What follows is an archive of Bill Becker’s articles, blogs, and video.
L. Hunter Lovins & Bill Becker
This interview and discussion with the participants of the 2016 Climate Knowledge Brokers workshop at NREL in Golden, Colorado explores the intricacies in connecting effectively with lawmakers and decision makers on climate issues.
Experts in sustainable finance and climate policy, including Hunter Lovins, joined together at The Alliance Center to discuss what could be a pivotal climate change mitigation strategy: putting a price on carbon. With Bill Becker, Mark Reynolds, and Congresswoman Diana DeGette as moderator.
The first event of the year hosted by the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado was a sold-out event! In case you missed out, check out the full length video here! It was a great evening with one incredible panel: Hunter Lovins, Governor Bill Ritter, Senator Tim Wirth, and Bill Becker!
Mountain Town News
An agreement was struck at the Paris climate talks that may in the future be seen as a turning point in the effort to stall the worst of climate change impacts. But it wasn’t easy, as former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth illustrated in a story he told Tuesday in Denver.
Wirth has been engaged in climate change issues since 1974, when he was first elected to Congress, and then later, in 1997, was the chief U.S. negotiator at Kyoto.
Paris succeeded largely because of two reasons, he said. One was the decision to reach agreement with a bottoms-up approach, instead of the top-down approach used before, with the developed countries telling the developing countries what must happen.
Also crucial to success in Paris was the agreement struck between the U.S. and China and announced by President Barack Obama in November 2014. The United States and Chinese have “very real, very important” differences that cannot be understated, said Wirth. But in the vital issue of climate change, committed Chinese and American representatives put together the deal that showed commitment by the world’s two largest polluters.
This was our first in a series of dialogues aimed at taking Pope Francis’ Encyclical to Action. It was a wonderful evening with an amazing panel of speakers. We all went home motivated to craft the strategy necessary for change!
Expect the Court to side with the old saw that “all’s fair in love and war.” After all, this is the Court whose majority ruled that dark money is free speech, corporations are people, and the Constitution is a flak vest for pretenders who lie about being decorated war heroes.
Wouldn’t the world be a better place if political candidates were held accountable for lies, intentional distortions, character assassination and over-the-line hyperbole? And wouldn’t it be interesting if entire industries were held to the same higher standard?
For example, the coal industry and its supporters accuse the Obama administration of waging a war on coal. They cite EPA’s intention to limit climate-altering carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. But as I’ve written before, the administration is not warring against coal; it’s warring against global climate change. It would be closer to the truth to accuse the coal industry of warring against our children’s future.
Another example of corporate distortion is coming from the nuclear power industry in its new Nuclear Matters campaign. The campaign’s leaders, who include several former public officials, are promoting nuclear energy as critical to cutting the nation’s carbon emissions. Read more »
4 March 2014
I know the questions our children will ask
When they stop long enough to think of the past.
Was there ever a summer when heat didn’t kill,
ever a harvest when the grain bins were filled?
Was there ever a time when we didn’t fear rain,
When the skies were not angry and the rivers were tame?
Was there ever a year when no species were lost
to what people did without measuring the cost?
Was there ever a time when nature was kind,
when we thought of her warmly as a friend of mankind?
Did the breezes blow lightly, did spring come with grace,
did the snow ever fall at a far gentler pace?
Was there plenty of water? Was it cool, clean and clear?
Did you know that one day it might not be here?
Was our soil ever fertile rather than spent?
Were our forests majestic, were people content?
Did you know that despite all the world’s demarcations
that we were much more than separate nations?
Did you know you were linked to every thing else,
profoundly connected to more than your self?
Did you ever acknowledge the realization
that God made us stewards, not kings of creation?
Did you ever imagine the world you could build
beyond making sure that your gas tanks were filled?
Did you think of the health of our generation
or only of pleasure and gratification?
Did you know of the heights that humans could reach
when “better angels” were more than just figures of speech?
Did you work for a time there would be no more war,
no cruelty, bloodshed or hopelessly poor?
Did you work for a world that was better than yours
where life had more meaning than settling scores?
Did you reach out to save it as it slipped away,
or ignore all the changes that were underway?
Did you ever regret the pain you begat?
Did you realize that you all were better than that?
Did you think of your duty to all of the years
our forefathers sacrificed blood, sweat and tears
to build a new nation and work to conceive
a great civilization where people agreed
that we all have a contract– a duty to leave
a future the Founders most surely believed
was within our power and will to achieve?
Our scientists told us what we had to know:
We were crossing a line where we shouldn’t go.
Did you fight the deniers who said at the brink,
“You can lead us to science, but you can’t make us think.”
Did you hope that our God would show up to save us
when you failed to use the brains that he gave us?
Now the world you enjoyed is out of our reach.
We’ve slipped down humanity’s hierarchy of needs.
As Fuller once said with the greatest conviction,
We are here as world builders, not as its victims.
But we can’t be builders if we’re nonchalant;
We have to commit to the future we want.
Your lifestyles and worldview exacted great cost
but we’ll do all we can to regain what was lost.
The torch that you passed us had nearly gone out.
We’ll light it again so our kids have no doubt
that we loved them, our duty to them carried out.
5 February 2014
In 1934 when the FBI asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, he reportedly answered, “Because that’s where the money is.”
Today, if you ask an investor in the fossil energy sector to be candid about why he is robbing our children’s future, he would give the same response: That’s where the money is.
Whether we’re talking about government subsidies, or buying stock, or wildcatting for oil, or shoveling coal, or destroying a wetland for economic development, we are investing in things that degrade the future, squander natural capital, and spend our children’s inheritance.
That needs to change not only for moral reasons, but also because investments in things that hurt us tend to become bad bets. The increasing risk of investing in companies that help create climate change or whose profits are threatened by it is the reason the Securities and Exchange Commission wants companies to publicly report their climate risks each year and why most companies apparently don’t want to. Read more »
21 January 2014
If you thought that the climate action plan President Obama announced last June contained a complete global warming agenda for the next three years, think again. There are few more things he can do.
Two hundred more things, to be precise.
In a Washington D.C. news conference, former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter released a long menu of new ideas for the President’s consideration. The ideas, collected in a report called Powering Forward, were presented to the White House last week. They were developed by Ritter’s Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University (CNEE) in consultations with more than 100 U.S. thought leaders over the last 10 months. (Full disclosure: I work for the Center.)
The President’s in-basket is filled with recommendations from NGOs and interest groups, particularly just before his annual State of the Union address, but in this case a meeting with Obama inspired the idea-gathering exercise. Last March, Ritter was one of a group of 14 people, mostly corporate CEOs, invited to the White House to discuss energy policy with the President and his team.
Ritter was called out of the room for a few minutes. When he came back, the other members of the group had “elected” him to lead the effort to engage experts in five areas: energy efficiency, renewable energy financing, new business models for utilities, responsible natural gas production, and alternative fuels and vehicles.
After months of research, roundtables and peer reviews involving experts and corporate leaders, the result is more than 200 recommendations the Administration could implement without further action by Congress. Read more »
17 January 2014
President Obama’s designation of five localities as Promise Zones is the latest in a long history of efforts by his predecessors to wage the war on poverty in communities where the war is needed most.
