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“The Id That Ate The Planet”: At This Point Donald Trump’s Personality Endangers The Whole Planet

On Tuesday the political arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of America’s most influential environmentalist groups, made its first presidential endorsement ever, giving the nod to Hillary Clinton. This meant jumping the gun by a week on her inevitable designation as the presumptive Democratic nominee, but the NRDC Action Fund is obviously eager to get on with the general election.

And it’s not hard to see why: At this point Donald Trump’s personality endangers the whole planet.

We’re at a peculiar moment when it comes to the environment — a moment of both fear and hope. The outlook for climate change if current policies continue has never looked worse, but the prospects for turning away from the path of destruction have never looked better. Everything depends on who ends up sitting in the White House for the next few years.

On climate: Remember claims by climate denialists that global warming had paused, that temperatures hadn’t risen since 1998? That was always a garbage argument, but in any case it has now been blown away by a series of new temperature records and a proliferation of other indicators that, taken together, tell a terrifying story of looming disaster.

At the same time, however, rapid technological progress in renewable energy is making nonsense — or maybe I should say, further nonsense — of another bad argument against climate action, the claim that nothing can be done about greenhouse gas emissions without crippling the economy. Solar and wind power are getting cheaper each year, and growing quickly even without much in the way of incentives to switch away from fossil fuels. Provide those incentives, and an energy revolution would be just around the corner.

So we’re in a state where terrible things are in prospect, but can be avoided with fairly modest, politically feasible steps. You may want a revolution, but we don’t need one to save the planet. Right now all it would take is for America to implement the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and other actions — which don’t even require new legislation, just a Supreme Court that won’t stand in their way — to let the U.S. continue the role it took in last year’s Paris agreement, guiding the world as a whole toward sharp reductions in emissions.

But what happens if the next president is a man who doesn’t believe in climate science, or indeed in inconvenient facts of any kind?

Republican hostility to climate science and climate action is usually attributed to ideology and the power of special interests, and both of these surely play important roles. Free-market fundamentalists prefer rejecting science to admitting that there are ever cases when government regulation is necessary. Meanwhile, buying politicians is a pretty good business investment for fossil-fuel magnates like the Koch brothers.

But I’ve always had the sense that there was a third factor, which is basically psychological. There are some men — it’s almost always men — who become enraged at any suggestion that they must give up something they want for the common good. Often, the rage is disproportionate to the sacrifice: for example, prominent conservatives suggesting violence against government officials because they don’t like the performance of phosphate-free detergent. But polluter’s rage isn’t about rational thought.

Which brings us to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who embodies the modern conservative id in its most naked form, stripped of the disguises politicians usually use to cloak their prejudices and make them seem respectable.

No doubt Donald Trump hates environmental protection in part for the usual reasons. But there’s an extra layer of venom to his pro-pollution stances that is both personal and mind-bogglingly petty.

For example, he has repeatedly denounced restrictions intended to protect the ozone layer — one of the great success stories of global environmental policy — because, he claims, they’re the reason his hair spray doesn’t work as well as it used to. I am not making this up.

He’s also a bitter foe of wind power. He likes to talk about how wind turbines kill birds, which they sometimes do, but no more so than tall buildings; but his real motivation seems to be ire over unsuccessful attempts to block an offshore wind farm near one of his British golf courses.

And if evidence gets in the way of his self-centeredness, never mind. Recently he assured audiences that there isn’t a drought in California, that officials have just refused to turn on the water.

I know how ridiculous it sounds. Can the planet really be in danger because a rich guy worries about his hairdo? But Republicans are rallying around this guy just as if he were a normal candidate. And if Democrats don’t rally the same way, he just might make it to the White House.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 3, 2016

June 4, 2016 Posted by | Climate Change, Donald Trump, Environment, Global Warming | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Things To Celebrate, Like Dreams Of Flying Cars”: Progress In Technology Has Made Saving The World Much More Plausible

In Star Wars, Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon did the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs; in real life, all the Falcon 9 has done so far is land at Cape Canaveral without falling over or exploding. Yet I, like many nerds, was thrilled by that achievement, in part because it reinforced my growing optimism about the direction technology seems to be taking — a direction that may end up saving the world.

