Category Archives: Climate action

Green New Deal: Details, framework and growing support

Repost from The Intercept
[See also: Thompson Cosponsors Green New Deal and The Green New Deal – a primer.  – R.S.]

The Green New Deal Takes its First Congressional Baby Step, as Pelosi Mocks “Green Dream or Whatever”

By Kate Aronoff, February 7 2019, 10:03 a.m.
WASHINGTON, DC, UNITED STATES - 2018/12/10: Protesters seen holding placards during the Sunrise Movement protest inside the office of US Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to advocate that Democrats support the Green New Deal, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo by Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Sunrise Movement protesters advocate that Democrats support the Green New Deal inside the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 10, 2018. Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

THE FIRST HAND of the Green New Deal has been dealt. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., on Thursday unveiled a five-page, nonbinding resolution that frames a 10-year “national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization” to confront the climate crisis.

The plan envisions the creation of millions of “good, high-wage jobs” and will serve to “counteract systemic injustices.”

The resolution sets a framework for legislation to be hashed out over the next two years, and gives Ocasio-Cortez, Markey, and climate groups something to organize around.

Their goal is to meet 100 percent of the demand for power in the U.S. with “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources,” in line with the scientific consensus on climate change, as well as to provide “all people of the United States” with clean air and water, “healthy and affordable food,” high-quality health care, “affordable, safe, and adequate housing,” and economic security.

As part and parcel of this transition, the resolution calls for a federal jobs guarantee, a massive infrastructure build-out, building efficiency upgrades and robust investment in public transit, to name just a few of the measures listed. It would ensure a dignified quality of life for workers and communities that rely on coal, oil, and natural gas jobs (“a fair and just transition”), and says that steps toward reaching zero-emissions — such as building new wind turbines — should not impose on indigenous peoples’ land rights or abuse the power of eminent domain. A full plan, the resolution states, will be developed “in transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses.”

The resolution provides the most detail yet of what Ocasio-Cortez and company mean by a Green New Deal, but it does not map out precisely what a Green New Deal will entail. If the House had created a Select Committee on a Green New Deal, per Ocasio-Cortez’s original resolution, that would have been the two-yearlong mandate of a team of policymakers and experts. In laying the groundwork for an eventual legislative package, the document will create pressure on the select panel created by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in lieu of the one called for by Ocasio-Cortez. Dubbed the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, it will be chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla.

Pelosi on Thursday morning announced Ocasio-Cortez would not be on that select committee, though she was approached for a seat and declined to join. In a separate interview with Politico, Pelosi mocked the notion of a Green New Deal. “It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive,” she said. “The green dream or whatever they call it — nobody knows what it is but they’re for it right?”

Ocasio-Cortez, at a press conference unveiling the resolution, was asked repeatedly about Pelosi’s dig, but declined to hit back, saying that Pelosi has long been a climate champion and the term “dream” is a compliment, accurately capturing the scale of the vision, which she compared to the New Deal and Great Society.

A number of powerful Democrats were on hand for the resolution’s announcement, including the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Ron Wyden of Oregon, whose committee has jurisdiction over swaths of a Green New Deal. He pledged to “throw the dirty energy tax relics of yesteryear into the garbage can.”

Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., was also there to show support. The Rules Committee controls what legislation hits the House floor.

Over the last few months, support for the Green New Deal has become a litmus test for 2020 Democratic hopefuls, and the resolution serves dual purposes: to unite lawmakers around the idea of a Green New Deal, and to offer a basic definition of what that means. For 2020 contenders who have conceptually supported the Green New Deal, the resolution makes clear that the phrase isn’t just a talking point, but connected to a specific set of policy priorities. Confirmed and rumored presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders will be among the nine senators co-sponsoring the resolution. Sixty-four House Democrats will also be co-sponsoring the legislation, including Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Joe Neguse, D-Colo.

“We’re going to be pressuring all of the 2020 contenders to back this resolution,” said Stephen O’Hanlon, a spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, which helped launched the Green New Deal into the national spotlight with its sit-in at Pelosi’s office last November. “That’ll make it clear who’s using the Green New Deal as a buzzword and who’s actually serious about what it entails. For our generation, the difference between the Green New Deal as a buzzword and substantive policy is life and death.” Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned last year that if massive changes to limit global warming are not undertaken by 2030, the planet will face widespread, catastrophic changes.

