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Denial’s Grim Fruits — Actual Puerto Rico Death Toll Probably Near 500; May Climb to Over a Thousand

Massive disruption which results in cascading failure of basic services such as food, water transport and power. That’s the primary catastrophic risk coming from human forced climate change. And we are now in the process of multiplying the potential for such extreme events by continuing to burn fossil fuels and to dump carbon into the atmosphere.

Maria’s recent landfall in Puerto Rico and resulting unprecedented disruption can be seen as a microcosm of the kind of damage that might ultimately be inflicted upon a whole region or nation. And the various failed responses by the Trump Administration and related denial-based attitudes within the Republican Party do little to inspire confidence in the ability of at least one major party to effectively respond to a rising danger it pretends does not exist at all.

Excess Death Toll

Weather forecasters are often quick to point out that the most dangerous direct impact from a major hurricane comes from either storm surge or flooding rains. However, for days, weeks, and, in the case of Puerto Rico, months following a disaster, the major cause of loss of life is disruption of food, water, power supplies and a related increased risk of exposure to infectious diseases.

Due to a sluggish and lackadaisical response to the worst storm to strike Puerto Rico in 85 years by the Trump Administration, it appears now that hundreds of lives have been lost. According to reports from the New York Times, 472 more people died during September of 2017 following Maria’s strike than during September of 2016. Such an abnormally high monthly death rate is an outlier in statistics that epidemiologists call an excess death toll. And the primary likely cause was damage to infrastructure, power, food and water by Maria followed by an inadequate emergency response effort.

Many of the 3.4 million people still living in Puerto Rico have been forced to go without reliable access to water, food, and power for 54 days now. Trump Administration failure to mobilize a major effort to respond to the largest power outage and infrastructure disruption in U.S. history has been coupled with the allowance of vulture capitalist firms like Whitefish to prey on Puerto Rico by charging excess fees for power restoration.

Digging into these glaring failures a bit more, it took more than two weeks for Trump to mobilize 5,000 troops to send to Puerto Rico to assist in aid efforts. And Maria was a disaster that required a force ten times this large to be pre-positioned and then sent in immediately following the disaster, according to emergency planners. Vulture firm Whitefish has been reportedly charging 4 to five times what it is paying power installers on an hourly basis. An obvious level of price gouging that has caused the firm’s contract to be canceled. But not before this company of two permanent employees bungled a power line repair that again resulted in much of Puerto Rico falling into darkness.

Incompetent Governance

Whitefish’s most recent failure resulted in total power availability for Puerto Rico again dropping below 20 percent last week. With PREPA stepping in after Whitefish dropped the ball, the line has been repaired. Yet 52 percent of Puerto Ricans are still without power.

(Climate Change amplifies hurricane impacts. What this means is that as the world warms, hurricanes produce more damage. If this is the case, then governments are going to have to step up and act responsibly to prevent loss of life. Republicans and the Trump Administration have done exactly the opposite in Puerto Rico. Images source: Climate Signals.)

Lack of power itself can be deadly. Such a loss results in a critical shortage for medical equipment necessary to save people’s lives even as it removes key infrastructures like street lights and communications. Incubators, defibrillators, respirators, pulse monitors and a hundred other life saving devices all go dark when the lights go out. Furthermore, lack of clean water and ready access to food increases instances of infection. And damage to roads prevents access by emergency personnel to people falling into harm’s way.

Vulture Capitalism + Climate Change Denial = Failed Responses and Profiteering in the Face of Rising Disasters

This is why Maria’s blow has now become so hurtful. Why the Trump Administration’s neglect is so glaring. And a thousand or more people may have perished as a result. The role of the U.S. Government as the first responder to major disasters was sidelined. The sacred trust to Citizens of the United States violated. But, outrageously, such a lackadaisical, laissez faire attitude is not simply limited to Trump. It is an unfortunately endemic feature of today’s republican party. A party that is now doing its best to cut taxes for the rich while cutting medical coverage for 13 million Americans.

A party that has also done far, far more than its fair share to deny and prevent responses to the human caused climate change from fossil fuel emissions that made Maria far, far worse. For the storm emerged from warmer than normal oceans that helped to pump up its peak intensity. It was one of many storms made worse by climate change — for studies now indicate that at least 63 percent of all extreme weather events have now been pumped up in a warming atmosphere or over a warming ocean. And with just 1.2 C worth of warming achieved, the worse is still to come.

With the republican party both causing these disasters to worsen and ensuring that their damaging impacts are amplified by delayed responses, irresponsible choices for firms contracted to bring infrastructure back up and running, and overall malfeasance, it’s pretty clear that only a numb-skull would vote for such mouth-breathers. But here we are.

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Upside Down America: Trump’s Shameful Opposition to Paris Puts U.S. Behind Syria

We all know someone who thinks this way. Put a stack of scientific evidence in front of them that reaches to the moon, and they will still disbelieve that human-caused climate change is real, harmful, and getting to be so bad that it’s increasingly capable of wrecking our lives. It is the very definition of ‘head-in-sand’ thinking. A pro-fossil fuel PR and politically-driven neurosis that American ideologues and other quacks appear to have perfected — afflicting so many of us through the medium of viral misinformation.

But such views of denial have real and devastating consequences in that they have often sabotaged the necessary societal and governmental response to a growing crisis.

(Yesterday, democrats created a blue wave election in repudiation of bad republican/Trump policies including Trump’s refusal to sign the Paris Climate Agreement. Members of the #Resistance cited Paris as one of the key reasons for demonstrated unity in support of democrats — both progressive and moderate — in opposition to Trump and in favor of helpful climate and energy policies.)

Just ask the 3.4 million people of Puerto Rico who have now gone for 49 days without power after a global warming fueled storm leveled their island. One hundred thousand of them — the lucky ones — have managed to escape this parcel of U.S. territory and avoid living in a world without access to electricity, water, reliable food supplies, decent transport, and medical care. They are now some of the likely 20-30 million refugees that will be produced by worsening climate change related weather, wildfires, sea level rise, and crop disruption this year alone. A number that will rapidly grow in years to come if we don’t adequately address the key disaster enablers — a warming planet and rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Upside Down America

Here, in the land of the American Dream, the dream is being slowly crushed by fossil fuel burning. And, yes, too by people like Trump who are working to prevent government policies that move us away from that harmful energy source and the carbon emissions that keep making the problem worse and worse and worse.

(COP 23 seeks to build on the momentum already developed under the Paris Climate Agreement.)

Yesterday, with Syria’s signature of the Paris Climate Agreement, the U.S., under Trump, is now the only nation that is not a party to it. Though not the ultimate ideal response to climate change, the Paris Agreement, if held to, will move the world rapidly away from the high level of harmful fossil fuel burning and related carbon emissions that are presently ongoing. Paris alone is not enough to prevent about 3 degrees Celsius worth of warming this Century. A level of warming that will bring a number of far worse climate outcomes than we see today. But it does get us off the very harmful path toward 5 C or more that comes from business as usual coal, gas and oil burning. The world, and the dedicated ratifiers of Paris — who now include everyone but Trump’s upside down version of America — recognize that the agreement is just the first step in a number of necessary global policy moves to address climate change (hence the convening of COP 23 in Bonn). A response that will need to rapidly escalate if we are to preserve the safety and stability of modern civilization.

Toxic Thinking = Terrible Policy

Trump’s moves seem completely irrational, idiotic, and nonsensical to anyone who understands the reality of climate and the severe harm that ultimately comes from fossil fuel burning. It does, however, make sense in the frame of a kind of small-minded world-view. One that puts the profits and protection of a single industry over the short term ahead of the safety of everyone and everything else over the medium to long term. Trump’s actions are directly aimed at protecting environmentally destructive fossil fuels from more advanced and less harmful energy sources. His action is less U.S. interest focused than it is aimed at protecting a global industry. For a sitting President would recognize the substantial benefit of the hundreds of thousands of jobs the renewable energy industry is creating even as it replaces more feeble job producers like coal.

(It’s an upside down world that features the U.S. as the only global climate policy laggard. Trump’s world. Image source: World Resources Institute.)

The U.S. has long been a renewable energy innovator. A leader in solar, wind, and electrical vehicle technology. And we are certainly capable of helping to lead the world both away from ever-worsening climate nightmares even as we begin to realize the amazing health and economic benefits granted by clean energy. Trump, however, like many of his republican fellows, appears bound and determined to sabotage this new, jobs-rich, industry in favor of the older, dirty and very dangerous fossil fuels. That’s where his own economic and political interests lie. That can be the only explanation for his otherwise irrational actions that now run counter to the far more clear-thinking leadership of the entire world.

Narragansett Bay is Being Impacted by Climate Change; Scott Pruitt’s EPA Says Scientists Can’t Talk About it

Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier who was tapped to head the EPA by a similarly myopic Trump Administration now appears to be wielding the powers of that government agency to suppress the voices of climate scientists.

A report out of the New York Times yesterday found that three scientists scheduled to discuss the impacts of human-caused climate change on the sensitive environment of Narragansett Bay were barred from speaking in a panel discussion today. The scientists are employees of the EPA and contributors to a 400 page report on the health of Narragansett Bay. The study found numerous climate change related impacts to the Bay region — which is a vital economic resource and home to more than 2 million people.

The study found that:

“Climate change is affecting air and water temperatures, precipitation, sea level, and fish in the Narragansett Bay region.”

The EPA, presently headed by Scott Pruitt, gave no reason why the scientists were barred from sharing their climate change related findings at the panel. An agency charged with protecting the clean air and water of the United States, the EPA has likely never housed an administrator so at odds with its institutional mission. Pruitt has opposed numerous agency actions and has worked throughout his career to undermine both the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. Laws that aim to protect American citizens and wildlife from the harmful health impacts of polluted water and damaging particulates in the air.

Pruitt has also received criticism recently for spending $25,000 for a sound proof booth to mask his communications with who knows who, using considerable government funds to pay for round-the-clock personal security, and individually spending more than $58,000 for private charter jet flights.

(Scott Pruitt’s numerous ties to climate change denial and fossil fuel industries. Image source: Desmogblog.)

Pruitt was also one of a number of lawyers who directly challenged the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gasses in an effort to protect the U.S. from the harmful impacts of climate change during the Obama Administration. Pruitt has received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry and is the direct beneficiary of strong political support from climate change denial promoting agencies like the Heartland Institute.

Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D) stated his opposition to this week’s nonsensical censoring of EPA funded scientists stating:

“Narragansett Bay is one of Rhode Island’s most important economic assets and the EPA won’t let its scientists talk with local leaders to plan for its future. Whatever you think about climate change, this kind of collaboration should be a no-brainer. Muzzling our leading scientists benefits no one.”

