By Julia Conley
The results of the U.S. Senate race this week in Maine — won by four-term Republican Sen. Susan Collins after Democrats poured $50 million into challenger Sara Gideon's campaign — may have given the impression that a Trumpian right-wing agenda has an iron grip on the state's more conservative rural voters, but the victory of Democratic state Rep. Chloe Maxmin, a progressive champion who ran on the promise of a Green New Deal and offering a "politics as public service" in a strong GOP district, tells a much different story.
Two years after winning a seat in the state House of Representatives, representing conservative, rural District 88, Maxmin secured a win in her challenge to state Senate Republican Leader Dana Dow. As in her first campaign for elected office, Maxmin won over voters in state Senate District 13 — where residents chose Collins over Gideon — by engaging deeply with her community and offering a platform focused on climate action, investing in universal broadband access, and treating healthcare as a human right.
Maxmin's campaign was focused on providing help to people in a part of Maine where many feel disillusioned by politics and neglected by leaders in the state legislature and Washington, D.C. — but her energy was spent less on convincing voters to back a progressive agenda and more on giving them a platform to talk about their own experiences.
"When I talk to folks, I mostly listen, I don't show up and talk about myself," Maxmin told Common Dreams on Thursday. "I really try and listen and make sure that the voices that I hear are reflected in our campaign ... The work that we do on our side is to really think about campaigns differently, because we see them as one of the primary ways that we can start building a new type of politics. So we didn't use any party consultants. We designed all of our mailers, palm cards, postcards ourselves. We're all about authentic conversation and just had dozens and dozens of volunteers writing postcards or having conversations with voters and using the same style of just listening, and not going around saying, 'You should vote for Chloe because of this,' but trying to understand where people are at."
"My sense is that people really saw that we were doing it differently and that I could be in office differently, too," she added.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, the Maxmin campaign further stepped up its commitment to engaging directly with voters, enlisting 200 volunteers to check on voters' wellbeing.
"Maxmin called upon her volunteers to reach out to every senior in her district and her network of campaign volunteers provided food, assistance with prescription drugs and identified transpiration needs," Marie Follayttar, director of the progressive grassroots group Mainers for Accountable Leadership, told Common Dreams. "Chloe is both a community organizer and an elected official. Not only is Chloe willing to listen to the people where they are — at their dinner table or at their door — she is demonstrably responsive to their needs and leverages the organizing structure of her campaign to assist her in accomplishing mutual aid work."
Other Democratic campaigns in the state, Follayttar noted, "could have done this as well. We transform lives by being present in them and building community to support one another. We move into legislative action by turning the concerns heard at the door into legislation."
Maxmin, who introduced the state's Green New Deal in 2019, with the notable backing of the state AFL-CIO, and co-founded the fossil fuel divestment campaign Divest Harvard while in college, won applause from national climate action campaigners at 350.org and Friends of the Earth.
Hats off to new Maine State Senator Chloe Maxmin, a true climate champ who managed to beat the incumbent Senate Minority Leader.— Bill McKibben (@Bill McKibben)1604510063.0
Congrats to progressive champion (and Friends of the Earth board member) Chloe Maxmin! https://t.co/qKVceZQAfu— Friends of the Earth (Action) (@Friends of the Earth (Action))1604521269.0
"Just seeing the amazing news that Chloe Maxmin — who was a young leader of Divest Harvard — has won a seat in the Maine State Senate!" exclaimed Thelma Young-Lutunatabua, an organizer with 350.org, on Wednesday. "Youth of the climate movement gaining political office!"
Maxmin's tactic of engaging authentically with voters in reminiscent of "deep canvassing," a method of campaigning used by the national grassroots network People's Action and found to be 102 times more effective at winning over undecided voters than a typical brief interaction during a door-knocking or phone-banking campaign.
"Deep canvassing differs from traditional campaign tactics because it relies on soul," People's Action Director George Goehl told Common Dreams. "In a deep canvass conversation, you break down your walls and the canvasser and voter really connect with one another. This is the kind of organizing that changes hearts and minds."
Maxmin told Common Dreams that her campaign led her to "thousands" of similar interactions.
"I had thousands of conversations with people," she said. "And it's so interesting when you have that kind of breadth to your exposure of humanity, just the themes that you hear. And it was really, really consistent—rarely hearing direct issues, mostly hearing about how people are so frustrated with everyone and everything on both sides and just hating the negative campaigning."
Mike Tipping of Maine People's Alliance, an affiliate of People's Action, credited Maxmin's ability to connect with voters across party lines, stressing that Maxmin ran a campaign she defined as "bipartisan" rather than "progressive" because issues that matter to voters in her rural district are important to people of all political beliefs.
"These are universal progressive values," Tipping told Common Dreams. "Too often we talk about these things in a partisan lens, but overwhelmingly people believe we need to tax the wealthy, that we need to raise the minimum wage, that we need sick days, paid family leave, healthcare access that's real, that everyone can see a doctor when they need to. Those are not limited to a party. And when you build a multi-race, multi-class coalition like Chloe did ... That's how you win in those places."
In "Rural Runner," a short film by Forest Woodward about Maxmin and her campaign manager, Canyon Woodward, Maxmin is seen knocking on doors in rural Maine, talking to voters about how their lives could be impacted by a Green New Deal for the state and other progressive legislation.
"Every year we keep electing the same kind of folks," she says in the film. "They tell us the same things, they act the same way, we elect them, they get into the state House, and they break the same promises and we're left with the same disillusionment that we had before."
In 2018, Maxmin began her campaign in House District 88 as an underdog, 16 points behind her opponent, but credited her tireless face-to-face campaigning with securing victory.
"What Chloe and I have done is pretty simple," said Woodward in "Rural Runner," which was filmed as the team was beginning Maxmin's campaign for the state Senate race. "We put one foot in front of the other, we listen, we show up every day rain or shine, we do our best. We never really know what we're capable of unless we try."
After becoming the first Democrat ever to win House District 88 at the age of 26, Maxmin introduced her state's own Green New Deal, centering the legislation on a just transition for workers in the fossil fuel sector and investing in solar installations for newly-built schools.
In the State House, she has also sponsored legislation to provide access to rural public transportation, an issue she campaigned on this year and called "the great equalizer in rural communities." Maine Senate District 13 has been represented by Republicans for most of the last decade.
While the national Democratic Party often express wariness about engaging with voters in traditionally conservative areas about issues erroneously deemed "left wing," such as far-reaching action to solve the climate emergency, Maxmin's winning campaigns suggest Democrats can find more success with rural voters by being unapologetic proponents of policies aimed at helping working people.
"She is no shrinking violet and didn't try and moderate herself or be anyone other than who she is, and I think voters responded to that," Tipping said.
During the campaigns Maxmin and Woodward have run together, they wrote in an article for The Nation in 2018, "We dig into the local, cultivating relationships and utilizing the resourcefulness of our rural communities to build a rooted movement... We see that rural America is alive and beautiful, eager to be heard and remembered."
"Many have welcomed us into their homes and honored us with stories of family members who are registering to vote just for our campaign, who are voting Democrat for the first time, who have never voted in a midterm but now are because our movement gives them hope," they continued.
"We view our campaign as a movement, built on shared values and authentic conversations," Maxmin and Woodward wrote. "We build real political power, with lasting muscle for the long fight, with an inside-outside movement that elects authentic representatives to fight for everyone and continues to organize beyond the election to maintain pressure on our politicians."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
- 7 Environmental Takeaways From the 2020 Election Season ›
- What Are the Implications of Election Results on the Food Movement ... ›
- 81% of Voters Support a Green New Deal, Survey Finds - EcoWatch ›
By Tara Lohan
Election Day 2020 — the day before the United States officially left the Paris climate agreement — didn't deliver an immediate rebuke to President Trump or relief for environmentalists.
That would have to wait.
"The election hasn't produced the outcome that the planet badly needed," Bill McKibben of 350.org summed up in The New Yorker the following day.
But as the votes continued to be counted in battleground states, the mood shifted from despair to hope, and finally, on Nov. 7, to celebration when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were pronounced victors.
So much was riding on this election — and not just in the United States.
"There is no pathway to meaningful global climate action without our federal government playing a prominent part," wrote Mary Annaïse Heglar in The New Republic just before the election.
A Biden-Harris victory doesn't undo all the environmental harm caused by the Trump administration and its 125 rollbacks of environmental protections, but it provides a much-needed opportunity to restore scientific integrity and take action on climate change, environmental justice, biodiversity and other pressing concerns.
That's good news. And looking down the ballot there were also other environmental victories — as well as some places where ground was lost. Here are the biggest takeaways:
The Good Stuff
Few big-ticket wins were clear early except for the fact that Democrats held onto the House of Representatives — an expected but not inconsequential victory. And although their majority slimmed, several new additions will be a boon for environmental issues.
One of those is progressive Cori Bush, who cruised to victory in Missouri's 1st congressional district. She's the first Black woman from the state to be elected to Congress. The nurse, pastor and Black Lives Matter activist is also a Green New Deal supporter.
In gubernatorial fights, Washington's climate champion Jay Inslee won re-election. So did Democrat Roy Cooper in North Carolina, which E&E News called a significant victory in the state's push for clean energy.
Mark Kelly flipped a Senate seat blue in Arizona, and so did John Hickenlooper in Colorado.
