Some Young Republicans Embrace a Slower, Gentler Brand of #Climate Activism — Inside Climate News

From Inside Climate News (James Bruggers):

As a teenager, amid the hardwood forests, waterfalls and wildflower meadows of the Parklands of Floyds Fork, Benjamin Myles took a liking to nature.

At the University of Louisville, Myles merged his libertarian-leaning politics with a curiosity about climate change, a subject that kept coming up in English class and in debates with his friends.

Such discussions led him to a new national movement of young conservatives who are working to persuade their Republican elders to put forward a climate agenda, without sacrificing traditional GOP principles like market competition and limited government.

Myles, a junior studying political science and economics, has joined the American Conservation Coalition, which last month unveiled its American Climate Contract, a self-described response to the Green New Deal for the political right.

The coalition has issued its manifesto in a presidential election year, when the stakes couldn’t be higher. While President Trump remains a resolute climate change denier, there is a wide consensus among scientists, and also in the military, that climate change is happening now, causing higher temperatures and heat waves, sea-level rise, an increasing frequency of extreme rains, wetter and more intense hurricanes, and longer droughts.

Myles now finds himself questioning another icon of the Republican party and one of the country’s most powerful political figures: U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader also from Louisville known for working to block the president who achieved the most on climate change, Barack Obama.

Myles, the president of the local college libertarian group, Young Americans for Liberty, is no fan of the Democrats’ approach to the issue, or the Green New Deal’s proposed massive shift in federal spending to create jobs and hasten a transition to clean energy by 2050. But Myles said he is frustrated by any established Republican who does not take climate change seriously, including McConnell.

“There is definitely frustration for myself and younger people who look at this issue and see the Republican Party, especially older GOP members, just ignoring it instead of offering an alternative,” he said.

“Our political system is all about providing multiple options,” Myles said. “But when one side decides it doesn’t want to discuss the truth of the problem at all, it feeds into the other side getting a monopoly on the discussion. That is really damaging.”

Across the South, Climate Change Divides Democrats and Republicans

In the South and across much of the United States, one way to try to tell a Republican from a Democrat is to invite a discussion about climate change.

Pew Research Center polling in February found that a growing number of Americans say tackling climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress. But that change in views is mostly among Democrats: roughly 4 out of 5 say dealing with climate change should be a top priority, compared to just 1 out of 5 Republicans, Pew found.

Climate change wasn’t always so divisive.

In 2008, for example, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, famously sat on a couch in front of the U.S. Capitol, declaring they both agreed the country needed to take action on climate change. And they did it for Al Gore, the former vice president and global warming evangelist from Tennessee, who became conservatives’ climate-change punching bag

Today, young climate activists, led by Greta Thunberg and the Sunrise Movement—a grassroots youth climate action group that formed after Trump’s 2016 election—are the defiant voice for the climate, calling for a transformation of the global economy. They are carrying out global student strikes and persuading mayors to declare climate emergencies.

The demographics of climate politics are shifting, said Ed Maibach, professor and director of the George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communications.

While young Democrats and their parents and grandparents are “more or less all apoplectically concerned” about the climate, he said, a new report from the George Mason center and the Yale Program on Climate Communication identifies how young Republicans are becoming emboldened by the issue. In contrast to older Republicans, they have become more accepting of the human causes of climate change, rejecting the climate science denial that has taken hold in the party, Maibach said.

“The more young Democrats get involved in the issue, the more young Republicans get pulled along,” he added.

Both parties will have plenty to debate this year as voters in November decide whether to give Trump and his fossil fuel agenda another four years. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, the former vice president, has described the Green New Deal as “a crucial framework” for climate action as he tries to convince climate voters he’s a true believer.

A Market Approach to Climate Change Mitigation

The American Conservation Coalition was founded in 2017 by Benji Backer, a 22-year-old from Appleton, Wisconsin, who was already a veteran in national political circles.

