Why states are pushing ahead with clean energy despite Trump’s embrace of coal

Image 20170329 8593 13p35fo
Alamosa Photovoltaic Plan, south-central Colorado.
Energy.gov/Flickr

Bill Ritter, Jr., Colorado State University

On Tuesday, March 28, President Trump traveled to the Environmental Protection Agency to sign an executive order rolling back a number of climate-related regulations that have taken effect over the past eight years. The president’s team claims this effort will help bring our nation closer to energy independence, and that it will begin the process of resuscitating a coal industry that has experienced serious decline in the past decade.

In reality, it will do neither. We do not import coal into the United States. There are no jobs coming back from overseas. Moreover, and somewhat ironically, the chief reason for the decline in the coal industry is not Obama-era regulations, but a rapidly changing energy market.

Any energy market analyst will tell you that advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have provided us with cheap, abundant, natural gas. Add to that declining price curves in wind and solar generation, and one begins to appreciate that a difficult road lies ahead for coal. These are markets that are growing with rapid technological innovation.

USEIA

The shift is underway

The fact is that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan codified where the utility industry was already going. With publicly announced retirements, roughly 45 percent of the existing coal capacity in the western grid will be retired by 2030. According to utility integrated resource plans, by 2026, just shy of half of the total energy in the West will be generated from zero-emitting resources.

The 11 western states that my center had been convening around implementation of the Clean Power Plan are, collectively, in compliance with the plan’s 2026 targets under business as usual. Ironically, removing the Clean Power Plan just eliminates a potential for market-based emission trading that would lower costs to consumers and provide some states with a glide path to meet their targets.

This is not to say that the regulatory rollbacks in President Trump’s order will have no impact. The international community, which crafted the landmark Paris Accord, will not have the benefit of U.S. leadership on climate change. Other nations will fill that void – while reaping the economic rewards of serving a growing global market with low-carbon technologies. One of the most troubling long-term impacts of these actions will be a declining global view of America as a source of innovation and investment.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, holding his granddaughter, signs the Paris Agreement, April 22, 2016.
U.S. Department of State/Wikipedia

At home, should the Clean Power Plan expire, states that have been reticent to advance a clean energy agenda will no longer be required to plan for emissions reductions. The Clean Power Plan brought certainty to energy planning. If you talk to American utility executives and their investors, they crave certainty because it lowers the cost of capital and saves money for consumers. The executive order is a step away from stability in our energy markets and away from America’s leadership as an innovator developing the technologies that will serve a growing global market.

States, cities and businesses are moving forward

Attempts to roll back important environmental safeguards are being sold to the American people under the rubric of job creation. Let’s put this in the proper context: There were 65,971 jobs in coal mining nationwide in 2015. According to the Department of Energy, more than twice as many jobs – 133,000 – were created last year just in the energy efficiency industry. In 2016 the solar workforce grew by 25 percent to 374,000 and the wind workforce grew by 32 percent to 102,000. One in 50 new jobs in America is now in solar energy.

From 2007 to 2011, as Governor of Colorado, I signed 57 pieces of legislation intended to transition Colorado to a clean energy economy. After leaving office I founded the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University with the intention of working with governors, state legislators and utility regulators on clean and advanced energy policy. In our work at the center, my team and I have become confident that states, cities and private companies are taking the lead in the clean energy transition, even as the federal government flounders. Today 37 states, comprising two-thirds of the U.S. population, have renewable portfolio standards that require electric utilities to generate or purchase a percentage of their power from renewable energy.

Governors from both parties have led this transition. Seventeen governors have joined the Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future, including the Republican Governors of Nevada, Iowa, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. In doing so, they have all committed to diversify their states’ energy generation with clean energy sources, modernizing energy infrastructure and encouraging clean transportation. In addition, 129 U.S. cities have signed the Compact of Mayors’ pledge to address climate change.

Thirty-three U.S.-based companies, the likes of Coca-Cola, GM, Goldman Sachs, HP, Johnson & Johnson and Nike, have committed to a goal of using 100 percent renewable energy as part of the RE100 Initiative. Some 50 U.S. companies will need to purchase 17 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2025 – enough to power the entire state of Colorado – in order to fulfill their existing corporate targets.

