Senate EPW: “Climate change is Happening Now”. House E&C: “More fossil fuel exports!”

July 18, 2013

I’m testifying at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing today entitled:  “Climate change; It’s happening now.”  I’ll be calling for responsible limits on climate pollution, a fair price for dumping carbon in the atmosphere, and an end to federal support for new, long-term capital investments that lock in dangerous climate disruption (The Keystone Principle.)  My written statement is here.

Last month, I testified before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee about coal exports.  Seated next to me was a witness representing the National Association of Manufacturers, who objected to the notion that federal environmental analysis of proposed coal export facilities might include consideration of the climate impacts of burning the coal.Corn, toys, and coal

He worried that such an evaluation would create a slippery slope, leading to climate impact tests for other products, including corn and toys.

A little bit of common sense should suffice here.  The export of corn and toys is not one of the leading preventable causes of catastrophic global climate disruption.  The introduction of large amounts of cheap, subsidized, American coal into the world’s fastest growing economies is.  So we might want to look at that.  As the President said in a landmark of understatement, referring to the climate impacts of Keystone XL,  “It’s relevant.”

But the concern raised by the NAM witness is, in at least one respect, legitimate.  Because we have no meaningful national climate policy, we are left to ask and answer these kinds of questions on ad hoc basis, leading to outcomes that are surely less efficient and effective than we could achieve with a thoughtful, comprehensive policy.  The issue of where and how to ensure accountability for the costs of climate pollution is indeed a very important consideration for climate policy design.  But in June of 2013 – 25 years after Jim Hansen first confirmed to Congress that climate change was a real threat requiring decisive and immediate action — we were not having a hearing on climate policy design in the House of Representatives.  We were having a hearing on how to expedite coal export.

At that same hearing, the Army Corp of Engineers announced that it would not consider climate impacts in its environmental review of proposed export terminals.  This stands in direct contradiction to the principle the President established when he said the Keystone XL pipeline is not in the national interest if it contributes significantly to increased climate pollution.

Ironically, on that same day, the commander of the Corps called for new, stronger standards for levee design and flood protection to cope with climate disruption.

Yup, we can count on the Corps to request larger budgets for responding to climate impacts (as, sadly, they should) but not, apparently, to analyze those impacts in the context of decisions which might prevent them.  We are being set up for tons of “cure” at public expense, because we lack the responsible federal climate policies that would provide an ounce of prevention.

Hey, at least today the Senate is having a hearing on the subject!


Dear John: Don’t make it worse

May 11, 2013

Talk swirls about some kind of “deal” for the Keystone XL Pipeline.  I don’t see it.

Political “realists” say Congress is incapable of passing a serious climate policy, period.  That assessment becomes more valid every time the “realists” echo it, so I’m not going there.  (I was expelled from their ranks long ago.) But a construction permit for a pipeline is nowhere near enough leverage to remove the obstacles to national climate policy.  As a political matter, the President’s opponents want to have the Keystone fight more than they want to win it.Maple syrup not dilbit

And it hardly seems necessary or wise to “trade” Keystone XL for regulation of climate pollution from existing power plants under the Clean Air Act.  We already won the latter in the Supreme Court and the President as much as announced his intention to move forward in the State of the Union address.  Sure, there’s a range of ultimate outcomes on the CO2 rules; but by the time we know how hard the Administration will really push for strong CO2 regs, this year’s Keystone decision will be long gone.  If it’s supposed to strike some kind of political “balance,” it’s only on paper – the real political (economic) constituencies for the pipeline and power plant emissions are different.

Moreover, there’s a principle at stake (the Keystone Principle).  It’s neither scientifically defensible nor morally acceptable to continue using scarce capital and time to invest in long-lived fossil fuel infrastructure.  Regulating climate pollution from power plants is a vital step forward, and potentially a very big one.  But in no world where we actually step up to the climate challenge does it justify a big, irreversible step in the wrong direction, like Keystone.  There’s no symmetry, no justice there – just political games, and losing ones at that.