Hickenlooper, a booster of the fracking industry during his time as Colorado governor, is not exactly beloved by environmentalists in the state. But his defeat of Cory Gardner was hailed by the League of Conservation Voters, which called Gardner one of "worst anti-environmental candidates" running this year. It was also the first time in 84 years that Democrats swept all statewide races in Colorado.
Along with those victories came one for wolves, too. Colorado voters passed Proposition 114, which will require the state Parks and Wildlife department to develop a restoration and management plan for the reintroduction of gray wolves. It comes less than a week after the Trump administration removed federal protection from gray wolves across the country.
Photo by Steve Felberg/Pixabay (CC)
In other statewide races, Nevada's Question 6, which would require electric utilities to get 50% of their electricity from renewables by 2030, was approved by voters. But how much that helps the state's clean energy future is a matter of debate. Nevada has already passed similar legislation. Enshrining this benchmark into the state constitution could help protect it from future rollbacks — or it could make efforts to raise the target even harder.
Much further down the ballot, climate champions made gains in city council positions in major cities such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco and Portland.
Denver also approved an increase in sales tax to help fund climate and clean energy initiatives. And Columbus, Ohio passed a measure that would help the city secure more locally sourced renewable energy.
"City leadership is important for advancing climate action but new research finds U.S. cities falling behind," Daniel Melling, communications manager for the UCLA Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, wrote for Legal Planet.
The Bad Stuff
An anticipated, decisive retaking of the Senate by Democrats never materialized, and whether it remains in Republican hands won't be decided for a bit. Two Georgia races are headed to a January runoff.
If Republicans do hang on to the Senate, that will mean any bold new climate legislation — or likely any meaningful environmental legislation at all — coming out of the House will be stymied, especially if Mitch McConnell retains his role as Senate leader.
Meanwhile several Republican senators with dismal environmental records will be back, including Iowa's Joni Ernst, Mississippi's Cindy Hyde-Smith, Alabama's Tommy Tuberville and Roger Marshall from Kansas. Lindsay Graham, who has a mixed at best record when it comes to climate legislation, also returns.
While Colorado may have seen a blue wave, Montana was awash in red. A Republican sweep across the state included a victory by coal-industry ally Greg Gianforte, who took the governor's mansion out of control of Democrats for the first time in 16 years.
Coal train loading at Spring Creek mine, Montana. Photo: WildEarth Guardians, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
"Montana didn't just go Republican on Tuesday," wrote Gwen Florio in The Nation. "It went deeply conservative Republican." The effect of that will be felt not just on energy policy, but the fate of public lands and wildlife, including sage grouse and grizzlies.
In a new low, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia became the first QAnon conspiracy theory believer elected to Congress. In addition to a record of racist statements, she ran on a platform that included blocking the Green New Deal.
Democrats had hoped to make a small gain in Texas. But even $2.5 million in backing from Michael Bloomberg couldn't get Democrat Chrysta Castañeda elected to the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees issues related to oil and gas — a state race that has worldwide impact.
The race was won by Jim Wright, whom the Huffington Post describes as "a hardcore climate change denier and owner of an oil-field services company."
The oil industry may have also garnered a victory in Alaska. There Measure 1, which would raise taxes on some North Slope oil companies, is trailing by a wide margin.
But when you tally it all up at the end of the day — or week, really — even McKibben had to concede that overall things are looking up.
"It could have gone much better," he wrote on Nov. 7. "(Specifically, a deadlocked Senate will make action on the dominant issue of our lifetimes, climate change, more difficult to address than it should be.) But it went."
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
- These Races Will Shape How U.S. Elections Affect Climate Progress ... ›
- Four Environmental Fights on the 2020 Ballot - EcoWatch ›
- 7 Environmental Takeaways From the 2020 Election Season ... ›
- Gray Wolf Recovery and Survival Require Immediate Action By the Biden Administration - EcoWatch ›
- Massachusetts Legislature Sends Bipartisan Climate Bill to the Governor - EcoWatch ›
- How Ossoff and Warnock’s Georgia Senate Wins Impact the Climate - EcoWatch ›
Interested in making the switch to solar energy, but not sure how solar panels work? Understanding household renewable energy systems can make it easier to find the best solar panels for your home.
Many homeowners are going solar to help lessen dependence on traditional utility companies and slash monthly electric bills. In addition to these cost savings, switching to a home solar system means minimizing your environmental footprint. Between the financial advantages and the improved ecological stewardship, solar energy can seem like a no-brainer.
Let's dive into the science behind solar and how solar panels work to power homes.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
When you buy solar panels, your installer will position several panels on the roof of your home in what's called a solar array. The specific number of solar panels you require depends on several factors, including the size and position of your roof, the amount of sunlight your home receives, and the type of solar panels you select.
Solar panels use photovoltaic cells, or PV cells, to absorb light from the sun. (More on the photovoltaic effect in just a moment.) When sunlight hits the panels, they generate a direct current, or DC electricity. However, homes require alternating current, or AC electricity.
A device called a solar inverter is a key part of the solar energy system, as it converts the electric current from DC to AC. The AC power then circulates through your household electrical panel and is distributed as needed to your different systems, appliances and outlets.
Here's a quick, step-by-step summary of how solar panels work to power your home:
- Photovoltaic cells absorb sunlight, then turn it into DC energy.
- An inverter turns the DC energy into AC energy, which is what your household electrical system requires.
- Electricity is distributed throughout your home, powering outlets and appliances.
- Any excess or leftover electricity that is produced is fed into a battery bank or back to your local power grid.
The Science of Solar Panels
While there are a few types of solar panels to choose from, most household systems work in roughly the same way. There is usually a layer of silicon cells surrounded by a metal frame and a glass case. There are also wires throughout the panel, allowing the free flow of electricity.
You may (or may not) remember from your high school science classes that silicon is a non-metal with conductive properties. In other words, it is able to absorb light and then turn it into electricity. How it works is simple: when light hits the silicon cells, electrons are set into motion, producing an electrical current. This electricity generation process is known as the photovoltaic effect, and it is one of the core principles of solar technology.
More About the Photovoltaic Effect
Let's dig into the photovoltaic effect a little deeper. This principle was first discovered way back in 1839 and is generally associated with semiconductor materials. The photovoltaic effect simply describes the property by which these materials can generate electricity any time they are exposed to sunlight.
Here's a step-by-step summary that explains how solar panels work by employing the photovoltaic effect:
- Sunlight hits the solar panel, which has two layers of silicon, an n-type layer that sits on top of a p-type layer.
- The sun's energy knocks an electron from its bond in the upper n-type layer, creating both a freely roaming electron and a positively charged "hole" where the electron was previously bonded.
- The hole travels down to the p-type layer, and the free electron travels through conductive wires to an inverter.
- The inverter transforms the solar electricity from DC to AC so that it can be used in your home.
- The electricity flows throughout your home to power systems, appliances and outlets.
- The free electron eventually flows through the house and back to the p-type layer of the panel, where it fills a positively charged hole and closes the loop needed to maintain the flow of electricity.
How Solar Panels Work With Your Power Grid or Battery Bank
We mentioned earlier that any excess electricity generated by a solar panel is fed back into a power grid or can be stored in a solar battery. What are these, exactly, and how do solar panels work with each component?
If your home is connected to the electrical grid (and most homes are), then it comes with a utility meter. This meter allows your utility company to measure how much energy you are consuming. During solar panel installation, your solar system will typically be connected to the utility meter. Thus, the meter assesses and measures your home's solar energy production.
Many solar homes produce more energy than they consume. In this case, you can either send your excess energy back to the electrical grid (through a process called net metering), or you can purchase a battery to store your energy for future use.
- Power grid: When you feed energy back into your power grid, you can receive credits from your utility company to save even more money on your monthly bills and help offset the cost of solar panels.
- Battery bank: The best solar batteries have a high capacity so that you can store enough excess energy to power your home during power outages and on cloudy days.
Additional Components of Your Home Solar System
Now that you understand the most important components of your home solar system, there are a couple more items to consider that affect how solar panels work in terms of efficiency.
We mentioned above that most solar panels come with a glass casing. This helps protect the silicon solar cells and ensures the longevity and durability of your home solar system. Beneath that glass case, there may also be some insulating materials, which protect your equipment from humidity as well as from heat dissipation. This insulation is crucial because it allows the solar panel system to work optimally.
A lot of solar panels are coated in anti-reflective materials as well. This is so that they can absorb as much of the sun's light as possible. Again, this is an important way to keep your home solar system working smoothly and efficiently.
A final note for homeowners who are interested in solar energy: As you select your solar panels, you will generally have a choice between monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Monocrystalline panels are made using a single silicon crystal. They tend to be the most efficient solar panels, though they can also be pricier. Polycrystalline solar panels are made up of multiple crystal fragments and usually cost less.
Getting Started With Solar Energy
Now that you know how solar panels work, you may feel ready to get going with a home solar system. The first step is identifying the top solar companies in your area and calling an installer to find out if solar panels are worth it for your home. Your installer will conduct an assessment based on the size of your home, the surface area of your roof, the amount of sunlight you get and more. It will furnish some guidance as to how many solar panels you need and which type of panel is the best bet.
