Tag Archives: climate change

Dangerous Insanity

Climate change denialism has become much more difficult lately, as evidence in the form of heat waves, increasingly strong hurricanes, wildfires and the like continue to grow. And in most countries, as a recent article from the New York Times notes in its opening paragraphs, political fights over efforts to combat global warming are focused on the “how”–not on the immediacy or existential nature of the threat.

But then there’s the good old USA, and the GOP.

The article’s headline is “Weaponizing Public Office Against Climate Action,” and it documents yet another drawback of American federalism–the ability of Republican officeholders in Red States to actually bolster fossil fuel companies at the expense of the climate. It isn’t just in Texas, where we’ve become used to the deranged antics of Gov. Greg Abbott. (Abbott has actually prohibited state agencies from investing in businesses that have cut ties with fossil fuel companies.)

The Times investigation revealed a “coordinated effort by state treasurers to use government muscle and public funds to punish companies trying to reduce greenhouse gases.

Nearly two dozen Republican state treasurers around the country are working to thwart climate action on state and federal levels, fighting regulations that would make clear the economic risks posed by a warming world, lobbying against climate-minded nominees to key federal posts and using the tax dollars they control to punish companies that want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the past year, treasurers in nearly half the United States have been coordinating tactics and talking points, meeting in private and cheering each other in public as part of a well-funded campaign to protect the fossil fuel companies that bolster their local economies.

Last week, Riley Moore, the treasurer of West Virginia, announced that several major banks — including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo — would be barred from government contracts with his state because they are reducing their investments in coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

This is–rather obviously– insane. It’s as if an immensely wealthy patient diagnosed with terminal cancer were to decree that none of his monies could ever be used for cancer research or for the production of cancer treatments–and should instead be invested in Roundup and other cancer-producing products.

Mr. Moore and the treasurers of Louisiana and Arkansas have pulled more than $700 million out of Ti, the world’s largest investment manager, over objections that the firm is too focused on environmental issues. At the same time, the treasurers of Utah and Idaho are pressuring the private sector to drop climate action and other causes they label as “woke.”

 And treasurers from Pennsylvania, Arizona and Oklahoma joined a larger campaign to thwart the nominations of federal regulators who wanted to require that banks, funds and companies disclose the financial risks posed by a warming planet.

Reporters traced these efforts to a little-known nonprofit organization based in Shawnee, Kansas, identifying the State Financial Officers Foundation, an organization that once focused on cybersecurity, as the “nexus” of these actions . Following the election of President Biden, who pledged to make addressing climate change a significant element of his agenda, the Foundation began pushing Republican state treasurers–elected officials responsible for managing their state’s finances–“to use their power to promote oil and gas interests and to stymie Mr. Biden’s climate agenda, records show.”

The Heritage Foundation, the Heartland Institute and the American Petroleum Institute are among the conservative groups with ties to the fossil fuel industry that have been working with the State Financial Officers Foundation and the treasurers to shape their national strategy.

The Times notes that Democratic treasurers in Blue states support efforts to combat climate change; they  encourage banks and investment firms to acknowledge the risks that climate change poses to returns for retirees and others. But they haven’t created anything like the national campaign being orchestrated by the State Financial Officers Foundation.

Rational people–a category that rather clearly excludes these Republican treasurers–understand that  global warming is already damaging agriculture and causing extreme weather events that devastate communities and cost taxpayers billions in recovery and rebuilding. Instead, they insist that efforts to reduce emissions threaten employment.

These GOP treasurers have turned climate science into yet another issue in the Republicans’ unrelenting and suicidal culture wars.

But here’s the thing: It’s one thing to recognize that the economic health and quality of life in Blue states is superior to that of Red States. Americans can shrug–or move. However, we can’t create environmental silos–the stupidity and/or cupidity of these GOP officeholders affects the future livability of the entire globe.

The GOP proudly asserts that it isn’t “woke.” (We’ve noticed.)

The opposite of wakefulness, of course, is sleep. In this case, it’s a coma…..

 

 

The Long And The Short Of It

Like lots of Americans, I go to the doctor twice a year for check-ups, and I respond to the standard initial questions: have I fallen in the past six months? Have I been depressed? Thought about harming myself?

I have standard responses to those last two standard questions: I’m only depressed when I pay attention to the news. I haven’t wanted to harm myself, but I have definitely wanted to harm some other people I could name….

Actually, I’m pretty sure I have a widely-shared medical condition I’ll call “news sickness.” Its symptoms are lack of focus, feelings of futility, and free-floating anger.

