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.

 

Weekly Mulch: When will America be free from BP?

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

On July 4th, Americans are supposed to celebrate their independence. We may no longer have to worry about a greedy, distant monarch. But our country is still held in thrall to powerful interests that prize profit over individuals and their freedom—the energy industry comes to mind. As Jason Mark puts it at AlterNet:

“We’re in an abusive relationship and unable to leave our abuser. The plight of the people in Louisiana proves the point. Louisianans have been punched in the face by the hand that feeds them, and yet their biggest worry is that the oil and gas industry is going to walk out the door and leave them.”

Where’s the love?

It’s clear that BP, for instance, isn’t playing carefully with our country or its resources. At Mother Jones, David Corn relates the latest example of the company’s callousness. Its recovery plan had no stipulations about handling even a small storm like the one that stopped clean-up this week. It did, however, include plans to save sea life that hasn’t lived in the Gulf for millions of years. As Corn put it, the company was “prepared for walruses, not prepared for hurricanes.”

The biggest problem, of course, is that BP wasn’t prepared to handle a blow-out to begin with. The leak has gone on for so long that governmental officials are now taking unprecedented measures to protect the wildlife most vulnerable to its effects. Beth Buczynski reports at Care2 that official are going to dig up about 700 sea turtle nests on Alabama and Florida beaches that are at risk from the oil.

“Once the eggs have hatched, the young turtles will be released in darkness on Florida’s Atlantic beaches into oil-free water,” she writes. “Translocation of nests on this scale has never been attempted before.”

Halliburton

No matter how badly these companies treat us, it seems we can’t get rid of them. Take Halliburton. The company has latched its talons into the country and will not let go. It is second only to BP in shouldering responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon spill. As Jason Mark reports for the Earth Island Journal, just before the oil spill, Halliburton took over Boots & Coots, a company that deals with oil-well blowouts; that company now has a contract with BP to help with the relief well.

“Halliburton is essentially making money from causing the accident and then helping to repair it,” Mark writes. “Halliburton’s many-fingered tentacles is just the latest illustration of how powerful the company is.”

Wimpy Washington

Washington isn’t strong enough to fight back against that sort of corporate  power. Over the past year, energy interests have whittled down the climate change legislation to a tepid half-step. Right now it looks most likely that a bill that passes will regulate only the utilities sector.

“We believe we have compromised significantly, and we’re prepared to compromise further,” Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told Politico this week after a White House meeting on the bill.

“If you’re looking for the sorry state of American energy politics distilled into one line, there it is,” writes Jonathan Hiskes at Grist. “Kerry fights harder for clean energy than just about any national politician.”

Still, if anything passes the Senate, Washington will celebrate. As Aaron Wiener explains at the Washington Independent, “For all the disappointment among environmentalists over the repeated compromises Democrats have made on climate legislation to win over moderates, some argue that a utilities-only cap would achieve most of the goals of an economy-wide carbon pricing scheme. The question now is whether Democratic leaders in the Senate can muster 60 votes for even a weakened bill to overcome a Republican filibuster.”

Our friends abroad

On an international level, our governing bodies might be doing a better job, but not by much. Inter Press Service reports that the countries at the meeting promised to scale back taxpayer subsidies of fossil fuels. Even that promise is limited, however. “Countries agree to phase out “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” but each country decides what those are,” IPS reports. “Some countries like Japan, Australia, Italy and others have already said they don’t have any.”

And at Earth Island Journal, Ron Johnson heard a different story.

Johnson spoke to Kim Carstensen, who leads the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Climate Initiative, who compared this meeting’s report to that of the last G20 summit and found that climate issues had dropped off the radar. “There were eight references to clean energy in the final report from Pittsburgh (the last G20 Summit) and they have been completely vacuum cleaned,” he said. “That is kind of scary.”

Fight back

In situations like this, it takes massive pressure from outside to move the political apparatus forward. At AlterNet, Heetan Kalan has some ideas about how to progress—reach beyond the environmental community; enlist “doctors, nurses, public health officials and patients speaking out about the connection between consumers of coal energy and their immediate health concerns.” Kalan writes:

“After all, climate change is not solely an environmental problem — it is a human/planetary problem. If we are going to rely on a small base of environmentalists to carry us through this crisis, we are in trouble. Our spokespeople on this issue have to come from a wide spectrum of citizens and leaders.”

Certainly, they have to come from somewhere, and as Steve Benen writes at The Washington Monthly, whoever is speaking on this issue now, they’re not speaking loud enough.

“Lawmakers aren’t facing much in the way of public pressure,” he writes. “The polls look encouraging, suggesting the public is inclined to back the Democratic proposals, but that support hasn’t translated into aggressive advocacy — phone calls to lawmakers’ offices, letter-writing campaigns, district meetings, sizable rallies, etc….If engaged constituents want more, Congress will have to feel considerably more heat than they are now.”

In other words, if America wants to be free of coal, oil, gas, and the energy industry, we’re going to have to fight for it.

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: When will America be free from BP?

