Posts Tagged ‘ climate change ’

Ignorance on Parade

There is no denying that today, we face a new global landscape–one that was unthinkable before the ascendancy of Trump to the presidency. It is perhaps, though, one we should have seen coming.

In a recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn argued that the world order is not and should not be defined in terms of a “global community,” but rather, the world stage is an “arena” defined by competition.

It is an alarming shift of world view. To be sure, this smacks of Steve Bannon, who famously celebrated “darkness” and “power” in describing the governing style he hoped for under Trump. Many are calling this op-ed the clearest articulation yet of what Trump et al. mean by “America First.”

Yet, herein lies the great problem with “America First” (besides its connection to Nazi sympathizers):

America already was first.

The United States of America was indisputably the leader of the global community, not just the fiercest competitor in some arena as McMaster and Cohn insist. Our nation was the leader of, not just the free world, but the entire world.

As global orders go, it could have been better. Many critiques could and should be leveled at the quality of that leadership. Yet American hegemony in the post-Cold War era has marked a time of relative peace and uneven prosperity–and it was a community and order led by America.

No more.

Donald J. Trump, the accidental president, has pulled the rug out from under decades American leadership. This shift in world view is more than just rhetoric, as his disastrous appearance before NATO and his shameful withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement demonstrate. His enablers, like McMaster and Cohn, along with far-right cheerleaders in Congress believe and declare that Trump is serving American interests.

The fact that their understanding of those interests is short-sighted and skewed is irrelevant in discussing the larger, critical issue.

The simple fact is that leaders do not consider only their own interests. That is simply not what leaders do.

As the leader of the global community, it was America’s responsibility to look beyond its own limited interests and to put conditions like global prosperity and global peace above narrower concerns like the health of individual industries or particular (and often peculiar) sub-national interests.

That is the price of leadership. It is one that past American administrations have understood.

The Iraq invasion, for example, was undertaken in the name of leadership. America would lead, we were told, a “coalition of the willing” to remove Saddam Hussein from power in the interests of global stability and the eradication of rogue states bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

The idea that this invasion was solely in our narrow national interests was a charge that the administration vehemently denied. We were told, repeatedly, that we were not invading for the oil or for the potential windfalls for related industries should Iraq be transformed into a friendly state (those were just fringe benefits). We were eliminating a source of dangerous weapons and, when that turned out not to be the case, we turned our national attention to “liberating” the Iraqi people.

The extent to which this was a completely misguided application of our leadership capital is not really important for this discussion. What is important is that President George W. Bush and his neocon allies still acknowledged and, ostensibly, believed in the truth of American leadership.

President Obama took great pains in his early years repairing that stature, assuring allies and partners worldwide that America would not fly off the handle again with a ill-advised war and that we would be more tempered and more cautious in our role as leader. But his rhetoric and policies again presumed the simple fact of American global leadership.

But no more.

Today America has receded from that role under a president increasingly unlikely to finish out his term. His ill-begotten presidency, won under a previously unthinkable electoral scenario that saw him lose the popular vote by a greater margin than any other president not selected by the House of Representatives, is plagued by ongoing scandals even as his health and soundness of mind are in demonstrable and rapid decline. But even if we rid ourselves of this president, the damage is done.

The withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement is the surest sign of Trump’s disastrous impact on America’s role as a, nee the, global leader. The editors of the National Review applaud Trump’s decision, citing low-end projections of climate change’s impact on the GDP of 2%, and echoing Trump’s claims about the coal industry and how the agreement allows developing nations to keep burning coal while phasing it out in America.

These spurious claims aside for the moment, the National Review does point out something fairly important about the Paris Agreement, a critique that no proponents with an understanding of constitutional powers can lightly dismiss: Obama never had the authority to join it in the first place.

President Obama, in one of his many acts of legal gymnastics to try to address policy with an unabashedly hostile and obstructionist Congress, joined the Paris Agreement without sending the treaty to Congress for ratification. Given that several high-profile senators, like Texas’s Ted Cruz, applauded Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement, Obama rightly feared that the treaty would not be ratified.

Yet Obama knew what these senators and Trump have ignored or forgotten: The United States of America cannot be the leader of the world if it rejects a treaty signed by every other major nation–every nation on Earth, in fact, save Nicaragua and Syria.

American leadership required that we join the Paris Agreement. It demands that we remain committed to it.

The details of the treaty are almost irrelevant in that regard, but it is worth noting the extent to which its detractors are wrong. In focusing almost solely on the coal industry, both Trump and the National Review editors take a myopic view of the treaty and the larger issue of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, if they want to maintain a healthy American coal industry, then they should embrace the fact that the accord would have continued to allow for American coal to be exported. It is not, after all, environmental regulation that is killing the domestic coal industry, but good-ole fashioned free market competition. With natural gas and even renewables becoming more price competitive, coal is on the way out no matter what.

Even when the coal industry is gone, though, the atmosphere will still be in jeopardy. That is the importance of the Paris Agreement. It represents an international acknowledgement that climate change is a pressing issue for the global community.

An arena of competitors is never going to effectively deal with a global problem like climate change. It is a problem of the commons, and dealing with problems in the commons requires cooperative–not competitive thinking.

It is the failure to grasp that truth of leadership and community that is the greatest hallmark of the Trump administration’s ignorance–which is sadly its defining trait.

Trump claimed that the treaty was not fair to America because it allowed different standards for developing nations. Yet, even if we ignore America’s role as global leader, we must consider our role as a global polluter. We have only recently been passed as the world’s greatest contributor to global warming, despite China having more than six times our population. (The National Review editors disingenuously cite America’s share of the global pollution market in terms of GDP instead of per capita.)

But none of that matters to the ignorant.

And make no mistake, Trump’s election and presidency mark the triumph of ignorance in America. His refusal to embrace climate change as a sound scientific understanding of our physical world in the 21st century is the most glaring example of this uncomfortable truth, but it is far from the only one.

What greater sign of ignorance in power do we need than the president’s absurd relationship to truth itself? Again and again, he has spouted off false-hoods and out-right lies. Yet he is uncowed, and blithely unconcerned with any pretense of honesty.

And while some past followers have publicly admitted regret over his antics as president, many remain committed. Again, their ignorance is glaringly obvious as studies confirm that the values that motivated many Trump voters are decidedly Unamerican.

This shift toward ignorance has been brewing since the Tea Party stormed Congress and dragged the entire Republican establishment away from both the center and from reason. The Tea Party was always built on ignorance. Initially, it was only ignorance of economics and tax policy. But the right-ward nose dive of the Republican party has attracted all manner of ignorances into their coalition of the befuddled, from climate change deniers to conversion therapy believers to alt-right racists and lock-her-up Benghazi fanatics. All now empowered voices in our political landscape.

This slide into an abyss of us vs. them nativism and isolationism is exactly why Obama never sent the treaty to the Senate. Though we can fault him for such a maneuver coming from a constitutional law scholar, at least he tried to preserve American leadership.

But, sadly, that is no more.

All we can hope is that the next administration can right this fool’s course and reintegrate the United States into the global community it built for the security of, not just its own citizens, but for the world as a whole. Sadly, though, it seems unlikely that America will be able to retake its role as global leader any time soon.

The American century is over.


The Little War on Rooftop Solar


These are my solar panels. There are many like them, but these are mine.

These are my solar panels. There are many like them, but these are mine.

By now–and despite anti-science propaganda from politicians bought off by big oil–most Americans know the score about climate change. Few Americans are fooled any longer and understand that as we use more fossil fuels, we are changing our atmosphere in ways that will impact future generations. Climate researchers point to a future of rising sea levels and less predictable weather systems caused by human activity.

We know now that we, as a culture and indeed as a species, literally cannot adopt clean energy fast enough to offset some of these negative consequences.

Knowing this makes it completely shocking and appalling that electric utilities around the country are actually trying to disincentivize solar power through extra fees on customers with rooftop solar panels.

It should surprise no one that these measures can all be traced back to dollars from the big oil oligarchs the Koch brothers–dirty money propping up dirty energy.

Now these backward-thinking regulations have come to my home town: the Sun City.

El Paso, Texas should be awash in solar energy. With so few days of cloud cover throughout the year, it’s an ideal climate for distributed solar power.

Yet now the El Paso Electric Company has requested a rate change to charge rooftop solar customers an extra fee and has even launched a series of commercials trying to sell the public on their twisted logic.

According to EP Electric, the problem is that rooftop solar customers still use the grid on cloudy days and at night, so the cost of maintaining that grid needs to be represented on their bills.

It’s an argument presented by a reasonable sounding narrator and, in the TV spots, even has a cute little graphic of dollars being distributed equitably between houses–one with and one without solar panels.

But it’s an absurd argument with no basis in reality.

All customers already pay to support the grid–based on how much they use it.

By this faulty logic, EP Electric should look at customers with small houses who need less energy to cool and bill them extra.

According to this bizarre reasoning, when customers invest in energy efficient appliances or energy saving window panes, they should be charged extra because those energy saving measures mean they’re no longer “supporting the grid.”

Rooftop solar panels are no different from any other energy-saving measure in this regard and trying to charge these customers more is worse than a shameless attempt to grab cash from a minority segment of the customer base–it’s actually part of a sinister political agenda to undermine clean energy.

Despite the ad campaign’s implications, rooftop solar customers are not vampires unfairly taxing the electric grid. Quite the contrary.

When consumption is at its highest–during the summer when every house in this city has the A/C on full blast–rooftop solar customers provide an important service, easing the burden of an expanding power grid and preventing brown-outs. In fact, some customers even produce surplus energy, feeding into the grid and alleviating the draw off the main grid from their neighbors.

Let me be clear here. This is not about the money for me. I am a life-long supporter of clean energy and have always put my money where my mouth is. At one time El Paso Electric had a program where customers could help subsidize expansions in regional wind and solar power. For years, I voluntarily paid into this account to help develop this important infrastructure.

No, this isn’t about the money for me.

This is about principle. El Paso Electric should be doing everything possible to encourage rooftop solar adoption, not punish customers with unfair surcharges that reduce the value of the investments they made in the best interests of our community.

It’s a dirty game El Paso Electric is playing and every customer–rooftop solar or not–should rebuke this disgusting step in the wrong direction.

Who’s Delusional?


This isn’t Newt Gingrich, but I wonder if Newt knows that climate change threatens little guys like his namesake here.

Get this: Newt Gingrich has called (via Twitter, mind you) for John Kerry to step down as Secretary of State.

Why? What affront would merit such a demand? Well, since it’s coming from a Republican, the current champions of false outrage and rulers by hyperbole, “merit” is probably too strong a word. So as I clicked on the CNN link reporting this latest Gingrichism, I was prepared for new revelations of perceived fault in Benghazi, or perhaps criticism of what Newt feels is softball cuddling of Iran, maybe even some criticism of the administration’s handling of Syria.

No, none of those. Newt says that Kerry must step down because he is “delusional.”

And he thinks he’s delusional because Kerry said that climate change was “the greatest challenge to our generation.”

Now, I could see that some rational people would want to quibble with Kerry’s remark (those rational people would still be wrong) but it takes someone who is so often and so thunderously wrong as Newt to actually call for the Secretary’s resignation.

Okay, Newt, listen up: Despite your anti-science, anti-reason friends in the Tea Party (Have these Founding Father worshippers forgotten that faith in the capacity for reason was THE central tent of the Enlightenment thinking that guided our Founders?), the jury is not out on climate change.