Links:

EPA Cancels Talk on Climate Change by Agency Scientists

Furor Erupts over EPA Decision to Pull Scientists From Panel Discussion

Desmogblog

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Broadcast Media’s Deafening Silence as Hundreds of Thousands March in Defense of Science

I just want to remind the administration that science is political. It is inherently political like everything else … It’s in the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, to promote the progress of science and useful arts. That’s what enables innovation, and if our country stops innovating, it will not be able to compete worldwide. —  Bill Nye

*****

Scientists — from luminaries like Michael Mann, Bill Nye, Richard Alley, Gavin Schmidt, Stefan Rahmstorf and Neil deGrasse Tyson, to thousands of humbly toiling researchers for the public good whom you’ve probably never heard of — need our help now more than ever.

(Earth Day’s 2017 March for Science produced an unprecedented outpouring of support for public, non-special-interest-based scientific advancement and research around the world. Unfortunately, despite widespread internet and print coverage, broadcast media barely mentioned the historic event.)

Around the world and in the United States, science budgets are under threat, politically motivated individuals attempt to delete factual information related to public health and safety from science websites, individual scientists are subject to politically motivated attacks by quacks and climate change deniers in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Congress, and the person elected president is willfully scientifically illiterate while openly expressing opinions and pursuing policies that are hostile to fact-based science.

Public Rallies in Support of Scientists Under Threat

On Saturday, April 22nd, in honor of Earth Day, hundreds of thousands of people around the world marched in solidarity with scientists. Their essential jobs, often health, safety, and national security-related, are under threat of expungement by individuals and industries now empowered to attack the very basis of scientific truth. Though spearheaded by anti-science climate change deniers and those who harmfully attack public vaccination programs, the gamut of attacks on scientific understanding extends to research on toxic substances, water quality and security, endangered species, food safety and sustainability, forest resiliency, earth and weather observation and many, many more helpful endeavors.

 

(Saturday’s March for Science drew amazing support from around the globe.)

Weather Underground’s Bob Henson, in his own poignant and heartfelt call to join the march, noted:

For many of us, a prime motivation for marching on Saturday is to express our dismay and anger at the proposed slashing of U.S. federal funding of science that’s now on the table… These proposals run the gamut from medical to atmospheric research; in many areas, they would be the deepest cutbacks in decades. Cuts to ongoing scientific research can be especially problematic. It can take years to gather the people and resources needed for a major study. Once the momentum is disrupted and people scatter, a project may never fully recover. In the world of atmospheric science, satellites and other critical observing tools are especially vulnerable to funding-related problems. We only have one global atmosphere, and there is no substitute for monitoring it as closely as possible—including the effects that human-produced greenhouse gases are having on it. [emphasis added]

The public outpouring in support of these scientists — who often work for modest salaries and generate considerable public good for years and decades following the completion of their work — was tremendous. 610 demonstrations blanketed not just the U.S. but scores of countries and hundreds of cities around the world. Washington, New York, Sydney, London, Denver, L.A. and even Antarctica got involved. Never before in modern history has such an amazing show of support for scientific endeavors by climate scientists and others occurred.

Broadcast Media’s Increasingly Irresponsible Coverage — Or Lack Thereof

And though print media outlets like The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Washington Post provided almost continuous coverage of this historic event, television broadcast news media on Sunday morning following the protest was deafeningly silent. According to Media Matters:

Sunday news shows generally ignored the events that attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters. ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, and NBC’s Meet the Press failed to mention the March for Science at all, according to a Media Matters review. CNN’s State of the Union only had a brief headline about the demonstrations, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday only dedicated about one and a half minutes to the story.

Such failure to cover follows a long-running pattern of apparently oblivious or even anti-science-based activity in TV news media. For example, the Presidential debates hosted by big TV networks included zero questions on the key scientific issue of climate change. Broadcast media sources often host climate change deniers — giving quackery, politicization, and long-disproven claims equal time to actual established science. Meanwhile, TV coverage of climate change-related science and events has plummeted even as climate change-related impacts have steadily worsened. At a time when the Earth is the warmest it has ever been since the dawn of human civilization (and probably in at least 115,000 years), when ice caps are melting, seas are rising, the Great Barrier Reef is dying, crops are endangered and cities like Miami are slowly succumbing to the rising tides, such a dearth of coverage is both unconscionable and amoral.

(My father-in-law, a retired rocket scientist for the U.S. Navy, braves the rain to show his support for the Science March. Mainstream broadcast media, however, was sadly mostly AWOL.)

Over the weekend, many of the same networks that have failed to cover the climate crisis also failed to report on the issue of special-interest-based attacks on science, as well as the public protest and outrage over such attacks. This neglectful non-reporting serves to enable climate bad actors and provides cover for those who attack scientists. Even worse, many of these same broadcast news organizations, in the few rare instances when it was mentioned, used the March to provide a platform for climate-change deniers to level attacks against those who support science. Such actions make these broadcast news organizations (of which Fox News is almost always first and worst) at least partially complicit in the assault on science that spurred the Marches in the first place.

At the start of the Science March this past Saturday, Bill Nye so eloquently reminded us that science and its underlying and ever-expanding quest for fact-based truth is a critical cornerstone of our democracy. However, in order for a healthy democracy supportive of the public good to exist, broadcast media’s silence over or denial of critical scientific issues needs to stop. A large subset of the fourth estate of government in the form of independent internet media and various mainstream print media sources have stepped up to the plate when it comes to providing more responsible coverage of climate change and other key science-based issues. It’s time for broadcast media to pull the gigantic plank out of its own eye, wash its mouth out with a large dollop of soap, and follow suit.

(Broadcast media’s failure to adequately or responsibly cover the Science March follows a longer-term trend of reduced science and climate coverage by major TV outlets. In addition, networks like Fox often host climate-change skeptics or deniers, providing a false balance to actual mainstream scientists. Image source: Media Matters.)

The science, along with the foundations of a healthily functioning democracy, is under attack by politically motivated anti-science interests at the exact time that dangers to public health and safety in the form of climate change and increasingly virulent diseases are on the rise. This is a story that needs to be covered. And it is arguably the biggest, most important story in the history of our nation and our race. So to broadcast media we say — pitch in, or get the hell out of the way.

Links:

The March for Science

Why We are Taking Part in the March for Science

March for Science on Earth Day

Sunday Shows Mostly Silent on the March for Science

Historians Say March for Science is Pretty Unprecedented

Every Continent Turned out For Science March

Networks Providing Coverage of Science March Gave Platform to Climate Change Deniers

Why Has Climate Change Been Ignored in U.S. Electoral Debates?

Trump Presses Control+Alt+Delete on Science

Lamar Smith’s Attacks on Science are Funded by the Fossil Fuel Industry

Hat tip to Suzzanne

Hat tip to Robert in New Orleans

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Scientific hat tip to Bob Henson

Special thanks to everyone here and elsewhere who showed up this weekend in support of science

As France and Canada Plan to Phase Out Coal, Trump Backers Attack Tesla

Taking traditional coal power out of our energy mix and replacing it with cleaner technologies will significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, improve the health of Canadians, and benefit generations for years to come. —  Canada’s Environment Minister Kathleen McKenna

Make no mistake – Trump and his legion of doom cronies are a very real threat to the environment. Apart from the fact that they deny climate change actually exists, they are also quite big fans of coal. — IFL Science

Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost U.S. competitiveness. — 365 U.S. Companies in an open letter to Trump asking him not to back out of Paris Climate Summit.

Climate change is a hoax. — Myron Ebell, whom Trump tapped to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency transition team.

*****

The wide-ranging conflict over renewable energy, carbon emissions, and climate change rages on. And as Donald Trump prepares to enter the Oval Office, or stay within the gilded halls of Trump Tower to the tune of 1 million dollars a day from the U.S. taxpayer (not Trump), it appears that U.S. climate and renewable energy leadership are already starting to lag.

Canada and France to End Coal Burning

Yesterday, in stark contrast to the Trump Administration’s pledge to rebuild the bankrupt U.S. coal industry, Canada announced that it would phase out coal burning by 2030. In similar moves, France stated that it would shut down all of its coal plants by 2023. Both pledges by Canada and France are aimed at pursuing carbon emissions reductions agreed to at the Paris Climate Summit and to honor the spirit of a new climate summit — COP 22 — that is now underway.

France and Canada join with Britain, the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark who have all announced near-term timetables for phasing out coal burning. And since coal is the worst of the three major fossil fuel sources of CO2 emissions, halting coal burning is a key to addressing the rapidly worsening crisis that is human forced climate change.

Trump’s own statements on global climate summits and carbon emissions reduction commitments are that he wants to back out. An action that has already harmed U.S. trade prospects with France — whose public officials are now signaling that they could slap a carbon tax on U.S. goods if the President-Elect carries through with his threats. But, perhaps even worse, it appears that Trump’s intention to cling to dirty, old industries is also endangering U.S. competitiveness in emerging markets.

Elon Musk Solarizes American Somao

As the world moves ahead with emissions reductions and looks for ways to manage a recalcitrant U.S. under Trump, backers of Trump’s Presidential bid are at this time preparing to attack a key emerging U.S. solar and electrical vehicles industry. This week, Elon Musk’s Tesla announced that it had succeeded in providing 100 percent solar powered electricity to the island territory of Samoa.

american-samoa

(Like many places in the world, American Samoa is threatened by climate change. Now, thanks to Tesla, the island will not contribute to the problem through electricity generation as all such energy is produced by 100 percent solar power. Image source: The Embassy of Samoa.)

And over the next few years, Tesla, a global leader in renewable energy products, promises to create whole new markets even as it helps the world greatly reduce carbon emissions by providing both zero emitting power sources and zero emitting electrical vehicles.

Trump Backers Smear Tesla While Subsidy Support for Fossil Fuels Continues

If there is one major avenue for U.S. growth into new industry and innovation — it comes in the form of renewables. And Tesla is on the cutting edge of renewable energy innovation. The Trump Administration has made big and risky bets on rapid U.S. economic growth to support its own economic policy stance. But Trump backers appear set to try to hobble Tesla and prevent its entry as a global energy leader fostering solutions to climate change, providing products that enable energy independence, and supporting thousands of American jobs.

Trump’s stance in this case is pretty outrageous. It would be like the Reagan Administration attacking personal computers and Microsoft in favor of companies that produced the typewriter after his election in 1980. But as ludicrous as such a policy would have been, it wouldn’t have risked the global calamity that a failure to transition to renewable energy sources results in today.

fossil-fuel-subsidies

(A vast amount of public money and support has gone to aid fossil fuel extraction. This extraction, in its turn, has contributed greatly to the problem of human-caused climate change. It’s worth noting that zero-emitting renewable energy, over its industry lifetime has received just 1 percent of the support that the fossil fuel industry has in this country. Image source: Clean Technica.)

Despite the plain fact that expansion of access to renewable energy is necessary to deal with the crisis of human-caused climate change, Trump backers continue to attack these helpful new industries. In the most recent salvo, according to Electrek, a right wing group that aided Trump’s Presidential bid is now spear-heading a PR campaign aimed at damaging Tesla. The group is trying to falsely portray Tesla and the solar industry as a ‘subsidy hog.’ But the group mentions nothing of the massive subsidies going to fossil fuel corporations and to related oil, gas, and coal extraction. The group’s leader, Laura Ingraham, is a Fox News host and is likely acting to protect oil, gas and coal subsidies from a more appealing and less environmentally harmful energy industry competitor. And because groups like the ones fronted by Ingraham have come to prominence by riding in on Trump’s coat-tails, we can expect more and more of the same.