True leadership requires a vision that looks to new markets, new technologies and new solutions. Unfortunately, the president’s actions on Tuesday look backward toward a fading horizon, rather than forward toward a bright and promising future.

Bill Ritter, Jr., Director, Center for the New Energy Economy, Colorado State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Red state rural America is acting on climate change – without calling it #climatechange

One primary concern in rural areas: higher temperatures put strain on water and energy sources. AP Photo/Robert Ray
One primary concern in rural areas: higher temperatures put strain on water and energy sources. AP Photo/Robert Ray

Rebecca J. Romsdahl, University of North Dakota

President Donald Trump has the environmental community understandably concerned. He and members of his Cabinet have questioned the established science of climate change, and his choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has sued the EPA many times and regularly sided with the fossil fuel industry.

Even if the Trump administration withdraws from all international climate negotiations and reduces the EPA to bare bones, the effects of climate change are happening and will continue to build.

In response to real threats and public demand, cities across the United States and around the world are taking action to address climate change. We might think this is happening only in large, coastal cities that are threatened by sea-level rise or hurricanes, like Amsterdam or New York.

Research shows, however, that even in the fly-over red states of the U.S. Great Plains, local leaders in small- to medium-size communities are already grappling with the issue. Although their actions are not always couched in terms of addressing climate change, their strategies can provide insights into how to make progress on climate policy under a Trump administration.

‘Deliberate framing’

My colleagues and I did a survey of over 200 local governments in 11 states of the Great Plains region to learn about steps they’re taking to mitigate the effects of climate change and to adapt to them. We found local officials in red states responsible for public health, soil conservation, parks and natural resources management, as well as county commissioners and mayors, are concerned about climate change, and many feel a responsibility to take action in the absence of national policy.

In terms of framing, using wind energy is a way to improve local air quality and save money on energy, while also reducing emissions from fossil fuels.
paytonc/flickr, CC BY-SA

But because it is such a complex and polarizing topic, they often face public uncertainty or outrage toward the issue. So while these local officials have been addressing climate change in their communities over the past decade, many of these policy activities are specifically not framed that way. As one respondent to our survey said:

“It is my personal and professional opinion that the conservation community is on track with addressing the issue of climate change but is way off track in assigning a cause. The public understands the value of clean water and clean air. If the need to improve our water quality and air quality was emphasized, most would agree. Who is going to say dirty water and dirty air is not a problem? By making the argument ‘climate change and humans are the cause’ significant energy is wasted trying to prove this. It is also something the public has a hard time sinking their teeth into.”

In order to address the vulnerabilities facing their communities, many local officials are reframing climate change to fit within existing priorities and budget items. In a survey of mayors, we asked: “In your city’s policy and planning activities (for energy, conservation, natural resources management, land use, or emergency planning, etc.) how is climate change framed?” The following quotes give a sense of their strategies.

“In terms of economic benefit & resource protection. This framing was deliberate to garner support from residents who did not agree with climate change.”

“We frame the initiative as: energy savings (=$ savings), as smart growth/good planning, and as common sense natural resource management. Climate change is only explicitly referenced in our Climate Protection Plan adopted in 2009. Most initiatives fall under the “sustainability” umbrella term.“

“We mask it with sustainability, we call it P3 (People, Planet, Prosperity)”

“The initial interest in climate change came about as a result of concern about the potential for poor air quality affecting economic development in the City. Air quality and climate change were framed as being extremely related issues.”

“Climate change is framed as one of several benefits of conservation measures. Other benefits of conservation, recycling, walking, etc. include it’s ‘good for the earth’ (regardless of climate change), healthful, economical, etc.”

The results show that energy, economic benefits, common sense and sustainability are frames that are providing opportunities for local leaders to address climate change without getting stuck in the political quagmire. This strategy is being used across the Great Plains states, which include some of the most climate-skeptical areas of the country.