In 2014, at 16, Backer delivered a fiery speech at the influential American Conservative Union conference, defending former Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s bitter and successful battle against unionized teachers and declaring it “OK to stand up to those on the left that would scream us into quiet submission.”

But in September, he testified before Congress with Thunberg, arguing that “we cannot regulate our way out of climate change.”

The group and its climate contract have supporters ranging from natural gas lobbyists and libertarians to conservation and energy efficiency groups.

One of them is the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based clean-energy think tank founded by physicist Amory Lovins. The institute’s Paul Bodner, who worked on energy and climate in the White House for President Obama, is on the coalition’s advisory board. He hopes he can help the young conservatives find their voice on climate issues.

The institute, he said, agrees with the Green New Deal’s “call to action” and shares its vision of “radical decarbonization of the U.S. economy,” but also agrees with the coalition’s “focus on unleashing market forces.”

The Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington based think tank, also supports the young conservatives.

“When we see historically controversial policies that are pushed through by one party in a very politicized or polarized manner, those policies are more at risk of being undone, or vilified, at some point in the future,” said Sasha Mackler, the center’s director of energy projects. “For policies to be enduring over the long term, which is really what we need for a climate solution to be effective, bipartisanship is essential.”

‘We Would Rather Not Get Caught up in Debates’

The young conservatives’ contract makes no mention of the 2016 Paris climate agreement, with its goal of limiting rising global temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Nor does it share the sense of urgency expressed by scientists, who, in 2018, concluded that the world had about 12 years to get on a path toward zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Instead, the contract merely acknowledges the need to “move towards the goal of global net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

The Green New Deal envisions a rapid transition to a carbon-free economy, promising jobs and economic security and explicitly supporting an economic transition in communities that have long lived on incomes from fossil fuel industries.

By contrast, the contract modestly calls for “targeted investment and regulatory streamlining;” increasing clean transportation; creating a more energy-saving electrical grid; maximizing carbon storage in forests and farms; planting trees; supporting nuclear power; and establishing private-public partnerships.

“We would rather not get caught up in debates on targets that are too much for one side of the aisle or the other,” said Danielle Butcher, chief operating officer of the American Conservation Coalition. “We view this not as a silver bullet to climate policy.”

The contract also does not recommend a carbon tax, which some moderates and Republicans have begun to embrace as a way to put a price on carbon and steer the economy toward a lower-carbon future.

“We want to focus on the steps we can take right now,” Butcher said.

The contract’s modest scope is its failing, critics counter.

Fighting climate change and economic injustice go hand-in-hand, said Sophie Karasek, a spokeswoman for the Sunrise Movement, which has rallied around the Green New Deal.

“A lot of young people have grown up with the fear of the climate crisis, and we already lived through the great recession, and remember what that felt like,” Karasek said.

What’s needed are “bold solutions from the government at the scale of the problems we face, and right now (with the Covid-19 pandemic) we are facing a great depression while also staring down the barrel of climate change,” she said. “We don’t have time to talk about private-public partnerships, or whatever.”

Mitch McConnell Has Been Setting the GOP Agenda on Climate

In Tennessee, Sage Kafsky, a 23-year-old volunteer with the American Conservation Coalition, echoed her young colleagues’ calls for market based, limited government solutions. But she also declared an admiration for Thunberg, the Swedish teenager whose defiance before the most powerful business and political leaders on the planet became the face of a new generation fighting climate change.

“I 100 percent believe in climate change,” Kafsky said in a telephone interview from her home in Ducktown, Tennessee, in the southern Appalachian Mountains, where she works as a paraprofessional in an elementary school. “I believe in people like Greta, who are having their voice, saying this is a major issue, and we need to fix it.”

But, she went on to say, “how to get there gets lost in translation” amid political polarization, even though “we have similar goals in mind.”

In Washington, D.C., it has been McConnell, 78, the coal-friendly Senate Republican Leader since 2006 and Majority Leader since 2015, who has, in effect, been setting the Republican legislative agenda on climate.