Business Leaders Plead With Trump, But Policy Looks Bad as Bad Can Be

But it’s not just an issue of Trump and his backers targeting Tesla. It’s an issue of Trump vs the sentiment of a major subset of the U.S. business community.

Last week, 365 major U.S. businesses issued an open letter asking Trump to support policies that confront climate change like the Paris Climate Summit. Businesses that included icons like Mars Candy, Nike, IKEA, Intel, Dannon, Dupont, and Hilton were among the signatories. And these industries together represent a huge interest group. One that supports the low carbon and carbon nuetral economy that companies like Tesla are helping to build. So the question is — will Trump turn a deaf ear to a whole segment of the American business community just to defend the interests of the damaging and fading fossil fuel industry (supposing the alternative is the highly unlikely event in which Trump, like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch, undergoes a miraculous change of heart).

Add in the fact that Trump’s cabinet is full of climate change deniers like Myron Ebell — who was the big voice supporting the fake argument that ‘global warming is a hoax’ — and we get the general picture of an Admistration that is hostile to both renewable energy and to the global effort to confront climate change. That is deaf to rational arguments by global political and industrial leaders. And such a brazen failure to engage on an issue that impacts pretty much everyone is the kind of lack of leadership that comes to the U.S. at the absolute worst possible time.

Links:

France to Halt Coal Burning

Canada to Halt Coal Burning

U.S. Companies to Trump — Don’t Abandon Global Climate Deal

IFL Science

Clean Technica

The Embassy of Samoa

Hat tip to Genomik

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to June

Hat tip to Greg

Election 2016: A Portrait of America Under Siege

“Donald Trump is an ignorant man, a vulgar man, a man who reminds me of Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin in his arrogance and thirst for power.” — Bernie Sanders

A Bizarro Reality

To look at Donald Trump’s version of what makes America great is to take a retrograde step through a rip in space-time and enter a fake populist bizarro land. To venture into an alternate dimension where a once-mighty and enlightened nation was strong-armed into taking the downward-sloping path into crisis and collapse. And like the bizarro land of the Superman mythos, this alternate reality is trying to inflict itself on the real world. It will succeed if we let it.

Trump’s a man who’s angrily proud of the fact that he does not pay taxes to support the safety, security and prosperity of the nation he seeks to lead. He’s a billionaire pandering to white workers’ fears of economic disenfranchisement while fighting to cut the very social and economic supports that these voters often rely on. A red-faced fear-monger blaming innocent immigrants and African Americans for economic woes his party — the republicans — engineered through forty years of trickle down economics. Policies that party is seeking to enforce through an unjust suppression of voters in places like North Carolina and Florida.

trumpdystopia

(A portrait of America under siege. What would America under Trump look like? This smokestack shanty town under darkening skies and surrounded by walls topped with barbed wire fences sitting in the shadow of gilded corporate towers just about says it all. Image source: What Would Jack Do?)

Donald Trump has often sought the populist mantle Bernie Sanders rightly bears. But Trump, Sanders says, “is an ignorant man, a vulgar man, a man who reminds me of Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin in his arrogance and thirst for power.” And as Bernie Sanders goes to bat on the campaign trail for Clinton, pledging to make Trump —  “start paying his fair share in taxes,” the rage-filled corporate mogul tars the career public servant Hillary Clinton, attempting to smear her with the same Wall Street trappings Trump of Trump Towers ignominy has worn since the day of his birth. In other words, it’s one thing to take campaign donations from Wall Street, but another thing entirely to live, eat, and breathe the Wall Street mantra. To support, as Trump has throughout his life, the same harmful tax cut, deregulation, and anti-minimum wage policies that created the problem of Wall Street vs Main Street in the first place.

Entering the Dystopian Upside Down World of Donald Trump

To live in Trump’s reality is to live in an America under a strange kind of upside down siege. If the real economic problem in America is income inequality — then Trump promotes more of it. If the real threats to America’s foreign policy endeavors are increasing isolation and alienation of our allies — Trump seeks to build a wall. If dictators imperil our country or disrupt our elections, then Trump praises them. And if the very real climate change spurred threats such as coastal inundation facing cities like Miami, Norfolk, and Elizabeth City and drought losses threatening the water supply of the Colorado River states are ever-worsening, Trump seeks to burn more coal, oil and gas, attacks renewables, and denies that climate change is actually happening.

(As bad as the effects of climate change currently are today, Donald Trump’s combination of anti-science, anti-renewables, and pro fossil fuels policy will result in a reversal of critical climate change mitigation at exactly the time when they are needed most. Leonardo Di Caprio makes an impassioned appeal for us to do our part and vote for politicians that support responsible climate change policies and against those like Trump who hurt pretty much everyone by pandering to harmful fossil fuel special interests.)

If abuses by the powerful have created harm in America and abroad, Trump talks up abusive strong-men like Russia’s Vladimir Putin. And Putin, for his own part, appears to have done everything he can to help Wikileaks hack Hillary Clinton’s emails or even post fake versions of emails to further misinform the American electorate.

Trump makes fun of dying polar bears, pretends Obama has no birth certificate, mocks reporters with physical disabilities, panders to white supremacists, and has turned himself into a wretched caricature of misogyny. There’s not a victimizable person, animal, or class he doesn’t appear willing to take advantage of.  Bully may describe him, but it doesn’t fully contain his apparent rage-filled ardor for exploitation, for wrecking lives, for running rough-shod over people or things he has labeled ‘loser.’

Praying to America’s Darker Angels

Trump seems to believe that we can transport ourselves back to a mythological past when America was greater than it is today. To promote the illusion that we are, somehow, not far better off now than we were at a time when African Americans were held as slaves, or suffered under the abuses of Jim Crow, when scientists were persecuted, when there were no labor laws preventing the exploitation of children or protecting workers’ rights to fair pay and treatment, when women had no right to vote, when the abuses of state-supported corporate exploitation by such entities as the East India Trade company led to the real Boston Tea Party and wholesale continental revolt, and when a policy of systemic genocide was enacted against the natives who lived on American soil for thousands of years before the colonists came.

What Trump’s lack-vision fails to see is that America’s aspirations for greatness led her out of a very dark time scarred by these ills and into the far more enlightened age of today. An age that is now under threat by the retrograde narratives and policies promoted by people like Trump who seem to push ever on toward a return to the old dark days of injustice and oppression. And this mindset, the abusive and revisionist view of history, is something we must reject if we are to have much hope of navigating the very serious troubles that are coming in this age global climate change and increasing dislocation. We must embrace new ways of doing things. We must turn to new leaders. We must reject the political violence of an old, angry white man, and the system of dominance and harm that he promotes.

A Necessary Endorsement of One of Our Nation’s Strongest Women

This is my endorsement for Hillary Clinton. A woman whom I admire for her strength, her tenacity, and her clarity of purpose. I may not agree with every policy she stands for or admire every aspect of her life. Like the rest of us, she is human and imperfect. But she is a true American who has served her country with honor. A lady who supports our America not just with her words, but both through paying a fair share of her substantial earnings and through her considerable life’s work. A leader I can stand behind. Someone who has already done many great things for this nation and who I believe, with the help of people like Bernie Sanders, is capable of so much more. In a day when we face off against so many abuses both at home and abroad, I think America would benefit from the steady hand of this strong woman — who has the potential to be a truly historical figure and to lead our nation out of a sea of troubles.

Donald Trump represents the worst sins the old world, but if we give Hillary the right kind of support, she can stand for the better virtues of tomorrow and serve the vision of an age that confronts its problems rather than spiraling ever deeper into self-destructive denial, anger, and isolation. That’s what this election means to me — risking an almost assured disaster by electing Trump or creating a very real possibility for reducing and escaping present harms if we elect Clinton. The choice, for me, couldn’t be clearer.

hillary-stormborn

(Throughout his campaign, Trump has impuned the dignity of women, calling them nasty and bragging about objectifying them. As a strong woman, Hillary is exactly the kind of person who should face down Trump’s misogyny. Image source: House of Clinton. )

So I urge you to lift your voices in this election. To be heard and to make your power and capacity to promote justice known. I ask you to stand strong against the intimidation, against the pervasive misinformation coming from those who would inflict so much harm. You are capable. We are capable. We can do this. We can release America from the siege that a fake Tea Party promoted by corporate interests and that people like Trump have placed her under. And we can make a strike against the underlying systemic mysogyny of our nation by electing our first female President of this United States of America.

I have listened to your voices and I know that you are strong. So be heard! It is time for the real America to shine through.

Message to Presidential Debate Moderators: Failure to Ask Climate Questions = Climate Change Denial

115,000 — that’s about how many years back into Earth’s past we’d likely have to go to find one that was hotter than 2016 globally. 0 — that’s the number of Presidential debate questions that raised the issue of human-caused climate change during this critical election year.

What do we call this? According to David Leonhardt at The New York Times, it’s a complete failure of journalism.

Debate Moderators Fall Asleep as Climate Threats Worsen

In a year in which the very existence of the 25 million year old Great Barrier Reef was threatened by climate change, at a time during which climate change has brought more droughts, fires, floods, extreme weather events, sea ice losses, glacial melt, threats to global security, and negative impacts to ocean health than at any time in human history, and during a period in which the formation of dangerous entities like ISIS and the generation of mass waves of refugees now crossing the world are being spurred by droughts and floods and losses to food and water security related to climate change, you’d think that just one Presidential Debate question would have mentioned the subject.

(Climate change has been linked to the 1,000 year scale drought event that spurred unrest, mass migration and extremism in Syria. As the world warms, climate change will threaten the stability of an increasing number of states. Failure to adequately mitigate climate change multiplies threats across the globe. From Michael Mann’s twitter feed.)

Instead, a critical issue of security and survival for every child, woman and man now living in the United States and around the world was utterly and completely ignored.

In fact, based on the questions presented, we can only assume that the mainstream media entities hosting the U.S. Presidential Debates were dramatically uninformed on an issue that is now guaranteed to represent the greatest threat of our age. And the simple failure to ask these essential climate questions generates a state of denial in both our politics and in our news reporting. A denial that helps to freeze a necessary societal response to a growing existential threat facing our nation.

Failed Journalism Presents False Frame to American Public

How did some among us become so irresponsible? So willing to turn a mass media deaf ear to the pack of climate wolves now howling at our collective doors? The level of failure in journalism is so great that it generates bafflement over possible, understandably rational causes.

To be very clear, not all mass media sources are contributing to the problem. And there are many responsible journalists who are aghast that moderators have so greatly failed the public interest in this way. David Leonhardt from the New York Times noted today:

The failure to ask about climate change is a failure of journalism. I thought that the debate moderators had some very fine moments over the last few weeks, calmly drawing out the candidates. But the lack of a single question on the world’s biggest problem was a grievous error.