Local needs and values

Every region of the U.S. will need to address practical questions of how states and local communities can reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts. Under the Trump administration, it is likely any progress on U.S. climate policy will continue at these subnational levels. That’s why a variety of experts argue that we should encourage the types of pragmatic strategies now being employed by local leaders in red states.

In the Great Plains in particular, local officials are facing severe impacts from higher temperatures, which will place greater demands on water and energy.

Capturing methane gases from landfill can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and be a local source of fuel for power.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, CC BY-NC

In our research we found local leaders focus on regional and local issues such as drought, energy and flooding. These are problems that are tied to climate change, but are already a priority on the local level. And the sought-for improvements, such as energy savings, health benefit and flood management, fit well with local needs and values.

For example, Fargo, North Dakota mitigates some of its greenhouse gas emissions and created a new source of city revenue by capturing the methane from its landfill facility and selling that gas to the electricity company. The city trash is now providing renewable energy for local residents and an industrial facility.

Perhaps the question facing us is: Should we reframe climate change and other environmental problems to fit the Trump administration’s priorities with a strong focus on practical solution ideas? For example, Trump has stated that infrastructure projects will be a high priority. That could easily translate into fixing the drinking water crisis experienced by Flint, Michigan and many other cities where it is likely to happen; Trump has also highlighted mass transit, which could help reduce air pollution and carbon emissions.

With an administration eager to expand fossil fuel development and consumption, the outlook for federal action on reducing climate-altering greenhouse gases is dire. Given that, reframing climate change to address cobenefit issues seems a logical strategy, and we can look for local government leaders in red states to show the way.

The Conversation

Rebecca J. Romsdahl, Professor of Environmental Science & Policy, University of North Dakota

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Food Security: How Drought and Rising Prices Led to Conflict in Syria

EPA/Russian Defence Ministry Press Service
EPA/Russian Defence Ministry Press Service

 

Aled Jones, Anglia Ruskin University

In 2015 the Welsh singer and activist Charlotte Church was widely ridiculed in the right-wing press and on social media for saying on BBC Question Time that climate change had played an important part in causing the conflict in Syria.

From 2006 until 2011, [Syria] experienced one of the worst droughts in its history, which of course meant that there were water shortages and crops weren’t growing, so there was mass migration from rural areas of Syria into the urban centres, which put on more strain, and made resources scarce etc, which apparently contributed to the conflict there today.

Goaded on by the tabloids, Church reaped a whirlwind of public ridicule:

But what she said was correct – and there will be an increasing convergence of climate, food, economic and political crises in the coming years and decades. We need to better understand the interconnectivity of environmental, economic, geopolitical, societal and technological systems if we are to manage these crises and avoid their worst impacts.

In particular, tipping points exist in both physical and socio-economic systems, including governmental or financial systems. These systems interact in complex ways. Small shocks may have little impact but, a particular shock or set of shocks could tip the system into a new state. This new state could represent a collapse in agriculture or even the fall of a government.

In 2011, Syria became the latest country to experience disruption in a wave of political unrest crossing North Africa and the Middle East. Religious differences, a failure of the ruling regime to tackle unemployment and social injustice and the state of human rights all contributed to a backdrop of social unrest. However, these pressures had existed for years, if not decades.

So was there a trigger for the conflict in the region which worked in tandem with the ongoing social unrest?

Syria, and the surrounding region, has experienced significant depletion in water availability since 2003. In particular an intense drought between 2007 and 2010, alongside poor water management, saw agricultural production collapse and a mass migration from rural areas to city centres. Farmers, who had been relatively wealthy in their rural surroundings now found themselves as the urban poor reliant on food imports. Between 2007 and 2009 Syria increased its annual imports of wheat and meslin (rice flour) by about 1.5m tonnes. That equated to a more than ten-fold increase in importing one of the most basic foods.

Cereal imports by weight and value to Syria from 2006 to 2010. Source: UN Comtrade Database.

Complex system

There is a tendency these days to believe that global trade will protect the world from food production shocks. A small production shock in one region can be mitigated by increasing, temporarily, imports of food or by sourcing food from another region. However, certain shocks, or a set of shocks, could create an amplifying feedback that cascades into a globally significant event.

