What will it take to decarbonize on time?

By William S. Becker Several committees in the new House of Representatives have put climate disruption on their agendas -- a long overdue departure from silence, snowballs and stupidity when deniers are in control of Congress. If the committees discuss America’s energy mix – which they should since fossil fuels are what's changing the climate – things could get very interesting. Why? It will be interesting not only because the carbon cartel will flex its muscles publicly and privately to prevent any talk about keeping its assets in the ground.  It will be interesting, too, because environmentalists, climate hawks, advocacy groups and citizens might not agree on how to do what we must: achieve a net-zero carbon economy within 30 years. In other words, we will have to take as much carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as we put in. In broad strokes, this requires that a) we dramatically increase our energy productivity; b) we reduce, if not completely abandon, the use of fossil fuels to provide electricity, transportation fuels, industrial energy requirements and so on; and c) we

February 1st, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

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|

Whither the Green New Deal?

First of a few blogs on House Democrats and global climate change.    By William S. Becker To Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Welcome to Washington D.C. You have just joined the ranks of new members of Congress, fresh from their first election victories, energized and ready to change the world, only to find that Congress won’t let them. But please don’t stop trying. To everyone else: Here is some background and a few observations. Ocasio-Cortez is breath of fresh air, a former bartender from New York. She is 29 years old, a self-described socialist like Bernie Sanders, photogenic, Puerto Rican and part of the surge of women who ran for Congress and were elected to last November. She became a media sensation when she won the Democratic primary election against veteran Rep. Joe Crowley, who had not had a primary opponent in 14 years. When she takes her seat in the House on Jan. 3, Ocasio-Cortez will be the youngest woman ever to serve there. Riding on the momentum of her election and her notoriety, Ocasio-Cortez wasted no time preparing to

December 27th, 2018|Uncategorized|

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|

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|

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|

What Rick Perry Isn’t Saying

Politics would not be politics without some propaganda camouflaged as fact. But there are some topics on which we need straight talk. One of them is how we should keep our lights on and industries humming in the modern world.  The formula for energy security today is not the same as it was just a few decades ago. Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for straight talk from our current Energy Secretary, Rick Perry. Parroting his boss, Perry recites ideas that might have made sense in the last century, but that have little relevance now. In fact, the Trump Administration’s energy policies are so retrograde, they are holding the United States back from the largest global market opportunity in history. That is badly out of sync with the President’s rhetoric about creating more jobs in manufacturing. I’ll elaborate on that, but first let’s fact-check a talk (video here) that Perry gave recently during a conference in New York. His topic was the future of energy: 1. “Rather than punishing fossil fuels by regulation,” Perry said, “we support making them cleaner through innovation.”

April 23rd, 2018|Uncategorized|

Wrong Driver, Wrong Road

Donald Trump has acquired several nicknames since he decided to run for president, but the one he most deserves today is “President Pollution”. With the help of a willing Congress, he is presiding over the biggest rollback of federal regulations in a generation. This week's rollback involves the tailpipe emissions from our cars and pickups. During Trump’s first year in office, his Administration scaled back, reversed or attempted to reverse more than 60 environmental rules ranging from protection for whales to anti-dumping regulations for coal companies. Whether killing a regulation is good or bad depends on the benefits and costs of the regulation. But Trump’s criteria seem to be whether a) the Obama Administration developed the rule or b) oil industry CEOs and shareholders might lose money. To understand the consequences of this week's decision, a little background is in order. Tailpipe emissions from today’s vehicles include particulates that can cause illness or death from heart disease, asthma or lung cancer. They also include CO2, the pollutant most responsible for global climate change, a crisis that is no less real because

Human Rights in the Anthropocene

This article was originally published on Huffington Post, on November 8, 2015, by William S Becker.   Idealism got a bad name somewhere along the way. Google on it and one of the definitions that pops up is "the practice of forming or pursuing ideals, especially unrealistically." The psychologist Carl Jung called it as bad an addiction as narcotics and alcohol -- "the tendency of high-minded people to avoid facing the reality of evil," as one Jungian put it. True, it is difficult to remain idealistic in a world that produced Hitler, Pol Pot and ISIS. Idealism is less fashionable, less street-smart. There are advantages to cynicism. When we expect the worst, we are not disappointed when we get it. Cynicism is perverse evidence that a person must have standards, since he expects the world to fall short of them. The debate about cynicism and idealism runs through our literature. Victorian novelist George Meredith noted that cynics "are only happy in making the world as barren for others as they have made it for themselves." Oscar Wilde observed that a

November 8th, 2015|Uncategorized|