Clean Energy Advances Despite Washington’s Worst Efforts

Tea Party leaders like to paint clean energy and climate action as issues that matter only to elite Democrats living in coastal cities. This claim would come as a surprise to the 38,000 autoworkers building fuel efficient cars in Michigan, the 80 companies involved in the wind supply chain in Iowa, and the more than 100,000 Americans working in the solar industry across the nation.

But even if the Tea Party isn’t interested in genuine opportunities for job growth, it can’t ignore where the latest climate action is coming from: Texas and GOP statesmen.

Both are wellsprings of conservative values, and when Texas residents and Republican elders start talking about clean energy and global warming, it’s time for moderate lawmakers to listen.

As of October 1st, Austin, Texas became the largest city in the nation to rely entirely on renewable energy to power all of its facilities. The city of Houston still purchases a larger amount of renewable energy, but Austin leads the way in meeting all of its energy needs from clean sources. City officials said they pushed for these changes because they wanted to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality for residents.

Governor Perry may still live in Denialville, but the rest of Texas has joined the global community. The state is converting its West Texas wind into power and money, and it now gets 8 percent of electricity from renewable sources. As Van Jones says: that’s not hippy energy, that’s cowboy energy. And it reflects rangeland values of independence, resourcefulness, and putting a resource to use instead of wasting it.

A growing number of luminaries in the Republican Party share those values. Earlier this week, the National Journal reported on a quiet campaign among elder GOP statesmen to call for climate action.

John Warner, the former Virginia senator and former Secretary of the Navy, is a senior advisor for the Pew Project on National Security, Energy, and Climate Change and he has been speaking at military bases to draw attention to the security threat posed by climate change and oil dependence.

George Shultz, President Reagan’s Secretary of State and an advisor on President George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign, is also a member of Pew’s climate project. Shultz says Republicans can no longer ignore evidence coming from places like the ice cap in the Arctic. He says people like climate deniers like Perry are “entitled to their opinion, but they’re not entitled to the facts.”

Shultz wields a considerable amount of influence. Last year, when Texas oil companies funded California’s Proposition 23 to defeat the state’s global warming law, Shultz told the National Journal his response was: “We’re not just going to beat these guys, we’re going to beat the hell out of them. We conducted a vigorous campaign. It was a lot of fun.”

And it was wildly successful. Californians defeated Prop 23 by a ratio of 2 to 1. More people voted on Prop 23 than on anything else on the ballot, including the gubernatorial and Senate races, and even counties that backed Republican candidates shot down Prop 23.

Men like Shultz and Warner—along with Former Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC), Former Representative Sherry Boehlert (R-NY), and others—share the goal of making our nation strong, secure, and independent. They know the politicization of environmental issues is a recent phenomenon, and they are not afraid to say fighting climate change should be part of the Republican platform.

I admire these leaders; I only wish their campaign wasn’t so quiet. I want to see them on Meet the Press and Face the Nation. If they make their voices louder, they will help create the political space for Republican candidates to start confirming climate science and advocating climate action.

Right now, the Tea Party has the megaphone. People like Rick Perry are yelling that climate change doesn’t exist and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is shouting that Congress must dismantle the Clean Air Act and rob the EPA of its authority to set limits on carbon pollution. This would upend a law signed by President Nixon signed and strengthened by President George H.W. Bush. It would also endanger the health of millions of Americans.

This overheated rhetoric is pushing our nation into a more disrupted and more dangerous climate. We have to bring it back from the brink. I remember back in the 1980s, my mom watched infomercials in which Susan Powter would shout: Stop the Insanity.

Cities like Austin, Texas, and leaders like George Shultz and John Warner are adding much needed sanity to the climate debate. They remind us that protecting our nation from climate change and putting Americans to work in the clean energy sector are not elite, partisan issues. They are the building blocks of the 21st century.

Clean Energy Advances Despite Washington’s Worst Efforts

Tea Party leaders like to paint clean energy and climate action as issues that matter only to elite Democrats living in coastal cities. This claim would come as a surprise to the 38,000 autoworkers building fuel efficient cars in Michigan, the 80 companies involved in the wind supply chain in Iowa, and the more than 100,000 Americans working in the solar industry across the nation.