It’s a good idea, if it is done well. It would make little sense to put new financial resources into the same strategies and power structures that have created and perpetuated the poverty that exists in parts of the United States today.
The Promise Zone initiative is starting small. Federal resources permitting, it has the potential to be a productive new campaign in the war on poverty that President Lyndon Johnson declared a half-century ago. It is reminiscent of the Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Zone programs under the Clinton Administration. Then as now, the idea was to give special tax breaks and treatment in grant competitions to neighborhoods, communities and regions that are struggling economically and socially.
Today, however, there are new factors in the mix. One is global warming. Its impacts often stress the communities and people least able to cope because they lack resources. The resources in insufficient supply are not only money, but also “natural capital” including important ecosystem services that have disappeared because of environmental degradation. Those services range from flood control to water purification. One way to address poverty is to help communities restore their natural capital. Read more »
19 December 2013 | Conversations with Great Minds - Media's coverage of climate change? by Thom Hartmann
The Big Picture (YouTube)
19 December 2013
Climate change is the greatest threat our planet has ever faced – and we need to take action now to prevent the situation from getting any worse. But will there ever be enough political will to put the policies in place that are needed to save the future of the only planet we can call home? We’ll ask William Becker – Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project – in tonight’s special Conversations with Great Minds
19 December 2013
The international community is on a runaway coal train, the train is speeding toward a terrible wreck, and there appears to be no way to stop it. That, minus the metaphor, is the picture painted by the latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). It predicts that the use of coal – the dirtiest of the fuels causing global warming – will continue growing at a “relentless pace” in the years ahead.
Absent some technology that does not yet exist at the level of maturity and scale to slow the train, it follows that carbon emissions will grow relentlessly too and so will the impacts of global climate change.
On top of the physical damage, there will be some substantial economic damage farther down the track, a topic not addressed in the IEA report. Many of the countries important to the future of the global economy are at highest risk from climate change. Many of same countries are producing, importing, exporting and burning more coal, increasing their risk even more. The irony is that they are burning coal for economic development and in doing so, they are committing econocide by carbon. Unfortunately, in our shared atmosphere and global economy we all are along for the ride. Read more »
29 September 2013
The latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tell us what we’ve been told several times before, except with a greater degree of certainty. Climate change is real and we had better stop burning carbon soon if we want to avoid a future in which we suffer in biblical proportions.
The IPCC is like a doctor who gives us a checkup every few years. Time after time, the diagnosis is the same except more certain and the prognosis is the same except more urgent. We are the patients who either refuse to believe it, or believe it and refuse to stop the behavior that makes us sick. The majority of us, it seems, would rather listen to beer commercials than the news because the news is getting pretty bad.
The latest report from this largest of all scientific enterprises is said to be conservative in its findings. Yet, its conclusions are not reassuring. “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” the scientists report, “and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.” To be more specific:
• “The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.”
• “Human influence on the climate system is clear… Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes… It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” Read more »
23 September 2013
Is President Obama waging a war on coal? That’s the allegation from the coal industry and its champions in Congress as the Administration cracks down on carbon pollution.
The “war on coal” theme came up again last week when the Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft rule to limit carbon emissions from power plants. But who’s warring whom? Let’s think about this.
The evolution of the U.S. economy – of any robust economy, in fact – is a story of invention and obsolescence. New technology comes along; old technology fades away. The people who depend on the old technology don’t like it. Until they adjust, they are victims of progress.
So it is with coal. The coal industry, including the black-faced, black-lunged miners who risk their lives every day to keep our lights on, deserves enormous credit for where we are today: one of the world’s most prosperous people.
But two new realities have emerged that are redefining progress: Coal is the dirtiest of the fuels responsible for global climate change, and we are finding much better ways to keep the lights on. The idea that the Obama Administration is waging a war against coal is like accusing Henry Ford of making war against buggy whips, or Apple of warring against conventional phones and typewriters. EPA’s new rules aren’t designed to kill the coal industry; they are a challenge for the industry to get clean or get gone. Read more »
10 September 2013
The next report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), due to be released later this month, may cause some heat of its own according to The New York Times.
The Times’ staff has seen a leaked copy of the document. It contains a potential controversy over the IPCC’s newest estimates of how much warming and how much damage we can expect by the end of this century.
Reporter Justin Gillis writes that the draft embraces the most conservative end of the damage spectrum created by the predictions of various climate scientists. For example, the IPCC so far has decided to assume 3 feet of sea level rise instead of 5 feet, and less than 3 degrees of atmospheric temperature increase instead of 5 degrees.
Gillis speculates that the IPCC’s history of being bullied might prompt the panel to err on the side of low-balling its projections.
“The group has been subjected to attack in recent years by climate skeptics,” he notes. “The intimidation tactics have included abusive language on blogs, comparisons to the Unabomber, e-mail hacking and even occasional death threats. Who could blame the panel if it wound up erring on the side of scientific conservatism?” Read more »
11 June 2013
As Mother Jones and others are pointing out, there was a significant change in President Obama’s message when he gave his landmark climate speech last month. When he spoke about climate change at all during his first term, it was mostly about jobs. In his June 25 speech, it was mostly about morality – his moral imperative as president and father.That is an important shift in focus in the public arena and a possible preview for how global climate disruption should be made a campaign issue in next year’s mid-term elections. It will be another opportunity to sweep obstructionists out of Congress and to replace them with leaders who recognize their moral obligation to confront climate change head on.
This Congress is in unapologetic contempt of the American families who have been burned and flooded out of their homes; the elderly and ill who are succumbing to heat waves, now America’s No. 1 weather-related killer; and the farmers in the bread belt whose crops, animals and livelihoods have turned to dust.
Read more »
Ever since President Obama made his statement about the Keystone XL pipeline on June 25, editorial writers, climate-action activists and Canadian officials have been speculating about the significance of what he said. We are picking through his words like tealeaf readers.
The President’s staff reportedly feels that the President’s statement was straightforward and that all the speculation is fascinating. But for those optimists among us who want to believe President Obama is finally ready to tackle the climate issue, it sounded as though some very important precedents might be taking shape in the White House.
Here’s what the President said:
Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.
Here is what we might read between the lines: Read more »
23 June 2013
Email and Twitter are flooded with joyful electrons in anticipation of President Obama’s big speech on global climate change, scheduled for Tuesday at Georgetown University.
The legions who have worked so hard to push global warming to the top of the national agenda will have reason to celebrate if the President announces, in his words, a “national plan to reduce carbon pollution, prepare our country for the impacts of climate change, and lead global efforts to fight it.”
Before the dancing begins, however, a few words of perspective are in order. Read more »
19 June 2013
The Obama Administration has unleashed its highly educated prognosticators to develop a new math for the Anthropocene. It attempts to count things we haven’t counted before. It also attempts to count things that haven’t happened yet but that might and probably will.
Get ready for the carbon lobby to brand this as heresy.
Here’s some background: Congress has failed to put a price on carbon. There’s no sign it intends to do so. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has developed a systematic way to estimate the “social cost of carbon” or SCC – in other words, the climate impacts of government policies on future generations. Agencies are using the SCC methodology to estimate the climate benefits of federal rules.