But Lester Holter of NBC, Anderson Cooper of CNN, and Chris Wallace of the climate change denial proliferating Fox News, all failed the public in this respect. One might especially expect more from Cooper, who at least seems to show some appropriate concern for climate change related threats. But even this somewhat more responsible debate moderator failed to deliver on a subject of serious concern for the American people.

september-of-2016-hottest-on-record

(According to NASA, September of 2016 was the hottest September in the 136 year climate record. This most recent record hot month occurred during a year in which global temperatures are fast approaching the dangerous 1.5 C climate threshold. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Climate Change Debate Denial Prevents Awareness and Response

What I can say is that there is no way to generate an adequate response to climate change unless the issue is taken seriously and presented to the public in an honest and open fashion. One that includes how our fossil fuel burning is generating worsening climate impacts with each passing year. A rational person observing us from afar might think that by 2016, during a year in which global temperatures will hit 1.19 to 1.25 C above 1880s averages, in which very damaging events due to climate change are now encroaching and multiplying, this issue would be placed squarely in the public eye by moderators who are at least concerned about the well being of their own properties and families.

But no. Nothing. Nada. Not a chirp.

As a result, the debate moderators and their hosting media agencies have presented a false framing of issues during 2016. For all practical purposes — an alternate reality in which climate change does not appear to be happening in the media sphere has been generated by this lack of discussion. And so we are all once again tumbling down the rabbit hole of unreality as outside conditions continue to worsen. This essential failure is as tragic as it is both shameful and morally wrong.

Links:

The Debates Were a Failure of Journalism

Michael Mann

Climate Change Creates Existential Crisis For Great Barrier Reef

NASA GISS

Hat tip to Wili

Choosing Our Nation’s Course for the Next 40,000 Years — Democratic and Republican Party Platforms Show Extreme Contrast on Climate Change

According to our best understanding of the science, the Permian hothouse extinction event which wiped out more than 90 percent of life in the oceans and more than 70 percent of vertebrate life on land lasted between 48,000 and 60,000 years. Continued fossil-fuel burning through the end of this century could set off an event as bad or worse, proceeding with a speed far faster than the Permian and possibly having more harmful and longer-lasting impacts.

Keeping these sobering thoughts in mind, it has been rightly said that though we are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, we are likely the last generation with the opportunity to do anything about it. And in this election we will choose the path of our nation not only for the next four years, but over the course of at least the next 40,000. For when we vote, we will be choosing between leaders who have called for a global mobilization to attempt to prevent catastrophic changes to the Earth’s climate that will last for untold millennia and those who have promised to ignore these worsening harms until they have wholly swallowed us up.

Stark Climate Policy Contrasts

Never before has climate change been such an important issue in a national election. And never before have the two dominant party goals on the issue of climate change shown such stark contrast. On the one hand, you have a Republican party that downplays and denies the threats posed by rising seas, worsening droughts, oceans suffering expanding dead zones and acidification, stronger and more damaging storms, and deteriorating food and water security. On the other, you have a Democratic party committed to a response that does not ‘leave our children a planet that is profoundly damaged.’

In pursuit of these goals, Democrats are seeking to put policies in place to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent through 2050. Republicans pledge to stymie any progress in carbon emissions cuts by fighting the Kyoto and Paris climate summit provisions, in effect locking in more and more harmful warming over the short through long term.

2016 Climate Change Platforms Democrat Republican

(When it comes to climate change, ever-strengthening Democratic policy measures come into conflict with increasingly intransigent Republican climate change denial, support for continued fossil-fuel burning, and attacks on agencies like the EPA. Image source: InsideClimateNews.)

Democrats have pledged to implement President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (which would, among other things, allow the EPA to regulate carbon emissions), continue to increase fuel economy standards for light and heavy-duty vehicles, and continue to increase environmental and efficiency standards for building codes and appliances. Laughably calling coal — the dirtiest, most heavily polluting energy source — clean, Republicans pledge to do away with the Clean Power Plan altogether.

Democrats are planning to empower the EPA to regulate hydraulic fracturing to protect water supplies. Such plans would necessarily result in limits placed on the destructive practice. The Republicans pledge to scrap the EPA, turning it into a bipartisan commission neutered of any real power to prevent bad-actor businesses from expanding fracking, ruining the environment or dumping toxins into the air, water and land.

(We are beginning to feel the first slings and arrows of climate change, but compared to what we could see if we continue fossil fuel burning, if we support the devastating climate and energy policies that Republicans are pushing, the current difficulties are minor and easy. Even though climate impacts will continue to worsen for some time, Republican policies will ensure that the absolute worst case climate impacts will be made real for our generation and for hundreds and perhaps thousands of generations to follow. Video source: Not Reality TV by James Cameron.)

Democrats support Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline (along with an associated expansion of tar sands extraction and burning) and state that no such pipeline will be constructed under Democratic governance. Democrats further pledge to support federal land, infrastructure and resource management decisions that do not further contribute to worsening climate change. Republicans pledge to complete the Keystone Pipeline, expand tar sands extraction, and to build numerous other such fossil fuel facilities.

Democrats support placing a price of some kind on carbon emissions in order to reflect their larger damage to the environment. Republicans pledge not to tax or price carbon and promise to push for expensive carbon capture and storage which has, thus far, primarily been used to further increase oil extraction resulting in yet more carbon emissions long term.

Moreover, the Democratic party has issued this global call to action on the issue of climate change:

We believe the United States must lead in forging a robust global solution to the climate crisis. We are committed to a national mobilization, and to leading a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II. In the first 100 days of the next administration, the President will convene a summit of the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists, and indigenous communities to chart a course to solve the climate crisis.

Such a statement elevates the threat of climate change to an appropriate level of national and international awareness and response. Wars are terrible, but the threat of climate change promises to multiply the root causes of war, destabilize entire regions, and — by risking the destruction of thousands of cities and communities, water and food supplies, and lands habitable by human beings — singly inflict more damage than any war or accumulation of wars throughout the history of humankind.

Strong Democratic Supports for Climate Action Apparently Open to Improvement

As such, the difference between the two major parties on this critical issue could not be more clear. The Democratic party pledges to act strongly to prevent catastrophic climate change by setting out policies that would rapidly reduce carbon emissions, rapidly adopt renewable energy systems, respond and adapt to climate threats as they emerge, and mobilize the international community to do the same. Republicans pledge to defend coal, expand fracking, increase drilling, dismantle the EPA, ignore the coming harmful global events that climate change will certainly produce, and to build more pipelines.

The Democratic policies would greatly reduce the long-term harm posed by human-forced climate change, whereas the Republican policies would basically work to lock in catastrophic levels of CO2 near 900 parts per million and around 4-5 degrees Celsius total global warming (since 1880) by the end of this century.

RCP 8.5 Nature

(Once the Earth heats up, it can take thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of years for it to cool off again. Republican-supported climate policies would push toward worst-case global warming along an RCP 8.5 pathway resulting in 4-5 C warming by 2100, 6 C warming by 2150 and 9 C warming by 2300. Temperatures in this range would set off a dangerous hothouse environment likely lasting for tens to hundreds of thousands of years. Democratic policies would take us off the RCP 8.5 path and instead push for a still-harmful but more easy to manage RCP 4.5-range scenario. Note that permafrost and hydrate carbon feedbacks are not included in this analysis and that long-term warming in the 500 to 1,000 year range for RCP 4.5 under Earth System Sensitivity is likely to hit near 4 C. Image source: Nature.)

Although it’s true that Democrats could still do more to improve their climate policies, could act even more swiftly than they now pledge to, this is the strongest Democratic party platform on the issue of climate change yet, one that is clearly setting out the goal that Democrats are committed to leading a comprehensive fight against the harms posed by human-forced warming. Moreover, the Democrats have shown an appropriate escalation of responses to climate change that leaves open the door to further, more ardent action on the issue.

Republicans, on the other hand, fight for more fossil-fuel burning, more heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere. They commit to a rapidly worsening climate situation becoming so terrible by the middle to end of this century, that it’s questionable whether much of modern civilization could endure it without experiencing an ever-worsening series of collapses, losses and retractions.

The choice, therefore, is probably one of the most important voting choices you will ever make in any election. Voting for Republicans will help to lock in thousands upon thousands of years of catastrophic climate harm. Voting for Democrats is a vote for a party that is actively aware of the problem and promotes a national and global mobilization aimed at confronting it and lessening the damage.

Links:

InsideClimateNews

Democratic Platform Calls for Global Mobilization on Climate Change

Nature

Not Reality TV by James Cameron

Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Trump Calls Climate Change a Chinese Hoax

Stop Keystone XL

Under a Green Sky

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Republican Climate Change Denial is Blinding Our Ability to Observe the Arctic

Denial.

It’s all-too-often what happens to the powerful when they are confronted with the consequences of their own bad actions. It can best be said that denial is blindness — the willful inability to open one’s eyes to the tough reality of the world. In literature, we can see denial in the tragic sin of hubris and in the metaphor of Oedipus the King gouging his own eyes out as a result of his failure to come to terms with the warnings of prophecy.

In the psychological sense, denial involves the inability to cope with reality such that a person will act in an irrational fashion to the point of generating fantasies that the object of said denial does not exist. Behaviorally, this results in an increasing degradation of a person’s ability to confront or cope with the object of denial — to the point of ardent, irrational, and possibly destructive outbursts when faced with it.

Arctic sea ice loss.

Ever since 1979 an array of satellite sensors has allowed our scientists to directly observe the sea ice in the Arctic. Since that time, and as a human-forced warming of the world ramped up, the area which that ice covers has dramatically shrunken. So much so that by this year, 2016, there’s a risk that not only will a new all-time record low be reached, but that by the end of this summer almost all the ice in the Arctic Ocean will be melted out entirely. A risk that a new climate change related event will start to take shape in the Arctic. The blue ocean events.

Arctic Sea Ice Area

(Arctic sea ice area as measured by observational satellites and most recently by  F17. The bottom line of the graph measures days of the year. The left side of the graph measures sea ice area. The corresponding intersections determine sea ice area on any given day of a year in the record. The up and downward swoop of each line on the graph shows the seasonal variation of sea ice area for that given year. The blue line on the graph represents 1980 sea ice area. The dark gray line represents the 1979 to 2000 average. The red line represents the 2012 record low year. 2016, in black, shows a squiggle as F17 begins to fail in early March of this year — a year that could significantly beat 2012 as the worst melt year on record. The sensor is failing because it is old and needs replacement. A replacement that is now sitting in a warehouse due to republican-led satellite research funding cuts. Data source: NSIDC. Image source: Pogoda i Klimat.)

We will know whether or not such an event took place because there are satellites giving us an accurate picture of this critical and sensitive part of our world in real-time. In effect, these satellites grant us the gifts of sight, of foresight, and of forewarning too. They give us the ability to catch a glimpse of what waits over the horizon and affords us with the opportunity to act to avoid an ever-worsening catastrophe — should we have the wisdom to choose to do so.

