In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, there is renewed energy on Capitol Hill and in the White House to take action against the fossil fuel industry’s destruction of our climate. President Barack Obama startled pundits with his emphasis on fighting climate change in his inaugural address. Furthermore, “Senate Democrats will push a bill to help areas vulnerable to climate change prepare for extreme weather events,” the HuffPost Hill newsletter reports.
As it turns out, Obama’s inauguration ceremony was funded in part by $260,000 from Exxon Mobil, and the HuffPost Hill newsletter is sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, Big Oil’s lobbying arm.
Exactly three months earlier, the HuffPost Hill mocked Change.org for changing its policies to accept any corporate sponsors with the headline “CHANGE.ORG WILL SEE YOU NOW, AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE.” HuffPost Hill editorialized that Change.org had “decided to reject its founding progressive principles and embrace corporate advertising, Republican party solicitations, astroturf campaigns, pro-life or anti-union ads and other sponsorships that its liberal base of users may object to.”
The U.S. House of Representatives, after nearly three months of delay, is finally voting to provide emergency federal aid for the survivors of Superstorm Sandy. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) prevented a vote in the previous Congress, leaving millions of Americans in the cold and outraging Northeast Republicans such as Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Rep. Peter King (R-NY).
Responding to the public outrage, the House voted to approve $9 billion in flood insurance funding in the first week of January, overcoming the nay votes of 67 Republicans called “jackasses” by former Senator Al D’Amato (R-NY).
Yesterday afternoon, the House Rules Committee took up H.R. 152, the $50.7 billion Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, critical for the rebuilding of the regions affected by the freakish storm. In the meeting, Republicans argued against the emergency support, attacked labor protections for workers, and praised the “logic” of cutting services for the American people to pay for emergency relief from a fossil-fueled disaster. In the meeting, the committee laid out a progression of votes at the behest of Tea Party groups like Club for Growth and David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, which have taken a hard line against disaster relief. Debate on the bill and amendments is limited to three hours, making it possible that all votes will take place today.
Below is a summary of the vote sequence:
: GOOD: Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) amendment. After an hour of debate, the House will consider $17 billion in emergency funding. This legislation is expected to pass, with only extreme conservatives voting against.
: BAD: Mulvaney (R-SC), McClintock (R-CA), Duncan (R-SC), Lummis (R-WY) amendment. Then the House will consider an amendment that demands $17 billion in mandatory cuts in services for the poor, young, and elderly. This amendment may garner significant Republican support and would set a dire precedent for Congressional disaster relief.
: GOOD: Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) amendment. After 20 minutes of further debate, the House will vote on the rest of the Sandy relief and rebuilding package, $33.7 billion “to cover current and anticipated needs in the wake of the devastating Hurricane Sandy.” This language is the other key vote. Only about 50 Republicans are expected to support this key legislation.
Following these three major votes, an additional 11 amendments will be considered in turn, with 10 minutes of debate for each. There are multiple “jackass” amendments that cut disaster preparedness and relief funding from extremist Republicans Reps. Paul Broun (R-GA), John Fleming (R-LA), Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Bill Flores (R-TX), and Rob Bishop (R-UT). Broun’s amendment deserves particular attention for its special degree of jackassery:
: Broun (R-GA) amendment: “Amendment to FRELINGHUYSEN: Strikes $13,000,000 in funding to ‘accelerate the National Weather Service ground readiness project.’”
There are two good amendments from Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) that provide much-needed funding for community development and veterans’ cemeteries damaged by Sandy. Other amendments, including a submission from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) to consider man-made sea level rise, were ruled out of order.
Important provisions to help the many climate disaster victims of 2012 prepare for our dangerous future are being attacked as “pork.” The opposite is true. The Frelinghuysen bill already eliminates much-needed support for many climate disaster survivors around the nation. Tea Party activists are pushing for even further cuts.
Republicans have held up this emergency spending for nearly three months because they say the U.S. can’t afford to help victims of climate disasters – but they refuse to make Big Oil pay even a share for the damage their pollution has caused. These same legislators were willing to shut down the government to protect tax breaks for billionaires.
Of the 67 Republicans who voted against the initial disaster relief, only one, Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS), has publicly changed his vote after a visit to Long Island and New Jersey. The remaining “jackasses” include 18 freshmen and at least 36 Republicans who have previously demanded emergency disaster relief for their constituents, but are now obeying the heartless commands of carbon billionaire David Koch, the wealthiest man in New York City.