Getting a home solar system can be a great way to save money on your monthly utility costs while demonstrating a real commitment to environmental stewardship.
Learn More About How Solar Could Help You Save
If you're interested in solar, it only takes 30 seconds to get a free, no-obligation quote. You could save up to $2,500 per year on utility bills and get a tax rebate all while reducing your carbon footprint. Fill out the form below to get started.
By Jake Johnson
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Wednesday vowed to bar from his transition team any "leaders" of fossil fuel companies, a pledge environmentalists cautiously applauded while urging the former vice president to go further by committing to banning all Big Oil lobbyists and executives from both his transition team and cabinet.
"Rejecting fossil fuel influence is a smart move for the Biden-Harris campaign," Charlie Jiang, climate campaigner with Greenpeace USA, said in a statement Thursday. "Voters are hungry to elect a climate champion. Joe Biden is running on the most ambitious climate platform in history, but it won't mean much if his transition team is stacked with oil and gas insiders."
In a document titled "Biden-Harris Transition Team Ethics Plan," the campaign states that "in addition to instituting a robust code of ethical conduct, Vice President Biden aims to ensure that those who serve are aligned with his values and policy priorities, and have not, for example, been leaders at fossil fuel or private prison companies."
But the ethics plan falls well short of adhering to a list of demands issued last month by a coalition of nearly 150 climate organizations, which urged Biden to "ban all fossil fuel executives, lobbyists, and representatives from any advisory or official position on your campaign, transition team, cabinet, and administration" if elected president.
While the Biden campaign will require transition team members to sign a pledge promising to disqualify themselves from "involvement in any particular Biden-Harris transition team matter" if they have "engaged in regulated lobbying activities with respect to such matter" within the previous 12 months, the requirement comes with a substantial loophole.
"Persons who have registered as federal lobbyists within the last 12 months may only serve as transition team members with advance approval of the General Counsel," the document states, suggesting that lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry could ultimately be permitted to serve on the transition team.
Jiang said that while the Biden campaign's ethics plan "is a strong start," it "is not the end of the road."
"We urge Biden to commit to banning all fossil fuel executives and lobbyists from his cabinet and administration," Jiang added. "Personnel is policy, and we need experts in the White House who put climate and environmental justice ahead of corporate profits."
"Committing to a fossil-free transition team is exactly what we need to see heading into a new administration with climate impacts mounting rapidly," Rees added in a statement Thursday. "Keeping fossil fuel representatives out of the federal government is a position that's extremely popular with Democrats and the entire American public, and builds on the key improvements Biden has made to his climate plan since the primary. The Biden-Harris campaign is clearly listening to its potential allies, and this willingness to listen and adapt will be critical in the months ahead."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
- As Biden Embraces More Ambitious Climate Plan, Fossil Fuel Execs ... ›
- The Environmental Legacy of Kamala Harris, Joe Biden's Newly ... ›
- Biden Commits to Banning Fossil Fuel Subsidies After DNC Dropped It ›
- Activists Are Alarmed Over Biden Pick Who Took Fossil Fuel Money ›
- Greenpeace Releases Sweeping Policy Plans to Fight Inequality, Racial Injustice, COVID-19 and Climate Crisis - EcoWatch ›
Big Data, Big Oil: Unveiling the 'Dark Forces' Behind Trump’s 2020 Reelection Campaign With Josh Fox
By Reynard Loki
Josh Fox, the Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind Gasland, the documentary that started the global anti-fracking movement, is bringing a new message to audiences across the country with The Truth Has Changed, a live theater-based project that sounds the alarm on the right-wing disinformation campaign working to secure President Trump's reelection.
Commissioned by legendary documentary producer Sheila Nevins for HBO as a solo performance to inspire grassroots action, The Truth Has Changed traces Fox's personal arc from 9/11 to present-day America to tell a story that is both a warning and a prescription to save our democracy — and the planet.
I talked to Fox about this new project and the dark forces working to spread lies and misinformation to influence the 2020 presidential election.
Reynard Loki: Your films have been about the environment, and the fight to save it from climate change, fracking, pipelines, the activists at Standing Rock. How has your previous work led you to your new live performance-based project, The Truth Has Changed?
Josh Fox: That's a great question. It started with an intriguing proposal from HBO. They said, "We know you do theater. We know you've been on the road for 10 years bringing your films to people. And you in a live setting is a part of the show, right? It's not just that people come out to see your films. They come to see you, so how about you do a one-man show that brings that reality to the people?" And that was an assignment from Sheila Nevins when she was at HBO. And I said, "Absolutely; I'll try this." And then I started to really think about it, and at first, it was kind of a reporter's notebook, but to be honest, what I really zeroed in on was the fact that for the last 10 years, the oil and gas industry has made a huge effort to discredit my work and discredit all of the people who spoke about how bad fracking is. And this is very similar to the campaigns of climate denial, which hinge on widespread misinformation and then spreading disinformation and propaganda, smear and lies.
RL: Can you describe the effort to discredit your work?
JF: Big names in conservative smear campaigns were following me all around the country. [Steve] Bannon. Conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart. Filmmaker Phelim McAleer, whose pro-fracking documentary "FrackNation" attempted to refute my own documentary Gasland. Conservative activist James O'Keefe. GOP media strategist Fred Davis. These high-profile right-wing charlatans clearly did opposition research on me. They collected all this data on me and figured out how to attack me personally. They tried to get inside my psyche to unnerve me. And they did it in a very specific and deliberate kind of way.
RL: What exactly did they do?
JF: They created hate emails specifically designed for my personality. There were tweets threats; there were death threats on Twitter. They highlighted my life in the theater, my hairline, the fact that my family's Jewish; they found out that I had quit smoking several years ago, but they found a picture of me with a cigarette in my hand online from the past, and they ran that as a pro-fracking TV ad in Ohio saying, "This environmentalist is a smoker." They followed me around the country for years. They booked shadow tours of our films. They tapped into ethnic and regional stereotyping. And then they tried to paint me as some kind of rich, intellectual, New York City liberal, which is not the case. They flung all of these stereotypes at me. They gathered all this information about me — my background, my ethnicity, my age, my race, where I live, where I went to school, how much money I made, what I had done in my previous life before the films.
RL: Are you saying that those techniques used against you are similar to the current disinformation campaigns we're seeing today? Could you have been a kind of beta test for this data-based approach to spread propaganda?
JF: Absolutely. Basically, what Steve Bannon did to me from 2010 to 2015, he did to the entire American electorate in 2016. In developing The Truth Has Changed, I made two startling realizations. One was that the people who ran those campaigns against me had a very strong hand in influencing the 2016 election: Steve Bannon, who was running Breitbart when all these attacks were happening against me, took over the Trump campaign and his team profiled the electorate in the exact same way. This connection led me down two trails in my own life. The first looked back to my own personal history as a grandson of Holocaust survivors. I have an intimate knowledge of how white supremacy works, how the Nazi playbook operates, and feel a sense of intergenerational trauma. The second trail looks to the present time and the future, to how the same techniques that were used in a smear campaign against an individual through Google, Facebook, data collection, [and] addressable ad technology, which enables advertisers to selectively segment audiences to serve different ads, are used to influence a massive amount of people. And instead of just following one person around and knowing one person's data — mine — now they know the personal data of tens of millions of people, and they use that information to create highly personalized ads according to different personality types.
RL: How important was big data to Trump's victory in 2016?
JF: During the 2016 election, CNN called political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica "Donald Trump's mind readers" and his "secret weapon." They gathered up to 5,000 data points on more than 220 million Americans. And they used that data to tailor ads specifically toward people's personality types to influence their thinking. The same folks are currently rallying white supremacists all across the world and are making a bid to get Trump reelected in 2020. Their digital campaign created 5.9 million different ad variations in 2016, versus just 66,000 ads created by Hillary Clinton's campaign. It was so key to Trump's victory that Trump's digital campaign manager Brad Parscale is now his campaign manager.
RL: So in "The Truth Is Changed," you're connecting big oil and white supremacy to big data — and how these forces are working together to influence the 2020 election.
JF: Yes, we're talking about Bannon and the white supremacy movement. We're talking about Trump's former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who, before that, was the head of ExxonMobil and the oil and gas industry, which has brazenly taken over the government. We're talking about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and their collection of the personal data of billions of people around the globe. Together, they have created a situation in which big data, big oil and white supremacists powerfully influence the way the United States government operates. And certainly, in the 2020 election cycle, we're going to have a very hard time figuring out what is true. I think we're going to see the largest smear, misinformation and disinformation campaigns in the history of any election. So in The Truth Has Changed I'm taking a deep dive not only into the smear techniques of big oil and how they work from a new technology perspective, from psychographics to addressable ad technology, but going into how that is now how we run elections in America, and then we've entered the age of misinformation because right now it's very hard for people to tell what's true.
RL: Do disinformation campaigns rely on gullibility?
JF: No, I wouldn't say that at all, not with the state of our education system right now. This entire project starts with a high school girl in the front row of one of my films putting her hand up and asking me, "Josh, how do we know what's true?" She said, "You say all these things about how fracking is bad, and climate change is real, but then we can look online, and we see that people are saying that the opposite of this is true. So how do we know?" She's not gullible. She's trying, but can't figure out the difference between a persuasive argument that is true, and a persuasive argument that is false.
