Occupy Sandy & the climate crisis

Yotam Maron is must-read on how the Occupy Sandy response is a real-time model of what anti-climate crisis social movements look like:

Welcome to the climate crisis. There’s nothing abstract about it. It isn’t some apocalypse decades away or an event that comes down like one big hurricane to wipe us all out. It’s Hurricane Sandy. It’s all the economic, political and social conditions that were already in place. And it’s the opportunity for forces of profit and repression to push their agenda forward in the aftermath.

But guess what: The climate justice movement isn’t so abstract either. This is it. It’s dedicated organizers recognizing how their work can be aligned across issues. It’s relief providers and hard-working volunteers transforming into activists and community leaders. It’s the hardest hit neighborhoods taking control of their own liberation. It’s local community institutions with deep roots and long histories connecting to one another and mobilizing their efforts as part of a movement. It’s all of that alongside so many other fights for climate justice — from the blockade of the Keystone XL pipeline to the fight for water rights in Bolivia, from Indian women standing up to corporate seed monopolies to youth from 350.org launching campaigns to divest from fossil fuel companies.

There is much work to do. But people are doing it — day by day, block by block. Windows of opportunity have opened here in New York, just as they have in other places around the world. Many people are working to keep those windows open and continue the transformation that is already underway — from volunteer work to organizing, from emergency response to a genuine recovery, from relief to resistance.

Stoller on voting third party

Matt Stoller has a very long and very thorough response to some of the criticisms levied against his progressive argument against Barack Obama. It’s long and there’s a lot worthy of consideration. But I think this passage on the need to generate real resistance to what is happening with the climate crisis, with the entrenchment of oligarchy in America, and with the ongoing class war against the 99% is so important:

Moving policy to save our civilization has nothing to do with voting on Tuesday, and this is obvious when you consider Sandy as a moment to define man-made global warming as the key challenge of our society, as the Cold War was after World War II. Progressives are obsessed with reelecting Obama instead of governing, so there is silence in response to a massive leverage point (except on CNBC, where the anchors are screaming for more refining capacity in response to Sandy). We the people need to protest and demand the solutions that might have a chance at saving our civilization from the many Sandy’s to come. Indeed, global warming fueled Hurricane Katrina killed 3000 people, and we did nothing except allow the privatization of the New Orleans school system. But as we see now, this is not just because of George Bush, it is because our theory of change, of looking to right-wing politicians entrenched in the Democratic Party as an answer, was an utter failure. It is the politics of self-delusion, and catastrophe. Voting third party is a way of indicating, to yourself and your community, that you will not be party to this game any more. Voting third party is a way of showing, to yourself and your community, that you consider Barack Obama an opponent, and that you oppose his policy. This is a profound admission, and it creates the space for real opposition, for real resistance.

Also regarding third parties, Ian Welsh observes that, “making a third party viable starts with, oh, voting for it.”

The 2012 election hasn’t really been a watershed moment for the creation of progressive infrastructure outside of the Democratic Party. That’s why I think these posts written by critics of the President are so important. If the debate about where we are going as a country isn’t really front and center, then the intellectual arguments of activists as a community become much more essential. Tomorrow the country will go vote on two candidates – one from the far right, the other center right. In the absence of an electable left wing candidate, the sole source of consideration of left wing critiques on where our country is headed is through commentators like Stoller.

As Stoller notes throughout his piece, his critics are not disproving or discounting the factual arguments against policies that have done damage under President Obama. I really wish that this wasn’t the case. The absence of earnest debate over things which really are happening in this country – and will likely continue to happen – serves to completely level-down these policies. They are normal, accepted, and acceptable. The long term consequences of this are not pretty, as they represent not only a rightward shift under Obama, but the normalizing of the worst Bush era policies and the neutering of the Democratic Party and professional left as a source for criticism of them (as noted by both Welsh and Stoller).

All in all, I think the critics of Obama from the left have done a far better job articulating their criticisms in response to the President’s policies and actions than his defenders have articulated why these policy choices are good or right or necessary. But your mileage may vary.

Journalistic failures on climate crisis

Journalist turned climate activist Wen Stephenson has a must-read piece in The Phoenix on the urgency of talking about climate change and the total failures of the mainstream press to address it as a crisis. Of note:

First: We need to see a much greater sense of urgency in the media’s coverage of climate change, including in the Globe‘s editorial and opinion pages. This is more than an environmental crisis: it’s an existential threat, and it should be treated like one, without fear of sounding alarmist, rather than covered as just another special interest, something only environmentalists care about. And it should be treated as a central issue in this election, regardless of whether the candidates or the political media are talking about it.

Second: Business-as-usual, politics-as-usual, and journalism-as-usual are failing us when it comes to addressing the climate threat. If there’s to be any hope for the kind of bold action we need, a great deal of pressure must be brought from outside the system, in the form of a broad-based grassroots movement, in order to break the stranglehold of the big-money fossil fuel lobby on our politics. And in fact, there is a movement emerging on campuses and in communities across the country — especially here in New England — and the Globe should be paying attention to it.