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

On July 4th, Americans are supposed to celebrate their independence. We may no longer have to worry about a greedy, distant monarch. But our country is still held in thrall to powerful interests that prize profit over individuals and their freedom—the energy industry comes to mind. As Jason Mark puts it at AlterNet:

“We’re in an abusive relationship and unable to leave our abuser. The plight of the people in Louisiana proves the point. Louisianans have been punched in the face by the hand that feeds them, and yet their biggest worry is that the oil and gas industry is going to walk out the door and leave them.”

Where’s the love?

It’s clear that BP, for instance, isn’t playing carefully with our country or its resources. At Mother Jones, David Corn relates the latest example of the company’s callousness. Its recovery plan had no stipulations about handling even a small storm like the one that stopped clean-up this week. It did, however, include plans to save sea life that hasn’t lived in the Gulf for millions of years. As Corn put it, the company was “prepared for walruses, not prepared for hurricanes.”

The biggest problem, of course, is that BP wasn’t prepared to handle a blow-out to begin with. The leak has gone on for so long that governmental officials are now taking unprecedented measures to protect the wildlife most vulnerable to its effects. Beth Buczynski reports at Care2 that official are going to dig up about 700 sea turtle nests on Alabama and Florida beaches that are at risk from the oil.

“Once the eggs have hatched, the young turtles will be released in darkness on Florida’s Atlantic beaches into oil-free water,” she writes. “Translocation of nests on this scale has never been attempted before.”

Halliburton

No matter how badly these companies treat us, it seems we can’t get rid of them. Take Halliburton. The company has latched its talons into the country and will not let go. It is second only to BP in shouldering responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon spill. As Jason Mark reports for the Earth Island Journal, just before the oil spill, Halliburton took over Boots & Coots, a company that deals with oil-well blowouts; that company now has a contract with BP to help with the relief well.

“Halliburton is essentially making money from causing the accident and then helping to repair it,” Mark writes. “Halliburton’s many-fingered tentacles is just the latest illustration of how powerful the company is.”

Wimpy Washington

Washington isn’t strong enough to fight back against that sort of corporate  power. Over the past year, energy interests have whittled down the climate change legislation to a tepid half-step. Right now it looks most likely that a bill that passes will regulate only the utilities sector.

“We believe we have compromised significantly, and we’re prepared to compromise further,” Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told Politico this week after a White House meeting on the bill.

“If you’re looking for the sorry state of American energy politics distilled into one line, there it is,” writes Jonathan Hiskes at Grist. “Kerry fights harder for clean energy than just about any national politician.”

Still, if anything passes the Senate, Washington will celebrate. As Aaron Wiener explains at the Washington Independent, “For all the disappointment among environmentalists over the repeated compromises Democrats have made on climate legislation to win over moderates, some argue that a utilities-only cap would achieve most of the goals of an economy-wide carbon pricing scheme. The question now is whether Democratic leaders in the Senate can muster 60 votes for even a weakened bill to overcome a Republican filibuster.”

Our friends abroad

On an international level, our governing bodies might be doing a better job, but not by much. Inter Press Service reports that the countries at the meeting promised to scale back taxpayer subsidies of fossil fuels. Even that promise is limited, however. “Countries agree to phase out “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” but each country decides what those are,” IPS reports. “Some countries like Japan, Australia, Italy and others have already said they don’t have any.”

And at Earth Island Journal, Ron Johnson heard a different story.

Johnson spoke to Kim Carstensen, who leads the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Climate Initiative, who compared this meeting’s report to that of the last G20 summit and found that climate issues had dropped off the radar. “There were eight references to clean energy in the final report from Pittsburgh (the last G20 Summit) and they have been completely vacuum cleaned,” he said. “That is kind of scary.”

Fight back

In situations like this, it takes massive pressure from outside to move the political apparatus forward. At AlterNet, Heetan Kalan has some ideas about how to progress—reach beyond the environmental community; enlist “doctors, nurses, public health officials and patients speaking out about the connection between consumers of coal energy and their immediate health concerns.” Kalan writes:

“After all, climate change is not solely an environmental problem — it is a human/planetary problem. If we are going to rely on a small base of environmentalists to carry us through this crisis, we are in trouble. Our spokespeople on this issue have to come from a wide spectrum of citizens and leaders.”

Certainly, they have to come from somewhere, and as Steve Benen writes at The Washington Monthly, whoever is speaking on this issue now, they’re not speaking loud enough.

“Lawmakers aren’t facing much in the way of public pressure,” he writes. “The polls look encouraging, suggesting the public is inclined to back the Democratic proposals, but that support hasn’t translated into aggressive advocacy — phone calls to lawmakers’ offices, letter-writing campaigns, district meetings, sizable rallies, etc….If engaged constituents want more, Congress will have to feel considerably more heat than they are now.”

In other words, if America wants to be free of coal, oil, gas, and the energy industry, we’re going to have to fight for it.

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 Change On Obama’s Back Burner

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

In his first State of the Union address, President Barack Obama touched on climate issues only briefly. He called on the Senate to pass a climate bill, but did not give Congress a deadline or promise to veto weak legislation. Nor did he mention the Copenhagen climate conference, where international negotiators struggled to produce an agreement on limiting global carbon emissions.