I was proud to join a big group of Heinz and Goldman prize-winners – including a bunch of personal heroes – in making the case to Secretary of State Kerry this week. We wrote:

May 8, 2013

The Honorable John Kerry, Secretary of State  

Dear Mr. Secretary,

As recipients of Heinz Awards for our work in environment, energy, and public policy, and the Goldman Environmental Prize for grassroots environmental activism, we write to you with an urgent appeal to affirm America’s commitment to climate solutions by rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  

We are deeply honored and humbled to have been recognized for our achievements. But we are acutely aware that despite your best efforts and ours, the climate crisis is now upon us. After a year of unprecedented weather extremes and disruption, this is no longer only about impacts in the future. It’s about social, economic, environmental, and moral consequences, now.

We do not lack for viable solutions. Public and private leaders in America are demonstrating that energy efficiency, clean energy, transportation choices, and a range of other strategies are practical and economic. We are using them to build healthier communities and stronger local economies. We can say this with confidence: sustainable, broadly-shared economic opportunity is possible as we make the necessary transition from fossil fuels to clean energy and efficient energy systems.

But we cannot make the transition overnight. It will take many decades of patient commitment and investment to complete it. And while “winning” a safe climate future is a long game, we can lose it very quickly — within President Obama’s second term. Continued investment in capital-intensive, long-lived fossil fuel infrastructure like Keystone XL will “lock in” emission trajectories that make catastrophic climate disruption inevitable. This is the hard bottom line of the International Energy Agency’s 2012 World Energy Outlook, which starkly warned that without an immediate shift in energy infrastructure investment, humanity would “lose forever” the chance to avert climate catastrophe.

Critics of the effort to stop the pipeline suggest that this is not “the right way” to deal with climate. It is certainly not sufficient, and it would arguably be unnecessary if we had a responsible national and global climate policies. You fought for such policy as a Senator, and we desperately need one. But stopping the pipeline is necessary to ensure that the problem remains solvable — that we don’t become irrevocably committed to emission trajectories that guarantee failure before we mobilize for success.

There is a strain of fatalism among some opinion leaders regarding Keystone (characteristic of prevailing attitudes toward climate generally): “Canada will develop the tar sands no matter what we do.” “We’ll get the oil from somewhere, so it might as well be North America.” “They’ll just find another route.” These objections are neither analytically defensible nor morally responsible. We can’t do everything to address climate disruption, but as the world’s biggest economy and the largest historic emitter, we can and should do a great deal. As a nation with unparalleled capacities for innovation and entrepreneurship, we can do even more. Facilitating accelerated investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is flatly inconsistent with this responsibility, and with the diplomatic effort to build our standing as an international leader and facilitator of global cooperation to tackle the climate challenge.

Keystone XL is a big, literal, conspicuous example of exactly what we must not do if we are genuinely committed to climate solutions. It is a fundamental element — a “keystone” if you will — of the industry’s plan to expand production of this carbon-intensive fuel from 2 million barrels per day to 6 million bpd by 2030. And as significant as its direct consequences are, Keystone XL is much more than a pipeline. It is a test of whether we will indeed, as the President said in his inaugural address, “respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

The human consequences of unchecked climate disruption are almost unimaginably grave. We cannot continue to ignore — or, worse, aggravate — these consequences by considering decisions like Keystone outside of this moral context. Approving the permit would amount to affirming moral evasion, at exactly the moment that you and the President have argued so passionately for moral engagement.

We believe in the power and promise of climate solutions. We know they work; we know they are economically viable; and we know we can implement them. We believe it’s time to look our kids and grandkids — the prospective victims of still-preventable climate disasters — in the eye and say, “We will do what must be done to protect you. We will make this better.”

