On Senate Floor, Sen. Whitehouse Calls for RICO Investigation of 'Climate Denial Machine'

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 20 Oct 2015 23:52:00 GMT

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, called for a civil RICO investigation of ExxonMobil and the “climate denial machine” on the floor of the U.S. Senate Tuesday afternoon. Whitehouse, who speaks on climate change every week that the Senate is in session, had raised the possibility of such an investigation in a speech in May that compared the fossil-fuel industry’s campaign of deception to that of the tobacco industry.

With new investigations by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times about ExxonMobil’s history of knowing climate deception, and rising calls from the public led by Climate Hawks Vote for civil or criminal action by the Department of Justice, Whitehouse again took the floor.

Whitehouse took on his critics, mocking the “histrionics on the far right” and describing the Wall Street Journal editorial page as the”Troll-in-Chief for the fossil-fuel industry.”

The senator concluded with a call for a civil RICO investigation of the “climate denial scheme,” from the fossil-fuel giants like ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers to the organizations they back, like the Wall Street Journal and the Manhattan Institute.

This was Senator Whitehouse 115th “Time to Wake Up” climate speech.

Whatever the motivation of the Wall Street Journal and other right-wing climate denial outfits, it is clearly long past time for the climate denial scheme to come in from the talk shows and the blogosphere, and have to face the kind of truth-testing audience that a civil RICO investigation could provide. It’s time to let the facts take their place, and let climate denial face that “greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth.”

With his speech, Whitehouse joined the growing ranks calling for a DOJ investigation of the fossil-fuel industry, which now include Merchants of Doubt author Naomi Oreskes, Representatives Ted Lieu and Mark DeSaulnier of California, and Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

The Climate Hawks Vote petition, which unlike Sen. Whitehouse’s call includes language open to criminal investigation of ExxonMobil’s activities, can be found here.

Transcript:

Mr. President, last week, former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Robert M. White passed away at the age of 92. Dr. White served this nation under five presidents and pioneered the peaceful use of satellites to understand our weather and climate. “We do have environmental problems and they’re serious ones, the preservation of species among them,” he said, “but the climate is the environmental problem that’s so pervasive in its effects on the society. . . . The climate is really the only environmental characteristic that can utterly change our society and our civilization.”

That was in 1977. That same year, James F. Black, a top scientific researcher at the Exxon Corporation gave that company’s executives a similar warning: “[T]here is general scientific agreement,” he told Exxon’s Management Committee, “that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.” According to emerging reports, Exxon executives kept that warning a closely guarded company secret for years.

I rise today for the 115th time to urge that we wake up to the threat of climate change. I rise in the midst of a decades-long, purposeful corporate campaign of misinformation, which has held this Congress and this nation back from taking meaningful action to prevent that utter change. Scrutiny of the corporate campaign of misinformation intensifies, and scrutiny of the fossil fuel polluters behind it intensifies, and the regular cast of right-wing, climate-denier attack dogs have got their hackles up.

On May 6, I gave a speech here on the Floor. The speech compared the misinformation campaign by the fossil fuel industry about the dangers of carbon pollution to the tobacco industry’s misinformation campaign about the dangers of its product.

The relevance of that comparison is that the United States Department of Justice, under the civil provisions of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute—RICO for short, brought an action against the tobacco industry. The United States alleged that the tobacco industry’s misinformation campaign was fraudulent. And the United States won, in a lengthy and thorough decision by United States District Judge Gladys Kessler.

Go ahead and read them. DOJ’s complaint and Judge Kessler’s decision can be found at the websites of the Justice Department and the Public Health Law Center, respectively, and are linked on my website, whitehouse.senate.gov/climatechange. I will warn you: the judge’s decision is a long one—but it makes good reading.

The comparison is strong. There are whole sections of the Department of Justice civil RICO complaint, and whole sections of Judge Kessler’s decision, where you can remove the word “tobacco” and put in the word “carbon,” and remove the word “health” and put in the word “climate,” and the parallel with the fossil fuel industry climate denial campaign is virtually perfect.

This is not an idea I just cooked up. Look at the academic work of Professor Robert Brulle of Drexel University and Professor Riley Dunlap of Oklahoma State University. Look at the investigative work of Naomi Oreskes’s book Merchants of Doubt, David Michaels’s book Doubt is Their Product, and Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner’s book Deceit and Denial, describing the industry-backed machinery of deception.

Look at the journalistic work of Neela Banerjee, Lisa Song, David Hasemyer, and John Cushman Jr. in the recent reporting of InsideClimate News about what ExxonMobil knew about climate change versus the falsehoods it chose to tell the public. Look at a separate probe by journalists Sara Jerving, Katie Jennings, Masako Melissa Hirsch, and Susanne Rust in the Los Angeles Times.

From their work, we now know that Exxon, for instance, knew about the effect of its carbon pollution as far back as the late 1970s, but ultimately chose to fund a massive misinformation campaign rather than tell the truth. “No corporation,” said professor and climate change activist Bill McKibben, “has ever done anything this big and this bad.”

Here’s how Judge Kessler depicts the culpable conduct of the tobacco industry: “Defendants have intentionally maintained and coordinated their fraudulent position on addiction and nicotine as an important part of their overall efforts to influence public opinion and persuade people that smoking is not dangerous.”

Compare that to the findings of Dr. Brulle, whose research shines light on the dark money campaigns that support climate denial. The climate denial operation, to quote Dr. Brulle, is “a deliberate and organized effort to misdirect the public discussion and distort the public’s understanding of climate.”

The parallels between what the tobacco industry did and what the fossil fuel industry is doing now are so striking, I suggested in my speech of May 6, that it was worth a look: that civil discovery could reveal whether the fossil fuel industry’s activities cross the same line into racketeering. I said that again in an op-ed piece I wrote in the Washington Post on May 29 regarding the civil RICO action against tobacco.