The Obama administration’s attitude towards climate change still represents a remarkable shift from the Bush years, when global warming was treated as little more than a fairy tale. But in the past year, Congressional squabbling has stalled climate legislation, and international negotiators nearly gridlocked in talks over carbon admissions at the multinational Copenhagen conference. Without strong leadership from the president, work to prevent this looming environmental crisis will stall.

Obama did address global warming skeptics, saying that they should support investment in clean energy, “because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.”

“And America must be that nation,” Obama said.

No push for climate bill

Despite his combative language,  the president did not challenge Congress to push for real solutions to ballooning carbon emissions and energy consumption. As Forrest Wilder of The Texas Observer notes, Obama “uttered the phrase ‘climate change’ precisely once.”

The Senate has already wait-listed the climate bill: Health care came first. With health care reform now in line behind work on jobs and bank regulation, climate legislation has little chance of passing the Senate in the coming months, let alone making it to the president’s desk.

If Congress lets this work wait until after the midterm elections, the United States will show up at international negotiations in December 2010 as a leader in carbon emissions yet again, but with little in hand to show a way forward.

Clean energy, not renewable energy

When the president did bring up climate issues, he focused on their connection between climate reform and potential job creation. Obama highlighted areas for growth, not in renewable energy fields like wind or solar power, but in nuclear power, natural gas, and clean coal.

Yes, these fuel sources could decrease the country’s carbon emissions. But they are not solutions that will revolutionize energy production. Grist’s David Roberts was floored that the speech omitted renewable energy entirely and kowtowed to a more conservative litany of energy projects. “I suppose it was done to flatter conservative Senators that will have to vote for the bill Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham are working on,” he writes. (The three Senators are working on a version of the climate bill designed to appeal to Republicans.)

“But the SOTU is not a policy negotiation,” Roberts says. “It’s a bully pulpit, a chance to shape rather than respond to existing narratives.”

Roberts argues that progressive supporters would benefit from a stronger message. If activists knew that the White House stands behind a real shift in America’s energy policy, they could use that prompt to drive action on climate change.

What was missing

While touting the virtues of off-shore drilling, Obama overlooked other policies that could broker real change. Although he admonished Congress to pass a climate bill, he did not pressure the legislature on what he’d like that bill to include. He did not mention cap-and-trade, the mechanism the House bill relies on to tamp down emissions and dirty energy use.

President Obama did touch on transportation reforms that could decrease the country’s use of fossil fuels.

“There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains,”  Obama said. He cited a high-speed rail project that broke ground on Tuesday in Tampa, FL, as evidence that America could best the rest of the world in creating new energy-efficient technology.

But one or two high-profile projects won’t be enough to challenge Europe’s network of high-speed trains or China’s investments in solar power. The White House could put the country at the forefront of sustainable technologies, but it’ll take more money than the president has committed. In AlterNet’s ideal state of the union, projects like the railway would merit sustained attention and funding. Funding for the high-speed train came from this year’s stimulus bill, and there’s no guarantee that similar projects will find federal funding in the future.

“Continued support is still needed” for green jobs and clean energy, Alternet’s editorial staff argues. “It’s unclear yet how Obama’s new proposal for a three-year spending freeze will apply to this sector, but a boost is what is needed, not cuts.”

Green jobs

Michelle Chen argues for In These Times that the president is right to subordinate climate issues to economic policy. “The jobs angle is more than sugar-coating,” she says. A recent Pew Research Center poll put climate change at the end of Americans’ long list of cares, and a Brookings Institution study found that they’re no longer willing to pay as much for greener products.

Jobless workers need green in their pockets most of all, and so far politicians’ promises haven’t made up for the slack economy.

“No matter how slick the marketing, confidence in green jobs may wilt even further absent real investments in the beleaguered blue-collar workforce,” Chen writes.

Copenhagen accord losing momentum

The small role that climate change played in the state of the union address only emphasized the downward momentum of the issue since the United Nations conference on global warming in Copenhagen. Grist’s Jonathan Hiskes talked to six leaders in climate change activism, and none of them offered a different strategy than they had last year.

That same stasis is showing up in Europe, as well. Spain, which currently leads the European Union, proposed that the European Union’s negotiating position should remain the same as its position before the Copenhagen conference, according to Inter Press Service.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who’s working on climate change legislation in the Senate, offered advice to climate activists at a clean energy forum in Washington, DC on Wednesday. Mother JonesKate Sheppard reports that Sen. Kerry encouraged his audience to get angrier, louder, and more active, in the mode of the conservative Tea Partiers, who have earned plenty of attention. After his speech, he also recalled the tactics that pushed landmark legislation like the Clean Air Act through Congress.

If climate change is going to play a larger role in the next state of the union, the citizens and groups concerned about this issue need to do something to put it on the agenda. Otherwise, next year, the president may find it just as easy to skim over it again.

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: Solar Power Flares Up

By Raquel Brown, TMC Mediawire Blogger

For a long time, only the economic elite could afford the hefty cost of solar energy. But in recent years, creative and affordable solar power technologies have been developed, creating a truly viable fossil fuel alternative.

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