But even if the Tea Party isn’t interested in genuine opportunities for job growth, it can’t ignore where the latest climate action is coming from: Texas and GOP statesmen.

Both are wellsprings of conservative values, and when Texas residents and Republican elders start talking about clean energy and global warming, it’s time for moderate lawmakers to listen.

As of October 1st, Austin, Texas became the largest city in the nation to rely entirely on renewable energy to power all of its facilities. The city of Houston still purchases a larger amount of renewable energy, but Austin leads the way in meeting all of its energy needs from clean sources. City officials said they pushed for these changes because they wanted to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality for residents.

Governor Perry may still live in Denialville, but the rest of Texas has joined the global community. The state is converting its West Texas wind into power and money, and it now gets 8 percent of electricity from renewable sources. As Van Jones says: that’s not hippy energy, that’s cowboy energy. And it reflects rangeland values of independence, resourcefulness, and putting a resource to use instead of wasting it.

A growing number of luminaries in the Republican Party share those values. Earlier this week, the National Journal reported on a quiet campaign among elder GOP statesmen to call for climate action.

John Warner, the former Virginia senator and former Secretary of the Navy, is a senior advisor for the Pew Project on National Security, Energy, and Climate Change and he has been speaking at military bases to draw attention to the security threat posed by climate change and oil dependence.

George Shultz, President Reagan’s Secretary of State and an advisor on President George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign, is also a member of Pew’s climate project. Shultz says Republicans can no longer ignore evidence coming from places like the ice cap in the Arctic. He says people like climate deniers like Perry are “entitled to their opinion, but they’re not entitled to the facts.”

Shultz wields a considerable amount of influence. Last year, when Texas oil companies funded California’s Proposition 23 to defeat the state’s global warming law, Shultz told the National Journal his response was: “We’re not just going to beat these guys, we’re going to beat the hell out of them. We conducted a vigorous campaign. It was a lot of fun.”

And it was wildly successful. Californians defeated Prop 23 by a ratio of 2 to 1. More people voted on Prop 23 than on anything else on the ballot, including the gubernatorial and Senate races, and even counties that backed Republican candidates shot down Prop 23.

Men like Shultz and Warner—along with Former Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC), Former Representative Sherry Boehlert (R-NY), and others—share the goal of making our nation strong, secure, and independent. They know the politicization of environmental issues is a recent phenomenon, and they are not afraid to say fighting climate change should be part of the Republican platform.

I admire these leaders; I only wish their campaign wasn’t so quiet. I want to see them on Meet the Press and Face the Nation. If they make their voices louder, they will help create the political space for Republican candidates to start confirming climate science and advocating climate action.

Right now, the Tea Party has the megaphone. People like Rick Perry are yelling that climate change doesn’t exist and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is shouting that Congress must dismantle the Clean Air Act and rob the EPA of its authority to set limits on carbon pollution. This would upend a law signed by President Nixon signed and strengthened by President George H.W. Bush. It would also endanger the health of millions of Americans.

This overheated rhetoric is pushing our nation into a more disrupted and more dangerous climate. We have to bring it back from the brink. I remember back in the 1980s, my mom watched infomercials in which Susan Powter would shout: Stop the Insanity.

Cities like Austin, Texas, and leaders like George Shultz and John Warner are adding much needed sanity to the climate debate. They remind us that protecting our nation from climate change and putting Americans to work in the clean energy sector are not elite, partisan issues. They are the building blocks of the 21st century.

Weekly Mulch: Can Clean Energy Curb Climate Change? Probably Not.

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

During the State of the Union address earlier this week, President Barack Obama spoke at length about clean energy, with nary a mention of climate change. This is the new environment in which America’s energy policy is being made.

Just two years ago, Democrats were rallying to combat climate change, one of the most worrying challenges the country faces. But now, Obama has apparently given up his plan to openly fight climate change during his presidency. It’s hard to imagine how, even in a second term, he would choose to re-fight the lost battle to create a cap-and-trade system.

The Obama Administration has instead resorted to a sort of insurgent strategy. Instead of waging an all-out battle against energy interests, the U.S. government will try to chip away at the edges of the industry’s power and rally citizens’ allegiances to a new flag, that of “clean energy.”

