The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change


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Domocratic Candidates on Climate, Part III

Here we go, continuing my review the field of presidential candidates.

As in years past, I’m only going to write about candidates as regards climate change. It’s not that no other issues are important (though I do consider climate a central issue), it’s that this blog remains neutral on all other issues, so far as is ethically possible. Therefore, support of a candidate for how he or she approaches climate should not be construed as any kind of comment on his or her other positions.

So, let’s start with Democrats. There are 23 of them running.

The Democratic Field (In Part)

With so many Democrats running, I have to take the candidates in groups. Two weeks ago, I posted my first installment of the series, the first group, which included people at the current front of the pack, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Last week, I posted a second group, including the majority of the female hopefuls, plus Jay Inslee, the self-styled Climate Candidate. It’s time for another installment.

Cory Booker

Cory Booker made a name for himself as the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and now serves in the US Senate. He concerns himself largely with criminal and economic justice, and the values of love, unity, and civic grace.

He has a lifetimes score with the League of Conservation Voters of 99%; in a legislative career of five years, he has cast only one anti-environment vote. He talks about climate change publicly, and does support the Green New Deal. but the issue is not being covered as a central issue of his campaign. For example, this article in the Washington Post mentions climate briefly in the introduction as among Mr. Booker’s policy interests but does not elaborate, focusing instead on his other issues. Whether the article accurately reflects Mr. Booker’s priorities is not clear. He IS interested in environmental justice, particularly in repairing the EPA and making sure polluters pay for clean ups, but does not mention climate change in that context in the reports that I’ve found.

Mr. Booker seems unlikely to take a leadership role in climate action, since he does not use it a lens through which to discuss the economic and social justice issues that are clearly close to his heart. He would undoubtedly support climate action if someone else takes the lead, however.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke is famous mostly for having come this close to unseating Senator Ted Cruz and for being really cool. He skate-boards, for example. All of which sounds somewhat laughable, but for a Democrat to come close to winning statewide office in Texas is impressive, and “cool” encompasses a lot of intangible skills that are important in a public figure. Think of John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton–or Teddy Roosevelt.

Mr. O’Rourke has a lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters of 95% over a legislative career that goes back to 2013. His score would be higher, but he missed three votes in 2016 that he has stated would have been pro-environment.

Mr. O’Rourke has a mixed record on climate. He acknowledges the reality of climate change, has discussed the need for climate action publicly, and speaks well of the Green New Deal, but in his previous campaign he did not run on the issue, possibly because he depends on voters who depend on the oil industry. He has accepted large campaign contributions from the industry, has supported fracking, and does not appear to favor a shift away from fossil fuels.

He has released a climate plan of his own, and while the plan is not as aggressive as some, it does appear to be serious. He may be moving towards the green side in order to compete with the other Democrats in the field.

Amy Klobuchar

Ms. Klobuchar is a Midwestern Democrat with a reputation for working well with Republicans. Her victories tend to involve “small” issues with an outsized impact, and she is pragmatic and calm under fire. She also acknowledges that she can be difficult to work for, and it’s hard to say how that might translate to the presidency.

Amy Klobuchar’s lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is 96%, impressive, given that her legislative career goes back to 2007. If elected President, she promises to get the US back into the Paris Agreement and reinstate various Obama-era climate policies within her first 100 days in office, but she has not endorsed the Green New Deal, however, as she does not think we can meet its goals. She does not seem to be proposing anything new.

Andrew Yang

Mr. Yang is a businessman who has been involved in revitalizing urban centers by supporting economic development and job-related training. He advocates a universal basic income, which he says has the potential to attract attention from people who have otherwise given up on politics as irrelevant to them. He has attracted a significant following online among libertarians, including members of the alt. right–something he’s uncomfortable with and has disavowed. Given that Mr. Yang is not white, his appeal among racists is curious and may not be genuine.

Mr. Yang is concerned about climate change and favors a variety of responses, including, somewhat surprisingly, geoengineering. However, there is almost nothing to say about Mr. Yang on climate besides his campaign promises and other statements related to his campaign–and that is concerning. As a businessman, he certainly had the opportunity to get involved in some kind of climate-related project, and he didn’t.

Julián Castro

Julián Castro is a former mayor of San Antonio and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Hillary Clinton seriously considered him as a possible running mate. Given who he is and where he is from, it is not surprising that he’s concerned about immigration policy. He’s also championing universal pre-kindergarden. He has committed to visit all 50 states during the primaries, and has already visited Puerto Rico, something no other Democrat in the field had done at the time.