Oh, my, what caterwauling has ensued from the fossil fuel industry trolls! Here’s a quick highlight reel of the tempest of right-wing invective.

One climate denier, Christopher Monckton, declared, “Senator Whitehouse is a fascist goon.” Another denier compared me to Torquemada, the infamous torturer of the Inquisition. And the official Exxon responder got so excited about this suggestion he used a word I am not even allowed to say on the Senate Floor! He forgot Rule One in crisis management: don’t lose your cool.

The right-wing website Breitbart.com responded by calling me “the preposterous Democrat senator for Rhode Island,” and saying the notion that there is an industry-funded effort to mislead the American people about the harm caused by carbon pollution is “a joke,” a conspiracy theory on par with Area 51 or the faking of the moon landing. Tell that to tobacco.

Paul Gigot, editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal, said global warming concerns, “are based on computer models, not by actual evidence, not by actual evidence of what we’ve seen so far.”

The polluter-funded George Marshall Institute, a long-time climate denial outfit, wrote that this was an attack on constitutional rights; a presumptuous argument on their part given that there’s no constitutional right to commit fraud.

Similarly, Calvin Beisner, founder of a phony-baloney industry front called the Cornwall Alliance, said the same: the mere suggestion represents a “direct attack on the rights to freedom of speech and the press guaranteed by the First Amendment” and is “horrifically bad for science.” Coming from a science denial outfit, that concern for science is rich. And again, fraud is not protected by the First Amendment.

In the National Review, I was accused of wanting to launch “organized crime investigations . . . against people and institutions that disagree with [me] about global warming,” in order to “lock people up as Mafiosi.”

“Crime”? “Lock people up”? Let’s remember, Mr./Madam President, that we are talking about civil RICO, not criminal. No one went to jail in the tobacco case. Investigating the organized climate denial scheme under civil RICO is not about putting people in jail. Query why the National Review would mislead people about such an obvious fact.

All a civil RICO case does is get people to have to actually tell the truth, under oath, in front of an actual impartial judge or jury, and under cross-examination—which the Supreme Court has described as “the greatest legal invention ever invented for the discovery of truth.” No more spin and deception.

But that’s exactly the audience polluters and their allies can’t bear, so the flacks set off criminal smokescreens and launch “fascist goon” and “Torquemada” hysterics. A few weeks ago, 20 scientists agreed with me, and wrote a letter to Attorney General Lynch supporting the idea of using civil RICO.

That was too much for the Troll-in-Chief for the fossil fuel industry: the Wall Street Journal editorial page. The Wall Street Journal editorial page has long been an industry science-denial mouthpiece. They use the same playbook every time: one, deny the science; two, question the motives of reformers; and three, exaggerate the costs of reforms.

When scientists warned that chlorofluorocarbons could break down the atmosphere’s ozone layer, the Wall Street Journal ran editorials—for decades—devaluing the science, attacking scientists and reformers, and exaggerating the costs associated with regulating CFCs. When acid rain was falling in the Northeast, the Wall Street Journal editorial page questioned the science, claimed the sulfur dioxide cleanup effort was driven by politics, and said fixing it carried a huge price tag. Ultimately, the Journal’s editorial page, after years of this, had to recant and admit that the cap-and-trade program for sulfur dioxide “saves about $700 million annually compared with the cost of traditional regulation and has been reducing emissions by four million tons annually.”

Now, on climate change, the Journal is back to the same pattern: deny the science, question the motives of climate scientists, exaggerate the costs of tackling carbon pollution. For decades, the Journal has persistently published editorials against taking action to prevent manmade climate change.

On this the editorial page said, by talking about civil RICO I’m trying to “forcibly silence” the denial apparatus. “Forcibly silence”? First of all, against the billions of the Koch Brothers and ExxonMobil, fat chance that I have much force to use. And “silence”? I don’t want them silent; I want them testifying, in a forum where they have to tell the truth. Is the Journal really saying that in a forum where deniers have to tell the truth their only response would have to be silence? Making them tell the truth forcibly silences them? Because the only thing civil RICO silences is fraud.

By the way, the Journal editorial never mentions that the government won the civil RICO case against tobacco on very similar facts. That would detract from the fable.

Who does the Journal cast as the victim in their fable? None other than Willie Soon, who they said I singled out for—here’s what they said—having “published politically inconvenient research on changes in solar radiation.” Actually, what’s inconvenient for Dr. Soon is that the New York Times reported that he gets more than half of his funding from big fossil fuel interests like ExxonMobil and the Charles G. Koch Foundation, to the tune of $1.2 million, and didn’t disclose it. Dr. Soon’s research contracts even gave his industry backers a chance “for comment and input” before he published, and he referred to the papers he produced as “deliverables.” In case you don’t know it, that’s not how real science works. Of course, none of this sordid financial conflict is even mentioned by the Wall Street Journal editorial page. They’d rather pretend Dr. Soon is being singled out for “politically inconvenient” views. Please.

It gets better. In the editorial, the role of neutral expert commenting on this goes to Georgia Tech’s Judith Curry. She offers the opinion that my “demand . . . for legal persecution . . . represents a new low in the politicization of science.” This is a particularly rich and conflict- riddled opinion, as Ms. Curry is herself a repeat anti-climate witness performing regularly in committees for Republicans here in Congress. Again, no mention of this interest of Ms. Curry’s by the Wall Street Journal editorial.

The fossil fuel industry’s climate-denial machine rivals or exceeds that of the tobacco industry in size, scope, and complexity. Its purpose is to cast doubt about the reality of climate change in order to forestall a move toward cleaner fuels and allow the Kochs and Exxons of the world to continue making money at everybody else’s expense. And the Wall Street Journal editorial page plays its part in the machine.

Even though it’s only the editorial page, and not the Journal’s well-regarded newsroom, facts and logic are supposed to matter. Ignoring the successful tobacco litigation; omitting the salient fact of Dr. Soon being paid by the industry involved in his research; and bringing in a climate denier as their neutral voice without disclosing that conflict—I’d like to see them get this editorial by the editorial standards of their own newsroom.

