A New Congress at a Dangerous Time

By William S. Becker If you don’t read the Washington Post, you may have missed an important warning this week from 44 former United States Senators. They published a letter to the 100 Senators who will be seated in the 116th Congress next month. They pointed out that “we are entering dangerous period” in which several sensitive events will converge. They could have addressed the letter to the rest of us, too, because we will all be challenged by that “dangerous period”. As the former Senators write, the rule of law, the principles of democracy, the functions of our institutions, and even our national security are at stake. The converging events are the pending results of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s wide-ranging investigation of President Trump and his campaign, a similar investigation likely to be undertaken by the Democrat-controlled House, and “simmering regional conflicts and global power confrontations”. The 44 Formers referred to this as an “inflection point” and a potential constitutional crisis when today’s Senators must ensure that “partisanship and self-interest do not replace national interest.” The media and pollsters

December 11th, 2018|home|

Defusing a “Trump Effect”

By William S. Becker When Donald Trump announced last year that he wants to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, countless people around the world who invested decades of hard work to achieve that historic agreement held their breath, wondering whether other nations would follow suit. Other nations did not; 194 of the 195 countries that approved the accord three years ago held fast. Today, those nations are meeting in Poland for "COP24", this year's negotiations on how to proceed collaboratively on climate action. By some accounts, there is problem-- a “Trump Effect” that’s eroding other nations’ determination to fulfill and exceed the commitments in the Paris pact. The “Trump effect” is the topic of a study published last March, which concluded that Trump’s actions over the last two years may be slowing international momentum. Trump is undermining the Paris agreement in three ways, according to the report’s author, Joseph Curtin at the Institute of International and European Affairs.  His decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement has “created moral and political cover for others to

December 6th, 2018|home, Uncategorized|

What Shall We Do About Floods?

This is the first in a series of op-eds that suggest what Congress should consider as it plans and funds the repair and modernization of America’s infrastructure.  By William S. Becker We are told that repairing and modernizing America’s infrastructure will be one topic on which there could be bipartisan cooperation in the next Congress, and between Congress and the White House. Perhaps. Everyone agrees that the nation’s infrastructure needs work, in many cases urgently. But Congress will have to demonstrate an extraordinary level of bipartisanship to decide on the details. There are many tough and controversial issues to address. One example is a type of infrastructure we don’t hear enough about compared, for example, to roads and bridges. There are about 84,000 dams in the United States built for recreation, flood control, irrigation, energy production and water storage. While 38% of the nation’s dams were built for recreation, nearly 18% were built to control floods. The height of dam-building took place in the middle of the last century with structures designed to last about 50 years. Their average age

December 5th, 2018|home|

To Senator Sasse from an Alarmist

By William S. Becker There has been a long, slow evolution in the excuses that climate-change skeptics have used over the years to argue that nothing need be done. Climate change is a hoax. The science isn’t settled. Yes, the weather is changing but it’s due to natural cycles. Federal action to confront climate change would bankrupt the economy. Yada yada. But in the wake of two ominous new reports from international and U.S. climate scientists, some skeptics are beginning to waffle. There may even be a crack developing in the U.S. Senate's  wall of denial. The two new science studies – one from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the other from the U.S. government’s own scientists – are a wake-up call that nations have procrastinated too long. Everyone including the United States must make profound changes in energy use within the next 12 years. However, politicians don't need science any more to know that climate change is real. They are witnessing deadly and destructive weather events across America, attributed to global warming. Polls show that voters want leadership

November 27th, 2018|home|

Earth Warms; President Shrugs

What should the punishment be for a President of the United States who has enormous resources at his disposal, but refuses to help the American people avoid a deadly and costly future? What can we do about a president who lacks the morality to protect the people he was elected to serve? In the last 60 days, two groups of scientists have issued ominous warnings that climate change is underway worldwide and in the United States, and unless we do something about it, it will severely damage our economy, health and quality of life for countless generations to come. The first warning came from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which consists of scientists from around the world who have modeled and monitored climate change since the panel was formed in 1988. The second warning came last Friday in a detailed report from the U.S. government’s own scientists. While the IPCC described the worldwide consequences of climate change, the second report – called the National Climate Assessment (NCA) -- focused on climate change in the United States and its territories. The NCA concluded that

November 26th, 2018|home|

How the House Can Use a Select Climate Committee

By William S. Becker With Democrats organizing to take over the House of Representatives in January, there are already reports of a kerfuffle about who will be in charge of energy and climate issues. Intra-party power struggles are neither unusual nor all that interesting outside of Washington, D.C., but this one involves an area of growing national and international urgency. That latest report from the world’s climate scientists if that human civilization is closer to a collision with the biosphere than we thought. That warning came last month from a working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It estimates that nations have 12 years to make “rapid and far-reaching” changes in nearly every aspect of human society if we hope to avoid long-lasting and irreversible changes in the Earth’s weather. According to the group’s co-chair, “The next few years are probably the most important in our history.” We have heard similar warnings before, but now it is obvious that climate change has arrived and it's getting destructive and deadly more quickly than scientists thought it would. Polling