Here’s how EPA explains it:
The SCC is meant to be a comprehensive estimate of climate change damages and includes changes in net agricultural productivity, human health and property damages from increased flood risk. However, it does not include all important damages….The models used to develop SCC estimates do not assign value to all of the important physical, ecological and economic impacts of climate change recognized in the climate change literature because of a lack of precise information on the nature of damages and because the science incorporated into these models lags behind the most recent research.
9 June 2013
Since international negotiations on global climate change began, it has been the case that the two countries most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions today – the United States and China – could lead the world on the issue if they could agree with one another.
They haven’t gotten there yet, but they took a meaningful step last Saturday when Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping agreed to cooperate on phasing out the use of HFCs – a class of potent greenhouse gases used as refrigerants and in industrial processes.
The description of the agreement released by the White House notes that “a global phase down of HFCs could potentially reduce some 90 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2050, equal to roughly two years worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions”. Read more »
As Republicans soul-search about how to align themselves with the contemporary values and concerns of the American people, global climate change apparently remains verboten. In fact, the GOP is moving farther away from its own voters on the issue, not to mention the new voters it hopes to attract.
That makes last Tuesday’s election of Mark Sanford to the House of Representatives even more interesting. As governor of South Carolina in 2007, Sanford was one of several Republican governors who acknowledged anthropogenic climate change and argued that it could be addressed with conservative market-based solutions.
Sanford’s election to the House already is a fascinating story – a dramatic come-from-behind victory and a dramatic comeback for a man who left his governorship in disgrace. He won this week without the support of the Republican National Campaign Committee, but with the backing of the Tea Party Express.
Therein lies a climate-related subplot. Three years ago, the Tea Party helped defeat another Republican congressman from South Carolina — Bob Inglis – after he acknowledged the reality of global warming. Sanford will have to stand for reelection again next year. Will he be intimidated by the Tea Party and the ideological militancy of the Republican Party, and flip-flop on climate change?
Or will he begin restoring his integrity by remaining true to his past position and joining the small group of Republicans who recognize that ignoring climate change is one of the issues that makes the GOP look like “the stupid party“? Read more »
With the exception of Alfred E. Newman and those who are taking advantage of legalized pot, we Americans are very good worriers. We are even able to worry about several things at once. It’s a kind of emotional multi-tasking and we do it all the time.
Nevertheless, it’s a skill that President Obama consistently underestimates when he talks about the politics of global climate change. The most recent example came in his meeting earlier this month with high-net-worth supporters in San Francisco. As the New York Times reported it, the President lamented that the politics of the environment are “tough”.
“You may be concerned about the temperature of the planet, but it’s probably not your No. 1 concern,” the Times quoted him as saying. “And if people think, well, that’s shortsighted, that’s what happens when you’re struggling to get by.”
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27 March 2013
Would the Keystone XL pipeline make America more secure or less? What contribution would it make, if any, to stabilizing our energy supplies or keeping us out of messes elsewhere in the world? Would it have an adverse impact on global climate disruption, or no impact at all? Informed people want to know.
Unfortunately, some of the pipeline’s supporters are fogging up the issue with deceptive numbers and claims, including vastly inflated job estimates and assurances that the pipeline would make America more secure.
Not according to the people who know security best, including high-ranking retired American military leaders who are no longer gagged by their uniforms.
Among those invoking national security are 14 Republicans from the House of Representatives who wrote to President Obama to argue that his rejection of the project would raise “dire national security concerns” by prolonging our dependence on oil from countries like Venezuela. Read more »
On March 19, The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its new report card on the condition of America’s infrastructure. Overall, our infrastructure in 16 categories ranging from bridges to water systems earned only a D+. ASCE estimates the United States needs to invest $3.6 trillion by 2020 to bring America’s infrastructure up to good repair.
Among these systems are several that are critical to reducing the loss of life and property from the growing impacts of global climate change. Dams were graded D; levees earned only a D-; waste water and storm water control systems also were given a D. Drinking water and energy infrastructure – both vulnerable to extreme weather events – received a D and D+ respectively.
The bad news is that the cost of bringing these engineered systems up to par comes at a time when government budgets at all levels are strained, if not in crisis. The good news is that some of the services we receive from engineered systems can be provided instead by natural systems if we restore and protect them.
Ecosystems perform a wide variety of important services for free. Trees provide shade, purify air and water, and store carbon. Wetlands regulate flooding. Coastal marshes buffer communities from storm surges. Forests and soils store carbon as well as water. Many of these ecosystems have been degraded or destroyed by human development. Now, communities need to put nature back to work.
I asked three of the United States’ premier experts on ecosystem services about these issues. The first is Keith Bowers, president of Biohabitats Inc. in Baltimore. Mr. Bowers is working on conservation, restoration and regenerative design projects across the United States, from Fairbanks, Alaska to the Big Cypress Swamp in Florida. The second expert is Dr. Bob Costanza, the ecological economist who coauthored one of the first assessments of the economic value of global ecosystem services. The third expert is Prof. Ed Barbier, a prolific author and blogger on the topic and a professor of economics at the University of Wyoming.
Bill Becker (Q): It has been our practice in the United States not to value things we can’t count – particularly things we don’t think have monetary value. A great deal of work has been underway in recent years to express the value of ecosystem services in monetary units so we can quantify their benefits in terms that everyone understands. What’s the status of that work? Read more »
As debate heats up again over the Keystone XL pipeline, each side will drop cluster bombs of data on why President Obama should or should not allow the project to proceed. The conventional arguments can be summarized in two words: jobs and carbon.
There are much bigger issues to consider, however. They include Obama’s credibility in the fight against climate disruption, the United States’ credibility in international climate negotiations, and whether the president’s “all of the above” energy policy will destroy any chance we have to prevent catastrophic changes in the world’s climate.
Before considering those issues, let’s touch on jobs and carbon.
Jobs: Proponents claim the project will create 20,000 direct construction and manufacturing jobs in the United States, plus 100,000 indirect and “induced” jobs. In its latest environmental impact analysis, the State Department puts the number at 5,000 to 6,000 direct jobs during the two years it takes to build the pipeline. Read more »
|ALSO POSTED BY:
Huffington Post & Think Progress
21 February 2013 & 20 February 2013
It has not taken long for Barack Obama to face the first big test of his resolve on combatting global climate disruption.
That test is the Keystone Pipeline, which would carry one of the dirtiest of all fossil fuels from the tar sands of Canada to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Obama ultimately is “the decider” on whether or not to let the pipeline proceed.
A great deal has been written about the pros and cons of Keystone, including competing claims about its impacts on jobs, the environment, gasoline prices and so on. There is strong evidence that the money would be better invested in clean energy and associated jobs.
However, too little has been written about the moral dimension of Obama’s decision. That dimension is succinctly described by K.C. Golden, the policy director at Climate Solutions. He calls it the “Keystone Principle”:
We cannot abide any major federal action that results in long-term capital investments that lock in emission trajectories that make catastrophic climate disruption inevitable. More simply, we have much patient work to do over many decades to make it better, but we must immediately stop making it worse. We are in the “era of consequences” now. Each month brings new pictures of the victims. Today and every day from here forward, we can pledge ourselves to this and demand it of the Obama Administration: We will not allow major new investments in making climate disruption worse. Read more »
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13 January 2013
Barack Obama is very likely the last American president who can keep us from plunging helplessly off the climate cliff. Judging by his Inaugural and State of the Union speeches, he gets that.
