Grading a Climate Bill, Part 3


If there is any doubt that Washington D.C. is where hyperbole, distortions and silly arguments come home to roost, that doubt disappears as we listen to congressional debate on climate and energy policy. Even some of the statements coming from the Obama team lately inspire a loud “Huh?”

Jon Stewart would win a Nobel Prize for Truth if one were awarded for diligence in revealing how some members of Congress , not to mention the conservative chattering classes, regularly insult the American people’s intelligence. Unfortunately, he’s only on the air 30 minutes each day.

Also unfortunately – and here’s an inconvenient truth -- not all of the American people are intelligent enough about climate change to know their intelligence has been insulted. It’s a complicated topic made even more complicated by bogus arguments.

So, in the spirit of improving the quality of the debate and with unapologetic imitation of another political satirist on night-time TV, here are today’s Top 10 Bogus Statements in the climate debate (hereafter labeled “BS”), each followed by a reality check. Continued...


Grading a Climate Bill, Part 2


In Part 1, I described four tests that I believe will determine whether a climate bill approved by Congress this year should be judged a success. The bottom line is that the Senate must adopt a climate bill that is considerably stronger than the Waxman-Markey bill approved by the House.

I will not try to analyze Waxman-Markey’s pluses and minuses in detail. Others already have done that very well, including David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council in 40 pages of detailed
critique he delivered to the Senate on July 2, and the Citizen’s Guide to Climate Policy by Lois Parshley and Ben Wessel. The Guide explains the House bill about as clearly as one can; its recommendations for a final climate bill come much closer to meeting the four tests I proposed in Part 1.

Here are just a few key ways the bill that finally emerges from Congress should be stronger than the one that came from the House:

Require deeper and faster cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The United States’ goal should be at least as strong as the European Union’s – a 20 percent reduction by 2020. Twenty-five percent would be better. That’s compared to 1990, not 2005. Continued...


What Health Care Reform Means to the Middle Class (Hint: Jobs)


President Obama, at his Wednesday press conference, talked about the job-loss impact of rising healthcare costs on the middle class. But why the middle class? This recession has hit construction workers, young people, other demographics. It's because the middle class -- and by extension, the overall economy that relies on the middle class (in this case, the middle aged middle class) -- may not be able to recover in the job market without healthcare reform.

You do the math. You reach thirty, you pay more than when you're in your twenties. You reach forty, still more. You reach fifty and, if you don't get a heart attack from a preexisting condition, you may just get one from the substantive increase in your premiums.

Health care providers argue that as people age they require more health care for which they then have to pay. That may very well be true, but in the world of unintended consequences, it also means those fifty-somethings may just be paying in other ways -- include ways that forgo their ability to pay those higher premiums at all.

What does a potential employer do who has to choose between a fifty-something who comes with higher costs for healthcare, despite being a far better qualified candidate, and a twenty or thirty something less experienced applicant who will cost them far less over time in premiums?

The president talked about the "donut hole" that exists for Medicare patients; the requirement to cover all the costs after a certain limit was reached until a far higher limit came into play. This has been a nightmare for many seniors on fixed incomes.

The middle aged may very well have a "donut hole" between their fifties and age sixty-five Medicare eligibility due to the lessening of employment opportunities that come from inflated premiums for their demographic. Continued...


Grading a Climate Bill, Part 1


If Mother Nature were handing out grades, she’d have a difficult time assigning one to the 1,200-page climate dissertation known as Waxman-Markey, approved by the House and now being considered by the Senate.

For one thing, she’d have to grade on a curve. What looks like an “A” in Washington may qualify for no more than a “C” or “D” outside the beltway – and may be no better than “F” in the rest of the world.

Now that Senate leadership has postponed markup of a climate bill until late September, it should take time to carefully consider how it defines “success”. With the future of the planet hanging in the balance, with the world watching for what the United States will do, and with Congressional action likely to have a major influence on whether we’ll see a global climate agreement at Copenhagen, this is probably the most important exam the current members of Congress will ever take.

The Waxman-Markey bill offers an example of how Washington grades itself by different standards. One of the bill’s supporters – an environmental leader for whom I have great respect – has praised it as a splendid example of the legislative process at its best, delicately balancing the interests of the many diverse constituencies it would affect.

That’s not the test the rest of the world will apply. Few of us outside the beltway care much about the efficiency of the legislative process, as rare as that might be. To qualify as a real success, climate policy must pass at least four far more important tests: the Science Test, the Copenhagen Test, the Boxer Test and the Leadership Test. Continued...


Obama Administration Ends MTR Mining With A Name Change


by Patriot Daily News

The Obama administration is at least testing the waters of changing the name of mountaintop removal mining to “Appalachian surface coal mining” or ASCM. This name change, which neutralizes the horrific visuals of mountaintop removal mining, may help President Obama gain support for a new policy to reduce rather than eliminate the harmful environmental impacts of blowing apart ancient mountaintops and discharging that mining waste into streams, suffocating both the stream and aquatic life.