November 20th, 2018|home|

After the Fires and Floods

By William S. Becker The people of Paradise, California, are going through a phase that virtually every community experiences after it is wiped out by a weather-related disaster. It is deciding whether to rebuild, where to rebuild, and how to rebuild smarter than it was. In the process, Paradise and the other communities destroyed by weather can set examples for others as global climate change causes more severe fires, floods, hurricanes and sea-level rise. Every disaster teaches hard lessons the hard way. Flooded communities discover, and in many cases rediscover, how vulnerable they are. If they are smart, they will rebuild away from floodplains, on higher ground if it’s available. Individual homes and businesses will probably make sure they have flood insurance in the future. Communities leveled by hurricane-force winds learn to rebuild with more sturdy construction and roof tie-downs. Towns destroyed by tornadoes learn to incorporate shelters into their buildings, starting with schools, hospitals and homes. For Paradise, where more than 50 people died and more than 8,000 homes and businesses were burned to the ground last week, local

November 16th, 2018|home|

Stop Arguing. Rebuild America

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.” – Buckminster Fuller By William S. Becker Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that our politics is a mess right now. Thanks to Donald Trump, Republicans have become the Party of Fear and Division, with allies like Alex Jones and David Duke. Democrats do not seem to have a coherent vision for the country, except that it should not include Donald Trump. Some are afraid that our divisions are so deep and emotional that they could lead to armed conflict. Last year, Foreign Policy magazine asked several national security experts to evaluate the risks of a second civil war. Their responses ranged from a 5% chance to a 95% chance.  The consensus was 35%. The reasons ranged from weak institutions, tribalism, echo chambers, acrimonious public dialogue and the acceptance of violence as a form of protest, to social media trolling, entrenched polarization and the number of hate groups in America (917 last year including 623 antigovernment groups and 165 armed militias). Yet there is much on which we

November 12th, 2018|home, Uncategorized|

Can the House Tackle Climate Change?

By William S. Becker Now that Democrats will control the House of Representatives, curious people want to know: Can the new majority do anything about global climate change? The answer is yes it can. Legislation would be tough. In the current political climate, the Senate is ready to defeat, and the President will veto, any climate bill the House produces. However, the new House can raise the temperature for Congress to finally act on global warming. There is new urgency for a federal response.  The world’s climate scientists reported last month that nations have only 12 years to make radical changes in energy use. Ice core samples show the concentration of climate-altering carbon pollution in the atmosphere today is higher than it has been in at least 800,000 years, and it’s still rising. While Washington fiddles, climate change is increasing the intensity of fires, floods, hurricanes, heat waves and sea-level rise. More Americans are at greater risk of injury or death and more property is being destroyed. States, localities and businesses have stepped into the leadership void, but the necessary scope and speed of

November 10th, 2018|home|

The Hope at the Heart of the Apocalyptic Climate Change Report

Along with their latest dire predictions, the world’s leading climate scientists offered a new path forward—but will anyone take it? BY JASON HICKELReposted from Foreign Policy When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a new special report last week, it came with both good news and bad. The good news is that the carbon budget for staying under 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming is larger than we thought, so we have a bit more time to act. The bad news is that the consequences of overshooting that threshold are very, very bad. The catastrophes that we once believed would be triggered by only 2 degrees of warming are likely to occur at this lower threshold, including widespread collapse of food yields and extreme levels of human displacement. The IPCC has issued a clear and trenchant call for action—its most urgent yet. It says we need to cut annual global emissions by half in the next 12 years and hit net zero by the middle of the century. It would be difficult to overstate how dramatic this trajectory is. It requires nothing

October 26th, 2018|home, Uncategorized|

New Study: Energy Efficiency Gains Must Speed Up

By Steven Nadel Energy-saving efforts continue to deliver vast gains, but their progress is slowing and will need at least a doubling of investment in order to reach global sustainability goals, according to the International Energy Agency’s new Energy Efficiency 2018 market report, released last week. The sixth annual report by the IEA, a Paris-based organization formed and led by 30 developed countries, includes striking data on the value of energy efficiency. While global energy use has grown by a third since 2000, the figure below shows that the increase would have been more than 50% greater without efficiency. However, while efficiency savings are substantial, the IEA finds that the rate of improvement is slowing. The chart below shows that global energy intensity (energy use per unit GDP) fell by 2.5% in 2011, but that the rate of improvement slowed to 1.7% in 2017, and would have dipped even more, to 1.2%, if the 3.9% improvement in China were not included. The IEA shows the importance of energy efficiency actions to meeting the global sustainability goals of the Paris Agreement.  It provides

October 25th, 2018|home, Uncategorized|

Why young people want to put the government on trial

By William S. Becker Why, we might ask, have 21 young Americans fought so hard for so long to take the United States government to court for contributing to global climate change? Why are they determined to take their lawsuit, Juliana v United States, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary? The answer is simple. Although presidents and congresses have known about climate change and its costly impacts for more than 50 years, their response has been woefully and dangerously inadequate. So, the Julianas, as I call them, have turned to the courts. Although the Julianas could not have anticipated it when they filed their lawsuit in 2015, things have become far worse. Under Donald Trump, the federal government is not only ignoring global warming; it is actively promoting and producing the greenhouse gas pollution that is responsible for global warming. In fact, after some glimmers of hope during the Obama presidency, we have a Congress and president who are again putting the United States on a path that leads to uncontrolled pollution and irreversible disasters. Trump has scrapped the comprehensive climate

October 24th, 2018|home|