The lack of focus is most maddening. What should I be concentrating on–what news should I be following– at a time when there is a new threat to democracy, to well-being, to sanity every single day? A morning scan of the media highlights the most recent atrocity, in this case, the murder of yet more innocent children and their teachers in a Texas classroom. That followed closely on the White Nationalist massacre in Buffalo, and has prompted media reviews of the unthinkable number of mass shootings in America, along with statistics showing that gun violence is a peculiarly American problem. (Evidently, the mentally-ill in other countries are less murderous…)

These recent events have operated to overshadow other recent and important matters: an unprovoked war in Ukraine that is killing thousands, displacing millions, and threatening to ignite World War III; revelations of traitorous behaviors uncovered almost daily by the January 6th Committee in the course of its investigation into the unprecedented attempt to overthrow a duly elected President; the increasing successes of the retrograde movement to strip women of their right to self-determination, beginning with abortion but sending strong signals that the war on women and gay people won’t end there…

And then there are ongoing debates over COVID measures, and the shameful revelations about Baptist clergy, who–it turns out–are just as prone to sexual misbehavior as Catholic priests (and undoubtedly other “men of the cloth.”).

Hovering over all of these and many other issues is the threat posed by climate change. And hovering over all of it is the adamant refusal of the Republican Party to engage responsibly with any of these issues, and its determination to keep others from doing anything about them either.

Here, for example, is a recent report from the New York Times, detailing an organized GOP effort to punish corporations trying to be responsible stewards of the environment.

In West Virginia, the state treasurer has pulled money from BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, because the Wall Street firm has flagged climate change as an economic risk.

In Texas, a new law bars the state’s retirement and investment funds from doing business with companies that the state comptroller says are boycotting fossil fuels. Conservative lawmakers in 15 other states are promoting similar legislation.

And officials in Utah and Idaho have assailed a major ratings agency for considering environmental risks and other factors, in addition to the balance sheet, when assessing states’ creditworthiness.

Across the country, Republican lawmakers and their allies have launched a campaign to try to rein in what they see as activist companies trying to reduce the greenhouse gases that are dangerously heating the planet.

Every single day, we get media reports with the same story: Republicans continue to block even the most modest gun control efforts. State-level Republicans are passing draconian measures aimed at criminalizing abortion and punishing both women and those who might help them obtain one. Republican lawmakers are resisting subpoenas and refusing to testify to the January 6th Committee. Senate Republicans filibustered and defeated the recent anti-terrorism bill.  Senate Republican “leadership” refuses to sanction the party’s (several) “out and proud” congressional White Supremicists. A significant number of Congressional Republicans resist sending help to Ukraine, and to varying degrees, offer justifications for Russia’s invasion.

If you make a list of the most pressing issues facing the United States, it becomes blindingly clear that the federal government and the various governments of America’s Red states are doing virtually nothing to address those issues. It also becomes blindingly clear why that is: today’s Republican Party has morphed into a White Christian Supremicist cult, dismissive of science and evidence and intent upon “returning” the country to a time that never was. Thanks to gerrymandering and several outdated elements of America’s electoral system, that cult wields considerably more power than fair democratic elections would otherwise give it, and it is using its disproportionate and unrepresentative power to thwart passage of desperately-needed legislation.

What’s wrong with America today can be reduced to one simple statement:  the Republican stranglehold on government.

 

 

The Manchin Dilemma

There is ample reason to detest Joe Manchin: in a closely divided Senate, he has single-handedly defeated much of Biden’s agenda–including the President’s efforts to combat climate change and voter suppression.

Manchin has been a critical and  mostly reliable vote for Biden’s judicial nominations, but a stubborn obstacle to passage of several measures that are absolutely central to the Democratic agenda, and popular with voters.

What makes his obdurate opposition worse is that it clearly isn’t motivated by principle. If his consistent obstruction was the result of philosophical conviction–part and parcel of a considered political ideology, no matter how wrongheaded–it would still be incredibly frustrating, but the anger would be different.

What infuriates policy wonks and party strategists alike is recognition that , with Manchin, it’s all about the money. (He evidently raised his children with the same self-serving values; his daughter’s fingerprints were all over the Epi-Pen scandal.)

As the New York Times reported,  the Grant Town power plant is

the link between the coal industry and the personal finances of Joe Manchin III, the Democrat who rose through state politics to reach the United States Senate, where, through the vagaries of electoral politics, he is now the single most important figure shaping the nation’s energy and climate policy.

