Deniability: Facing the War on Terror through Poetry


There are times in history when it is best for a people to move on from past mistakes. There are other times, such as now, when the past cries out to be explored. For those who are searching for meaning to the last eight years, a new book by American poet, George Witte, Deniability, is the place to start. This is not only for the writing that is spectacular in its simplicity, its perfect placement of each word, its prose, but for its bravery in peeling back the layers of the war on terror as an eight year journey that is stark and unforgiving in its verse.

It is, in this writer's opinion, required reading before we move on, an inner truth and reconciliation to the last eight years that serves as an important reminder of what we must face and not allow again.

George Witte's Deniability begins with the fall of the Twin Towers, a poem appropriately entitled: Uh-Oh, reflecting the feeling so many experienced as they watched the attacks on 9/11, and proceeds chronologically through the physical, actual and psychological journey that would come to be known as the war on terror.
UH-OH (excerpt): No photograph records that day's unmasking roar / Things ripped from skins, words from definitions. / Letters distilled until incomprehensible.
I first became familiar with the author's work when I stumbled across Witte's previous collection, The Apparitioners, and was so impressed by its form and substance, its free-flowing exploration of American life that led one reviewer to refer to Witte as the "Frost of the Suburbs," that I purchased several copies for friends and have reread it many times since. It was therefore with anticipation that I awaited my copy of Deniability as a new and unique linguistic presentation that would cause me to think about American life.

What I found was a chronological exploration of American conscience through the last eight years of war and terror that makes Deniability more than just a great book of poetry (and it is). George Witte's new collection is the best opportunity I've seen for Americans to peel back the layers on their own experience of the last eight years. Continued...

Economic Stimulus, Part 1: 16% Green?


Congress is expected to give final approval to a massive economic stimulus package in the next couple of weeks. But before it does, there’s important work to be done on the color and content of the package. Lawmakers should address three questions:

o Is the package green enough?
o Is it visionary enough?
o Can the beneficiaries handle the money?

I’ll offer some thoughts on each of these questions in a three-part post, starting with the green issue.

First, it’s important to understand is that the White House has the fundamentals right: The stimulus package must do more than spark a short-term boost to the economy. It must invest in the nation’s mid- and long-term economic security – and that security must be based on a new energy economy that reverses the growth in greenhouse gas emissions and weans us from our dependence on fossil fuels.

That is the first intelligent energy policy to come out of the White House in a decade. As Congress finalizes the stimulus packages proposed by the Obama Administration and House Democrats, Job No. 1 is to keep that enlightened strategy intact.

Job No. 2 is to make the package greener. There are a couple of reasons a greener stimulus is important. First, renewable energy industries are America’s next IT revolution, with critical benefits for national security, economic stability, new industries and new jobs. In the past couple of years, we’ve seen unprecedented investments in wind and solar power worldwide. The U.S. wind industry set a record last year, installing enough generating capacity to serve more than 2 million homes and pumping $17 billion into the economy, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

But those investments are slowing in the economic downturn. Continued...


US Climate Change Envoy in Place and Ready to Negotiate


Today, a ceremony was held at the US State Department to announce Todd Stern as the Special Envoy for Climate Change (see short bio and video of the event). As we outlined in our transition recommendations, it is crucial that President Obama appoint a climate negotiating team early in his Administration. We also suggested that the Secretary of State should play a stronger role in the negotiations as the top diplomat. As we suggested, appointment of his negotiating team in the first days of his new Administration would signal both his commitment to working to restore America's international leadership on global warming and help to get the US ready for the serious push to get a strong global agreement in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009).

Well...less than one week in office isn't too bad for appointment of the "chief climate negotiator" (in fact that is amazingly fast).

So with the announcement of Todd Stern today as special envoy, the negotiating team is starting to get into place to help work with leaders in Congress and other countries to shape a strong international agreement to address global warming.

This team will have to get up to speed fast, start to reach out to other countries, and begin to flesh out the US positions as the pace of the negotiations are set to pick up speed following the meeting in Poznan, Poland this past December. In just over 60 days, this team will be sitting with other countries at the negotiating table as the next international negotiations will be held the end of March in Bonn, Germany.

At this meeting they will have in front of them a document to begin to focus their attention -- a "convergence, divergence, and options" paper. They won't have to formulate US position on the options in this paper, but it will help focus them on the current state of play in the negotiations. And, they won't have to completely figure out the course of the new agreement on their own as the signs are starting to emerge. Continued...