For example, he led the opposition to Obama’s climate and coal policies, then backed Trump on pulling out of the Paris agreement. Last year McConnell went out of his way to force Democrats to make a premature and what he hoped would be a politically damaging vote on the Green New Deal, while not offering alternative climate legislation.

McConnell is up for reelection to a seventh term in November. A spokesman declined to comment on the young conservatives’ efforts, except to say that the way to address climate change “is through technology and innovation.”

But words alone may not be enough for the GOP’s new generation.

Butcher, of the conservation coalition, said the group has met with White House and McConnell staff to find policies that will reduce emissions and create economic prosperity. “Given the overwhelming consensus among young Republicans that climate is a top priority, we expect they’ll increasingly engage on the issue, and if not, we’ll push harder,” she said.

Myles, the libertarian-climate activist from the University of Louisville, came to see climate change as an issue the GOP couldn’t ignore or deny. “Getting into college and seeing how many other people care about it made me realize this is going to be a major issue and something that has the ability to affect all of us,” he said. “The GOP is moving on some issues, as more and more young people get involved. Climate change should be one of them.”

The pandemic is battering oil-state economies — @HighCountryNews #COVID19 #coronavirus

From The High Country News [April 23, 2020] (Jonathan Thompson):

COVID-19 reverberates across the energy world.

Graphic credit: The High Country News

In mid-January, when the epidemic was still mostly confined to China, officials there put huge cities on lockdown in order to stem the spread. Hundreds of flights into and out of the nation were canceled, and urban streets stood empty of cars. China’s burgeoning thirst for oil diminished, sending global crude prices into a downward spiral.

And when oil prices fall, it hurts states like New Mexico, which relies on oil and gas royalties and taxes for more than one-third of its general fund. “An unexpected drop in oil prices would send the state’s energy revenues into a tailspin,” New Mexico’s Legislative Finance Committee warned last August. Even the committee’s worst-case scenario, however, didn’t look this bad.
Now, with COVID-19 spanning the globe, every sector of the economy is feeling the pain — with the exception, perhaps, of toilet paper manufacturers and bean farmers. But energy-dependent states and communities will be among the hardest hit.

Graphic via The High Country News

At the end of December, the U.S. benchmark price for a barrel of oil was $62. By mid-March, as folks worldwide stopped flying and driving, it had dipped to around $20, before falling into negative territory, and then leveling off around $10 in April. The drilling rigs — and the abundant jobs that once came with them — are disappearing; major oil companies are announcing deep cuts in drilling and capital expenditures for the rest of the year, and smaller, debt-saddled companies will be driven into the ground.

Graphic via The High Country News

COVID-19 and related shocks to the economy are reverberating through the energy world in other ways. Shelter-in-place orders and the rise in people working from home have changed the way Americans consume electricity: Demand decreased nationwide by 10% in March. As airlines ground flights, demand for jet fuel wanes. And people just aren’t driving that much, despite falling gasoline prices, now that they have orders to stay home and few places to go to, anyway.

Graphic via The High Country News

The slowdown will bring a few temporary benefits: The reduction in drilling will give landscapes and wildlife a rest and result in lower methane emissions. In Los Angeles, the ebb in traffic has already brought significantly cleaner air. And the continued decline in burning coal for electricity has reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

Graphic via The High Country News

But the long-term environmental implications may not be so rosy. In the wake of recession, governments typically try to jumpstart the economy with stimulus packages to corporations, economic incentives for oil companies, and regulatory rollbacks to spur consumption and production. The low interest rates and other fiscal policies that followed the last global financial crisis helped drive the energy boom of the decade that followed. And the Trump administration has not held back in its giveaways to industry. The Environmental Protection Agency is already using the outbreak as an excuse to ease environmental regulations and enforcement, and even with all the nation’s restrictions, the Interior Department continues to issue new oil and gas leases at rock-bottom prices. [ed. emphasis mine]

Graphic via The High Country News

The impacts on energy state coffers will unfold over the coming weeks and months. But the shock to working folk from every economic sector has come swiftly. During the third week of March, more than 3 million Americans filed for unemployment — more than 10 times the claims from a year prior.

