Citizen-led, progressive efforts to override the government and fossil fuel industry could be devastating for Big Oil in the state of Colorado after the November 2016 election — by Lauren McCauley, staff writer
The government of Colorado has so far managed to quash efforts to halt the spread of fracking in that state, but come November, residents will finally have the chance to overpower the will of politicians and Big Oil and Gas.
Petitioners on Monday submitted more than 200,000 signatures backing two separate initiatives to amend the Colorado constitution, specifically in regards to the controversial drilling method.
“This is a good day for Colorado, and it’s a good day for democracy,” said Lauren Petrie, Rocky Mountain Region director of Food and Water Watch. “These initiatives will give communities political tools to fend off the oil and gas industry’s effort to convert our neighborhoods to industrial sites. This is a significant moment in the national movement to stem the tide of fracking and natural gas.”
Initiative 78 would establish a 2,500-foot buffer zone protecting homes, hospitals and schools, as well as sensitive areas like playgrounds and drinking water sources, from new oil and gas development. This expands the current mandate of a 500-foot setback from homes and, according to Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development (CREED), is based upon health studies that show increased risks within a half mile of fracked wells and the perimeters of real-life explosion, evacuation, and burn zones.
Colorado regulators say that, if passed, Initiative 78 could effectively halt new oil and gas exploration and production in as much of 90 percent of the state.
Initiative 75 would establish local government control of oil and gas development, authorizing local municipalities “to pass a broad range of more protective regulations, prohibitions, limits or moratoriums on oil and gas development—or not,” according to the grassroots group.
This measure challenges a May ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court which said that state law overrides local fracking bans.
Various moratoriums or anti-fracking measures bans have been passed by the communities of Lafeyette, Boulder, Fort Collins, Broomfield, El Paso County, and Longmont—though many of these efforts were quashed by the Supreme Court ruling. Campaigners are hopeful that the initiatives would lay the foundation for many more.
Colorado’s Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper, an infamous proponent of fracking, has voiced his strong disapproval of the ordinances.
The signature deadline was met Monday despite the fact that the citizen volunteers facedharassment and, as Common Dreams previously reported, a massive, industry-funded opposition campaign which included deceptive television ads telling citizens to “decline to sign” the ballot petitions.
Reporting by the Colorado Independent revealed the campaign to be “part of an orchestrated, multi-year effort by both Colorado-based and national energy giants. One of their front groups is Protect Colorado, which funded the petition-gatherer-of-doom TV ad and is actively seeking to thwart citizens from qualifying the two measures for the ballot.”
“Industry has been gearing up for this fight for five years,” Dan Grossman, Rocky Mountain regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund, told ThinkProgress. “This was kind of the pre-fight, the undercard…If either of these make it onto the ballot, we’re going to see a cage match — an all-out war.”
And the stakes are high. As the New York Timesput it, should either measure pass, “it would represent the most serious political effort yet” to stop fracking in the U.S..
The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office now has 30 days to authenticate the signatures before they make the ballot. The announcement is expected to be made by September 7.
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A total of 72 people are now in hospital, a rise of 32 since Friday, under close observation amid fears of a major outbreak. 41 of those hospitalized are children as Russia copes with a full scale health emergency above the polar circle which has also killed thousands of reindeer.
A state of emergency has been imposed throughout the region in western Siberia, and reindeer herding communities have been quarantined.
While NBC News last week pinned the blame for the outbreak on “[t]he carcass of a reindeer thought to have died from anthrax decades ago,” new reports suggest an old burial ground could be the source.
Nadezhda Noskova, press secretary of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region government, told the Siberian Times:
We are working out all the versions of what has happened. The first version is that due to the very hot weather permafrost thawed and bared the carcass of an animal which died from anthrax long ago.
The other version is that it could have been a human body. The point is that Nenets and Khanty peoples do not bury their dead in the ground.
They put them into the wooden coffins—they resemble boxes—and place them on a stand or hillock.
The old cemetery could be also the source of the disease.
But regardless of the precise culprit, there’s little doubt that climate change is exacerbating the health crisis.
