Weekly Mulch: Why is the U.S. Losing the Clean Energy Race to China? Blame the Climate Cranks

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao touched on energy issues in the bilateral summit between the two countries this week.

“I believe that as the two largest energy consumers and emitters of greenhouses gases, the United States and China have a responsibility to combat climate change by building on the progress at Copenhagen and Cancun, and showing the way to a clean energy future. And President Hu indicated that he agrees with me on this issue,” President Obama said during a Wednesday press conference.

But can the United States step up as a leader on clean energy? The proliferation of politicians whom The Nation’s Mark Hertsgaard calls “climate cranks” suggests otherwise.

The biggest consumers

In international climate negotiations, the United State and China are the two key players, and if the world as a whole is to move forward on combating climate change, agreement between Presidents Obama and Hu would be a huge breakthrough. Mother Jones‘ Kate Sheppard notes that Hu also said the United States and China would work together on climate changes, but, she writes, “I can imagine, though, that the conversation on this subject wasn’t entirely as chummy as the remarks would imply, however. The US last month lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization about China’s subsidies for clean energy, arguing that the country is unfairly stacking the deck in favor of their products.”

At AlterNet, Tina Gerhardt and Lucia Green-Weiskel explain the background to those tensions and to the U.S.’s protectionist bent on clean energy projects. They write, “Energy Secretary Chu recently framed the new relationship between the U.S. and China as a ‘Sputnik Moment.’ Referencing the first satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, which demonstrated its technological advantage and led to the Cold War-era space race, Chu warned that the U.S. risks falling behind China in the clean technology race.”

Stumbling blocks

China’s motivations for growing its clean energy sector may not be leafy green; new energy sources feed the country’s rapidly growing economy. But at least the country is committed to green energy sources, unlike our climate change-denying Congress. As Mark Hertsgaard argues at The Nation, this brand of American has become so pernicious, it’s time to stop adhering to the protocol that dubs them “climate deniers” and start calling them “climate cranks.” He explains:

True skepticism is invaluable to the scientific method, but an honest skeptic can be persuaded by facts, if they are sound. The cranks are impervious to facts, at least facts that contradict their wacky worldview. When virtually every national science academy in the developed world, including our own, and every major scientific organization (e.g., the American Geophysical Union, the American Physics Society) has affirmed that climate change is real and extremely dangerous, only a crank continues to insist that it’s all a left-wing plot.

Climate cranks attack

Unfortunately, climate cranks continue to interfere with both climate scientists and forward-thinking energy policy. At Change.org, Nikki Gloudeman writes about the ongoing saga of climate scientist Michael Mann, one of the climatologists embroiled in the Climategate brouhaha, who is still being attacked by climate-denying groups for his work. Gloudeman reports that although Mann has been investigated and found innocent of any misdeeds several times over, a group with a bias against climate change, the American Tradition Institute, is trying to obtain access to his work.

And in New Mexico, the state’s new conservative governor, Susana Martinez, “has attempted to subvert her own state constitution in order to stop [a] plan to begin reducing her state’s carbon emissions,” reports Dahr Jamail for Truthout. The plan, executed through state rules, would have reduced the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 3%, from 2010 levels, each year. The rules should have been made public, but Gov. Martinez kept them from being published, according to Truthout’s report. A local group, New Energy Economy, is fighting to implement them.

Bright spots

In some states, however, the clean energy economy is moving forward. As Care2’s Beth Buczynski reports, Clean Edge, a clean-tech advisory group, has identified the top ten states for clean energy leadership. They include California, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois.

“Rankings were derived from over 80 metrics including total electricity produced by clean-energy sources, hybrid vehicles on the road, and clean-energy venture and patent activity,” Buczynski reports.

And, as David Roberts writes at Grist, there is important work to be done at the local and regional level to both prepare for and prevent climate change. His preferred term for this challenge is “ruggedizing”—strengthening a community’s ability to respond to challenges brought on by climate change, such as flooding, droughts, or food shortages. The solutions to these problem, Roberts writes, often have the welcome side effect of decreasing carbon emissions, as well:

For instance, the residents of Brisbane are discovering that when disaster strikes, it’s not very handy to have everyone spread out all over the place and utterly dependent on cars to get anywhere. It’s more resilient to have people closer together, more able to walk or take shared transportation. It just so happens that also reduces vehicle emissions.