But they won’t believe us until we stop making it worse. That’s why we urge you in the strongest possible terms to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

With hope and determination to build a healthy future, and the deepest respect for your leadership,

Sincerely,

KC Golden, Policy Director Climate Solutions, 2012 Heinz Award in the Public Policy Category

Lois Gibbs, Executive Director Center for Health, Environment & Justice 1990 North American Goldman Environmental Prize Winner

John Luther Adams, Composer 2011 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Jane Akre, Independent News Group, LLC 2001 North American Goldman Environmental Prize Winner

P. Dee Boersma, Ph.D Wadsworth Endowed Chair in Conservation Science University of Washington, Department of Biology 2009 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Ralph Cavanagh, Energy Program Co-Director Natural Resources Defense Council 1997 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Terrence J. Collins, PhD, Hon FRSNZ Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry Director, Institute for Green Science Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Chemistry 2010 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Anne H. Ehrlich, Senior Research Scientist Stanford University, Department of Biology 1995 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Paul R. Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies Stanford University, Department of Biology 1995 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Thomas FitzGerald, Kentucky Resources Council, Inc. 2008 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Jerry F. Franklin, University of Washington, College of Forest Resources 2005 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Maria Gunnoe, Community Organizer 2009 North American Goldman Environmental Prize Winner 2012 Wallenberg Medal Winner

James Hansen, Columbia University, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences 2001 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Richard J Jackson, MD, MPH, Hon. AIA Former Director, CDC National Center for Environmental Health Professor & Chair, Environmental Health Science UCLA Fielding School of Public Health 2012 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Hilton Kelley, Executive Director & Founder Community In-power and Development Association, Inc. NPA Regional Health Equity Council: Chairman R-6 National Partnership for Action (NPA) to End Health Disparities Member National Environmental Justice Advisory Council Member 2009-2011 2011 North American Goldman Environmental Prize Winner

Joanie Kleypas, Marine Scientist 2011 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Elizabeth Kolbert, Journalist 2010 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Peggy M. Shepard, Executive Director WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Inc. 2004 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

Jack Spengler, Akira Yamaguchi Professor on Environmental Health and Human Habitation Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment Harvard University, School of Public Health 2012 Heinz Award in the Environment Category

George M. Woodwell, Woods Hole Research Center 1997 Heinz Award in the Environment Category


Wyoming Governor to White House: Do coal export in the dark

April 29, 2013

Coal export is kind of like the swimming pool game “Marco Polo”:  if you open your eyes, it ruins the whole game.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead emerged as a stalwart defender of the eyes-closed rule last week, urging the White House Council on Environmental Quality to avoid any consideration of climate impacts in federal evaluation of coal exports.

coalex habitat2He called assessing greenhouse gas impacts of coal export a “novel use of NEPA as a political opinion piece on global climate change.”

The National Environmental Policy Act is primarily a guide to procedure for environmental analysis, rather than a set of substantive requirements.  Its most basic function is to provide decision-makers with a thorough assessment of environmental impacts:  Whatever you’re going to do, says NEPA, do it in the daylight.

No, says Governor Mead.  Coal export requires darkness.  Open assessment of climate impacts would be “novel”, “political.”  Using the nation’s pre-eminent environmental disclosure law to analyze the effects of the nation’s biggest fossil fuel development proposal on the nation’s biggest environmental problem would “undermine the fundamental fairness of the process.”

It’s a stunning admission, when you think about it: Governor Mead is all but conceding that coal export cannot withstand an honest evaluation of its biggest impact. It puts the lie to the coal industry’s unsupportable claims that coal export will have no effect on the amount of coal burned in Asia (see distraction 2., in “King Coal’s tragic puppet show, part 4:  Field guide to distractions”.)

In a letter to CEQ, Governors Kitzhaber and Inslee called for full disclosure:   “We believe the decisions to continue and expand coal leasing from federal lands and authorize the export of that coal are likely to lead to long-term investments in coal generation in Asia, with air quality and climate impacts in the United States that dwarf almost any other action the federal government could take in the foreseeable future,” they wrote.