On Tuesday, the Sunrise Movement hosted some 500 watch parties around the country for a livestream laying out its next steps to support the resolution. As of Wednesday, the group was in the process of organizing visits to 600 congressional offices nationwide, for constituents to demand that their representatives co-sponsor Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s measure. Supported by Justice Democrats — the group that backed Ocasio-Cortez’s primary run — Sunrise will also be launching a 15-city campaign tour through early primary states.

THE RESOLUTION’S PREAMBLE lays out both the existential threat and expected cost in dollars and lives to the U.S. posed by climate change, as well as “several related crises” facing the United States, including “a 4-decade trend of wage stagnation, deindustrialization” and “a large racial wealth divide amounting to a difference of 20 times more wealth between the average white family and the average black family.”

Unlike the original resolution calling for a Select Committee on a Green New Deal — which called for 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 — this one calls for the U.S. to reach net-zero emissions by 2030. The difference is more than semantic, and energy wonks have hotly debated it since Ocasio-Cortez, Sunrise, and other groups began pushing the call for the latter in November. While full reliance on renewables would have all energy come from sources such as wind and solar, net-zero entails an openness to so-called negative emissions technologies, a suite of measures ranging from the experimental — like carbon capture and storage, machines to extract carbon from industrial processes and put it underground — to the conventional, like afforestation, or planting trees that suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The phrasing is also a recognition of the fact that certain “hard-to-abate” industries, including steel, transportation, and agriculture, are more difficult to decarbonize than others. Negative emissions are ubiquitous in pathways to capping warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius created by climate modelers and compiled in the IPCC’s report from last year on reaching that goal. While many negative emissions technologies remain unproven at scale, the resolution states that a Green New Deal will pursue negative emissions “through proven low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage, such as land preservation and afforestation.” The resolution further refers broadly to greenhouse gas emissions, not just carbon.

The sheer scale of investment laid out by the Green New Deal also makes it possible to imagine eliminating emissions from those hard-to-abate industries altogether, which the Energy Transitions Commission predicts would cost just 0.5 percent of global GDP by 2050.

Though carefully worded, net-zero by 2030 is a hugely ambitious target — although still the only one remotely consistent with something known as equity pathways pursuant to the amount of carbon the world can continue to emit under a “carbon budget.” That is, the world only has so much carbon left to burn before we cross a certain threshold of warming. The U.S. is what’s called a historical emitter, meaning that we’ve both spewed more greenhouse gasses into the air over time, and as a result have developed more economic capacity to mitigate and adapt to climate change. In equity pathways, historical emitters carry a responsibility to peak and drive down their emissions quicker than the rest of the world, effectively leaving room in the global carbon budget for countries that haven’t collected massive amounts of wealth off coal, oil, and natural gas room to develop — a process that, at least for now, means emitting more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. In the U.N. Framework Conventions on Climate Change, this is known as “common but differentiated responsibility,” although historical emitters — including the U.S. — have consistently tried to contest the meaning of that phrase.

“Global CO2 emissions need to go down about 10 percent per year to meet a 1.5 degree target,” said Peter Erickson, senior scientist at the Stockholm Environmental Institute. “If you take into account that the U.S. is more responsible than any other country for historic emissions, and also one of the wealthiest countries in the world, U.S. emissions need to go down even faster than that.”

The resolution also references the fact that the U.S. — because of its vast resources and contribution to the problem — has a role to play in speeding along the transition off fossil fuels for the rest of the world. Indeed, President Donald Trump bragged in his State of the Union address this week that the United States has become a net-exporter of oil and gas. Fossil fuel companies are continuing to explore for new reserves — mostly for export — in places like the Permian and Appalachian basins, which could have a catastrophic climate impact. Companies being able to exploit those reserves hinges on their ability to build new infrastructure like Liquid National Gas terminals that allow for exports and on continuing to receive generous subsidies. The resolution notes that any Green New Deal in the U.S. will promote “the international exchange of technology, expertise, products, funding, and services, with the aim of making the United States the international leader on climate action, and to help other countries achieve a Green New Deal.”

There’s room for interpretation as to what getting to net-zero could mean for a Green New Deal, and the resolution doesn’t reference any specific regulatory measures, like a ban on new oil and gas exploration or a renewable portfolio standard, a tool states like California have in order to bring down their emissions by requiring utilities to procure a certain amount of their power from renewable sources. Much of the action detailed in the resolution is focused on getting to net-zero by building up the country’s supply of renewable energy, with comparatively less focus on explicitly phasing out fossil fuels — a phrase that, to the chagrin of some environmental activists, does not appear in the resolution’s text.