The food system today is increasingly complex and an impact in land, water, labour or infrastructure could create fragility. A large enough perturbation can lead to a price response in the global market that sends a signal to other producers to increase their output to make up for any shortfall. While increased prices can be beneficial to farmers and food producers, if the price increase is large enough it can have a significant impact on communities that are net food importers.

Additionally, food production is concentrated both in a relatively small handful of commodity crops such as wheat, rice and maize as well as from a relatively small number of regions, for example the US, China and Russia. This concentration means any disruption in those regions will have a large impact on global food supply. Reliance on global markets for sourcing food can therefore be a source of systemic risk.

Rising prices

In 2008 the global price of food increased dramatically. This increase was the result of a complex set of issues including historically low global food stocks, drought in Australia following production lows in several other areas over the previous few years, and speculation and an increase in biofuel production in North America.

This spike in global food price in 2008 was a factor in the initial unrest across North Africa and the Middle East, which became known as the Arab Spring. As prices peaked, violence broke out in countries such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

In Syria a local drought which coincided with this global shock in food prices resulted in dramatic changes in the availability and cost of food. In response small groups of individuals protested. The government response, combined with a background of rising protests, existing social tensions and instability in the wider region, quickly escalated into the situation we are experiencing today.

The events in Syria, then, appear to stem from a far more complex set of pressures, beyond religious tension and government brutality, with its roots in the availability of a natural resource – water – and its impact on food production. This is worrying as decreasing water availability is far from a localised issue – it is a systemic risk across the Middle East and North Africa. Over the coming decades this water security challenge is likely to be further exacerbated by climate change.

To better manage these types of risks in the future, and to build societal resilience, the world needs to understand our society’s interdependence on natural resources and how this can lead to events such as those that unfolded in Syria. We need analytical, statistical, scenario or war game-type models to explore different possible futures and policy strategies for mitigating the risk. By understanding sources of political instability we hope to get a better handle on how these types of crisis arise.

The Conversation

Aled Jones, Director, Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

 

 

Earth on the docket: Why Obama can’t ignore this climate lawsuit by America’s youth

A group of youths are suing the federal government for action on climate change using a novel legal approach. AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, Photo by Robin Loznak, courtesy of Our Children's Trust
A group of youths are suing the federal government for action on climate change using a novel legal approach. AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, Photo by Robin Loznak, courtesy of Our Children’s Trust

Mary Wood, University of Oregon; Charles W. Woodward, IV, University of Oregon, and Michael C. Blumm, Lewis & Clark

At a time when humanity must reverse course before plunging over a climate cliff, the American public has elected a president who seems to have both feet on the fossil fuel accelerator. If there is a mechanism to force the Trump administration to put the brakes on dirty energy policy, a lawsuit brought by 21 young people against the Obama administration may hold the key.

Two days after the presidential election, on Nov. 10, a federal district court in Oregon issued a path-breaking decision in Juliana v. U.S. declaring that youth – indeed, all citizens – hold constitutional rights to a stable climate system.

The youth, aged nine to 20 years old, seek a court-supervised plan to lower carbon dioxide emissions at a rate set by a science-based prescription. The judicial role is analogous to court-supervised remedies protecting equal opportunity for students after Brown v. Board of Education.

The Juliana v. U.S. decision could be a legal game-changer, as it challenges the entire fossil-fuel policy of the United States.

Cruel irony

Environmental lawsuits typically rely on statutes or regulations. But Juliana is a human rights case that bores down to legal bedrock by asserting constitutional rights to inherit a stable climate system.

The court, which ruled the suit can proceed to trial, rightly described the case as a “civil rights action” – an action “of a different order than the typical environmental case” – because it alleges that government actions “have so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to life and liberty.” The litigation, variously called “a ”ray of hope,“ a legal ”long shot“ and a ”Hail Mary pass,“ yielded its groundbreaking decision not a moment too soon.

At a rally for action on climate in 2014. The decisions made by adults will have broad implications for the planet today’s youth will live on as adults.
Joe Brusky/flickr, CC BY-NC

The year 2016 is the hottest year on record, and Arctic sea ice has hit its lowest recorded level. Heated ocean waters threaten coral reefs and marine ecosystems.

