Last year, the country was battered by super-charged hurricanes and wildfires, worsened by droughts, which are now making California more susceptible to deadly mudslides. This winter is likewise proving to be chock-full of extreme weather events, including record-breaking summers in Australia and unrelenting cold in much of the U.S., where, in one day in early January, Alaska was warmer than Florida.
These frequent reminders of how climate change impacts our lives—and a year of unprecedented environmental rollbacks and climate denial from the Trump administration—have added fuel to the fire for climate action. Is 2018 the year that climate change becomes a hot-button election issue?
We think so, and the year is starting off on the right foot, with more than 100 U.S. House and Senate candidates around the country pledging to support the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act if they are elected.
Food & Water Action Fund
This legislation, introduced last year by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard with now 23 co-sponsors and counting, would halt all new fossil fuel development and commit to a 100 percent clean energy transition by 2035, with 80 percent in the next 10 years. It is endorsed by more than 400 organizations including Progressive Democrats of America, National Nurses United and People's Action.
Notable Democratic candidates that have already committed to backing the OFF Act include:
- Randy Bryce in Wisconsin, challenging Rep. Paul Ryan.
- Derrick Crowe, a climate scientist running for Rep. Lamar Smith's empty seat.
- Marie Newman, challenging Rep. Dan Lipinski in what CNN calls 9 Democratic primaries to watch.
- Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, running against Rep. Carlos Curbelo in one of Politico's top races to watch.
- Several other top contenders in races rated toss-up by Cook Political Report.
Food & Water Action is organizing across the country to support the bill, which is the strongest climate legislation to date—because we know that we'll only see the needed progress on climate change if we build power in states across the country to elect candidates that are unafraid to say what needs to be done and then fight for it.
With recent polling showing that 66 percent of Democrats care deeply about the issue, the support for urgent and decisive climate action is growing in the party base. Now, a new crop of candidates—most of them running for the Democratic party—are finally listening to that base and stating support for clear, decisive climate action in 2018.
Finally, some much-needed good climate news.
Sign up to join this growing movement today.
Update, 10/20/17: Since this piece was posted, we became aware of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority's (PRASA) boil water notice for all people who have access to running water. So, while roughly 70 percent of the island has access to tap water, it appears it is not safe to drink untreated. However, FEMA appears to be reporting this figure as potable water. We've translated the boil water notice on PRASA's site as of Oct. 20 as the following: "After service is restored—To ensure that the water is drinkable: boil it for five minutes without covering [and] add chlorine bleach (without fragrance or other detergent), using the appropriate amount for the amount of water you will use. READ THE LABEL before using to guarantee that it contains only bleach. Read the percent of bleach and add the recommend amount to the water according to the table on the left. Mix well with water and leave for 20 minutes. You should be able to smell a faint odor of bleach. If that is not the case, add more bleach and leave for another 15 minutes. You can also use bleach in pill form sold in pharmacies. Follow the instructions on the label."
It's been a month since supercharged Hurricane Maria delivered a devastating blow to Puerto Rico, and people are still suffering without food, water and electricity. This is America in 2017, and there is only more climate chaos ahead thanks to the tight fist that fossil fuel interests have on climate policy. What will the response be to this new normal—deadly hurricanes, horrific and deadly wildfires, and their equally deadly aftermath? The past few weeks of climate disasters during this historically vicious season have shown that we need to move swiftly off of greenhouse gas-spewing fossil fuels. They have also shown that if we don't prioritize an equitable and just response to these unnatural disasters, more Americans will continue to face climate-fueled humanitarian crises.
And the Americans that will be most adversely affected are the vulnerable—children; elders; pregnant women; and low-income communities and communities of color. Puerto Rico is one of the starkest environmental justice stories of our time, and a reminder that our response to disasters must protect everyone going forward. This is our first test of humanitarian response within our borders to mass numbers of people lacking food and water, and in Puerto Rico, where 3.4 million Americans live, the Trump administration has failed miserably.
Water is life and Puerto Ricans are on the brink of disaster. Their water system relies on electricity to run the equipment to treat and distribute water, but only 22 percent of the island has power, which is hampering the effort to get the water and sewer systems back up and running. According to FEMA, only 56 percent of wastewater facilities are running (on generator power). Currently, 72 percent of homes have water coming out of the taps—after it inexplicably dropped from 72 to 65 percent earlier this week—but in the northern service area, less than half of homes have running water. The Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority currently has a boil water notice in effect for those with service.
The situation is so dire that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had to issue a warning for desperate people not to consume water from wells at contaminated toxic waste sites. Many are relying on stream water and at risk of contracting diseases like leptospirosis—and residents are already dying from drinking tainted water.
Desperate Puerto Ricans Are Drinking Water From Hazardous Waste Sites https://t.co/jDrdvJfzLb @greenpeaceusa @SierraClub @350 @billmckibben— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1508184391.0
Puerto Rico's food system was already too dependent on imports with big box stores selling fruits and vegetables that could easily have been grown on the island. But the hurricane has set the island back even more, obliterating about 80 percent of Puerto Rico's crop value. Now, many are wholly reliant upon processed food. But according to official figures, only 87 percent of grocery stores are open, and those that are open aren't fully stocked. According to an official with the Puerto Rican Chamber of Marketing, Industry and Distribution of Food, the food supply chain disruption will take time to address.
