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[ 36 ] November 6, 2015 |


Some people don’t like to be wrong. I love to be wrong. That’s because I’m pretty pessimistic about modern politics and even more so about the future. I don’t want to be right about any of that. So when I am wrong, it’s usually a good thing.

This certainly holds for Obama rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline. This surprises me less than it would have 2 years ago, but it surprises me nonetheless. Now, critics of the anti-Keystone protesters say that in the grand scheme of things it’s not that big of a deal. And that may well be true. Obama suggested the same thing in his remarks about it today. But it doesn’t matter much. You never know what is going to be a touchstone for protest. As I’ve said before, “you never know” is pretty much my theory of change. For the climate movement, it was Keystone. Certainly the U.S. was not going to benefit nearly enough from this economically to buck this protest movement in any reasonable way, especially a Democratic president. I’m glad Obama saw this and decided to kill it. This may well not mean that the filthy oil from one of the planet’s worst environmental countries (really for as progressive as Canada can be on many issues, it is utterly abysmal on environmental issues as anyone who follows logging, mining, and fossil fuels knows) won’t get to market. But at least the U.S. won’t be culpable.

What does this say about Obama’s legacy on the environment? I am pretty cautious of judging legacies during a presidency (except for George W. Bush, who was so obviously disastrous) but I think this more or less gets at it:

He’s often ignored the more difficult issue: the supply. He’s even enabled it. Obama approved Shell’s plans to explore for more oil off Alaska’s coast in the Arctic this summer, proposed opening the Atlantic to offshore drilling, and leased public lands for coal mining. Keystone is a small part of the supply equation.

As Obama weighed his decision on Keystone, TransCanada and the rest of the industry have pursued alternatives, including expanding shipments by rail and tanker, filing an application for other large pipelines like Energy East in Canada, and even considering reapplying for a Keystone permit in the next administration.

Meanwhile, the environmental movement has shifted attention to other supply issues. Beyond blocking other proposed pipeline projects from Enbridge and TransCanada, they have targeted Arctic drilling, congressional efforts to lift the U.S. oil export ban, and the administration’s efforts to lease public lands for coal mining.

From a scientific standpoint, Keystone is no more important than any of these other issues. But it was always more important for its symbolism.

Refusing Keystone because of its climate impact makes it more believable that we’ve reached a turning point on tolerating unlimited extraction and development of fossil fuels.

By taking a stand against Keystone, Obama has bolstered his weakest spot on climate change. Environmentalists are hoping that this new outlook doesn’t begin and end with the Keystone decision.

Obama has overall been a decent environmental president, with not too much attention paid to public lands and wildlife issues that have made a lot of environmentalists frustrated with the president and more attention paid to climate change with Keystone hanging over his head. This helps with the latter side of that coin. It’s a good thing. I’m glad I’m wrong about it. And I hope the climate community and unite around a new target or goal to keep up the pressure that Bill McKibben’s did so much to generate.

…..Shakezula’s comment here reminded me of a point I should I have made originally. There’s a strong element on the so-called “respectable left,” one that even often appears around here, that protest is worthless, that’s protesters are basically a bunch of hippies performing a role, and that real change occurs through “serious” policy channels and that protesters should instead be doing “real” work like registering voters and working for, presumably, Democratic candidates. What happened with Keystone should be Exhibit A in why that whole formulation is deeply misguided. The reality is that there are many ways to influence a system. The left needs to work both within and outside the political establishment. Protest can absolutely work. Without McKibben and the movement, the Keystone pipeline would already have been approved. Obama is responding directly to a protest movement on this issue. Those who disdain protest need to remember this going forward.


Out of Sight Events

[ 4 ] November 6, 2015 |


A few more Out of Sight events if you are in the various areas.

First, I will be speaking at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York on Tuesday evening at 7. I don’t actually think there will be a book signing here, but if you want to come out and say hi and listen to me talk about the global race to the bottom and corporate concealment and the like, you should do so.