The Washington Postnoted last week, “Temperatures have soared in western Russia’s Yamal tundra this summer,” with several regions seeing record heat. Indeed, temperatures in the Yamal tundra above the Arctic Circle have hit highs of 95°F this summer, compared to an average of 77°F.
The Post quoted two Russian researchers, who warned in 2011: “As a consequence of permafrost melting, the vectors of deadly infections of the 18th and 19th centuries may come back…especially near the cemeteries where the victims of these infections were buried.”
“The extreme heat has triggered a seemingly endless rash of freak weather, natural disasters, and signs of ecological malaise, including enormous wildfires, record flooding, and natural moon bounces [methane bubbles] that might be explosive,” staff writer Maddie Stone reported at Gizmodo. “But above all else, this week’s anthrax outbreak—the first to hit the region since 1941—signals that global warming is transforming Siberia’s lonely wilderness into a feverish nightmarescape.”
Or, as Charles Pierce wrote at Esquire on Monday, “an anthrax strain that has spent 75 years resting, sleeping a lot, going a few times a week to the Bacteria Gym, and generally muscling up, gets another chance at sickening reindeer and people because the Great Climate Change Hoax has thawed the permafrost, so it gets its shot at the reindeer and people that didn’t die in the record wildfires. I would point out that one of our two major political parties doesn’t believe that any of this is happening, and that the party’s candidate for president thinks it all might be a hoax thought up by the Chinese.”
For months, government officials in Michigan have been scrambling to address the fallout of the man-made water catastrophe in Flint that poisoned thousands of mostly low-income people of color. This video explores the five most pressing facts about the crisis and what needs to happen next.
Make a difference. Engage this election season and vote for a change in leadership in Congress.
— by Jon Queally, staff writer at Common Dreams New report exposes why fossil fuel companies didn’t need the warning from the public scientific community to start a decades-long campaign of denial. They already knew their business model was a threat.
A new report, The Climate Deception Dossiers, chronicles how Exxon and other major fossil fuel companies did not take action to disclose or reduce climate risks in the ensuing years, but instead actively misled the public and policymakers about them.
They knew. They lied. And the planet and its people are now paying the ultimate price.
It’s no secret that the fossil fuel industry—the set of companies and corporate interests which profit most from the burning of coal, oil, and gas—have been the largest purveyors and funders of climate change denialism in the world.
Now, a new set of documents and a report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) answers the age-old question always asked when it comes to crimes of corruption, cover-up, and moral defiance: What did they know and when did they know it?
As it turns out, “The Climate Deception Dossiers” shows that leading oil giants such as ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell—just like tobacco companies who buried and denied the threat of cancer for smokers—knew about the dangers of global warming and the role of carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions long before the public received warning from the broader scientific community. And what’s worse, of course, is not only that they knew—but how they have spent the last nearly thirty years actively denying the damage they were causing to the planet and its inhabitants.
The new report, explains UCS president Ken Kimmell, “is a sobering exposé of how major fossil fuel companies have … neither been honest about, nor taken responsibility for, the harms they have caused by extracting and putting into commerce the fossil fuels that now place our climate in grave danger. Instead, either directly or indirectly, through trade and industry groups, they have sown doubt about the science of climate change and repeatedly fought efforts to cut the emissions of dangerous heat-trapping gases.”
And as this video shows:
The new report reviews internal documents from some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies—including BP, Chevron, Conoco, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, Phillips, and Shell—spanning the course of 27 years. UCS obtained and reviewed memos that have either been leaked to the public, come to light through lawsuits, or been disclosed through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
The documents show that:
Companies have directly or indirectly spread climate disinformation for decades;
Corporate leaders knew the realities of climate science—that their products were harmful to people and the planet—but still actively deceived the public and denied this harm;
The campaign of deception continues, with some of the documents having surfaced as recently as in 2014 and 2015.
UCS has made the complete collection of 85 internal memos—totaling more than 330 pages—available online.
As part of its research, UCS discovered that as early as 1981—nearly seven years before NASA scientist James Hansen made his famous testimony before Congress about the dangers of human-caused global warming—internal discussions about the reality of the threat were already occurring inside the corporate offices of ExxonMobil and others.