The advantage of this type of work—building the clean energy economy, ruggedizing communities—is that leaders don’t necessarily have to agree on the reality of climate change to move forward. But these are only partial solutions, and to address climate change on an international scale, the cranks will need to be quieted.

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: Climate Deniers Set to Freeze Progress in Congress

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

A chill is coming to Washington. A wave of climate change deniers were elected to office this week, and come January, we can expect a freeze in all reasonable and productive discussion about the fate of the planet.

Last year, the political discussion about climate change and carbon regulation was complicated and bogged down, but at least it was happening.

Who are the deniers?

Grist has pulled together a list of the climate deniers headed into power in the Senate. “Overall, the Senate next year will be more hostile to climate action than ever before,” the site’s staff says.

If these climate-denying legislators came from deeply red states, Tuesday’s results might not be so shocking. But many of them represent swing states, or states that might be red in presidential contests, but that have previously elected Democrats to Congress.

Farewell, moderation

These latter states include North Dakota, whose new senator, John Hoeven, made Grist’s list, and Indiana. Also on the list are Marco Rubio, from Florida, Kelly Ayotte, from New Hampshire, and Pat Toomey, from Pennsylvania.

Perhaps most disheartening is the replacement of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) with Senator-Elect Ron Johnson. Johnson is to the right of the independent-minded Feingold on a host of issues, but as Mother JonesAndy Kroll writes, “What landed Johnson in headlines earlier this year was his claim that climate change wasn’t created by humans but instead was the result of ’sunspot activity.’

The new climate “science”

Sunspot activity is just one explanation that newly elected Republicans have grabbed onto to explain the very real phenomenon of climate change. Care2’s Beth Buczynski has rounded up a few choice quotes from these new leaders:

“With the possible exception of Tiger Woods, nothing has had a worse year than global warming. We have discovered that a good portion of the science used to justify “climate change” was a hoax perpetrated by leftist ideologues with an agenda.” —Todd Young, new congressperson from Indiana

“There isn’t any real science to say we are altering the climate path of the earth.” —Roy Blunt, new senator from Missouri

There are more where these came from.

In denial

What does this shift mean? In short, that the United States and our environmental policies will be limping forward and falling behind the rest of the world as international communities try to deal with climate change. As Brian Merchant writes at AlterNet:

…the current crop of GOP politicians have adopted a somewhat united ideological front opposing not only climate legislation, but the general notion of climate science itself. Nowhere else in the world has a leading political party availed itself of a position so directly in opposition to science — indeed, today’s GOP is the only party in the world that incorporates climate change denial as part of its political platform.

On the domestic front, writes The Washington Independent’s Andrew Restuccia, that means that even unambitious legislation, like the renewable energy standard, stands little chance of passing. As it’s currently written, the renewable energy standard would require a certain percentage of the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources. In reality, it would not even push clean energy production to grow faster than market forces alone would. The main purpose of passing a standard would be to signal to clean energy investors that the government supports their work.

In other words, in the current legislative climate, our leaders wouldn’t even get behind legislation that is just a sign of support for clean energy and the jobs it would create.

Zombie Climategate

Instead, the House’s leadership plans on spending its time staging a show trial of climate science. The chief executor of this strategy will be Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is set to become chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Change.org’s Jess Leber explains:

From his new position, the former car-alarm company owner plans to raise false alarm about climate conspiracy theories. As Nikki Gloudeman wrote, just a few weeks ago Issa vowed to make investigating “Climategate”—the climate pseudo-scandal that’s already died 1,000 deaths—a top oversight priority should he win the committee.

In theory, Issa would be investigating a series of emails, sent by British climate scientists. Climate skeptics argue the emails prove that scientists are falsifying evidence of climate change. Extensive investigations have already debunked those claims.

In short, environmental leader Bill McKibben had the right idea back in September. Anyone who’s interested in advocating for climate change action in this country would do well to stop trying to convince Congress to do its job. Our leaders won’t be listening.

