Will We Ever Break Our Oil Addiction?

By William S. Becker The bombing of oil production facilities in Saudi Arabia this week brings to mind two critical questions about America’s “addiction to oil”. We’ve been asking the first question since the Arab oil embargoes stunned the United States in the 1970s: If we are addicted to oil – a judgment first voiced by President George W. Bush – then why do we keep subsidizing the drug? The answer is simple: Congress and the White House are wholly owned subsidiaries of the oil industry. They do whatever Big Oil tells them to do. What Big Oil wants is to keep making money from petroleum until it fracks the last drop out of the ground or climate change ends life as we know it, whichever comes first. If that sounds harsh, then re-read the disclosures by Inside Climate News, confirmed by a peer-reviewed study out of Harvard University, that ExxonMobil knew its products were changing the climate as far back as 1977, but misled the public, consumers and its own shareholders about it for years. The second question is

September 17th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

Time flies. Principles Don’t

By William S. Becker Thirteen years ago, George W. Bush was president. He was no friend of climate action or of sustainable development. I worked at the U.S. Department of Energy at the time, where we were "discouraged" from talking about these things, just as federal employees are now. So, I took a two-year sabbatical from DOE and organized a series of conferences at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, WI.  I called them the National Leadership Summits for a Sustainable America, and I invited some of the nation's best known thought leaders. Several of you reading this were there. Among other things, we developed a set of principles that we believed should guide the United States' role in dealing with global climate change. We circulated them. Several hundred activists and concerned citizens signed on.  I dusted them off recently and re-read them. They've held up pretty well all these years, except that "effective action" today means net-zero carbon by mid-century. They remind me how little progress we in the United States have made on this incredibly dangerous crisis. Now,

September 10th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

A “Managed Retreat” from Disasters

By William Becker People everywhere are drawn to the beauty of nature. Tens of millions of us are finding, however, that getting too close can be dangerous. Take floods, for example. More than 40 million Americans, roughly the same as the population of California, live in places at risk of flooding. More specifically, they live where there is at least a one in one-hundred chance of flooding in any given year. That doesn’t mean there will be only one flood every century. Rivers can, and often do, flood several times over a decade or two. Because of global climate change, mega-floods are more common. These are disasters with a one-in-500 or one-in-1,000 probability of happening any year. Houston had three 500-year floods between 2015 and 2017. The United States has experienced several 1,000-year rain events in just the past three years. In March, federal officials warned that the 2019 flood season could be the worst on record in the United States, with more than 200 million people at risk in 25 states. By mid-August, floods had caused $3 billion in

September 2nd, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

The Throwback

By William S. Becker As the culling process continues among democrat presidential hopefuls, voters would do well to compare each candidate's environmental record against Donald Trump's. Trump's has been abhorrent. What would his opponents do differently? We don't yet know how big an issue environmental stewardship will be in next year's election. Three of four Americans accept that global warming is a thing. It is our largest existential threat and it should be at the top of every candidate's priority list. Less clear are the candidates' views on environmental stewardship overall including environmental justice, the loss of biodiversity, the health of our air and water, and so on. True to his habit of giving himself unearned credit while trying to cover up the uglier parts of his record, Trump boasted from the White House in July (the hottest month ever recorded) that "my administration has made it a top priority to ensure that America has among the very cleanest air and cleanest water on the planet." Trump claimed that unlike himself, the Obama Administration of "waged a relentless war on

August 28th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

Trump’s Bubble Machine, Part 1

By William S. Becker A long time ago on the Greek island of Crete (or so the story goes), a young man named Icarus attempted to escape imprisonment by flying away on wings made of feathers and wax. His father warned him not to fly too close to the sun, but Icarus ignored him. The sun melted the wax. Icarus fell into the sea and drowned. It seems as though this story is being played out by Donald Trump. Except, and stay with me here, he is being buoyed by bubbles instead of wings; the heat that threatens to pop them also comes from the sun, but via global warming. Trump said this about the U.S. economy when he announced in June that he is running for reelection: “Our economy is the envy of the world, perhaps the greatest economy we have had in the history of our country…Our country is now thriving, prospering and booming and, frankly, it’s soaring to incredible new heights.” There are several reasons to question whether it will stay there much longer. A “bubble” develops