So why all the histrionics on the far right, Mr./Madam President? Why the deliberate subterfuge between civil and criminal RICO? Why the name-calling? Have we perhaps touched a little nerve? Have we maybe hit a bit too close to home? Are the cracks in the dark castle of denial as it crumbles maybe beginning to rattle the occupants?

Whatever the motivation of the Wall Street Journal and other right-wing climate denial outfits, it is clearly long past time for the climate denial scheme to come in from the talk shows and the blogosphere, and have to face the kind of truth-testing audience that a civil RICO investigation could provide. It’s time to let the facts take their place, and let climate denial face that “greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth.”

I yield the floor.

Congressional Climate Hawks to DOJ: Investigate Exxon's "Immoral" And "Sustained Deception Campaign" On Climate

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 16 Oct 2015 15:37:00 GMT


Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.)
On Thursday, two Democratic members of Congress have called for the Department of Justice to investigate the legality of ExxonMobil’s “sustained deception campaign disputing climate science.” In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Representatives Ted Lieu and Mark DeSaulnier of California “request the DOJ investigate whether ExxonMobil violated RICO, consumer protection, truth in advertising, public health, shareholder protection or other laws.”

The request, motivated by independent journalistic investigations by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, compared Exxon’s deliberate “campaign to deceive the American people about the known risks of fossil fuels” to the tobacco industry’s actions “to deceive the American people about the known risks of tobacco.” The tobacco industry was the subject of a successful RICO lawsuit.

The apparent tactics employed by Exxon are reminiscent of the actions employed by big tobacco companies to deceive the American people about the known risks of tobacco. In this case, Exxon scientists knew about fossil fuels causing global warming and Exxon took internal actions based on its knowledge of climate change. Yet Exxon funded and publicly engaged in a campaign to deceive the American people about the known risks of fossil fuels in causing climate change. If these allegations against Exxon are true, then Exxon’s actions were immoral. We request the DOJ to investigate whether ExxonMobil’s actions were also illegal.

The representatives’ letter follows a public call for such an investigation made by the members of Climate Hawks Vote in September of this year.

Also on Thursday, climate activist Bill McKibben held a one-man protest against Exxon, getting arrested at an ExxonMobil gas station in Vermont in order to raise public knowledge of the news stories.

Download the DOJ letter or view the full text below.

TED W. LIEU
33RD DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA
COMMITTEE ON THE BUDGET
COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM

October 14, 2015

Loretta E. Lynch, Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Lynch,

As Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, we are alarmed by allegations that Exxon (becoming ExxonMobil in 1999) intentionally hid the truth about the role of fossil fuels in influencing climate change. Investigations by the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News allege that Exxon scientists confirmed fossil fuels’ role in climate change decades ago, but top executives decided to hide the truth and instead embarked on a massive campaign of denial and disinformation.1

ExxonMobil’s apparent behavior is similar to cigarette companies that repeatedly denied harm from tobacco and spread uncertainty and misleading information to the public. The Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecuted tobacco companies under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. We ask that the DOJ similarly investigate ExxonMobil for organizing a sustained deception campaign disputing climate science and failing to disclose truthful information to investors and the public. We request the DOJ investigate whether ExxonMobil violated RICO, consumer protection, truth in advertising, public health, shareholder protection or other laws.

According to the investigation by Inside Climate News, in July 1977 at an Exxon Management Committee meeting, senior Exxon scientist James Black “delivered a sobering message: carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.” In 1978 Exxon “launched its own extraordinary research into carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and its impact on the earth.” Exxon “assembled a brain trust that would spend more than a decade deepening the company’s understanding” of global warming.

In 1982, Exxon prepared a corporate primer on carbon dioxide and climate change. The primer—which was circulated to management but marked “not to be distributed externally”—stated that heading off global warming “would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion” and that unless that happened “there are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered.” Exxon “did not elaborate on the carbon problem in annual reports filed with securities regulators,” nor did Exxon “mention in those filings that concern over CO2 was beginning to influence business decisions it was facing.”

In 1988, instead of following their own scientists and the actual science, Exxon apparently started doing the opposite and engaged in a campaign of denial and disinformation. The company “started financing efforts to amplify doubt about the state of climate science.” Exxon “helped to found and lead the Global Climate Coalition, an alliance of some of the world’s largest companies seeking to halt government efforts to curb fossil fuel emissions.”

Despite its public efforts to deny climate change, Exxon apparently took company actions based on its knowledge of global warming. According to the Los Angeles Times investigation, in 1990 engineers at Exxon “were quietly incorporating climate change projections into the company’s planning and closely studying how to adapt the company’s Arctic operations to a warming planet.” A top Exxon researcher, Ken Croasdale, explored how much easier and cheaper oil drilling in the Arctic would be with a melting ice cap.

The Times investigation concluded that “As Croasdale’s team was closely studying the impact of climate change on the company’s operations, Exxon and its worldwide affiliates were crafting a public policy position that sought to downplay the certainty of global warming.” The Times identified a “gulf between Exxon’s internal and external approach to climate change.”

The apparent tactics employed by Exxon are reminiscent of the actions employed by big tobacco companies to deceive the American people about the known risks of tobacco. In this case, Exxon scientists knew about fossil fuels causing global warming and Exxon took internal actions based on its knowledge of climate change. Yet Exxon funded and publicly engaged in a campaign to deceive the American people about the known risks of fossil fuels in causing climate change. If these allegations against Exxon are true, then Exxon’s actions were immoral. We request the DOJ to investigate whether ExxonMobil’s actions were also illegal.

Sincerely,

Ted W. Lieu, Member of Congress

Mark DeSaulnier, Member of Congress

National Forum on Climate Change, Clean Energy and Communities of Color

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 29 Sep 2015 13:00:00 GMT

National, congressional, community, and faith leaders will share ideas on how we can work together and ensure the Clean Power Plan creates health, wealth, and opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color.