The best path forward may be to start convincing the American people, in the hope that, two years from now, they’ll vote for candidates who have a clue.

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: Fighting the Joe Millers of the World

 

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Joe Miller, Sarah Palin’s choice candidate for one of Alaska’s Senate seats, does not believe in climate change. That didn’t bother Alaska voters: this week, Miller bested Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the state’s Republican primary.

If that weren’t worrisome enough, it also emerged that the fossil fuel industry spent eight times more than environmental groups on lobbying in 2009, the year the House passed the climate change bill. It’s been a bad year already for environmental causes, and as the November election edges closer, progressives might want to start working overtime to regain momentum on climate and energy issues.

Murkowski was solidly against the idea of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulating carbon. But she was willing to talk about cap-and-trade programs, and at the very least, she was willing to admit climate change was happening. Depending on how November’s election shakes out, the shift towards climate-denial in Congress may only worsen. A slew of Republican candidates are convinced that, as one put it, “only God knows where our climate is going,” as Care2 reports.

A tougher tomorrow

Current political trends bode badly for the planet. If Congress couldn’t pass climate legislation while are in Democrats control of the House and Senate, there’s little hope that lawmakers will step up when facing opponents who don’t believe in climate change.

Carla Perez has a few ideas about how progressives and environmentalists can fight back — and they begin with accepting that, yes, giving up fossil fuels would mean sacrifice, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Perez, a program coordinator at social justice group Movement Generation, appeared recently on National Radio Project’s Making Contact and imagined how life would look without fossil fuels:

No iPods. No iPads. No plasma TVs. No motorized individual vehicles. No plastic bags. No pleather boots for $9.99 from Payless…. Then again, no island of plastic twice the size of Texas. No plumes of sulfuric acid over Richmond, California. No skyrocketing rates of cancer and diabetes concentrated in native and people of color communities all over the world. No spontaneous combustion of flames off of contaminated rivers.

“How bad would it be?” she asked.

Target practice

To move from iPods to environmental justice, though, people like Perez will have to keep politicians like Joe Miller out of Washington. In an interview with Yes! Magazine, Riki Ott, a marine biologist and Exxon Valdez survivor, makes a good point about the challenges that environmental advocates face.

“This BP disaster, like the Exxon-Valdez, is more than an environmental crisis—it’s a democracy crisis,” Ott says. “Right now we’re playing the game: Going through regulatory arenas, tightening some laws. But that’s not good enough. The real question is, how do we get control of these big corporations?”

Electing politicians that don’t take corporate money or listen to industry lobbyists will help. Another way to move away from the dominance of fossil fuel companies is offering real alternatives to using their products.

Brave new NOLA

In New Orleans, in the five years since Katrina hit, the people rebuilding the city have worked to create greener alternatives, as Campus Progress reports. Here’s just one example:

Go Green NOLA encourages homebuilders to think small, since smaller homes use less energy. The group also makes suggestions such as installing windows and insulation systems with special attention to local weather and climate — think: humidity, and lots of it—and using shade trees and other landscaping to help beat back the southern sun.

Change can happen without devastation preceding it. In Massachusetts, the Green Justice Coalition worked to ensure that environmental justice provisions made it into the state’s $1.4 billion energy efficiency plan, The Nation reports. What’s more, the coalition made certain that Massachusetts citizens would feel the impact of the new plan directly:

There will be a financing plan to make energy-saving home improvements more affordable. Many of the 23,300 jobs to be generated by the plan will go to contractors who pay decent wages and meet “high road” employment standards. Finally, four pilot programs across the state will test a radically new outreach model by going door to door and mobilizing low- and moderate-income families in building greener neighborhoods.

Women lead the way

Progress doesn’t happen on its own, of course. At RH Reality Check, Kathleen Rogers suggests that female leaders make all the difference. “Women get the connections between climate change, public health and economic growth, because climate change is disproportionately affecting women,” she writes. “A new generation of women entrepreneurs, leaders and civil society, have demonstrated the potential for being the solution to the climate crisis. But they must be mobilized and given an opportunity to influence government and business.”