In his annual address to the state of New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) raised an urgent alarm about climate change in the wake of the Superstorm Sandy. “Climate change is real,” he said. “It is denial to say each of these situations is a once-in-a-lifetime. There is a 100-year flood every two years now. It is inarguable that the sea is warmer and there is a changing weather pattern, and the time to act is now.”
President Barack Obama avoided such language in the days after Sandy struck. Obama’s second inaugural address is January 19, 2013.
In a scathing critique at the Huffington Post, Nation editor Christian Parenti blasts the 350.org fossil-industry divestment campaign, Fossil Free, as merely “symbolic” and flawed by “crucial weaknesses”—namely, that even if colleges divest from fossil fuel investments, the fossil fuel industry will still be very rich and powerful.
It is not clear why Parenti, a colleague of Naomi Klein, one of the strategists behind the divestment campaign, took the unusual step of taking his criticisms in public, after the campaign has been launched and divestment efforts begun on 146 campuses across the nation.
In an email to Hill Heat, a prominent climate activist with national influence responded to Parenti’s critique:
This manages to be smug and naïve at the same time. And totally ahistoric. His basic conclusion is “government should do its job.” Super.
Why isn’t that happening now? Because the fossil fuel industry has our government, our economy, our culture by the balls.
What can we do? Well, he’s right, ultimately we need assertive public policy. And we need to press relentlessly for the key pieces that are within executive reach – CO2 regs on existing power plants, and an end to government actions – like Keystone permits – that facilitate long-term investments that make the problem unsolvable. And of course we are. And of course we have been, for decades. And we’re getting killed.
Plausible near-term government action is not remotely enough. We need to wrest power back. This often seems impossible, because our economy and our lifestyles are designed to feed the beast at every turn. But the flip side of that realization is that every turn is an opportunity to take a little of our power back, and reduce theirs.
OF FREAKING-COURSE we should address demand. We can do it in our lifestyles. We can do it in state policy, like energy codes. We can do it in community design. We can do it in how we eat. We can do it with our feet. Every damned day. And it’s not just a futile act of individual environmental responsibility. It’s waging freedom.
AND we can stop owning – literally OWNING – this nightmare by divesting. That’s waging freedom too. How much direct damage will we inflict on the industry’s bottom line this way? I don’t know. But we will take back our money and our souls. We’ll draw a line in the sand and make ourselves and others look hard at which side we are on. We’ll make a statement. We’ll activate young people. Those young people will challenge us – most of us alums of these institutions – to choose which side of the line to be on. We will build a stage on which to play out this moral drama, since our legislative bodies have ceased to be such a stage, corrupted as they are by Big Fossil’s money.
And maybe, possibly, conceivably we will build the moral power we need to force our “leaders” and our government to do their job.
If all that sounds hopelessly naïve and “symbolic”, well, shit, given the size of the climate challenge and the scope of any one actor’s ability to change it, you could argue that all actions are “symbolic.” Symbols are powerful. We need power.
Parenti says “I am all for dumping carbon stocks, if for no other reason than a sense of decency and honor. But how is dumping oil stock supposed to hurt the enemy?” Fine. Do it for decency and honor. Isn’t that enough? And if college students all over America and the alums of those institutions simply declare that this is a Fundamental Matter of Decency and Honor – that even if we don’t affect the financial outcome one bit, at least our fingerprints won’t be on this genocidal crime—won’t that be an ENORMOUS change from the bizarre, complacent moral detachment that is our current, collective condition?
There’s significant evidence that Barack Obama as an individual cares very deeply about climate change, particularly in his role as a parent.
However, he built a governing team around him with deep, unresolved conflicts on climate action. Inspiring scientists like John Holdren, Jane Lubchenco, and Stephen Chu are at key leadership positions in his administration. However, his top economic advisers – Timothy Geithner, Peter Orszag, Ben Bernanke, Larry Summers – reflect the false economic orthodoxy that climate action comes at the price of economic growth. (Even though Summers believes that climate change is on par with nuclear war as an existential threat to the human race.) His top political advisers – Bill Daley, David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, Jim Messina, Anita Dunn, Stephanie Cutter – believe climate action to be a political loser.
As president, he economic advisers hold sway first, followed by the political advisers, then last the scientists.
As a candidate, the political advisers come first, followed by the economic advisers. The scientists are thought to be irrelevant.
This has led to problems.
A popular metaphor for understanding how global warming pollution causes more extreme weather is how steroids created the Home Run era of modern baseball.
The metaphor usually goes: “Climate scientists compare global warming to steroids and extreme weather to home runs. While we can’t attribute any single home run to the use of steroids in baseball, we can attribute to such performance enhancing drugs the increased frequency and magnitude of long balls.”
But that’s not where the metaphor should stop.