A view of the interchange of Highway 60 and Interstate 710 during the coronavirus pandemic on April 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. The county’s stay-at-home order has drastically decreased the traffic flow in and around Los Angeles. Photo credit: Roger Kisby/High Country News

Infographic design by Luna Anna Archey. Sources: U.S. Energy Information Administration, New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, California Independent System Operator, Baker-Hughes, Unacast, FlightRadar24, Wyoming Department of Revenue, Carbon Footprint, International Air Transport Association, OAG.

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at jonathan@hcn.org

#Virginia becomes the first Southern state with a goal of #carbonfree energy — The Washington Post #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Emissions trading is one example of a market-based solution to an environmental problem. Image credit: Arnold Paul/Gralo via Wikipedia.

From The Washington Post (Gregory S. Schneider):

The coronavirus is scrambling Virginia’s budget and economy, but it didn’t prevent Gov. Ralph Northam (D) from signing legislation that makes it the first Southern state with a goal of going carbon-free by 2045.

Over the weekend, Northam authorized the omnibus Virginia Clean Economy Act, which mandates that the state’s biggest utility, Dominion Energy, switch to renewable energy by 2045. Appalachian Power, which serves far southwest Virginia, must go carbon-free by 2050.

Almost all the state’s coal plants will have to shut down by the end of 2024 under the new law. Virginia is the first state in the old Confederacy to embrace such clean-energy targets.

Under a separate measure, Virginia also becomes the most Southern state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — a carbon cap-and-trade market among states in the Northeast.

Exxon’s Snake Oil — Columbia Journalism Review #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Ruins of the Ludlow Colony near Trinidad, Colorado, following an attack by the Colorado National Guard. Forms part of the George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress. By Bain News Service – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs divisionunder the digital ID ggbain.15859.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10277066

From The Columbia Journalism Review (Savannah Jacobson):

The story of oil company propaganda begins in 1914, with the Ludlow Massacre. In Ludlow, Colorado, a tent city of coal miners went on strike, and officers of the Colorado National Guard and the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company responded violently. At least sixty-six people were killed in the conflict, turning popular opinion against John D. Rockefeller Jr., who owned the mine in Ludlow. To recover public trust, Rockefeller hired Ivy Ledbetter Lee, a public relations agent, to peddle falsehoods disguised as objective facts to the press: the strikers were crisis actors; the violence was the fault of labor activist Mother Jones; there was no Ludlow Massacre.

Rockefeller’s company, Standard Oil, evolved into what is now ExxonMobil, and its original PR strategy remains. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, Exxon commissioned scientific reports that documented the potentially catastrophic effects of carbon dioxide emissions. But in the decades that followed, Exxon buried those reports and told the public the opposite: that the science was inconclusive, that regulation would destroy the American economy, and that action on climate change would mostly cause harm.

Exxon’s public mouthpiece was the press. For more than thirty years, from at least 1972 until at least 2004, the company placed advertorials in the New York Times to cast doubt on the negative effects of fossil fuel emissions. Over the same time span, ExxonMobil gave tens of millions of dollars to think tanks and researchers who denied the science of climate change. Taken in sum, Exxon’s media shrewdness and its aggressive political lobbying have set back climate action for decades—putting the nation, and the world, dangerously close to a point of no return.

Year by Year

1962

Humble Oil, a subsidiary of what would become Exxon, buys an advertisement in Life magazine reading, “Each Day Humble Supplies Enough Energy to Melt Seven Million Tons of Glacier!”

1977

Exxon executives learn from James F. Black, a scientist employed by the company, that the practice of burning fossil fuels releases such large amounts of carbon dioxide as to imperil the planet.