Rogers is right. Leaders are out there. Just listen to the whole of Carla Perez’ comments on Making Contact. The Green Justice Coalition’s Phyllis Evans also gets it. And even Sen. Murkowski was willing to work on climate change compromises, on some level.

Of course, it’s not just women who can lead the country and the planet away from current environmental and democratic crises. Paths forward are emerging; anyone can follow them.

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.

 

Who is the Worst Offender: The Climate Denier or The Complacent Staller?

This is a pivotal week in the clean energy debate. The Senate will vote on Murkowski’s short-sighted resolution to take away the EPA’s authority to regulate pollution.  As we head into this critical time, it’s not the Inhofe-cloned climate deniers who trouble me - it’s the knowing bystanders who are keeping me up at night. 

Before I start this rant, let me just state for the record that I still think deniers are about as accurate as my three year old is when she is trying to describe quantum physics at her make-believe tea parties (although they are wholly less adorable). The vast majority of these deniers resist climate legislation because they really don’t believe global warming is a problem – yes their heads are in the sand. But for the purposes of the Murkowski resolution, their vote is already lost. 

Lately I am even more frustrated with Senators who recognize that climate change is an urgent challenge, but who sit idly by on the sidelines doing nothing. For me, they raise the fundamental question – Who is worse - those that deny the existence of climate change or those that believe in the upcoming catastrophe and continue to lack focus or alarm? 

Take Senator Schumer for example. He has stated that he thinks the Senate should confront the impacts of climate change. Yet just this week, when leaders should be pushing hard for climate action, Schumer’s support has been tepid at best. On Morning Joe, he showered Senator Bingaman’s energy-only bill with praise, then said, “What do you do about climate change? Kerry has a proposal that has pretty broad support…He is going to get a chance to offer that opinion, and we will see if it has the votes.”  

We are looking for more from our Leaders than a passive wait and see attitude. Senator Schumer is the third ranking Democrat, and that means he needs to do more than wait around to cast a vote.  It’s time for real leadership, which means rolling up his sleeves and making sure a bill passes.  We need him in the trenches.  In fairness, the Senator walked himself back a bit after people threw a fit over his Morning Joe ambivalence.  He has pledged to meet with Senator Kerry on a path forward but until he demands action and puts him ample political muscle behind that call, I am skeptical. 

Exhibit #2 is Senator Rockefeller. As a Senator from West Virginia, he wants the federal government to do a better job of regulating mine safety, especially after the horrifying disaster at the Massey coalmine.  I applaud him for that stance, but here is where I get confused.  When it comes to global warming--something Rockefeller says, “America must address”--he suddenly gets allergic to federal regulation. He wants the Senate to block the EPA from reducing global warming pollution until Congress gets it’s act together. The federal government can and should be involved – today. Just as federal regulation needs to be strengthened to deal with mine safety, we need to let the regulators use the tools on the books begin addressing greenhouse gases.     

And finally, the fence sitters continue to be the best example of willful negligence.  The Senate is going to consider a resolution this week from Senator Murkowski to put the breaks on EPA’s efforts to address greenhouse gases.  There is a small group of Senators - like Collins, Snowe, Pryor, Webb, and Scott Brown - who say they want to reduce global warming pollution but may vote for Murkowski’s resolution to overturn the EPA’s authority to do so. If you think carbon emissions are dangerous, wouldn’t you want to use every weapon at your disposal to fight it? 

When I see Senators backpedalling, downplaying and side stepping climate action, I want to ask them: what are you waiting for? When is there going to be a better time to transition to clean energy? America is watching the cost of failed energy policies literally washing up on our shores. Our nation is desperately in need of the jobs and economic growth that a clean energy economy can provide. Congress has the most pro-clean energy members we are likely to get for several years.  

I think I just answered my own question – which is worse, a climate-denier or a knowledgeable staller…. I vote that someone who fails to act when they know the stakes is much worse.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Conservatives and Liberals Remain In Denial About Climate Change

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The negative impacts of climate change are coming on more quickly than anyone expected. According to a new NASA study, ocean waters are creeping steadily upwards, at rates faster than predicted, Maureen Nandini Mitra reports at Earth Island Journal:

“That ice sheets will dominate future sea level rise is not surprising – they hold a lot more ice mass than mountain glaciers,” Eirc Rignot, the report’s lead author said in a statement emailed by NASA yesterday. “What is surprising is this increased contribution by the ice sheets is already happening.”