It has been a long time coming.
Lyndon Johnson was the first president on record to be warned that unless our energy policies changed, climate change would become apparent, and perhaps irreversible, by the turn of the century. In 1965, Johnson’s panel of science advisors told him:
By the year 2000 there will be about 25% more CO2 in the atmosphere than at present. This will modify the heat balance of the atmosphere to such an extent that marked changes in climate, not controllable through local or even national efforts, could occur. Now, 48 years and eight presidents later, climate disruption is accelerating more quickly than most scientists predicted. U.S. energy policy is still dominated by denial, by the political influence of fossil energy industries, and by Congress’s negligent disregard for climate science. The growing consensus now is that the world is locked in to global temperature increases well above the 2 degrees Centigrade that scientists say would give us an even chance of avoiding the worst impacts of global warming.
In 2009, Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warned that global greenhouse gas emissions must begin to decline by 2015 if we are to keep climate disruption from spinning beyond control.
“It is not enough to set any aspirational goal for 2050,” he said. “It is critically important that we bring about a commitment to reduce emissions effectively by 2020.”
That threshold year –2015 – is happening on Obama’s watch. Read more »
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4 February 2013
There’s no question that when it comes to fixing national problems, Congress has bigger power tools than the President of the United States. But the President is not powerless. He has a variety of authorities conferred by the Constitution, validated by the courts, implied by tradition or delegated by Congress.
Nor does President Obama lack ideas on how to use those tools, especially on the topic of climate disruption. Since he announced in his Inaugural address that confronting climate change will be one his priorities in the second term, Obama has been bombarded with recommendations from outside groups.
He has tools. He has ideas. The next question is how aggressively he’ll use them. Several factors will be in play: his philosophy of government, competition from other issues on how he spends his political capital, his relationship with Congress or what he wants it to be, whether climate disruption has become a gut issue for him, and whether he has the support of the American people. More about that later.
Many of the President’s tools are well known, and the Obama Administration used a number of them on climate and energy issues during his first term. There’s the veto. There’s each president’s authority to appoint the smartest people in the country to lend their expertise in key government posts. There’s the power of the bully pulpit, used so successfully by past presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy to rally the nation to big achievements. Read more »
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22 & 23 January 2013
With a new foreign policy team about to join the Obama Administration and with the possibility of budget cuts for the Department of Defense, are changes ahead in how the United States approaches national security? That question is on the minds of thought leaders in the security and defense communities. In the discussion, a novel idea is emerging: that sustainable development at home is a critical dimension of America’s foreign policy and national security strategy. (For examples, see here and here.)
One of the thought leaders is Marine Colonel Mark “Puck” Mykleby. Before retiring from the Marine Corps in 2011, he served as a special strategic assistant to the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen. While in that post, Mykleby and his colleague, Navy Captain Wayne Porter, proposed a new vision for a 21st Century American grand strategy in a paper entitled “A National Strategic Narrative.” They suggested that the U.S. needs to build security through sustainable development at home, creating the credibility and influence to lead the world down a more lasting peace and prosperity. That path, they suggested, is less expensive and more effective than investing solely in the traditional tools of foreign policy, which have been mostly dominated by military power.
I asked Col. Mykleby about these and other issues facing President Obama in his second term. The resulting interview is long but well worth reading. It offers a fresh approach to national security from someone who has served at the highest levels of the U.S. military.
Bill Becker: As Congress and the President hammer out an agreement to cut federal spending, what are your concerns about the impact on our military effectiveness and national security? Can we save money without sacrificing security?
Colonel Mark “Puck” Mykleby: To be honest, I’m not too concerned about our long-term military effectiveness. We have the finest, most professional, best-equipped, and most lethal military force the world has ever seen. I don’t think that is going to change anytime soon, with or without budget cuts. I say this simply because I believe the quality of our military is mostly tied to the quality of our people (and the quality of their training). I’m not saying budget cuts won’t be painful, but we need to have some historical perspective on this. Our national defense budget historically has been cyclical; it looks like a sine wave. We’ve survived budget cuts before; we’ll survive them again. During my career in the Marine Corps, we never seemed to have enough “stuff.” That’s why I always found it useful to remember the words of former Marine Corps Commandant General Al Gray, “Fight with what you’ve got; make what you need.” Read more »
9 January 2013
Imagine this: You live in beautiful house with the best of everything. However, when you turn on your faucets, only one-fifth of the water you pay for comes out. The rest leaks from bad plumbing onto your basement floor.
That describes America’s situation with energy. Only 13% of the energy we burn results in useful work. The rest is wasted by inefficiencies in buildings, power plants, infrastructure, transportation systems and equipment. Much of it ends up as pollution.
Just as a responsible householder would fix his plumbing, a responsible nation would fix the leaks in its energy economy. Responsible businesses are figuring this out and are saving money with green energy, including greater efforts to get more work out of every energy dollar, cutting their greenhouse gas emissions in the process.
I discussed this recently with Hunter Lovins, one of the world’s leading experts on the business case for sustainable energy. Hunter, who Newsweek has called “the green business icon,” co-authored Brittle Power: Energy Strategy for National Security in 1982; Natural Capitalism: The Next Industrial Revolution in 2010; and Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change with Boyd Cohen in 2011, now available in paperback as The Way Out: Kick-Starting Capitalism to Save Our Economic Ass.
In her latest book, Hunter writes:
Believe in climate change. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter. But you’d better understand this: the best route to rebuilding our economy, our cities, and our job markets, as well as assuring national security, is doing precisely what you would do if you were scared to death about climate change. Whether you’re the head of a household or the CEO of a multinational corporation, embracing efficiency, innovation, renewables, carbon markets, and new technologies is the smartest decision you can make. It’s the most profitable, too. And, oh yes — you’ll help save the planet.
This post was a two-part interview in Huffington Post.
Bill Becker: In his first news conference after the election, President Obama said he’d like a national conversation on combating global climate change. However, he suggested — and I’ll paraphrase him here — that the conversation needs to address the job and economic benefits of climate action, because that’s foremost on the minds of the American people. You’ve worked with companies around the world on the business case for reducing their carbon emissions. What kind of reception have you found?
Hunter Lovins: A warm one. Smart companies recognize that the best way to cut their carbon emissions is to cut their use of energy through implementing cost-effective energy efficiency, because this cuts their costs. Read more »
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19 December 2012
Superstorm Sandy may be remembered years from now as the pivot point in the United States’ response to global climate change. Politically speaking, Sandy’s true power was not its wind and water; it was the fact that it hit the principal center of America’s population, financial institutions and media.
It was another wake-up call, but with more people in high places hearing the alarm. Network news anchors are now acknowledging that climate change may be the common denominator in all the weird and destructive weather we’ve seen in recent years. Mitt Romney’s view that we don’t need FEMA is now unthinkable, and Congress should be getting the message that climate change is a budget buster — that investments in mitigation are far cheaper than paying for damages.
The Paul Reveres of climate change may find New Yorkers and New Jersyans joining their ranks. This is a case where “fugetaboutit” should become “do something about it.” Read more »
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13 December 2012
For those of us concerned about the future of the United States in an era of global climate change and international competition over diminishing natural resources, the new report from the National Intelligence Council (NIC) contains goods news and bad news.