Second, there is a roundtable devoted partly to my book at the Social Science History Association meeting in Baltimore on Thursday at 5:30. There is a registration fee for the conference but my guess is you can just sneak in and no one will care. Can’t guarantee that of course. But you can try!

Finally, on Wednesday, November 18, I will speaking in Providence at AS220. The technical time this begins is 5:30 but I will actually be speaking at 6. There will be books for sale here. This is hosted by the excellent Rhode Island progressive politics site RI Future.

High hopes for an event soon in Portland, Maine. If you are interested in having me speak and we can work out travel arrangements, I’m up for it.

The Class War: The Wealthy Are the Reagan-Era Military. We Are Grenada.

[ 55 ] November 5, 2015 |


There is a class war going on in the New Gilded Age. If “war” is the term we want to use for “massacre of the defenseless.”

Time for everyone to update your Class War Calendars with the latest income inequality figures. The Economic Policy Institute this week released the most recent figures on wages, and here is what we learned:

The “annual earnings of the top 1.0 percent of wages earners grew 4.9 percent in 2014, and the top 0.1 percent’s earnings grew 8.9 percent.”

In the past year, wages of the entire bottom 99 percent of earners grew less than 2 percent.

The “earnings of workers between the 99th and 99.9th percentiles have reached their highest level of all time,” and the earnings of the top 0.1 percent were only higher in 2007, just before the global economy crashed.

Since 1979, when the Reagan era ushered in our current age of American inequality, average annual earnings of the bottom 90 percent have increased by 16.7 percent; average annual earnings of the top 1 percent have increased by 149.4 percent; and average annual earnings of the top 0.1 percent have increased by 324.4 percent. It is not just that the rich have more money than the rest of us; their income is also growing much faster than the income of most people.

California Dreamin’

[ 54 ] November 5, 2015 |

If there’s one genre of writing that will never die, it’s that of California as a paradise lost and found, found and lost, desired and disgusted. Daniel Duane, with Exhibit A:

But that’s my point. Wallace Stegner, the great 20th-century novelist and environmentalist, in a mood similar to the one I’m feeling — he hated hippies, worried they might foretell the impending collapse of Western civilization — wrote that “Like the rest of America, California is unformed, innovative, ahistorical, hedonistic, acquisitive, and energetic — only more so.” Put all those qualities together and you get a place that always belongs to somebody else, before you even know it’s for sale.

Back in my 20s, I thought I’d grown up in California too late — after all the mountains had been climbed and all the good surf breaks discovered. Right on schedule, in middle age — as the state’s population reaches 40 million — I am now tempted to think that I lived through the end of a golden era. But maybe the better way to say it is that just like every other Californian for as long as anybody can remember, I have merely witnessed a fleeting chapter in a centuries-long human story in which the lost Eden we all heard about from our parents is eternally changing into the pretty damn nice place we found — and then, much too soon for comfort, into the next bewildering mixture of good and bad that we scarcely recognize.

And more interestingly, Julia Frankenbach:

California has come together more than once. In multiple histories—in matter and in mind—the massive swath of land on the western cusp of North America assembled and assumed a place on the continent. My efforts to assemble memories of California—my original home—grow from the layers of these histories.

California grips the imagination. Its various monikers—Eden, Arcadia, the Land of Milk and Honey—express the hopes of those who dreamed it. Its symbols—rugged granite-lands, perfumed orange orchards, the glittering Hollywood metropolis—reveal the fixations of those who lived it. Even for me, a long youth spent familiarizing myself with the landscape’s many banalities belies a lasting intrigue. California dreams rekindle in my Colorado outpost. They grow brighter each month I remain away from home. While away, I forget my disillusionment with the Sacramento Valley’s dusty expanses, crushing heat, and the indolent wrinkle of foothill on its western horizon. I forget my anger about the steady anonymization of township as endless conurbation folds once-distinct communities into homogeneous grids that cover the plains. California constantly renews. Its Great Valley sits perched above sharp coastal edges that are dynamic processes. They rise jagged and salted from the ever-churning active edge of the North American continental shelf. Things happen at this tectonic seam. Pillow basalts cut into consciousness. The lands that roll away from it develop sequentially, like waves: coastal foothills empty onto the farmed plains of the Central Valley. Still further east, the valley’s edges rise to wooded slopes, which crest in the aerial granite of the Sierra Nevada. California regenerates tectonically and perceptually. As its beaches churn and build, so does its memory. Hindsight hones its contours. I always find myself wishing to return.