Friends of mine send me fake things all the time because it appeals to them. I've sent fake things out accidentally because they appeal for my sensibility. And it's not only that these ads say things like, vote for Donald Trump, he's a nice guy, or he's a tough guy, or he's a strong guy, or he's a compassionate guy. It's often taking people who are upset with the Democratic Party and funneling them toward, for example, Jill Stein, when they might otherwise vote for Hillary Clinton. And a lot of people will get really mad at me and say, "No, no, no, Jill Stein represents what I believe in." But if you're in Pennsylvania and you're voting against the Democratic platform, which Bill McKibben, Cornel West and I helped write and which has real progress in it, and that vote then gets siphoned away to put Donald Trump in office, then you've been manipulated. These disinformation campaigns often take the most deep-seated things that are really important to you and turn that into their own political gain. People are assuming that there is some kind of standard for truth because there always used to be. But last year, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified to Congress and declared that political candidates no longer had to abide by any kind of standards of truth, they abandoned a century's worth of journalistic integrity. And they are arguably the largest news publisher in the world.
RL: In the face of all of this, what can we do to suss out truth from lies?
JF: We always have to check for accuracy. The pursuit of the truth is not something that can be done easily, and it never has been. However, we are now seeing the standard-bearers of journalism consistently undermined, and they themselves also make mistakes and who are also subject to manipulation. The New York Times publishes things directly from State Department press releases constantly; it's maddening. Today, people need to work harder to get to the truth. But beyond that, we must control and own our own data, because if someone knows you really well, it's really easy for them to manipulate you.
Take, for example, the 1988 presidential election that pitted incumbent GOP Vice President George H.W. Bush against Democratic Governor Michael Dukakis. [Those who are old enough] probably remember the Willie Horton ad, a racist ad put out by the Republican campaign against Michael Dukakis, and it obviously caused a huge wave of controversy and anger because it was racist. But it only caused that level of controversy because it was visible to everyone. Now you can run 1,000 Willie Horton ads. You can run 10,000 Willie Horton ads. You can run a Willie Horton ad supposedly put out there by a fake Black Lives Matter page, and no one would ever know. So if you put out a racist ad and only racists can see it, it causes absolutely no controversy, but it's deeply effective in rallying people. And a lot of the times people don't even know that they're racist. So you might have things happening to folks on an unconscious level, on a deep psychological level that they're not aware of. But the internet knows. If you've got 5,000 data points on somebody, you know them on a very intimate level, you know their psychology, you know what they're afraid of, you know their sexual orientation, you know their medical history, their age, their race. So your campaign to win them over becomes very effective.
RL: So, how do we get to a point where owning your personal data is a human right? Is this ever going to happen?
JF: There have to be laws, and those laws have to be in line with the current technology. We're currently working with the New York State Senate to create a new slate of laws. There's a privacy law in California that's just recently been passed, but there's some dispute as to how companies are supposed to comply. And so there have to be laws about data privacy that we can campaign for, but the Democrat campaigns must also address this issue. The New York Times recently reported that the Democrats have no strategy to stop this wave of misinformation. But they need to understand that how they handle misinformation is going to be the difference between tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of votes in battleground states like Michigan and Pennsylvania and Florida. So the Democrats have to get really serious about this issue — and they have to address it really fast. I've appealed to the Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and other campaigns, saying that this is really serious because it's about to happen — and it's going to happen worse than it's ever happened before.
RL: Should we be allowed to sell our data?
JF: That is a fascinating question. I don't know if I have a real clear answer. I mean, it's being collected by your action, right? Everything you buy, everywhere you go, everything you search for, all things you know and all the things you don't know, all that data goes in, and the algorithm learns what you personally crave and what you personally lack and what you really want in life, so that's a digital map of your dreams, your insecurities, your life. And it is sort of like you're on the road, right? It's your digital biography. Do you own your movements in the world? It's a very interesting question. I imagine there are some benefits. So, for example, if you're on Instagram and you're a man, and you're constantly getting ads for feminine hygiene products, they're an annoyance; they're not useful to you. So perhaps you want to get ads that are more tailored to you. And of course, the way the news works these days is the news gives you back things that you agree with and that you want to see and that you want to read because there's so much information out there. This does backfire upon you because, at that point, you end up being manipulated by the fact that now interests that are foreign to you and nefarious to you and harmful to you can start to target you.
RL: How has the truth crisis impacted the climate crisis?
JF: They go hand-in-hand. We get our terrestrial proof from the Earth. The planet is empirical data. Climate change deniers are saying that the empirical data that's coming from the Earth is not true. Where do they say that? Principally, they say that online, which is its own "planet," the cybersphere. It's a planet that doesn't exist on Earth. It exists by its own rules and has its own set of priorities. And if you leave terrestrial Earth, yeah, you can make it wherever you want. So when you're in that cybersphere, it reigns true whenever you feel like on that particular day, for whomever is willing to pay for it.
The tobacco industry originally started doing this. They started to say things like, "Smoking is good for you." And they created all this bogus science and fake reports that said, "These cigarettes are fine." And what they were trying to do is sow confusion in people and stave off regulation. The exact same technique has been used by the oil industry.
RL: Why is the truth crisis such an urgent matter?
JF: It's so important because the further we get away from the terrestrial planet as our source of empirical reality, the closer we come to being evicted from the planet like climate change, and that is those same forces, the oil industry and the conservatives that are forcing us to an unlivable world. This is an emergency because of the climate. It's also an emergency because we're seeing right now the reemergence of white supremacists and Nazis on this planet, and they are taking over. Right-wing authoritarian governments are sweeping elections across the earth, and they're doing so primarily by using Facebook and WhatsApp and by lying directly to the public. Sixty-eight thousand fake Twitter accounts helped push the recent Bolivian coup. In the UK, Boris Johnson's recent election, 88 percent of the conservative parties' advertisements were misleading. In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro was elected with the help of fake news messages sent via WhatsApp, a messaging app used by 120 million Brazilians, saying that his opponent was a criminal. Obviously, there's Donald Trump, who had 5.9 million ad variations using Cambridge Analytica. There's also Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. Narendra Modi in India. There are dozens of examples. So you're seeing right-wing, authoritarian, racist regimes cropping up all over the world. And in 2019, Steve Bannon raised $100 million for his white supremacist project in Europe.
So what is really dangerous about all of this is the two-headed monster of the rise of white supremacy, Nazism and racism on the one hand and on the other hand, climate change denial and the fossil fuel industry. And these are linked, and these are linked in the persona and in many actions by the Trump administration. In 2017, Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil turned Secretary of State, created a contract between the State Department and Cambridge Analytica, and their mission was to influence elections all across the world. Big data and big oil running American diplomacy. And that continues to this day.
RL: Why should people see The Truth Has Changed?
JF: Because this is a chance to rally for the truth. It's the chance to rally for a new America. This project concerns itself with the oil industry, the world at war post-9/11, climate change. We've seen the United States get closer to war with Iran. We see Australia on fire, and authorities there must battle misinformation campaigns contending that the fires were caused by arson and not climate change. We know that we're watching the extinction of countless species in real time. We're in an emergency.
At every single performance of The Truth Has Changed there will be activists in the room who are campaigning on these issues, and that's what we need to do. We need to set the record straight. We need to say climate change is real. We need to say fracking is bad, we need to see Donald Trump as a racist and say that is not who we are as a nation. So we have to take our country back, and this is our effort to try to fight back against this wave of lies, smear and misinformation.
The Truth Has Changed opens at New York's Public Theater this January and will tour across the United States. For more information, visit internationalwow.com/tthc.php.
Reynard Loki is a senior writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent for Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
- Trump Seeks to Frack the 2020 Election - EcoWatch ›
- Massachusetts Sues ExxonMobil For Climate Disinformation ... ›
- Bushfires, Bots and Arson Claims: Australia Flung in the Global ... ›
By Julia Conley
Weeks after the Sunrise Movement launched a swing state mobilization campaign with a plan to reach more than 1.5 million voters before Election Day, climate campaigners are showing no sign of slowing down their Get Out the Vote efforts — sending the message to young Americans that voting President Donald Trump out of office is the crucial first step in a greater effort to "build our political power in Washington."
In a 12-minute ad released online Monday by the Sunrise Movement, former Bernie Sanders surrogate and climate activist Xiuhtexcatl Martinez begins by rejecting common tactics used for decades by political strategists and politicians to encourage young people to vote — from attempts to "make voting seem cool" through humor and celebrity endorsements, to efforts to shame them into going to the polls by accusing them of being "lazy and unengaged."
"While youth turnout has always been low, the stereotype that young people don't care about politics isn't true," says Martinez, one of 21 plaintiffs in Juliana vs. United States, in which teenagers and children sued the federal government for not protecting them from the climate crisis.
While young people are keenly aware of the issues facing their generation and are supportive of legislation to mitigate the planetary emergency, Martinez argues, their attempts to get involved in politics are often thwarted by a system rife with voter suppression and mass disenfranchisement.
"In the United States, the reality is that voting is not cool," Martinez says. "Cool would be a country that empowers its citizens to vote ... Cool would be a country where the candidate who gets the most votes wins the election. Cool would be a country where unpopular politicians couldn't dismantle basic voter protections just because they know they can't stay in office without disenfranchising young voters and people of color."