The good news: The NIC predicts that in a “likely tectonic shift” the United States could become energy independent in the next 10 years. That’s a goal we’ve been trying to achieve since the oil embargoes of the 1970s.
The bad news: The NIC predicts we’ll get there by increasing our addiction to fossil fuels. In other words, we’ll stop importing oil but we’ll export more greenhouse gases and make ourselves more vulnerable to rising seas and weather disasters. Surprisingly, the nation’s top intelligence agency doesn’t directly acknowledge this rather important trade-off. Read more »
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29 November 2012
This is the last in a three-part post about what the Atlantic Coast can learn in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy from victims of past natural disasters.
When it comes to solving problems, elected officials are inclined to support solutions that allow people to keep behaving as they always have, but with less damage. That’s how it has been with America’s response to weather-related disasters.
It’s a response that won’t work anymore. America’s experience with weather disasters over the past century proves that the least political risk often imposes the greatest physical and financial risks. What’s more, as federal disaster policies are structured today, all taxpayers are helping insure people who choose to live in harm’s way and all of us share the cost of cleaning up the messes after disasters occur.
It’s questionable whether these policies can be sustained politically; it’s almost certain they can’t be sustained financially. There is a dangerous confluence of factors coming together like a super storm. At the same time we are experiencing more extreme weather and after years of destroying natural systems that once protected us, our disaster prevention infrastructure is aging and funds to fix it are scarce.
To be clearer, the natural disasters I refer to in this post are not really natural. They are the extreme weather events influenced by anthropogenic climate change, made worse by the destruction of ecosystems and by poor building practices, and made more deadly by people’s insistence on living and working in known hazard areas. They include floods, heat waves, extreme storms, hurricanes, drought and wildfires. Read more »
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28 November 2012
This is the second in a three-part post about what the Atlantic Coast can learn in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy from victims of other natural disasters.
In 1993, flooding on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers produced one of the country’s worst natural disasters at the time, killing 50 people and causing $15 billion in damages. Hundreds of flood control levees failed in nine Midwestern states. Parts of the region remained underwater for five months.
When floodwaters finally began to subside, pubic television aired a movie about Soldiers Grove’s relocation to higher ground (see Part 1). People in several of the communities destroyed by “The Great Flood of 1993” saw the movie and tracked me down where I was working at the time — the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) — to ask for advice as they considered moving out of the floodplain. Read more »
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27 November 2012
This is the first in a three-part post about the potential for sustainable recovery along the Atlantic Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
As the communities on the East Coast contemplate rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy, here is a story they might consider. I’ve told it before. It seems like a good time to tell it again.
In the late 1970s, a small community in Wisconsin made a big decision. The Village of Soldiers Grove decided that when people and nature come into conflict, it’s sometimes better for people to get out of the way.
A little history is necessary. From its founding in 1856, the Soldiers Grove had been a river town. It was built on the banks of the Kickapoo River, a 126-mile-long tributary of the Wisconsin River in the southwestern corner of the state.
Being “river rats”, as the townspeople liked to call themselves, made sense then. The river furnished mechanical power for the village’s principal industry, a sawmill, and provided an easy way to transport logs cut from the forested hillsides upstream. The Kickapoo eventually provided the village with electricity, too. Read more »
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19 November 2012
In his first post-election news conference, President Obama made clear that his concern about global climate change will not push the economy and jobs off the top of his priority list.
“If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader,” he said, “I think that’s something that the American people would support.”
Before 24 hours passed, a nonpartisan group in Washington D.C. – the Center for Climate Strategies (CCS) – issued a detailed, data-rich report that shows climate action meets the President’s test. It will indeed advance economic growth and create jobs. Moreover, it will significantly improve America’s energy security.
The CCS report gives Obama some good news to share with Americans who have been victimized by extreme weather, as well as those who are victims of the recession. It also gives his Administration some good news for the international community when it meets later this month in Doha, Qatar, to continue work on a global climate treaty. In the past, the United States has been regarded as a laggard in cutting carbon emissions.
CCS – a diverse group of experts best known for helping states create and develop broad support for climate action plans – said its economic and energy modeling shows the United States is on a trajectory to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 23% by 2020, compared to estimates in 2005 by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Sliced another way, we’re on the path to achieving nearly 70% of President Obama’s goal for carbon emission reductions by 2020. Read more »
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6 November 2012
That observation by Charles Darwin has interesting implications in these last weeks of the presidential election campaign. It suggests that both candidates may be missing what’s most important to keeping America safe, strong and competitive in the years ahead.
Jobs, education, tax reform and energy security all are important, of course. But the key to America’s success will be our willingness to adapt to the new realities of the 21st century.
One of those realities is that economic development as we have practiced it, and as it is now being replicated around the world, is rapidly pushing us toward several critical ecological boundaries and has already exceeded others. These boundaries are important not only because they threaten some species and some regions of the world; they’re important because exceeding them is an existential threat to continued peace and prosperity. These are not the relatively isolated and repairable environmental problems of the past. They involve global systems that support life, including the oceans, soils and freshwater resources. They also include the atmosphere’s ability to absorb man-made pollution without destabilizing the climate. The most available way to manage that risk is to reduce and eventually stop burning oil and coal to fuel economic development. Read more »
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19 October 2012
While energy got some airtime in the second presidential debate, neither candidate hit at the weakest spots in the other’s positions. Mitt Romney’s energy platform ignores the substantial downsides of fossil fuels and reveals a misunderstanding of how the rea
l world works. President Obama has presided over a national energy strategy that he admits is a “hodgepodge”.
This is a topic that deserves far more attention before Nov. 6. After all, we all use energy. We all pay for it. We all breathe its pollution. We all depend on it to be there when we need it. If there is one issue that affects every American of every age, place and income level, it’s energy.
Here are the some of the details that didn’t come out in the debate, starting with a look at Gov. Romney’s policies, then Obama’s:
The energy paper the Romney campaign released in August presumably is the definitive statement of his energy plans. He proposes that the United States achieve energy independence by 2020 by producing more oil, coal and natural gas. What we couldn’t produce ourselves, we’d import from Canada and Mexico. Read more »
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22 October 2012
An ongoing argument in the presidential election campaign is whether Gov. Romney’s or President Obama’s positions are better for small businesses on issues such as government regulation and energy policy. I asked David Levine for his opinion.
Levine is cofounder and CEO of the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), a growing non-partisan coalition of business networks and businesses committed to creating a vision, a framework and policies that support a vibrant, just and sustainable economy. Founded in 2009, ASBC’s mission is to inform and engage business leaders, and to educate policy makers and the media, about the need and opportunities for a sustainable economy.
ASBC and its organizational members represent more than 150,000 businesses and more than 300,000 individual entrepreneurs, owners, executives, investors and business professionals across the United States. Members cover the gamut of local and state chambers of commerce, microenterprise, social enterprise, green and sustainable business groups, local living economy groups, women business leaders, economic development organizations and investor and business incubators
Here’s what Levine had to say.
1) Both presidential candidates have highlighted the value of small businesses in creating jobs. How important is mitigating and adapting to climate change to small business development and success?