In the case of Exxon, an email by one of the companies key scientists explains that, “Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia.” The email explains that the company knew the field was rich in carbon dioxide and that it could become the “largest point source of CO2 in the world,” accounting for 1 percent of projected global CO2 emissions.
The email in question was written in response to an inquiry on business ethics from the Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics at Ohio University.
Speaking with the Guardian newspaper, director of the Institute Alyssa Bernstein said the email makes it clear “that Exxon knew years earlier than James Hansen’s testimony to Congress that climate change was a reality; that it accepted the reality, instead of denying the reality as they have done publicly, and to such an extent that it took it into account in their decision making, in making their economic calculation.”
Though stating she did not want to appear “melodramatic,” Bernstein told the Guardian that Exxon’s behavior amounts to a supremely larger moral offense than even the tobacco industry’s obfuscations on smoking “because what is at stake is the fate of the planet, humanity, and the future of civilization.”
Given the scale of their crime, UCS says the “time is ripe to hold these companies accountable for their actions and responsible for the harm they have caused.”
Offering recommendations for what the industry should be doing, the group said companies must:
Stop disseminating misinformation about climate change. It is unacceptable for fossil fuel companies to deny established climate science. It is also unacceptable for companies to publicly accept the science while funding climate contrarian scientists or front groups that distort or deny the science.
Support fair and cost-effective policies to reduce global warming emissions. It is time for the industry to identify and publicly support policies that will lead to the reduction of emissions at a scale needed to reduce the worst effects of global warming.
Reduce emissions from current operations and update their business models to prepare for future global limits on emissions. Companies should take immediate action to cut emissions from their current operations, update their business models to reflect the risks of unabated burning of fossil fuels, and map out the pathway they plan to take in the next 20 years to ensure we achieve a low-carbon energy future.
Pay for their share of the costs of climate damages and preparedness. Communities around the world are already facing and paying for damages from rising seas, extreme heat, more frequent droughts, and other climate-related impacts. Today and in the future, fossil fuel companies should pay a fair share of the costs.
Fully disclose the financial and physical risks of climate change to their business operations. As is required by law, fossil fuel companies are required to discuss risks—including climate change—that might materially affect their business in their annual SEC filings. Today, compliance with this requirement is not consistent.
“These companies aren’t just trying to block new polices, they’re trying to roll back clean energy and climate laws that are working and are widely supported by the public,” said Nancy Cole, a report author and UCS’s campaign director for climate and energy. “Climate change is already underway – and many communities are struggling to protect their residents and prepare for future changes. The deception simply must stop. It’s time for major carbon companies to become part of the solution.”
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Naomi Klein—activist, author, and self-described “secular Jewish feminist”—spoke at the Vatican on Wednesday where she championed the Pope’s message for global action on climate change and made the case for “the beautiful world” beyond fossil fuel addiction.
Klein, who was invited to speak by the Vatican, gave her speech ahead of a two-day conference to discuss the Pope’s recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, on the environment and the threat of the global economic system—subjects that the author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate knows well.
The encyclical has garnered praise from environmental campaigners like Greenpeace International’s Kumi Naidoo, who called it a “clarion call for bold, urgent action.”
“Pope Francis writes early on that Laudato Si’ is not only a teaching for the Catholic world but for ‘every person living on this planet.’ And I can say that as a secular Jewish feminist who was rather surprised to be invited to the Vatican, it certainly spoke to me,” Klein told reporters ahead of the conference, which is called People and Planet First: the Imperative to Change Course.
She praised what she described as “the core message of interconnection at the heart of the encyclical.”
Klein also expanded on what may appear to be an unlikely alliance with the leader of the Catholic Church.
“Given the attacks that are coming from the Republican party around this and also the fossil fuel interests in the United States, it was a particularly courageous decision to invite me here,” she said, according to the Associated Press. “I think it indicates that the Holy See is not being intimidated, and knows that when you say powerful truths, you make some powerful enemies and that’s part of what this is about.”
