Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

And the Climate Pretender Award Goes to ...

Climate

At COP21, aka the Paris climate conference, one of the most popular and suspenseful rituals was the announcement of the Fossil of the Day Award.  

Handed out by Climate Action Network in full-on burlesque fashion before an audience of hundreds, the award served to shame the nation judged to have done the “best” job of undermining the negotiations on any given day.  

On the last day, Saudi Arabia won for—among other dastardly maneuvers—attempting a last-minute gambit to force out of the treaty a global warming limit of 1.5 degrees, despite the consensus that had coalesced around that target temperature.

There was also the Ray of the Day Award, which acknowledged acts of de-carbonizing courage. Maldives and the Philippines—both island nations and members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum—received a Ray for promoting language that would ensure that nations return to the table in 2018 with more ambitious targets.

Taking place on a dinky, plywood platform in the back of Building 4, the awards ceremony not only made international news but, according to several longtime COP21 observers I spoke with, seemed truly to influence the course of the negotiations.

Appeals to shame are powerful. As is positive reinforcement.

Now that the world has shifted from the urgency of framing, drafting and revising the first global binding contract on climate change to the ongoing challenge of implementing, actualizing and operationalizing it, I suggest we keep the pressure up by continuing on with these awards.

Further, I’d like to propose a third award category: one that would be bestowed upon those who claim to be climate champions but whose actions show otherwise. Which is to say, we need a high-profile trophy that recognizes political figures (or organizations) who self-identify as rays of light but who are actually cleverly disguised chunks of carbon.

A fossil in solar clothing, so to speak.

Let’s call it the Climate Pretender Award, given to those who—for the purposes of attaining admiration, influence, grant money or a political legacy—best mimics the speech of a world climate leader while making precious little effort to keep fossil fuels in the ground, uncombusted.

My candidate for the inaugural Climate Pretender Award is California Gov. Jerry Brown.

While in Paris, Gov. Brown and members of his administration gave one self-congratulatory presentation after another that held up California as a model of climate leadership for the world to emulate—including how the state manages emissions from manure. (Manure and landfills were the topics senior advisor to the governor, Cliff Rechtschaffen, chose to discuss as a member of a COP21 panel on methane).

But not a word was spoken about the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Porter Ranch near Los Angeles, which, since Oct. 23, has been spewing 50,000 kilograms (= 110,000 pounds) of methane per hour into the air from a pipe that no one knows how to fix. The single leak alone is the greenhouse gas equivalent of six coal-burning power plants and nullifies hundreds other state-based efforts in California—including those directed at cows and landfills—to clamp down on greenhouse gas emissions.

Read page 1

Indeed, the flow rate of the escaping methane from Aliso Canyon is so extraordinary and the concentrations so astronomical that, out of concern that airplanes could ignite it, the FAA has declared a no-fly zone over the community that will be in place until at least March.

By week two of the climate negotiations in Paris, 1,800 Porter Ranch families had been evacuated, with many demanding that the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility be shut down altogether. But SoCalGas nixed that idea summarily, noting that no fewer than 14 California power plants depend on the gas stored there. No immediate plans to break that dependency exist.

And now we find out, thanks to a Public Accountability Initiative report, that the gas storage well in Porter Ranch is owned by a company where Gov. Brown’s sister is a highly-compensated board member. The report also points out that his sister, Kathleen Brown, plays an environmental, health and safety oversight role at the company.

According to the report:

Brown’s relationships with the oil and gas industry likely play a role in influencing his stances on these issues. This report, to be released in sections in the coming weeks, will detail Brown’s many ties to the industry: through his campaigns and political causes, which have benefited from significant industry funding; through close associates, who play advocacy and leadership roles in the industry; and through appointments to key regulatory roles.

The relationships, some of which have never been reported before, raise new questions about Brown’s handling of oil and gas matters.

This map helps spell out Gov. Brown's family ties to the methane leak and fracking:

Meanwhile, back in Paris, in a high-profile speech at a gathering of governors and mayors from around the world, Governor Brown emphasized the urgent need to “decarbonize in a serious way. ... We have to take courage to make the hard choices—big, fundamental and transformational.”

Not everyone was buying it.

No sooner had the governor finished talking when a dozen or more people in the audience—many of them members of indigenous communities—leapt to their feet and began chanting, “No more REDD!” and angrily challenging Gov. Brown’s carbon trading scheme. (REDD = Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation).

Under the REDD project, a California polluter—say, an oil refinery that processes tar sands from Canada—can expand operations as long as it purchases credits somewhere else—like in the forests of Mexico or Brazil—so that the photosynthesizing trees that take carbon out of the air offset the carbon added by the refinery.

Protesters argued—loudly—that REDD is “a shell game” that not only allows high-emission industries to pay to pollute but also instigates land grabs that evict indigenous people from their forested communities throughout the developing world. Far from being a model for the nation, California’s REDD, they declared to the governor, is a false solution that should be removed from the draft Paris Accord.

In an interview with me out in the hotel lobby after the confrontation, Tom Goldtooth, of the Indigenous Environmental Network and one of the protesters, said that any plan that addresses climate change by privatizing forests in the global South to excuse fossil fuel pollution in the global North is, unacceptable, doomed to fail, and means that “Governor Brown needs be very concerned about his legacy."