Mr. Castro has a very clear record of putting the public good over his personal interest on environmental issues. He tells a story about when he was mayor in San Antonio, and quit his job as a lawyer so that he could vote against allowing a client of his (former) firm to build a golf course that could have contaminated the city’s drinking water. He wasn’t independently wealthy and needed that job.

He supports the Green New Deal, has pledged not to take donations from fossil fuel companies, and approaches climate action largely through economic development and the creation of jobs in renewable energy. As mayor, he took a number of pro-climate actions, including directing the city to source 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. He also supported fracking, though.

He does not appear to have discussed possibilities for climate action from the White House in detail, nor has he made the news on the subject recently. He has released a detailed plan for dealing with lead contamination in drinking water, so environmental issues in general seem to be on his mind.

Thoughts

Most likely, Andrew Yang is simply not serious about addressing climate change; if he were, he would have done so before running for office, it’s not as if the issue is new. The others in this group seem either ambivalent on the issue (Beto O’Rourke) or somewhat distracted by other issues, though all of them are eager to be seen as strong on climate. All, with the possible exception of Mr. Yang, seem genuinely interested in making at least some meaningful progress on climate. Again, the worst of the field this year resemble the best of the field a decade ago.

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The Democratic Field Part 2

It’s election season again, and so I am continuing my review the field.

As before, I’m only going to write about candidates as regards climate change. It’s not that no other issues are important (though I do consider climate a central issue), it’s that this blog remains neutral on all other issues, so far as is ethically possible. Therefore, support of a candidate for how he or she approaches climate should not be construed as any kind of comment on his or her other positions.

So, let’s start with Democrats. There are 23 of them running.

The Democratic Field (In Part)

I’m not going to write about all 23 people seeking the Democratic nomination in a single post. You and I both have other things we want to do today, right? Instead, I’m taking this in a few chunks. Last week, I presented Chunk Number One.  Here is Chunk Number Two.

Jay Inslee

Jay Inslee, the current governor of Washington State, has carved out a niche for himself as the climate change candidate. He does care about other issues as well; he supports gun control, is very concerned about the anti-vaccination movement, and wants to expand immigration. However, climate change is his central, most-important cause, and many of his other stances bear on that one. For example, he wants to get rid of the filibuster as a move to make climate action bills easier to pass. Sadly, I have not heard much else about him. He doesn’t make the news very often.

Mr. Inslee has, surprisingly, received some criticism on environmental and environmental justice issues. Not that is record is particularly bad, but he has not been very effective in environmental leadership in his home state, and has been slow to oppose, or actually supportive of, a few industrial projects that environmentalists oppose. He has been slow to the table on environmental justice particularly. He does tend to come around, and appears to be learning from his mistakes, but the fact that he’s following, not leading, is puzzling.

His climate plan, though, does have a few interesting features. For example, the plan devotes a lot of attention to immigration and to foreign policy, on the understanding that climate change will increase the flow of refugees and put more countries at risk for destabilization. And the climate plan has a sister-plan focused on economics that includes a “green G.I. Bill” aimed at helping fossil-fuel industry workers transition to other industries. Mr. Inslee is using climate as an organizing principle to approach foreign policy, economic policy, and economic justice (and, I’m guessing, other issues). It’s a smart, deeply reality-based approach–whatever his shortcomings, Mr. Inslee is paying attention. His interest in climate is no mere political window-dressing, but the real deal.

Significantly, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has endorsed Mr. Inslee’s plan among all those as yet proposed by presidential hopefuls.

Tulsi Gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard is a current House of Representatives member from Hawaii, the first Hindu Congressmember, and a military veteran–she also grew up as an avid surfer. According to her own campaign materials, concern for the environment is what got her into politics to begin with. Her lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is an impressive 96%.

She has not endorsed the Green New Deal, saying it is too vague (although the GND is not a policy proposal but rather a proposed commitment to develop policy. It’s supposed to be vague), and has not–as far as I can gather–released her own climate plan yet. She does talk about the importance of climate action often. She has also proposed an ambitious House bill aimed at reducing emissions from both transportation and electricity generation.