It is undeniable that the Obama administration is taking steps that are a
“firm departure” from President Bush who “failed to protect our communities, water, and wildlife in Appalachia.” For the first time, the government is acknowledging the adverse impacts of MTR mining, but surpassing President Bush on environmental issues is a rather low bar.

The question for President Obama is whether mountaintop removal mining (or MTR mining) should be limited to a policy of environmental impact relativity or should our policy be the elimination of MTR mining in obvious recognition that by definition it violates the environmental rules of law? Continued...


Will Walmart's drive toward sustainability work?


Walmart, the world's largest retailer, announced this week that they are planning to put green/sustainability labeling on all of their products within the next five years.
Walmart today announced plans to develop a worldwide sustainable product index during a meeting with 1,500 of its suppliers, associates and sustainability leaders at its home office. The index will establish a single source of data for evaluating the sustainability of products.
The company will ask their suppliers (all their suppliers) to answer fifteen questions and then will apply a rating to the products based on an algorithm yet to be announced. It is unclear is how they will determine the accuracy of the replies -- what oversight, if any, will be instituted and applied. Also yet to be announced will be how that rating will be displayed. It may be as simple as a green tag or as complicated as a link on the product to a customer's smart phone which will then give the customer detailed information about the product's sustainability.

Environmental groups laud this attempt to go green at the corporate level and point out that, as the world's largest retailer, Walmart may be best positioned to pull this off. Corporate associations and academics have raised concern of increased costs. Walmart's spokesman disagrees and says that with less packaging there will be lest cost ...


Strategies to Address Global Warming


In my opinion, it is still feasible to solve the global warming problem before we pass tipping points that would guarantee disastrous irreversible climate change. But urgent strong actions are needed. These actions would have multiple benefits, providing a helpful economic stimulus, improving public health, and increasing energy independence and national security.

Assessment of strategic options for solving the problem requires knowledge of geophysical constraints and their implications. The geophysical facts practically dictate the general course of action. Fortunately, it is clear that the required course is technically feasible, and it would have great benefits to the public in developing and developed countries.

Unfortunately, knowledge and understanding of the situation are not widespread. In addition, there is a minority of people, termed fossil interests, who benefit from business-as usual.

These fossil interests have enormous influence on governments worldwide, far outside their fair role in democracies.

Failure to achieve the actions needed to stabilize global climate will result in great intergenerational injustice. The young and unborn in both developed and developing countries would bear full consequences of actions of prior generations. We need to help young people draw attention to this great injustice.

Our global climate is nearing tipping points. Changes are beginning to appear, and there is a potential for rapid changes with effects that would be irreversible - if we do not promptly slow fossil fuel emissions. Continued...


Barack Obama, Please Stay Home--Healthcare Reform is Dying To Hear From You


By Terry J. Leach, R.N. Esq.

Barack Obama, welcome home. Now, please stay home. We need your undivided attention, and brilliance. We need your ability to connect with the American people. We need your wisdom to elevate the parochial concerns of lawmakers facing re-election next year, to craft something many American presidents have tried to do, without success.

Those of you with insurance who think you don’t have a dog in this fight: Listen up. Your health care costs are rising three times faster than your wages for a reason. For every 1% uptick in the unemployment rate, approximately 1 million Americans stand to lose their health insurance. Uninsured folks still receive medical care; only it’s expensive care, typically provided in the emergency department, when the problem is more extensive, and therefore, more expensive, than it should have been. Those of you with healthcare insurance---you and your employers are footing this bill through cost-shifting so you need to care, because employers are facing tough decisions: Get rid of your job or your health insurance, or raise your out-of-pocket costs…again. Or all of the above. You need to pay attention to what’s being hawked by insurance companies and, unfortunately, some lawmakers who cannot, or will not take the time to get into the weeds as proposals are coming out of Congress that could further segment the urban poor from everyone else. Continued...


Making heads or tails of the G8 and the Major Economies Forum in Italy


by Jake Schmidt

If you aren't in Italy you might not realize, but two events are occurring on global warming pollution where leaders of the 17 largest emitting countries are trying to make progress in the run-up to Copenhagen (this December).

The first event is the annual Group of Eight (G8) which brings together the 8 largest industrialized countries and now regularly has global warming on the agenda (as I discussed last year here). The second is the "Leaders Summit" of the Major Economies Forum (as I discussedhere) which brings together the world's 17 largest emitting countries. -- The G8 declaration has been released on July 8th (available here) while the Major Economies Forum statement was released on July 9th (available here).

These meetings are notorious for taking small steps and are often criticized as being "big on grand statements and small on detailed actions". But how often do you get the leaders of the world's biggest countries in one place making joint political declarations? And given the critical need for Heads of Government to weigh-in if we are going to have any chance of success in Copenhagen (as I discussed here), these events come at an important juncture. Continued...

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The Real Catch with Fishing


by Joanna Benn

There's been quite a buzz lately about depleting fish stocks, mostly generated by the hard hitting documentary film, the End of the Line, which offers a persuasive case that major species of edible fish are headed for extinction in the next 40 years.

The film's ensuing publicity and campaign provoked a number of celebrity comments.