Willful Blindness

Where does denial meet with Arctic sea ice loss? In the form of climate change denying republicans attempting again and again to cut and with-hold funding to NASA and NSIDC instruments that track what is an unprecedented and historic melt now ongoing. For ever since their coming to power in Congress in 2010, republicans have done everything they can to remove funding for the devices that provide a direct observation of the changes coming as a result of a human-forced warming of our world.

You can read about the recent history of republican attempts to blind the satellite eyes of science here in this comprehensive article by The Atlantic. Attempts that have finally played out in the increasing degradation of the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s ability to track sea ice area and extent during this crucial year. For as the critical Arctic sea ice observation sensor called F 17 begins to fail, a sensor that could replace it sits grounded — lacking funding to operate or launch it during a year in which the Arctic is likely to experience historic and wrenching changes. A year that has already experienced both record Arctic heat and record low sea ice coverage throughout both Winter and Spring with more records likely on the way.

What’s happened now, due to republican ties to fossil fuel industry and a related push to obliviate climate science that observes changes in the Earth, the atmosphere, the world’s ice and the oceans, is a degradation of climate and weather disaster preparedness. For the fossil fuel industry — which has come to completely dominate republican policy-making since at least the years of the Bush administration and which is the cause of pretty much all the harmful changes we now see in the world due to human-forced warming — the degradation of these sensors may help confuse the science and perhaps allow these dirty and dangerous interests to dump carbon into the atmosphere for a few more years or decades. Extending dirty industry profits and what has been a deleterious and corrupting political influence for a little while longer.

Beaufort Sea Ice Early Melt

(Beaufort sea ice in the Arctic is now melting and breaking up at least one month faster than it does during a typical year. Republicans and their fossil fuel allies may not want to hear or see this happening as it’s direct observational proof that the policies they’ve been pushing — drilling, fracking, coal burning, and suppression of renewable energy — are resulting in increasingly dramatic and dangerous changes to the Earth system and environment. So much so that they want to shut off the satellites that provide us with such critical observational data of what’s happening to our Earth and oceans in real time. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

For the rest of us, the loss of these sensors means the loss of a key piece of infrastructure — one that is critical to our climate resiliency. For if we cannot observe and predict trends in the Arctic, then we will come to be more and more at the mercy of dangerous changes now going on there. We will be increasingly caught by surprise by the changes that are now almost certainly bound to happen. And a growing number of us will fall into risk of being caught off guard. Of suffering from loss of property and, perhaps, injury or loss of life.

Willful and destructive blindness. That’s what happens when hubris rules in Washington. And for too long now we’ve suffered this republican climate change denial and its all-too-related fossil fuel based hubris. A plague that is now not only wrecking the world’s climate, but is degrading our ability to observe and respond to the dangerous and Earth-altering changes that are now taking place.

Links:

NOAA Says GOP Funding Cuts Would Halve The Performance of Severe Weather Forecasts

The Republican Push to Cut Climate Change Observational Research

The Arctic is Melting and Scientists Just Lost a Key Tool to Observe it

Republicans Slash Climate Funds

Satellite Data in Support of Climate Resilience

NSIDC

Pogoda i Klimat

Expanding Exxon Mobile Climate Change Denial Investigation

Hat Tip to Redsky

Welcome to the Renewable Energy Renaissance — Fight to End Fossil Fuel Burning is Now On

Beneath the dark and growing cloud of human fossil fuel emissions there are a few carbon-free lights being kindled among all the black, coal-ash soot.

They’re the lights of a new renaissance. An unprecedented period of change for governments, the energy markets, and for individuals themselves. For we are all, whether we realize it or not, now embroiled in a struggle that will determine our own fates as well as that of our children and of all the generations to follow. For this renaissance is as much about liberation — the provision of clean energy choice as means to free ourselves from a wretched captivity to fossil fuel consumption — as it is about fighting to leave those very hothouse mass extinction fuels in the ground.

It’s a new kind of vital social unrest. A global struggle for justice on a scale not seen since at least the downfall of the slave trade. The battle lines have been drawn — in courtrooms, at ports, along pipelines, and on the train tracks, in the legislative offices of cities, states and in the halls of the federal government itself. We, as a civilization, are being divided into pro-renewable energy, pro-response to climate change, pro saving life on this Earth, and anti-renewable energy, anti-response, climate change denial factions. It is a disruptive, highly dangerous period of history. One we must successfully navigate if we are to survive as a modern civilization and, perhaps, as a species living on this Earth.

volcano-eruption

(The human carbon emission is now 150 times that of current volcanic activity. To achieve the same rate of emission from volcanoes, you would need a Siberian Flood Basalt equal to that which set off the Permian Mass Extinction — the worst hothouse extinction in Earth’s history — active on every continent on the face of the Earth. Image source: Human Activities Produce More Carbon Emissions Than Volcanoes.)

Given the crucial nature of what has now become an essential conflict over the fate of the Earth herself, it’s worth asking yourself the question — which side are you on? The darkness of climate change is upon us and the need to make such a choice could not be more clear or resonant.

Nevada Monopoly Fossil Fuels vs Solar Fight Goes National

An example of this struggle in microcosm took place during December through January of 2015 in Nevada. Emboldened by similar decisions in Arizona, monopoly utilities moved to protect their carbon-polluting infrastructures by pushing the state government (made up of a majority of republicans to include the governor — Sandoval) to impose restrictive fees on solar energy use throughout the state. Targeting rooftop solar energy systems, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUCN — also made up entirely of republicans) voted to, across the board, increase costs for rooftop solar users by both slashing incentives and imposing draconian fees. The decision negatively impacted 12,000 current solar customers using rooftop power to include families, schools and even public libraries.

Solar City, a leading solar energy provider in Nevada has since decided to completely remove its industry from the state. The decision came after this statement:

“[The PUC] has effectively shut down the rooftop-solar industry and taken the extraordinary step to punish over 12,000 existing solar customers, including schools, with exorbitant fees in what appears to be an attempt to protect the profits of the state’s largest utility. All three members of the PUC, who voted unanimously to change the rules, were appointed by Governor Sandoval.”

“Most disturbing is the PUC’s decision to retroactively sabotage existing solar customers’ investments by changing the rules on them. The Nevada government encouraged these people to go solar with financial incentives and pro-solar policies, and now the same government is punishing them for their decision with new costs they couldn’t have foreseen. These actions are certainly unethical, unprecedented, and possibly unlawful. While the rest of the country embraces a clean energy future, Nevada is moving backwards.”

Nevada Pro Solar Protesters

(Solar energy supporters protest Nevada’s draconian solar fees in a January 13 action outside the PUC headquarters. Under the initial ruling even existing solar users would have been penalized. Now a new ‘compromise’ offered by PUC will ‘only’ provide a severe disincentive for pretty much every other Nevada resident to adopt solar energy for their home or business. Image source: Ecowatch.)

Nevada’s PUC decision smacks of a monopoly power generation protection scheme. One that has made it impossible for solar installers to operate in the state. As result, Nevada’s two other top solar installers (Vivint and Sunrun) have now followed Solar City’s example and decided to halt operations in Nevada. The jobs impact from just these three solar providers closing shop is a net loss of 6,000. But with hundreds of small solar installers active in Nevada before the ruling, the economic and environmental damage is likely to be ongoing and long-term.

As Vox noted on January 20th:

For the state’s monopoly utility, it’s a successful attempt to avoid competition. For the well-funded conservative groups fighting the spread of solar around the country, it’s the first decisive victory. For most Nevadans, however, it represents an own goal, a senseless act of self-sabotage.

But what happens in Nevada, apparently, doesn’t really end up staying in Nevada. After Harry Reid, a Nevada Senator, questioned the decision’s legality, national voices began to take up the cause as well. Hillary Clinton spoke out against the decision. Bernie Sanders — running a strong challenge to Hillary in this year’s democratic nomination campaign — noted that the PUC board’s decision was “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Martin O’Malley, also a democratic presidential candidate, implied that the decision was an intentional ‘sabotage’ of the solar energy industry.

PUCN has since offered to ‘grandfather’ in existing solar users. But the war to stop rooftop solar growth by this fossil fuel powered utility appears to have jumped back into Arizona where another large utility is seeking to impose similar exorbitant fees.

26 Red States Appeal Supreme Court to Rule on Clean Power Plan

As if Nevada’s war against rooftop solar industry within its own state wasn’t bad enough, a group of 26 states currently governed by fossil fuel industry funded republicans are now submitting a Supreme Court challenge to Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The group has re-stated the now typical and jaded republican claim that the EPA doesn’t retain the legal authority to regulate carbon emissions. The new claim is predicated on the statement that EPA will force fossil fuels out of business, stating that the federal government does not retain the authority to effectively ban the use of a particular set of fuels.

It’s a convoluted appeal that smacks of past states rights arguments regarding every kind of dangerous, toxic or nefarious trade from slavery, to firearms, to tobacco. The appeal letter demands an ‘immediate stay’ on the Clean Power Plan (a cessation of implementation). It seeks to sanctify as ‘legal right’ the ability of coal plants to remain open and to continue pollution. It attacks federal government decisions that would support renewable energy as a solution to climate change (without using the words climate change once in the document, which itself required a supreme manipulation of legalese to achieve). And it uses language that implies state policy directives and goals supersede those of the federal government.

UCS-Clean-Power-Plan-costs-and-benefits

(According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the benefits of the Clean Power Plan far outweigh the costs. The fossil fuel industry and their political allies don’t want you to know this basic fact. Image source: The Union of Concerned Scientists.)

The appeal holds up as evidence the fact that numerous coal plants will be forced to close during 2016 as states attempt to come into compliance with the Clean Power Plan. Plants the republicans are seeking to keep open for their industry sponsors. Plants whose emissions republicans continue to fight to lock in.

The statement is, in essence, an attempt to make an end run around the typical court appeals process which will take months. Such a delay would force states, by law, to move to comply with the EPA standard before any Supreme Court ruling. An action that smacks of desperation on the part of the fossil fuel industry and its backers.

We should be very clear — any effective action on climate change will require that fossil fuel generating power plants be closed down early. That they will not be permitted to emit their toxic, hothouse extinction forcing, gasses into the atmosphere on and on into the coming decades. This is a moral decision that is as necessary for the survival of human civilizations as it for many of the innocent creatures now living on our planet. The authors of the above letter know this, which is why the language is crafted in such a way as to attack the very rational underpinnings of that understanding.

New Study Says US Can Go 100 Percent Renewables Without Nuclear

As the fossil fuel industry fights through all its various political agents to retain dominance and not lose ground against a burgeoning renewable energy sector and an environmental movement morally compelled to reduce harm by preventing the worst impacts of human-caused climate change from being realized, a new study released today provides still more hope for a rapid transition away from a horribly damaging dumping of CO2 into the atmosphere.