Mr. Manchin’s ties to the Grant Town plant date to 1987, when he had just been elected to the West Virginia Senate, a part-time job with base pay of $6,500. His family’s carpet business was struggling.

When developers approached Manchin, he helped them clear what the Times calls “bureaucratic hurdles.” He then went into business with them.

Mr. Manchin supplied a type of low-grade coal mixed with rock and clay known as “gob” that is typically cast aside as junk by mining companies but can be burned to produce electricity. In addition, he arranged to receive a slice of the revenue from electricity generated by the plant — electric bills paid by his constituents.

The deal inked decades ago has made Mr. Manchin, now 74, a rich man.

If the story stopped there, it would be troubling enough, but it doesn’t.

While the fact that Mr. Manchin owns a coal business is well-known, an examination by The New York Times offers a more detailed portrait of the degree to which Mr. Manchin’s business has been interwoven with his official actions. He created his business while a state lawmaker in anticipation of the Grant Town plant, which has been the sole customer for his gob for the past 20 years, according to federal data. At key moments over the years, Mr. Manchin used his political influence to benefit the plant. He urged a state official to approve its air pollution permit, pushed fellow lawmakers to support a tax credit that helped the plant, and worked behind the scenes to facilitate a rate increase that drove up revenue for the plant — and electricity costs for West Virginians.

Records show that several energy companies have held ownership stakes in the power plant, major corporations with interests far beyond West Virginia. At various points, those corporations have sought to influence the Senate, including legislation before committees on which Mr. Manchin sat, creating what ethics experts describe as a conflict of interest.

Now that he has found himself in a position to cast pivotal votes in an evenly divided Senate, Manchin hasn’t hesitated to block legislation intended to speed the country’s transition to clean energy.  When the war in Ukraine led to calls to boycott Russian gas,  Manchin joined Republicans who are agitating for production of more American gas and oil to fill the gap.

Manchin’s protection of the Grant Town plant can’t be defended by claiming it helps West Virginia residents, either. As the Times article notes, while the power plant continues to pay Manchin handsome dividends, “it has harmed West Virginians economically, costing them hundreds of millions of dollars in excess electricity fees. That’s because gob is a less efficient power source than regular coal.”

The bulk of Manchin’s income since entering the Senate has come from one company: Enersystems, Inc., which he founded with his brother Roch Manchin in 1988, the year before the Grant Town plant got a permit from the state of West Virginia.

Enersystems Inc. is now run by Mr. Manchin’s son, Joseph Manchin IV. In 2020, it paid Mr. Manchin $491,949, according to his filings, almost three times his salary as a United States senator. From 2010 through 2020, Mr. Manchin reported a total of $5.6 million from the company.

Manchin will remain in a position to defy science and undermine his President and his party so long as the Senate remains equally divided. Meanwhile, the GOP is pulling out all the stops to keep Democrats from voting and their votes from being accurately counted.

 

Progress!

In the wake of the most recent, terrifying climate report, I think it’s important to look at the positive side of the policy ledger.

Although there is plenty of data on the “dark side” (what I sometimes think of as the OMG side), there is also a lot of evidence of progress. (At least what I consider progress; the “take me back to the 1950s” folks will undoubtedly disagree.)

At the beginning of this year, The Guardian ran a story about progress against climate change during the preceding year. Granted, in 2021 we saw a number of climate disasters and what the article called “a grim prognosis from the world’s top experts.” Granted, too, some of the harm is probably irreversible. But as the article documented, a movement to fight climate change is gaining momentum.

As the UN secretary general declared in August, the urgent need to curb carbon emissions marks a “death knell” for the fossil fuel industry.

For decades, Americans were told that standing up to powerful oil and gas companies wasn’t possible. But the reality is that everyday people are making a difference in the fight to cut emissions. These grassroots victories also show that the people who have been made most vulnerable by fossil fuel extraction, including Black and brown communities, already have solutions on hand.

What were some of those victories?

After a nine-year, highly-contentious organizing battle, students with Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard succeeded in pushing the university to divest all of its $42bn endowment – the largest in the world – from fossil fuel-related companies.

That victory wasn’t limited to Harvard. Both Boston University and Wellesley University also divested from fossil fuels in 2021.  With respect to Wellesley, divestment was the product of “a decade of student activism from campus groups called Renew Wellesley and Fossil Free Wellesley.” The victory also wasn’t limited to universities: Boston’s mayor signed an ordinance in late November that will require phasing out the city’s investments in fossil fuel, tobacco, and prison industries by 2025.

It’s worth noting that all of these decisions were the result of activism by the young people who are often inaccurately excoriated for their lack of civic engagement.