Where is the outrage? This is not the time to abandon Puerto Rico, as Donald Trump threatened to do last week. Congress must fully fund Puerto Rico's humanitarian aid and reconstruction, and consider debt forgiveness. We must finally begin to put people before profit in response to this crisis, and rebuild Puerto Rico's food, water and energy systems in a sustainable way to better withstand future disasters.
No time must be lost by the federal government in providing emergency sources of clean drinking water until 100 percent of the island has potable water from their taps. Rather than hiding behind secrecy, the U.S. government must report all deaths from tainted drinking water. Officials can't tackle what they don't count. It must also provide more information about unsafe drinking water. Maps of things like sewage spills and contaminated sites must be provided to communities. We must also ensure that the federal government provides direct funding for Puerto Rico's water system and not privatize it. Before the hurricane, the EPA had cut off Puerto Rico from vital federal loans to maintain its water system due to its debt to investors. A just reconstruction will further the human right to water, not Wall Street profits.
Puerto Rico must be given the tools and resources to build a local, sustainable agriculture system that offers the region a wide and varied diet. Even before the hurricane, Puerto Rico imported some 80 percent of its food. But there is an opportunity to rebuild using agroecological practices to ensure food sovereignty on the island, which will also help it become more resilient in the face of future disasters.
We must also help Puerto Rico rebuild its electricity system so that it takes advantage of its abundant renewable resources, and no longer relies on imported oil. This is the future, and this is the only way we will build resilience into our energy system and avert the worst climate chaos ahead by moving off of fossil fuels. Legislation recently introduced by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act, requires that 80 percent of our electricity be powered by renewable energy in the next 10 years, and 100 percent by 2035, which would help us accomplish this goal of a just and swift transition nationwide.
We have a moral obligation as a nation to protect all of our people in disasters, and in Puerto Rico, we're failing. But it's not too late to change course. We the people must stand up and demand an equitable and just humanitarian response, and the federal funding to help Puerto Rico rebuild sustainably.
Could solar paint overtake solar panels?
The solar boom has funneled billions of dollars into the solar energy sector, and top companies across the world are investing in what is now the cheapest source of energy in the world: solar panels. Though we're huge fans of solar power here at EcoWatch, we won't deny that even current carbon-neutral solar technology has room for improvement. Commercial solar installations can take up large plots of land, and though solar panels have a very long lifetime, they eventually need to be disposed of.
Solar panels and solar roof shingles have been a huge step forward in the fight against reducing fossil fuel emissions, but some challenges still remain. What if we run low on non-renewable resources like silicon and copper that are so important to photovoltaic cells? What about all of the homes with roofs that aren't fit for solar panels? Or all of the other surfaces exposed to sunlight that are unfit for solar panels?
Scientists seeking to answer these questions have been developing ideas to further reduce the expense, size and impact of solar panels. One idea with particular promise and intrigue is solar paint.
What is Solar Paint?
Solar paint is still (very much) a theory in its infancy, but its promise and simplicity have attracted the attention of investors and innovators across the globe. There are a few different types of solar paints in development, and each has its own unique way of producing energy. Most solar paint prototypes contain liquids with photovoltaic properties, meaning they produce an electric current when exposed to light (hydrogen-producing solar paint works a little differently, though we'll get into that).
So what are the different ways that solar paint could theoretically produce energy, and how effective are they in their current states? Let's take a look.
Types of Solar Paint
With any type of technology this new and innovative, there are bound to be several unique methods in development. Here are the three that we found to have the most potential.
Quantum Dot Solar Cells (Photovoltaic Paint)
Efficient spray-coated colloidal quantum dot solar cells are perhaps the most well-known method for solar paint. Conventional solar panels typically only harness visible light (light we can see), but 99% of the electromagnetic spectrum contains radiation besides visible light. Quantum dot solar cells were initially developed at the University of Toronto to "better harness the infrared portion of the sun's spectrum, which is responsible for half of the sun's power that reaches the earth," Susanna Thon, a researcher with the university, says in a news release.
Conventional solar panels typically only harness visible light, but quantum dot solar cells were developed to better harness infrared raysEcoWatch
To put it more simply, this solar cell technology could be used to increase solar panel efficiency well beyond the current metrics by capturing a wider spectrum of light. The technology itself uses a technique of incorporating spectrally tuned nanoparticles into solar cells to increase the spectrum of light captured. These semiconductive nanoparticles are capable of converting light into an electric current.
But what if you could use these nanoparticles in paint? In theory, these cells are so small that they could be blended into a liquid or applied to a thin surface, similar to spray paint or wallpaper.
As it stands today, this form of photovoltaic paint still creates a few more questions than answers. Mainly, how do you take the energy generated and direct its flow into a current? Much more development is necessary for this technology, but colloidal quantum dots have spurred promising new research and development in the technology.
Perovskite Solar Paint
Derived from the perovskite crystals first discovered by Russian mineralogist Lev Perovski, the mineral compounds in perovskite were later found to be semiconductors capable of transporting an electric charge when struck by light. Today, perovskite compounds can be found in ultrasound machines, memory chips, and – you guessed it – solar cells.
The mineral compounds in perovskite are semiconductors capable of transporting an electric charge when struck by light.VvoeVale / iStock / Getty Images
What's so alluring about perovskite's special crystalline structure is that it can take liquid form, has near the same efficiency as silicon-based solar cells and is actually a little less expensive to make.