“In a world where profit is consistently put before both people and the planet, climate economics has everything to do with ethics and morality.” — Naomi Klein
“I have noticed a common theme among the critiques. Pope Francis may be right on the science, we hear, and even on the morality, but he should leave the economics and policy to the experts,” Klein said in her speech. “They are the ones who know about carbon trading and water privatization, we are told, and how effectively markets can solve any problem. I forcefully disagree.
“The truth is that we have arrived at this dangerous place partly because many of those economic experts have failed us badly, wielding their powerful technocratic skills without wisdom,” she said. “In a world where profit is consistently put before both people and the planet, climate economics has everything to do with ethics and morality. Because if we agree that endangering life on earth is a moral crisis, then it is incumbent on us to act like it.”
Echoing the Pope’s message to address inequities, Klein said that “our current system is also fueling ever widening inequality.”
But Klein stressed that her appearance at the Vatican did not mean that any one world view was “being subsumed by anyone else’s.”
“This is an alliance on a specific issue. It’s not a merger,” Klein said. “But when you are faced with a crisis of this magnitude, people have to get out of their comfort zones.”
Despite the magnitude of the crisis, Klein stressed: “We can save ourselves.”
“Around the world, the climate justice movement is saying: See the beautiful world that lies on the other side of courageous policy, the seeds of which are already bearing ample fruit for any who care to look.
“Then, stop making the difficult the enemy of the possible.
“And join us in making the possible real,” she said.
The two-day conference, which comes in the lead-up to the COP21 international climate talks in Paris later this year, is being coordinated by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity (CIDSE), an alliance of Catholic development agencies. Alongside Klein, other speakers include Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, pontifical council president H.E. Cardinal Peter Turkson, and CIDSE secretary general Bernard Nils.
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Reinforcing the GOP’s reputation as anti-science, Republicans in the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on Thursday voted to slash NASA spending on the branch that studies climate change issues.
According to news reports, the NASA authorization proposal, passed along party lines, would cut between $300-500 million in funding to NASA’s Earth Sciences division, which researches the planet’s natural systems and processes—including climate change, severe weather, and glaciers. The bill will now go to the full House for a vote.
“When you vote for people who publicly and loudly spout nonsense about science, and go against the overwhelming 97 percent consensus among climate scientists, what do you expect?” —Phil Plait, Slate
As Ars Technica notes, “This vote follows the committee’s decision to cut the [National Science Foundation]’s geoscience budget and comes after a prominent attack on NASA’s Earth sciences work during a Senate hearing, all of which suggests a concerted campaign against the researchers who, among other things, are telling us that climate change is a reality.”
Unsurprisingly, NASA pushed back against this latest attempt to stymie climate research.
In a statement released Thursday, the space agency’s administrator Charles Bolden said the proposal “guts our Earth science program and threatens to set back generations worth of progress in better understanding our changing climate, and our ability to prepare for and respond to earthquakes, droughts, and storm events.”
And other scientists added their own criticisms to the mix. In a letter (pdf) to the committee, the head of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) said that group is “extremely concerned” about the funding cuts.
“The research performed and supported by the [NASA] division helps us understand the world we live in and provide a basis for knowledge and understanding of natural hazards, weather forecasting, air quality, and water availability, among other concerns,” wrote AGU executive director Christine W. McEntee. “The applicability of these missions cannot be overstated given their impact on your constituents.”
Astronomer and journalist Phil Plait, writing at Slate, agreed that “the evisceration of Earth sciences means this bill is seriously, critically flawed.” But, Plait said, U.S. voters only have themselves to blame for such short-sighted policy decisions:
We sowed this Congress, and this is what we reap. Potentially huge cuts to critical science, care of the GOP. Remember that in November 2016.
Several Democratic lawmakers have also expressed their opposition to the spending cuts.
In an op-ed published this week at The Hill, U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.), the House committee’s ranking member, wrote:
In addition to other problems in the bill, it cuts earth science funding by more than $320 million. Earth science, of course, includes climate science. Despite the fact that in January NASA announced 2014 was likely the warmest year since 1880, it should come as no surprise that the majority wants to cut funding for climate science. Embarrassingly, just last week, every single Republican member of this committee present voted against the notion that climate change might be caused by people.