The Telegraph reported that Sienna Miller, Charlize Theron, Jemima Khan, Woody Harrelson, Laura Bailey, Alicia Silverstone, Zac Goldsmith, Sting and his wife Trudie Styler jointly wrote to
exclusive fish restaurant Nobu asking them to remove endangered bluefin tuna from the restaurant’s menus, so they can “dine with a clear conscience”.

The Sun also carried the story saying:
Sienna Miller blasted a top London restaurant for putting endangered bluefin tuna on its menu.”

If all of this passed you by, then on a more personal note, perhaps you’ve noticed different types of fish in the supermarket or on restaurant menus recently?

Have you heard rumblings that fish stocks are in crisis, but not sure if it’s scaremongering or what you can do about it?

The reality is that more and more people are competing for fewer fish. It’s obvious to those that study the oceans and earn their living from them, that we’re taking far more than nature can replenish. Continued...


Obama's Farm Team


Members of the Obama Administration have embarked on a “listening tour” in rural America this summer, but let’s hope the visits involve more than listening. This is a moment for the Administration’s top officials to engage farmers, ranchers and rural residents in a robust exchange of ideas about their role in a new American economy.

That role seems as obvious as it is dynamic. The “clean energy economy” President Obama advocates can revitalize the nation’s long-neglected rural communities. Many of them can become the epicenters of sustainable energy production in the U.S., as well as our principal providers of carbon sequestration services.

In his climate and energy policies, Obama is sowing the seeds for that new era of rural prosperity, but it will be up to rural America to bring in the harvest.

Federal ethanol subsidies seem to be getting all the attention from the farm lobby, but ethanol feedstocks (make that cellulosic) are just one of the new crops that will power America in the years ahead. In parts of the United States, landowners already are making thousands of dollars a year in lease payments to host wind turbines on their fields. Each turbine occupies a very small footprint, which allows farmers and ranchers to continuecropping or grazing the land. That makes wind a very lucrative crop as well as a source of new property tax revenues for rural communities. Continued...

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On the Subject of Censorship: BURN THIS BOOK


Being a proponent of human rights and humanitarian subject matter of any kind, and in particular the reflections or influence of these tenets in the media--whether in literature, journalism, photojournalism, art, film, television, new and social media and beyond--these last weeks in Iran have been inordinately important, even despite the near-tabloid coverage of Michael Jackson’s death. Michael Jackson did touch may people, and for important reasons, and I by no means disparage that. But what I am concerned about is that other important issues are being ignored because of it.

Something that has been truly evident by anything I have written in past months has been the importance of certain freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and now, as evidenced by the events in Iran following their elections, freedom both of assembly and the importance of fair and free elections.

Those who saw the clip which has become viral of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young Iranian woman shot to death in the streets of Tehran for demonstrating against the election results, perhaps can feel the visceral sense of what it must have meant to be one of those demonstrators, feeling first-hand the heart of the adage we as Americans have come to take for granted: freedom isn't free. As those who have demonstrated are attesting, and something, again, which we may have forgotten, there are times when it demands struggle and sacrifice. Continued...

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What's the true cost of photocopy paper?


by Joanna Benn

They say the pen is mightier than the sword, but is it mightier than the chainsaw? Plans are being finalized this summer for a massive controversial logging operation on the Indonesian island of Sumatra to satisfy the ever increasing demand for pulp, paper and palm oil.

This is no small concession. It is a 33,600-hectare operation led by joint venture company,
Asia Pulp & Paper/Sinar Mas Group, which has previously incurred the wrath and criticism of environmental groups, the Forest Stewardship Council and its own clients, some of whom cut ties and sourced paper elsewhere, citing APP’s devastating environmental practices:

Office-supplies retailer Staples Inc. has severed all contracts with Singapore-based Asia Pulp & Paper Co. Ltd., one of the world's largest paper companies, in a move that shows concerns over forest destruction and global warming are having an impact on big U.S. paper buyers.
At the moment, despite vigorous protests from a coalition of well known local and foreign environmental groups and scientists, APP, as the world’s largest paper company (in terms of forest clearance), looks set to go ahead with the operation, despite environmental concerns. Continued...

“Two Degrees” of Separation: President Obama Needs to Outline his Yardstick on Global Warming


In the midst of the fight of our lives (the House floor debate on the American Clean Energy and Security Act), a coalition ofmajor U.S. groups called for the Obama Administration to outline its "yardstick" on global warming. What is it that this "scientific and pragmatic" Administration will use to measure our efforts to solve global warming pollution -- its yardstick?

Well, the CEOs of 47 U.S. organizations, representing environment, faith, development, and youth groups have an answer. As the letter from these groups to the Obama Administration says:

"We are writing to urge you to work with other world leaders at the upcoming G8 Summit to set a strong science-based goal for reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases aimed at keeping the increase of global average surface temperature, compared to pre-industrial levels, as far below 2 degrees Celsius/3.6 degrees Fahrenheit as possible."

The "two degrees" threshold is an important yardstick. The impacts of global warming will be potentially severe in a number of regions around the world, including the US, if we cross this threshold. Continued...