From 9 to 11 am, at the National Press Club located at 529 14th Street NW in Washington, D.C.

RSVP here.

Rally to Keep Exelon Out of D.C.

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 17 Sep 2015 16:00:00 GMT

Last month, D.C. scored a big victory when the Public Service Commission unanimously rejected Chicago-based energy giant Exelon’s attempt to take over Pepco. Their decision made it clear that this merger is NOT in the public interest. But our fight isn’t quite over.

Exelon has indicated they will try and push their bad deal through. Their first key step would be reaching a back room deal with Mayor Bowser and the D.C. Government. We won’t let that happen!

Next Thursday at noon, join us in front of the Wilson Building to show Mayor Bowser that we stand together against this bad deal – and we won’t let Exelon sneak it under the door at the last minute.

  • WHAT: Rally to keep Exelon out of D.C. (and our region)!
  • WHEN: Thursday, September 17th at noon
  • WHERE: In front of the Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
  • WHO: The Power DC coalition, you and all of your friends who live or work in downtown D.C.
  • WHY: We need all hands on deck to keep our victory intact—and to protect our electricity bills and our progress on clean energy from Exelon’s top-down, anti-renewable energy, nuclear-driven business model.

RSVP: http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/rally-to-keep-exelon-out-of-dc-tickets-18533885350

Just since August 24, hundreds of letters have been sent to Mayor Bowser urging her to stand firm—now it’s time to show our strength. We can protect D.C. residents from higher bills and keep our region heading toward cleaner, more efficient power.

Hill Briefing on Environmental Justice

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 15 Sep 2015 13:00:00 GMT

As a part of the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change’s continual effort to advocate for environmental justice principles, we will be convening a briefing on Capitol Hill for Members of Congress and their Staff members. The purpose of this briefing is to provide Member and their Staffers with a brief history of the Environmental Justice movement, share concrete examples of environmental injustices and highlight opportunities to integrate environmental justice into the state planning process of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Our panel will include influential members of the Environmental Justice Movement including
  • Ms. Monique Harden Esq., Advocates for Environmental Human Rights (LA)
  • Dr. Charlotte Keys, Jesus People Against Pollution (MS)
  • Ms. Sharon Lewis, Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice (CT)
  • Dr. Nicky Sheats, New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance (NJ)
  • Ms. Peggy Shepard, WE ACT for Environmental Justice (NY)
  • Ms. Kim Wasserman, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (IL)
  • Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome, WE ACT for Environmental Justice (DC)
  • Rev. Leo Woodberry, Kingdom Living Temple (SC)
  • Dr. Beverly Wright, Deep South Environmental Justice Center (LA)

U.S. Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards (MD-4) is co-hosting this briefing with the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change. For more information, go to www.ejleadershipforum.org

It Could Be Worse: Thoughts on Obama's Clean Power Plan

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 08 Sep 2015 18:47:00 GMT

KatrinaOriginally published at The Jacobin.

At the beginning of August, President Obama unveiled with great fanfare the “Clean Power Plan,” a “Landmark Action to Protect Public Health, Reduce Energy Bills for Households and Businesses, Create American Jobs, and Bring Clean Power to Communities across the Country.”

Stripping away the poll-tested language, the president was announcing — after epic delaysEPA regulations for carbon-dioxide pollution from existing power plants, finally fulfilling a 2000 George W. Bush campaign pledge. The proposed rule’s compliance period will begin in 2022.

From a policy perspective, the proposed rule is a perfect distillation of the Obama administration’s approach to governance: politically rational incrementalism that reinforces the existing power structures and is grossly insufficient given the scope of the problem.

The information necessary to understand the rule is impressively buried on the EPA website amid “fact sheets” that list out-of-context factoids and fail to cite references from the one-hundred-plus-page technical documents or ZIP files of modeling runs. The structure of the plan is complex (for example, states can choose to comply with “rate-based” pollution-intensity targets or “mass-based” total-pollution targets) and carefully designed to satisfy a wide range of stakeholders.

With sufficient inspection, the plan’s impact on climate pollution — its entire purpose — emerges: the rule locks in the rate of coal-plant retirement that has been ongoing since 2008, and that’s about it.

Under both the rate-based and mass-based approaches, the projected rate of change in coal-fired generation is consistent with recent historical declines in coal-fired generation. Additionally, under both of these approaches, the trends for all other types will remain consistent with what their trends would be in the absence of this rule.

Now, that’s a pretty good accomplishment in political terms. The administration is seizing on the ascendant power of the natural-gas industry to codify an existing economic trend at the expense of the presently weak coal industry. Coal-plant pollution has been protected from air-pollution regulation for generations; some of the plants in operation today were built during the Great Depression. These plants — immensely profitable for their owners — are not only climate killers, but destroyers of the lives of anyone who lives downwind of their poisonous effluvia. These rules were crafted in the face of the sociopathic opposition of the Republican Party to any climate policy, let alone one administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.

From the perspective of actual reality, however, the proposed rule is so weak as to be potentially destructive. It is built around the premise that the United States will extend its commitment to fracked gas for decades to come, even as the climate targets Obama personally signed onto can only be met if the dismantling of all fossil-fuel infrastructure begins immediately.

The rule’s expectations for renewables are clear evidence of the political power of the fossil-fuel industry trumping that of clean power. Since 2009, US wind generation has tripled and solar generation has grown twentyfold. Yet the EPA expects much slower renewable electricity growth in the next fifteen years. This assumption is why the rule will deliver de minimis cuts to greenhouse pollution from the electric power sector—unless states implementing the rule voluntarily adopt stronger goals.

More than anything else, the Clean Power Plan is a triumph of messaging discipline. The Obama administration has learned some lessons from the political debacle that accompanied the death of the Waxman-Markey climate bill in the Senate. Although there was significant money put into a grassroots mobilization for climate legislation, that mobilization failed spectacularly.