She is definitely on the right side of the issue, but it’s not clear how she would use the office of the presidency to help.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Kirsten Gillibrand, a lawyer by training, is the current Senator from New York, having succeeded Hillary Clinton. She has drawn some fire among Democrats for socially conservative positions she has held in the past–and has since repudiated. She has made a name for herself largely as an advocate of women’s empowerment and by speaking against public figures accused of sexual harassment. Her lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is 95%–and her score for 2018 is 100%.

Ms. Gillibrand has backed the Green New Deal, saying the country needs a “moon shot” on the issue “as a measure of our innovation and effectiveness.” She is calling for some form of carbon pricing program (she has not yet proposed details), saying that “if you’re a polluter, fair enough, but you’re going to have to pay a lot more,” to cover the public costs of such pollution.

An online search shows that she speaks publicly about climate change often, but she has not yet released her own plan. It is not clear whether she has developed any ideas about how she might use the office of the presidency to lead on the issue.

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris is a current senator from California, and is a former State Attorney General. Her multi-ethnic background means she has scored multiple “firsts;” her state’s first black AG, first Asian-American AG, and first female AG are all her. She has not yet become strongly associated with any particular issue (indeed, she regards her lack of a unifying political theme as an advantage), but her lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is actually 100%. Pretty impressive!

Although, since she’s been a legislator for less than two years, her scorecard is based on comparatively few votes thus far.

She has signed on to the Green New Deal and is considered a reliable ally on environmental issues, including climate change, but has not yet positioned herself as a leader on the subject. An online search shows she speaks publicly about climate, but does not seem focused on the issue at all.

Some Thoughts

So far, in the course of reading up on the candidates, it looks as though we may have passed an important political watershed among Democrats; candidates may no longer ignore climate, and the weakest in this year’s crop resemble the climate hawks of, say, 2008. If that’s the score, then we’re in a good position, since even an opportunistic climate wishy-washer could be persuaded to take meaningful climate action by an engaged, vocal electorate.

Personally, I’d prefer a real climate go-getter, someone who recognizes the gravity of the situation and treats it like an emergency, but it may be that the choice of best option will hinge on other criteria. After all, anyone who isn’t actually invested in some form of climate denial can be pushed into signing bills and even a couple of executive orders–if there are bills to sign.

The real champion must prove themselves capable of defeating the climate denial movement, working across the aisle, and engaging culturally conservative voters in Middle America, otherwise he or she is unlikely to win the general election and will be incapable of accomplishing anything once in office.

If such a champion arises but has less than stellar climate credentials, I’ll be OK with that. Let the President bring the nation together–let Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and others light the fire that keeps the unified nation going in the right direction.

 

 


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The Democratic Field, Part 1

It’s election season again, and as one of the few Americans not running for president this cycle, I figure it’s time I review the field.

As before, I’m only going to write about candidates as regards climate change. It’s not that no other issues are important (though I do consider climate a central issue), it’s that this blog remains neutral on all other issues, so far as is ethically possible. Therefore, support of a candidate for how he or she approaches climate should not be construed as any kind of comment on his or her other positions.

So, let’s start with Democrats. There are 23 of them running.

The Democratic Field (In Part)

I’m not going to write about all 23 people seeking the Democratic nomination in a single post. You and I both have other things we want to do today, right? Instead, I’m taking this in a few chunks. Here is Chunk Number One.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden is a former vice president of the United States, and the subject of a huge number of fond and funny internet memes featuring his friendship with President Barack Obama. He has run for president twice before, and could have been a favorite to win last cycle except for the tragic death of his son, Beau Biden, from brain cancer. Grieving, the elder Biden did not run. He is now trying one last time–at 76 years old he is among the oldest of the field, but also the best-recognized and most obviously experienced.

Joe Biden’s reputation on climate is definitely mixed. His candidacy this year has appeared timid with respect to climate–advocating only a return to some of President Obama’s policies, nothing new, and nothing really aggressive. He rarely tweets about the issue at all, though he does tweet fairly often about the economy, and may be trying not to alienate coal country. On the other hand, he has just released a climate plan that, while not as aggressive as it could be, does seem to be a real stab at the problem. He has pledged not to accept campaign donations from fossil fuel companies or donations. He was also the first senator to introduce climate-related legislation, way back in 1986, and tried repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) to champion the issue in the Senate several times over his long career.

His lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters (which reflects his legislative career but not his terms as Vice President) is 83%. That’s respectable but not impressive. His pro-environment votes outnumbered his anti-environment votes in every year, but in some years one vote in three was anti-environment, including some in the specific areas of climate change, clean energy, and dirty energy.