“We already have an international climate agreement that fails to include the words ‘fossil fuels’; we can’t afford a Green New Deal that does the same,” Oil Change International’s David Turnbull wrote in a statement about the resolution Thursday morning, referencing the Paris Climate Agreement. While generally supportive of the resolution and its goals, Turnbull noted that “the science is clear: If the oil, gas, and coal in currently operating wells and mines is dug up and burned, we will blow well past our climate goals.” Erickson cautioned that any Green New Deal legislation that is eventually produced should seek to explicitly limit fossil fuel production and oversee a managed decline of the industry. “Even if the U.S. was successful at reducing its own emissions but still went on being a fossil fuel producer and exporter, that’s going to flood the global market with coal, oil, and gas. That’s going to undermine global targets and has real emissions consequences,” he said.

A list of frequently asked questions about the resolution provided by Ocasio-Cortez’s office clarified that it “calls for any infrastructure measures before Congress to address climate change and additionally calls for an end to the transfer of pollution overseas.” “This provision goes farther than just calling for a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure,” the document says, instead tackling “all greenhouse gas emitting and pollution emitting sources in our economy and global trade.”

However the details of legislation eventually shake out, the Green New Deal represents a massive departure from the landmark bill Markey introduced back in 2009 with former Sen. Henry Waxman to create an elaborate cap-and-trade system. That bill passed the House but not the Senate, and the version that was voted on ended up making several compromises to accommodate Republicans and fossil fuel interest groups — including dramatic limitations on the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory authority. With the clock running out to rein in emissions, Green New Deal advocates are eager not to repeat history.

“There’s pieces of the GND that are yet to be defined, and they’ll be defined as the policy is developed,” O’Hanlon said. “The way that we’re ensuring that the legislation is as science and justice demand is by building a grassroots movement all across the country that can make sure that we’re holding all politicians’ feet to the fire.”

Update: February 7, 2019: This story has been updated to include reporting from the resolution’s unveiling outside the Capitol.

    A Grave Climate Warning, Buried on Black Friday

    Repost from The Atlantic

    In a massive new report, federal scientists contradict President Trump and assert that climate change is an intensifying danger to the United States. Too bad it came out on a holiday.

    By Robinson Meyer, NOV 23, 2018

    Firefighters battle the King Fire near Fresh Pond, California, in September 2014.
    Firefighters battle the King Fire near Fresh Pond, California, in September 2014. NOAH BERGER / REUTERS

    On Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, the federal government published a massive and dire new report on climate change. The report warns, repeatedly and directly, that climate change could soon imperil the American way of life, transforming every region of the country, imposing frustrating costs on the economy, and harming the health of virtually every citizen.

    Most significantly, the National Climate Assessment—which is endorsed by NASA, NOAA, the Department of Defense, and 10 other federal scientific agencies—contradicts nearly every position taken on the issue by President Donald Trump. Where the president has insisted that fighting global warming will harm the economy, the report responds: Climate change, if left unchecked, could eventually cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year, and kill thousands of Americans to boot. Where the president has said that the climate will “probably” “change back,” the report replies: Many consequences of climate change will last for millennia, and some (such as the extinction of plant and animal species) will be permanent.

    The report is a huge achievement for American science. It represents cumulative decades of work from more than 300 authors. Since 2015, scientists from across the U.S. government, state universities, and businesses have read thousands of studies, summarizing and collating them into this document. By law, a National Climate Assessment like this must be published every four years.

    It may seem like a funny report to dump on the public on Black Friday, when most Americans care more about recovering from Thanksgiving dinner than they do about adapting to the grave conclusions of climate science. Indeed, who ordered the report to come out today?

    It’s a good question with no obvious answer.


    The report is blunt: Climate change is happening now, and humans are causing it. “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities,” declares its first sentence. “The assumption that current and future climate conditions will resemble the recent past is no longer valid.”

    At this point, such an idea might be common wisdom—but this does not make it any less shocking, or less correct. For centuries, humans have lived near the ocean, assuming that the sea will not often move from its fixed location. They have planted wheat at its time, and corn at its time, assuming that the harvest will not often falter. They have delighted in December snow, and looked forward to springtime blossoms, assuming that the seasons will not shift from their course.

    Now, the sea is lifting above its shore, the harvest is faltering, and the seasons arrive and depart in disorder.

    The report tells this story, laying simple fact on simple fact so as to build a terrible edifice. Since 1901, the United States has warmed 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat waves now arrive earlier in the year and abate later than they did in the 1960s. Mountain snowpack in the West has shrunk dramatically in the past half century. Sixteen of the warmest 17 years on record have occurred since 2000.