Climate bill’s absence is smothering clean energy

Since Washington hasn’t succeeded at tackling climate change head on, Obama’s new strategy is to attack the problem obliquely by promoting innovation in clean energy and setting goals for the use of technologies like electric cars. But can clean energy efforts and innovations thrive in the absence of a wholesale climate policy? When a climate bill was still a possibility, clean energy entrepreneurs were promising substantial investments in the sector, if only Congress could give them a framework. And as Monica Potts explains at The American Prospect, in the absence of a climate bill, clean energy has flagged:

What’s been problematic about the president’s approach up to now is that, despite his efforts to pump funding into the clean-energy sector, as he did with about $90 billion of the stimulus, renewable energy hasn’t taken off. Obama had a line in his speech that summed up why this is so: “Now, clean-energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean-energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling.”

Short on influence

It’s possible that clean energy investors will take the President’s new promise as incentive enough to push forward. But, they will also have to consider the influence of the newly empowered Republicans. Mother JonesKate Sheppard isn’t convinced that the president’s new tactic will stick:

“There are plenty of people—and most of them happen to be Republicans—who don’t think that policies to support clean energy are worthwhile and who will oppose any attempt to move away from them,” she wrote. “Meanwhile, this latest iteration of the Obama climate and energy plan includes few of the driving forces that would actually make renewables cost-competitive in the near future and allow renewables to compete (the big one being, of course, a price on carbon pollution).”

When “clean” energy includes coal

Another weak point in the President’s new strategy is his reliance on the vague idea of clean energy, which becomes dirtier the more it is used. As Sheppard writes, “Environmental groups weren’t all that excited about the inclusion of “clean coal” and nuclear in that mix, but that’s pretty broadly expected as the price one must pay to draw broader support for a clean energy standard.”

Another key source of clean energy is natural gas. In Washington, it’s become a given that natural gas, which releases less carbon when burned than coal or oil, will help the country transition away from its high-carbon diet and be phased out as energy sources like solar and wind become more viable. (The natural gas industry, of course, doesn’t see its role as transitional. It’s playing for keeps.)

And while some places are rightly celebrating the freedom that natural gas gives them from coal—as Care2’s Beth Buczynski reports, Penn State is investing $35 million to convert its coal-fired power plant to natural gas over the next three years—other places are bearing the environmental toll of this new, clean fuel. In North Carolina, for instance, hydrofracking, the controversial technique that natural gas companies have been using to extract the gas from shale, is not even legal, but already environmental groups are having to fight efforts from energy companies to buy up potentially gas-rich properties, Public News Service reports.

A poverty of political capital

The president’s new strategy on clean energy will surely succeed at turning current energy economy slowly towards a new path. In the absence of any overarching strategy to fix the country’s energy problems, it’s going to have to be good enough. But ultimately, this sort of tactic, born out of a poverty of political capital, cannot move fast enough to keep energy companies from scouring the earth for more profits doing what they’ve been doing.

That means that there will be more scenes like the one in Kern County, California, where companies are dredging up the last resources of oils from the tar sands. In Orion Magazine, Jeremy Miller writes:

The land also reveals the Frankensteinian scars and machinery necessary to keep up that level of production. Gas flares glow on hillsides. Nodding donkeys lever over thousands of wells, some of which are spaced fewer than a hundred feet apart. Between the wells and imposing cogeneration power plants—which supply energy and steam to the senescent fields—run wild tangles of pipe. These are the conduits of an elaborate industrial life-support system, breathing in steam and carrying away oil.

Will the president’s new strategy prevent the creation of more landscapes like this one? It seems overly optimistic to hope so.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Want to Combat Climate Change? Ignore Congress.

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Congress comes back into session next week, but environmentalists and climate change activists have given up on the legislature. Instead, activists are planning to spur popular concern about these issues, until calls for change are so loud that Congress must listen.

Today, climate change reformer Bill McKibben will ask President Obama to reinstall a solar panel that first graced the White House roof during the Carter presidency. In the months to come, advocates hope to lead more radical direct actions that force more Americans to confront the issues at hand—and hopefully pressure change from the bottom up.

