The coronavirus pandemic is a constant reminder that facts matter
and that objective reality cannot be wished away.
— Jennifer Rubin/The Washington Post
There are significant parallels between the response to the COVID-19 contagion and what the nation must do to combat and adapt to Earth’s warming. In both cases, national science-based policies must be put in place to address the considerable threats posed by each. Legislation alone, however, is unlikely to prove an adequate response in either case.
Changes in the pace and magnitude necessary to defeat the current contagion or effectuate the transition to a low-carbon sustainable economy have a strong cultural element that cannot be ignored. Millennial activism, for example, has led to a growing investor and consumer preference for companies with high environmental, social, and governance (ESG) scores. Even though those types of companies may be less profitable in terms of their bottom-lines than other investments, they are credited for being beneficial to society. Although laws can be passed to encourage such investments, e.g., a lower tax on gains, a cultural disposition to such investments multiplies their impact and acts to stabilize them should the incentives be removed.
Cultural preference—whether of a corporation or a nation—has much to do with the values and character of its leaders. The current debate over mask-wearing has taken on tribal traits, i.e., cultural. President Trump’s personal stance on these issues, as well as more traditional partisan differences in the way Republicans and Democrats view science and scientists overshadow the scientific evidence that suggests mask-wearing is a critical part of the solution to the unchecked spread of COVID-19.
Several weeks ago, I had commented during a Zero Net Fifty podcast that I thought there was a coming together—under the Biden banner—of progressive and establishment Democrats on climate matters. It was naïve of me to believe the wings of the Democratic Party would begin to flap in unison so far ahead of the convention.
Diversity has always been both the strength and weakness of the Democratic Party. In the past, compromise—or at least some accommodation for long enough to get presidents elected—has been possible. Today differences of opinion on issues like climate change and racial justice may defy traditional negotiation. In part, the differences of opinion are complicated by demands for a generational shift in party and congressional leadership.
Youth movement groups often see matters like climate and racism as more moral than political, which causes them to be viewed as binary. They accuse older generations of having compromised their futures away. I think the coming together of generations in the streets call-ing for racial justice and systemic change is evidence that morality is hardly unique to any one generation. Older generations have learned through experience that you often need to give in order to get and that failing to compromise can mean gridlock. The differences between the generations is more a matter of where each is willing to draw the line.
The COVID-19 contagion shows once again the disdain President Trump and his administration have for science-based policies and actions. Over these past months Trump has suggested that the coronavirus would just go away with the heat of the summer, touted his natural genius for the practice of medicine, and implied that a Clorox cocktail might make the sick well again.
His statements about the contagion closely parallel those he's made about the scientific basis of climate change--its origins and solutions. Just recently the President has signed a new executive order using the pandemic as an excuse to waive the requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) as they apply to energy infrastructure projects like oil and gas pipelines. The Order is based on what legal experts believe is an intentional misreading of the emergency provisions of various environmental laws like the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts.
The podcast addresses how climate will be treated by both Trump and former Vice President Biden in the run-up to the November elections--including how the President has compromised the nation's leadership in the world on energy and climate matters.
To hear the podcast click here. The link will take you directly to the Zero Net Fifty site where you click on the episode.
Lead image courtesy of David Clode on Unsplash
As the nation struggles to free itself from the grip of the coronavirus contagion and a disease of a different sort—racial, economic, and environmental injustice—our president continues to lay waste to the country’s environmental protections.
The COVID-19 contagion shows once again the disdain President Trump and his administration have for science-based policies and actions. Over the past several months, Trump has suggest-ed that the coronavirus would just go away in the heat of the summer, touted his natural genius for the practice of medicine, and implied that a Clorox cocktail might make the sick well again. His outlandish statements about the contagion closely parallel those he’s made about the scientific basis of climate change--its origins and solutions.
You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. Although one of the more cynical phrases ever uttered by a politician, the pilfered phrase[i] of the former mayor of Chicago and Obama adviser are also among the most honest.
The COVID-19 contagion is proving no exception to the Emanuel rubric. Over the past several months, Republicans and Democrats have attempted to use the pandemic to political advantage—not just as it applies to healthcare but as it pertains to other issues of the day. Within their statements and acts can be found messages—some subtle, some not—of their intentions towards climate change in the post-pandemic period.
In what can only be called “remarkable,” a deeply divided Congress and antagonistic White House were able to come to agreements on four pandemic-related pieces of legislation—culminating with the CARES Act. A repeat of such cordial cooperation is unlikely going forward. With the national election less than six months away, the gloves and masks are coming off as old positions are being defended and contentious new ones staked.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The thousand words of the lead image have to do with how differently Democrats and Republicans in Congress view the relationship of the current coronavirus contagion and the other great existential threat to the nation—climate change. Their opposing views are again coming into focus as debates over the next rounds of stimulus legislation break out on Capitol Hill. Their differences are as stark as that between someone sees a rabbit instead of a duck in the drawing.
Congressional Republicans, like Senate Majority Leader McConnell, and leading conservative groups like the Heartland Institute gesture to today's empty streets, idled factories, and historically high unemployment rates, and ask Is the Coronavirus Lockdown the Future Environmentalists Want? They look up to the clearest skies in a generation—temporarily bereft of visible pollution and airplanes—and say the price is just too high!