Recent attempts at a perovskite-based solar paint resemble more of a thin film than they do a true spray paint. But even in this form, perovskite solar cells could be used as a near-transparent layer of film that could be incorporated into tinted windows to increase energy efficiency. White perovskite solar cells could be used on roofs or the sides of buildings to generate electricity. Perhaps even trains, planes or buses might someday have perovskite-based paint layers capable of getting their fuel from the sun.
We may still be a long way away from seeing perovskite solar paint available on the market, but research on solar paint has led to better a understanding of perovskite's potential benefits in its thin-film form, similar to thin-film solar panels made from cadmium telluride.
Professor David Lidzey from the University of Sheffield explains in a news release: "I believe that new thin-film photovoltaic technologies are going to have an important role to play in driving the uptake of solar energy, and that perovskite-based cells are emerging as likely thin-film candidates."
Hydrogen-Producing Solar Paint
The first two solar paint theories we covered both focus on liquid semiconductors, which convert sunlight into direct current (DC) energy in a way similar to modern solar panels. But another new and exciting breakthrough in solar paint actually creates hydrogen fuel. Hydrogen has been a hot topic in the energy sector for decades, as it is both the most abundant element in the universe and the cleanest source of energy available. But can it work with solar paint?
The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, looking to answer this question, developed a liquid that contains a compound to absorb moisture in the air. The product is also a semiconductor that, when powered by sunlight, splits water atoms into hydrogen and oxygen (this process is called electrolysis, and you may remember it from chemistry class).
Electrolysis is a process by which water is split into its hydrogen and oxygen atoms.EcoWatch
RMIT lead researcher Dr. Torben Daeneke says in a news release that his team found that "mixing the compound with titanium oxide particles leads to a sunlight-absorbing paint that produces hydrogen fuel from solar energy and moist air."
Torben's colleague, professor Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh, further explains the importance of this breakthrough and its potential uses: "Hydrogen is the cleanest source of energy and can be used in fuel cells as well as conventional combustion engines as an alternative to fossil fuels."
The paint pulls moisture from the atmosphere, even in hot and dry regions as long as they're near an ocean. Interestingly, the paint currently has a cherry-red hue thanks to its chemical makeup. So if you're interested in painting your house red, keep an eye on this technology.
Can You Buy Solar Paint?
Solar paint is a fascinating idea, and the impressive strides toward making it a reality have come far closer than many anticipated. Sadly, the efficiency of solar paint (in all its forms) still lags behind that of silicon-based solar panels. As a result, solar paint has yet to be taken to market. The work continues, however, as researchers work on lower-cost, flexible solution-processed semiconductors that could theoretically come in the form of solar paint.
Though solar paint is not yet available to consumers, we do see innovative ideas like thin-film solar starting to make their way into the mainstream. With further funding, research and creativity, alternative forms of clean energy may eventually be used throughout the world.
Is Solar Paint the Future of Energy?
While some other developing solar technologies have glaring issues impeding their production — like solar roadways, for example — solar paint may just need a little more research before it becomes a marketable product. But what are the chances this actually happens?
"Solar paint is still a developing technology," Alan Duncan, CEO and founder of Solar Panels Network, tells EcoWatch. "However, we must keep in mind that solar panels were at a similar stage not long ago. The solar industry is a forward-thinking sector that is continually striving to enhance its technology. If I had to guess, I'd say solar paint has a decent chance of being a viable alternative in the solar field in the not-too-distant future."
Now comes the fun part — imagining how solar paint might make its way into everyday life.
At this point at least, solar paint lacks the efficiency necessary to power a home by itself. The benefit of solar paint's affordability, however, is that it opens the door to a lot more large-scale options than solar panels do. How would you use your solar paint? Here are some of our favorite ideas:
- Paint for large-scale buildings or warehouses: Painting roofs with white solar paint could not only generate electricity for a commercial property but could deflect sunlight better than a normal roof would. Though not quite as effective as planting vegetation atop buildings might be, deflecting this sunlight helps lower temperatures of heat islands in cities.
- Tinted windows for large buildings: Not every window in a new development has to be perfectly clear. In larger buildings or complexes, a certain amount of tinted windows could help overall energy efficiency while generating energy at the same time.
- Solar paint for wind and marine power: Solar panels have been considered to help commercial ships reduce their carbon emissions — but what about solar paint? Solar paint could also be used on the sides of ships to pick up light reflected off of the water.
- Adding to houses with existing solar: Houses with solar equipment already installed won't have to deal too much with the hassle of inverters, permits and net metering agreements if they add solar paint. Though less efficient than solar panels, solar paint could supplement the energy generation of homes with small roofs unable to fit a lot of panels.
All in all, solar paint remains an idea, and it will be a while before any form of it becomes widely available. Solar panels remain the best option and the focal point of clean energy investment for the foreseeable future. But as so often happens with science, research may lead to surprising discoveries that uncover alternative uses for solar paint technology not previously thought of. We, for one, are excited to see what will play out.
Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.
As Donald Trump continues to stack his administration with fossil fuel industry executives and climate change deniers, new reports have been coming out nearly every day on the imminent threats global warming poses to the future of humanity. Given this, you'd think that a Democratic Senator from Washington state would be doing all she could to protect the environment and resist Trump's pro-polluter agenda. Yet Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington is doing the opposite—she's promoting fracking and fossil fuel infrastructure.