"Regardless, if enough young people vote, the odds dramatically shift," he adds.
Instead of imploring young voters to unquestioningly take part in a system in which those in power have frequently ignored their demands, Martinez and the Sunrise Movement frame the general election and the choice between President Donald Trump — who openly denies the existence of the climate crisis — and Democratic candidate Joe Biden as the "one-time choice that allows us to make more meaningful choices down the line."
"Young people have the power to crush Trump, and he knows it," the Sunrise Movement tweeted on Monday. "Once he's out, and we're still in the streets, our movement can set the tone for the next four years, just like movements past."
Young people have the power to crush Trump, and he knows it. That’s why he’s trying to steal the election, but we’r… https://t.co/hkOfXLCiJK— Sunrise Movement 🌅 (@Sunrise Movement 🌅)1601917393.0
Martinez notes that Biden, who has angered climate action advocates in recent weeks by insisting that he has no intention of banning fracking and failing to fully embrace the call for a Green New Deal, has nevertheless shown signs of understanding that young voters and their priorities, including the climate, are not to be dismissed. In the ad, Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash explains how the task force set up by supporters of Biden and Sanders successfully pushed the Democratic candidate to adopt a more ambitious plan for decarbonization.
The ad compares Biden to former President Lyndon Johnson, who signed the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act into law after decades of voting against civil rights in Congress.
"Relentless activist movement" was behind the legislation Johnson signed in the 1960s, Martinez says. Facing civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis, he adds, "The narrative shifted and Johnson was forced to meet the moment. So while we do not approve of Biden's record or even some aspects of his platform, we must elect him and work tirelessly towards hearing him sing the songs of our movement."
"We have reached our most defining moment in electoral politics," Martinez says. "Our ability to push forward the agendas of our generation will be determined not only by how we vote going into November but how we mobilize the morning after the election."
The ad was released as 350.org launched its own GOTV effort in states including Colorado, California, Minnesota, and Washington. Thousands of staffers and volunteers with the organization's local chapters are working to make 350,000 calls to voters before Election Day, as well as text banking and sending postcards.
"We're ramping up our get out the vote efforts because we know that to effectively address the climate crisis, we need solutions across sectors that prioritize those most impacted — Black, Indigenous, communities of color, workers and low income communities," said Dominique Thomas, New York and Mid-Atlantic organizer for 350.org. "Climate justice and action cannot exist in a silo — we need leaders who see the interconnectedness of lowering emissions and cutting pollution with housing rights, economic justice, racial justice, and healthcare. This November, we're rising up to make sure our demands are heard."
Members of 350 Colorado aim to reach 130,000 voters in their state, while in California, 350 Bay Area Action is working with five partner organizations to target voters in Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Alaska, Arizona, and Colorado. The group has so far conducted 37 virtual phone banks in which 800 volunteers made 50,000 calls.
"Our volunteers know that the stakes in this election could not be higher. Our country will go one way or another in November. It is essential that we secure leadership that will protect the environment and the climate. There is simply no more time," said Marti Roach, lead organizer for the 350 Bay Area Action "Go Green, Vote Blue" phone bank campaign.
In the Sunrise ad, Martinez urged voters to "join our movement and get to work right away to send Trump and the Republicans a simple message: Get out of the way. We've got work to do."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
- These Races Will Shape How U.S. Elections Affect Climate Progress ... ›
- Climate Activists Prepare for November Election - EcoWatch ›
- Young Republican Climate Activists Split Over November's Election ... ›
- The Power of Inclusive, Intergenerational Climate Activism - EcoWatch ›
- Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate and Green Recovery Plan ... ›
By Julia Mahncke
U.S. President Donald Trump has undone many major pieces of climate policy during his term, walking out on the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming and eliminating numerous Obama-era environmental regulations.
Trump's Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, has promised as part of his presidential campaign to invest $1.7 trillion in a "clean energy revolution and environmental justice" over the next decade. It falls some $14 trillion short of what the progressive U.S. senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, pledged on climate action during the Democratic primaries.
However, climate change doesn't even make the top 10 concerns among registered voters, even as the U.S. faces extreme weather from wildfires to storms, which scientists say are becoming more prevalent thanks to global warming. The issue ranks 11th behind the economy, health care, Supreme Court appointments and the pandemic, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center published in August.
While climate change doesn't top the voters' agenda, it's still one of the most divisive issues among Trump and Biden supporters. Some 68% of Democratic voters see climate change as high priority compared to 11% of Republicans, found the Pew survey.
But what are the Biden and Trump campaigns promising to do on climate change and the environment — and how does it tally with what voters want?
Biden a Climate Disappointment?
Biden, Barack Obama's former vice president, plans to recommit to the Paris Accord and ensure that the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions by 2050. Biden has also promised a halt to fossil fuel subsidies, going further than the Democratic National Committee, the governing body of the Democrats, which dropped that demand from its platform earlier this month.
Prior to Kamala Harris' announcement as Biden's running mate, the California senator had been vocal in her support for bold climate action. Harris co-sponsored the New Green Deal, calling on Congress to implement a 10-year government-driven mobilization to decarbonize the economy, while also backing job retraining and social and environmental justice.
But some Democratic voters are disappointed with the Biden/Harris ticket, believing Sanders, who dropped out of the Democratic race for president in April, would have been the better candidate.
"I have two kids, so I have to be mindful and hopeful, but I lost a lot of hope since Bernie Sanders didn't get the bid," said Karen Antunes, as she wrapped up a picnic with her kids and little dog in Peninsula Park in Portland Oregon.
That won't stop her voting Democrat though.
"We have to. The Trump thing has got to end," added Antunes. "But I'm not excited."
Most progressive voters like Antunes might prefer to unite behind Biden against Trump's reelection even if they don't feel his commitment to climate change action goes far enough.
"I don't think the differences between Biden and Sanders on the environment — or any other issues — will matter much to Democratic voters compared to the difference between Biden and Trump," said Stephen Ansolabehere, director of the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University.
Republicans: Economy Trumps Climate Change
Over the last few years, Trump has dismissed climate change as a "hoax," not human-caused, and called environmental activists "perennial prophets of doom."
The U.S. president's 63 bullet-point election agenda, which is divided into categories like "Jobs," "Eradicate COVID-19" and "End our reliance on China," makes no direct mention of climate change or the environment.
Instead, tucked away under the heading "Innovate for the future" toward the bottom of the list, there are two promises: "Continue to Lead the World in Access to the Cleanest Drinking Water and Cleanest Air" and "Partner with Other Nations to Clean Up our Planet's Oceans."
The plan outlines no path to clean water or air.
The lack of climate change mentions in Trump's agenda might please many Republican voters since they are "obviously less supportive of regulations," said Daron Shaw, a professor specializing in voting behavior at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the Fox News Poll.
"Democrats are much more willing to take stronger measures," said Shaw, adding that few Republicans support policies such as a significant carbon or fossil fuel tax. "But if you ask Republicans about recycling, if you ask about fuel efficiency standards, they're very supportive of those sorts of smallish behaviors."
Growing Impatience Among Young Republicans
Some younger Republicans are starting to become critical of their party's inattention to climate change. During the recent Republican National Convention, a small group turned to Twitter during the online event, to ask "#WhatAboutClimate"?
Another Pew study from June 2020 found that millennial and Gen Z Republicans, currently aged 18 to 39, are more likely than older GOP voters to think humans have a significant impact on the climate and that the federal government is doing too little to tackle the problem.
That doesn't mean they're ready to switch allegiance to the Democrats, though.
"Being a Republican is very much rooted in my upbringing," said Kiera O'Brien, who founded the group Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends (YCCD). "Conservatism at home in Ketchikan, Alaska, has a focus on community and nature."
O'Brien dislikes the Democrat's "regulatory approach to climate" and is instead lobbying for free market solutions to climate change through YCCD.
Reframing Climate Action
Environmental policies can be a complicated issue when it comes to federal elections and hard to address for presidential candidates. Many regions in the U.S. have unique challenges: from wildfires in California and storms wiping out harvests in Iowa to water pollution in Flint, Michigan.
Harvard's Ansolabehere also pointed out that opposition to climate policies in the past were typically connected to the fear of losing jobs and that prohibiting coal or retooling the auto industry will "adversely affect employment" in places like Kentucky and Michigan.
Daron Shaw added that Republicans typically "try to frame environmental issues as a matter of high taxation and job killing proposals with the hope that they can peel off Democrats."
Biden might be trying to assuage fears that tackling climate change means job losses by framing his plan as an opportunity for employment in new industries and a reinvigorated green manufacturing sector.
But when it comes to the swing states of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio, Trump's climate record and support for jobs in the fossil fuel sector might give him the upper hand. His backing for ethane cracker plants, which take natural gas and converts it into the basis for making plastics, has received a lot of support, said Ansolabehere, especially from local unions.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
- The Next Election Is About the Next 10,000 Years - EcoWatch ›
- How the Global Climate Fight Could Be Lost If Trump Is Re-Elected ›
- Climate Activists Prepare for November Election - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Denies Climate Science in California, Biden Labels Him a 'Climate Arsonist' - EcoWatch ›
By Jo Harper
The Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden proposes net-zero CO2 emissions in the United States by 2050. It's an ambitious target, but 30 years is a long time in politics and there is a key tension between the party's moderate nominee with links to corporate funders, such as the asset manager BlackRock, and progressives whose votes he needs to win. This is nowhere better seen perhaps than on environmental issues, where campaigns to green corporate America have tended to fizzle out.