For me, California’s successive terrains are the landscape of home. Yet, however familiar, they remain evocative. This home is tantalizing. There is something about the variety of the landscape—the ease with which one travels from coastal cliffs to redwood inlets, from orchard to mountainside to the pinnacles of the Range of Light. Each locale feels exotic to every other. A sense of un-relation fragments the landscape. Over time, after many traverses through the wild palette of its surfaces, one begins to intuit a process of accretion—of lithic buildup, terrain after terrain. One senses a melding of distinct territories into a whole.

Buying Patriotism

[ 142 ] November 5, 2015 |


The NFL and the Department of Defense: two vile organizations that deserve each other:

The Department of Defense doled out as much as $6.8 million in taxpayer money to professional sports teams to honor the military at games and events over the past four years, an amount it has “downplayed” amid scrutiny, a report unveiled by two Senate Republicans on Wednesday found.

Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake began looking into the Defense Department’s spending of taxpayer dollars on military tributes in June after they discovered the New Jersey Army National Guard paid the New York Jets $115,000 to recognize soldiers at home games.

The 145-page report released Wednesday dives deeper, revealing that 72 of the 122 professional sports contracts analyzed contained items deemed “paid patriotism” — the payment of taxpayer or Defense funds to teams in exchange for tributes like NFL’s “Salute to Service.” Honors paid for by the DOD were found not only in the NFL, but also the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS. They included on-field color guard ceremonies, performances of the national anthem, and ceremonial first pitches and puck drops.

“Given the immense sacrifices made by our service members, it seems more appropriate that any organization with a genuine interest in honoring them, and deriving public credit as a result, should do so at its own expense and not at that of the American taxpayer,” the report states.

DOD spent $53 million on marketing and advertising contracts with sports teams from 2012 to 2015, the report found, but that also included legitimate ad campaigns such as stadium signs and social media mentions. However, it also included $6.8 million in contracts that contained activities the senators considered “inappropriate” patriotism for profit.

Patriotism for profit. I love it. There’s nothing more phony than professional sports tributes to the military, which primarily exist a) for fans to feel good about how much they love America and b) as recruiting tools for the military. Actual soldiers are largely irrelevant here and former soldiers who might be suffering from PTSD thanks to the pointless and idiotic wars of the last fifteen years are totally irrelevant and completely forgotten by the military, professional sports, and sports fans. It’s also worth noting that there is literally the NFL owners won’t do for money. One would think that if patriotism was the actual motivation here, the NFL would volunteer to hold these functions instead of taking cash for it. But no, of course not. The Pentagon manufactures patriotism, the NFL cashes in, older viewers feel good about their nation, and younger people volunteer for the military and get sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. Everyone wins, right???

Water, Chemicals, Bodies, Cancer

[ 11 ] November 5, 2015 |


Beth Alvarado has a lovely and sad essay at Guernica about the cancers that killed her husband and much of his family who lived in a neighborhood on the south side of Tucson heavily polluted by a plume of trichloroethylene, used to clean airplane parts at the nearby airport and industrial airfield. The geology beneath Tucson can store a lot of water, but it also means it’s quite susceptible to chemical contamination.