Just days ago, while Trump was preparing for a trip to Europe where he would further isolate the U.S. from the rest of the world on matters of climate policy and common sense in general, Mitch McConnell announced an unusual move to bypass standard Senate procedure and push the Energy Modernization Act of 2017 directly to the full floor for a vote. This bill, authored by Cantwell and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), would greatly expand fracking and natural gas infrastructure at just the moment we need to be aggressively moving off fossil fuels and to 100 percent renewable energy.
What would this dirty energy legislation do? Among other bad things, it would:
- Expedite review of fracked gas export terminals, requiring a decision on such proposals within just 45 days of an environmental review. This will encourage more fracking, and create font-line sacrifice zones for the sake of overseas gas export and profit.
- Make the pro-industry Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the lead decision maker in authorizing all new interstate fracked gas infrastructure projects.
- Instruct the Bureau of Land Management to create a pilot program for expediting drilling and fracking permits.
- Allocate millions of dollars for discovery, development and extraction of methane hydrate deposit in U.S. coastal waters.
Together, these provisions are a shameful giveaway to the fossil fuel industry and directly support Donald Trump's pro-fossil fuel agenda. At the same time, the bill slashes energy efficiency goals in federal buildings. Not to mention the fact that the legislation's renewable energy section does not even mention solar and wind power. On Monday, more than 350 national, state and local grassroots groups sent a letter to Senate leadership opposing the bill.
Sen. Cantwell likes to portray herself as pro-environment. On her website she states: "Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the future of the economy in Washington state and the country." It's hard to imagine how should could believe this while also cosponsoring a "fossil fuels forever" bill that would move us to the precipice of climate catastrophe.
The science is clear—we must move off fossil fuels immediately if we are to have any chance of avoiding climate chaos. If Ms. Cantwell is serious about tackling climate change, she must stop working with Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans as they seek to doom us to the fracked gas future of Trump's dreams. If she is serious, she must drop her dirty energy bill, and join the Clean Energy Revolution now.
Tell Sen. Cantwell to stop promoting Trump's fracked gas agenda and withdraw S 1460, her dirty energy bill!
After President Trump's speech last week promoting a dark and dystopian vision—U.S. fossil "energy dominance"— it is no surprise that his visit to Poland centers on promoting U.S. exports of fracked gas. Beyond such bluster, reality tells a different story.
U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) are expensive. For the economics to work, U.S. production costs have to be low while prices in importing countries stay high. In India, a major importer of U.S. LNG is now finding itself at the mercy of contracts that locked in high prices for U.S. LNG, relative to other sources of gas. This is how energy dominance will play out for those at the receiving end.
Consumers in LNG exporting countries are also getting pinched. In Australia, for example, "extreme" levels of LNG exports have caused economic disruptions. While the Industrial Energy Consumers of America's call for a moratorium on LNG exports is prudent, Trump is not known for his prudence.
The fracking industry dominates the Trump administration, and it wants more pipelines to support more exports. The U.S. government is allowing pipeline companies to forcibly take land away from property owners through eminent domain—not to benefit the general public, but to increase the amounts of U.S. oil and gas brought to the surface and burned, and increase industry profits. In short, we are witnessing the transformation of the U.S. into a petrostate. Former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson is running the State Department, and oil and gas cheerleaders Rick Perry and Scott Pruitt are at the Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Most people accept the science of climate change and see through the dangerous, short-sighted and corrupt vision Trump and his cadre have for the world. People are beginning to see—in Europe and elsewhere—that economic security hinges on stopping climate pollution, and requires moving off fossil fuels. We can redefine and meet our energy needs using clean, renewable sources of power by organizing local campaigns and holding political leaders accountable. Together we can build a positive energy future by moving off fossil fuels.
To the casual observer, we are making tremendous progress moving off fossil fuels and developing a clean, renewable energy system. The good news seems to be everywhere: The U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution calling for a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, and legislation passed in the California Senate to mandate 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. After Trump announced he was backing out of the Paris climate agreement, communities across the country pledged to meet its goals. The cost of renewable energy is dropping fast, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) "Electric Power Monthly" seems to show that renewables are surpassing nuclear power.
All of this might give the impression that, even with the Trump administration aggressively pushing fossil fuels, a renewable energy future is a forgone conclusion. But the reality is that while we certainly have momentum, we still need massive political action, because we still have a long way to go—and not a lot of time left.
Beyond the sunny headlines, the numbers speak for themselves, especially when you don't mix hydroelectric and biogas in renewable energy estimates. When we look only at truly clean renewable energy sources, the EIA report shows that renewable energy has not outpaced nuclear, and that our energy sector is dominated by fossil fuels. Across all sectors, fossil fuels accounted for almost 59 percent of electricity production in the first third of 2017. Coal provided 30 percent, with natural gas close behind at 28 percent and nuclear at 20 percent. Wind and solar provided just over 9 percent of our energy needs. The rest is made up of biogas, hydroelectric and other forms of dirty energy.
Spinning Climate Inaction as Climate Leadership
In the same way numbers can be spun to present an overly rosy picture of our renewable energy progress, it is easy to spin climate inaction as climate leadership. Many elected officials are getting credit for being climate leaders without making any substantial action to move us off fossil fuels, and just criticizing actions of the Trump Administration. If we are going to make the progress we need to protect our climate for future generations, we must demand more of our leaders than just being against Trump, or just being slightly better.