Examples of good intentions abound. Nonprofit organization Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) this week, for example, launched a campaign with a $20 trillion-strong group of investors to encourage companies to commit to stronger action on climate change. In the campaign, 137 institutions asked 1,800 companies to set science-based targets for reducing CO2 emissions. The group of 1,800 represent 25% of total global emissions and represent 40% of the MSCI ACWI Index, which is MSCI's global equity index.
"The importance of investor engagement to drive sustainable corporate action cannot be overstated," Emily Kreps, global director of Capital Markets at CDP, said in a press release.
But words and actions have often been out of sync in environmental policy in the U.S. This is well illustrated by the ambitious-sounding plans of the world's largest asset manager, BlackRock.
BlackRock CEO Larry Fink said earlier this year that by the end of 2020 the financial corporation would stop its actively managed funds from investing in companies that get 25% or more of their revenue from coal operations. Furthermore, it would enhance transparency over how it votes in shareholder meetings of firms in its portfolio, create investment products that screen for fossil fuels, and ask companies how they plan to navigate the climate crisis.
BlackRock is close to Biden and some, though not that many, believe a partnership of the two could herald real change in the U.S.'s environmental strategy.
But, says Friends of the Earth, BlackRock conspicuously failed to include a promise to stop investing in companies that cause deforestation, while others worry that a voluntary solution by a passive investment vehicle is not the best way forward.
Friends of the Earth criticized BlackRock this week and other asset management firms in a report for not doing enough to curb global deforestation, which has increased by 40% since 2014 and is a major contributor to climate change. Supply chains for commodities like beef and soy are a key driver of those fires, the group said. Its report accused the "Big Three" asset managers, BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street, of enabling companies in their investment portfolios to avoid promises they made to prevent their supply chains from contributing to destruction of rainforests.
AmazonWatch, part of a coalition of green groups and campaigners called "BlackRock's Big Problem," wrote in a 2019 report that BlackRock was one of the biggest investors in the agribusiness firms responsible for deforestation in the Amazon, with over $2.5 billion worth of shares of such companies. The report found that BlackRock and Vanguard — the largest shareholders in 18 of the 28 carbon-intensive energy and utility companies analyzed — voted 99% of the time for the directors those companies proposed in 2019. And their votes helped kill 16 climate-related shareholder resolutions that year.
At the Heart of Things
"This [CDP campaign] doesn't appear to directly impact BlackRock as it's voluntary," Moira Birss, climate & finance director at Amazon Watch, told DW. "But BlackRock should certainly be asking for 1.5-degree transition plans of all the high emitting companies it invests in."
Birss also says that BlackRock is "again absent from this leading initiative" despite claims by its CEO that no company had done more for climate in 2020.
"Fink claims that BlackRock had 950 'engagements' with companies on climate this year but doesn't provide any transparency on what that means. That's not climate leadership. I would think that if BlackRock leadership could show the impact it is having on climate through these 'engagements,' it would. Instead Fink is making claims about climate action that he can't, or won't, back up," she adds.
Passive Funds Active
BlackRock reported healthy third-quarter profits, the recovery in global financial markets helping it end the quarter with a record $7.81 trillion in assets under management. The New York-based company's net income rose 27% to $1.42 billion, while its shares are up 22% this year.
Supported by an index-fund collection called iShares, it is the world's largest asset manager, with $7.81 trillion of other people's money under its control, a third of it in Europe. This is roughly equal to the world's top 20 pension funds combined. The fund employs 13,900 people spread across 30 countries.
BlackRock's Aladdin risk-management system — a software tool that can track and analyze trading — is used by the U.S. Federal Reserve and European Central Bank (ECB). Today, $21.6 trillion sits on the platform from just a third of its 240 clients, according to public documents verified with the companies and first-hand accounts. That figure alone is equivalent to 10% of global stocks and bonds.
But BlackRock has expanded its power well beyond asset management, including also auditing of banks for regulatory authorities and advising governments on privatization.
"BlackRock is in effect a branch of government, a public utility," Harald Schumann, founder of Investigate-Europe in Berlin, told DW. "It could exert great influence for good but given that two-thirds of its business is index-linked, they have no real power to push for greening of the companies they are invested in," he says.
"Fink personally may well be committed, and it is after all more powerful than many states, a unique phenomenon. But it has an inherent conflict of interest, as an advisor, auditor and investor. The Chinese Wall exists, but how well it actually works is another issue," says Schumann, referring to the strict separation of the firm's services required under financial laws.
Massive Political Influence
Created in 1988, BlackRock has close ties to the Biden campaign, although the company's investments to influence Washington, mean that Fink has also advised the Trump administration on infrastructure privatization and the COVID-19 pandemic. Fink is reportedly hoping for a position in a Biden administration.
BlackRock has avoided being designated a Systemically Important Financial Institution (or SIFI) by the U.S. Treasury's Financial Stability and Oversight Council (FSOC), set up by Dodd-Frank financial regulations, which would require it to be regulated by the American central bank.
The company has spent the last decade lobbying lawmakers, US Treasury officials, and FSOC members with donations. In its Transparency Project report, BlackRock says that it has hired at least 84 former government officials, regulators, and central bankers worldwide since 2004. The world's largest asset manager has also been tapped by the Federal Reserve to oversee three government debt-buying programs designed to fend off economic catastrophe.
This article has been updated to reflect a correction in Deutsche Welle's original story.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Jordan Cove, the $10-billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project that Ms. Brown is trying to stop, has yet to break ground. But environmental lawsuits and permitting delays aren't the only barriers. A calamitous crash in natural gas prices and a glut of LNG capacity have cast doubts over its commercial viability and, more broadly, the easy promise of converting abundant U.S. gas into a global commodity and geopolitical tool.
"There's too much oil. There's too much gas. There's not enough demand," says Clark Williams-Derry at the liberal-leaning Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
Still, even if projects like Jordan Cove are shelved, several other LNG terminals on the Gulf Coast already have all their permits and are waiting to secure financing. Their expansion over the next five years would make the U.S. the world's largest LNG producer, creating jobs at home and opening new markets in energy-hungry Asia.
For a future Biden administration, that's a wrinkle in any serious climate plan. Once built, these LNG plants would potentially lock in decades of heat-trapping emissions that are already hurling the planet toward a hotter, less stable future. "Once you build the infrastructure it's there, and it gets run on a different economic basis than if it's not there," says Mr. Williams-Derry, who tracks the LNG industry.
Proponents say natural gas is cleaner than the coal that it replaces both in the U.S., where it now produces around 40% of electricity, and in countries like India and China. That makes it a "bridge fuel" to a fully renewable energy future that hasn't yet arrived, says Fred Hutchison, president and CEO of LNG Allies, an industry group. "Gas can continue to be part of a low-carbon energy system globally," he says.
He predicts that LNG firms would be comfortable with a Biden presidency. "He's got a great affinity for working people and labor, and labor is very much on board with regards to LNG," he says.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Biden has gotten heat over his support for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which left-leaning Democrats oppose but which is seen as important for winning Pennsylvania, a battleground state in November's election. Far less attention has been paid to where the oil and gas goes, and whether support for LNG exports is compatible with Mr. Biden's clean-energy agenda and plans for tackling climate change.
"It's not going to save the climate if we're just exporting our emissions overseas," says Collin Rees, a campaigner for Oil Change U.S., an environmental nonprofit.
Moderates Feeling the Heat
If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.
The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval.
Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter.
In a letter sent earlier this month, Mr. Rees and other signatories urged Mr. Biden to ban "all fossil fuel executives, lobbyists, and representatives" from any future administration.
That Obama-era moderates are under fire over their climate bona fides is a measure of rising leftist clout in the Democratic coalition. It also reflects how the climate debate has shifted since Biden was in office, in response to extreme weather events and troubling scientific findings. This includes research into lifecycle emissions from natural gas production and methane leaks and flaring that muddies the argument that it's a transition fuel to a carbon-free future.
"We've gotten more proof on the science that switching to gas is not enough," says Mr. Rees.
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports
As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.
That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "freedom gas."
Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts.
Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers.
Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison.
Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.
Stepping on the Gas
In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."
As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.
But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says.
Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions.
This story originally appeared in Christian Science Monitor and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
- Biden Commits to Banning Fossil Fuel Subsidies After DNC Dropped It ›
- As Biden Embraces More Ambitious Climate Plan, Fossil Fuel Execs ... ›
- Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate and Green Recovery Plan ... ›
- Biden Defeats Trump, Promises Sea Change on Climate and Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Biden-Harris Climate Plan: ‘Not Trump’ Is Not Enough ›
By Jake Johnson
A diverse coalition of nearly 150 progressive advocacy groups is demanding that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden ban fossil fuel executives and lobbyists from his 2020 campaign and commit to barring them from his administration if elected in November, warning that a cabinet stocked with Big Oil representatives would render empty the former vice president's vows to confront the climate crisis with ambition and urgency.