O.K., if you have no idea what I’m talking about, the Falcon 9 is Elon Musk’s reusable rocket, which is supposed to boost a payload into space, then return to where it can be launched again. If the concept works, it could drastically reduce the cost of putting stuff into orbit. And that successful landing was a milestone. We’re still a very long way from space colonies and zero-gravity hotels, let alone galactic empires. But space technology is moving forward after decades of stagnation.

And to my amateur eye, this seems to be part of a broader trend, which is making me more hopeful for the future than I’ve been in a while.

You see, I got my Ph.D. in 1977, the year of the first Star Wars movie, which means that I have basically spent my whole professional life in an era of technological disappointment.

Until the 1970s, almost everyone believed that advancing technology would do in the future what it had done in the past: produce rapid, unmistakable improvement in just about every aspect of life. But it didn’t. And while social factors — above all, soaring inequality — have played an important role in that disappointment, it’s also true that in most respects technology has fallen short of expectations.

The most obvious example is travel, where cars and planes are no faster than they were when I was a student, and actual travel times have gone up thanks to congestion and security lines. More generally, there has just been less progress in our command over the physical world — our ability to produce and deliver things — than almost anyone expected.

Now, there has been striking progress in our ability to process and transmit information. But while I like cat and concert videos as much as anyone, we’re still talking about a limited slice of life: We are still living in a material world, and pushing information around can do only so much. The famous gibe by the investor Peter Thiel (“We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”) is unfair, but contains a large kernel of truth.

Over the past five or six years, however — or at least this is how it seems to me — technology has been getting physical again; once again, we’re making progress in the world of things, not just information. And that’s important.

Progress in rocketry is fun to watch, but the really big news is on energy, a field of truly immense disappointment until recently. For decades, unconventional energy technologies kept falling short of expectations, and it seemed as if nothing could end our dependence on oil and coal — bad news in the short run because of the prominence it gave to the Middle East; worse news in the long run because of global warming.

But now we’re witnessing a revolution on multiple fronts. The biggest effects so far have come from fracking, which has ended fears about peak oil and could, if properly regulated, be some help on climate change: Fracked gas is still fossil fuel, but burning it generates a lot less greenhouse emissions than burning coal. The bigger revolution looking forward, however, is in renewable energy, where costs of wind and especially solar have dropped incredibly fast.

Why does this matter? Everyone who isn’t ignorant or a Republican realizes that climate change is by far the biggest threat humanity faces. But how much will we have to sacrifice to meet that threat?

Well, you still hear claims, mostly from the right but also from a few people on the left, that we can’t take effective action on climate without bringing an end to economic growth. Marco Rubio, for example, insists that trying to control emissions would “destroy our economy.” This was never reasonable, but those of us asserting that protecting the environment was consistent with growth used to be somewhat vague about the details, simply asserting that given the right incentives the private sector would find a way.

But now we can see the shape of a sustainable, low-emission future quite clearly — basically an electrified economy with, yes, nuclear power playing some role, but sun and wind front and center. Of course, it doesn’t have to happen. But if it doesn’t, the problem will be politics, not technology.

True, I’m still waiting for flying cars, not to mention hyperdrive. But we have made enough progress in the technology of things that saving the world has suddenly become much more plausible. And that’s reason to celebrate.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 25, 2015

December 27, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Energy, Technology | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Fiorina The Smooth Operator”: The Essence Of Fiorina ’16: A Smooth Exterior With Little Beneath It

In a piece at Vox today that you should most definitely read if you are following what passes for a bipartisan debate on climate change, Dave Roberts looks closely at a four-minute segment of an interview Katie Couric did with Carly Fiorina that Republican flacks are praising as a genius tour de force (for Carly, of course, not for Katie). He goes through ten claims Fiorina–not a climate change denier but rather someone who finds infinite excuses not to do anything about it–made in the interview against Democratic climate change proposals and shows they are more than a bit factually challenged. A sample of an argument Carly advanced as a Californian:

California “destroys lives and livelihoods with environmental regulations”

California’s climate regulations are indeed the most ambitious in the nation, and they just keep getting more ambitious. (A pair of new climate bills has cleared the Senate and is headed to the Assembly.)

If California were its own country, it would be one of the world’s top 10 in total renewable energy generation and one of the bottom two in carbon intensity. It is the top state in the nation for venture capital investments in cleantech, cleantech patents, and advanced-energy jobs. In fact, it leads the nation in virtually every cleantech category, from electric vehicles to green buildings to solar capacity to policy to investment, reliably topping the US Cleantech Leadership Index.

