By William S. Becker Here is a question: To what extent is each Congress bound to honor the intentions of past congresses when they are expressed in the nation’s laws? The question is not academic. It has direct relevance to the duties and obligations of the current Congress and President, and what they should be doing about global climate change. As we look back at the environmental laws duly passed and signed over the past 50 years, it appears that our current elected leaders are violating the spirit, if not the letter, of those statutes. Despite the disagreements today about the Green New Deal, Congress made clear in the 1960s and 1970s that we need something like it. It might be a good idea for everyone in this 116th session to take a short step back from the GND debate to consider a new resolution. We can call it the Green Old Deal (GOD), and challenge Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring it to a vote in the Senate. To digress for a moment, I suspect the Founders would have
By William S. Becker The chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee had a difficult decision last week, and he blew it. Under pressure from other Democrats, Rep. Richard Neal disinvited a former Republican congressman who was going to testify about global climate change. The former congressman is Carlos Curbelo, who narrowly lost his seat in last year’s midterm election to Democrat Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. While he was in Congress, Curbelo defied GOP orthodoxy to create and co-chair a bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus and to be the first Republican in a very long time to introduce a significant climate bill. So why has Curbelo been invited to stay home? He has not ruled out running for his old seat again in 2020. Party leaders and several of his Democrat colleagues “advised” Neal not to give Curbelo a stage. I’ll admit that it’s easy for we who don’t worry about facing reelected to make judgments about people who do. And Democrat candidates are more than justified to emphasize the difference between their party and the GOP on climate change.
By William S. Becker Economists say it’s the most important single thing we can do to lower America’s emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal global-warming gas. Conservatives are said to like it because it engages market forces rather than federal regulations. But although climate change is finally getting attention in Congress, it is unclear whether lawmakers will decide any time soon whether to add a carbon fee to the price of fossil fuels. There may be back-room negotiations underway to create a bill that a majority in Congress can support. Or maybe not. Just in case, this blog offers a few suggestions for negotiators to consider. Let's start with a brief description of what we know is on the visible table so far. Several proposals to create a carbon fee have been put forward in the last couple of years. Two bills are pending in the current Congress. One is championed by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island; the second is sponsored by Rep. Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat. The Deutch bill has the advantage of three Republican cosponsors.
In just a few decades, we are likely to see many fewer species on the planet than we see today. That is the grim message in a May 7, 2019, report from the United Nations on the status of species in this era of rapid climate change and human interventions in the environment. There now are as many as 1 million species threatened with extinction -- an unprecedented and accelerating die-off that cannot be prevented without transformative changes in our treatment of nature. The warnings come from the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Its report is the product of 145 expert authors from 50 nations along with contributions from another 310 contributing authors. It is based on a review of 15,000 science and government sources. The human interventions include a tenfold increase in plastic pollution over the last 20 years; 400 million tons of heavy metals, toxic sludges and fertilizer pouring into global waters annually; a doubling of greenhouse gas pollution since 1980; the loss of 85% of the world's wetlands during the industrial era;
By William S. Becker It appears that “socialism” will become the most overused word during the 2020 election season. It’s the label that President Trump is using, and that Sen. Mitch McConnell thinks other Republicans should use, against Democrats who support the Green New Deal. McConnell says he’d like the 2020 election to be a “referendum on socialism”. Don’t be surprised if he holds hearings to grill climate activists on whether they are now or ever have been members of the Socialist Party. McConnell is correct about one thing, however. The 2020 election should be a de facto referendum. Its focus should not be on socialism. It should be on each candidate's dedication to addressing climate change and on the social justice problems cited in the Green New Deal. Assuming that the economy keeps humming along, Trump will try to ride it all the way to a second term. But the GDP and job numbers alone are not adequate indicators of the nation’s health and prosperity. Many of the social inequities mentioned in the Green New Deal resolution that Rep.