Perhaps we can’t attribute any single home run to steroid use, but we can attribute immune system damage, liver damage, gynecomastia, testicular atrophy, ventricular thickening, premature epiphyseal fusion, and fetal disorders to steroid abuse.
The influence of manmade greenhouse gases on our climate system is systemic and cumulative. It’s not just changing the frequency of extreme weather events; it’s changing what weather is.
Frankenstorm Sandy wasn’t just a home run powered by global warming—it was a home run hit by a climate system with systemic damage caused by global warming.
- Albert Sabate, ABC News/Univision: Hurricane Sandy: What’s Climate Change Got To Do With It?
- Kevin Spak, Newser: Is Sandy the Face of Climate Change?
- Mark Fischetti, Scientific American: Did Climate Change Cause Hurricane Sandy?
- Chris Mooney, Climate Desk: Was Hurricane Sandy supersized by climate change?
- Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker: Is Climate Change Responsible For Hurricane Sandy?
- Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience.com: Weather or Climate: What Caused Hurricane Sandy?
- Lloyd Alter, Treehugger: Hurricane Sandy, AKA the Frankenstorm and Climate Change: Is There A Connection?
- Maggie Koerth-Baker, Boing Boing: Did climate change cause Hurricane Sandy? The answer depends on why you’re asking
- Will Bunch, Attytood: Too soon to talk Sandy and climate change?
- Andrew Restuccia, Politico: Hurricane Sandy: The next climate wake-up call?
- Joseph Stromberg, Smithsonian.com: Can We Link Hurricane Sandy to Climate Change?
- Ed Kilgore, Political Animal: Should Climate Change Activists Sandy-gogue?
- Lawrence Karol, Take Part: Frankenstorm Sandy: Has Climate Change Bred a Monster?
- AccuWeather.com: Climate Extremes: Sandy a Result of Climate Change?
- Robin Young, Here & Now: Was Hurricane Sandy Caused By Climate Change?
- Stephen Lacey and Joe Romm, Climate Progress: Did Climate Change Help Create ‘Frankenstorm’?
Equivocation in the face of calamity will neither spur action nor better inform the public.
Challenged By MTV On His Climate Silence, Obama Says It's A 'Critical Issue' And Is 'Surprised It Didn't Come Up'
Today, after the history-making silence on global warming during the national debates, MTV’s Sway Williams challenged President Barack Obama to address his climate silence. The president acknowledged to the young voters watching the Friday afternoon interview that the climate crisis is a “critical issue,” but said he was “surprised it didn’t come up in one of the debates.”
The answer is number one, we’re not moving as fast as we need to. And this is an issue that future generations, MTV viewers, are going to have to be dealing with even more than the older generation. So this is a critical issue. And there is a huge contrast in this campaign between myself and Governor Romney. I am surprised it didn’t come up in one of the debates.
The President of the United States shouldn’t pretend to befuddled why he promoted deadly coal, gas, and oil production during the debates instead of addressing the urgent threat of carbon pollution.
President Obama was right to finally tout in this interview the steps his administration has taken to cut carbon pollution and the commitments he made to the world in Copenhagen, but he was even more right to acknowledge that “we’re not moving as fast as we need to.”
The president unfortunately continued to portray global warming as a threat to “future generations” that is “going to have a severe effect.” But global warming is not a someday problem, it is now. The freakish Hurricane Sandy, barreling down on millions of Americans and powered by superheated seas, is likely to be the latest in the growing barrage of long-predicted billion-dollar climate disasters fueled by carbon pollution.
The network of Jersey Shore should be applauded for doing the job that PBS’s Jim Lehrer, CNN’s Candy Crowley, and CBS’s Bob Schieffer failed to do in breaking the candidates’ climate silence. Gov. Mitt Romney has been asked by MTV to also appear, but has given no response. This writing off of young voters is only fitting, as Romney’s aggressively pro-carbon agenda would write off any hope for their future.
There is now a little more than a week left for the presidential candidates to present a serious plan to eliminate carbon pollution before Election Day.
For the first time in two years, President Barack Obama has spoken out about how climate change is now causing extreme weather disasters in the United States. In a campaign speech in Iowa following the “climate silence” town hall debate, Obama called out the “droughts we’ve seen” as caused by “the carbon pollution that’s also heating the planet.” In the same speech, Obama claimed that “we all agree we got to increase oil production” and “we got to increase natural gas production.”