The Guardian also enumerated several community victories.

In Memphis, Tennessee, a majority-Black neighborhood was able to stop construction of a 49-mile underground pipeline that was slated for approval in mid-2021.

In the north-east, the Delaware River Basin Commission secured a moratorium on new drilling permits. The historic fracking ban covers some 14,000 square miles of the river’s basin.

The board of supervisors for Los Angeles county voted–unanimously–  to scrap new and existing oil and gas drilling projects.

The new rule is slated to impact Inglewood Oil Field, the largest urban oil field in the country, which is surrounded by many majority-Black neighborhoods. In April, a pipeline in the oil field spilled 1,600 gallons of oil just a few hundred feet from the nearest playground.

It is heartening to see these victories by minority neighborhoods and young activists, but it is even more significant to consider what the Guardian calls “shareholder revolts.” A primary example occurred when hedge fund activists won election to three of the 12 voting seats on Exxon’s board

The activist hedge fund Engine No 1 staged an upset victory in electing three new directors to Exxon’s board after disgruntled investors hoped to push the oil giant toward a greener future.

Meanwhile, Chevron faced opposition from the Dutch activist campaign group Follow This, which led a shareholder revolt in voting to force the company to implement tougher emissions targets.

Why it matters: Mark van Baal, who founded Follow This, said the shareholder rebellions mark a “paradigm shift” for investors and a “victory in the fight against climate change”.

There were other important victories:Indigenous groups negotiated the return of stolen lands in Maine and Minnesota to halt destruction to the environment; a Dutch court ruled that Shell has to reduce its emissions by nearly half within this decade; and 16 of those young people who are routinely dismissed were victorious plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging that Montana contributed to the climate crisis and violated their constitutional rights. The judgment requires the state to implement a plan to reduce emissions.

Addressing climate change–and many of the other challenges we face– requires that we change the culture–and culture change is a slow and inevitably incremental process. The term “culture wars” is apt–those who recognize the imperatives of our modern, globalized world are facing the hysterical resistance of  people who want to go “back,” or at the very  least, cling to the cultural status quo. As a friend once put it, changing the culture is like turning a tanker mid-ocean–neither quick nor nimble.

It’s easy to focus on the barriers to progress, but it’s important to recognize the progress, too.

 

Could This Work?

A couple of weeks ago, a commenter posted a YouTube video from February of 2019, in which actress Jennifer Lawrence introduced viewers to a nonprofit organization called Represent Us.

You really need to click through and watch it, because the summary I’m about to provide is incomplete, and doesn’t do it justice.

The basic premise upon which the organization proposes to function is that mending American democracy must come at the state level–that only when we end corruption in a sufficient number of states will we be able to move the federal government and federal courts in a positive direction.

The video was made in 2019, and I haven’t heard anything about this effort in the intervening years, but according to its website, the organization remains active. It’s harder to tell whether–like so many other efforts to salvage the American Idea–it has failed to energize enough people to get the job done.

I had two competing reactions to that video.

The first was triggered by the imminent victory of the pro-fetal-life movement, which will overturn (explicitly or by eviscerating) Roe v. Wade. That will return the issue to the states, and in a “best-case” scenario, will activate a significant percentage of the 60% of Americans who want Roe retained and send an impressive number of them to their respective statehouses. If that happens–if voters in large-enough numbers are sufficiently enraged and motivated–the state-level reforms identified in the video are much more likely to occur.

That scenario is the optimistic one. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that my optimism is at death’s door.

Over the last few months, I’ve had multiple discussions–with my children, with friends, with former colleagues–about the state of American and global governance. Attitudes ranged from deep depression to resigned acceptance, but virtually everyone I’ve talked to believes that–as one person put it– America is over. Democracy has had its day.  Autocrats  and their fearful and tribal supporters are on the ascent worldwide.

Of course, none of this may matter in the end, thanks to our unwillingness to confront climate change when we could have moderated its effects.

It’s hard to argue with this gloomy analysis.

When I look at the collection of deranged and incompetent people serving in Congress, when I think of the millions of people who cast their 2020 vote for a man whose terrifying inadequacies and mental illness were impossible to miss, and the large numbers who still believe in the Big Lie and QAnon…when I think of the state-level lawmakers focused on protecting the “rights” of nutcases with guns but who are unwilling to protect citizens from a pandemic (not to mention the culture warriors willing to die to “own the libs”) …It’s really hard to envision a happy ending.

If any of you can talk me off the edge, I’m listening…..