The organization 1Sky — which was formed in 2007 with the sole purpose of building grassroots support for climate legislation — had support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, NRDC, Friends of the Earth, and others. But its efforts came to naught. (1Sky was absorbed by 350.org in 2011.)

The White House discouraged grassroots mobilization, and instead focused their attention on the inside game, the elite stakeholders in Washington DC. The insider strategy relied on the chimera of gaining Republican votes for transformative climate policy. As a result, climate policy elites and grassroots activists spent years in conflict, while opposition was effectively organized under the Tea Party banner. By the middle of 2009, both public and elite support for climate legislation had collapsed.

This political collapse should have come as no surprise, in particular to Obama, who won the White House using a campaign strategy built from the lessons of leftist community organizers, most notably campaign advisor Marshall Ganz. However, even before he took the oath of office, Obama abandoned the grassroots-mobilization infrastructure in favor of a fully centralized approach.

The administration’s approach was actually in part an attempt not to repeat the failures of the Clinton-Gore approach to climate. Their policy attempts — a “BTU” energy tax proposed in 1993 and the Kyoto Protocol global treaty Gore negotiated in 1997 — ran up against congressional opposition. So the Obama White House, populated by many of the veterans of the Clinton years, deliberately took their hands off the tiller and let their allies in Congress, namely Rep. Henry Waxman and Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and Rep. Ed Markey and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, take the lead.

So climate policy failed yet again, in a different manner. It’s almost as if the real problem wasn’t how various policies were presented to Congress, but instead the political composition of Congress itself.

This time they have deliberately coordinated with grassroots environmental groups, including environmental justice organizations, to sell the EPA rule. The mainline environmental groups, at the behest of the administration and funded by Democratic-aligned grants, burned the midnight oil to get their members to submit eight million comments in support of the rule, an accomplishment almost unparalleled in terms of the amount of effort expended to achieve minimal political influence.

The environmental justice community — a diverse and fractious network of predominantly local, non-white environmental organizations — took a different approach in response to elite outreach. They accepted grants to engage on the Clean Power Plan, but used their seat at the table to advocate forcefully against the previous draft of the rule.

Because Obama’s first EPA administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, had previously established mechanisms to consider environmental justice in the rule-making process, the activists’ concerns about this rule were at least partly addressed.

But it’s not nearly enough. Dismantling the global fossil-fuel economy is a civilization-scale fight. Fossil-fuel industrialists have every incentive to resist democratic control to prevent their economic extinction. And that extinction is what climate policy needs to bring about, not forestall — global warming won’t stop until we stop burning fossil fuels. The Obama years have been spent in skirmishes and accommodations that have served mainly to delay the inevitable, seismic conflict between extractive capitalism and democratic society.

The modest accomplishments for climate and environmental justice in the Clean Power Plan will have little meaning unless they turn out to be the first salvos in a relentless assault on the carbon economy. In 2008, Obama envisioned that he would oversee from the White House “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

That moment has not yet come.

In Melting Alaska, President Obama Sounds Alarm on the 'Limitless Dumping of Carbon Pollution'

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 01 Sep 2015 15:02:00 GMT

Obama at GLACIER ConferenceSpeaking in Alaska at a conference on the Arctic, President Barack Obama spoke with force about the urgency of addressing climate change, acknowledging the failings of his own administration’s efforts. His speech, a far-reaching address on national and international climate policy, was given at the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience (GLACIER) in Anchorage before various foreign ministers grappling with the geopolitical implications of an Arctic region on “the leading edge of climate change.”

In a marked departure from previous years of silence on the link between fossil-fuel use and climate disasters on American soil, Obama tied the deaths of and catastrophic injuries to the National Forest Service firefighters tackling the Twisp fire in Washington state to global warming caused by “unlimited dumping of carbon pollution.”

“It’s not enough just to talk the talk,” Obama concluded. “We’ve got to walk the walk. We’ve got work to do, and we’ve got to do it together.”

Obama’s speech came days after approving oil giant Shell’s application to commence exploration for oil in the melting Arctic Ocean.

Transcript:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Thank you. It is wonderful to be here in the great state of Alaska.

I want to thank Secretary Kerry and members of my administration for your work here today. Thank you to the many Alaskans, Alaska Natives and other indigenous peoples of the Arctic who’ve traveled a long way, in many cases, to share your insights and your experiences. And to all the foreign ministers and delegations who’ve come here from around the world – welcome to the United States, and thank you all for attending this GLACIER Conference.

The actual name of the conference is much longer. It’s a mouthful, but the acronym works because it underscores the incredible changes that are taking place here in the Arctic that impact not just the nations that surround the Arctic, but have an impact for the entire world, as well.

I want to thank the people of Alaska for hosting this conference. I look forward to visiting more of Alaska over the next couple of days. The United States is, of course, an Arctic nation. And even if this isn’t an official gathering of the Arctic Council, the United States is proud to chair the Arctic Council for the next two years. And to all the foreign dignitaries who are here, I want to be very clear – we are eager to work with your nations on the unique opportunities that the Arctic presents and the unique challenges that it faces. We are not going to – any of us – be able to solve these challenges by ourselves. We can only solve them together.

Of course, we’re here today to discuss a challenge that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other – and that’s the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.

Our understanding of climate change advances each day. Human activity is disrupting the climate, in many ways faster than we previously thought. The science is stark. It is sharpening. It proves that this once-distant threat is now very much in the present.

In fact, the Arctic is the leading edge of climate change – our leading indicator of what the entire planet faces. Arctic temperatures are rising about twice as fast as the global average. Over the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed about twice as fast as the rest of the United States. Last year was Alaska’s warmest year on record – just as it was for the rest of the world. And the impacts here are very real.

Thawing permafrost destabilizes the earth on which 100,000 Alaskans live, threatening homes, damaging transportation and energy infrastructure, which could cost billions of dollars to fix.