After his family had lived there for a decade or so, people in the neighborhood started dying. Clear patterns didn’t emerge, but sometimes several people in one family would die. Finally, the city tested the water. Some estimates showed TCE contamination at 1,000 times the federal health standards. They closed wells. There were court cases. Red lines were drawn around the housing developments, housing developments where 75 percent of the residents were Hispanic and low-income; once the developments were red-lined, it was impossible to sell those houses, so people stayed where they were. The cleanup began, but it was already too late. On Evelina Street alone, near the school Fernando’s siblings attended, near Mission Manor Park where they played, and near the swimming pool where they swam in the summers, thirty-four cancer cases were documented. Several families now have only one surviving member.

You don’t have to drink TCE or ingest it. TCE can enter your system through your skin when you bathe. When Fernando’s brother Eugene first saw a doctor for hemochromatosis, a rare liver condition that can be caused by exposure to chemicals, he told the doctor that he had lived in the area of Tucson that was affected by TCE. The doctor said he’d have to have complete exposure, like falling into a vat of chemicals, for that to be responsible for his condition. I did have complete exposure, Eugene said. I bathed in it for decades.

Eventually, they found a tumor growing on Eugene’s liver. He had a liver transplant.

TCE is a volatile organic compound, my friend, an environmental engineer, tells me. TCE wants to rise, it wants to be in the air instead of the water. It enters your body when you breathe its vapors in the air or when you drink water contaminated with it. TCE also enters your body through your skin, especially if you have cracks or abrasions or cuts. The first exposure to TCE, and the first drink of that water, initiates a metabolic process that can result in lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, and kidney and liver cancers. TCE is thought to act as a metabolic trigger. In other words, if you have a predisposition to a form of cancer, let’s say liver cancer, TCE increases your likelihood of developing that cancer, although it may not manifest for decades.

The effects of these chemicals can take so long to manifest themselves that it becomes very hard to receive compensation from the polluters and most people do not. That most of the people suffering in this Tucson neighborhood are Latino should be expected as the correlation between pollution exposure and race is well-documented and is a classic example of environmental racism.

How Did the US and USSR Never Go to War?

[ 128 ] November 5, 2015 |


Sometimes, it’s really surprising that the U.S. and Soviet Union did not actually go to war. This story about Soviet paranoia in the face of Reagan’s increasing aggressiveness is quite alarming really.

A nuclear weapons command exercise by NATO in November 1983 prompted fear in the leadership of the Soviet Union that the maneuvers were a cover for a nuclear surprise attack by the United States, triggering a series of unparalleled Soviet military re­sponses, according to a top-secret U.S. intelligence review that has just been declassified.

“In 1983, we may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger,” the review concluded.

That autumn has long been regarded as one of the most tense moments of the Cold War, coming after the Soviet Union shot down a South Korean civilian airliner in September and as the West was preparing to deploy Pershing II intermediate-range and ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe in November. But there has been a long-running debate about whether the period known as the “war scare” was a moment of genuine danger or a period of bluster for propaganda purposes.

The review concluded that for Soviet leaders, the war scare was real, and that U.S. intelligence post­mortems did not take it seriously enough.

Soviet leaders were particularly alarmed about the NATO exercise, known as Able Archer, carried out in early November 1983 involving forces­ that stretched from Turkey to Britain. Conducted annually to practice the procedures involved in the run-up to a nuclear conflict, the exercise had some new wrinkles that year, including planes that taxied out of hangars carrying realistic-looking dummy warheads, the review said.

It goes on to discuss the paranoia of the aging Yuri Andropov and the real fear the Soviet leadership had of Reagan’s craziness. I don’t know, maybe calling other nations names like “an evil empire” or “the Axis of Evil” does not actually help keep your nation safe, who could know. As much as I despise Reagan, at least he had the wherewithal to see that the Soviets were actually scared and sense an opening to thaw relations as the 80s went on, something that deeply disturbed the hardliners among his advisers.