The study, published in Nature Climate Change, found that existing technologies including upgraded powerlines connected to wind and solar energy power stations across the US could provide 80 percent of the electricity for the United States by 2030. The upgraded power lines would link the various regional power sectors in the US. In turn, these sectors would share renewable energy across the entire grid structure of the United States. Such sharing would vastly reduce the intermittency of renewable energy without the need for large-scale energy storage systems. A windstorm in Kansas could thus provide electricity to Gulf Coast residents sitting in still air. Sunlight falling at dawn in DC could, in a similar way, power street lamps during the dark of still night in LA.

The study authors note:

Carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation are a major cause of anthropogenic climate change. The deployment of wind and solar power reduces these emissions, but is subject to the variability of the weather. In the present study, we calculate the … configuration of variable electrical power generators using weather data with high spatial … resolution over the contiguous US. Our results show that when using future anticipated costs for wind and solar, carbon dioxide emissions from the US electricity sector can be reduced by up to 80% relative to 1990 levels, without an increase in the levelized cost of electricity. The reductions are possible with current technologies and without electrical storage. Wind and solar power increase their share of electricity production as the system grows to encompass large-scale weather patterns. This reduction in carbon emissions is achieved by moving away from a regionally divided electricity sector to a national system enabled by high-voltage direct-current transmission (emphasis added).

The reason why large grid structures able to efficiently transport  renewable energy from individually modular and intermittent systems works is due to the fact that there’s always wind blowing or sun shining somewhere on the Earth. The more inter-connected and efficient the grid, the more it is enabled to tap and move this energy from place to place and greatly, overall, reduce the intermittency of wind and solar for the entire structure.

It’s worth noting that such a system would radically alter current power generating and distribution structures. US utilities would tend to shift more from power providers to grid operators — electrical power middle-men that move energy from distributed power sources to far-flung customers.

Renewable Energy Projected to Dominate Electricity Markets by 2030

But not only is renewable energy advancing as a result of scientific viability studies, these sources of non-carbon-based power, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), are poised to leap into positions of market dominance over the next 25 years. The report, cited by Joe Romm today and published by IEA in November, indicates that renewables will produce more than 50 percent of the world’s electricity by 2030 and will have leapt into a position of significant dominance by 2040.

IEA Power by Source 2030

(Renewables shown as dominating the electrical power market by 2040 in this IEA graph.)

Disturbingly, IEA also notes a continued growth in the consumption of coal and gas. So if the IEA report is correct, carbon emissions for the power sector would continue to increase through 2040, which would be a bad outcome for the world’s climate and for life on Earth. Specifically, it would put us on a path toward around 2.7 C warming this Century and about 5-6 C warming long term — which would be about enough to push CO2 levels above 550 ppm and melt most or all of the ice on planet Earth should such high greenhouse gas concentrations be maintained.

However, Joe Romm finds some cause for optimism. Joe notes that China’s coal emissions may have peaked in 2013 and that China is rapidly adding renewable energy capacity. According to Climate Progress:

… this projection is not what would happen if the nations of world pursued the kind of aggressive policies they unanimously agreed to in Paris to avoid very dangerous warming and stay below total warming of 2°C. That would effectively end fossil fuel emissions by 2100. Indeed, the IEA forecast does not fully take into account what now appears to be an unexpectedly rapid shift away from coal in China. As a result, in its chart, coal power generation increases substantially by 2040. …. Goldman Sachs, for one, believes global coal consumption for power generation peaked by in 2013.

The IEA itself notes that one of its key assumptions may be too conservative: “China is becoming the wild card of coal markets, with the risks to our projection of a plateau and then a slow decline in coal demand arguably weighted to the downside.” I think the plateau and slow decline scenario was plausible a year ago, but China’s coal consumption dropped nearly 3 percent in 2014, at least 5 percent in 2015, and one analyst in Beijing projected recently, “coal consumption will drop by between 2.5 percent and 3 percent in 2016.” Beijing keeps adding new policies to slash coal use, as detailed in a major analysis last month from the Center for American Progress, which concluded “Chinese coal consumption enters downward spiral.”

If Joe’s correct, then it appears that the entire fossil fuel based electricity industry is now in a fight for its life. One it must inevitably lose for so many of the rest of us and of much of life here on Earth to survive. So when you hear talk coming from state regulators about coal industry losses, preserving rates and markets, or preventing coal and gas plants from being shut down, you should remember — there’s a critical choice being made here. One to cut off the short term prosperity of the fossil fuel special interests to prevent centuries upon centuries of devastation, death and pain here on Earth for future generations and for the entirety of the natural world. And it’s for this reason that we must make the entirely moral choice to send coal, gas and oil on its way. To leave these fuels from hell where they belong — in the ground.

We certainly do not need these toxic hothouse fuels and we can most certainly survive without them. In fact, our future survival and opportunities for future prosperity absolutely depend on the cessation of their burning, and soon.

Links:

Solar City Stopping Sales, Installations After PUC Ruling

Nevada’s Strange Decision to Throttle its Own Solar Industry

26 Republican Led States Challenge Clean Power Plan

Support 350.org

Future Cost-Competitive Energy Systems and Their Impact on CO2 Emissions

Better Power Lines Would Help the US Supercharge Renewable Energy

World Energy Outlook 2015

By 2030, Renewables Will be the World’s Primary Energy Source

Hat tip to Scott

 

 

The Economist Continues its Wallow Through Climate Sensitivity Denial

Good News...

Delaying action on climate change is suicidal. Yet the Economist wants you to believe it’s not such a big deal.

(Image source: League of Conservation Voters)

In desperately scanning through the IPCC’s preliminary 4th assessment report for any shred of good news, perhaps in hopes of delaying a transition away from fossil fuels that needs to begin now and complete by 2030-40 if we’re to have much hope of ensuring a climate in which human civilization won’t face catastrophe, The Economist found a bright little cherry. It reproduced a preliminary graph from a non-physical sciences group showing lower than scientific consensus estimates for temperature increase through 2100 and conflated it with an entirely Economist-manufactured news item erroneously stating scientists are finding climate sensitivity is lower than previously expected (Hint: it’s not).

I’m not going to re-publish the graph, as it’s entirely misleading, but I will re-publish what The Economist says about it:

Still, over the past year, several other papers have suggested that views on climate sensitivity are changing. Both the 2007 IPCC report and a previous draft of the new assessment reflected earlier views on the matter by saying that the standard measure of climate sensitivity (the likely rise in equilibrium temperature in response to a doubling of CO2 concentration) was between 2°C and 4.5°C, with 3°C the most probable figure. In the new draft, the lower end of the range has been reduced to 1.5°C and the “most likely” figure has been scrapped. That seems to reflect a growing sense that climate sensitivity may have been overestimated in the past and that the science is too uncertain to justify a single estimate of future rises.

Note the Economist’s highly speculative use of the words ‘suggest’ and ‘seemed.’ And ‘scientists,’ in this case, apparently include only those on the low end of climate sensitivity estimates, rather than the more likely to be accurate consensus range. Research on the middle or high end, likewise, is completely ignored.

Quibbling Over Equilibrium Sensitivity

The Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS) The Economist refers to is how much Earth temperatures are expected to rise when one includes fast feedbacks such as atmospheric water vapor increase and the initial greenhouse gas forcing provided by CO2. Consensus science, despite The Economist misinforming us to the contrary, finds Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity to be about 3 degrees Celsius for each doubling of CO2. So we get around 3 degrees Celsius of rapid warming at 550 parts per million, according to mainstream science. The Economist’s misleading quibble is trying to suggest that this level is closer to 2 degrees Celsius or the ludicrously unsupportable 1.5 degrees Celsius. Measures that, even if it were true (it’s not), would buy us, at most, another decade or two of business as usual emissions.

As unfortunate as the Economist’s cherry picking has become, it doesn’t even melt the tip of the iceberg or permafrost, for that matter. Because if you include the ‘slow feedbacks’ that ECS leaves out you end up with double the amount of warming long-term. So 550 parts per million gets us to a scorching 6 degrees Celsius Earth Systems Sensitivity (ESS) once melting ice sheets, methane release, and permafrost thaw are included (consensus estimates, not what The Economist cherry picked). The Economist also seems to ignore the blatant fact that such feedbacks are emerging now. Amplifying methane release in the Arctic has been visible since the mid 2000s and Greenland and West Antarctic melt rates have been increasing at an exponential rate since about 1995.

Confirming these observations is a new paper showing Greenland ice sheet response is happening faster than scientists expected. With the Greenland ice sheet melting like butter now and not 100 years from now as IPCC originally expected, the Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity measure and its inherent assumption that ice sheet and tundra response will be slow, seems to be shaping up as too conservative. Yet, The Economist remains enchanted with the notion of warping these already conservative estimates to pad its own, more comfortable, view of reality.

How’s the sand you’ve got your head buried in, Economist? Soft and white? Watch out, heads buried in the sand tend to bake these days.

What should be the news all responsible mags are reporting is that the ‘slow feedbacks’ aren’t really so slow after all. Under the very rapid pace of human forcing of at least 10 times anything we can find in the geological record Greenland melt, Antarctic melt, tundra melt and methane release are coming into play now. All taken together, they will more than double the human forcing. Terrifying news that should have all responsible persons and governments pushing for a rapid response, not grasping for the lowest hanging cherries in the science reports.

So the real measure we should be concerned about now is the one that includes all or most of the feedbacks — the Earth Systems Sensitivity (ESS) we noted above. The real total estimate of warming that is at least twice the academic ECS estimate The Economist so desperately tried to water down.

Yet the magazine behaves well contrary to prudent logic as it merrily runs with its false claim that climate scientists are saying ‘we’re sorry we scared you, climate sensitivity is less than we previously expected.’ Sad to say, The Economist is entirely involved in the now too common journalistic sin of climate science misinformation via massaged data.

Joe Romm notes:

The good news is that The Economist article might be less dreadful than it could have been. For instance, I didn’t find any typos…

The Economist seems blissfully unaware that while the Thawing Permafrost Could Cause 2.5 Times the Warming of Deforestation (!) and add up to 1.5°F to warming in 2100 by itself, “Participating modeling teams have completed their climate projections in support of the [IPCC’s] Fifth Assessment Report, but these projections do not include the permafrost carbon feedback.

The Economist also seems blissfully unaware of the fact that we are currently close to the 1000 ppm emissions pathway. And The Economist also seems blissfully unaware that stabilizing anywhere near 450 ppm atmospheric concentration of CO2 would require immediate and sustained action to replace the world’s fossil fuel system with one based on carbon-free energy — precisely the kind of aggressive action this piece seems designed to undercut.

For my part, I’d prefer more typos and less misleading information on the science.

Perhaps The Economist should take a look at the best of the best among climate scientists — notably James Hansen who warns that Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity is at least 3 degrees Celsius and that this estimate is probably conservative. Hansen finds that under business as usual greenhouse gas emissions we reach a scorching 7 degrees Celsius warming and very catastrophic 1,000 parts per million CO2 by the end of this century (if we somehow manage to hold industrial civilization together after we blow through 2, 4 and 6 degrees Celsius worth of warming, which is highly unlikely). The final warming in such a case, Hansen shows, would be between 10 and 14 degrees Celsius — enough to trap the climate in a PETM-type warming in less than one century, and blast humans with large areas of lethal 35 degree Celsius or greater wet bulb temperatures. A mass extinction event for us humans and all other life too.