Meanwhile, between 1993 and 2013, thanks to energy efficiency, the average residential electricity bill in California declined, on an inflation-adjusted basis, by 4 percent, even as bills rose elsewhere in the country. Between 1990 and 2012, the state cut per-capita carbon emissions by 25 percent even as its GDP increased by 37 percent. Its total carbon emissions are declining, even as its economy continues to grow.

Oh, and California created more jobs than any other state in the nation last year, with the fifth-highest GDP growth rate. And its budget is balanced.

Looks like the state is surviving its environmental regulations so far.

After nine other, similar expositions, Roberts concludes:

However smooth Fiorina may be, in the end it’s not going to make sense to voters to acknowledge the science of climate change and then say you’re against every solution to it except handing out subsidies to the coal industry. That is some unstable derp. If I had to predict, I’d say political pressure will be such that Fiorina will either be forced back into outright denialism or she’ll have to offer something less vaporous on the policy front. She won’t be able to stay where she is.

But note that qualifier “in the end.” Untutored folk watching Fiorina may simply notice how “smooth” she is. And the fact that it’s Katie Couric interviewing her is instructive. A series of Couric inteviews took Sarah Palin down several notches in 2008 because the nationally unknown Alaska governor was anything but smooth. But that’s the essence of Fiorina ’16: a smooth exterior with little beneath it.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 21, 2015

August 22, 2015 Posted by | Carly Fiorina, Climate Change, Coal Industry | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Working For The Same Boss”: The Coal Industry Is Imploding. Why Is it Still So Powerful in Washington?

As its battle against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan intensifies, Big Coal is getting a lot of help from friends in high places.

Leading the rush to the industry’s defense is Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who has launched an underhanded campaign to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules for greenhouse gases from power plants. In a March 3 op-ed, McConnell suggested that states should refuse to submit a state plan for lowering emissions. A few weeks later he sent a letter directly to every governor in the country, warning that developing such a plan would allow “the EPA to wrest control of a state’s energy policy.”

To further encourage states to opt out of the rules, McConnell and co-sponsors Rob Portman, Roy Blunt, Tom Cotton and Orrin Hatch put forth an amendment to a budget resolution on Wednesday that would allow a state’s governor or legislature to duck the EPA’s authority if they determined that adopting a plan to reduce emissions would hurt their state. (A similar measure is pending in the House.) In order to opt out, according to David Doniger of the National Resources Defense Council, all a state would need to do is “to declare that meeting carbon standards would cost the polluters money.”

McConnell’s bases his appeal to the states on the claim that the regulations are “probably” illegal. In this argument he is is backed by “iconic liberal constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe,” who, McConnell practically crows, “was President Obama’s constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School.” In recent months Tribe has been busy writing legal briefs and op-eds and trotting himself out before the House Energy and Commerce Committee to make that case that the EPA’s attempt to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act is an egregious act of overreach akin to “burning the Constitution.” Tribe goes well beyond questions of legality, however, as Jonathan Chait points out, defending coal as a time-honored home-dug alternative to foreign oil.

Tribe’s starring role in McConnell’s circus is unexpected, but it’s not hard to explain: They’re working for the same boss. Tribe was hired to assail the Clean Energy Plan by Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest coal producer—and also the fourth-largest contributor to McConnell over the course of his career, according to The New York Times.

There isn’t enough support in the Senate to override the inevitable veto of any legislation that undermines the power plant rules. That’s why McConnell is appealing directly to the states. A dozen have already sued to stop the regulations, and it’s these legal challenges that have the most potential to cripple, or at least slow down, the plan’s implementation. The coal industry and nineteen states are also using lawsuits to try to wriggle out of new limits on mercury, arsenic and other toxic emissions; the Supreme Court heard arguments against that rule on Wednesday.

All of this suggests that Big Coal’s star is as bright as ever in Washington. The persistence of its political influence looks increasingly odd, however, when held against the fact that coal industry is imploding. The global market research firm Macquarie Research warned investors on Monday that the future for US coal companies is “increasingly bleak,” and the sector is likely to see “a wave of bankruptcies.” A report released Tuesday by the London-based Carbon Tracker Initiative found that more than two dozen coal companies have recently gone bankrupt. Between 2005 and 2010 coal lost more than 10 percent of its market share in US power generation. Meanwhile, China continues its efforts to kick its own coal habit: This week officials announced that they will shut the last coal-fired power plant in Beijing in 2016. “This is an industry in crisis,” writes Ross McCracken of Platts Energy Economist. “Now it faces a slow King Canute style defeat.”