And that’s exactly why Governor Mead won’t have any analysis of those impacts.  A full, thorough, honest review of the costs and benefits of coal export proposals will sink them.  So opponents fight on for light, while Governor Mead champions the only circumstance in which coal export has a chance:  utter climate darkness.


King Coal’s tragic puppet show, Part 4: Field guide to distractions

March 15, 2013

Coal export is wrong (see Part 2) and it’s not us (see Parts 1 and 3). diversion distraction

To deflect attention from these show-stoppers, coal export proponents change the subject.  They propagate arguments to have arguments  to pose, debate, rehash  so as to keep us distracted from forming clear-eyed ethical judgments about coal export.

So you shouldn’t read this post.  Really, don’t bother.

….But some of us aren’t disciplined enough to ignore these arguments.  We can’t help ourselves; we need to noodle through them.  You are one of us if you’ve read this far.  So, I offer this annotated, illustrated field guide to 6 of the most popular coal export rationalizations.  But remember: it doesn’t matter, because it’s wrong and it’s not us.

1. “If the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point isn’t built, the trains would come anyway and offload in British Columbia.” 

LUMP ITThis argument is brutal in its fatalism.  It basically boils down to:  “Well, yes, it sucks, but there’s nothing you can do about it. So, communities from Billings to Bellingham:  Lump it.”  The argument is, thankfully, wrong, but it’s remarkably persistent - almost as persistent as Eric de Place at Sightline, who just keeps slapping it down.  His posts are the go-to resource on the subject.  Bottom line:  No more terminal capacity, no more coal export.

2. “Coal export wouldn’t increase net emissions; if we don’t ship it, Asia will just use other coal.”  Vic Svec, VP of investor relations for Peabody Coal, went so far as to tell National Geographic:  “It’s safe to say that not one more pound of coal will be used in Asia because of this terminal.”  It doesn't matterThis argument defies the basic principles of economics.  Asia won’t buy the coal unless it’s cheaper than the alternatives, and if it’s cheaper, they’ll burn more.  There wouldn’t be compensating emission reductions in the U.S., because coal is already in steep decline here (mostly because it can’t meet clean air standards and gas is cheap).  That, in fact, is why the industry is so desperate to beat an export path through our front yard.  See and hear:

3. “Powder River Basin coal is cleaner than the coal that China would otherwise use.” 

lipstick-on-pig“Clean” and “coal” never belong in the same sentence.  Yes, PRB coal is lower in sulfur, but that’s another reason why they would use more of it.  We all deserve clean air, but no one deserves the catastrophic climate consequences of encouraging fast-growing economies to stake their energy future on coal.  (If you think carbon capture and sequestration is the answer, then you don’t want to export coal now because it will lock in more coal infrastructure that lacks CCS capability.) See:

4. “We need the jobs; in a weak economy, that takes precedence over environmental concerns.” take this job

Coal export means a few jobs for some, but it’s a terrible jobs strategy for Washington.  If ships leaving America loaded with coal pass ships coming from Asia carrying solar panels and wind turbines and flat-screen TVs, who’s getting the jobs?  See:

slipperyslope15. “If we look at the climate impacts of coal export, what’s next?   Airplane manufacturing?  Wheat?” 

This is sort of a microcosm of the whole climate conundrum:  If everyone’s responsible, is anyone?  I haven’t seen much written on this yet.  OK, you talked me into it; I’ll post more on this later.  Initial thoughts:

- Before we get into the legal debate, let’s start with common sense.    In both sheer magnitude and direct causal relationship, coal export is, as Governor Inslee recently said, “the largest decision we will be making as a state from a carbon pollution standpoint, ….nothing comes even close to it.”  It’s one of the top threats globally among projects that would make catastrophic climate disruption inevitable. Are we really afraid that the slippery slope of analyzing climate impacts is more dangerous than the slippery slope of ignoring them, while aggressively exacerbating them, as the climate crisis deepens?