In hindsight, it really seems amazing that at some point these two nuclear nations didn’t start annihilating each other, whether in 1962 or 1983 or some other point. There were so many opportunities for everything in the Cold War to go horribly wrong.

Members-Only Unions

[ 13 ] November 4, 2015 |


Moshe Marvit and Leigh Anne Schriever have an outstanding essay on members-only unionism. In other words, in a corporate and political regime that seeks to destroy unions, something that will likely be significantly advanced by the Supreme Court Republicans in Friedrichs next year, it’s quite possible the near future of many labor organizations will be as voluntary organizations without collective bargaining rights. In fact, that’s pretty common now, especially in right to work a person to death states. The union I played an early role in organizing at the University of Tennessee is a members-only organization. In order to do this, you need committed union activists who are going to do a lot of work in their free time to build a democratic union that seeks collective action in order to push for worker rights. That has to be done without any hope of ever getting a contract or any kind of employer recognition. Marvit and Schriever discuss three case studies of members-only unions, with their potential and their problems. And the problems are real enough–it’s constant work for little concrete gain. Yet these unions also energize and empower workers and actually do win real gains from time to time. In the public sector, they can make alliances with friendly state legislators, conduct protest actions at state capitals and public events, and be a worker-centered gadfly against employer policies. This isn’t a glorious future, but it is a real future. Workers will never give up fighting for better lives and if the current anti-union trends continue, more and more will need a different kind of organization than they have today. Marvit’s and Schriever’s conclusion:

As a result of anti-union laws and extreme employer and governmental opposition, organizing a union and collectively bargaining with an employer are virtually impossible tasks for many workers in many regions of the country. The members-only model that has existed in this country for over a century, and continues to exist in many of these labor deserts, may provide a way forward.

Though few members-only unions have been able to get collective bargaining agreements (CBA) on behalf of their members, they do provide appreciable benefits in the workplace. They provide a structure for worker solidarity and collective action; a means of accessing some of the protections of the NLRA; an inroad for labor in inhospitable territory; a framework for workers to advocate and organize local political change; and a means of disseminating information. Additionally, though members-only unions often appear as a hybrid between more traditional exclusive-bargaining unions and worker centers, they are unions. Their goals—even if not often reached—are to organize and negotiate on behalf of their memberships. For these reasons alone, major unions should employ the model as both a path to majority and as a beachhead in hostile parts of the country.

Furthermore, a simple change in the law, or legal interpretation of the NLRA could significantly change these unions ability to get CBAs. Though many legal scholars have debated the question of whether employers must bargain with members-only unions, neither the NLRB, nor the courts, nor Congress has fully considered the issue. If the law were changed or interpreted to require bargaining, members-only unions would have a clearer path to contracts and majority.

Erik Visits an American Grave (V)

[ 38 ] November 4, 2015 |

Below is the grave of one of the great American heroes, Thaddeus Stevens.


Stevens hardly needs to be explained to most LGM readers, but briefly, a Whig lawyer who took an anti-slavery position early, he became a leading Republican at the party’s outset while representing a southern Pennsylvania district. As early as 1837, he fought for the black vote at a Pennsylvania constitutional convention. He helped defend the black defenders of self-emancipated slaves after the Christiana Riot in 1851, helping turn this incident into an attack on the Fugitive Slave Act. During the war, he became the leader of the congressional Republicans demanding immediate action on slavery and to allow African-Americans to play a full and complete role in American civic and social life, a position to put him far to the left of the majority of his own party. After Lincoln’s death, Stevens of course became the great enemy of Andrew Johnson, pressing for Radical Reconstruction and leading the fight against the president. He supported land redistribution for the former slaves, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which Stevens played a major role in moving through Congress as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. The enmity against Stevens became so great that he was the model for the Republican congressman and villain of supporting miscegenation and black rights in D.W. Griffith’s legendary racist 1915 film The Birth of the Nation.