Michael Mann, another top climate scientist The Economist ignores by sticking its fingers in its ears and chanting ‘nanananana’ notes:

Among other things, the author [of the Economist’s report] hopelessly confuses transient warming (the warming observed at any particularly time) with committed warming (the total warming that you’ve committed to, which includes warming in the pipeline due to historical carbon emissions). even in the best case scenario, business as usual fossil fuel burning will almost certainly commit us to more than 2C (3.6 F) warming, an amount of warming that scientists who study climate change impacts tell us will lead to truly dangerous and potentially irreversible climate change. the article does a disservice to Economist readers by obscuring this critical fact. Sadly, it is hardly the first time in recent history that the Economist has published flawed and misleading stories about climate change.

Mann shows that The Economist clearly misses some very basic principles of climate science by confusing projected warming at a particular point in time with final warming. And that’s a big problem. Because temperatures will continue to move higher for decades, even if we were to halt emissions immediately, which is clearly not in the Economist’s plans. The Economist’s plans, instead, seem to include locking in more dangerous exploitation of fossil fuels.

Since the Economist clearly can’t handle ECS, it should stick with Paleoclimate, which is much less murky. And by looking back into Earth’s geological history we find temperature increases at these ranges for these levels of carbon dioxide:

350-400 parts per million: 3 degrees (C) worth of temperature increase long-term (Greenland and West Antarctica melt).

400-450 parts per million: 4 degrees (C) worth of temperature increase long-term.

450-500 parts per million: 5 degrees (C) worth of temperature increase long-term.

500-600 parts per million: 6 degrees (C) worth of temperature increase long-term (No major glacial ice left).

600-700 parts per million: 7 degrees (C)…

700-800 parts per million: 8 degrees (C)…

800-1200 parts per million: 9-12 degrees (C)…

Add to these observed past warming levels the fact that the rate of forcing was much slower than the human rate of forcing. So if more forcing means more feedback, even the harsh Paleoclimate evidence is too conservative a measure. Hansen and others warn of ‘unexpected consequences’ from the rapid pace of human forcing. And it would ‘seem’ that one of these nasty surprises is an already observed faster than usual rate of ice sheet and methane response.

Climatologist Kevin Trenberth is another scientist The Economist seems to be happy to ignore. But, perhaps, they should listen and learn something. In a letter to Joe Romm, Kevin stated:

The Working Group III IPCC report [on mitigation which the Economist used in its most recent attempt to misinform on climate sensitivity] is no where near final, the final draft has not even been produced yet. Moreover WG III is not responsible for making any statements about climate sensitivity and have no business doing so. The IPCC parallel process hinders exchanges among WGs and the WG I results [on the physical science basis]may not be available to WG III, but will be in due course as there is some staggering of the reports. In the meantime, the Economist report is irresponsible.

So The Economist is, in essence, bending over backwards to manufacture its own data. And after past media mistreatment of the last IPCC report, should we be surprised?

To this point, I would add that the responsible action would be to err on the side of caution, not on the side of laissez faire. In markets, laissez faire often leads to monetary collapses the consequences of which are often recessions. In the case of climate change, laissez faire leads to your civilization, species and large swaths of the natural world in complete wreckage.

We know what the long-term consequences of a certain level of CO2 are. And we know that slow feedbacks might not be so slow under the fast forcing regime we’ve subjected the Earth’s climate to. We also know that we have very little wiggle room for human comfort and prospertity — at best 2 degrees Celsius of warming. So why would we want to, as The Economist does, downplay the problem and risk a dangerous delay of action?

With dangerous and difficult consequences emerging now, we would be insane to follow The Economist’s implicit and falsely comforting advice. Trenberth is right. The report is dreadfully irresponsible as it weakens the case for a necessary and urgently needed response to the harm that is surely coming.

Solar Energy Costs in Free-Fall as World Climate Worsens; Opposition to Renewable Energy Now Mostly Political

 

The evidence just keeps flooding in. From 2005 to 2012 country after country reached solar grid parity until, at the end of this period, a total of 102 nations saw solar energy sources that were cost competitive with fossil fuels. Through 2013 prices kept falling. Now, an increasing number of regions have developed solar energy as least expensive new energy sources. Earlier this year First Solar opened a New Mexico plant in which solar energy produced electricity for 5.8 cents per kilowatt hour. These prices were 1/2 to 1/3 the cost of energy generated from a new coal fired plant. Now, a German Utility has opened a solar plant that produces electricity for less than 10 euro cents per kilowatt hour, also less than the cost of local new coal generation.

By 2020, total solar energy prices are, in the most conservative estimates, expected to fall by at least another 50% (in fact, the cost of new solar generation has fallen by 22% each year for the past five years!). More optimistic estimates show solar continuing to fall by between 4 and 15 percent each year through the next twenty years. These reductions will make solar energy the least expensive energy source in almost all cases within 4-20 years. What is absolutely astounding is that, should these reductions materialize, it will be less expensive to build a new solar facility than it will be to cover the operating costs of existing coal power plants.

A rough graph of the time horizon at which solar out-competes existing coal generation given various rates of price reduction from 4 to 15 percent per annum is available here:

Solar competitive time horizon

(Image source: Monetary Realism)

The various lines start on year 1 (2014) and continue all the way through 2034. In the most rapid cost reduction cases, new solar outcompetes existing coal from 2018 to 2022 and only the slowest advancement results in an outcompeting of existing coal generation by 2034. This graph doesn’t include likely increases in the costs for existing coal due to competition from wind and solar, depletion of the coal source, or requirements by governments to use costly carbon capture and storage technology.

To this point, carbon capture and storage (CCS) is little more than an oft trotted out fossil fuel dog and pony show. Not one CCS plant has been put into anything more than experimental operation. Not one has demonstrated any cost competitiveness with a broader energy market. And not one has advanced further than the pilot stage making any estimated cost for actual systems little more than vapor.

By comparison, solar energy just keeps chugging along, marking gains, new milestones, and greater cost cuts with each passing year. In the US alone, more than 10 gigawatts of solar energy have now been installed. That number is predicted to surge by 80% over the next 18 months to reach 17 gigawatts by end of 2014.

These are massive and optimistic gains. Yet they will have to continue for years to decades if they are to significantly reduce and eliminate US net carbon emissions from electricity generation. With severe weather impacts and sea level rise ramping up from human caused climate change in the present day, it appears we are in a race both against time and against our own worst enemy and the cause of the whole trouble in the first place: ourselves.

A Massive Political Juggernaut Opposes Renewable Energy Adoption and Solutions to Climate Change

If we were rational, our government and policy systems would be rapidly aligning to support a major transition away from fossil fuels. If we were rational, we’d be leveraging the increasingly cost-beneficial energy production systems that renewables provide to stabilize economies harmed by the ravages of petroleum dependency and related economic exploitation. We could bring light to the darkened, non-grid-tied regions of the world. And we could give human civilization a fighting chance against the terrible ravages of climate change caused by our enforced dependence on a dangerous set of fuels. Fuels that must go if we are to have much hope of overcoming what is setting up to be an existential climate crisis.

Yet it is clear, at this point, that we are not rational. At best, we see government gridlock. At worst, entrenched corporations are able to manipulate government in such a way that the dangerous development of dirty fuels continues.

In one example, the US State Department paid reporting agencies with close ties to BP, Exxon Mobile, and Koch Industries to draft a climate impact assessment report for the Keystone XL Pipeline. A report that contained a high level of oil industry fluff and misinformation. One that arguably misled both the public as well as members of public government who would be making decisions on this critical issue. Thankfully, public outrage over this report has caused some reassessment. But the validity of any new report may suffer from similar corruption and is equally in doubt.

In another example, the halls of Congress itself is packed to the gills with a non-representative number of ignorant individuals who out-right deny the existence of human caused climate change. A recent report from Think Progress found that 127 members of the House and 30 members of the Senate denied human-caused climate change. Not surprisingly, a significant majority of republicans in Congress deny climate change. Equally unsurprising is the fact that these members receive vast sums from fossil fuel related donors. House climate change deniers received 242,000 dollars on average from fossil fuel industry coffers. While Senate climate change deniers receive a largess of nearly 700,000 dollars each for their climate change denial efforts. Further, a majority of these members sat on key science and environment committees or held leadership positions in their respective parties.

In a horrid example of the damage this kind of corruption causes, a new bill advanced by Republicans called the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act of 2013 would cut NOAA funding for climate change research. Indirectly, these cuts would also likely impact weather satellite coverage and sensors critical to weather prediction. To this point, it is impossible to separate weather from climate. Any efforts to cut climate research also negatively impact our ability to predict the weather. In this instance, as in many others, climate change deniers in Congress are actively harming our resilience to the extreme weather that is almost certainly on its way.

Given this fossil fuel industry stacked US political system, is it any surprise that almost daily proposals to expand coal, gas, and oil dependence hit the floors of Congress? Or that House Republicans are doing their best to kill off critical energy efficiency standards?

Sadly, many utilities themselves are entangled in a dark web of fossil fuel influence. Cosied up to fossil fuel special interests for more than a century, utilities are now fighting net metering laws that have led to more rapid adoption of solar in states like Arizona. These net metering laws allow homeowners to sell any excess energy produced, which utilities must purchase at cost. This policy, put in place in Arizona in 2009, helped rocket the state to number 2 in total solar energy generation, behind California. But now, the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, is fighting to kill net metering. In an ironic change of fate, the son of Barry Goldwater is organizing political action to fight APS. Goldwater’s organization — Tell Utilities Solar Won’t Be Killed — is now involved in an epic political battle to keep solar energy alive for Arizona’s homeowners.

These are just a few highlights of a broad and ongoing war which fossil fuel special interests are fighting to deny citizens access to clean, alternative energy. It is a war, also, to preserve profits for some of the wealthiest corporations the world has ever seen. What this intensity of action on the part of fossil fuel companies, especially when viewed in light of an increasingly less expensive and competitive renewable energy source,  reveals is that barriers placed to renewable energy adoption are now entirely political and policy related from this point forward. Thus, we are in the midst of an ugly era in which the corporate fossil fuel special interests seem to use every dirty trick at their disposal to maintain their hold over markets, consumers, and governments.

It’s going to be tough, rough fight. But with climate change howling in the wings, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

 

 

Romney, Who Vowed to Eliminate FEMA, Privatize Disaster Relief and Mocked Climate Change, Finds Extremist Policy Positions Inundated By Superstorm Sandy

Storms, storms, and more storms… After a storm-shortened convention in Tampa and a storm-emasculated final week of campaigning, you’d think the Romney campaign would learn to respect the powerful climate forces he’s gotten so good at ignoring.