August 12th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

See You in Court, Mr. Trump (Part 1)

By William S. Becker The rising number of Americans who want the government to do something about climate change should be thankful that there are three branches of government in the United States. That’s because the Legislative Branch has not done anything since October 1992, and the hard work done by the previous Executive Branch is being trashed by Donald Trump. So, climate action groups have turned to the courts, not only in the U.S. but worldwide. In the first 2.5 years of his presidency, Donald Trump and his team have tried to undermine or reverse federal climate policies 94 times. Analyzing the first two years of Trump’s tenure, the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University reviewed 159 legal cases involving federal policies related to climate change. Cases filed by the good guys outnumbered the bad guys 4 to 1. The Trump Administration’s batting average is not good. Not once during 2017 and 2018 have the courts ruled in favor of the Administration. Thanks largely to the legal eagles at organizations pressing for climate action, the cases

July 19th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

When the Legislative and Executive Branches Fail to Act

Editor’s Note: During the first two years in office, Donald Trump and his administration tried to undermine or reverse federal climate policies 94 times. The result was at least 129 lawsuits to defend those policies. More broadly, there were more than 1,000 climate-related lawsuits in the U.S. as of May 2019, brought by individuals and organizations against corporations and governments. PCAP invited retired Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin to comment on the role of the judiciary in forcing climate action. He is the former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California and the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon. He served as the U.S. Magistrate Judge for the District of Oregon from 1992 to 2016.   By Honorable Magistrate Thomas Coffin (retired) Global climate change is the most urgent issue of this or any century, but the Executive and Legislative Branches of the U.S. government have so far failed to address it with the level of substance and seriousness it requires. The two branches of our three-branch government have been locked in a power struggle for many

July 15th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

Another Way Trump is Dissing Congress

By William S. Becker The President of the United States must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” and must take an oath to “faithfully execute the office of the President.” – Article II, U.S. Constitution Between its other investigations of Donald Trump and his administration, Congress may want to defend its right to pass laws with confidence that the Executive Branch will implement and enforce them. More specifically, the House should look into whether Trump’s war on federal regulations is letting polluters violate the letter or the spirit of the nation’s environmental statutes. By one count, the Trump administration has or is trying to roll back more than 80 federal rules on air pollution, drilling, water pollution, and toxic substances. As I noted in a recent blog, nine out of 10 of these attempts have been defeated in court, an indication that Trump’s team is firing its anti-regulation shotguns without much care for what they hit. Trump realizes that this doesn’t look good for reelection. A spokesman at the White House says Trump will hold an event Monday

July 5th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

Impeachment? Take It to the People

By William S. Becker She is third in line to the presidency and arguably the most powerful woman in America. She’s widely regarded as a political genius. But nobody should envy Nancy Pelosi right now. As Speaker of the House in the age of Trump and the wake of Mueller, Pelosi is walking a high-wire between politics and principle. The principle is that the House of Representatives has a constitutional responsibility to keep a president of the United States from abusing the powers of that office. The political issue is Pelosi's concern that her party would lose control of the House if the American people believe that impeachment is not justified. I am not remotely qualified to offer Pelosi advice on how to walk the tightrope. But I will do it anyway: First, principle should trump politics. The House's most important responsibility is to carry out its constitutional mandate. Second, rather than waiting for the House to finish its many investigations of Trump’s performance in office, Democrats should take the case of impeachment home to the American people. Members should

June 20th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

What is the Social Cost of Carbon?

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

April 26th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

Congressional Action on Resilient Infrastructure: Areas of Progress and Future Needs

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

April 17th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|