In a letter Tuesday morning, 145 organizations representing a wide array of progressive interests called on Biden to "ban all fossil fuel executives, lobbyists, and representatives from any advisory or official position on your campaign, transition team, cabinet, and administration," arguing there are countless qualified experts and advocates who have not attempted to benefit financially from polluting and extractive industries.
"People who left government to serve on a fossil fuel industry board, enrich themselves as oil and gas advisors, receive funding from fossil fuel companies to espouse 'reasonable' climate positions, or work with industry front groups should have no role in a Biden administration or campaign," the groups wrote. "Neither should fossil fuel backers on Wall Street, who have attempted to profit off pollution."
The letter's signatories — which include Oil Change U.S., Greenpeace, Justice Democrats, Sunrise Movement, People's Action, and Public Citizen — raised alarm at a Bloomberg report earlier this month indicating that industry-tied individuals like Jason Bordoff, a member of the National Petroleum Council, are advising the Biden campaign in an informal capacity.
"Joe Biden can't address the climate crisis while listening to people taking checks from the fossil fuel industry like Ernest Moniz, Jason Bordoff, Ken Salazar, and Heather Zichal," Collin Rees, senior campaigner at Oil Change U.S., said in a statement. "Biden must act boldly in collaboration with grassroots leaders fighting for environmental and climate justice — which means ruling out positions for dangerous 'all-of-the-above' boosters whose time has passed."
The letter points to polling from progressive policy shops Data for Progress and Fossil Free Media showing that 61% of Democratic voters oppose "fossil fuel industry lobbyists or representatives working in the White House and other government agencies." Voters overall oppose fossil fuel industry representatives serving in the federal government by a 22-point margin, the survey found.
"Banning fossil fuel representatives isn't just good policy — it's good politics," the groups wrote. "Ruling out positions for fossil fuel executives, lobbyists, and representatives is a critical way to show your commitment to a future that prioritizes people, not polluters."
The groups' call comes hours after Biden, speaking in the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Monday, told supporters that contrary to President Donald Trump's claims, he has no plan to ban fracking even as he pushes for large investments in clean energy and promises to treat the climate crisis like the "existential threat" that it is.
Tamara Toles O'Laughlin of 350 Action said Biden's approach to the climate emergency will be judged not by soaring rhetoric and promises but by his actions during the presidential campaign and, if elected, while in office.
"Thanks to the environment and climate movement's decades of tireless work to make decision-makers act boldly, the Biden-Harris campaign has adopted the strongest climate platform of any presidential ticket in history," said O'Laughlin. "However, real progress will be measured by relationship to communities most impacted and investments in the same."
"Fossil fuel representatives have no place at the table except to hand over their dirty profits to rebuild what they have broken," O'Laughlin continued. "Any accommodation to fossil fuel executives will undermine the promise of our shared work and throw away our chances of a livable future in the climate decade."
Read the full letter:
Dear Vice President Biden,
Congratulations on your nomination as the presidential candidate for the Democratic Party. As you have said, this is a historic time for our nation. Over 180,000 Americans have lost their lives to theCOVID-19 pandemic that continues to ravage the nation. Millions are rising up to demand racial justice and an end to white supremacy. Donald Trump has put our democracy on the line with his attacks on our right to vote and threats to contest the election. Meanwhile, the climate emergency is ravaging our country, as supercharged wildfires burn across western states, climate-intensified floods and derechos slam the Midwest, and sea level rise threatens our coasts.
We want to thank you for your bold plans to combat the climate crisis and create millions of good-paying, union jobs in a clean energy economy. We applaud the ways in which you have put environmental justice at the heart of your plans, making sure that the communities of color who are on the frontlines of this crisis are at the forefront of its solutions. Implementing your plans would be a major step toward putting this country back on track to meet our global commitments under the Paris Agreement while centering the communities most harmed by environmental injustice.
Your leadership on climate and environmental justice is why we urge you to ban all fossil fuel executives, lobbyists, and representatives from any advisory or official position on your campaign, transition team, cabinet, and administration.
For decades, oil, gas, and coal executives have lied to the American people about the threat of climate change and lobbied against government action, all while attempting to present themselves as part of the solution. During this election, the American Petroleum Institute is spending upwards of $24,000 per day to mislead voters into thinking that fossil gas is "clean" energy, even though methane emissions associated with gas can make it worse than coal. Meanwhile, fossil fuel corporations have continued to expand their operations, destroy our environment, and pollute communities—especially communities of color—across this nation and around the world.
The Trump Administration has fully embraced these fossil fuel interests. Former oil and gas lobbyists now run the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior. At their behest, the Trump administration has instigated 100 environmental rollbacks, putting our health and safety at risk. During the coronavirus pandemic, the administration has continued to slash environmental protections and give billions of dollars in bailouts to fossil fuels.
These abuses have real costs in the communities that you have pledged to serve. Nearly half of Americans now breathe polluted air, the vast majority of which comes from burning fossil fuels, according to research by the American Lung Association. According to a 2016 NAACP report, 71% of African Americans live in counties in violation of air pollution standards. Indigenous people have seen their rights trampled to build dangerous new pipelines like Dakota Access and Keystone XL. Latina women in Texas who live near gas flaring are seeing a 50% increase in premature births.
To advance environmental justice, you must stand up to fossil fuel CEOs, stop the expansion of oil, gas, and coal production, and rapidly transition us away from fossil fuels. A Biden administration free of fossil fuel interests would signal your commitment to restoring a government by and for the American people.
Banning fossil fuel representatives isn't just good policy—it's good politics. According to a new Data for Progress poll, American voters oppose fossil fuel industry lobbyists or representatives working in the executive branch by a 22-point margin. Sixty-one (61) percent of Democrats oppose fossil fuel industry representatives working in the administration, while only 22 percent are open to the idea. Ruling out positions for fossil fuel executives, lobbyists, and representatives is a critical way to show your commitment to a future that prioritizes people, not polluters.
This critical need to advance climate and environmental justice is why we are concerned by initial reports that people with ties to fossil fuel interests have been advising your campaign and may be angling for roles in your administration. People who left government to serve on a fossil fuel industry board, enrich themselves as oil and gas advisors, receive funding from fossil fuel companies to espouse "reasonable" climate positions, or work with industry front groups should have no role in a Biden administration or campaign. Neither should fossil fuel backers on Wall Street, who have attempted to profit off pollution.
We appreciate your team's recent reiteration of your commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies as part of your comprehensive approach to climate action and environmental justice. A commitment from you to ban all fossil fuel executives, lobbyists, and representatives from your administration would go far to assuage any lingering concerns about your climate commitments that may have been raised when the DNC dropped support for ending fossil fuel subsidies from the 2020 Platform.
Many thousands of talented experts, advocates, and community leaders who do not represent coal, oil, and gas companies would gladly serve in your administration and help move our country forward into the clean energy future. They've shown the expertise, principles, and dedication that should be a requirement for any administration role. We urge you to choose them over the fossil fuel CEOs, lobbyists, and representatives who are profiting from climate destruction.
We thank you for making combating the climate crisis a top priority for your campaign. We look forward to working alongside you to build back better, create a new, clean energy economy that creates millions of good-paying, union jobs, and address the crises of climate change, Covid-19, mass unemployment, and the environmental injustice and racism that have plagued our nation for too long. Millions of us are ready to get to work: There's no need to slow us down with people tied to fossil fuel interests.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
- As Biden Embraces More Ambitious Climate Plan, Fossil Fuel Execs ... ›
- The Environmental Legacy of Kamala Harris, Joe Biden's Newly ... ›
- As Kerry Touts U.S. Climate Diplomacy, Biden Is Urged to End Dirty Energy Subsidies - EcoWatch ›
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (EPA) Andrew Wheeler gave a speech Thursday where he accused Democratic efforts to stop the climate crisis as actions that have hurt poor and vulnerable communities. He also laid out a vision for a second Trump term, saying it would bring a new wave of deregulation and support for economic development, according to Reuters.
The speech was given to celebrate the agency's 50th anniversary and was streamed live on YouTube. Wheeler took the opportunity to celebrate the Trump administration's rollbacks of environmental protections and promised more to come. He also used his platform to say the agency would focus less on preventive measures that stop pollution, but concentrate on the cleanup of toxic areas, according to The Associated Press (AP).
"We need to make sure we are speaking to people where they live and we're addressing the problems they see on a daily basis," Wheeler told the Wall Street Journal Thursday.
Wheeler said that a second Trump term would mean the EPA would turn its attention to community revitalization, water quality, permitting reform, Superfund cleanups and pesticide administration, according to Reuters.
"I believe that by focusing EPA toward communities in the coming years, our agency can change the future for people living in this country who have been left behind simply for living in polluted places," he said, as The Hill reported.
He argued that the actions that supported development and cleanup were actually designed to help poor communities.
"This will do more for environmental justice than all the rhetoric in political campaigns," Wheeler claimed, as Reuters reported.
He also added that in a second term, he would continue rules he implemented that limit what scientific research could be considered in decision-making and another that reevaluates how the agency predicts climate risk, according to The Hill. Both of those rules have been criticized by experts for eschewing science and for fuzzy math.
While Wheeler argued that policies meant to mitigate pollution are hurting poor communities, many experts see it differently. They argue that the more than 100 environmental rollbacks that have happened under the Trump administration will increase air and water pollution around the nation's most vulnerable communities, leading to more illness and premature deaths, according to CNBC.
