The Elephant at the State of the Union

By William S. Becker Deep in the inner sanctums of the federal bureaucracy, Donald Trump’s lieutenants are writing the early drafts of the President’s State of the Union address, coming up on Jan. 29. It’s possible that the annual speech will be overshadowed by a continuing government shutdown. But if it is like most of the others that presidents have delivered to Congress, Trump will brag about what he has done and explain what he wants to do next, in his case with fact-checkers scrambling to keep up. Typically, the state of the economy is part of these speeches. This year Trump has some explaining to do about the role his trade war with China, criticism of the Fed, treatment of European allies, threats of nuclear war, statements about withdrawing from international institutions, chaos in the White House and the government shutdown have played in the crazy volatility of the stock market. I would be uncomfortably outside my lane if I tried to explain what has happened to the economy, or what will. But there is evidence now that global

January 15th, 2019|home|

Shooting at the Wrong Tax Target

By William S. Becker Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been in Congress just a few days, but she's already looking like the Robin Hood of the climate-action movement. She and her merry band of progressives in the House of Representatives are the kind of heroes we need right now. But Ocasio-Cortez has aimed her first arrow at the wrong target. Ocasio-Cortez is a champion of the Green New Deal, a plan to combat climate change by producing 100% of the nation’s electricity with renewable resources within 10 years.  While so much progress in so little time may seem unrealistic, America has done great things even faster. The shift to zero-carbon energy is the right idea and Congress should be aiming high. The Green New Deal has a social justice dimension, too, so Ocasio-Cortez has proposed that it be financed by raising the marginal tax rate to 70% for people making more than $10 million annually. That would kill two big birds at once. It would reduce income inequality as well as carbon emissions. Some of her progressive Democratic colleagues in the

January 14th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

Building the Green New Deal

By William S. Becker The always informative blog Grist reports that the proposal for a national Green New Deal is stirring up criticism from grassroots organizations that have worked for a long time on social justice, renewable energy, the sovereign rights of Native Americans and other dimensions of the idea pushed by freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Some long-time activists are concerned that the idea was developed “top down” by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, rather than at the grassroots where boots with well-worn soles are on the ground. Grist reports that Ocasio-Cortez’s staff is now taking in ideas from many of those organizations and the Green New Deal is growing from a concept into a more specific set of objectives. In case there still is any friction about the top-down origins of the idea, let’s consider how these things often work. The idea of a Green New Deal has been around for a long time before Rep. Ocasio-Cortez adopted it, but the way it has appeared on the congressional stage is not untypical. In the intense pressure and pace of political

January 10th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

2019: Year of the Carbon Revolution?

Second in a series of occasional articles about the new Congress and climate change. The clear and present danger of climate change means we cannot burn our way to prosperity. We already rely too heavily on fossil fuels. We need to find a new, sustainable path to the future we want. We need a clean industrial revolution. -  Ban Ki-moon By William S. Becker It is dangerous to recommend a revolution in a nation whose citizens are armed to the teeth. Some people might get the wrong idea. But it is also dangerous for a complacent citizenry to leave the country in the hands of leaders who violate the trust we have placed in them. That's what is happening today as members of Congress ignore the wishes of the people who elected them. Research shows, for example, that the American people want more federal protections for the environment. Instead, President Trump is rolling them back and Congress is acquiescing. However, the most dangerous example of official negligence is the refusal of Congress and/or the President to do something about two

December 29th, 2018|home, Uncategorized|

Proposed: A Select Committee For A Green New Deal

There is significant post-election buzz among progressives about a "Green New Deal" -- a national program with the intensity of America's efforts during World War II.  The core of the idea is "the transition of the United States economy to become greenhouse gas emissions neutral and to significantly draw down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality." The Yale Project on Climate Change Communications reports that at least 40 members of Congress supported the Green New Deal concept as of mid-December, 2018, and polling shows the idea is supported by 81% of American voters, including 64% of Republicans and 57% of self-described conservative Republicans. However, the idea is short on details.  To flesh it out, supporters have proposed that the House of Representatives create a Special Committee to work on a Green New Deal plan and to prepare legislation to implement it. Here are excerpts from their proposal to House leadership: DRAFT TEXT FOR PROPOSED ADDENDUM TO HOUSE RULES FOR 116TH CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES (a) Establishment of the Select

December 21st, 2018|home|

Uncle Sam the Carbon Pusher

By William S. Becker This column is for all good citizens who hear the static about global climate change, but who don’t understand what the fuss is. It’s for those people who have not yet grasped that the world has a serious drug problem and the drug is fossil fuels. It was President George W. Bush, a former oil man, who warned us in 2006 that America is addicted to oil. He might as well have included natural gas and coal, too. These three are the family of carbon-based fuels responsible for global climate change. America has been addicted to them for more than 100 years. The addiction metaphor is a useful way for lay-people to understand the basic dynamics and risks of the world’s dependence on fossil fuels.  The first thing to know is that decades of research and physical observation prove that the Earth’s surface is getting warmer and the principal reason is pollution from burning fossil fuels. The pollution gathers in the lower atmosphere and acts like a blanket that keeps some of the sun’s heat from reflecting

December 18th, 2018|home|

Riots Haven’t Killed Carbon Fees

By William S. Becker As riots continued across France this week, President Trump and several news outlets jumped to the conclusion that the uprising was “part of a global backlash against climate change taxes.” Trump gloated that the riots prove the Paris climate agreement is “fatally flawed”, and they vindicate his decision to withdraw from the pact. Political advisers predicted that sponsors of a carbon fee in the United States and other nations now will run for cover. They all are wrong. Deeper analysis showed that France’s taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel were merely the spark that ignited a much broader array of explosive grievances, including the perception that the government’s policies favor the rich. Rather than killing carbon pricing, the protests are teaching valuable lessons about the correct way to design and implement a price on carbon. France’s unrest is not a death knell for carbon taxes, but it should be a death knell for poor design. “If you want to make energy taxes unpopular, step one is to be an unpopular leader,” notes Yale economist William Nordhaus,

December 12th, 2018|home|

Trump’s Latest Collusion

By William S. Becker The world is waiting to learn whether Donald Trump colluded with Vladimir Putin to win the U.S. presidency two years ago. We don’t have to wait for an investigation, however, to prove another collusion between Trump and Putin. It took place in Poland last weekend in full public view. The United States and Russia, along with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, threw a monkey wrench into the always delicate international negotiations over climate change. With one simple word, they signaled that they do not accept the latest report from the world's eminent scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In that report two months ago, the IPCC warned that societies must make profound and rapid changes to avoid a world we will not like. While all other nations wanted to “welcome” the new report, the newly minted four-nation carbon cartel wanted to use the word “noted”.  “Welcome” implies a warm embrace, while “noted” implies a turned-up nose. It would be easy to read too much into this. It could mean nothing. In international diplomacy, however,

December 11th, 2018|home|

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|