- The Keystone Principle is a useful screen here.  Shipping wheat may cause some emissions; but it does not materially increase long-term capital infrastructure decisions that lock in dangerous climate disruptionCoal export does.

- The same people who insist that climate impacts must remain outside the scope of the environmental review also argue that there are no climate impacts (see 1. above).  Hmmm.

Where exactly do you draw the line?  The courts will sort out the legal answer.  But there’s a right answer:  “Here.  Now.  Before it’s too late.”

6. “Stopping coal export isn’t the right way to deal with climate change.  We need to reduce demand for fossil fuels, develop better alternatives, limit and price carbon pollution…”  tHE RIGHT WAY

This is the saddest of the diversionary arguments, because it is so exasperatingly true.  Having devoted my professional life to those “right” ways of responding to the climate crisis, it’s a poignant reminder of how far we haven’t come yet.  And it’s a particularly bitter pill when administered by people who purchase political outcomes to prevent those solutions from happening.

But it’s still a distraction. This isn’t a hypothetical choice between rejecting coal export and adopting an effective global climate treaty. It’s a real, fateful choice between facilitating coal export and…not.  Stopping coal export certainly won’t deliver the climate solutions we need.  But if we don’t stop coal export (and other major new infrastructure investments that lock-in catastrophic emission levels), then all those solutions will be too little, too late.

I join those who wish we had made responsible policy choices that might have prevented this whole damned fight, and invite them to help us make those choices going forward.  But that’s not an answer to the coal export question.  We are where we are, and we’ve got an up or down decision to make.

We all need to be part of the climate solution, because we’re all part of the problem.  But condoning a massive expansion of global coal commerce – inviting it into our communities, spending public money to facilitate it, squandering our brand on it – would be more than playing a part.  It’d be auditioning to star in King Coal’s climate-destroying puppet show.

At the end of part 1 of this post, I proposed that after part 4,  “we’ll just rise up together, swat this insult to our shared values aside, and get on with our destiny as the region best qualified to show the world what sustainable prosperity looks like.”  Be it therefore resolved…


Mr. Merkley goes to Washington: Filibuster-buster foiled, but unbowed

February 6, 2013

If you had to invent a word that meant “obnoxious and purposeful dysfunction of legislative process,” you could hardly think of something better or more onomatopoeic than “filibuster.”

fix the filibuster 2

Of all the flaws in our democracy, the filibuster and its abuse in the U.S. Senate is among the most flagrant, and the silliest.  So the Senate’s recent failure to enact meaningful filibuster reform – despite the inspired leadership of Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley –  is a big disappointment.

I come to the filibuster reform campaign from the perspective of a climate policy advocate (inspired by Alan Durning at Sightline Institute).  Over the last couple of years, much has been written about the failure of the U.S. Senate to pass a national climate bill[i].   This growing literature of climate policy failure analysis has many important lessons to offer, particularly about building movements and political power.

But, without dismissing those lessons at all, there’s a case to be made that even a moderately functional United States Senate would have passed the climate bill under the prevailing political circumstances.  After health care, it seems exceedingly unlikely that anything very complicated or difficult or big could have been produced by the Senate in President Obama’s first term.  The institution was kaput, and it hasn’t recovered much since.

Fixing the filibuster would not cure all that ails Congress.  But it’s a great place to begin the process of restoring our democracy to some semblance of functionality and efficacy.   It’s almost a test of self-respect, of whether we care about the American creed and instruments of self-government enough to slap aside this ridiculous impediment.

But when Senator Merkley and other leaders stepped up with serious reform proposals (like the “talking filibuster”) in January, the Senate balked.   “It’s some change in a Senate committed to no change;” that was about as much enthusiasm as Senator Elizabeth Warren, a reform advocate, could muster for the tweaks agreed to by Senators Reid and McConnell, the majority and minority leaders of the Senate.