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Reversing Bush: Obama to Allow States to Restrict Automobile Emissions


President Obama has issued an order to the EPA to determine if states may restrict automobile emissions, reversing a long and legal tug of war between the states and the former Bush Administration.

WASHINGTON - Plunging into energy and climate change policies, President Barack Obama on Monday moved to give states a freer hand in curbing greenhouse gas emissions from cars, and to enact tighter fuel-efficiency standards that could remake the auto industry.

Obama stressed that his goal is to work with carmakers on key administration goals: energy independence and combating global warming.

"Let me be clear: Our goal is not to further burden an already struggling industry," Obama said at the White House. "It is to help America's automakers prepare for the future."

As reported by The Environmentalist in April, 2008:
Eighteen states, two cities and ten environmental groups filed suit Wednesday against the EPA's refusal to issue a decision on emissions regulation. The filing asks the federal court to compel the EPA to act within 60 days, at which time, further action may be taken.

This is another in a string of lawsuits that have been filed by various states to attempt to compel the EPA to take a position on greenhouse gas emissions, after the EPA's refusal to do so prevented California (and the other states that would use California's regulation as a standard) from lowering their own limit in a state regulation.

The plaintiffs include: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia, the city of New York, the city of Baltimore, the Sierra Club and nine other environmental groups.

The EPA has also received a subpoena from Congress to turn over their correspondence and other paperwork after reports came to light that President Bush had personally intervened on the decision to lower a key greenhouse gas regulation.
There are many more such policies to put in place and/or to undo, but this impending action by President Obama is a significant step forward in reversing the damage of the Bush years. Continued...


President Obama halts the Bush Administration's "Midnight Regulations"


by The Environmentalist Staff

Shortly after his inauguration, President Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, issued an order halting all regulations signed by President Bush that were still pending review.
One of President Barack Obama's first acts as president was to order federal agencies to halt all pending regulations until his administration can review them.

The order went out Tuesday afternoon, shortly after Obama was inaugurated president, in a memorandum signed by new White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
The so-called "midnight regulations" were orders signed by President Bush that included oil leases on public land, the weakening of environmental regulations, reversal of endangered species regulations (wolves), and many other last minute gifts to friends and cronies that set the environmental and land-owners in general to howl in protest.

• A finalized rule effectively deregulates industrial farms so that they can discharge animal waste into waterways.

• An adopted rule opens up public land to drilling preliminary to the development of oil shale extraction.

• A proposed rule provides for a conscience clause for workers at hospitals receiving federal money (particularly state hospitals), allowing them to refuse to perform abortions or dispense contraceptives.

• Several other rules have already been adopted, including one increasing truck drivers' maximum hours of service to eleven and another restricting employee time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The rules have attracted considerable criticism.

One student, Tim DeChristopher, went so far as to bid for the land at hurried Bureau of Land Management auction (without having sufficient funds to buy them) in an effort to put the proverbial spanner in the works and delay their sale until President Obama could get into office to do just what he did today -- put a stop to all the orders still under review. The student is now dealing with his own legal costs.

Robert Redford and the NRDC have also worked to stop a land lease (grab) in Utah. Continued...

President Obama's Inaugural Address


My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.


The Green Inaugural Ball, 2009


Highlights from the first ever Green Inaugural Ball, held to raise awareness about environmental issues facing the nation as the Obama administration takes office.


Unleashing the Geeks


There is good climate change and bad climate change. One of the very best types is the radical warming of the atmosphere for scientific inquiry we’re already feeling from the incoming Obama Administration.

Past posts and
watchdog reports have detailed the suffocation of science in the Bush Administration – the censorship of findings, delays in producing required reports, reduced funding for earth sciences. President Bush is not known as the inquisitive type. As I have reported in the past, some members of the federal government’s science corps believe the president stifled climate science because he doesn’t want to know the answers. He most likely doesn’t want the rest of us to know them, either.

What a difference an election can make. President-elect Obama, often the smartest guy in the room, obviously is open to new knowledge, information and ideas. He’s named Nobel Laureate physicist Stephen Chu, director of Lawrence Livermore Berkeley National Laboratory to Energy; physicist and energy/environment expert John Holdren of Harvard as his science advisor; Marine biologist Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University to NOAA; Nobel Laureate Harold Varmus, former director of the national Institutes of Health, and Eric Lander of MIT as co-chairmen of the president’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

As Alan Leshner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science notes in the
Economist, “we’ve never had a president surrounded in close proximity with so many well-known, top scientific minds.”