Reprinted from MIT Technology Review By David Rotman In contrast to the existential angst currently in fashion around climate change, there’s a cold-eyed calculation that its advocates, mostly economists, like to call the most important number you’ve never heard of. It’s the social cost of carbon. It reflects the global damage of emitting one ton of carbon dioxide into the sky, accounting for its impact in the form of warming temperatures and rising sea levels. Economists, who have squabbled over the right number for a decade, see it as a powerful policy tool that could bring rationality to climate decisions. It’s what we should be willing to pay to avoid emitting that one more ton of carbon. For most of us, it’s a way to grasp how much our carbon emissions will affect the world’s health, agriculture, and economy for the next several hundred years. Maximilian Auffhammer, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, describes it this way: it’s approximately the damage done by driving from San Francisco to Chicago, assuming that about a ton of carbon dioxide spits out of
By William S. Becker Yogi Berra is said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Lewis Carroll wrote, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” Author Lou Adler wrote, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there.” There appears to be some plagiarism going on here, but never mind. Whoever said it first, it’s a good idea to know where we’re going before we take to the road, unless we have a lot of time and fuel to spare. Time is not our friend in regard to several of the challenges we must confront in the United States right now. That’s especially true for global climate change and social justice. We have gone from a nation that barely talked about global warming until a young congresswoman from the Bronx introduced something called the Green New Deal. Now we can’t seem to stop talking about it, which is a good thing. On the other hand, we don’t seem to talk about social justice enough, especially when
By William S. Becker The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. That quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald is worth thinking about this Earth Day. It is at the heart of what the day should be mean. In fact, it goes to the heart of one of life’s necessary skills: Being conscious that we each are individuals, but also dependent on one another. That is true for nations, too, and for our species’ place in the planet’s web of life. This is not a new-age head trip. The duality of the part and the whole is one that many of us, including many of our leaders, seem unable to grasp and sustain. For example, nationalism – the doctrine that our nation, or any nation, is independent from and more important than all the others -- is a fiction. Nations have never been more connected and interdependent than they are today with the Internet, the ability to travel to anywhere in
By Brian La Shier, Jessie Stolark, and Ellen Vaughan The Environment and Energy Study Institute (EESI) has issued this informative paper on recent congressional actions to encourage the development of resilient infrastructure. INFRASTRUCTURE Natural and built systems that can better withstand severe weather and other hazards. Resilient infrastructure saves lives and property during catastrophic events, reduces the cost of recovery, and provides significant cost savings over the life of infrastructure systems. Climate-resilient infrastructure is designed and built with future weather patterns in mind, based on observed events, data and modeling. Even though the 115th Congress did not enact a comprehensive infrastructure bill as many had hoped, lawmakers passed and advanced several pieces of legislation that address resilience in homes, defense facilities, airports, and water infrastructure. Going forward, resilience should be a central goal for the new construction, repair, or modernization of any infrastructure project, from early planning, budgeting, and design, through the duration of a project's life cycle. At a minimum, Congress can require resilience metrics and mitigation strategies for federally-funded projects. Prioritizing resilience in planning decisions can help meet
By William S. Becker For at least 20 years in the United States, the relationship between climate-action advocates and the federal government has been like the relationship between Charlie Brown and Lucy's football. Every time it looked as though congresses and presidents might do something, the climate movement ended up on its clunibus. We have to go back to 1992 to find Congress's last positive act on climate change. That was the year the Senate blessed and President George H.W. Bush ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Since then, the two presidents who used their own authority to cut the nation’s carbon pollution were succeeded by presidents who forced the country to backslide. When Donald Trump announced that he plans to pull America out of the Paris climate agreement, a monumental achievement of the Obama Administration, it was no surprise that many in the climate-action movement gave up on the Feds. The silver lining in Trump's stupid decision, however, was that many cities, states and businesses stepped into the leadership void. More than 3,500 corporate executives, college
By William S. Becker The scuttlebutt from Washington, D.C., is that supporters of the Green New Deal (GND) will embark on a Plan B now that the Senate has voted down their aspirational resolution for an aggressive federal response to global climate change. Plan B is to back away from the ambitious goals of the GND in favor of smaller and more specific bills. In other words, the “B” in Plan B stands for Boring instead of Bold. Now that climate change is back on the congressional agenda, the momentum should be sustained to make the 2020 elections the first that focus heavily on global warming. The momentum would be lost if the GND is fragmented into something less than a comprehensive mobilization of federal assets to fulfill America’s responsibilities in the international effort to stop carbon pollution. In the wake of President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris accord, hundreds of states, localities and businesses stepped up and promised to meet America’s obligations as the second-largest source of carbon pollution. That would be a
The physical signs and socio-economic impacts of climate change are accelerating as record greenhouse gas concentrations drive global temperatures towards increasingly dangerous levels, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organization. The WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2018, its 25th anniversary edition, highlights record sea level rise, as well as exceptionally high land and ocean temperatures over the past four years. This warming trend has lasted since the start of this century and is expected to continue. “The data released in this report give cause for great concern. The past four years were the warmest on record, with the global average surface temperature in 2018 approximately 1°C above the pre-industrial baseline,” notes UN Secretary General António Guterres. “These data confirm the urgency of climate action. This was also emphasized by the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. The IPCC found that limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require rapid and far reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities and