Whose Grid? Our Grid! Chicago’s Campaign to Put Electricity Under Public Control
By Alex Schwartz
Among the many vendors at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18 sat three young people peddling neither organic vegetables, gourmet cheese nor handmade crafts. Instead, they offered liberation from capitalism.
Representatives of the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America (CDSA) engaged marketgoers in discussions about the campaigns they are involved in, from lifting the ban on rent control to establishing single-payer healthcare. But one effort in particular seemed to catch the most attention.
"We're trying to bring ComEd under municipal control," CDSA member Matthew Cason told Patrick Petranek, a Logan Square resident whose eyes lit up at the prospect of Chicago's largest electricity provider, Commonwealth Edison, being taken over by the city. Petranek said he supports more transparency around fees and signed a petition in support of the campaign.
ComEd's franchise agreement with Chicago is up for renegotiation at the end of 2020. The agreement, established in 1947, allows ComEd to access the city's public areas to build electric infrastructure — and form a practical monopoly over Chicago's electricity.
"Electric power is a critical function in everyday life, and we can't go without it," Cason told In These Times. "Yet, it's controlled by a private monopoly, and that private monopoly is minimally accountable, not transparent and just is outside of our public control."
Cason argues that a democratically controlled utility would help Chicago reach its goal of 100-percent clean and renewable energy by 2035, which City Council set in April. If the city — not a profit-driven corporation— is responsible for sourcing its own energy, Cason says, it will make decisions to satisfy its residents instead of investors.
CDSA launched its #DemocratizeComEd campaign in June, part of a wave of municipalization efforts heating up across the country. DSA and other grassroots organizations are mounting campaigns from San Francisco to Maine. In July, after a heat wave forced two power shutdowns in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio floated the idea of taking over ConEd, the city's investor-owned electric utility.
In late July, Chicago alderman and CDSA member Daniel La Spata introduced a City Council order calling for a feasibility study to examine the potential impacts — environmental, social and economic — of bringing ComEd under public control. Cason expects the proposal to easily pass through the Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy, after which it would be up for review by the whole Council. The study, due to come out in December if authorized, would then outline paths to municipalization.
Twenty-two of Chicago's 50 aldermen have indicated support for the study so far. While a plan for Chicago's potential ComEd takeover would be detailed in the study, Cason points out that Illinois makes it particularly easy for local governments to municipalize utilities. One way is through a Public Utility Certificate, a special low-interest bond that enables cities to purchase utility assets, including equipment and infrastructure, while paying back the loan only with revenue generated from the utility. ComEd's assets would then be managed by a board of elected officials, rather than answering to profit-driven shareholders.
Johanna Bozuwa, co-manager of the climate and energy program at The Democracy Collaborative and an advocate for municipalization, allows that "publicly owned utilities have [not] always been perfect" — for instance, poor power infrastructure will cause blackouts regardless of who owns the utility. But, she adds, democratizing utilities creates "many more levers in order to enact change in a way that we can't do in a corporate monopoly entity." Public utilities can prioritize community over profit, she said. "We have agency in a way that we may not otherwise."
Burlington, Vermont, for instance, used its public power grid to become the first U.S. city to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy. Red-state Nebraska is currently the only U.S. state with a completely publicly owned power system — and has been since the 1940s, when private utilities thought powering rural areas was too expensive. Today, Nebraska residents pay some of the lowest electric rates in the country.
Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, also a CDSA member, made a case for municipalization on the public TV show Chicago Tonight in early July, noting there is local precedent: In 1947, Chicago took ownership of the private train lines that made up its famous "L" mass transit system, democratizing public transit.
"We want to make sure we're pushing forward the socialist cause," Ramirez-Rosa said. In addition to tabling at the farmers market, CDSA is canvassing neighborhoods and talking to City Council members to generate support for municipalization. Cason says talking to Chicagoans about the effort has been surprisingly easy. "Everyone knows what ComEd is," Cason said. "Everyone knows what electricity is. Everyone has a power bill."
But what most speaks to people he canvasses, Cason says, is the principle of having a basic necessity managed by an entity beholden to Chicago residents, rather than profit.
"We believe that critical public and social functions should be under public control," he told In These Times. "You don't want to leave something you need up to the whims of private shareholders, private investors … things that are not accountable to the public."
This story originally appeared in In These Times. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
If you are taking medication for an underactive thyroid, check your prescription.
By Jessica Corbett
This story was originally published on Common Dreams on September 19, 2020.
Some advocates kicked off next week's Climate Week NYC early Saturday by repurposing the Metronome, a famous art installation in Union Square that used to display the time of day, as a massive "Climate Clock" in an effort to pressure governments worldwide to take swift, bold action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and rein in human-caused global heating.
<div id="0bde7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="002ce26d8d0c627f76d752e14d234d6e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1307397838884741121" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">LIVE: #ClimateClock about to go live at Union square replacing the atronomical clock, with a carbon countdown!… https://t.co/5OzxwUwWDf</div> — Greg Schwedock🌹(⧖) (@Greg Schwedock🌹(⧖))<a href="https://twitter.com/GregSchwedock/statuses/1307397838884741121">1600542909.0</a></blockquote></div><p>A mobile climate clock that Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg "now carries with her, as well as the larger Climate Clock project, was assembled by a team of artists, makers, scientists, and activists based in New York, and is part of the Beautiful Trouble community of projects," according to <a href="https://climateclock.world/" target="_blank">Climateclock.world</a>, which details the science behind the numbers displayed and how to install clocks in other cities.</p>
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The passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg means the nation's highest court has lost a staunch advocate for women's rights and civil rights. Ginsburg was a tireless worker, who continued to serve on the bench through multiple bouts of cancer. She also leaves behind a complicated environmental legacy, as Environment and Energy News (E&E News) reported.
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