1982

Exxon’s researchers confirm published scientific findings: the level of CO2 output from fossil fuels could eventually raise the global temperature by up to 3 degrees Celsius.

1989

Spring: An Exxon tanker crashes into a reef, spilling 10.8 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The disaster will be the second-largest spill in US history. In the following months, Exxon publishes a number of advertisements in the Times apologizing for the spill and asking readers to reject boycotts.

Summer: Mobil runs its first advertorial on global warming in the Times. It reads in part, “Scientists do not agree on the causes and significance of [warming]—but many believe there’s reason for concern…we’re hard at work along all these fronts. We live in the greenhouse too.”

Fall: The Global Climate Coalition forms with the mission to oppose action against global warming and to advocate for the interests of the fossil fuel industry by promoting doubt about climate science. Exxon is a founding member.

1997

The Kyoto Protocol is signed.

Mobil places an advertorial in the New York Times reading, “Let’s face it: the science of climate change is too uncertain to mandate a plan of action that could plunge economies into turmoil.”

2007

Exxon pledges to stop funding climate denialist public policy groups; however, a 2015 Guardian investigation showed funding did not stop.

2018

New York State pursues a civil case against ExxonMobil for defrauding investors about the risks of climate change, the first against the company to reach trial. The state asks for as much as $1.6 billion in damages; Exxon wins.

By the Numbers

$30.9M

Amount ExxonMobil spent, through 2012, to fund think tanks and researchers who denied aspects of climate change.

$2.3M

Minimum amount that ExxonMobil has paid since 2007 to lobbyists and members of Congress opposed to climate change legislation.

80

Percent of scientific studies ExxonMobil conducted internally from 1977 to 2014 that state climate change is man-made.

81

Percent of ExxonMobil’s advertorials published in the New York Times in the same time frame that cast doubt on the idea that climate change is man-made.

$300M

Exxon’s annual research budget during the height of the company’s climate science research, in the late 1970s to mid-1980s.

16

Years that Mobil placed weekly advertorials in the New York Times. After merging with Exxon in 1999, Mobil reduced advertorial placement in the Times to every other week.

74

Number of television networks and national and local newspapers that have cited Myron Ebell, a leading climate denialist, or published his opinion pieces from 1999 to the present.

$2M

Amount ExxonMobil gave to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank of which Ebell was a director, from 1998 to 2005.

40

Percent of Americans who opposed, in 2009, a significant clean energy bill.

63

Percent of Americans who opposed the same bill after the Heritage Foundation, an ExxonMobil-funded think tank, published a study that misleadingly claimed the bill would increase gas prices to
$4 per gallon.

Environmentalists Object to Broad @EPA Waivers for Polluters During #Coronavirus Crisis — @WildEarthGuard #COVID19

The air pollution that industrial plants will not have to monitor damages the respiratory system, which is especially dangerous for already at-risk populations who may also become infected with COVID-19, which attacks the lungs. Photo credit: Ryan Adams via The High Country News

Here’s the release from Wild Earth Guardians (Rebecca Sobel):

Response to Trump Administration’s Plan to Relax Public Health Protections for Oil Refineries and Other Industries

WildEarth Guardians joined a coalition of environmentalists objecting to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) new Trump administration policy that relaxes environmental compliance rules for petrochemical plants and other big polluters during the coronavirus crisis.

“Relaxing pollution controls in the midst of a deadly health crisis is an obscene new low for the Trump administration,” said Rebecca Sobel, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “While the pandemic worsens, the administration is propping up polluters in poisoning clean air, instead of focusing on the health and safety of Americans.”

The environmental organizations voiced their concerns in response to an announcement yesterday that the Trump administration EPA will “provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions.”

“It is not clear why refineries, chemical plants, and other facilities that continue to operate and keep their employees on the production line will no longer have the staff or time they need to comply with environmental laws,” said the statement, which was written by Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project, former Director of Civil Enforcement at EPA.

The Environmental Integrity Project released a report last year documenting the sharp drop in environmental enforcement during the Trump administration.