Consider all of the statements that came flooding in from political leaders in support of the Paris agreement. Being in favor of taking action when Trump is against it is fine, but we must remember that Paris has no accountability mechanisms, and no specific benchmarks other than avoiding a 2 °C increase in global temperature. Scientists are telling us that even achieving that goal in and of itself will not prevent numerous unpredictable and permanent changes to our climate. A recent study published in Nature says we could have as little as three years to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions; if we don't heed this warning, we will see prolonged droughts, melting icecaps, rising sea levels and other permanent and unpredictable changes to our planet's climate.
The commitments that mayors make to honor the Paris agreement will only be as strong as the local polices they enact to transition to clean, renewable energy. And some of those policies are less revolutionary than they might appear. After Trump's Paris pullout, Santa Barbara was lauded for passing a resolution to be 100 percent renewable by the year 2030. However, a closer look at that resolution shows that the city will continue to rely on natural gas, and it embraces loopholes in the form of offsets to meet its climate goals.
Which Unsustainable Energy Sources are Counted as Renewable?
Indeed, what we count as "renewable" energy will become increasingly important as we evaluate clean energy plans across the country. The news that renewables surpassed nuclear power relies on the fact that the U.S. Energy Information Administration unfortunately includes biomass and big dams in the "renewable" category, even though these are hardly clean or sustainable sources of energy.
The fine print on clean energy proposals matters. The California State Senate recently passed SB 100, which aims to transition the state to 100 percent renewable energy. But the actual policy only commits the state to 60 percent by 2030, and this inadequate goal will likely incentivize the use of animal waste from factory farms to meet that renewable benchmark. The biogas industry estimates that California could see the number of methane digesters at factory farms grow from just under 20 to nearly 1,000. So, this bill would actually reinforce dirty polluting factory farms, and take resources away from true clean energy sources like wind and solar. We must do better.
And in New York, an even less aspirational bill, touted as a climate and community protection measure, only strives for 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, and it would count large-scale hydroelectric dams as renewable. And earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo—who has been lauded recently for leading the opposition to Trump's Paris decision—pushed through a regulatory scheme that will end net metering, one of the most effective policies to support solar energy development.
Across the river, the ambition of New Jersey's legislative leaders is even lower; the strongest policy is a bill that calls for 80 percent renewable energy by 2050, and it would count burning garbage as renewable energy.
But there are elected officials showing real political courage, like Delegate Shane Robinson of Maryland, who has committed to introducing legislation that will transition the state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. Or in New York, where Senator Hoylman has introduced legislation to transition the state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.
Massive Movement Still Needed to Move Off Fossil Fuels
The barriers to transitioning to renewable energy are not technical or economic; they are political. The cost of solar, wind and storage are dropping rapidly. In many places, renewables are as cheap, or cheaper, than fossil fuels; and when you consider the health and social costs associated with burning fossil fuels, the costs are not even close.
If we are going to fight climate change, we need to hold elected officials accountable to real climate leadership. Anyone pushing policies that do not take strong, decisive action to move us off fossil fuels while making significant emissions reductions in the next few years is not a climate leader.
If you want to help us hold elected officials accountable to real climate leadership, join the OFF Fossil Fuels campaign of our sister organization Food & Water Action Fund to help move us towards a clean renewable future—community by community and state by state.
Today, Amazon announced its acquisition of Whole Foods Market. Too few companies already exert outsized influence over our food choices. This is extreme consolidation of the food system in action, which will lead to higher prices, fewer choices for consumers and bigger profits for billionaires like its owner, Jeff Bezos.
The top four grocery retailers already control 62 percent of food sales, raising prices and reducing choices for consumers. This nearly $14 billion takeover would combine the dominant online retailing giant with one of the country's ten biggest supermarket chains.
Consumers already face substantially reduced options for grocery shopping because of a wave of mega-mergers that have swept the supermarket and grocery manufacturing industry. In recent years, more than 4,000 grocery stores were joined under two owners after the Albertsons-Safeway and Ahold-Delhaize mergers. The proposed Amazon-Whole Foods deal only further curtails consumer choices and raises prices.
The Federal Trade Commission must block this merger to protect consumers from the anti-competitive practices and higher prices of retail grocery monopolies.
The Trump administration will publish a proposed rule Friday that would permit the People's Republic of China (PRC) to export its own poultry products to the U.S. It is doing so because U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) claims that the PRC's food safety inspection system is equivalent to ours. The decision comes on the heels of the PRC agreeing to resume importing U.S. beef after a 14-year ban.
We can't let trade trump food safety. While China will get U.S. beef that underwent strong food safety regulatory oversight, U.S. consumers will be subject to imports from a country whose own public health officials admit has weak food safety enforcement.
The PRC has experienced numerous avian influenza outbreaks that have led to the death of hundreds of thousands of birds. Some of the strains have been so virulent that they have killed humans that came into contact with infected poultry. At last count, there have been 268 reported human deaths since October 2016. In February, a multinational group of scientists published a study in which they found that antibiotic strains of pathogens run rampant in Chinese poultry.
Food safety scandals have continued to plague the PRC in recent years. In 2008, dairy products tainted with melamine killed six infants and caused 300,000 Chinese consumers to be hospitalized. Other food safety violations include food processing establishments recovering and reusing used cooking oil from street gutters; another food processor marinating duck meat in sheep urine in order to pass it off as lamb meat, another meat merchant marinating pork in chemicals to disguise it as beef; and companies manufacturing and exporting poultry-flavored pet treats tainted with toxins that sickened thousands of pets in the U.S.