For the past two years, Congress has flirted with action on climate change, only to shy away time and time again. Environmental groups have spent record sums on courting lawmakers to no avail. McKibben and other environmental advocates are now convinced that they must bypass elected representatives and instead work to convince constituents that the country must do something to address global warming.

Direct action

McKibben, the environmental author who now leads an international climate campaign called 350.0rg, along with Phil Radford and Becky Tarbotton, both heads of environmental groups, wrote to potential allies against the energy industry in Yes! Magazine.

“We’re not going to beat them by asking nicely,” the three wrote. “We’re going to have to build a movement, a movement much bigger than anything we’ve built before, a movement that can push back against the financial power of Big Oil and Big Coal. That movement is our only real hope, and we need your help to plot its future.”

These three leaders see a greater role for direct action in pushing America to scale down its energy use, move towards renewable energy, and abandon its dirty energy habits. As civil rights and suffrage advocates suggest, to move the populace, ”to effectively communicate both to the general public and to our leaders the urgency of the crisis,” climate activists must “put our bodies on the line.”

Those for who have suggestions on how to move forward can contact these leaders at climate.ideas@gmail.com. They hope to draw on submitted ideas for actions in the spring.

Clean Energy Victory Bonds

Those less inclined to take to the streets still have options for supporting clean energy. The Nation’sPeter Rothberg suggests supporting the idea of Clean Energy Victory Bonds (CEVB), as conceived by the group Green America. This idea requires Congress to pass legislation, but “it seems like a no-brainer,” Rothberg writes.

According to Green America, CEVBs would benefit the economy, the environment, and investors, by uniting individuals, communities, and companies to help finance the rapid deployment of renewable energy projects and energy efficiency upgrades,” he says. Other benefits: it’s a safe and potentially flexible investment, and the bonds could help create 1.7 million jobs.

Easy to ignore climate change

At this point, the push for direct action almost seems like a more sensible investment of political energy, at least. Climate change has dropped in importance for most Americans, so it’s easy for Congress to ignore the problem. As Kevin Drum explains for Mother Jones, “The high-water mark for public opinion on climate change was in 2005 or so, and we’ve been losing ground ever since. Until we get it back, Congress is going to continue to do nothing.”

It appears that, without broad popular pressure for some sort of action, Congress feels comfortable leaving aside even policy proposals that the majority of Americans support. One of the sticking points of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) energy bill has been a renewable energy standard (RES), a requirement that the country will increase the percentage of its power generated from clean energy sources within a certain time frame.

R-e-s-p-e-c-t

The idea is popular, as David Roberts writes at Grist, citing a Pew/National Journal poll showing that 78 percent of all respondents and 70% of Republicans favored an RES.

“Not many policies get this kind of bipartisan support these days,” Roberts writes. “People are fond of saying energy should be a bipartisan issue and surely reasonable people can agree, etc. Well, here it is, happening.”

What’s more, an RES would go a long way towards spurring private sector investment in clean energy. Lew Hay, the CEO of NextEra, a major clean energy company, has said that an RES would spur his company to invest billions of additional dollars in wind and solar development.

East vs. Midwest

Passing an RES would also mean pushing the renewable energy industry to hash out a viable infrastructure for a clean energy future.

“As the nation looks to move to a renewable energy standard, a lot of that really comes down to how to meet the energy needs of the East coast,” Jamie Karnik, the communications manager at a wind advocacy group, told The Washington Independent’s Andrew Restuccia. “Certainly people who are building wind in the Midwest, have their eye on the eastern market.”

The problem is, Restuccia reports, that entrepreneurs on the East Coast want a chance to develop off-shore wind farms. Ultimately, the country will need new electric lines to transport energy created from clean sources, but right now, competition among clean energy manufacturers could delay the construction of those lines.

Maybe climate change activists can come up with some ideas to push the clean energy industry along faster, too.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Want to Combat Climate Change? Ignore Congress.

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Congress comes back into session next week, but environmentalists and climate change activists have given up on the legislature. Instead, activists are planning to spur popular concern about these issues, until calls for change are so loud that Congress must listen.