Warmer, more acidic oceans and rivers, and the migration of entire species, threatens the livelihoods of indigenous peoples, and local economies dependent on fishing and tourism. Reduced sea levels leaves villages unprotected from floods and storm surges. Some are in imminent danger; some will have to relocate entirely. In fact, Alaska has some of the swiftest shoreline erosion rates in the world.

I recall what one Alaska Native told me at the White House a few years ago. He said, “Many of our villages are ready to slide off into the waters of Alaska, and in some cases, there will be absolutely no hope -– we will need to move many villages.”

Alaska’s fire season is now more than a month longer than it was in 1950. At one point this summer, more than 300 wildfires were burning at once. Southeast of here, in our Pacific Northwest, even the rainforest is on fire. More than 5 million acres in Alaska have already been scorched by fire this year – that’s an area about the size of Massachusetts. If you add the fires across Canada and Siberia, we’re talking 300 [30] million acres – an area about the size of New York.

This is a threat to many communities – but it’s also an immediate and ongoing threat to the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect ours. Less than two weeks ago, three highly trained firefighters lost their lives fighting a fire in Washington State. Another has been in critical condition. We are thankful to each and every firefighter for their heroism – including the Canadian firefighters who’ve helped fight the fires in this state.

But the point is that climate change is no longer some far-off problem. It is happening here. It is happening now. Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies, our energy, our infrastructure, human health, human safety – now. Today. And climate change is a trend that affects all trends – economic trends, security trends. Everything will be impacted. And it becomes more dramatic with each passing year.

Already it’s changing the way Alaskans live. And considering the Arctic’s unique role in influencing the global climate, it will accelerate changes to the way that we all live.

Since 1979, the summer sea ice in the Arctic has decreased by more than 40 percent – a decrease that has dramatically accelerated over the past two decades. One new study estimates that Alaska’s glaciers alone lose about 75 gigatons – that’s 75 billion tons – of ice each year.

To put that in perspective, one scientist described a gigaton of ice as a block the size of the National Mall in Washington – from Congress all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, four times as tall as the Washington Monument. Now imagine 75 of those ice blocks. That’s what Alaska’s glaciers alone lose each year. The pace of melting is only getting faster. It’s now twice what it was between 1950 and 2000 – twice as fast as it was just a little over a decade ago. And it’s one of the reasons why sea levels rose by about eight inches over the last century, and why they’re projected to rise another one to four feet this century.

Consider, as well, that many of the fires burning today are actually burning through the permafrost in the Arctic. So this permafrost stores massive amounts of carbon. When the permafrost is no longer permanent, when it thaws or burns, these gases are released into our atmosphere over time, and that could mean that the Arctic may become a new source of emissions that further accelerates global warming.

So if we do nothing, temperatures in Alaska are projected to rise between six and 12 degrees by the end of the century, triggering more melting, more fires, more thawing of the permafrost, a negative feedback loop, a cycle – warming leading to more warming – that we do not want to be a part of.

And the fact is that climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it. That, ladies and gentlemen, must change. We’re not acting fast enough.

I’ve come here today, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second largest emitter, to say that the United States recognizes our role in creating this problem, and we embrace our responsibility to help solve it. And I believe we can solve it. That’s the good news. Even if we cannot reverse the damage that we’ve already caused, we have the means – the scientific imagination and technological innovation – to avoid irreparable harm.

We know this because last year, for the first time in our history, the global economy grew and global carbon emissions stayed flat. So we’re making progress; we’re just not making it fast enough.

Here in the United States, we’re trying to do our part. Since I took office six and a half years ago, the United States has made ambitious investments in clean energy, and ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions. We now harness three times as much electricity from wind and 20 times as much from the sun. Alaskans now lead the world in the development of hybrid wind energy systems from remote grids, and it’s expanding its solar and biomass resources.

We’ve invested in energy efficiency in every imaginable way – in our buildings, our cars, our trucks, our homes, even the appliances inside them. We’re saving consumers billions of dollars along the way. Here in Alaska, more than 15,000 homeowners have cut their energy bills by 30 percent on average. That collectively saves Alaskans more than $50 million each year. We’ve helped communities build climate-resilient infrastructure to prepare for the impacts of climate change that we can no longer prevent.

Earlier this month, I announced the first set of nationwide standards to end the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants. It’s the single most important step America has ever taken on climate change. And over the course of the coming days, I intend to speak more about the particular challenges facing Alaska and the United States as an Arctic power, and I intend to announce new measures to address them.

So we are working hard to do our part to meet this challenge. And in doing so, we’re proving that there doesn’t have to be a conflict between a sound environment and strong economic growth. But we’re not moving fast enough. None of the nations represented here are moving fast enough.

And let’s be honest – there’s always been an argument against taking action. The notion is somehow this will curb our economic growth. And at a time when people are anxious about the economy, that’s an argument oftentimes for inaction. We don’t want our lifestyles disrupted. In countries where there remains significant poverty, including here in the United States, the notion is, can we really afford to prioritize this issue. The irony, of course, is, is that few things will disrupt our lives as profoundly as climate change. Few things can have as negative an impact on our economy as climate change.

On the other hand, technology has now advanced to the point where any economic disruption from transitioning to a cleaner, more efficient economy is shrinking by the day. Clean energy and energy efficiency aren’t just proving cost-effective, but also cost-saving. The unit costs of things like solar are coming down rapidly. But we’re still underinvesting in it.

Many of America’s biggest businesses recognize the opportunities and are seizing them. They’re choosing a new route. And a growing number of American homeowners are choosing to go solar every day. It works. All told, America’s economy has grown more than 60 percent over the last 20 years, but our carbon emissions are roughly back to where they were 20 years ago. So we know how to use less dirty fuel and grow our economy at the same time. But we’re not moving fast enough.