Cassandra Smithies, a researcher with No REDD in Africa Network, added that the California model “commodifies photosynthesis” through the creation of offsets while providing no plan to cut extraction and leave fossil fuels in the ground.

Indeed, California, already the nation’s third largest oil-producer, is doubling down on fossil fuel extraction via fracking and other extreme, toxic forms of oil and gas development, including in the Los Angeles area where 1.7 million people live or work within a mile of an active oil or gas well.

Read page 1

Kern County, which serves as a top producer of the nation’s food crops, hosts the highest density of drilling and fracking operations in the state. The recent admission by state regulators that companies had been wrongly allowed, for years, to inject fracking waste directly into California’s freshwater aquifers, has led to the closing of many fracking waste disposal wells. In turn, the lack of disposal options has diverted fracking waste into irrigation canals with unknown impacts on food crops.

For these reasons and more, on one of the final days of the Paris negotiations, a collection of civil society groups—with a hard-won police permit for assembly—staged an anti-fracking rally outside of COP21 headquarters. Chanting “climate leaders don’t frack!” they singled out Gov. Brown for special mention and called on him to ban fracking in California.

This was not a lightly considered decision. Throughout the rally, which the permit had limited to 45 minutes and 50 participants, no fewer than 32 heavily armed military police ringed the demonstrators. In addition, because images of political leaders had been banned at this rally, pictures of Jerry Brown’s face on signs and banners had to be carefully duct-taped over. (The effect, to my mind, was to make the visual message appear more, not less, sinister).

In short, the rally was peaceful; the mood was tense. It took real bravery to bring an anti-fracking message to climate negotiations and call out Gov. Brown for his duplicity.

The following day, at an official COP21 panel discussion called “Not Just California Dreamin’: Climate Action from the Golden State” and where the speakers were government leaders and renewable energy CEOs, it was as if none of this had happened.

No one on the panel mentioned REDD or fracking.

No one mentioned that, according to this year’s California Air Resources Board’s greenhouse gas inventory, overall emissions have increased in California since Brown took office.

No one on the panel talked about leaving oil and gas in the ground even though another civil society protest, which involved hundreds of people, had just wrapped up in a space not far away and chants of “leave it in the ground!” were still ringing in the air.

Instead, Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, enthused, “The world is looking toward California as a leader. ... NRDC loves California so much that we have two offices there!”

During the Q&A, I asked California Sec. for Environmental Protection, Matthew Rodriquez, about the expansion of fracking in California and how it squares with Gov. Brown’s professed vision for the state. At which point the moderator announced that we had run out of time for further conversation.

But Sec. Rodriguez answered my question anyway. He urged patience. “To the issue of fracking, change doesn’t happen overnight. The goal is to reduce oil by 50 percent by 2050. ... We have the most effective regulations in the world. We understand the implications. We are monitoring. ... We’ve got it under control.”

Which is a different kind of message than Gov. Brown delivered two nights earlier, before his fellow governors, when he warned of the fierce urgency of the climate crisis, saying, “Unless everyone does everything they can, there will be a catastrophic impact.”

Nor does it align with the message of science, which says that: to have a shot at limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we need a 100 percent shift to renewables by 2050, not a goal of 50 percent.

So, let’s keep that awards ceremony going in the days ahead. Bring back the cabaret curtains and the plywood stage. And queue up old Jackson Brown for the opener: “Say a prayer for the Pretender / Who started out so young and strong / Only to surrender.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

New Yorkers Celebrate One-Year Anniversary of Fracking Ban

Confirmed: 4.6-Magnitude Earthquake in British Columbia Caused by Fracking (Likely World’s Largest)

How Fracking is Driving Gas Prices Below $2 Per Gallon

Josh Fox: ‘How To Let Go of the World’ to Premiere at Sundance

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Oregano oil is an extract that is not as strong as the essential oil, but appears to be useful both when consumed or applied to the skin. Peakpx / CC by 1.0

By Alexandra Rowles

Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.

However, it can also be concentrated into an essential oil that's loaded with antioxidants and powerful compounds that have proven health benefits.

Read More Show Less
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro meets Ronaldo Caiado, governor of the state of Goiás on June 5, 2020. Palácio do Planalto / CC BY 2.0

Far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has presided over the world's second worst coronavirus outbreak after the U.S., said Tuesday that he had tested positive for the virus.

Read More Show Less
Although natural gas produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, it is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Skitterphoto / PIxabay

By Emily Grubert

Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.

Read More Show Less
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved two Lysol products as the first to effectively kill the novel coronavirus on surfaces, based on laboratory testing. Paul Hennessy / NurPhoto via Getty Images

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a list of 431 products that are effective at killing viruses when they are on surfaces. Now, a good year for Lysol manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser just got better when the EPA said that two Lysol products are among the products that can kill the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveils the Green New Deal resolution in front of the U.S. Capitol on February 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong / Getty Images

By Judith Lewis Mernit

For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.

Read More Show Less
About 30,000 claims contending that Roundup caused non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are currently unsettled. Mike Mozart / CC BY 2.0

Bayer's $10 billion settlement to put an end to roughly 125,000 lawsuits against its popular weed killer Roundup, which contains glyphosate, hit a snag this week when a federal judge in San Francisco expressed skepticism over what rights future plaintiffs would have, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Hundreds of sudden elephant deaths in Botswana aren't just a loss for the ecosystem and global conservation efforts. Mario Micklisch / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Charli Shield

When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.

Read More Show Less