There is a particular concern among our members about the consequences of human-induced climate change. As the World Bank’s World Development Report 2010 argues, “Economic growth alone is unlikely to be fast or equitable enough to counter threats from climate change, particularly if it remains carbon intensive and accelerates global warming.” The World Bank goes on to say, “climate policy cannot be framed as a choice between growth and climate change. In fact, climate-smart policies are those that enhance development, reduce vulnerability, and finance the transition to low-carbon growth paths.” Read more »
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1 October 2012
The Obama and Romney campaigns are making the point that there are big differences between the positions of the two presidential candidates, and America has a clear choice between two futures.
There are no issues on which those statements are truer than energy policy and its impact on global climate change. The candidates haven’t said much about climate change so far. They should be forced to talk about it in one of the upcoming presidential debates, preferably the first of the three mano a mano face-offs on Oct. 3 in Denver.
Every interest group in the country would like to see its issues highlighted in a presidential debate. Why should climate change be at the top of the list? Read more »
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5 August 2012
With Congress paralyzed late last year, President Barack Obama decided to assert his authority more aggressively on a number of issues: “If Congress refuses to act, I’ve said that I’ll continue to do everything in my power to act without them.” He coined a slogan: “We Can’t Wait“.
Global climate change certainly falls into the “we can’t wait” category. It’s a very bad influence on things we care about — a healthy economy, affordable food, protection from natural disasters, lower taxes, control of federal spending, and the safety of the nation’s infrastructure, to name a few. That should lift global warming to the top of the candidates’ platforms and the next president’s agenda.
So, when the first presidential debate takes place for Oct. 3 in Denver with a focus on domestic issues, somebody should ask the candidates this question:
Top climate experts are saying that global climate change will increase the likelihood we’ll see much more extreme weather in the future, even more severe than the droughts, floods, wildfires and heat waves we’re seeing today. Let’s assume that the Congress remains deadlocked next year on the climate issue. What will you do as president to address the risk that these experts are correct? Read more »
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2 August 2012
The atmospheric thermostat isn’t on hold while we wait for a better political moment. And outside the beltway where voters are dealing with drought, floods, fires and heat waves — and soon, higher food prices — the right political moment may already have arrived. What remains is for our current and prospective elected leaders to seize it.
That might not be as difficult as some think. In a poll last March by George Mason University and the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, 82 percent of respondents said they had personally experienced one or more extreme weather events during the previous year; more than one in three Americans said they had been personally harmed by extreme weather. A Gallup poll the same month found that 77 percent of Americans say they are “personally worried” about global warming. The well-documented risk is that these impacts will grow much more severe if we don’t address them.
At this point in the campaign, neither Gov. Romney nor President Obama has said much about the issue. It may be an uncomfortable topic for them. A year ago, Gov. Romney acknowledged anthropogenic global warming and said “it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases.” Several months later, he flip-flopped without apology. Read more »
In the olympics of living, there used to be a moment when an older generation “passed the torch” to the next generation in line.
In his inaugural speech a half-century ago, John Kennedy declared “The Torch has been passed to a new generation”.
Washington Post columnist David Broder used the same phrase when Bill Clinton became the first baby-boomer to be elected President of the United States, shaped by influences far different than his predecessors experienced during World War II.
After the disenchanted class pitched their tents in the streets last year, journalist Gregory Stanford wrote: “The nation’s Occupy movement has picked up the torch that Martin Luther King Jr. once carried to light the path to justice.” National Review blogger Mark Steyn used the same phrase last December in an analysis of events in Egypt.
But today as the leading edge of the baby-boom generation reaches the traditional torch-passing age, the tradition is obsolete. The mores, norms, policies and behaviors of past generations have left the torch in far too poor a condition to pass in good conscience. Insofar as we can fix it, we all need to get a grip: Baby Boomers as well as Generations X, Y and Z. Read more »
Our very own Bill Becker attended Rio+20, the United Nations sustainability summit in Rio deJaneiro, Brazil this June. Bill attended to display the Future We Want (FWW) in the form of a visual media exhibit—this project has become a global platform calling for positive solutions for a sustainable future. Bill also went as a member of Mikhail Gorbachev’s international Task Force on Climate Change, which at the conference, issued a detailed report on current climate science; described the consequences of inaction; and offered several recommendations to world leaders. Bill gave several speeches, including an address to the World Youth Congress, which met just before Rio+20 began.
Returning home from the 2009 U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen, Bill said, “After the failure at Copenhagen, people in the environmental movement were not only disappointed, they were depressed.” However, the mood from Rio+20 held more optimism. “Rio+20 also ended with frustration, but the mood was far different. It was as if the tens of thousands of people who hoped for a better result said, ‘Okay, our leaders won’t lead. No surprise. We’ll just have to go home and do it ourselves.’ There was a feeling of resolve.” Read more »
On the eve of the United Nations’ Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, a task force created by Mikhail Gorbachev urged international delegates to “face the urgent realities” of global climate change.
The appeal came as the Gorbachev’s Climate Change Task Force issued a detailed report on climate change, the result of two years of research and peer review. By the time the report was issued, it had been signed by nearly 40 experts and high-level public officials ranging from scientists and economists to philosophers and former heads of state.
Within hours of its release, the report was endorsed by an international organization of mayors from 164 cities in 21 countries, representing 170 million people. Read more »
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12 June 2012
It was 20 years ago this month that Severn Suzuki, then 12, gave the speech of her life. As she stood on the podium at the first Earth Summit, Severn’s admonition to dignitaries from 178 nations also became the speech of her generation.
The topic was sustainable development. The place was Rio de Janeiro, where heads of state, delegates and negotiators assembled to consider how humankind and the rest of the natural world could co-exist, to the everlasting benefit of both.
Ten years later, Severn recalled the experience and assessed the world’s progress in a column for TIME magazine:
“I am only a child,” I told them. “Yet I know that if all the money spent on war was spent on ending poverty and finding environmental answers, what a wonderful place this would be. In school you teach us not to fight with others, to work things out, to respect others, to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share, not be greedy. Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do? You grownups say you love us, but I challenge you, please, to make your actions reflect your words.”
I spoke for six minutes and received a standing ovation. Some of the delegates even cried. I thought that maybe I had reached some of them, that my speech might actually spur action. Now, a decade from Rio, after I’ve sat through many more conferences, I’m not sure what has been accomplished. My confidence in the people in power and in the power of an individual’s voice to reach them has been deeply shaken.
Later this month, international negotiators and heads of state will meet again in Rio to assess progress over the last two decades and to discuss new commitments. The theme of Rio+20, as the conference is unofficially called, is “The Future We Want” – an invocation, perhaps, of Buckminster Fuller’s observation that “We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.”
Severn’s name today is Severn Cullis-Suzuki. She is married and has her own child. If she were invited to the podium at Rio+20, what would she say? We asked her. Green Cross International taped her answer for The Future We Want project. Read more »
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11 April 2012
On May 11, a group of children will face off against the Obama administration and the National Association of Manufacturers for the latest round of a David vs. Goliath battle in federal court.
The kids filed a lawsuit last year against the administration, arguing that common law requires governments to protect critical natural resources on behalf of current and future generations. In this case, the kids argue, the government has an inherent duty to protect the atmosphere from greenhouse gas emissions, and all of us from the impacts of global climate change.