More Americans every day are doing their part, though. Thanks to their efforts, America will reach the emission target that I set six years ago. We’re going to reduce our carbon emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. And that’s why, last year, I set a new target: America is going to reduce our emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 10 years from now.

And that was part of a historic joint announcement we made last year in Beijing. The United States will double the pace at which we cut our emissions, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting its emissions. Because the world’s two largest economies and two largest emitters came together, we’re now seeing other nations stepping up aggressively as well. And I’m determined to make sure American leadership continues to drive international action – because we can’t do this alone. Even America and China together cannot do this alone. Even all the countries represented around here cannot do this alone. We have to do it together.

This year, in Paris, has to be the year that the world finally reaches an agreement to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can.

So let me sum up. We know that human activity is changing the climate. That is beyond dispute. Everything else is politics if people are denying the facts of climate change. We can have a legitimate debate about how we are going to address this problem; we cannot deny the science. We also know the devastating consequences if the current trend lines continue. That is not deniable. And we are going to have to do some adaptation, and we are going to have to help communities be resilient, because of these trend lines we are not going to be able to stop on a dime. We’re not going to be able to stop tomorrow.

But if those trend lines continue the way they are, there’s not going to be a nation on this Earth that’s not impacted negatively. People will suffer. Economies will suffer. Entire nations will find themselves under severe, severe problems. More drought; more floods; rising sea levels; greater migration; more refugees; more scarcity; more conflict.

That’s one path we can take. The other path is to embrace the human ingenuity that can do something about it. This is within our power. This is a solvable problem if we start now.

And we’re starting to see that enough consensus is being built internationally and within each of our own body politics that we may have the political will – finally – to get moving. So the time to heed the critics and the cynics and the deniers is past. The time to plead ignorance is surely past. Those who want to ignore the science, they are increasingly alone. They’re on their own shrinking island.

And let’s remember, even beyond the climate benefits of pursuing cleaner energy sources and more resilient, energy-efficient ways of living, the byproduct of it is, is that we also make our air cleaner and safer for our children to breathe. We’re also making our economies more resilient to energy shocks on global markets. We’re also making our countries less reliant on unstable parts of the world. We are gradually powering a planet on its way to 9 billion humans in a more sustainable way. These are good things. This is not simply a danger to be avoided; this is an opportunity to be seized. But we have to keep going. We’re making a difference, but we have to keep going. We are not moving fast enough.

If we were to abandon our course of action, if we stop trying to build a clean-energy economy and reduce carbon pollution, if we do nothing to keep the glaciers from melting faster, and oceans from rising faster, and forests from burning faster, and storms from growing stronger, we will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair: Submerged countries. Abandoned cities. Fields no longer growing. Indigenous peoples who can’t carry out traditions that stretch back millennia. Entire industries of people who can’t practice their livelihoods. Desperate refugees seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own. Political disruptions that could trigger multiple conflicts around the globe.

That’s not a future of strong economic growth. That is not a future where freedom and human rights are on the move. Any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that – any so-called leader who does not take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke – is not fit to lead.

On this issue, of all issues, there is such a thing as being too late. That moment is almost upon us. That’s why we’re here today. That’s what we have to convey to our people – tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. And that’s what we have to do when we meet in Paris later this year. It will not be easy. There are hard questions to answer. I am not trying to suggest that there are not going to be difficult transitions that we all have to make. But if we unite our highest aspirations, if we make our best efforts to protect this planet for future generations, we can solve this problem.

And when you leave this conference center, I hope you look around. I hope you have the chance to visit a glacier. Or just look out your airplane window as you depart, and take in the God-given majesty of this place. For those of you flying to other parts of the world, do it again when you’re flying over your home countries. Remind yourself that there will come a time when your grandkids – and mine, if I’m lucky enough to have some – they’ll want to see this. They’ll want to experience it, just as we’ve gotten to do in our own lives. They deserve to live lives free from fear, and want, and peril. And ask yourself, are you doing everything you can to protect it. Are we doing everything we can to make their lives safer, and more secure, and more prosperous?

Let’s prove that we care about them and their long-term futures, not just short-term political expediency.

I had a chance to meet with some Native peoples before I came in here, and they described for me villages that are slipping into the sea, and the changes that are taking place – changing migratory patterns; the changing fauna so that what used to feed the animals that they, in turn, would hunt or fish beginning to vanish. It’s urgent for them today. But that is the future for all of us if we don’t take care.

Your presence here today indicates your recognition of that. But it’s not enough just to have conferences. It’s not enough just to talk the talk. We’ve got to walk the walk. We’ve got work to do, and we’ve got to do it together.

So, thank you. And may God bless all of you, and your countries. And thank you, Alaska, for your wonderful hospitality. Thank you.

President Obama's Weekly Address: Meeting the Global Threat of Climate Change

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 01 Sep 2015 03:32:00 GMT

In this week’s address, the President spoke about his upcoming trip to Alaska, during which he will view the effects of climate change firsthand. Alaskans are already living with the impact of climate change, with glaciers melting faster, and temperatures projected to rise between six and twelve degrees by the end of the century. In his address, the President spoke to ways in which we can address these challenges, including the transition away from fossil fuels to more renewable energy sources like wind and solar, an effort in which America is already leading. And he stressed that while our economy still has to rely on oil and gas during that transition, we should rely more on domestic production than importing from foreign counties who do not have the same environmental or safety standards as the United States. The President looked forward to his upcoming trip, and promised that while he is in office, America will lead the world to meet the threat of climate change before it’s too late.

Hi, everybody. This Monday, I’m heading to Alaska for a three-day tour of the state.

I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. Not only because Alaska is one of the most beautiful places in a country that’s full of beautiful places – but because I’ll have several opportunities to meet with everyday Alaskans about what’s going on in their lives. I’ll travel throughout the state, meeting with Alaskans who live above the Arctic Circle, with Alaska natives, and with folks who earn their livelihoods through fishing and tourism. And I expect to learn a lot.