The reforms offer a few new procedural efficiencies that may reduce the opportunities for delaying consideration of a bill and speed up the confirmation process for nominees.  But the minority party will still have free reign to filibuster procedural motions and substantive bills.  As Ezra Klein put it in the Washington Post, “The filibuster is safe.  Even filibusters against the motion to proceed [without which bills can’t even be considered] are safe.  And filibuster reformers have lost once again.”

What ultimately hangs up filibuster reform is fear, and the willingness of the minority to obstruct government.  The majority party, which can use the “constitutional option” to amend Senate rules with 51 votes, knows that someday it won’t be the majority party.  And when that day comes, they’ll want to have that filibuster wrench to throw into the gears.

This is clearly destructive to the purposes of good legislative process.  And it’s so notoriously obstructionist that it erodes public trust and respect for government.  “But at least” – one might argue – “it’s symmetrical:  the destruction cuts both ways, and arguably constrains the abuse of majority power.”

I don’t buy it.  The damage associated with legislative obstructionism is not symmetrical.   If you believe that government actually has some big, important jobs to do – like, say, tackling climate disruption – then you need a functional, effective legislative process.  If you believe that “government is the problem” and you just want it to go away, then leaving it wrapped around the axle of its own procedural paralysis isn’t the worst outcome.   “Filibuster” is almost like the name of the proposition that “government is lame.”   That is hardly a neutral message.

Senator Merkley has vowed to keep fighting for a functional U.S. Senate.  His statement after the tepid reforms passed was measured and collegial – that’s how Senators do – but his passion for serious reform shines through:

“The Senate spoke clearly today: the paralysis of the Senate is unacceptable. Senators of both parties have recognized the need for change, and supported several steps to make the Senate more functional…

“I would like to have gone further. In particular, I believe that if 41 Senators vote for more debate, then Senators should have the courage of their convictions to stand on the floor and make their case in front of the American people. Then the American people could decide if obstructing Senators are heroes or bums.

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t take a bolder step to fix the Senate, but what is most important today is the deep determination of Senators to return the Senate to a more functional institution. If the modest steps taken today do not end the paralysis the Senate currently suffers, many Senators are determined to revisit this debate and explore stronger remedies.

“We have a responsibility to address the big issues facing our country. I’ll keep working with my colleagues to achieve that goal.”

Note to climate advocates (and advocates of all major public policy reforms for that matter) Let’s learn our lessons and get stronger from the failure of the climate bill.  But let’s also focus on restoring some semblance of a functioning democracy.  It’s hard to imagine how we do climate policy, or much of anything, until we do that.


[i] There is now a robust literature of climate policy failure analysis.  Eric Pooley’s The Climate War is a classic of the genre.  And David Roberts offers typically incisive coverage of the latest flurry of regret and recrimination, touched off by Theda Skocpol’s entry, including responses from some of our most thoughtful climate warriors. Many of these lessons are useful, and plenty of us did plenty of things wrong on the way to not passing a national climate policy, no doubt.  And yet it should also be noted that plenty of people did plenty of things “right” – that is, the way you’re supposed to do them in the system we’ve got.  On paper, it seemed that many of the critical ingredients were there for “success:”

Both Houses of Congress and the presidency were controlled by the party that is nominally sympathetic to climate action.  The House had passed the bill, working through many of the tricky issues – like protecting manufacturing competitiveness – that could have precluded majority support.  A strong business voice for climate policy was brought to bear and actively working for passage, along with a diverse range of other constituencies.  Deals had been cut and special interests appeased (to the point where many of us wondered whether the bill was still worth having.)  The President had received the world’s first prospective Nobel Peace Prize, just before the Copenhagen climate summit — so fervent was the world’s hope that the U.S. would step up to its global responsibility for climate solutions, which would start, of course, with the adoption of a national climate policy.  And the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf provided a high-profile reminder of the devastating costs of fossil fuel dependence as an explosive and instructive visual backdrop for the Senate deliberations, if one can call them that.  But the Senate as an institution had veered off into a ditch after healthcare.