Unlike a lot of Republicans, not only did Stevens’ sympathy with slaves not end with emancipation, but he also supported other oppressed groups as well. He fought against giving states control over reservations, noting that the states would abuse Native Americans far worse than the federal government (almost certainly true even given the horrible treatment that actually did take place under federal authority) and supported an 8-hour day at a time when former abolitionists were talking about the rise of a mild form of American class politics as if a socialist revolution was going to destroy the United States.

Stevens may or may not have had a long-term sexual relationship with his African-American housekeeper, a woman named Lydia Hamilton Smith. Certainly the rumors said he did and this was repeated by Steven Spielberg in the film Lincoln. Either way, Stevens did not oppose interracial marriage, placing way outside of the mainstream for white men of his day. Stevens left Smith most of his inheritance and she lived in his house after he died.

Thaddeus Stevens is buried in Shreiner’s Cemetery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Corporate Control of Chemical Regulation

[ 7 ] November 4, 2015 |


In These Times has an excellent essay on the corporate control over chemical regulation, including the chemical companies pioneering modeling systems that allows “testing” that provides almost no information on how chemicals will actually affect workers, consumers, or the ecosystems, as well as the EPA openly relying on corporate studies on chemical safety. This of course leads to a disastrous situation where we don’t actually often know just what the impact of chemicals are on people and even if we do have a really good idea of it, even the EPA isn’t really equipped to do anything about it. An excerpt:

A close look at the authors of studies produced by these industry-linked research groups reveals a web of influence traceable to Wright-Patterson (see chart on following page). At least 10 researchers employed at or contracted by Wright-Patterson in the 1980s went on to careers in toxicology at CIIT/Hamner, for-profit consulting firms or the EPA. About half have held senior positions at Hamner, including the co-authors of many of the early Wright-Patterson PBPK studies: Melvin Anderson, now a chief scientific officer at Hamner, and Harvey Clewell, now a senior investigator at Hamner and principal scientist at the consulting firm ENVIRON. “I’m probably given credit as the person who brought PBPK into toxicology and risk assessment,” Andersen told In These Times.

A revolving door between these industry-affiliated groups and federal regulators was also set in motion. More than a dozen researchers have moved from the EPA to these for-profit consultancies; a similar number have gone in the other direction, ending up at the EPA or other federal agencies.

Further blurring the public-private line, CIIT/Hamner has received millions of dollars in both industry and taxpayer money. The group stated on its website in 2007 that $18 million of its $21.5 million annual operating budget came from the “chemical and pharmaceutical industry.” Information about its corporate funders is no longer detailed there, but Hamner has previously listed as clients and supporters the American Chemistry Council (formerly the CMA, and one of the most powerful lobbyists against chemical regulation), American Petroleum Institute, BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow, ExxonMobil, Chevron and the Formaldehyde Council. At the same time, over the past 30 years, CIIT/Hamner has received nearly $160 million in grants and contracts from the EPA, DOD and Department of Health and Human Services. In sum, since the 1980s, these federal agencies have awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to industry-affiliated research institutes like Hamner.

But the federal reliance on industry-linked researchers extends further. Since 2000, the EPA has signed a number of cooperative research agreements with the ACC and CIIT/ Hamner. All involve chemical toxicity research that includes PBPK modeling. And in 2014, Hamner outlined additional research it will be conducting for the EPA’s next generation of chemical testing—the ToxCast and Tox21 programs. Over the past five years, Hamner has received funding for this same research from the ACC and Dow.

Meanwhile, the EPA regularly contracts with for-profit consultancies to perform risk assessments, assemble peer review panels and select the scientific literature used in chemical evaluations. This gives these private organizations considerable sway in the decision-making process, often with little transparency about ties to chemical manufacturers. The upshot: Experts selected to oversee chemical regulation often overrepresent the industry perspective.

These cozy relationships have not gone unnoticed; the EPA has been called to task by both its own Office of Inspector General and by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. “These arrangements have raised concerns that ACC or its members could potentially influence, or appear to influence, the scientific results that may be used to make future regulatory decisions,” wrote the GAO in a 2005 report.