    Houses lay submerged in floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston in August 2017. The National Climate Assessment warns that climate change will make catastrophic floods more likely. (Adrees Latif / Reuters)

    This trend “can only be explained by the effects that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, have had on the climate,” the report says. It warns that if humans wish to avoid 3.6 degrees of warming, they must dramatically cut this kind of pollution by 2040. On the other hand, if greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise, then the Earth could warm by as much as 9 degrees by 2100.

    “It shows us that climate change is not a distant issue. It’s not about plants, or animals, or a future generation. It’s about us, living now,” says Katharine Hayhoe, an author of the report and an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University.

    The report visits each region of the country, describing the local upheavals wrought by a global transformation. Across the Southeast, massive wildfires—like those seen now in California—could soon become a regular occurrence, smothering Atlanta and other cities in toxic smog, it warns. In New England and the mid-Atlantic, it says, oceanfront barrier islands could erode and narrow. And in the Midwest, it forecasts plunging yields of corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice.

    Its projections of sea-level rise are just as ominous. If carbon pollution continues to rise, a huge swath of the Atlantic coast—from North Carolina to Maine—will see sea-level rise of five feet by 2100. New Orleans, Houston, and the Gulf Coast could also face five feet of rising seas. Even Los Angeles and San Francisco could see the Pacific Ocean rise by three feet.

    Even if humanity were to reduce the burning of fossil fuels, the report forecasts that New Orleans could still see five feet of sea-level rise by 2100.

    Andrew Light, another author of the report and a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, said that although the report cannot make policy recommendations, it might be read as an endorsement of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

    “If the United States were to try and achieve the targets in the Paris Agreement, then things will be bad, but we can manage,” he said. “But if we don’t meet them, then we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of lives every year that are at risk because of climate change. And hundreds of billions of dollars.”


    If you think the Friday after Thanksgiving seems like an odd day to publish such a major report, you’re right. The assessment was originally scheduled to be released in December at a large scientific conference in Washington, D.C. But earlier this week, officials announced that the report would come out two weeks early, on the afternoon of Black Friday. When politically inconvenient news is published in the final hours of a workweek, politicos call it a “Friday news dump.” Publishing a dire climate report in the final hours of Black Friday might be the biggest Friday news dump of them all.

    So who ordered such a dump? During a press conference on Friday, the report’s directors in the government repeatedly declined to say. “It’s out earlier than expected,” said Monica Allen, a spokeswoman for NOAA. “This report has not been altered or revised in any way to reflect political considerations.”

    Yet the change in scheduling took the report’s authors by surprise. John Bruno, an author of the report and a coral biologist at the University of North Carolina, told me that he only learned last Friday that the report would be released today. “There was no explanation or justification,” he said. “The [assessment] leadership implied the timing was being dictated by another entity, but did not say who that was.”

    Hayhoe told me she only learned on Tuesday that the report would be released on Friday. At the time, she was preparing three pies for a family Thanksgiving. She put the pies aside and picked up her laptop  to submit any final revisions to the document.

    The White House did not respond directly when asked who had ordered such a change. It also did not respond directly when asked if the report would lead President Trump to reconsider his beliefs.

    But a White House spokeswoman did send me a lengthy statement saying that “the United States leads the world in providing affordable, abundant, and secure energy to our citizens, while also leading the world in reducing carbon-dioxide emissions.” (This is only true if you start counting in 2005, when U.S. emissions peaked.) The spokeswoman said this new assessment was based on the “most-extreme scenario,” and promised any future report would have a “more transparent and data-driven process.”

    Not that Hayhoe ever had high expectations about President Trump’s reaction to the report. “It wasn’t the hope that the federal government would look at it and go, ‘Oh my goodness! I see the light,’” she told me.

    Rather, she said, she hoped the report would inform the public: “This isn’t information that’s only for the federal government. This is information that every city needs, every state needs, increasingly every business needs, and every homeowner needs. This is information that every human needs.”

    “It’s not that we care about a 1-degree increase in global temperature in the abstract,” she said. “We care about water, we care about food, we care about the economy—and every single one of those things is being affected by climate change today.”