Of course, there would be implications beyond a potential dearth of climate research.
In an analysis published Friday at the Washington Post, Dr. Marshall Shepherd, professor of atmospheric sciences and geography at the University of Georgia and 2013 president of the American Meteorological Society, wrote:
As the former deputy project scientist for the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, I assure you that the level of cuts proposed for NASA’s earth sciences program would not only harm but end many programs and jeopardize many federal and private sector jobs. The engineering, ground systems, science, and support work of NASA earth science missions is supported by some of the most vibrant private aerospace and science-technology companies in the world. And they are U.S. companies.
“More importantly,” Shepherd continued, “none of us has a ‘vacation planet’ we can go to for the weekend, so I argue that NASA’s mission to study planet Earth should be a ‘no-brainer’.”
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We know the catastrophic risks we are passing onto future generations and we wonder, with anxiety and grief, what will become of our planet. We ask ourselves, “what can I do?”
“The message that solutions to climate change and environmental degradation is up to the individual directly conflicts with what people are witnessing.”
One of the key barriers to taking action on the paramount issues of our time is that these problems are the end result of entrenched cultural, economic and social systems. The message that solutions to climate change and environmental degradation is up to the individual directly conflicts with what people are witnessing: the health and well-being of their bodies and their communities coming a distant second to powerful economic interests.
Current economic calculations do not recognize the full cost to the Commons – the cultural and natural heritage we share that is the foundation of our economy.
Yet growing numbers of people are waking up to the reemerging Commons ethic, which holds that human systems must be aligned to match ecological ones. People believe that future generations have the inalienable right to a healthy planet, and many are now seeking ways to withdraw their consent to the politics and policies that lead to a toxic future.
A rights-based approach to human systems like the economy allows us to open our discussion to questions like: What is the economy for? What are the principles needed to guarantee that we are fair to future generations? What tenets make justice and the protection of the Commons more likely?
Participants at the Congress will bring forward ideas to help shift the way we care for and relate to our Earth–ideas such as moving environmental law out of free market private property law into rights law; caring for the Commons, the Precautionary Principle, and Free Prior and Informed Consent. Congress goers– both men and women–will imagine different economic principles that counter dominant but destructive paradigms.
Some of the new principles to be discussed are:
The Earth is the source of our life and our economic activity.
The Commons, the cultural and natural heritage we share, are the foundation of economics, which presupposes: a) a role of government as the trustee of the commons; b) Laws and rules governing economic systems must first protect the commonwealth; c) Concepts such as economic growth, which ignore the cost to the commons are evolutionary dead-ends.
Justice within generations and justice between generations must be linked to economic justice.
This is a conversation about the definition, boundaries, and acceptance of limits. And, these are a few of the tenets that flow from these economic principles:
Measure the right things: Currently we do not measure the health of the Commons. Pollution and disease count as good for the economic GDP.
Polluter Pays: The one who pollutes or damages the commons shall be held responsible and pay for restoration.
No Debt to Future Generations without a Corresponding Asset: We cannot ask future generations to pay for our messes. We can share with them the costs of assets like parks, art, clean air and water.
Audit, Account for and Fund Commons Assets.
If one accepts the incontestable truth that present generations inherit an Earth left from previous generations, and that we are all eventually ancestors, then our lives are a simultaneously defined by inheriting and bequeathing.
Facing another incontestable truth that our Earth is finite allows us to expand our point of view to include a “bigger picture,” which tells a story with a common goal: It is a story of an incredibly interconnected living systems on which we are dependent, not dominant. The story of human development that has recalibrated its systems to match those of nature itself. The story of a civilization that thrives on stewardship and care, generation after generation into the far future.
On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency will release a first-ever set of regulations to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the country’s existing fleet of power plants. The agency recently issued similar rules for new power plants, which will be finalized next year after a public comment period. The rules for existing plants will undergo a similar process.
But before the political storm around the rules begins in earnest, here are the basic points everyone needs to know about why EPA’s carbon rules are so important.