It appears as though Mr. Biden takes climate seriously, but it is not his highest priority. The good news is that he is willing to become more assertive on the subject when pushed by political pressure from the left.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator of Vermont, is once again running for President as a Democrat. He has a great deal of support, but is no longer alone in his stridency–in part due to his influence, a whole crop of energized, progressive Democrats have sprung up.

Bernie Sanders’ rating with the League of Conservation Voters is an impressive 92%, and it would have been 96% had it not been for 2016, when he inexplicably took 16 anti-environment votes to only one pro-environment vote. In all other years, the pros far outweigh the antis, and in 28 years, there were only ten in which he did not score 100%.

So what happened in 2016? I’m not sure. Personally, I wonder if I’m looking at a typo; maybe the LCV mistakenly coded missed votes (he’s not coded as having missed any votes, which is odd, given that he was campaigning that year) as anti votes?

In any case, Mr. Sanders describes climate change as an “existential threat” and supports the Green New Deal, according to his website. He has also pledged not to accept fossil fuel-industry money. An internet search returns multiple articles about different public events where he spoke on the issue as well, so climate does seem to be on his mind often.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren is a politically progressive senator with a history of championing consumer financial protection, income inequality, and related financial issues, though she favors a fairer form of capitalism, not any form of socialism. She has been characterized as a “fighter,” and has a long history of vocal advocacy on her favored subjects dating back before her legislative career.

Her lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is a remarkable 99%–she had one anti-environment vote back in 2014–though her legislative career has been much shorter (so far) than that of either Mr. Sanders or Mr. Biden. A quick internet search shows she has been talking climate often and for a long time. She has pledged not to accept fossil fuel-industry money. She supports the Green New Deal, but has recently released a climate change plan of her own.

Ms. Warren’s plan includes Federal money for technological research, as well as various initiatives designed to encourage a market shift towards renewables while creating good-paying jobs. Her plan is distinctive for its inclusion of a “Green Martial Plan” designed to give aid to countries hit hard by climate change–a focus in keeping with her long-term concern with economic fairness. It’s worth noting, too, that since climate change is becoming a major driver of refugee crises and political instability, something like the Green Martial Plan may be a necessary part of American national security going forward.

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg stands out most obviously for several factors only marginally related to his potential as president: he’s very young (37!); married to a man; charmingly cool; and blessed with a memorably odd last name. More importantly, he is also a military veteran, mayor of South Bend, Indiana (political experience on a small scale is still political experience), and vocally Christian. He champions getting rid of the Electoral College, but has other issues, including climate change–which he sees as particularly important for people of his own generation and younger who will have to live with the consequences of their elders’ choices.

Since he has no legislative experience, Mr. Buttigieg has no voting record, and thus no score card with the League of Conservation Voters. But he does have a history of engaging with environmental issues.

As Mayor, Mr. Buttigieg has pushed back against President Trump’s anti-environment policies, including archiving a copy of the old EPA website (from before climate change was stripped from it) on his town’s website. He supports the Paris Agreement, joined other mayors and attorneys general in signing a declaration opposing the rollback of clean car rules, and has worked to make sure a local Superfund site in his area has been properly cleaned up. He has also pledged not to take fossil fuel industry money.

As far as I’ve been able to gather, Mr. Buttigieg has not yet released a fully fleshed-out plan to fight climate change, but has voiced support for several climate-related policies, including retrofitting homes for energy efficiency, government support of home solar generation, a carbon tax, and carbon capture and storage. He has received some criticism on the grounds that the last two are also supported by the fossil fuel industry itself, since these measures could allow the industry to continue business-as-usual (though it’s worth saying that last time I looked at the issue, the industry seemed not to like carbon fees, while environmentalists liked them. I’m not sure where this contradiction comes from).

Pete Buttigieg has his heart in the right place, and may be an excellent environmentalist mayor, but it is not yet clear whether he’s ready to operate on the national scale using the very different tools of the American Presidency.

Stay Tuned….

So, that’s four down–only 19 to go!

 

 

 


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Big Deals, Variously Shaded Green

About that Green New Deal?

In preparation for writing today’s post, I reread my article on the GND, and I got angry. Not angry at what I wrote, I stand by my work, but angry at what I didn’t write and the fact that I need to write it.