In February, WildEarth Guardians joined the Environmental Integrity Project in publishing a report documenting EPA air monitoring data at the fencelines of oil refineries which demonstrated excessive release of cancer-causing benzene into nearby communities at concentrations far above federal action levels. The second worst refinery in the U.S. was the Holly Frontier Navajo Artesia refinery in Artesia, New Mexico, where monitors at the plant’s fenceline detected benzene in amounts four times the EPA action level.

“Instead of reining in illegal polluters, this administration is propping them up, further endangering the health of New Mexicans and all Americans in the process,” continued Sobel. “We are all in this together, and now is the time to protect people, not polluters.”

Paper: Your money or your life? The carbon-development paradox #ActOnClimate

Click here to read the paper. Here’s the abstract:

The relationship between human health and well-being, energy use and carbon emissions is a foremost concern in sustainable development. If past advances in well-being have been accomplished only through increases in energy use, there may be significant trade-offs between achieving universal human development and mitigating climate change. We test the explanatory power of economic, dietary and modern energy factors in accounting for past improvements in life expectancy, using a simple novel method, functional dynamic decomposition. We elucidate the paradox that a strong correlation between emissions and human development at one point in time does not imply that their dynamics are coupled in the long term. Increases in primary energy and carbon emissions can account for only a quarter of improvements in life expectancy, but are closely tied to growth in income. Facing this carbon-development paradox requires prioritizing human well-being over economic growth.

Leaked report for [JP Morgan] says #Earth is on unsustainable trajectory #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Anti-climate change lobbying spend by the five largest publicly-owned fossil fuel companies. Statista, CC BY-SA

From The Guardian (Patrick Greenfield and Jonathan Watts):

The world’s largest financier of fossil fuels has warned clients that the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity and that the planet is on an unsustainable trajectory, according to a leaked document.

The JP Morgan report on the economic risks of human-caused global heating said climate policy had to change or else the world faced irreversible consequences.

The study implicitly condemns the US bank’s own investment strategy and highlights growing concerns among major Wall Street institutions about the financial and reputational risks of continued funding of carbon-intensive industries, such as oil and gas.

JP Morgan has provided $75bn (£61bn) in financial services to the companies most aggressively expanding in sectors such as fracking and Arctic oil and gas exploration since the Paris agreement, according to analysis compiled for the Guardian last year.

Its report was obtained by Rupert Read, an Extinction Rebellion spokesperson and philosophy academic at the University of East Anglia, and has been seen by the Guardian.

The research by JP Morgan economists David Mackie and Jessica Murray says the climate crisis will impact the world economy, human health, water stress, migration and the survival of other species on Earth.

“We cannot rule out catastrophic outcomes where human life as we know it is threatened,” notes the paper, which is dated 14 January.

Drawing on extensive academic literature and forecasts by the International Monetary Fund and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the paper notes that global heating is on course to hit 3.5C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. It says most estimates of the likely economic and health costs are far too small because they fail to account for the loss of wealth, the discount rate and the possibility of increased natural disasters.

The authors say policymakers need to change direction because a business-as-usual climate policy “would likely push the earth to a place that we haven’t seen for many millions of years”, with outcomes that might be impossible to reverse.

“Although precise predictions are not possible, it is clear that the Earth is on an unsustainable trajectory. Something will have to change at some point if the human race is going to survive.”

The investment bank says climate change “reflects a global market failure in the sense that producers and consumers of CO2 emissions do not pay for the climate damage that results.” To reverse this, it highlights the need for a global carbon tax but cautions that it is “not going to happen anytime soon” because of concerns about jobs and competitiveness.

The authors say it is “likely the [climate] situation will continue to deteriorate, possibly more so than in any of the IPCC’s scenarios”.

Without naming any organisation, the authors say changes are occurring at the micro level, involving shifts in behaviour by individuals, companies and investors, but this is unlikely to be enough without the involvement of the fiscal and financial authorities.