviews and spiritual philosophies.
In November of that same year, New Energy Movement was founded by Brian O’Leary, Alden Bryant, and Howard Jeter. Brian was the primary organizer and visionary, bringing an experienced scientific viewpoint and fiery Irish passion to the group. Alden was a long-time forest and climate activist, considered by many to be the grandfather of the U.S. ecology movement, and his deep baritone voice always grabbed attention when he spoke. Howard was a life-long teacher and advocate for veterans rights, and his personal demeanor tended to be quiet and reserved, but always accompanied by a winning smile. Both Alden and Howard had served in World War II, and each felt deep-seated indignation toward the modern business of warfare and corporatized mercenary violence. There was a gravitas about each of these three gentlemen that I found very compelling, and it felt appropriate to do a lot more listening rather than talking whenever I was in their company.
Brian served as the first president of NEM, and he recruited the original board of directors, most of whom had participated in that earlier gathering. I felt honored to be invited to the circle, and was excited to contribute ideas during the formative brainstorming sessions that Brian hosted at his forest home on the banks of the pristine Yuba River, not far from Nevada City, California. It was during those weekend meetings that our group bonded and friendships formed. Our vision was new and bold, and many discussions went long into the night. I remember feeling too energized to sleep at times, and wondered where all of this was leading. It was happening so organically, with such a mix of characters. There was something about the sight of the elderly Alden and Howard each stretched out and asleep on couches in Brian’s living room that brought a humble energy to our little family of activists. These noble men of service had shown up once again to serve, and that moved and inspired me.
I was eager to learn as much as Brian was willing to teach me about his experiences and insights into the new energy field, and he became my primary mentor as our friendship deepened. Brian encouraged me to organize and host the inaugural NEM conference, which occurred in Portland, Oregon in 2004 with the theme “New Energy: The Courage to Change”. The conference was a rousing success, with memorable presentations by various researchers, and with several hundred very enthusiastic attendees, and it firmly put our fledgling organization on the map. A wonderful group of volunteers provided vital assistance, and I fondly remember the envelope-stuffing parties at my house as we prepared to mail invitations to each member of Congress and to each state governor. It was a ton of work over six months to have the conference fully manifest, but so rewarding to experience the fruits. As musical artist Shawn Gallaway concluded the conference with his signature song “I Choose Love”, I was emotionally overwhelmed by the intensity of passion in the room for what we were creating. The New Energy Movement had struck a vital chord!
There were definitely some birthing pains in the early days of NEM. There were strong and varying opinions within the board about organizational governance and goals, and the debates were often heated and fractious. Brian and his wife Meredith Miller, a well-known artist who created the New Energy Movement logo, had moved to Ecuador in late 2004, and it seemed as though this geographic distancing weakened the bond between Brian and various board members, to the point of broken relationships in some cases. The stress of dissension caused Brian to resign from leadership in late 2005, and the future of the organization that was his vision, and which he had co-founded, was in serious jeopardy. It was a real test of whether NEM was founded on the strength of personalities or on timely vision and principled goals. Refusing to abandon a movement that had launched with such promise, I asked each of the remaining board members to meet with me as a group at a yoga retreat in Northern California in December 2005, there to collectively decide whether NEM would carry on or be snuffed out. I was encouraged to see the strong turnout at this pivotal meeting, and after a lot of heartfelt sharing of views, the consensus was to surge forward. The board asked me to assume leadership of NEM. I agreed to do this for a short interim period until a more qualified candidate could be recruited. I had no idea at the time that my commitment to serve in an interim capacity would stretch into eleven years as NEM’s president!
The sense of family strengthened among the remaining NEM board members, and for many years we maintained a tradition of meeting at my home over a December weekend for our annual board meeting. We used these times to renew friendships, share meals and stories, review our progress, establish new goals, and envision the transformation we hoped to see for our world. I believe each of us came away from those gatherings refreshed and invigorated, and with an understanding that our humble movement was indeed having a real impact on the world, if only modest. Thousands of people were being educated about the potential, the challenges, and the implications of new energy technologies. Minds were being opened. Inventors were being encouraged.
I’ve always maintained that if I was to make only one good friend through this whole NEM endeavor, and accomplished nothing else, that it all would have been worth it. And I’m happy to say that I have made many good friends over these years, all the while doing work that is worth doing. For example, there’s Jeane Manning, who has authored and co-authored popular books on the topic of new energy technologies; Steve Kaplan, a policy analyst who had earlier collaborated with Brian on technology briefings for government officials to bring greater attention to the developments in cold fusion; Tom Valone, a stalwart researcher, conference organizer, energy newsletter publisher, and executive head of Integrity Research Institute; Andrew Mount, passionate and outspoken philosopher-farmer who crafted the original NEM website; Mark Hurwit, deep-thinking mystic and NEM’s long-time secretary, treasurer, and website manager; and many others. The movement is richly blessed with talented, intelligent, insightful, and committed champions for the cause of new energy.
Early on, Jeane Manning invited me to co-author a new and updated book with her, and the 2007 release of Breakthrough Power: How Quantum-Leap New Energy Inventions Can Transform Our World opened a lot of doors for the spread of NEM’s message through various media interviews and conference speaking engagements. Steve Kaplan served as NEM’s executive director, and spearheaded the work (and seemingly endless paperwork) that was required to acquire NEM’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. Steve also consistently offered wise counsel and encouragement to me during trying times, such as navigating the halls and egos of Congress as we briefed policymakers on the draft legislation “Energy Innovation Act”, which calls for substantial and sustained funding for energy research and development across a wide swath of breakthrough approaches. Having a well-researched book and a well-crafted legislative proposal laid a lot of groudwork for NEM and boosted our credibility as a movement of substance and value.
There’s much work that needs to be done before the NEM vision of a world healthy and thriving, powered by clean and abundant energy, is realized. And there’s need for new leaders with new ideas and new talents that are compatible with a rapidly changing global culture. It has been satisfying to witness the birth and progress of Global Breakthrough Energy Movement, an NEM-inspired offshoot based in the Netherlands and capably led by Jeroen van Straaten and Robert Dupper. And to demonstrate that the benevolent Mind of the Universe has impeccable timing, Susan Manewich stepped forward at the perfect moment to take on the executive leadership of New Energy Movement just as my energy had to be directed toward other priorities. Susan is breathing fresh perspective and her own dynamic energy charge into the NEM mission, and is superbly skilled at networking with other talented leaders who resonate with our vision.
Brian O’Leary, Alden Bryant, Howard Jeter, and Steve Kaplan have moved on beyond this world. While they were here they collaborated to create something worthy and noble and good, and our world is better for their efforts. I am fortunate to have had them as teachers, colleagues, and friends. And I miss them.
Thank you for allowing me to share these reflections with you. It can be useful to look back into history to gain understanding of what motivates people to do something bold and new. But it’s even better if that history is used as fuel to create a future of unprecedented possibilities, even as audacious as the healing of a planet!
Peace to you and your family.
August 2, 2019