Simply put, the GND is a statement of intention that includes a commitment to make the changes scientists say we need to make in order to avert climate catastrophe–why is this a radical assertion? Why are even most self-described environmentalists even considering doing anything else? The proposition that averting catastrophe might be too expensive is–

It’s unforgivable.

There. I said it. Too many of us are too used to ignoring reality, so when somebody says something like this we tend not to really notice. I almost let it slip by myself. But the fact of the matter is that some of the best, and best-informed, minds on the planet tell us that we must make radical changes very quickly OR ELSE. That’s real. That’s the situation. It’s not propaganda, it’s not fear-mongering, it’s not an alternative fact, it’s the reality we live with. It’s unavoidable. And anyone who favors gradual transition (let alone no transition) over rapid, near-term decarbonization is either ignoring that reality or actively choosing their own short-term gain at the expense of the future of everybody and everything else.

Now, that doesn’t mean that Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal is the only possible solution, or even the best solution. Her approach combines a commitment to rapid decarbonization with a commitment to participatory social justice and a massive government spending program most probably funded, at least initially, by deficit spending. Sounds pretty good to me, but there’s certainly room for people to share the environmental commitment while disagreeing over details, or even disagreeing with the other parts of her vision entirely. I mean, yes, disavowing a commitment to social justice is also unforgivable, but for different reasons. You can be a stinker of a person and still stand ready to do something about climate change.

As for deficit spending, I’m not an economist. I have to bow to other heads on that one, and the other heads have various differing opinions.

But we need a emergency response plan for climate, and we need it now, and it must include the following components:

  1. A commitment to rapid decarbonization within the timeline suggested by current science.
  2. A  plan to cope with the fact that certain powerful people don’t want to decarbonize and will fight climate action tooth and nail.
  3. A method of decarbonization that is a net social good. Climate action needs to be an additional reason to do the right thing, not an excuse to do the wrong thing.

How are we going to get off fossil fuel and quickly as we must? I don’t know, but that doesn’t change the fact that we do need to do it. We simply have to figure it  out–and figure it out damn quickly.

Green New Deals (Plural)

As you may now, the Green New Deal resolution sponsored in the House by Representative Ocasio-Cortez was introduced to the Senate, sponsored by a group of Democrats–none of whom voted for it. They voted “present.” I really don’t understand the strategy there, but be that as it may, several of them offered alternatives immediately afterwards. There are Republican alternatives, too. By way of keeping tabs on an evolving situation, let’s take a look at these options.

The Green Real Deal

The Green Real Deal is a Republican answer to the GND. It was drafted by Representative, Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a Trump supporter hostile to environmental regulation (he introduced a purely symbolic bill to abolish the EPA last year) who nonetheless seems genuinely interested in doing something about climate change. His proposal doesn’t meet my criteria (it contains no timeline for reducing emissions) but is at least a Republican entry to the conversation–overall, a good thing, or at least the beginning of a good thing. I’ve been saying for a long time that it’s bad for the country for the Democrats to be the only ones attempting to address climate change; we need everybody at the table, a real diversity of ideas.

The Real Deal has existed in at least some form since March, but was officially introduced to the House of Representatives in early April. According to a draft copy of the Real Deal, the proposal is substantially a less-ambitious version of the GND–and a less-ambitious resolution might indeed be a good starting place. If we can get everybody to agree on some basic principles now, maybe we can built to meaningful action later? The problem is that the Real Deal includes a call for “free and fair” energy development on Federal land and “eliminating” or “modernizing” various regulations, and “modernizing the implementation of” the National Environmental Policy Act in order to speed the development of various alternative energy options.

Even if we give Mr. Gaetz a pass and assume he is acting in good faith, it doesn’t take much of a leap to conclude that such changes would be promptly taken advantage of by fossil fuel companies.

The Green Real Deal contains no concrete goals and calls for no new limitations on fossil fuel use, only vague or voluntary steps, while calling for further dismantling of current environmental protections.

Hmmm.

Carper’s Resolution

Back in February, Democrat Senator Tom Carper, of Delaware, introduced a resolution, since co-sponsored by all Senate Democrats, meant as a less-ambitious starting point and something at least the whole party can agree on.

Here it is:

Climate change is real, human activity during the last century is the dominant cause of the climate crisis; and the United States and Congress should take immediate action to address the challenge of climate change.

You don’t get less ambitious than that, but at least it’s something. I’m curious as to whether Mr. Gaetz will sign on to it, when and if it reaches the House. He really should, given the content of his own proposal.