Asked for comment by In These Times, the EPA said these arrangements do not present conflicts of interest.

This is a classic case of regulatory capture and in an environment with a badly underfunded EPA, not to mention other regulatory agencies like OSHA, it’s hard to see what else the EPA is likely to do here, even though the problems are vast and the cost to workers and consumers high.

The Need for Aggressive, Anti-Corporate Environmentalism

[ 33 ] November 3, 2015 |


Above: Scoop Jackson, sponsor of the National Environmental Policy Act and probably the greatest environmentalist senator in U.S. history.

Joshua Galperin has a good essay arguing that we need an aggressive environmentalism that seeks transformative solutions to environmental problems instead of what he sees as the piecemeal corporate-friendly environmentalism his students favor today. This is a useful counterpoint to the unexamined cliche that apocalyptic environmentalism turns people away from doing anything at all. People say this all the time but I have never seen a single study that suggests this is actually true.

The need for an aggressive environmentalism that demands widespread corporate behavioral change is threefold. First, the planet and the people who live upon it face enormous challenges, especially climate change. Tweaking corporate behavior around the edges won’t solve that problem. Second, any study of social change in American history strongly suggests that only calls for radical change lead to the struggles that create even moderate change. Third, if you want to create the mass political movement that moves politicians to pass the legislation that encodes these, even relatively moderate demands, you have to touch people’s hearts and get them working for a goal. Moderate environmentalism fails on all three of these levels. Richard Nixon was no environmentalist (and I hate, hate, hate that Galperin cites him as one, not to mention a person who cared about nature, which is just untrue but the cliche that Nixon was a great environmental president has become so widespread that it’s more useful to use him as a rhetorical device to claim environmentalism can become bipartisan than to swim against the current) but he faced a desire for environmental legislation so widespread that transformative legislation was passing the House by votes like 372-15, in the case of the National Environmental Policy Act that there was no point in a veto.

Galperin’s characterization of environmentalist students is not true of all but does largely vibe with my experiences over the past decade:

My students are extraordinary, but many see themselves as “corporate social responsibility consultants,” “ecosystem service managers,” “sustainability leaders,” “industrial efficiency experts,” maybe “clean energy entrepreneurs” — not environmentalists. They avoid that label because they associate it with stalled progress on the issues they care about. But this reinvention is a losing strategy.

I think this is partially a result of the emphasis on apolitical “service” and “leadership” at both the high school and college levels that actually serves to channel potential activism into working with corporations or service organizations in ways that don’t challenge the status quo, an emphasis that becomes stronger when the potential for a job at the end of college in a weak employment market for good jobs is out there. But there are real problems with this kind of thinking, as I stated above. He states this is a “desperate environmentalism,” one that assumes corporate power over the world and hopes that maybe we can work with them to make changes since we can’t challenge them.

What do we need instead?

The environmentalists of old insisted on transformation not marginal gains. The Clean Water Act aimed to restore the integrity of all the nation’s waters by eliminating water pollution. Now we quantify whether such improvement is economically efficient, and we politely ask whether an industrial facility might consider reducing its discharge. Perhaps, desperate environmentalists suggest, such a reduction would improve the bottom line by reducing some costs. Suddenly, economic efficiency moves from being one in a collection of cultural values that drive decisions to the only relevant value.

And the ratchet turns in only one direction. Having conceded so much to conservative approaches, desperate environmentalists cannot advocate what is now a radical idea of the past: Government should force polluters to reduce pollution for the sake of healthy natural systems and human enjoyment.

The problem is, desperate environmentalists strive for a mythical conservative embrace but cooperation from the right is unrealistic. As they move right in an attempt to meet their opponents, the opponents will not, at some undefined threshold of compromise, consent to new policies of protection. Rather, desperate environmentalists could continue to erode their position until environmentalism grows unrecognizable.