It is happening. We are the culprits. It is accelerating.

A few years ago–just a few years ago–scientists speculated that climate change might be bad enough that by century’s end, the North Pole would be ice-free in summer.

That projection has now been moved up to mid-century.

These are facts, Newt. And yes, these facts will become increasingly inconvenient for the citizens of the world in the years ahead. Climate Change has the potential to be the driving force behind human migrations, regional conflicts, and economic shifts in the 21st century.

If that’s not a contender for “challenge to our generation,” then you must think an alien invasion is imminent.

Really, Newt, isn’t it time you and your ilk grow the hell up and start helping us deal with real problems? There may be a place for fiscal conservatism and maybe even “traditional” values in our national discourse.

But juvenile nonsense like this–which might as well be denying that Earth revolves around the sun–isn’t heaping anyone, least of all you and your party’s prospects with the electorate.


It’s Time

Tonight, watching Chasing Ice with my family, I was treated to–and participated wholly in–an alternating series of breathless exultations at unimaginable natural beauty and horrified gasps at the scale of global climate change’s impact on the planet’s ice caps.

Photographer and leader of the Extreme Ice Survey James Balog produced the documentary as the culmination of his team’s work documenting, in real and visceral images, the deteriorating glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska.

The damage already done to Earth’s glaciers is startling. My daughter, again and again, wondered aloud how anyone could doubt the impact of global warming. Indeed, I defy anyone to see the images Balog collected and deny the reality of climate change.

But, I suppose, some might still be able to accomplish such a feat. As I explained to my daughter just moments after the credits rolled, we have had this mythology in our culture for centuries that we human beings are thinking beings first and foremost, but in reality, we are merely believing creatures. Dishonest media outlets like Fox News and their blowhard talking heads like Rush Limbaugh have denied the scientific consensus so vehemently at the behest of big business–like the oil industry–that doubt and misunderstanding has spread like waves through the public, leading to the ironic drop in credulity about global warming even as the evidence has mounted exponentially.

Too many people are slaves to their ideologies, unable to break free from partisan filters and politicized bubble realities where anything that doesn’t conform to their accepted narrative must be negated.

Such will be the cry from the right wing next week when President Obama announces a new offensive on “carbons pollution.” The carbon in question, of course, is carbon dioxide. Natural, and essential for life, CO2’s share of our atmosphere has risen precipitously in the last century. Studies of Venus’s runaway greenhouse effect first alerted us to the danger of such gases like methane and CO2 building up in our atmosphere and trapping heat (methane is many times more powerful, but CO2 lasts longer in the atmosphere).

If President Obama really wants to sway the nation to his side–to the side that holds dear all our future generations–then he should simply play some of the time lapse videos Balog assembled. The right wing has fought this battle with emotion and prejudice. Facts and reason won’t sway them, but seeing a glacier the size of Manhattan break apart and drift into the sea just might.

We’re bad about changing our beliefs, but reality demands it–if facts and evidence don’t convince people of that reality, then maybe images will. For my part, I have always believed that human arrogance is what has almost ruined the world and that more hubris was hardly the recipe for repairing it. That is why I have always opposed countering global climate change by deliberately tinkering with the atmosphere further.

Now, though, I see that we have no choice any longer.

I don’t want to use the word “hope,” but I will go so far as to say that President Obama should include some plan for carbon sequestration in his proposed assault on CO2 levels. To our great shame as a species, we must now try to not only reduce our CO2 emissions, but actively pursue technologies to leech it from the air and store it.

The enormity of the problem demands extraordinary action. We should have begun massive reengineering of our fossil fuel addicted society twenty years ago, but we did not. Our descendants will curse us for our short-sightedness, but at least if we take real steps now–by reducing and sequestering carbon–then they will not be able to say to us that we did absolutely nothing in the face of a clear global threat.