The New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy

Let’s just leave aside the negative connotations of the term “Manhattan Project” for now. “Moon shot” is a much better analogy, seeing as President Kennedy’s challenge didn’t create a fifth horseman of the apocalypse, but never mind. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) meant to invoke the image of intensive government investment in innovation as a way to solve a pressing problem. And it’s not a bad proposal.

Mr. Alexander lists ten technological challenges, including greener buildings and better batteries, calls for a doubling of Federal funding on research, and sets a goal of meeting all ten challenges within five years. Some of his priorities are debatable, but that’s OK: I’m sure they’ll be debated.

The only real drawback I see is that our current problem is not really technological, but rather political, cultural, and economic–we’re not making anywhere near full use of the technological solutions we have. Mr. Alexander’s proposal does nothing to assure that we’ll use new technological solutions, either. And no matter how much clean energy we produce, there’s no guarantee we’ll use less dirty energy. More likely, our total energy use will simply increase, without definitive leadership to the contrary.

But while the New Manhattan Project won’t solve the climate crisis by itself, it could do substantial good as one piece of a larger solution. Increased funding and leadership in technology for clean energy can only be a public and planetary good, and the effort will spur both economic activity in the clean energy sector and ongoing public discussion of climate-related issues. As long as Mr. Alexander does not use his proposal as a rhetorical device for fighting against other people’s proposals, he could be part of the solution.

A Framework for Climate Action in the US Congress

Representative Paul Tonko has proposed a “framework,” a set of principles which he suggests all proposed legislation should follow. It’s a simple, straight-forward document that differs from the Green New Deal only in being much less detailed and in not being as assertive in its rhetoric–but the first principle is “Adopt science-based targets for Greenhouse Gas Neutrality by Mid-Century,” so it’s really just as ambitious.

The only problem is it’s not a resolution–it doesn’t ask anyone to formally and publicly commit to it. Perhaps Mr. Tonko judges that formal commitment is strategically counterproductive at this time. He may be right, I don’t know. But I’d like to see such a commitment made, and made soon.

Keeping the Pressure Up

I have not attempted to make this list exhaustive, nor have I looked for the most up-to-date news on all proposals. I don’t want this post to get too long. My intention is to explore alternatives and foster conversation. But it’s important to realize that the alternatives to the GND are not being put forward in a vacuum–a critical component is the political reality that American people want at least some climate action.

It’s up to us to keep the pressure up. If we do, the Green New Deal Resolution, or some reasonable alternative to it, will pass, followed by meaningful climate legislation. Unfortunately, I remain unable to find anyone organizing public demonstrations in the United States.


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Catching Up

There’s this thing that happens when I do several weeks of re-posts and excerpts for whatever reason–so many things happen that I could be writing about that it all builds up and then when I come back to writing new posts, I don’t know which topic to pick up. I can’t decide.

So to clear the decks, here’s what we’ve missed.

Severe Weather

January and February brought record-breaking temperatures to parts of South America and Australia (Australia’s heat waves were so bad that infrastructure was damaged and wild fruit bats fell dead out of the trees) as well as floods in some areas and severe droughts in others. The Northern Hemisphere, meanwhile, had bitter cold in some areas and record-breaking warmth in others, due to a destabilized polar vortex, possibly climate change-related–and some areas had massive snowfalls, which is not generally a sign of unusual cold (it doesn’t have to be very cold for snow) but simply a wintery version of a flood.

The American Midwest flooded severely through March, largely as a result of huge snowfalls, causing major damage to stored crops and to farm lands and equipment–much of which isn’t covered by any existing disaster relief program because this particular kind of disaster has never happened before.

Meanwhile, Southern Africa also saw catastrophic flooding in March, the result of a cyclone (the same kind of storm is called a hurricane in the Atlantic) that made landfall just days after unrelated rainstorms caused regional flooding. Cyclone Idai was an odd storm. Though only a Class 2, which seems minor by American or Asian standards, it was the most powerful cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, and it developed mostly between Madagascar and Africa–apparently storms in that area don’t usually become powerful, but this one had an unusually warm pool of water beneath it, a story we should find familiar. The fact that the area between Madagascar and Africa is not large also suggests to me that Idai underwent rapid intensification, another familiar sign of the new normal.