      Until California curbs its oil refineries, it won’t meet its climate goals (Benicia & others are heroes)

      Repost from the Los Angeles Times
      [Editor: Significant quote, Benicia in final paragraph – “In the absence of action at the state level, it has fallen to localities to prevent refineries from at least increasing crude oil imports to their facilities. Over the last decade elected officials in half-a-dozen communities from Benicia to San Luis Obispo County have blocked refinery infrastructure projects that would allow more crude oil imports. They’re the real heroes of California’s climate saga — too bad they won’t be the ones in the spotlight at the summit.”  – RS]

      Until California curbs its oil refineries, it won’t meet its climate goals

      By Jacques Leslie, Sep 11, 2018 | 4:15 AM
      Until California curbs its oil refineries, it won't meet its climate goals
      The Phillips 66 refinery in the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

      While Gov. Jerry Brown and other California leaders bask under an international spotlight at this week’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, there is one highly relevant topic they’re not likely to bring up: oil refineries.

      That’s because refineries are crucially absent from California’s climate change strategy. The state has justifiably gotten credit for addressing climate change issues that the nation won’t — promoting renewable energy, cap-and-trade greenhouse gas emission limits, and electric vehicles — but it has backed off from challenging refineries, the centerpieces of California’s oil supply infrastructure.

      Concentrated in Los Angeles’ South Bay and the San Francisco Bay Area, the state’s 17 refineries comprise the largest oil processing center in western North America. Unless emissions from those refineries are curbed, the state has no chance of meeting its long-range climate change goals.

      Greg Karras, a senior scientist at Huntington Park-based Communities for a Better Environment, calculates that without restraints on refineries, even if emission reductions from all other sources hit their targets, oil sector pollution through 2050 would cause the state to exceed its overall climate goals by roughly 40%.

      “Refineries have been largely exempted from the state’s cap and trade program, which charges fees for emissions.”

      That’s primarily because refineries have been largely exempted from the state’s cap and trade program, which charges fees for emissions. Last year, the legislature extended the program for another decade, from 2020 to 2030, but only after bowing to the oil industry’s wishes. To win a needed two-thirds majority, cap and trade supporters exempted the industry from fees for all but a tenth of refinery emissions through 2030. The legislation also prohibited regional air districts from imposing their own limits on refinery carbon dioxide emissions, a severe blow to communities suffering from pollution from nearby operations. Instead of curbing refineries, these provisions gave them a decade-long free pass.

      To make matters worse, the oil that is being processed is bound to get dirtier, resulting in a higher rate of greenhouse gas emissions throughout the fuel-production chain. Oil used by the state’s refineries already contains the highest intensity of greenhouse gas pollutants of any refining region in the country. As drillers pump the dregs from the state’s nearly spent fields, that intensity is increasing.

      With California oil extraction in decline, its refineries will want to import more crude oil from other states and nations. That could include tapping the Canadian tar sands, notorious for its off-the-charts, climate-busting pollutants. Completion of the stalled Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Canada would facilitate what Greenpeace calls a “tanker superhighway” from Vancouver to California ports. California refineries have tried to win approval for rail terminals and ports that would receive tar sands oil but have so far been blocked by local governments.

      The refineries’ contributions to greenhouse gas emissions don’t end with their own production, of course. When the fuel they produce is used, it’s one of the primary contributors to climate change. As California shifts to renewable energy and electric vehicles, less refined fuel will be consumed here and more will be exported to other states and nations.

      As a result, the state could become, in Karras’ words, “the gas station of the Pacific Rim.” And as exports grow to countries like India with lax environmental standards, refineries won’t even need to meet California’s more stringent regulations on fuel composition; instead, they will export more pollution.

      The main reason state leaders have done little to limit oil supply is obvious: The oil industry remains a formidable adversary, wielding its financial and lobbying might to head off restraints. For virtually all Republican state legislators and a substantial number of Democrats, oil supply is too hot a topic to touch, Karras told me.

      Meanwhile, state policy calls for greenhouse gas emissions to drop by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. Given the oil industry’s cap and trade refinery exemptions in place through 2030, the only way to achieve that level is to place drastic limits on refineries as soon as those exemptions expire, which is unlikely to happen. A more realistic approach would remove the oil industry’s exemptions and impose cuts of 5% a year on refinery emissions immediately — an urgent task that state leaders have shown no interest in carrying out.

      In the absence of action at the state level, it has fallen to localities to prevent refineries from at least increasing crude oil imports to their facilities. Over the last decade elected officials in half-a-dozen communities from Benicia to San Luis Obispo County have blocked refinery infrastructure projects that would allow more crude oil imports. They’re the real heroes of California’s climate saga — too bad they won’t be the ones in the spotlight at the summit.

      Jacques Leslie is contributing writer to Opinion.