In their lawsuit, a group called Our Children’s Trust filed against a who’s who of administration officials including EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Robert Wikins ruled that the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and several California businesses could intervene against the kids, based on the argument that limiting greenhouse gas emissions would lead to a “diminution or cessation of their businesses” — in other words, jeopardize their profit margins.
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Huffington Post & Think Progress
19 March 2012
While the nation’s attention has been focused on ending one war (Afghanistan) and avoiding another (Iran), a different idea about national defense has been circulating lately among some of America’s thought leaders.
The idea is this: National defense isn’t only about containing foreign threats; it’s also about strengthening the fabric of society. In other words, sustainable development is a critical component of national security.
This isn’t a new thought, but new people are thinking it, including some whose job is to figure out how to prevent the foreign conflicts that end up costing U.S. lives and treasure.
A half-century ago, President Eisenhower, Congress and U.S. automakers defined “strong” as an interstate highway system. Thirty years ago, Amory and Hunter Lovins defined “strong” as moving away from “brittle power” — our dependence on fragile energy systems.
Last spring, two influential military officers went public with the idea that sustainable development must be central to America’s global strategy. Marine Corps Col. Mark Mykleby and Navy Capt. Wayne Porter wrote that to thrive in this century’s “strategic ecology”, the United States must move from a global posture of containment designed to preserve the status quo to a posture of sustainability designed to build our strength at home and our credible influence abroad. They wrote the paper while serving as senior strategic advisors to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Read more »
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25 November 2011
Here are some questions for the Occupiers, the Tea Party demonstrators, the people engaged in the Arab Spring and those around the world who are too hungry, too tired, too discouraged or too occupied with basic survival to protest.
These are questions, too, for the young people who will inherit the future we are setting in motion today, and the elders who are concerned about the world they are leaving their grandchildren.
Most of us want things to be better. We don’t want the kind of world we’ll get if we allow global climate change, resource conflicts, resource constraints, environmental degradation, overwhelming population growth, helter-skelter urbanization, war, social injustice and other looming problems to go unaddressed.
We have a pretty good idea what we should avoid. But what should we build?
We have incredible technologies and tools today – arguably all we need to create communities that are resource efficient, resilient, safe and prosperous while treading lightly on the environment. How would our lives be improved if we deployed the best sustainable development technologies and practices? How would it impact future generations?
Those questions are at the heart of a campaign called “The Future We Want“, announced this week by Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations. The UN has chosen “The Future We Want” as the tagline of Rio+20, its international conference next June on sustainable development. Coming on the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit, the conference has symbolic importance. We hope it will have concrete significance, too. Read more »
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20 September 2011
When House Speakers John Boehner said last week that his relationship with President Obama is like a conversation between “people from two different planets“, he identified a disconnect that extends well beyond the House and the White House.
We are two Americas headed for collision. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg touched upon it with his recent warning about the rising frustration of young people who have graduated college but cannot find jobs. The riots in Cairo could happen here, the mayor said, and he’s correct.
Several factors that triggered the Arab Spring are present in the United States today, including crony capitalism, political corruption, poverty and the unmet aspirations of the young. In neighborhood after neighborhood, and in home after repossessed home, the American dream is in shreds while the gap between rich and poor has become a canyon.
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15 September 2011
The people trying to wake us up to the realities of global warming have taken to calling themselves “climate hawks.” In the field of Republican presidential candidates, we are seeing a new breed emerge: climate chickens.
Once upon a time, America elected heroes to be President of the United States, some of them veterans of war, others who earned the title in office when they refused to run from tough issues.
Those were the good old days. Today national politics is dominated by personalities who in polite company might be called “differently principled.” There seems to be no issue on which they won’t reverse positions, deny the obvious, pander to special interests and even act against the best interests of the American people.
On climate change, for example — the most dangerous long-term threat in the world today — the viable candidates in the GOP presidential field, with the exception of Jon Huntsman, are showing a reckless disrespect for science and a callous insensitivity to the victims of weather-related disasters, present and future.
Let’s review. Front-runner Rick Perry has called global warming “one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight”. His chief science advisor apparently is his father. While he campaigned at the Iowa State Fair, somebody asked Perry about the drought that’s killing crops, cattle and family businesses in his own state.
“We’ll be fine,” Perry said. “As my dad says, it’ll rain. It always does.” Unfortunately, it’s not his father’s weather any more.
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12 September 2011
This is the last in a series of posts on extreme weather events in the United States. Part 1 described the reactions of key political leaders. Part 2 detailed the “perfect storm” of increasing weather extremes combined with decreasing government ability to respond. This post discusses what communities can do to help themselves.
In the United States and much of the rest of the world, a climate-related train wreck is in the making. Extreme weather events are increasing, while weak economies and budget deficits are undermining the capacity of national governments to respond.
In the U.S., the infrastructure we’ve built to protect people from natural disasters is aging. Some of it is proving tragically inadequate to handle weather events now routinely described as biblical, unprecedented, historic, record-breaking and not seen before in our lifetimes.
Given the probability that the severity of today’s weather is a result of global climate change, we must anticipate that weird weather will continue, ranging from the slow strangulation of drought and shifting isotherms to the rapid trauma of floods, hurricanes, tornados and wildfires.
Do communities have any defense? The short answer is yes. There are some things the federal government can do to reduce our risk. There’s also a lot communities can and should do on their own.
At the top of the federal government’s agenda should be the goal to stop digging the hole we need to climb out of. Federal subsidies that promote greenhouse gas emissions should be repealed. So should federal programs that directly or indirectly encourage development in hazard areas. Everyone has ideas for how the billions of dollars of taxpayer oil subsidies should be redirected, but there’s urgency and poetic justice in using the money to help localities protect themselves from the consequences of carbon fuels.
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8 September 2011
This is the second in a three-part post. Part 1 describes how some key political leaders are reacting to today’s extreme weather events. Part 2 lays out some of the factors that are producing a perfect storm of vulnerability.
Whether or not we are ready to conclude that today’s extreme weather events are linked to global climate change, it would be utterly irresponsible for us to ignore the possibility.
Failing to minimize and manage the risk is a dereliction of duty to everyone who is vulnerable. That includes us all in one way or another, as victims or taxpayers. Ironically, our own practices over the last century have made us more vulnerable. For example:
False Security: We have spent billions of dollars on dams, levees and other structures to protect lives and property from floods, the most common natural disaster in the United States. These structures have saved lives, but they’ve also produced a deadly false sense of security.
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31 August 2011
The term “perfect storm” is overused now, but it is the perfect metaphor for the violent relationship between people and the environment today. We are experiencing a convergence of factors that are putting us at great risk. For example:
- Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and severe.
- The big public works projects we built to protect us from natural disasters over the past century may no longer be affordable or the best option.
- The idea that we can bulldozer natural systems into submission and live wherever we wish has put millions of Americans in harms way.
- Weather-related disasters are becoming a clear and present danger to security at home and abroad.
- Our national leaders generally seem oblivious to this mounting danger, or in denial that it is real, allowing politics and flat-earth ideology to prevail over common sense.