Migrants continue to head north from Honduras, partly because worsening droughts and rising temperatures are destroying their farms back home. Even if the US were better prepared to handle the crisis well, the flood of refugees would be a challenge.

Then there was the night in April when the entire US Eastern Seaboard was under a tornado watch and some tornadoes dropped down–I’m not bothering to link to a source on that one because I spent part of that night huddled in the guest bathroom with my dogs listening to weird noises on the roof. I am my source.

Of course, it’s still difficult to be sure that a rash of weird weather is actually as abnormal as it seems. Ours is a big world, and there’s lots of room for bad luck in it, while good luck occurs in other places–and I still have not found any figures addressing changes in the number of extreme events over time. But not only is extreme weather symptomatic of climate change in general, but many of these events involve types of extreme weather specifically linked to climate change, such as rapidly intensifying tropical cyclones, heat waves, and a destabilized polar vortex.

Climate Protests

I talked about the recent series of climate protests in Europe, mostly led by teens and children, last month. Well, there’s been another one, this time in London, and it was huge, involving the arrest of 1000 protestors (mostly for protesting in places they didn’t have permits for), and organized by a group called Extinction Rebellion that is less than a year old. They are deliberately disruptive, with an aim towards calling attention to the emergency we are in. Greta Thunberg participated, and addressed Parliament (I’m unclear as to whether she literally spoke within the halls of power or if she delivered her speech elsewhere, trusting they would learn of it).

The action was part of a planned world-wide week of protests, but I have been unable to find any confirmation of events outside of London. Either they didn’t happen or they have been hushed up. Somehow. Coverage of the London events have been quite minimal.

Politics

The Green New Deal continues to percolate through the national conversation–there are articles about it published this week, and various alternatives are being proposed and debated. Great!

Meanwhile, approximately 187 people are now running for president, and more may soon declare, and I’m going to have to write about all of them with respect to climate sooner or later.

So, What’s the Story?

Obviously, there is plenty to talk about. And I’m going to talk about a lot of it. You should, too. We need to keep climate change in the public eye.


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On Strike for Real

Last week, on March 15th, thousands of school children around the world walked out of class, striking for climate. It was likely one of the biggest climate protests in history (I have not seen final numbers on participation, yet), and is certainly remarkable as a global protest planned and executed by minors.

The question is–was anyone listening?

The Children’s Climate Strike

The children’s climate strike began with one person.

Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager, started cutting school every Friday last August to protest in front of Parliament. She had been inspired to act by the terrible heatwaves in Europe last year, as well as by the activism of the Parkland students. She intends to continue her protest until Sweden adopts policies in line with the goals established at Paris.

Thunberg began her strike alone, but began getting media attention and speaking publicly. She’s inspiring others to join the strike. She is not acting as an organizer of the movement, so far as I can gather. The March 15th strike was organized by three girls: Alexandria Villasenor, Isra Hirsi, and Haven Coleman. I’ve been saying “children’s march,” but Thunberg isn’t exactly a child. She’s 16, as is Hirsi, an age that some cultures have considered definitely adult. But Villasenor and Coleman are 13 and 12, respectively, and they are all minors, meaning they have little to no legal authority or power. Their age provides a ready excuse to anyone who wants to not take them seriously.

Indeed, some political leaders have criticized them for skipping school, which rather misses the point.

There have been other mass strikes over the past few months, mostly in Europe. The first mass school strike for climate in the UK was February 15.  March took the movement worldwide. And while there has been plenty of adult criticism, many adult political leaders and activists are supporting the youth strikes as well.

….And Chuck

What all this reminds me of is an old movie–released in the late 1980’s, called “Amazing Grace and Chuck.” Usually, when I refer to some item of culture, a movie or a book, I link to a site where you can read a description, but so far all the descriptions I’ve read leave out something fundamental–and the reason I’m bringing up this movie at all.

The movie is about a world-wide children’s strike.

Movie Synopsis

Chuck is a gifted Little League pitcher who decides to stop playing ball until all nuclear weapons have been destroyed. As he explains, he has to do something, and so he’s decided to give up the one thing he does best–pitching. As personal protests go, it’s a savvy one, because it’s the one thing that is both entirely within his power (you can’t force a kid to play baseball) and likely to be noticed by grown-ups. But it’s not likely to trigger global nuclear disarmament–the adults around him see Chuck’s protest as noble but pointless.