It’s The First Step Towards A Global Solution
One of the points the Chamber of Commerce made Wednesdayin their premature analysis of the EPA regulations was that, by 2030, the cuts would only amount to 1.8 percent of the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions. The point is technically accurate — climate change and the greenhouse gas emissions driving it are a global problem — but it assumes U.S. policy occurs in a weird sort of civilizational vacuum.
The projections of future emissions the Chamber used are based on the assumption that business-as-usual continues and that various countries’ climate policies don’t change much. That, in turn, is an assumption about how countries will behave in the future. But as Obama has made clear, half the point of the new regulations is to change the way other countries behave.
America may be the world’s second-biggest carbon emitter, but it remains by far the largest on a per-person basis. It’s also emitted more than any other country historically. And while China and India’s economies are huge, they’re spread over far larger populations than the U.S., and they’re still trying to lift hundreds of millions of their citizens out of very deep poverty. So Americans effectively emitted their way to our current prosperity. Furthermore, because we have so much more wealth per person, we have far more economic room to cut carbon emissions and take risks on developing clean energy than China or India.
What this all means is that trust and goodwill between countries is enormously important to building a cooperative international response to climate change. Because of its position and prosperity, the United States can’t build that goodwill without taking the initiative to cut its own emissions: “It’s not [that] I’m ignorant of the fact that these emerging countries are going to be a bigger problem than us,” Obama told the New Yorker a few months ago. “It’s because it’s very hard for me to get in that conversation if we’re making no effort.”
So when the next round of global climate talks occurs in 2015, we’ll have a far better chance of actually locking down an international treaty to cut global emissions if the United States has already stepped up. Then we can bring other countries on board with their cuts, and then circle back around in a few years for an agreement to cut more. And suddenly that 1.8 percent isn’t a mere 1.8 percent anymore.
“American influence is always stronger when we lead by example,” Obama said yesterday at West Point. “We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else.”
Climate Change Is A Threat To America And The World
Because carbon dioxide molecules absorb heat well, the more we dump into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, the more heat the atmosphere can absorb. This raises the overall temperature of the Earth as a system, in what’s called the “greenhouse effect” — carbon dioxide and other gases trap heat within the atmosphere, like the glass walls of a greenhouse trap heat within its interior. We can actually measure it: satellites have trackedthe heat imbalance as the Earth absorbs more energy from the sun, while ice cores and other measurements show a a long period of climate stability going back thousands of years, followed by a sudden spike in carbon dioxide and global temperatures around the arrival of the fossil fuel-powered Industrial Revolution.
What does all this mean for the Earth’s climate? Hotter average global temperatures mean more heat waves, more wildfires, and faster evaporation leading to more drought. But it also means more moisture in the atmosphere, so precipitation becomes heavier when it does come, and wetter areas become wetter while dry areas become drier. Sea levels rise from ice melt at the poles and cyclones become stronger from the oceans’ rising heat content, leading to more flooding and storm damage on the coasts. The poles heat up faster than the equator, destabilizing global weather patterns. Species and ecosystems collapse on both land and sea as climate change and ocean acidification alter their habitats. Crop production and food supplies are upended, fresh water becomes harder to come by, and vectors for pests and disease increase. Basically, rising global temperatures shift the range of possible weather so that destructive and extreme events become more likely.
The scientific consensus is that global temperatures can warm 2°C before those changes become truly catastrophic, though some research suggests even that threshold is too much. At humanity’s current rate of carbon dioxide emissions, we’re set to blow past that limit and get somewhere near 5°C of warming by 2100. Simply put, that would bring a degree of climate change far beyond anything that’s occurred the entire time human civilization has been on the planet. It might not even be possible, much less likely, for us to adapt to those circumstances.
U.S. Carbon Emissions Are A Sizable Part Of The Problem
At about 14.5 percent of 2012′s global emissions, the United States is the world’s second-biggest producer of carbon dioxide, with China now in first and India in third. That same year, electricity generation made up almost a third of the greenhouse gas emissions from America’s economy, with cars and other vehicles also making up close to a third, and industry emitting a fifth. The rest was filled in by commercial and residential buildings and agriculture, each for a tenth a pop.