The view across the aisle is predictably different. Congressional Democrats and climate activists point to the administration's haphazard response to the COVID-19 contagion and the blocks-long lines at community food banks and say--this is what happens when the nation's leaders ignore the scientists and fail to plan for existential threats! They look up at the clearest skies in a generation and advocate investing in low-carbon technologies and community resilience and adaptation measures as both the way to get America working again and rise to meet the threat of global warming.
In the midst of a global pandemic, the Trump administration continues to disregard science by sharply cutting the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards negotiated by the Obama administration. The rollback is both the most impactful and heedless environmental deregulation of Trump's presidency.
The cuts are the most impactful because the transportation sector is the single greatest source of the greenhouse gases (GHGs)responsible for Earth's warming, e.g., CO2. They are heedless because the action exceeds a target the auto industry has readily admitted they are prepared to meet. Worst of all, the rollback maintains the element markets most abhor--uncertainty.
The Trump administration’s Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule requires automakers to increase fleet efficiencies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 percent a year through model year 2026. An amount roughly equal to 40 miles per gallon (mpg). This as compared to the five (5) percent year-over-year increase mandated by the Obama administration. The 5 percent target is roughly equal to 54 mpg[i].
Initially, the administration had proposed freezing the CAFE standard at the 2020 level of 41+/- mpg. Why it adopted the slightly more stringent standard in its final order is not entirely clear. Trump and company may believe the bump-up will protect them in court as it gives the appearance of heeding the warnings of peer-reviewed climate studies. Given three years of conservative judicial appointments—including two Supreme Court justices—they may be right.
This country was founded by geniuses, but it's being run by a bunch of idiots.
Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-LA)
Quickly now, when I say coronavirus pandemic and a federal response, what's the first thing that pops into your head? I bet whatever it was didn't have anything to do with climate change.
Well, think again—as I try to explain why Democrats and the clean energy and climate defense sectors proposed a series of climate-related initiatives as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the Cares Act or Act) which will be signed into law within days. The connection between climate change and stimulus legislation intended to respond to the coronavirus pandemic is not as tenuous as it might seem at first blush.
Greening the stimulus bill was neither the first nor only matter to which Democrats turned their Cares Act attention. They thought the original sum proposed by the White House--$850 million—was not nearly enough to accomplish the immediate tasks at hand, e.g., protecting workers who were losing their livelihoods and providing funds to hospital for needed equip-ment and protective gear. Moreover, they wanted to prevent companies receiving assistance from using federal dollars to buy back company stock or to pay multi-million dollar executive salaries.
The green initiatives Democrats in Congress talked about for inclusion in the Act were an extension of the solar and wind energy tax credits, turning the tax credits into direct payments, and making economic assistance to the airline industry contingent on its lowering its carbon emissions by 2050. The proposals did not make it into the final bill; however, we've not heard the last of them.
Politics is not a game for the faint of heart.
It’s said that if you want a friend in Washington--
buy a dog. It’s best to buy one willing to hunt.
These are trying times. For Bernie Sanders, they may be the most trying of his political career.
The Vermont senator is said to be considering whether to stay in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. After Tuesday’s losses in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona, it’s a race all but impossible for him to win.
Pressure to retire from the field of competition, before the next round of primaries in April, is predictably being brought to bear on Sanders by a host of Democrats with one thing on their minds—getting behind a single candidate and focusing all their resources and efforts on the defeat of Donald Trump.
As he did following his wins the week before, Biden reached out to Sanders’s supporters after his victories in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona--
Let me say especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Senator Sanders: I hear you.
Senator Sanders and I may disagree on tactics, but we share a common vision - for the need to provide affordable healthcare for all Americans, reduce income inequity that has risen so drastically, to tackling the existential threat of our time - climate change.
In a brief statement that sounded more like a negotiating tactic than a concession speech, Senator Bernie Sanders announced he's staying in the race for the Democratic nomination for president—at least for a few more days. The statement followed bruising primary losses in states like Michigan, Texas, and Virginia that he needed to win to prove his electability.
Sanders qualified his remaining in the race at least through the head-to-head debate with former Vice President Biden scheduled for Sunday, March 15th. The debate is in advance of the St. Patrick's Day primaries in four states critical to a Democratic victory in November. Together, Ohio, Florida, Illinois, and Arizona, account for 577 delegates—over a quarter of the 1991 votes needed to win the nomination on the first ballot.
The Senator has no illusions about his probable defeat at the hands of Biden and the Democratic establishment. His willingness to engage Biden in the Sunday debate and forewarn him of what he intends to debate him about is, for all intents and purpose, an attempt to negotiate consolation prizes for the progressive wing of the Democratic party in a very public forum.
Sanders is right--he will never be in a better position to impact the Democratic platform on which Biden and the party will run in the 2020 elections. Although Sanders's socialist democratic agenda should find favor in each of the four upcoming primary states because of demograph-ics, he handily lost to Clinton in all of them in 2016.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.