He then cites the once-Republican idea for cap and trade that today is hated by Republicans as an example of this bait and switch. What we really need is largely what we need for violations of labor rights–demands for corporate accountability, new laws that create that accountability, and an aggressive regulatory state that assumes corporations are probably guilty and seeks to catch them rather than becoming subject to regulatory capture. We need legislation that puts hands in the power of citizens and workers to hold these corporations accountable and we need to use the tools we have now and the tools we can create to hold the corporations accountable wherever they operate, including outside U.S. borders. And while this sounds utopian, note that the Investor State Dispute Settlement courts already provide a framework that we can build from, even if they exist to promote strictly corporate interests at the present and that we have successfully regulated corporations before and we can do so again. There’s plenty of historical evidence to suggest that these are attainable goals. But we have to stop thinking we are going to work with corporations to make those changes, especially on environmental issues. Because they are not our friends and will fight it the whole way.

Are We Reaching a Milestone in Clean Energy?

[ 32 ] November 3, 2015 |


This article feels rather overly optimistic to me, but I thought it was worth noting it’s argument that we are turning an important corner in the transition to clean energy.

But the intervening two days drive home the likelihood of success in Paris. Even with Europe clean energy investment lagging with its overall economy, on-shore wind now provides the cheapest electrons available in both Britain and Germany.

Europe’s slump is partly driven by a transition pains moving from high cost mechanisms like feed-in-tariffs more efficient tools like reverse auctions.

And the massive European investments from 2010-2013 shaved off the lucrative peak demand loads which made solar panels so lucrative. But having done so, Europe is teed up for the world’s next big task. Even at today’s investment levels, by 2040 a huge fraction of global power will come from variable renewables (wind and solar): Germany 77 percent, China 37 percent, Mexico 32 percent, India 32 percent. (The U.S., BNEF projects, lags at 24 percent because of cheap gas. I think America will in fact catch up).

But this vast influx of clean electrons creates a new investment need: storage and connected transmission to stabilize power supplies and integrate zero cost but variable supply electrons—Europe now becomes the test bed for this phase of the clean energy transition.

Elsewhere clean energy marches on. While the details matter, wind and solar will become cheaper than new build coal and gas everywhere. Michael Liebrich in his keynote flashes a telling quote from Bill Koch: “The coal business in the U.S has kind of died, so we’re out of the coal business,” and points out that compared to 2013, 2015 investment in coal has dropped a stunning 75 percent.

These two forces—clean energy’s growing affordability edge, and the bottom up pressure on national governments from cities and the business community—means that fossil fuel interests could longer prevent climate progress simply by leveraging their sheer size to freeze nation state’s from accelerating the shift to the future. Stephen Harper’s government in Canada refused to embrace climate progress, but Canada’s cities—Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton—are racing forward, as are its major provinces—Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and—very soon, my intelligence suggests, even Alberta. (Now Harper is gone).

Set against these two positive drivers a highly resistant, incumbent fossil fuel complex remains determined to hold on to its market share as long as it can. Coal and Oil have withdrawn from their untenable “never” position. Their next battle ground lies in “when.” The G20 commitment this spring was to decarbonize by “the need of the century.” Climate science has a different calendar—fossils must essentially be gone by 2050. That extra 50 years is, to coal and oil, worth fighting for—and natural gas is oil’s alternative of choice. Their secret weapon? Ever lower prices. Liebrich points out that while the pace of technological progress for wind and solar has been dramatic, so too has been improvements in shale drilling for oil and natural gas.

I think this underestimates the ability to dirty energy to rebound from recent retreats and assumes the best of all possible outcomes for clean energy around the world. Still, I may be too pessimistic. Maybe we are turning a corner. But when a lot of that depends on whether Democrats or Republicans win in 2016, at least for the coal example, I’m not hailing a permanent revolution in our energy sourcing.

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