EPA’s rules for new and existing power plants will address the electricity sector only, but the rest of President Obama’s climate action plan aims to use the executive branch’s regulatory authority to cut emissions from those other sectors as well — by ratcheting up emission standards for cars, improving energy efficiency in homes and buildings, changing forestry and land-use practices, and plugging the various holes in our economy that release other greenhouse gases such as methane.
So while the carbon dioxide pumped out by America’s power plants is ultimately only a slice of the problem, the regulations to cut them down are the central pillar of the Obama Administration’s interlocking effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in every sector of the economy. And the political, social, and economic effort to sustain that central push will flow into all the other efforts as well.
Congress Isn’t Going To Do It Anytime Soon
It’s been well-documented by political scientists that partisan polarizationhas increased significantly in the legislative branch over the last few decades, meaning both parties — but the Republicans especially — move more in ideological lockstep.
In 2009, when the Democrats still dominated Congress, that unity actually helped them pass bills like the stimulus, financial regulatory reform, and Obamacare. But policies to cut carbon emissions are different. The benefits are spread across the entire population, and are still mostly to come in the future, while the costs will be here and now and fall the hardest on some specific and very influential groups — namely the fossil fuel industry. So when President Obama and the Democrats tried to push a cap-and-trade bill through Congress that year, moderate Democrats — especially in the coal-dependent states like West Virginia and Kentucky — felt enormous pressure to jump ship. And moderate Republicans were pressured by their own ideological cohort to not jump on board.
As a result, cap-and-trade passed the House but went down to defeat in the Senate. Now that the Republicans have taken back the House, the situation is even worse for climate policy, and it will likely take several election cycles before another chance emerges for Congress to pass something. And we simply don’t have that much time. Global carbon emissions quite literally need to peakwithin the next few years and then start falling fast if we want a good shot at staying below the 2°C threshold.
Fortunately, Congress has actually already handed the executive branch the tools to address this problem. Amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990 require EPA to regulate emissions that threaten public welfare, and in 2007 the Supreme Court ruled the agency could regulate carbon dioxide emissions if it found they posed such a threat. EPA came to that exact conclusion in 2009, citing the rising seas, stronger storms, heavier floods, more intense heat waves, disrupted food supplies, shrinking fresh water supplies, and increased vectors for disease climate change would bring. By carrying through with the new regulations, the Obama Administration and EPA are in fact carrying out the will of Congress — just not the will of this particular batch of congress members.
Royal Dutch Shell buried a bombshell in its recently released 2013 annual report.
Amid 200 pages of predictably and mind-numbingly dry text, the world’s seventh-largest oil company foreshadowed something big. Here are the exact words, which Shell buried in the report’s “risk factors” section:
“If we are unable to find economically viable, as well as publicly acceptable, solutions that reduce our CO2 emissions for new and existing projects or products, we may experience additional costs, delayed projects, reduced production and reduced demand for hydrocarbons.”
Believe it or not, Shell — of all companies — gets it.
Shell gets that unless things change quickly, another big financial market bubble has the potential to bring people to their knees.
It’s called the “Carbon Bubble,” and it’s a very simple equation.
Simply put, these companies have more product than they can sell. And their value is based on their total reserves. That means fossil-fuel assets are significantly overvalued.
Why hasn’t Wall Street imploded over this yet? Well, remember how “nobody” could see the housing bubble coming?
The truth is, Wall Street is still profiting from fossil fuels. And when economists and analysts tried to warn people about the housing bubble, just like some of them are now attempting to do about the carbon bubble, their foresight fell on deaf ears.
And if memories of the last economic crisis or even the phrase “market bubble” give you goose bumps, ask yourself how exposed you are to investments in oil, gas, and coal — the three kinds of fossil fuels. Does your pension plan, retirement plan, or family nest egg invest in the likes of Shell Oil?
As a senior analyst for 350.org, an activist organization that fights climate change, my job is to help persuade college endowments, city pension funds, and foundations to divest from fossil fuels.
In my conversations (really they’re debates) with boards of trustees and treasurers of multibillion-dollar pension funds and endowments, the biggest concern is always risk and return.