And, perhaps, the Romney campaign is a bit taken aback. Or maybe it’s finally starting to sink in that they look like a boatload of out of touch buffoons. After ignoring reporters questions for almost a week, today Mitt Romney finally walked back his long-standing policy position that had pushed for the elimination of critical disaster relief programs like FEMA. Though it seemed a forced and painful admission, Romney, at long last, noted that he wouldn’t underfund or eliminate FEMA, as he had proposed throughout his campaign.

“I believe that FEMA plays a key role in working with states and localities to prepare for and respond to natural disasters,” Romney said. “As president, I will ensure FEMA has the funding it needs to fulfill its mission, while directing maximum resources to the first-responders who work tirelessly to help those in need, because states and localities are in the best position to get aid to the individuals and communities affected by natural disasters.”

This statement is in direct contradiction to previous statements Romney made about the role of FEMA. It is also in direct contradiction with Romney and Ryan budgets which cut about 40% from FEMA programs. Such cuts would devastate FEMA’s ability to aid localities and states in the event of a disaster like Sandy and flies directly in the face of lessons Republicans should have learned after Katrina.

The privatization program that Romney and Ryan allude to would be even worse. The result would be that those who could pay to be lifted off their homes by helicopters would be. The rest, those unable to afford a private disaster response service, would be left on their flooded homes to fend for themselves or to perish. Privatized first response would mean that only those able to pay fire services fees would receive defense from fire fighters. The rest would see their homes left to burn.

In the case of disaster response, privatization makes absolutely no sense. Injecting profit motive into a service that saves lives means that fewer lives are saved as the bottom line shifts from the goal of helping people to the goal of accumulating profit. And in the gap between the two extremes of such a heartless program, many would find themselves facing a choice between bankruptcy or having their lives or property saved.

Romney and Ryan’s myopic views on disaster relief are drastically proven wrong with each new major disaster. So it seems, finally, that they have grudgingly relented on their publicly adversarial position toward the beneficial federal agency that is FEMA. But can we trust that this change isn’t anything more than a disingenuous bow to the winds of public opinion? Can we trust that Romney and Ryan won’t sabotage FEMA if elected and attempt to privatize it and other key programs, shifting more money to plutocrats while letting the poor and middle class bear all of the greatly increasing risk?

And what of the issue of climate change? Yes. The climate change that fueled this storm, made it worse, and helped to steer it in toward the East Coast? The climate change that has increased sea levels and is increasing them ever more rapidly? What of that? Is it still drill baby drill until the heartland is burned to a crisp and the coastal cities are all flooded? A recent statement from Businessweek, I believe, provides the appropriate response to Romney’s nonsense:

On Aug. 30, [Romney] belittled his opponent’s vow to arrest climate change, made during the 2008 presidential campaign. “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” Romney told the Republican National Convention in storm-tossed Tampa. “My promise is to help you and your family.” Two months later, in the wake of Sandy, submerged families in New Jersey and New York urgently needed some help dealing with that rising-ocean stuff.

I, for one, doubt that the cynical and misinformation spewing Romney/Ryan campaign has one genuine bone of non-token sympathy for FEMA or the disaster victims in their bodies. They have sought at every turn to pull out the underpinnings of supports for people in harm’s way and the national response systems that help Americans who find themselves in the face of disasters of all kinds. They haven’t sought to eliminate or reduce risks. To the contrary, their policies increase them.

This fact cannot be changed by a fake canned food drives for the Red Cross. Canned food the Red Cross has already said it doesn’t need. Nor can it be changed by, yet another, alteration in extreme policy positions. The Romney/Ryan campaign has been nothing if not snarlingly critical of any positive action, but totally lacking in any decent alternative. Instead, they promise to serve up another helping of policies that lead to the likes of Katrina and will likely lead to worse. And, in cases where their positions become unpopular, they simply lie and misinform.

Message to Romney — leadership is not conducting a disingenuous and completely unhelpful photo op. Leadership is actually doing something to help people. Leadership is effectively wielding a government empowered to help those people in harm’s way. Leadership is establishing a moral structure that enables and encourages people to help one another, not one that enables people to profit from harming one another. Leadership is what we are seeing in Obama and Christie’s response in New Jersey. Not from the gimmicks, half truths, lack of response, lack of transparency, media dodging, and tortured walk-backs we are seeing from you.

I don’t know if the Koch-fueled Romney campaign realizes the tenuous and vastly irresponsible positions it has backed itself into. I don’t know if that same Romney campaign realizes that it has set itself up for a terrible moral fall, far worse than Bush, should it be elected. The sins of hubris weigh heavily on Romney and we have gotten just a small taste of it this week. Woe betide America should this …man ever be elected President.

Links:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/wp/2012/11/01/mitt-romney-responds-to-fema-question/

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-11-01/its-global-warming-stupid#p2

Don’t Believe in Global Warming? Businessweek has a Word for You: STUPID

In its bold cover story, Businessweek directly and correctly links the devastation caused by climate change to Sandy and, mockingly, called out climate change deniers to refute their arguments, calling them stupid.

Yes, yes, it’s unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change. Men and women in white lab coats tell us—and they’re right—that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.

Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.

Businessweek then sifted through the experts who are calling Sandy anything from feeding on ‘global warming fuel’ to a megastorm amped up on ‘climate change steroids.’ Businessweek also seemed to corroborate an analysis posted here and supported by an increasing number of climate scientists:

Sandy featured a scary extra twist implicating climate change. An Atlantic hurricane moving up the East Coast crashed into cold air dipping south from Canada. The collision supercharged the storm’s energy level and extended its geographical reach. Pushing that cold air south was an atmospheric pattern, known as a blocking high, above the Arctic Ocean. Climate scientists Charles Greene and Bruce Monger of Cornell University, writing earlier this year in Oceanography, provided evidence that Arctic icemelts linked to global warming contribute to the very atmospheric pattern that sent the frigid burst down across Canada and the eastern U.S.

Businessweek then shifted its analysis to insurance providers who have been increasingly vocal about the current ongoing impacts of climate change and about their concerns for the situation continuing to worsen. According to the Munich Re, the world’s largest re-insurer, damages caused by extreme weather disasters from 1980 to 2011 (not including this year’s record damage) have reached 1.06 trillion dollars. This level is five times that of the previous 30 year period. Damage also quadrupled in Asia and doubled in the rest of the world. Munich Re’s Peter Hoppe, the company’s geo-risks research chief noted:

“If the first effects of climate change are already perceptible, all alerts and measures against it have become even more pressing.”

Businessweek laments the wretched political climate, fueled by climate change denial and fossil fuel special interest money, that has managed to take climate change off the table as a topic of political and policy discussion in Washington. The article also links fossil fuels to economic growth. Though, in our view, given the damage fossil fuels cause and the ever-increasing costs to extract more and more remote resources, this is a dubious proposition. If the thing powering your growth makes your climate too dangerous and damaging for you to keep cities at the coast, for example, then the overall economic pay-off is only short-term and ephemeral. And that doesn’t even begin to get into the rising costs of fossil fuel extraction.

Businessweek did, however, saliently illustrate the increasingly unrealistic and callous position of republican leaders on the issue of climate change:

Mitt Romney has gone from being a supporter years ago of clean energy and emission caps to, more recently, a climate agnostic. On Aug. 30, he belittled his opponent’s vow to arrest climate change, made during the 2008 presidential campaign. “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” Romney told the Republican National Convention in storm-tossed Tampa. “My promise is to help you and your family.” Two months later, in the wake of Sandy, submerged families in New Jersey and New York urgently needed some help dealing with that rising-ocean stuff.

Romney had also pledged to eliminate FEMA as an agency of the Federal Government, the same FEMA that is now helping so many families in New Jersey. The Romney campaign has since backed off its pledge to get rid of FEMA funding. However, the predilection of republicans to remove necessary government services and to cut programs that help people, communities and states during the current period of growing climate crisis is plainly apparent.

During one Republican primary debate last year, [Romney] was asked point-blank whether the functions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency ought to be turned back to the states. “Absolutely,” he replied. Let the states fend for themselves or, better yet, put the private sector in charge. Pay-as-you-go rooftop rescue service may appeal to plutocrats; when the flood waters are rising, ordinary folks welcome the National Guard.

Businessweek also lamented the death of the market-based cap and trade legislation the Tea Party defeated in Congress in 2009:

In 2009 the House of Representatives passed cap-and-trade legislation that would have rewarded more nimble industrial players that figure out how to use cleaner energy. The bill died in the Senate in 2010, a victim of Tea Party-inspired Republican obstructionism…Despite Republican fanaticism about all forms of government intervention in the economy, the idea of pricing carbon must remain a part of the national debate. One politically plausible way to tax carbon emissions is to transfer the revenue to individuals. Alaska, which pays dividends to its citizens from royalties imposed on oil companies, could provide inspiration.

In this, Businessweek brings up an excellent point. Tax and transfer is an incentive plan pushed by none other than NASA scientist James Hansen. It would increase the cost of carbon intensive energy sources and incentivize non-carbon or low-carbon energy sources. The tax would create an economic advantage for those who used less energy, were more efficient, or who were more active in transferring to non-fossil fuel based energy sources like wind, solar and electric vehicles. Such a program would work within the framework of current markets and cause far less disruption even as it speeds transitions to newer energy programs. Incentive and choice still allow for competition and innovation while pushing for better outcomes.

Of related importance was Businessweek’s clarion call for American leadership in climate change. It suggested that the US provide incentive for China and India to shift away from the worst CO2 emitter — coal. But the article saliently noted that, for any such framework to be effective, it must involve real penalties for noncompliance, something many nations have been unable to agree upon thus far.

Businessweek notes that Sandy should serve as a wake-up call. It should also serve as a signal that we are all in this together. Those in danger aren’t just the ones living on islands about to be overwhelmed by the Pacific Ocean. They include those who dwell in all our coastal cities, which are now at ever increasing risk of flooding and dangerous storms. They include the American farmers faced with the prospect of growing decadal droughts. And they include all of us who rely on a stable climate for both our food sources and our economic prosperity.

As for action, or the reason for lack of action, Businessweek provides to most salient argument I’ve seen thus far on the issue:

In truth, what’s lacking in America’s approach to climate change is not the resources to act but the political will to do so. A Pew Research Center poll conducted in October found that two-thirds of Americans say there is “solid evidence” the earth is getting warmer. That’s down 10 points since 2006. Among Republicans, more than half say it’s either not a serious problem or not a problem at all.

Such numbers reflect the success of climate deniers in framing action on global warming as inimical to economic growth. This is both shortsighted and dangerous. The U.S. can’t afford regular Sandy-size disruptions in economic activity. To limit the costs of climate-related disasters, both politicians and the public need to accept how much they’re helping to cause them.

In other words, if you’re still denying climate change at this late hour, you’re stupid. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to act NOW.

Links:

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-11-01/its-global-warming-stupid#p1

I Can Fight off 51 Climate Change Denialists at the Same Time, How About You?

 

Test How Many You Can Fight HERE.

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