The United States is still the wealthiest nation in the world—we're far from broke. What's broken, though, is the way we allocate our considerable national resources. Fixing that would put our economy back on track faster than any "supercommittee" rep could posture and bloviate on Fox News.
That's the message of The Story of Broke, the latest release from the folks who created the short film internet sensation The Story of Stuff a couple of years ago. In just eight minutes, The Story of Broke makes the case that, instead of obsessing about budget cuts, we should be re-prioritizing how our tax dollars are spent. Why are we giving money to highly profitable polluting industries, for instance, instead of promoting clean-energy solutions that would put more people to work and fewer people in the hospital?
The obvious answer is that political priorities are so distorted by the gravitational influence (read "campaign contributions") of big corporations that what's best for "we the people" frequently gets overlooked. (Contrary to what Mitt Romney may have claimed in the heat of the Iowa sun, corporations are not people. I've yet to see a corporation get cancer from polluted water or asthma from dirty air, for instance. I don't think you could pepper spray one, either.)
This corporate influence isn't subtle—it's blatant. As The Story of Broke points out, U.S. senators who voted to keep Big Oil subsidies in 2011 received five times more in Big Oil campaign cash than did the senators who voted to end the subsidies. And it's happening again right now, with Big Oil's senators trying to force the Keystone XL pipeline on the American people any way they can.
One way to tackle these problems might be to end corporate "personhood" with a constitutional amendment—such amendments have been introduced in both houses of Congress. Let's face it, though, getting one actually passed could take a while. In the meantime, maybe our elected leaders could show some spine and some decency and start acting in the best interests of the real people they actually represent.
For instance, if Congress eliminated outright subsidies to destructive, polluting, disease-causing fossil-fuel industries, it would certainly help reduce the deficit. But more importantly, it would stimulate development of the clean, renewable energy technologies that will generate more jobs, cut healthcare costs, and enable us to keep the lights on without destroying our environment and climate in the process. What's not to like about that?
The Story of Broke modestly suggests taking the $10 billion in annual subsidies that go to the oil and gas industries and splitting it between rooftop solar (more than 2 million homes) and home energy-efficiency retrofitting. Great idea! Lots of Americans would get good jobs installing and retrofitting. Even more of us would save money on our home-heating bills. A huge bonus: Our communities would become both cleaner and healthier (which also helps the economy, by the way).
The Story of Broke also spotlights a more insidious kind of government subsidy—not holding corporations responsible. Most Americans believe that "polluters should pay." You make a mess; you clean it up. It's one of those commonsense things we all were supposed to learn in kindergarten. Corporations don't go to kindergarten, though—it's another one of those "people" things. In the real world, corporate polluters never pay the entire bill for their polluting, whether it's BP in the Gulf of Mexico or any coal-fired power plant in America.
One astounding measure of how insane this kind of hidden subsidy for fossil fuels has become isn't even mentioned in The Story of Broke. According to a study published in the American Economic Review this year, the costs to our society from the pollution created by coal-fired power plants are actually greater than the value of the electricity generated by those plants. In other words, coal is a vampire industry that, instead of adding value to our economy, does exactly the opposite. (Yes, coal power literally sucks.)
The Story of Broke has plenty of other examples of how we're allowing what it refers to as "the dinosaur economy" to hold us back. It's not a catalog of problems, though. It's more like a banquet of opportunities. It's like that old joke about the patient who says, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." You know the punch line. The best way to start fixing our economy is to stop doing things that hurt us.
By Governor Jay Inslee
Climate Week this year coincides with clear skies in Washington state for the first time in almost two weeks.
In just a few days in early September, Washington state saw enough acres burned – more than 600,000 – to reach our second-worst fire season on record. Our worst fire season came only five years ago. Wildfires aren't new to the west, but their scope and danger today is unlike anything firefighters have seen. People up and down the West Coast – young and old, in rural areas and in cities – were choking on smoke for days on end, trapped in their homes.
Fires like these are becoming the norm, not the exception.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Bill McKibben
To understand the planetary importance of this autumn's presidential election, check the calendar. Voting ends on November 3—and by a fluke of timing, on the morning of November 4 the United States is scheduled to pull out of the Paris Agreement.