One thing I’ve learned so far is that a lot of these conversations begin with climate change. And that’s because Alaskans are already living with its effects. More frequent and extensive wildfires. Bigger storm surges as sea ice melts faster. Some of the swiftest shoreline erosion in the world – in some places, more than three feet a year.

Alaska’s glaciers are melting faster too, threatening tourism and adding to rising seas. And if we do nothing, Alaskan temperatures are projected to rise between six and twelve degrees by the end of the century, changing all sorts of industries forever.

This is all real. This is happening to our fellow Americans right now. In fact, Alaska’s governor recently told me that four villages are in “imminent danger” and have to be relocated. Already, rising sea levels are beginning to swallow one island community.

Think about that. If another country threatened to wipe out an American town, we’d do everything in our power to protect ourselves. Climate change poses the same threat, right now.

That’s why one of the things I’ll do while I’m in Alaska is to convene other nations to meet this threat. Several Arctic nations have already committed to action. Since the United States and China worked together to set ambitious climate targets last year, leading by example, many of the world’s biggest emitters have come forward with new climate plans of their own. And that’s a good sign as we approach this December’s global climate negotiations in Paris.

Now, one of the ways America is leading is by transitioning away from dirty energy sources that threaten our health and our environment, and by going all-in on clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar. And Alaska has the natural resources to be a global leader in this effort.

Now even as we accelerate this transition, our economy still has to rely on oil and gas. As long as that’s the case, I believe we should rely more on domestic production than on foreign imports, and we should demand the highest safety standards in the industry – our own. Still, I know there are Americans who are concerned about oil companies drilling in environmentally sensitive waters. Some are also concerned with my administration’s decision to approve Shell’s application to drill a well off the Alaskan coast, using leases they purchased before I took office. I share people’s concerns about offshore drilling. I remember the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico all too well.

That’s precisely why my administration has worked to make sure that our oil exploration conducted under these leases is done at the highest standards possible, with requirements specifically tailored to the risks of drilling off Alaska. We don’t rubber-stamp permits. We made it clear that Shell has to meet our high standards in how they conduct their operations – and it’s a testament to how rigorous we’ve applied those standards that Shell has delayed and limited its exploration off Alaska while trying to meet them. The bottom line is, safety has been and will continue to be my administration’s top priority when it comes to oil and gas exploration off America’s precious coasts – even as we push our economy and the world to ultimately transition off of fossil fuels.

So I’m looking forward to talking with Alaskans about how we can work together to make America the global leader on climate change around the globe. And we’re going to offer unique and engaging ways for you to join me on this trip all week at WhiteHouse.gov/Alaska. Because what’s happening in Alaska is happening to us. It’s our wakeup call. And as long as I’m President, America will lead the world to meet the threat of climate change before it’s too late.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.

At Koch Retreat, Pollution Billionaires Cheer Ted Cruz's Climate Conspiracy Theories

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 05 Aug 2015 15:56:00 GMT

Ted CruzTo resounding applause, Texas Senator Ted Cruz told the attendees of an exclusive Koch brothers retreat that man-made global warming is a scientific conspiracy. Under questioning by Politico’s Mike Allen, Cruz claimed that “power-greedy politicians” have colluded with climate scientists for decades in attempts to impose “massive government control of the economy.”

From the National Review:

Allen asked Cruz if he is concerned by a Boston Globe story published on Saturday that suggests Republicans will pay a price in 2016 for their skepticism about climate change. Cruz’s response? “Not remotely.” He went on to recall the 1970s panic over global cooling and a coming ice age. “The solution they proposed was massive government control of the economy, the energy sector, and our lives. Then the data disproved it,” he said. ”Then it became global warming. Interestingly enough, the solution was identical: massive government control over the economy, the energy sector, and our lives. Then the data didn’t support it, so they entered theory number three, climate change. Now, to any power-greedy politician, this is the perfect theory, it can never, ever, ever, be disproven, if it gets hotter, if it gets colder, if it gets wetter, if it gets drier.” The climate issue is in the news once again with the administration set to unveil sweeping new regulations on carbon emissions from power plants. President Obama earlier in the day released a video that warns of “hotter summers, rising sea levels, and extreme weather events.” Asked whether the president is exaggerating, Cruz said, ”You know, there’s a different word than exaggerating.”

Time’s Philip Elliott reports:

“If you look at satellite data for the last 18 years, there’s been zero recorded warming,” Cruz said in California’s Orange County. “The satellite says it ain’t happening.”

Instead, Cruz said, government researchers are reverse engineering data sets to falsify changes in the climate. “They’re cooking the books. They’re actually adjusting the numbers,” Cruz said. “Enron used to do their books the same way.”

Cruz said scientists four decades ago were studying “global cooling, a global ice age was coming,” and they were as wrong as those who now say the earth is warming.

“Senator, you’re not saying global warming isn’t real?” interrupted his interviewer, Politico’s Mike Allen.

“I’m saying that data and facts don’t support it,” Cruz said to applause from 450 donors to the political network organized by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.

Charles and David Koch are the world’s wealthiest carbon-industry titans, with a combined petrochemical fortune of greater than $100 billion. The identity of other attendees at the retreat were kept secret, with the agreement of the reporters in attendance.

March for Jobs, Justice, and the Climate

Posted by Brad Johnson Sun, 05 Jul 2015 18:00:00 GMT

On July 5th thousands of people will gather in Toronto for the March for Jobs, Justice and the Climate. The march will tell the story of a new economy that works for people and the planet.

It starts with justice, creates good work, clean jobs and healthy communities, recognizes that we have solutions and shows we know who is responsible for causing the climate crisis.

The March will tell this story by being organized so that people are in four contingents:

1 It starts with justice

2 Good work, clean jobs, healthy communities

3 We have solutions

4 We know who is responsible.

Assembly Location: Queen’s Park – In front of the Ontario Legislature Building (located by Queen’s Park Crescent West & University Avenue)

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