Frankenstorm: What kind of god?

October 30, 2012

When his monster came to life, Dr. Frankenstein said in manic derangement:  “In the name of God, now I know what it feels like to be a God!”

Now, in the wake of Frankenstorm, we know what it feels like.  Sandy is, in part, our malignant creation.

Today is about rescue.  Tomorrow is about recovery.  You can help now, here.

But with fateful political choices looming, we cannot hesitate to say this:   Extreme weather is juiced by climate disruption.  It is inflicted by the people who buy our elections so as to ensure our dependence on fossil fuels.   The specter of coal ads interspersed among the disaster footage is beyond ironic; it’s sick.

If there is some danger in appearing opportunistic by “using” Sandy to call attention to the climate crisis, it is more than offset by the danger of perpetuating climate silence.

A just god would do more than attend to its monster’s victims.  It would stop it.  And it would create something different.

Today’s victims are the priority today, and we must help them.

But what about the generations of victims we can save now, if we stand up and wage the clean energy revolution that will spare some of them?  Condemning them with denial – or silence – is no way to show our compassion for today’s victims.

The “rising of the seas,” Sandy bellowed back at Mitt Romney, is not to be mocked.  Nor will it be placated by the President’s climate silence.  I’m not being poetic.  The less we speak, the more climate will speak for itself.  If we fail to deal, it gets worse.  Actually.

_________________________________________________________________________

The blogosphere (if not the mainstream media) is alive with useful stuff on the Sandy-climate connection.

Climate Solutions Communication Director Kimberly Larson captures it here.

Climate Progress has thorough treatment here.

Sandy herself finds a voice here.

Forecast the Facts battles silence here.

Elizabeth Kolbert weighs in here.


Frog soup

July 3, 2012

Reality may not be a fashionable messenger.  But it is extremely patient.

“Still don’t believe in climate change? Then you’re either deep in denial or delirious from the heat,” said Eugene Robinson in yesterday’s Washington Post, as the nation’s capital dug out from the freakish windstorm that left nearly half the area without power.

Jeremy Symons has good play-by-play on the unfolding apocalypse at his National Wildlife Federation blog.

Not to worry, though, ExxonMobil’s CEO says we can just adapt.

Where’s Winnie when you need him?  Churchill famously said,  “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences.”

What he didn’t seem to anticipate is that the “soothing and baffling” expedients, etc., might not “come to a close.”  They can persist and grow more baffling, deeper and deeper into the period of consequences….


Colorado incinerates, DC blows out: Is it climate disruption?

June 30, 2012

Did climate disruption cause that particular mess?

We have been fiddle-farting around with this wrong question to the point of distraction, if not lunacy.

So thank you David Roberts for grabbing the question by the scruff of the neck and talking some sense into it.  You nailed it.  Clamped and glued it.  Screwed it all the way down.  No one should ask it again.

Unless you’re in the middle of trying to extinguish Colorado or are still without power due to the freakishly intense DC thunderstorm last night, please go read David’s post.  There you will find more of this:

“If I find my kid next to an overturned glass and a puddle of milk and ask him why the milk is spilled, I don’t care about the neurons firing and the muscles contracting. That’s too proximate. I don’t care about humans evolving with poor peripheral vision. That’s too distal. I care about my kid reaching for it and knocking it over. That’s not the only level of causal explanation that is correct, but it’s the level of causal explanation that is most meaningful to me.”


Clean energy efficacy: “Can’t” meets its match.

June 28, 2012

Climate solutions are not tweaks.  They’re a revolution.

Bob Doppelt at the Resource Innovation Group argues persuasively that big changes – fundamental shifts in beliefs, practices, goals, and results – require 1) dissonance (“this isn’t working”) 2) efficacy (“yes we can”), and 3) benefits (“hey, this is profitable/fun/sexy”).   These are necessary preconditions for the transition from an ecosystem of denial to a culture of responsibility.