And:

In the face of this situation — as much as it pains me to say this — you are failing. Your so-called “objectivity,” your bloodless impartiality, are nothing but a convenient excuse for what amounts to an inexcusable failure to tell the most urgent truth we’ve ever faced.

Let me be clear: the problem isn’t simply a matter of “false balance” — for most of you, that debate is largely over, and you no longer balance the overwhelming scientific consensus with the views of fossil-fuel lobby hacks. No, what I’m talking about is your failure to cover the climate crisis as a crisis — one in which countless millions, even billions, of lives are at stake.

And:

What it all comes down to, then, is this: Which side are you on?

If you’re on the side of your fellow human beings — and of your own children and grandchildren — then it’s time for you to level with the public about the severity, scale, and urgency of the crisis we face.

Obama’s horrific coal attacks

President Barack Obama, in last night’s second presidential debate:

And when I hear Governor Romney say he’s a big coal guy, I mean, keep in mind, when — Governor, when you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, “This plant kills,” and took great pride in shutting it down. And now suddenly you’re a big champion of coal.

So what I’ve tried to do is be consistent. With respect to something like coal, we made the largest investment in clean coal technology, to make sure that even as we’re producing more coal, we’re producing it cleaner and smarter. Same thing with oil, same thing with natural gas.

It was jarring to see President Obama attack Romney for saying true things about coal, particularly when those things are the same sorts of things environmentalists in the Democratic Party have been saying for years. It literally made my stomach turn when the President launched this attack.

This is not the first time the President has launched this attack on Romney for previously correctly noting that burning coal kills people. His campaign has had an ad up in coal country hitting Romney along for exactly the same statements:

Prior to this, the Obama campaign had run a similar radio ad in Ohio.

By way of disclosure, the organization I work for, Citizen Engagement Lab, works with an anti-climate denial project called Forecast the Facts. I consult on some of their campaigns, including one which called on Obama For America to remove this cynical television ad. That said, this post is my own and does not represent the opinions CEL nor Forecast the Facts.

The most charitable defense of Obama is that he is merely calling out Romney’s changing of positions from someone who recognized that burning coal kills people to someone who denies that burning fossil fuels cause climate change. It certainly is sad that Romney has walked away from a true position from nine years ago.

And though he’s hardly made it an issue in this campaign, the President has made moves to reduce coal pollution. But when he’s attacking Romney for being critical of coal, it’s about being hawkish in Obama’s pursuit of fossil fuel votes in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. That he does this while not mentioning the danger of climate change even once last night is all the worse. Not only has the President staked a position where being critical of coal is meant to be a liability in 2012, he didn’t make a single energy policy argument that had to do with anything other than jobs and cheap energy prices.

Here’s more of the President’s words last night on energy policy:

Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment. But what I’ve also said is we can’t just produce traditional source of energy. We’ve also got to look to the future. That’s why we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars. That means that in the middle of the next decade, any car you buy, you’re going to end up going twice as far on a gallon of gas. That’s why we doubled clean — clean energy production like wind and solar and biofuels.

And all these things have contributed to us lowering our oil imports to the lowest levels in 16 years. Now, I want to build on that. And that means, yes, we still continue to open up new areas for drilling. We continue to make it a priority for us to go after natural gas. We’ve got potentially 600,000 jobs and 100 years worth of energy right beneath our feet with natural gas.

And we can do it in an environmentally sound way. But we’ve also got to continue to figure out how we have efficiency energy, because ultimately that’s how we’re going to reduce demand and that’s what’s going to keep gas prices lower.

This summer, Bill McKibben had a seminal article in Rolling Stone noting that global consensus is that we cannot let the temperature rise more than 2 degrees Celsius if we want to stop catastrophic climate change. The problem, per McKibben, is that the amount of fossil fuels it will take to raise it 2 degrees is only 20% of the known fossil fuel resources on the planet. Energy companies already know where these fuels are and have plans to extract them and make trillions of dollars in the process. The result is we need to immediately change our fossil fuel consumption patterns to avoid blowing through this destructive mile marker — and this change has to happen in the face of some of the largest companies in the world being told they will not be allowed to realize their planned profits.

When President Obama talks about pursuing cheap energy and having 100 years worth of natural gas here in the US, it makes clear that he does not think climate change is a serious issue demanding immediate policy changes.

The great irony is that a massive shift towards green energy would create jobs. It would create more energy and lower the cost on energy as a result. It would be driven by domestic energy protection, providing greater national security. In short, an aggressive pivot away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy would be a move that achieves the jobs and costs goals the President is arguing for through the continued use of fossil fuels.