But then other children also start quitting their extra-curricular activities. There’s no internet yet, but Chuck’s protest makes the news and other children hear about it and follow his example. The movement starts to spread. But still the adults react with condescension–obviously, this isn’t going to do anything. The kids are only hurting themselves.

Until an adult joins the movement.

Amazing Grace, an NBA star, quits the game and reaches out to Chuck. The two become friends, and the movement spreads among adult athletes–all striking for full nuclear disarmament. Now it gets serious. The strike is beginning to exert real political force, threatening the livelihoods and public face of some very powerful people. Anger erupts. Both Chuck and Amazing receive real pressure to call off the strike. Supporting each other, they refuse.

Finally, Amazing is murdered by monied interests connected with the defense industry. Chuck, heartsick, responds by deepening the strike: he stops talking.

Again, other children hear about his choice on the news and follow suit, and the children of the world fall silent.

Finally, the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union sit down to talk. They sign a total nuclear disarmament treaty for a very simple reason; they miss the talk of their grandkids.

The movie begins with the words “once upon a time” and ends with the words “wouldn’t it be nice.” The implication is that such a strike could never happen and wouldn’t succeed if it did–the story is not intended as a blueprint for action so much as a statement of an ideal.

Except in the real world, a global children’s strike actually did happen last week. Now what?

Action vs. Protest

Does a political action depend on changing somebody’s mind?

That is a critical strategic question, one running deeper than whether the action is legal, even deeper than whether it is violent. Protest marches, generally, are aimed at convincing someone else to take a certain action–they can work, but the someone else is free to ignore the march. Boycotts are aimed at forcing change, since the target is not free to ignore the loss of revenue.

Boycotts are legal, though some forms of force are not. Force can be violent or it can be peaceful. It’s also worth noting that an action can be illegal, or even violent, and still depend on changing someone’s mind, just like a protest march. Chaining yourself to the White House fence in order to be arrested for some good cause is strategically almost identical to marching by the White House carrying a sign. Either way, you’re hoping the occupant of the White House notices and cares.

It’s not that true direct action can’t fail–lie down in front of a bulldozer and the owner of the bulldozer is likely to have you picked up and moved out of the way–it’s that action and protest succeed or fail for different reasons.

In general, strikes are direct actions, not protests. When autoplant workers walk off an assembly line, production grinds to a halt until their demands are met (or until management hires scabs). In contrast, Chuck’s (fictional) refusal to play baseball was a protest. Little League is basically only important to the players and, vicariously, their parents. For the players to shut down the game qualifies as ignorable.

Shutting down the NBA, on the other hand, would border on being a true strike, since professional sports is big money–but a strike by athletes for nuclear disarmament doesn’t actually put direct pressure on anyone able to disarm (unless the president at the time happens to be a team owner).

But for children to stop talking to their families? That is a true strike, and a nearly perfect one, since there is no way to break the strike by force.

The question now is whether the real children’s strike can achieve a similar perfection.

Strike for Climate

The children’s climate strike is, at present, a demonstration or protest. It’s an emotionally powerful protest, and perhaps it will change some minds. But it also might well be ignored. I’d like to see it transform itself into a true strike, something that cannot be ignored.

Perhaps adults will start walking off the job next. Or perhaps the kids will find something they can grind to a halt that powerful adults cannot do without. I honestly hope they do, as they are taking the issue seriously in a way that everyone needs to and most adults aren’t.

We really should not be depending on children to save the world. That’s our job. But until the adult world gets it’s act together, the world should take the champions it can get.


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The Power of Individual Action?

This past week, I saw an interview with a man who encouraged individual efforts towards personal sustainability, but also asserted that it won’t do anything–but voting will.

I agree about the importance of voting, but why encourage the pointless? And is individual action pointless? I think not.

Here’s why.

First, individual lifestyle choices, like individual votes, add up. If enough people decide to prefer certain business practices over others–less carbon-intensive practices–industry will follow suit. Such principle-driven market choices obviously can’t solve the problem alone (or they would have already), but boycotts have changed history before.

Second, lifestyle choice can become an important point for discussion, both as a way to educate others and as a way to explore what kinds of policy changes might help. If low-carbon transportation is not a practical option in a given area, for example, perhaps sustainable public transit would be an important policy goal?

Third, trying to make one’s own life as sustainable as possible is an important exercise, a way to practice commitment and a way to develop one’s own environmental consciousness.

That has to be worth something.

But yeah, don’t get distracted. VOTE.