What makes the proposed rule even more odious is that the PRC had decided to designate in advance two plants operated by Cargill as being able to export Chinese poultry products to the U.S., should the rule be finalized. Cargill is now reportedly trying to qualify to sell its U.S. beef to China—a win for Cargill, but a big loss for consumers.
To make matters worse, processed poultry from the PRC will not be subject to country of origin labeling requirements, leaving consumers completely in the dark about what they are buying and feeding to their families.
There will be a 60-day public comment period once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. Food & Water Watch urges consumers to tell USDA to cancel this dubious proposed rule when the comment period opens Friday.
For five years, Food & Water Watch has worked to ban fracking because we've determined that it presents unacceptable risks to our water supply. We've worked alongside grassroots activists across the country—including in the states of New York and Maryland—to pass bans and other ordinances against fracking.
Now, we're taking on dirty energy for another reason: climate chaos.
While Trump unleashes a chaotic maelstrom of tweets, "alternative facts" and reactionary policies upon the American public, climate change is unleashing its own chaos on planet Earth as we know it. What's worse, the White House has brazenly appointed several climate change deniers with extensive fossil fuel industry ties to key positions in the cabinet. Their agenda appears to be burn more coal, oil and gas, not less.
Since the election, it's become crystal clear that it's up to us to step up and demand better from our leaders for people and the planet. That's why Food & Water Action Fund has launched a bold new effort to get America Off Fossil Fuels by building political power, beginning at the local level. Together, we'll cultivate climate champions in government, ban fracking, keep fossil fuels in the ground, stop dangerous pipelines and infrastructure projects and transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2035.
How Will Climate Affect Our Survival—Specifically, Our Food and Water?
We know that burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change, and a warming climate will have many impacts on society, but let's drill down specifically to expected impacts on our access to safe food and clean water supplies—two things that are essential to our survival.
Chaos for Our Food Supply
The impacts on our food supply could be immense. Lloyds of London, an insurance industry giant, wrote in its report, Food System Shock that the global food supply is very vulnerable to uncertain climate impacts. With a global population expected to exceed 9 billion in 2050, extreme weather linked to climate change and the accompanying spread of agricultural pests and diseases could destabilize the global food supply.
Another study by the U.S. Global Change Research Program shows a warming planet would have other widespread impacts. Climate change will continue to reduce the nutritional value of our food, as rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels decrease the concentration of protein and essential minerals in crops like wheat and rice. Increasing risks of food-borne illness are also expected, as are increases in chemical contamination—for example, as the ocean temperature rises, we could see higher levels of mercury accumulating in fish. Adverse weather events, that will likely increase in frequency and intensity with climate change, could also harm the infrastructure that brings us our food.
Rising levels of carbon dioxide emissions in the Earth's atmosphere are causing a phenomenon called ocean acidification. As the oceans absorb more and more CO2, this results in seawater becoming more acidic and creates increasingly unfavorable conditions for calcifying sea life such as shellfish and corals. Ocean acidification is already setting off a chain reaction throughout entire ocean ecosystems, bringing with it serious implications for marine habitats and food security. Ocean acidification is pervasive and its legitimacy is unquestionable and backed by scientific evidence: Carbon dioxide emissions are the direct cause of ocean acidification.
Chaos for Our Water Supplies
Climate change will have a range of impacts on our ability to have safe drinking water. Aging drinking water and wastewater systems could fail under the stress of adverse weather events. Runoff from storms will also directly impact the water supply, introducing pathogens and increasing the prevalence of algal blooms. Warming waters themselves could expose us to more waterborne pathogens. And of course, climate change is increasing droughts, as well as heatwaves and floods. Globally, water supplies are already stressed—and climate change will only exacerbate those stresses.
Vulnerable Communities are Getting Hit Hardest
Low income communities, communities of color, indigenous communities and immigrants are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and will be hit disproportionally by health and other impacts—as will people with disabilities, pregnant women and children and the elderly. The poorest communities are also the ones that are saddled with polluting fossil fuel infrastructure that not only contribute to climate change, but public health impacts locally. Climate change isn't just an environmental issue: It's a social justice issue.
Off Fossil Fuels: On to the Clean Energy Revolution
The scale of what's needed is immense. Since world leaders met in Paris in 2015 to agree to limit warming to 2°C, the roadmap to getting there shows we need to act quickly. What's more, Food & Water Watch believes we must limit warming to 1.5°C, which means our call to action must be even more urgent. To achieve this limit in temperature rise, we must achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. That's less than 18 years away.
In other words, we have less than two decades to transition to renewable energy, and we can't afford to wait for our elected leaders in Washington to do the right thing. We must build power locally, from our city councils, to our state legislatures and beyond. While there has been good progress, with many cities making resolutions to go meet certain targets for renewables, the scale at which it must happen must ramp up.
During the Obama administration, we fought hard to protect the resources we need to sustain life. With our grassroots allies, we pushed hard to pressure the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to recognize that fracking contaminates drinking water—and won. But now, there's a new administration in town that is truly emboldening the fossil fuel lobby, and has a startling lack of accountability on environmental issues. It's clear that any environmental progress we'll make has to start at the local level—and it starts with each one of us.
We've learned one powerful lesson from our experience organizing alongside grassroots partners to ban fracking in states and communities across the nation: When large numbers of people come together, we can win even in the face of powerful opposition.