At Iowa Campaign Stop, Obama Links Carbon Pollution To ‘The Droughts We’ve Seen.’ “My plan will keep these investments, and we’ll keep reducing the carbon pollution that’s also heating the planet – because climate change isn’t a hoax. The droughts we’ve seen, the floods, the wildfires – those aren’t a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future. And we can do something about it. That’s part of what’s at stake in this election.” [Remarks by the President at a Campaign Event in Mt. Vernon, IA, 10/17/12]
At Iowa Campaign Stop, Obama Says ‘We All Agree We Got To Increase Oil Production, We All Agree We Got To Increase Natural Gas Production,’ But Also ‘We’ve Got To Develop New Sources Of Energy.’ “Look, we all agree we got to increase oil production. We all agree we got to increase natural gas production. But the question is whether we build on the progress for the new energy sources of the future.” [Remarks by the President at a Campaign Event in Mt. Vernon, IA, 10/17/12]
Since 2010, the president has spoken only of climate change’s impacts on extreme weather disasters as a “threat to our children’s future,” if he mentioned climate change at all. When Obama addressed the nation about the Colorado wildfires, Irene’s floods, the national drought, and others of the billion-dollar climate disasters of 2011 and 2012, he did not attribute their destructiveness to influence of greenhouse pollution.
At his campaign stop that afternoon in Ohio, Obama promoted “clean coal” and mocked Romney for claiming to be “champion of coal” because the Republican candidate said in 2003 that coal plants kill people. In the Ohio speech, as in the town hall debate, Obama didn’t discuss carbon pollution at all.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is an outspoken denier of climate science, with a voting record to match. A favorite of the Koch brothers, Ryan has accused scientists of engaging in conspiracy to “intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.” He has implied that snow invalidates global warming. He has voted to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from limiting greenhouse pollution, to eliminate White House climate advisers, to block the U.S. Department of Agriculture from preparing for climate disasters like the drought devastating his home state, and to eliminate the Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E):
Paul Ryan Promoted Unfounded Conspiracy Theories About Climate Scientists. In a December 2009 op-ed during international climate talks, Ryan made reference to the hacked University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit emails. He accused climatologists of a “perversion of the scientific method, where data were manipulated to support a predetermined conclusion,” in order to “intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.” Because of spurious claims of conspiracy like these, several governmental and academic inquiries were launched, all of which found the accusations to be without merit. [Paul Ryan, 2/11/09]
Paul Ryan Argued Snow Invalidates Global Warming Policy. In the same December 2009 op-ed, Ryan argued, “Unilateral economic restraint in the name of fighting global warming has been a tough sell in our communities, where much of the state is buried under snow.” [Paul Ryan, 2/11/09]
Paul Ryan Voted To Eliminate EPA Limits On Greenhouse Pollution. Ryan voted in favor of H.R. 910, introduced in 2011 by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas pollution. [Roll Call 249, 4/7/11]
Paul Ryan Voted To Block The USDA From Preparing For Climate Change. In 2011, Ryan voted in favor of the Scalise (R-LA) Amendment to the FY12 Agriculture Appropriations bill, to bar the U.S. Department of Agriculture from implementing its Climate Protection Plan. [Roll Call 448, 6/16/11]
Paul Ryan Voted To Eliminate White House Climate Advisers. Ryan voted in favor of Scalise (R-LA) Amendment 204 to the 2011 Continuing Resolution, to eliminate the assistant to the president for energy and climate change, the special envoy for climate change (Todd Stern), and the special adviser for green jobs, enterprise and innovation. [Roll Call 87, 2/17/11]
Paul Ryan Voted To Eliminate ARPA-E. Ryan voted in favor of Biggert (R-IL) Amendment 192 to the 2011 Continuing Resolution, to eliminate the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E). [Roll Call 55, 2/17/11]
Paul Ryan Voted To Eliminate Light Bulb Efficiency Standards. In 2011, Ryan voted to roll back light-bulb efficiency standards that had reinvigorated the domestic lighting industry and that significantly reduce energy waste and carbon pollution. [Roll Call 563, 7/12/11]
Paul Ryan Voted For Keystone XL. In 2011, Ryan voted to expedite the consideration and approval of the construction and operation of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. [Roll Call 650, 7/26/11]
Paul Ryan Budget Kept Big Oil Subsidies And Slashed Clean Energy Investment. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed FY 2013 budget resolution retained a decade’s worth of oil tax breaks worth $40 billion, while slashing funding for investments in clean energy research, development, deployment, and commercialization, along with other energy programs. The plan called for a $3 billion cut in energy programs in FY 2013 alone. [CAP, 3/20/12]
Paul Ryan’s record of support for the fossil fuel industry is one of denial of the scientific consensus that climate change is a fundamental risk to human civilization.