There’s work to do on all three points.  But efficacy might be our biggest collective challenge.  Without it, we suppress dissonance and get mired in skepticism about benefits.

It’s hard to imagine how we tackle climate disruption without collective action on an unprecedented scale.  But the traditional vehicles of collective action at the national and international levels seem locked up, captured, kaput.  Congress’ epic failure to deliver a national climate policy was only partly about climate; the bigger factor was the wheels popping off the institution.  Cynicism is rampant (and justified, but useless).

Systemic collective dysfunction is a boon to defenders of fossil fuel dependence, since the clean energy revolution requires loads of collective efficacy.  They’ll never convince us that their way is better, so they have to demoralize us into believing that there is no other way.  That’s why they’re working overtime to undermine confidence in the clean energy revolution and the government’s ability to accelerate it.

Call in the efficacy brigade, intrepidly spearheaded by Climate Solutions co-founder Rhys Roth!  It’s no coincidence that he shares his initials with Rosie the Riveter.   Dude oozes efficacy.  And for the last few months, he’s been pummeling skepticism about the clean energy revolution.  Check out his review of the National Renewable Energy Lab’s Renewable Electricity Futures Study.

“You ever talk with someone who thinks you’re starry-eyed and gullible because you think a renewable energy future can work? I’ve got your answer….”  Read the rest at the Climate Solutions Journal.


All oil is foreign

June 26, 2012

When the political class focuses on the perils of fossil fuel dependence, they almost always use the word “foreign” before “oil”.  This is redundant.  Oil is inherently foreign.  All of it.

Oil is foreign to democracy.  In an election cycle flooded by unrestricted political money, oil money stands out as the biggest gusher.  The Supreme Court struck down Montana’s law limiting corporate spending on campaigns yesterday, so the blowout of oil’s influence will remain uncapped for the foreseeable future.   In America and around the world, oil and freedom do not mix.  Because it concentrates wealth, facilitates abuse of power, breeds dependence, and crushes democracy, oil is fundamentally foreign to the American creed.

Oil is foreign to the atmosphere, air, and water. Burning oil releases about 85 billion pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere per day, all of which has been foreign to our climate for many millions of years.  The planet that existed when that carbon was aloft was a very different place, as foreign as, oh, Jurassic Park.  And some oil doesn’t get burned because it leaks out along the way, causing the waterways of home to turn toxic, hostile, and foreign (see Inside Climate’s blockbuster story on the underreported “Dilbit Disaster” in Michigan.)

Oil is foreign to economic security.  The U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population, about 2% of proven conventional oil reserves, and consumes about 20% of the oil produced.  Prices are set on world markets and heavily influenced by oilogopolistic producers, regardless of where the oil comes from.  Those producers have us over a barrel as long as we need the stuff.

Oil is foreign to local economic vitality.   The overwhelming majority of Americans live in communities that are hemorrhaging economic resources in order to pay for oil.  Here in King County Washington, for example, our economy will lose north of $5 billion this year to fetch oil – roughly the size of the entire County budget.  A tiny handful of Americans live in communities where oil brings in more money than it sucks out.

Oil is foreign to the intergenerational contract.  Any economic value derived from expanded oil trafficking is confiscated from the many generations who will have to pay the exorbitant costs of living in an unstable climate.  They will not be amused.  Estimates of the economic value of unchecked climate change are enormous but fuzzy;  there is no satisfying way to monetize the intergenerational abuse.

Regardless of where they poke the holes, oil is not yours.  It’s not mine.  It’s not “America’s“.  It’s ExxonMobil’s and OPEC’s and the Koch’s.  Wherever the next fix happens to come from, they will use it to extract record profits, destroy the climate, and maul our democracy.

Drill here, drill there, it doesn’t matter.  The whole damned business is foreign to our national interests, to our values, to our future.


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