This is just the latest warning sign that climate change is happening and that its negative effects will occur more quickly than anyone has prepared for. This will happen despite Republicans’ insistence that there is no hard scientific proof of climate change, and that “just because you might be in the minority doesn’t always mean you’re wrong,” as Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) put it this week at a House subcommittee hearing on climate science.

Dealing with it

This problem is not going to go away. The economist and blogger Tyler Cowen wrote this week that left-wing economists have a “reluctance to admit how hard the climate change problem will be to solve, for fear of wrecking any emerging political consensus on taking action.” In response, Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum comments, “Actually, liberals spend a ton of time talking about how hard climate change is. Still, there’s something to this. As hard as we say it is, it’s probably even harder than that.”

How hard? On Democracy Now!, Naomi Klein argued this week that progressive environmental groups have been pussy-footing around the scope of the issue entirely. She said:

What I see is that the green groups, a lot of the big green groups, are also in a kind of denial, because they want to pretend that this isn’t about politics and economics, and say, “Well, you can just change your light bulb. And no, it won’t really disrupt. You can have green capitalism.” And they’re not really wrestling with the fact that this is about economic growth. This is about an economic model that needs constant and infinite growth on a finite planet. So we really are talking about some deep transformations of our economy if we’re going to deal with climate change. And we need to talk about it.

That’s a tall order for green groups, however, when they’re having a hard time convincing conservatives that climate change even exists. As Klein says, refusing to believe in climate change has become one way that conservatives define themselves, politically, and the pull of ideological identification outweighs any rational attitude toward the science in question.

The example of agriculture

In many cases, solutions to the problems of climate change are clear. Only habit and political intransigence keep them from being put into action.

Agriculture is a great example of this tangle. Industrial farming pollutes earth, water, and air, while sustainable methods of farming promote global health. What’s more, they create as much, if not more, product than industrial farming techniques. This week the United Nations confirmed these benefits in a report on “eco-farming,” what Americans generally call sustainable agriculture. Inter Press Service reports:

“An urgent transformation to ‘eco-farming’ is the only way to end hunger and face the challenges of climate change and rural poverty,” said Olivier De Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food. … Yields went up 214 percent in 44 projects in 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa using agro-ecological farming techniques over a period of 3 to 10 years… far more than any GM [genetically modified] crop has ever done.

Despite this sort of success, the argument that agribusiness is necessary to feed the world is still running rampant. At Grist, Tom Philpott has been picking apart a series of articles from The Economist that explains, as Philpott puts it “how industrial agriculture is the true and only way to feed the 9 billion people who will inhabit the world by 2050.”

But as Philpott notes, sustainable farming can feed the global population and is better for the planet as well. The United Nations, he writes, has:

found that ‘ecological agriculture’ could ‘assist farmers in adapting to climate change’ by making farm fields more resilient to stress. So why isn’t eco-agriculture catching on? The report cites a bevy of obstacles, none of them technological:

“[L]ack of policy support at local, national, regional and international levels, resource and capacity constraints, and a lack of awareness and inadequate information, training and research on ecological agriculture at all levels.”

Obvious solutions

Indeed, it can be incredible how simple solutions to seemingly intractable problems can be. For instance, IPS reports, yet another UN report has found one solution to mitigating global hunger: Push back against gender inequality. IPS’s Alan Bojanic and Gustavo Anriquez write:

The UN agency’s report estimates that if women had the same access to agricultural assets, inputs, and services as men they could increase yields on their farms, and this increase could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by roughly 2.5 to 4 percent.

Moreover, such a growth in agricultural production could in turn bring 100 to 150 million people out of hunger – that is about 12 to 17 percent of the 925 million undernourished people that exist in the world according to FAO’s latest estimates.

Dealing with the problems of climate change might be harder than liberals often admit. But some of the simplest solutions haven’t even been tried yet.

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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