Why are coal companies having such a hard time? One reason is that it’s becoming too expensiveto mine coal for profit in some areas, now that the easy-to-reach reserves in Appalachia (if you consider blowing the top off a mountain easy) are tapped out. The costs of shipping coal are going up, while renewable energy is increasingly affordable. The Carbon Tracker report does point to EPA regulations, particularly on Mercury, as one of the significant challenges to the industry. But even more important is the 80 percent drop since 2008 in the price of natural gas. Coal just can’t compete anymore. “What is also striking is that these factors were not driven explicitly by carbon or climate considerations,” the report continues. “Without a global climate deal or a federal carbon price, US coal is already down for the count.”

Meanwhile the economy is growing (if horrifically unequally), indicating that coal isn’t nearly as relevant as the debate about the power plant rules would suggest. Giants like Peabody still have enough money to net powerful lackeys like Tribe. But at most McConnell’s campaign would amount to corporate life support, perhaps enough to keep Peabody alive. It’s certainly no plan to lift up the struggling coal regions he claims to be fighting for. McConnell isn’t fighting the “war on coal” just for Peabody’s sake, however. As a narrative through which to filter broader resistance to any challenge to corporate power made in the public interest, that “war” is far too useful to give up.

 

By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, March 25, 2015

March 30, 2015 Posted by | Coal Industry, Environmental Protection Agency, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Are Koch”: We Make Your Planet Warmer And Water More Flammable

Koch Industries, considered Public Enemy Number One by many environmentalists, is blanketing the airwaves with an ad campaign touting its contributions to society.

Charles and David Koch, billionaire moguls of a fossil fuel empire, sign off their company’s self-aggrandizing ads with the triumphant exclamation “we are Koch!”

The main ad in their series of spot commercials features a kaleidoscope of bucolic farms as well as bustling factory workers and lab technicians. A narrator informs us that the company has a 60,000 strong workforce dedicated to providing a broad range of products to” help people improve their lives.” [“We Are Koch.”]

There is no mention of this second largest privately held company in the nation being slapped with numerous fines for pollution offenses. There is nary a word about the Koch brothers using their immense wealth to finance the debunking of climate change. No reference is made to the company’s lobbying efforts to thwart clean, renewable energy expansion and weaken anti-pollution regulations.

One of the ads features Claire Johnson, an environmental engineer lauding the work of her employer, Flint Hill Resources, a Koch chemical refining multi-site operation.

“If a pollution incident does occur,” Johnson declares as she stares into the camera, “we are great at self-regulation…” [We Are Koch.]

Koch’s perception of its self-regulatory skills is not shared by government authorities responsible for safeguarding our air, water and land. You can understand why when you learn that the very same Flint Hill Resources was recently fined $350,000 for allowing a Texas chemical plant to leak a lethal amount of hazardous emissions.

To counter the Koch’s pervasive propaganda, an advertising rebuttal is needed. Television satirist Jon Stewart took a one-time stab with a video parody displaying oil fields and polar bears. The video was accompanied by a supposed Koch narrator rhapsodizing that “with our devotion to fossil fuels, we [Koch] make your planet warmer and water more flammable while lubricating your birds and displacing your polar bears.”

Unfortunately, Stewart doesn’t have the resources to saturate the electronic mass media with his visual message. It is a shame there is no major ad campaign offering such responses as something like the following. Picture a Koch Industries chemical plant discharging suspicious-looking affluent into a waterway with a narrator boasting “here is a Koch plant operating at full tilt.” A sonorous voice then intones “They Are Koch.”

How about a video in which a melting iceberg collapses into the sea as a Koch narrative drones “global warming is a natural phenomenon. There is no human-induced climate change. They Are Koch.”

The camera zooms in on a bulldozer unloading toxic coal residue into a hazardous waste landfill with a voice-over proclaiming “renewable energy at this stage is unaffordable. That leaves the plentiful coal and other fossil fuels we supply as the only practical alternatives for the foreseeable future. They Are Koch.”

Koch Industries employs a lot of people, but it jeopardizes a lot as well.

 

By: Edward Flattau, The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 25, 2015

March 26, 2015 Posted by | Environment, Global Warming, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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