"EPA was founded to protect people — you, me and our families — but the Trump administration has turned it into an agency to protect polluters," said Gina McCarthy, who led the agency during the Obama administration and now is president of the NRDC Action Fund, the political arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council, as the AP reported
In an attempt at revisionism, Wheeler said it was the Obama administration that hurt poor communities by regulating industry.
"The Obama-Biden administration only focused on climate change at the expense of the communities here in the United States and the expense of reducing pollution where people live," Wheeler told the Wall Street Journal.
Former EPA officials like McCarthy, both from Republican and Democratic administrations, have banded together to denounce the policies put forth by Trump and Wheeler. Five former EPA administrators issued a joint statement that said, "Actions during the Trump administration have further decreased public confidence in the agency's credibility, undercut its historic dedication to high ethical standards, and affected employee morale," according to the AP.
"Every one of the actions they have taken, either by weakening or rolling back basic protections, has put environmental justice communities — front-line communities — in greater harm," Mustafa Santiago Ali, a longtime EPA official who now works on environmental justice and climate issues for the National Wildlife Federation, said in an interview, as The Washington Post reported. "I have seen no actions that lead me to believe they have any interest in protecting those lives."
Mike Flynn, who worked at the EPA for nearly four decades before retiring in 2018, told The Washington Post: "The Trump administration has transformed EPA into an agency that's failing to meet the fundamental mission of the agency, protecting public health and environment."
He added that the staff there "is really demoralized."
- 10 Ways Andrew Wheeler Has Decimated EPA Protections in Just ... ›
- Wheeler Signs Proposal for Pipeline Projects to Bypass Clean Water ... ›
- Trump Admin Weakens Obama-Era Rule to Limit Toxic Waste From ... ›
- Trump's EPA Weakens Justification for Life-Saving Mercury Pollution ... ›
- EPA Chief: Climate Change Is Not Top Priority - EcoWatch ›
- Court Rules EPA Must Release 20,000 Emails Between Wheeler ... ›
- Trump's Latest EPA Rollback Lets Polluters Spew More Lead, Arsenic, Mercury - EcoWatch ›
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."
As megafires devastated the entire West Coast of the U.S., Inslee rejected reference to wildfires since the word implies naturally occurring fires.
By contrast, the term climate fires explicitly links record-breaking blazes that have burned across California, Oregon and Washington to global heating caused by the burning of coal, oil and gas.
As California Governor Gavin Newsom inspected the ashen countryside in the county of Oroville in his home state, he doubled down on the source of the fires. "This is a climate damn emergency," he said.
The pointed link to climate has been partly a response to President's Donald Trump's insistence that poor forest management, not climate change, is to blame for the fires. Meanwhile, research shows barely 13% of broadcast news segments about the West Coast fires during their peak mentioned climate change.
'These Aren't Wildfires'
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."
"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.
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.
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.
Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp— NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)1600440810.0
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.
#climatefires Started in Australia
Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.
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 played down the link to climate change, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate.
"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.
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.
"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said
Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag.
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating
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.
"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.
"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."
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.
Words That Reflect the Science
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."
It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, at least publicly. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having pulled out of the Paris Agreement and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline.
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.
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.
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election
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."
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.
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."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
- The Vicious Climate-Wildfire Cycle - EcoWatch ›
- How Climate Change Ignites Wildfires From California to South Africa ›
- 31 Dead, 250,000 Evacuated in California Fires as Governor ... ›
By Ilana Cohen
Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Climate didn't become a voting issue for Abel until months after the 2016 election. As a college freshman at Seton Hall University, he found himself increasingly frustrated by lackluster Republican responses to an issue now leading millions to march in the streets.
Abel felt that his party's future, like that of his generation, depended upon it addressing climate change with the appropriate urgency.
While his progressive counterparts helped propel a "Squad" of climate leaders into Congress, Abel advocated for market-driven climate solutions like carbon pricing as a spokesperson for republicEn, a right-leaning climate advocacy organization.
"The Green New Deal was actually a big catalyst for a lot of young Republicans coming forward and pushing for serious Republican solutions" on climate change, said Abel.
Momentum on the left stirred new conversations on the right, as young conservatives banded together in hopes of sustaining both their party and the planet. Their cries for climate action helped open older Republicans' eyes to the risk of losing young voters, and a seat at the table in future climate policymaking, if the GOP didn't change its tune.
"Over the next 10 years," Abel said, he "wants to see Republicans come together with Democrats to come to a realistic solution," along with Republicans proposing "more and more solutions" of their own, including around what Abel considers a critical "middle ground" measure to advance decarbonization—carbon pricing.
"Because we're still kind of relatively new to actually taking this topic seriously and proposing policy," said Abel of the GOP, "I think our policy response could be more robust and more detailed."
Only a decade ago, Abel's story might have been a novelty. Now, it's commonplace. From raging wildfires on the West Coast to Hurricane Sally's massive flooding in the South, climate disasters are politicizing young people across the ideological spectrum who have experienced them first hand.
Younger Republicans are much more engaged with climate change than their parents and grandparents, said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. The program's research shows young Republicans are more likely than older ones to believe in human-caused global warming and to support climate action.
Frustrated by party leadership that doesn't represent their call for urgent climate action and public discourse that discounts their views, young Republicans also seem more willing to pose their own climate solutions. They don't want to see a World War II-style mobilization; they want pragmatic proposals advancing private sector innovation.
The 2020 presidential election poses a critical test of climate conservatives' willingness to put their environmental concerns before party politics. While some young Republicans who prioritize the issue of climate change remain loyal to Trump and others turn to Biden, a growing number like Abel are not supporting either candidate.
Given Trump's thin margin of victory in 2016, young conservatives who choose not to vote for either major presidential candidate may help Biden just as much as those who vote for him over Trump, Leiserowtiz said, depending on the state they vote in. Millennials and Gen Zers will comprise 37 percent of eligible voters in November, which gives them vast electoral influence, if they vote.
If youth show up in force to oust Trump from office, their votes could provide a "powerful warning sign" for the GOP, Leiserowtiz said. It would affirm that for Republicans to win the youth vote and have a path to the White House moving forward, they must embrace climate action now.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives
While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing attacks painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.
Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden.
Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "restore the soul of our nation."
Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.
Walker, a statewide campus coordinator for the conservative environmental advocacy group American Conservation Coalition, felt compelled to act on climate change after seeing the lasting environmental and economic damage the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico wreaked on her home state. As a practicing Christian, Walker feels a "responsibility from God to steward the environment," which means fighting climate change while protecting industry.
She lauded Trump's support of Ron DeSantis' run for Florida Governor in 2018. Walker appreciated DeSantis' ambitious environmental vision and said he "passed quite a few green initiatives in the first few months of his term." The governor's environmental record since has been controversial, with DeSantis earning dismal ratings from the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters.
Walker also praised Trump's recent commitment to banning offshore drilling on the state's coasts, which came two years after he proposed vastly expanding oil and gas drilling in U.S. continental waters. The move "shows a good faith investment" in finding clean energy alternatives, Walker said.
Walker said she'd examine both major presidential candidates' platforms and records on climate policy up until Election Day, but she doesn't think there's much, if anything, the Biden campaign could do that would convince her to swing left. If Trump can help pivot the GOP in greener directions, she said, "then more power to him."
A False Equivalency
Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and Biden's citing of it as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."
Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose allegedly bipartisan intentions they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it.
"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's appearance at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a centrist, Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left."
Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "All-of-Government approach," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all.
Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."
But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a $2 trillion climate plan that includes large renewable energy investments, which have bipartisan support, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."
Equating the two seems "hard to square rationally," said Leiserowtiz. But most people don't vote rationally. Research shows they vote based on their social and political identities, not policy positions, and are influenced by messaging from their social circles.
As someone ready to talk climate solutions, rather than debate science, Mann, the Texas A&M student, has struggled to connect with Republican peers supporting Trump. He believes that people concerned about climate change have a moral imperative to support Biden. "Voting for someone who took us out of the Paris Agreement, you're not going to get progress on climate change," said Mann. "Trump is not making America a leader on this."
Given the vast threat posed by climate change, Mann said, a vote withheld from Biden is just as problematic as a vote for Trump.
Mann knows he can't change people's minds, but that won't stop him from trying. "All I can do is plant ideas in their mind of why it's important" to elect Biden now and put climate leaders into office beyond this November, he said. "Hopefully, those grow."
While some young climate conservatives like Mann are engaging their peers in discussions about the presidential election, others like Walker are more concerned with raising awareness of market-driven climate solutions or getting out the vote for local and Congressional races.
Whatever their course of action, the chance to help shape climate policy for a critical next four to eight years isn't lost on any of these young climate conservatives. How they cast their ballots, and in what numbers, may solidify for the right a reality already made clear on the left—political survival now goes hand in hand with efforts to stabilize the climate and invest in the futures of today's youth and those of generations to come.
This story originally appeared in Inside Climate News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
- 7 Republicans Joined Senate Democrats in Vote to Fight Climate ... ›
- Climate Change Acknowledged by Increasing Number of ... ›
- Want the Youth Vote? Prioritize Climate Change - EcoWatch ›
- Climate Campaigners Mobilize for Election Nationwide, Vowing to 'Crush Trump' - EcoWatch ›