People charged with these investment decisions want to maximize returns.
Well, as our ability to burn carbon safely diminishes and the reserves of fossil-fuel companies increase, those investments will continue to become riskier and less profitable.
The logic is so clear, even Shell doesn’t think they are a good investment. The oil giant is looking for “viable solutions to reduce” its own CO2 emissions.
Shell’s not the only oil giant reckoning with this reality. Bowing to shareholder pressure, ExxonMobil just announced plans to produce a first-of-its-kind report showing how the growing trend in climate change activism is destabilizing their financial security.
“The deal is a big victory for the relatively new movement by some investors to get energy companies to consider how climate change policies will affect the bottom line,” according to Politico Morning Energy.
If you do one thing for your future, consider divesting from fossil fuels. It’s a great way to minimize your vulnerability to a serious financial crisis while investing in a more hospitable future for your children.
Brett Fleishman is a senior analyst for 350.org. Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org
Knowing that the House was getting ready to take up HR2279, the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act of 2013, I took the time to write a letter to Rep. Mark Amodei (NV-CD2):
“Very soon, you will be voting on H.R. 2279, the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act of 2013.
I oppose this legislation and any effort that would eviscerate long-standing protections for communities from the toxic legacy of hazardous waste and pollution.
H.R. 2279 removes important requirements of Superfund (the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act [CERCLA]) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to clean up and identify hazardous waste sites nationwide. This bill favors polluters, letting them off the hook for pollution that they created.
One in four Americans lives within three miles of a hazardous waste site. These sites harm human health, pollute water supplies, create urban blight in communities and prevent important economic development. Ensuring polluters clean up their toxic legacies is a benefit for all. H.R. 2279 would destroy that much-needed benefit.
When corporations don’t pony up to clean up their environmental pollution, it’s we the taxpayers who end up cleaning up their mess. That should NEVER be the case. If they make the mess, they should clean up their mess. Please oppose H.R. 2279 and any effort to eviscerate these important laws designed to clean up polluted sites and keep Americans safe from toxic waste.”
This is what I got back from Rep. Amodei’s office:
“Thank you for contacting me regarding the preservation of the environment. I appreciate hearing from you about this issue.
As an outdoorsman and conservationist, I believe we must be good care-takers of our environment. While some in the environmental community are skeptical about the commitment of any Republican to the cause of conservation, I think it is important to note that we have made some notable progress. For example, in the past 30 years over 100 million acres have been set aside as national parks or wilderness areas for protection. You may be pleased to know that recently I introduced the Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act (H.R. 433) to designate approximately 26,000 acres in Humboldt County as permanent wilderness. I was pleased to introduce a piece of legislation that takes into consideration the input of all community stakeholders.
Please know that I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to support responsible, common sense reforms that will help conserve our precious natural resources. Like you, I believe that decisions should be made by considering the long-term impact of environmental and energy policies. It is important that we take practical steps today in order to protect our environment for future generations.
I appreciate the fact that you have taken the time to apprise me of your opinions and hope that you will contact me again should you have any further comments or concerns. If you would like additional information on my activities in the House, please visit my website, www.Amodei.house.gov or connect with me on facebook.com/MarkAmodeiNV2 and twitter.com/MarkAmodeiNV2.
In closing, please know that I consider it a privilege to serve and represent you and your family in Congress.”
Instead of protecting our environment, I got nice piece of distraction saying what an avid outdoorsman and conservationist he is and how he’s such a good caretaker of our environment. Well, that’s the biggest bunch of bull-puckey I’ve been served up! As soon as HR2279 came up for a vote, Rep. Amodei (the only representative from Nevada to do so) gleefully voted “AYE” for passage of HR2279. Rep. Amodei is clearly a supporter of Corporate Anarchy and is not only NOT protecting our country’s natural resources, he’s failing to adequately protect the environment for his constituents.
I can imagine that 300,000 West Virginia residents who now have NO drinking water, NO bathing water, NO domestic water, are thrilled this onerous bill wasn’t in effect when a chemical company spilled toxic chemicals in the river that provides their domestic water needs.