And yet that appears to be precisely what we're seeing with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a potential 2020 challenger to Trump who until recently had a strong record advocating for the planet.
Most notably, Cuomo as governor banned fracking statewide, which was a huge win for the movement and also recently closed Indian Point nuclear power plant, a move that may have saved the lives of millions of people.
But the goodwill from those arguably heroic acts has evaporated because of another Cuomo directive that's causing problems nationwide, but has barely made headlines outside New York.
Last year, Cuomo quietly ordered New York's Public Service Commission—which regulates energy companies in the state—to slip subsidies into electric bills for all New Yorkers to prop up three aging, unsafe, unprofitable nuclear power plants.
He's not calling it a tax, but it is and one that will bring in an estimated $7.6 billion over the next 12 years for Exelon, the $34 billion Fortune 100 corporation that operates the plants.
As if handing more than $7.6 billion to a nuclear energy company isn't outrageous enough, he did it in the name of his otherwise commendable "Clean Energy Standard," which calls for 50 percent of New York State's energy to be renewable by 2030, and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and other heat-trapping pollutants by 40 percent from 1990 levels.
Unfortunately, the idea to make ratepayers—some of whom have opted into renewable programs for which they're already paying a premium—subsidize nuclear power plants has spread to other states, with proposals now pending in Ohio, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Meanwhile, Illinois, where Exelon is located, had repeatedly fought off a similar program. After Cuomo authorized New York's bailout, however, they approved ratepayer-funded nuclear subsidies in late 2016 to keep two plants there open.
All total, consumers can be on the hook for $3.9 billion in higher bills as a result of these subsidies, according to a Bloomberg analysis.
Cuomo's decision, and the resulting ramifications nationwide, is a hard blow and environmentalists won't soon forget it—especially if, as early signs seem to indicate, he runs for the White House in 2020.
After four years of Trump, what this country will need is a president who is both consistent and creative when it comes to the environment. We've seen neither of those qualities from Cuomo.
Cuomo has an environmental record with some serious achievements, but if he's looking to be the next president, he needs to take such bold action again, not support corporate welfare.
There is still time for Cuomo to make this right. Just as he directed New York's Public Service Commission to include the surcharge tax in the Clean Energy Standard, he can direct them to remove it and build a better, more ambitious plan that relies on energy efficiency and renewables and moves away from nuclear power.
The people and the planet deserve nothing less.
Maryland's fracking ban is the latest milestone in a strong and growing movement to resist fossil fuels throughout the country. This is a huge victory for public health, common-sense environmental protection, climate stability and, not least, the power of grassroots organizing. This bold turn will reverberate nationally at a time when the Trump administration seeks to decimate environmental protections for the sake of corporate polluter profits.
Gov. Hogan's opposition to fracking demonstrates that matters of public health and our environment need not be partisan. Hogan has suddenly joined the ranks of national environmental leaders, vaulting ahead of many pro-fracking Democrats in the process.
With Gov. Hogan's signature, Marylanders can feel safe knowing their air, their water and their health will now be protected from the inherent dangers of fracking. We are confident that as scientific analysis and public opinion continue to move decisively against fracking, victories of this scale will be emulated in many more states in the coming years.
A quick overview of the Trump administration's pro-fossil fuel agenda and its roster of climate-denying oil and gas cronies in cabinet seats could lead anyone to believe that matters of energy policy are more partisan than ever. And indeed, it's clear that at the national level, the Republican Party as a whole is still largely committed to an antiquated and thoroughly dangerous plan to keep the country hooked on fossil fuels indefinitely.
Yet suddenly, the old rules do not apply. Maryland's state legislature has passed a ban on fracking, which, with the blessing of the Republican governor of the state, is expected to be signed into law any day now. This twist shows fracking is not a partisan issue and puts additional pressure on Democratic leaders to actually lead to protect our communities or air and water and our climate—and oppose fracking.
Earlier this month, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) had this to say about fracking:
"The possible environmental risks of fracking simply outweigh any potential benefits ... I've decided that we must take the next step and move from virtually banning fracking to actually banning fracking."
It's Not Just Maryland: Florida's Bi-Partisan Ban Bill Moving
Now, for the first time, a Republican governor has listened to the science and popular opinion by declaring opposition to fracking. In so doing, he has not just toppled a wall of partisanship on the issue in the state, but also made it impossible for the undecided Senate Democratic leadership to do anything but pass a ban on fracking.
This Republican Florida Lawmaker Wants to Ban Fracking as This U.S. Rep. Wants to Abolish the EPA https://t.co/rgfIdCRH4A @PriceofOil— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485988216.0
But Republican support for banning fracking is not just limited to Maryland. In Florida, bills have been introduced in both houses by Republicans with a bi-partisan group of co-sponsors to ban fracking in a state. The Senate bill has already advanced through its first committee by a unanimous vote and support for both bills continue to grow.
Maryland's Ban Another Milestone for the Movement
Maryland's ban on fracking will mark the latest in a series of recent milestones for the anti-fracking movement, each pointing to steadily evolving politics on the issue:
The first milestone came when Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned fracking in New York at the end of 2014. Vermont had banned fracking earlier, in what was an important but largely symbolic political statement given that the state does not have gas reserves. New York, though, with its large swath of rural land sitting above the Marcellus shale formation (which also runs under western Maryland), was very much desired by the fracking industry. In response, Food & Water Watch joined with hundreds of local groups to form a robust statewide coalition, New Yorkers Against Fracking, that coordinated an unprecedented multi-year grassroots campaign to ban fracking there.