Climate change has been a complete non-issue in this election. While Obama has offered passing hints around reducing pollution and expanding renewable resources, he’s not explicit that this is meant to discourage climate change. More often than not he’s framing any energy issue around job creation and lowering energy prices. While Mitt Romney is undoubtedly worse than Obama on these issues, Romney too was once better on them. Both candidates have utterly failed to offer a vision for how they would address climate change. At this late stage, their denial of the dangers of this issue could well amount to a fatal blow to this planet as we know it. We simply don’t have the time for both major political parties to ignore global warming. And if ignoring it wasn’t bad enough, Obama’s cynical attacks on Romney for saying true things about the negative impact of coal make me ill.

Climate Change Terror

First, read this article by Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone.

OK, now that you’ve done that and we’re both terrified, let’s move forward. McKibben sees a real need as making the fossil fuel industry out to be a villain, a global villain. Here’s why:

If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn’t pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends.

Given this hard math, we need to view the fossil-fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization. “Lots of companies do rotten things in the course of their business – pay terrible wages, make people work in sweatshops – and we pressure them to change those practices,” says veteran anti-corporate leader Naomi Klein, who is at work on a book about the climate crisis. “But these numbers make clear that with the fossil-fuel industry, wrecking the planet is their business model. It’s what they do.”

McKibben sees a need to weaken the fossil fuel industry’s political power to enable major reforms and change the business incentive to functionally kill the world. He sees a large carbon tax as a primary vehicle to do this. While I can see that mechanically working, I just don’t know how we get from here to there. Politicians are just as captured by the fossil fuel industry as they are by the financial sector.

We just lived through a financial crisis of the largest scale since the Great Depression. And Wall Street was barely touched in response. Frankly it’s hard to imagine a scenario short of some sort of climate-caused doomsday event compelling politicians to consider action on a scale that is needed. Again, this looks a bit like the reality for financial regulation. Only the consequences aren’t economic hardship but the end of the world as we know it. Naturally it’s hard to put our eggs in this basket.

I really don’t know what the answer is and I don’t think McKibben has one either, at least not one that is realistic. All I can recommend at this point is to read this article and get scared. Really fucking scared. Then share it with as many people as you can and make sure they are sufficiently scared too. Maybe if we get enough people scared about what is happening and how perilous a situation we are in, then change can happen. But again, this isn’t much to pin our hopes on.

Marcellus Shale: fracking for 80% less

Originally posted at AMERICAblog.

This is a big deal – the Marcellus Shale natural gas field is becoming like the new ANWR, only instead of being in the Alaskan wilderness, it’s a gas field that runs through the highly populated east coast and midwest. Instead of risking the health and well-being of rare animals as in ANWR, fracking in Marcellus Shale risks the health and well-being of millions of Americans. For energy companies want to get at this gas, they have to use a violent, destructive process called hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking), that pipes water and sand deep underground to force the gas out. Fracking is as nasty as it sounds, producing highly toxic byproducts that contaminate groundwater. Bloomberg reports that US government geologists have dramatically reduced their estimate of the amount of natural gas that can be extracted by fracking in the Marcellus Shale formation:

The U.S. will slash its estimate of undiscovered Marcellus Shale natural gas by as much as 80 percent after a updated assessment by government geologists.The formation, which stretches from New York to Tennessee, contains about 84 trillion cubic feet of gas, the U.S. Geological Survey said today in its first update in nine years. That supersedes an Energy Department projection of 410 trillion cubic feet, said Philip Budzik, an operations research analyst with the Energy Information Administration.

Coincidentally, just a few days ago law enforcement superhero and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman subpoenaed a number of energy companies under the Martin Act, alleging that they weren’t being honest with investors about how much gas were in their wells.

Investigators have requested documents relating to the formulas that companies use to predict how much gas their wells are likely to produce in the coming decades. The subpoenas, which were sent on Aug. 8, also request documents related to the assumptions that companies have made about drilling costs in their estimates of the wells’ long-term profitability.The investigation will be watched closely in the industry because the attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, is using a New York law called the Martin Act that gives him broad powers over businesses and allows him to obtain and publicly disclose an unusual amount of information.

Subpoenas were sent to the three companies — Range Resources, Cabot Oil and Gas, and Goodrich Petroleum — according to the sources, who have direct knowledge of the investigation. Mr. Schneiderman also broadened a continuing investigation by his office into a fourth company, Chesapeake Energy, asking it to respond to similar questions about its shale gas wells, they said.

One of the reasons Schneiderman has taken interest in these energy companies is that New York State pension funds have heavily invested in these companies. Schneiderman has an obligation to help protect the State’s investments, especially if the companies haven’t been honest with investors.

It’s also worth noting that in addition to Schneiderman challenging yet another powerful corporate lobby, he’s also going against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who has sought to end a moratorium on fracking in New York. Seriously – where can we get a few dozen more Eric Schneiderman’s to help get this country back on track?