To date, three Republican presidential candidates—Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Marco Rubio—have released energy plans and policy priorities. Note that these three candidates are considered more in the “mainstream” and not on the fringe of their party, like, say, Sen. Ted Cruz. That said, their plans might have as well been written by Donald Trump’s policy team—which I believe is himself.
The candidates’ plans also make little-to-no reference to the booming clean energy economy powered by solar and wind. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Every single one of these purportedly reasonable Republican candidates has released a plan which makes no reference to the climate crisis. That’s aside, of course, from Marco Rubio’s advocacy for killing an international climate agreement in Congress, as well as all the candidates’ opposition to safeguards like the Clean Power Plan—which would finally work to start cutting carbon pollution at the national level. During the most recent Republican debate, Rubio made his opposition to any form of climate action even clearer by eloquently asserting that we can’t have any impact because “America is not a planet.”
The candidates’ plans also make little-to-no reference to the booming clean energy economy powered by solar and wind. In fact, the plans look largely identical. They seem to be copied from the same pages of every fossil fuel CEO’s playbook, each giving dirty fuel conglomerates everything they’ve ever dreamed of. Oil, gas and coal executives can check off every item on their wish list with these candidates, including the Keystone XL pipeline, dangerous offshore drilling in the pristine Arctic and elsewhere, an end to the ban on exports of crude oil and a straightforward gutting of the vital protections which safeguard the air and water that all American families breathe and drink.
By ignoring both climate action and the clean energy revolution that’s creating thousands of jobs, these plans demonstrate that when it comes to energy policy, there is a complete and total disconnect between the “mainstream” Republican presidential candidates and the reality unfolding across America and around the world. And that’s without even getting into front-runner Donald Trump’s absurd comments and conspiracy theories.
You wouldn't know it from a look at these Republican plans, but Iowa, the first state to weigh in during both the Republican and Democratic primaries, is a clean energy powerhouse where wind is rapidly emerging as "the new ethanol.” In 2014, Iowa generated more than 28 percent of its electricity from wind power—first in the nation (remind you of anything?)—and within five years the state could meet 40 percent of its energy needs from wind power. Already, wind has brought more than 7,000 jobs to Iowa. And it's not just Iowa where clean energy is popular.
At the same time, both corporate America and Wall Street—the Republican Party’s traditional patrons—have evolved on climate action. Three weeks ago, six of the America’s largest banks, including Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo, signed a joint letter of support for “financing climate solutions.” These business leaders also noted that their actions can only accomplish so much alone, saying, “We call for leadership and cooperation among governments for commitments leading to a strong global climate agreement.”
On Oct. 19, momentum kept on rolling when 81 major corporations, including Best Buy, Target, Hershey’s, AT&T, GE, Johnson & Johnson, General Motors, HP, Starbucks, Cargill, Xerox, Walmart, UPS, Sony, Siemens, Nike, McDonalds, Kelloggs, IBM, Nestle, Ikea, Intel, Apple, Coca Cola, Pepsi-Co, Procter & Gamble and scores of others announced that they have signed onto a major “Act on Climate” pledge calling for a strong global agreement at international negotiations in Paris later this year, while also offering their own carbon reduction and renewable energy commitments.
You don’t need to look further than Pope Francis to see that the level of advocacy on behalf of our “shared home” and its climate is rapidly increasing in the religious community. During his visit to the U.S. last month, the Pope made a sustained, crystal-clear call for climate action and protecting the global environment during historic addresses at the White House, United Nations and in Congress. Earlier this year, the Pope was joined by other Christian leaders, including the heads of the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches, who co-authored an op-ed in The New York Times on “Climate Change and Moral Responsibility.” Other religious leaders are also speaking out. In just the latest example, last week the Dalai Lama called for action on climate, saying, “This is not a political matter, not a religious matter, but ultimately [about] the survival of humanity.”
Even among Republican voters, there is a clear understanding that the world’s climate is changing and that mankind is playing a role in that change. Even more significant, a large majority of conservative Republicans agree that we should accelerate the growth of clean energy so that America can have cleaner, healthier air and less pollution at home, and agree that such acceleration would also create economic growth and jobs. While more than eight in 10 registered voters nationwide (84 percent) favor “taking action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy in the United States,” that includes 72 percent of Republican voters and even 68 percent of self-identified conservative Republican voters.
Traditionally, Republican politicians have relied on the canard that the U.S. can’t act alone while China—the world’s biggest carbon emitter—keeps on polluting. But that argument is headed for the incinerator, now that China joined the U.S. in leading the way forward on climate with historic commitments to curb its carbon pollution and install unprecedented amounts of wind, solar and other renewable energy capacity. In fact, the clean energy capacity China plans to add is equivalent to that of the entire U.S. electric grid—and they aren’t alone. More than 150 countries, including more than 100 developing countries, have submitted plans for cutting and limiting their carbon pollution while ramping up clean energy.
Overall, it couldn't be clearer that the Republican presidential candidates’ mix of silence, befuddlement and discomfort on climate action increasingly resembles a flat-Earth society conspiracy convention that’s staked out its fact-free, vehement opposition to the entire word. Everywhere you look, from New York’s Wall Street to Iowa’s Main Street, from China to the Vatican, from the corporate board room to world capitals, from Progressive Democrats to Conservative Republican voters, everyone is ready for real climate action and the clean energy revolution—except if you are a Republican running for president.
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By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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