In the end, Gov. Cuomo was compelled to ban fracking not just by a thorough examination of the science and facts on the hazardous practice—which his Department of Health dutifully undertook—but also by the overwhelming grassroots movement that had emerged around the issue. A huge corner had been turned: For the first time in America, fracking was banned in a place where it was otherwise very likely to happen. Additionally, the anti-fracking movement finally had a leader of national prominence willing to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and say "no."
The 2016 Presidential Race
Another key milestone in the fight against fracking came with the emergence of Sen. Bernie Sanders as a potent political force in the 2016 presidential campaign. Initially dismissed by pundits and party insiders as a fringe candidate, the Sanders campaign steadily rose to become a legitimate threat to Hillary Clinton's political machine. Among Sanders' most popular and potent policy planks was his call to ban fracking everywhere.
Sanders' rise was another shot in the arm for the anti-fracking movement. His clear call to ban fracking may have seemed unusually bold to some, but in fact he was simply responding to the will of the people. By early 2016, national polling had clearly swung against fracking, with a majority of all Americans—and an even greater majority of Democrats—opposed to it. Still, despite his advocacy and the overwhelming support for a fracking ban among Democrats, the party establishment still managed to prevent the party platform from embracing a ban on fracking.
Democratic Governors That Still Support Fracking
Gov. Hogan's support of a fracking ban in Maryland draws a stark contrast with several Democratic governors who claim to have green credentials, but have been unwilling to listen to their constituents and stand up to the oil and gas industry.
California: Gov. Brown
California's Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, for instance has attempted to claim the mantle of environmental leadership in the Trump era, yet he stubbornly defends oil fracking taking place throughout his state, even as his own constituents, county by county, are steadily rejecting the practice.
Fracking is now banned in six California counties and grassroots campaigns are currently underway to ban it in others. Most notably, in November last year, voters in Monterey County took to the polls to ban fracking and further drilling in the county, despite millions being spent by the industry against this grassroots movement. This marked the first county in the country to ban fracking where the industry was already well-established. Not only did Brown not support the community in this case, but he continues to allow dangerous practices like the use of oil wastewater to irrigate crops and the injection of wastewater in to aquifers.
Pennsylvania: Gov. Wolf
In Pennsylvania, Democrat Tom Wolf was elected governor in 2014, promising to bring an outsider reform perspective to a state that has suffered the blight of fracking for years. However, while Wolf has pledged to continue to prevent fracking from being done in the Delaware River Basin, he remains committed to allowing and potentially expanding fracking throughout the rest of state even as residents fall ill and more and more water supplies are contaminated. His current budget proposal calls for a new extraction tax on gas drilling, which would make the state's budget dependent on the continuation of this dirty practice.
And, Gov. Wolf also continues to push additional infrastructure linked to fracking. Just this month his office released a study backing four new ethane cracker plants to support fracking for natural gas liquids in Pennsylvania. The report declared that these developments would also attract "a world-class petrochemical industry" to the state, provided there were sufficient pipelines and storage facilities to enable it. This will ensure continued drilling and fracking in Pennsylvania.
Colorado: Gov. Hickenlooper
Colorado is another state where a Democratic governor has sided with the oil and gas industry over the health and safety of its communities. Gov. Hickenlooper has a long history of supporting fracking and related activities. In 2012, he appeared in industry-sponsored ads proclaiming fracking to be safe. The following year, he sued the city of Longmont after it passed its own local ballot measure banning fracking. He won and the people of Longmont lost.
Most recently, Hickenlooper was an outspoken opponent of the 2016 ballot initiative effort that would have guaranteed local municipalities like Longmont the right to enact moratoriums or bans on fracking and enact a 2,500 foot setback to protect water, health and communities.
Growing the Movement
As it becomes increasingly clear that we need to leave the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground in order to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, the Maryland ban and positive movement in Florida proves that fracking is a bipartisan issue. But with Republicans nationally denying climate change and several leading Democrats refusing to take meaningful action to leave fossil fuels in the ground, it's critical that we continue to organize and build political power in legislative districts across the country to fight for what we really need for the future of the planet: A ban on fracking, rejection of related infrastructure and a quick transition to 100 percent renewable energy future.
Republican legislators in Florida and the governor in Maryland are far better on oil and gas policy than so called environmental leader Jerry Brown. As a movement, we need to hold all these elected officials accountable—regardless of party affiliation—and highlight those who are taking meaningful action for the survival of our planet.
Dakota Access Pipeline 'Could Be Operational Within 30 Days' https://t.co/LVGuunbOcu (@ecowatch @priceofoil) #NoDAPL— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1487102408.0
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved the deal without requiring the merged firm to divest a single inch of its 38,000-mile oil and gas pipeline network. The company will be able to exert market power to reduce output and raise prices on consumers. As with other industries, this mega-merger only benefits company shareholders, not communities.
The Trump administration is quickly fulfilling the fossil fuel industry's wish list. The American people will pay the price for gargantuan gas giveaways—higher prices, a dirtier environment and climate chaos. Approving this deal is a bad omen for future antitrust enforcement. It seems as though the White House has pulled the cops off the antitrust beat entirely, much to Wall Street's delight.