Today, climate change reformer Bill McKibben will ask President Obama to reinstall a solar panel that first graced the White House roof during the Carter presidency. In the months to come, advocates hope to lead more radical direct actions that force more Americans to confront the issues at hand—and hopefully pressure change from the bottom up.

For the past two years, Congress has flirted with action on climate change, only to shy away time and time again. Environmental groups have spent record sums on courting lawmakers to no avail. McKibben and other environmental advocates are now convinced that they must bypass elected representatives and instead work to convince constituents that the country must do something to address global warming.

Direct action

McKibben, the environmental author who now leads an international climate campaign called 350.0rg, along with Phil Radford and Becky Tarbotton, both heads of environmental groups, wrote to potential allies against the energy industry in Yes! Magazine.

“We’re not going to beat them by asking nicely,” the three wrote. “We’re going to have to build a movement, a movement much bigger than anything we’ve built before, a movement that can push back against the financial power of Big Oil and Big Coal. That movement is our only real hope, and we need your help to plot its future.”

These three leaders see a greater role for direct action in pushing America to scale down its energy use, move towards renewable energy, and abandon its dirty energy habits. As civil rights and suffrage advocates suggest, to move the populace, ”to effectively communicate both to the general public and to our leaders the urgency of the crisis,” climate activists must “put our bodies on the line.”

Those for who have suggestions on how to move forward can contact these leaders at climate.ideas@gmail.com. They hope to draw on submitted ideas for actions in the spring.

Clean Energy Victory Bonds

Those less inclined to take to the streets still have options for supporting clean energy. The Nation’sPeter Rothberg suggests supporting the idea of Clean Energy Victory Bonds (CEVB), as conceived by the group Green America. This idea requires Congress to pass legislation, but “it seems like a no-brainer,” Rothberg writes.

According to Green America, CEVBs would benefit the economy, the environment, and investors, by uniting individuals, communities, and companies to help finance the rapid deployment of renewable energy projects and energy efficiency upgrades,” he says. Other benefits: it’s a safe and potentially flexible investment, and the bonds could help create 1.7 million jobs.

Easy to ignore climate change

At this point, the push for direct action almost seems like a more sensible investment of political energy, at least. Climate change has dropped in importance for most Americans, so it’s easy for Congress to ignore the problem. As Kevin Drum explains for Mother Jones, “The high-water mark for public opinion on climate change was in 2005 or so, and we’ve been losing ground ever since. Until we get it back, Congress is going to continue to do nothing.”

It appears that, without broad popular pressure for some sort of action, Congress feels comfortable leaving aside even policy proposals that the majority of Americans support. One of the sticking points of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) energy bill has been a renewable energy standard (RES), a requirement that the country will increase the percentage of its power generated from clean energy sources within a certain time frame.

R-e-s-p-e-c-t

The idea is popular, as David Roberts writes at Grist, citing a Pew/National Journal poll showing that 78 percent of all respondents and 70% of Republicans favored an RES.

“Not many policies get this kind of bipartisan support these days,” Roberts writes. “People are fond of saying energy should be a bipartisan issue and surely reasonable people can agree, etc. Well, here it is, happening.”

What’s more, an RES would go a long way towards spurring private sector investment in clean energy. Lew Hay, the CEO of NextEra, a major clean energy company, has said that an RES would spur his company to invest billions of additional dollars in wind and solar development.

East vs. Midwest

Passing an RES would also mean pushing the renewable energy industry to hash out a viable infrastructure for a clean energy future.

“As the nation looks to move to a renewable energy standard, a lot of that really comes down to how to meet the energy needs of the East coast,” Jamie Karnik, the communications manager at a wind advocacy group, told The Washington Independent’s Andrew Restuccia. “Certainly people who are building wind in the Midwest, have their eye on the eastern market.”

The problem is, Restuccia reports, that entrepreneurs on the East Coast want a chance to develop off-shore wind farms. Ultimately, the country will need new electric lines to transport energy created from clean sources, but right now, competition among clean energy manufacturers could delay the construction of those lines.

Maybe climate change activists can come up with some ideas to push the clean energy industry along faster, too.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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