President Trump announced that we would abrogate our Paris commitments during a Rose Garden speech in 2017. But under the terms of the accords, it takes three years to formalize the withdrawal. So on Election Day it won't be just Americans watching: The people of the world will see whether the country that has poured more carbon into the atmosphere than any other over the course of history will become the only country that refuses to cooperate in the one international effort to do something about the climate crisis.
By Oliver Milman
The climate crisis is set to be a significant factor in a U.S. presidential election for the first time, with new polling showing a clear majority of American voters want decisive action to deal with the threats posed by global heating.
Do you support or oppose each of the following policies as part of the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzODcyMC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjg4MzY4OX0.B-bt9mltOhK0MHFbzK8G3_8sBkDAeUsAWm-AhNZYoxQ/img.png?width=980" id="acd43" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8724178274b9f96e27055f74a1bafe20" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
America's largest national forest, Tongass National Forest in Alaska, will be opened up to logging and road construction after the Trump administration finalizes its plans to open up the forest on Friday, according to The New York Times.
Aerial view of the Tongass National Forest. Alan Wu / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
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By Ruby Russell and Ajit Niranjan
Hamstrung by coronavirus lockdowns, frustrated school strikers have spent months staging digital protests against world leaders failing to act urgently on climate change.
Pandemic Stalls Protests<p>Last November, the head of the UN Environment Program was among the public and scientific figures to warn that 2020 offered a last chance to cut emissions. Then, few could have suspected this deadline would coincide with an unprecedented public health emergency.</p><p>The pandemic has <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/tough-times-ahead-for-climate-protesters-during-corona-pandemic/a-52978469" target="_blank">dealt climate activism a blow</a>. Niedeggen says that as a movement demanding that the world act on scientific advice, the school strikers took lockdown restrictions extremely seriously, halted public protests immediately and took their activism online.</p><p>On April 24, Fridays for Future organized a "digital strike," with Niedeggen hosting a that racked up close to a quarter of a million views. "We were not physically standing together, but we were all fighting together," she says.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-strikers-get-inventive-during-the-covid-19-crisis-fridays-for-future/a-53229262" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Activists also gathered thousands of placards</a> from across Germany to lay out in front of the German Bundestag around the central slogan: "Fight every crisis."</p>
Opportunity for a New Normal<p>Last September's Global Climate Strike drew young and old protestors around the world, with organizers estimating a global turnout of 7.6 million, including an estimated 270,000 people in Berlin. Activists have adjusted this year's event to account for social distancing and different levels of coronavirus restrictions in cities taking part.</p><p>They say COVID-19 also presents opportunities.</p><p>"The pandemic shows that we can change our normal daily life, and we are very able to adjust to a situation of crisis," she says. The key question is how economies get back on their feet: "We have the possibility to build a new normal, to build a renewable world order, and an environmentally just, climate-just normal for everybody."</p><p>In July, Jeng was among 20 female Fridays for Future activists from the Global South to sign an open letter to G20 finance ministers warning that their decisions in "exclusive backrooms" over stimulus packages and corporate bailouts would "lock in development pathways for decades."</p><p>"The system is not broken, it was built to be unjust. We don't need recovery, we need a reboot," the letter reads, stressing that "black people, indigenous peoples and people of color," have been disproportionately hit by the economic, climate and coronavirus crises. </p>
Policy 'Not Quite There Yet'<p>Figures on stimulus spending do not suggest their words had much impact. The ministers were criticized for failing to relieve the debt of poorer countries, and according to <a href="https://www.energypolicytracker.org/region/g20/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Policy Tracker</a>, G20 countries by August had pledged $169 billion (142 billion euros) to fossil fuels since the beginning of the pandemic.</p><p>Katrin Uba, associate professor of political science at Uppsala University in Sweden, is researching Fridays for Future. She says that despite the movement raising awareness and gaining access to policymakers, real policy change "is not there yet."</p><p>Still, she stresses that social movements go through waves of mobilization as public attention on their core issues ebbs and flows. And perhaps one of Fridays for Future's biggest achievements is birthing a politically active generation that will keep the fight up long after corona becomes a memory. </p><p>"We know clearly from our research that many of the people who came to the streets hadn't done any protesting before in their lives," she told DW. "And we also know that if you do one protest, you are likely to do more."</p>
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