Another signal that it’s springtime for science is the
economic stimulus plan the Obama team is circulating in Congress and in cyberspace. According to the plan:
Obama and Biden support doubling federal funding for basic research and changing the posture of our federal government from being one of the most anti-science administrations in American history to one that embraces science and technology.
Here are some additional suggestions – some of them offered in previous posts but worth repeating as the Administration prepares to take office. Continued...

Developing Country Action on Global Warming: Speech of South African Minister at NRDC event


I just wrapped up an event that NRDC co-hosted with Climate Change Capital on Emerging Strategies for International Climate & Investment Policy on Capital Hill. The event was aimed at beginning a serious discussion about how to structure international incentives to encourage greater emissions reductions in developing countries in the post-2012 agreement in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009).

We had the pleasure of having Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism provide a keynote address. He is a powerful leader amongst developing countries and South Africa is staking out a leadership role in battling global warming. In July 2008, South Africa announced a Cabinet-level commitment to have their global warming pollution peak, plateau, and decline.

So at this important junction as President-elect Obama is on the cusp of working to restore America's global leadership on global warming and the international negotiations are moving into high-gear in the lead-in to Copenhagen, we had a first hand account from Minister van Schwalkwyk on the role of developing countries in addressing this global challenge. He also pointed out the need for the US to show leadership by capping its global warming pollution which is a key building block of getting a strong international agreement (I won't discuss these points here as I'll have further posts on the whole issue of developed country targets).

And, we weren't disappointed as he gave a powerful talk on key elements of this challenge with some insights that are worth highlighting (the whole speech is available here and worth a read, but I've included some key points).

Minister van Schalkwyk had this to say about the new dynamic that can emerge in the international negotiations:

"We look forward to the unlocking of a new dynamic in international climate negotiations as the US assumes an international leadership role that is underpinned by ambitious domestic action and solidarity with developing countries."

He highlighted the emissions trend in South Africa and the implications:

"If we continue with a business as usual growth path, our emissions will almost quadruple...by 2050. Continuing along this path will be a high risk approach. We are clear that it would be socially, economically, politically and environmentally unsustainable. We cannot continue to grow without a carbon constraint."

But South Africa has committed to reverse this trend... Continued...

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Word Games


Washington, D.C., is to the English language what Paris is to fashion. Every season, perfectly good words go out of style and new ones are trotted out on the national runway of rhetoric. Some words are considered so worn out, politically incorrect or laden with baggage that they can no longer be used in public discourse. When that happens, people like me find ourselves scrambling for suitable synonyms.

That was the case a few years ago with “sustainable development”. I operated the Center of Excellence for Sustainable Development at the U.S. Department of Energy, helping communities understand and apply the practice. Before long, signals came down from Capitol Hill that the words “sustainable development” had become the kiss of death for any program that used them. The term “smart growth” was invented to take “sustainability’s” place.

More recently, Congress has avoided using the word “climate” in legislation that clearly is meant in part to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions – legislation such as the “Energy Security and Independence Act of 2007”. The Bush people call torture “enhanced interrogation” and call kidnapping “rendition”. Healthy Forests and Clear Skies became the titles of the Bush Administration’s programs to cut trees and pollute the air, respectively.

Our elected leaders aren’t alone in manipulating the English language. Lobbyists and extremist
s, Left and Right, regularly play the game, too, to obscure facts, incite emotions, insult opponents or get attention from the media, where conflict is red meat.

Coal executives try to persuade us there’s such a thing as “clean coal” and oil executives talk about “energy independence” when they really mean more drilling. In 2003, Orwell protégé Frank Luntz counseled in a confidential memo that the Administration and conservatives should stop using the term “global warming” because it was too frightening. Luntz suggested that Republicans refer to themselves as “conservationists” rather than “environmentalists,” since the latter term, in Luntz’s view, is associated with tree-hugging and extremism. Continued...


A New Climate Reality


The world is changing so fast, it's often difficult to see it in context. We watch it from a mathematical point of view, points on a graph, comparative analyses, blips on radar from sensors slapped on the bows of ships, dry bits of brain matter fighting the brain freeze caused by information overload of drought on the Southwest U.S., typhoon caused floods in Bangladesh, tornadoes in the U.S. and where is all that snow coming from?