- Even if our politicians were willing to unify around a national response to extreme weather, budget problems have greatly diminished governments’ capacity to act.
In this three-part post, I’ll weave together data from a variety of sources and experts to explore whether we are ready to cope with nature’s new norm.
Read more »
ALSO POSTED BY:
17 August 2011
The recent squall over SpongeBob SquarePants and his book about global climate change appears to have died down now. That’s a pity. Sometimes, it’s in the public interest to turn a squall into a hurricane…
Here’s the backstory, in case you missed it. Last month, the U.S. Department of Education sponsored an event to encourage kids to read books. One of the books at the event featured Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants on an “earth-friendly adventure.” As E&E reporter Jean Chemnick explained, SpongeBob’s sidekick Mr. Krabs…
…decides to pump enough greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere to bring on “endless summer” so his ocean-front swimming pool will always be full of paying customers. The plot backfires, however, when he and SpongeBob realize they have created an environmental disaster.
Fox News, television’s equivalent of a playground bully, beat up on Nickelodeon, the Education Department and by implication, SpongeBob. Fox commentator Gretchen Carlson complained that SpongeBob should have told kids climate change is “actually a disputed fact.” A spokesman for the Heritage Foundation piled on, saying SpongeBob had given us “an important reminder of why the federal government shouldn’t be involved in school curriculum.”
ALSO POSTED BY:
8 August 2011
We in the United States are very familiar with energy wars. Our long-time national energy strategy, as former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart points out, is to send our children off to kill and be killed in foreign lands to protect our access to oil.
We may be witnessing the beginning of the end of that tragic policy. Welcome to the age of the Solar Soldier, where a photovoltaic cell is as important as an M-16 rifle.
For those of you who haven’t followed this notable development, here’s an account.
It has been widely reported that the U.S. armed forces are going green. The Department of Defense (DoD) has resolved to cut its energy intensity 30% by 2015, obtain a quarter of its energy from renewable resources by 2020, cut petroleum use 20% by 2015, significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and power jets and ships with biofuels. Each of the four branches of the armed services has set its own green goals, including a push to eliminate waste and achieve net-zero energy and water consumption at Army and Navy installations.
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15 May 2011
A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.
– William G.T. Shedd
Here is a trick question: Now that the 2012 election campaign has begun, should you vote Republican or Democrat?
The correct answer: Neither of the above. In this election, maybe more than ever, it should be courage that counts, not party affiliation.
It’s the tough issues in tough times that are the best tests of courage — and right now, few issues are tougher in American politics than confronting global climate change. It requires that we stand up against godzilla vested interests and say goodbye to a carbon economy which has served us so long that no American alive today remembers life without it.
|ALSO POSTED BY:
Huffington Post & Think Progress
13 May 2011
ALSO POSTED BY:
13 May 2011
Whatever else we might say about Big Oil in the United States, we have to give the industry credit for one thing: It has mastered the art of scamming us with a perfectly straight face.
The scam has been underway for decades. This year’s example is the debate about repealing $21 billion in federal subsidies for big oil companies over the next decade. To their credit, President Obama and several Democrats in Congress are pushing the idea.
Oil executives have launched a counteroffensive reminiscent of Gordon Gekko’s argument that “greed is good”. Requiring taxpayers to subsidize America’s biggest oil companies is in the best interest of the country, they say, and anyone who disagrees is playing politics.
ExxonMobil, for example, has issued a statement that President Obama and congressional Democrats are engaging in “political theatre” on this issue. Perhaps. But the real plot line is that big oil companies are fighting once again to keep largesse they don’t need and the nation can’t afford. Here are some examples of the time-tested arguments we’re hearing from Big Oil:
Eliminating their subsidies will force oil companies to increase the cost of gasoline. Even some oil executives acknowledge this is not true. Unless the industry uses subsidy reform as an excuse to gouge consumers, reducing its tax breaks will not affect energy prices. The handful of subsidies under scrutiny here are the proverbial drop in the oil barrel. They are a fraction of the special favors oil companies receive from the federal government, usually at taxpayer expense. And oil company revenues are so high, even counting the cyclic nature of the market, that subsidy reform will not make a difference in energy prices.
|ALSO POSTED BY:
Huffington Post & Think Progress
5 May 2011
In response to a lawsuit that argues greenhouse gas emissions are a “public nuisance”, three of Congress’s most active opponents of responsible climate policy filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court last February. Rep. Fred Upton, Rep. Ed Whitfield and Sen. James Inhofe told the Justices it is inappropriate and unnecessary for courts to get involved in America’s climate policy.
Upton chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; Whitfield chairs the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power; and Inhofe is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. All three are prominent Republican opponents of climate action, working among other things to scuttle EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
To be fair, it’s not just Republicans who are blocking Congress from acting against climate change. Nineteen Democrats in the House voted for Inhofe’s and Upton’s bill to strip EPA of its regulatory authority. Several Senate Democrats also voted for the bill, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who complains “EPA’s overreach is destroying jobs in my state and all over the country”. (For an excellent report on Congress’s effort to “repeal climate science”, see Remapping Debate.)
If the courts agree to consider the “iMatter” movement’s atmospheric trust lawsuits (see Part 1 of this post), here are some of the arguments we can expect from opponents of climate action, whose delicate phrasing makes inaction sound like action. The italicized portions are direct quotes from the brief that Upton, Whitfield and Inhofe filed in the public nuisance lawsuit, American Power v. Connecticut:
Argument: The courts don’t have to act because members of Congress have been actively involved in the legislative process relating to climate change policies and regulations.
Reality Check: By “actively involved in the legislative process”, the three Republicans mean opponents are using the process to block meaningful action on climate change. So far, they’ve been successful.
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Huffington Post & Think Progress
4 May 2011
Last February, three Republican leaders in Congress filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that when it comes to global climate change, judges and Justices should mind their own business.
The courts are about to get a different message. Starting on May 4, young people in the United States and several other countries will file petitions and lawsuits in an effort to force public officials into protecting us all from climate change.
The international legal intervention – the sponsors call it guerrilla law – is believed to be the first of its kind. It is being organized by Our Children’s Trust in Eugene, Oregon. It’s part of a broader campaign that will include “iMatter” marches by young people around the world May 7-14, the brainchild of 16-year-old Alec Loorz of California.
The United States—indeed, the global community—is at a crossroads. We have a choice between two futures.
The first is business as usual. In an effort to continue economic growth in the conventional sense (growing Gross Domestic Product with little concern for distribution of wealth), we exacerbate all of the problems that GDP growth is increasingly causing. We fail to recognize that such growth in the developed countries is not improving human well-being. We fail to recognize that distributing our wealth more fairly would actually improve overall well-being. We do not address the growing climate and other environmental problems and continue to damage the ecological life-support systems on which we all depend, particularly the poor. We fail to anticipate and deal with the constraints inherent in our dependence on finite resources such as fossil fuels. It is a future that is not sustainable and also not desirable to the vast majority of humans.
The second future is much brighter: Extreme poverty is eradicated. Our energy economy in the United States and worldwide shifts to clean, renewable resources. Ecological design becomes business as usual, and humankind finally accepts its role as an integral participant in and steward of the environmental systems upon which true prosperity depends.
In short, we have a choice to become victims of the future or its architects. Read more »