It begins to look horrifyingly familiar: one person's agony is another's data.

Once in a while, however, we do try to step back and take empathetic stock.

First and foremost with the actual climate events: storm, drought, wind, fire, flood.

There are the forces (forcings) behind those events: The increase in greenhouse gases, the loss of glaciers and sea ice, the inability of the Southern Ocean to function as a carbon sink (in case you were wondering why things seemed to be changing so quickly), the greater wind speeds due to the increased temperature differential between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, pollution, of course; the C02 released into the atmosphere from the recent fires in Southern California and in Greece last summer and don't get me started on whether the Methane once trapped in the tundra, now no more, is over-hype or horror...

Then there is the impact upon so many species, fully one-third of which the new IPCC report warns may be lost due to climate change. Polar bears are the most obvious indicator, but there are also the diminishing pollinators we depend upon, which could be climate change or misuse of colonies, or disease, or all of the above; the coral in the Great Barrier Reef, the wolves that are about to be removed from the endangered list, so hunters can shoot them and put them back on again...

One might begin to understand why we gravitate toward cold data over warming empathy.

Then there was a curious incident in Northern Ireland recently. Don't know if you heard about it, but a ten-mile wide migration of billions of Mauve Stinger Jellyfish swam, as one, all the way to the Northern Irish Sea and killed every Salmon within their reach (est. 100,000).

The fishermen who desperately tried to reach the trapped fish (there were wide nets placed a mile offshore to create a near-wild farm environment) stopped and stared in shock as they faced a solid block of glowing red jellyfish to the horizon, and then in horror when they realised they could not get through to their prized and beloved stock, the salmon that had been so revered, it had been served at the Queen's table for her 80th birthday.... Continued...

Small Businesses: Too Big To Fail


Companies that are "too big to fail" have been getting most attention in the bailout packages emerging from the federal government. But in the economic recovery plan now being considered by Congress and the incoming Obama Administration, the focus should be on small businesses.

While the Big Three have been the latest squeaky wheels to get greased by bi
llions of dollars in taxpayer bailout money, small businesses are the real engine of job creation and innovation in the U.S. economy. With a little bit of help, they will be the locomotive that pulls us into the new energy economy of the 21st century.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) defines small companies as those with fewer than 500 employees. If there are any doubts about their influence on the economy, consider these statistics from the SBA and the U.S. Census:

• Small companies comprise 99.7 percent of all firms with employees in the United States. As of 2004, nearly 7 million small businesses were operating in our economy, employing nearly 60 million workers.

Small businesses provide half of the jobs in the United States and pay 45 percent of the nation’s private wages. Their total payroll approached $2 trillion in 2004.

Over the past decade, small companies have created as much as 80 percent of net new jobs in the U.S. economy each year.

They hire 40 percent of our high-tech workers and produce 13 times more patents per employee than large firms.

The tight credit market, toxic mortgages and lower sales are hurting these companies, as we might expect. Of special concern to the goal of building a new energy economy in the U.S. are business engaged in green industries, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable b
uildings. They have been fast-growing sectors of the domestic and global economies in recent years. Just a few months ago, renewable energy industries were considered recession-proof.

But as 2008 came to a close, alternative energy stocks were among those being battered by the economic crisis. In a year-end assessment, the Associated Press reports that stocks are taking a beating and credit markets have tightened for biofuels, wind and solar power, despite the federal biofuels standard and the extension of $17 billion in federal tax credits for solar and wind development.

The green building sector – ranging from real-estate developers to l
andlords hoping to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings – is handicapped by tight credit and deferred investments.

The AP quotes a prediction from Joseph Muscat, Ernst & Young's Americas director of cleantech and venture capital, that the renewable energy sector will be “the first to emerge when the market stabilizes”. Making that prediction come true should be a key objective of the next economic recovery package. It should help small businesses in the green sector not only survive the financial crisis, but come out of it stronger than ever to capture their share of the domestic and global green markets.

In addition to getting capital moving again and creating jobs through green infrastructure investmen
ts, Congress and the new Administration should strengthen and green the SBA. The SBA is the nation’s principal source of federal aid for small companies, but it traditionally has been a bureaucracy without much status. Its leaders too often have been appointed because of their political connections rather than their business expertise. Continued...