To have any hope of reversing or stalling these effects of climate change, the world must restrict fossil fuel production and ultimately switch to safe renewable energy. Even continued production solely from currently operating oil and gas fields will push the planet to 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial temperatures, beyond the aspirational limit set by the global Paris Agreement on climate change.

President-elect Trump, who notoriously claimed that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, has said he plans to immediately approve the highly contentious Keystone Pipeline, open public land to drilling, rescind Obama’s Clean Power Plan, eliminate NASA’s climate research, and withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. He intends to spur production of US$50 trillion worth of shale, oil, coal and natural gas.

The 70-year-old president-elect will not live long enough to witness the worst consequences of rapidly expanding fossil fuel development. The cruel irony for young people is that actions taken during Trump’s time in office will lock in a future of severe disruptions within their projected lifetimes – and sea level rise that could make coastal cities uninhabitable. James Hansen, formerly the nation’s chief climate scientist at NASA, has warned, “Failure to act with all deliberate speed…functionally becomes a decision to eliminate the option of preserving a habitable climate system.”

Sea levels are projected to rise at least three feet, and perhaps much more, in the lifetime of children today, inundating some locations and making storm surges more dangerous. The Juliana lawsuit and others like it argue that citizens have a right to a stable climate.
NOAA

Constitutional argument

For decades, the political branches have promoted fossil fuel consumption despite longstanding knowledge about the climate danger. President Obama ignored warnings when he charted a disastrous course of increased fossil fuel production early in office. In a last moment of opportunity to avert climate tipping points, Americans should recall an elementary school civics lesson: The United States has three, not two, branches of government. The founders wisely vested an independent judiciary with the responsibility of upholding the fundamental liberties of citizens against infringement by the other branches.

As the president-elect promises to ramp up fossil fuel production and dismantle Obama’s recent climate measures, and with no obvious statutory law to prevent him from doing so, only a fundamental rights approach carries any hope of trumping Trump.

The principle of public trust law, dating to the time of Roman Emperor Justinian, holds that natural resources, including the sea, the shores of the sea, the air and running water, are common to everyone. It has since become part of U.S. jurisprudence.
Petar Milošević/wikipedia, CC BY

In Juliana, the youth asserted their fundamental rights under the Constitution’s substantive due process clause and the public trust doctrine. This is an ancient principle requiring government to hold and protect essential resources as a sustaining endowment for citizens. They contended that government infringed on their rights to life, liberty, and property by promoting fossil fuel policies that threaten runaway planetary heating – thereby jeopardizing human life, private property and civilization itself.

Judge Ann Aiken’s Juliana decision in November upheld both public trust and substantive due process rights under the Constitution and allowed the case to go forward. “I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society,” she wrote, explaining that public trust rights, which “both predated the Constitution and are secured by it,” cannot be “legislated away.”

The opinion is bound to have a rippling effect. The case is actually part of a wave of atmospheric trust litigation (ATL) cases and petitions across the U.S. and in other countries. Launched by the group Our Children’s Trust in 2011, the legal campaign asserts youths’ rights to a stable climate system and seeks court-supervised climate recovery plans.

Recent victories in Massachusetts, Pakistan, the Netherlands and Washington state indicate widespread judicial concern over the political branches’ failure to confront the climate emergency. The youth plaintiffs hope that the dominoes continue to fall in their favor in time to thwart climate catastrophe.

As ATL moves forward globally, the Juliana case will proceed to trial as early as next summer or fall. The plaintiffs’ attorneys aim to show the government’s deliberate indifference to mounting climate danger.

Already dubbed “the trial of the century,” this is the first time that U.S. fossil fuel policy will confront climate science in court. Any government denial of climate change will have to confront the scrutiny of a fact-finding judge.

Consent degree from Obama?

The case also offers President Obama a fleeting opportunity.

Five days after the election, Secretary of State Kerry proclaimed that President Obama would use his last days in office to “do everything possible to meet our responsibility to future generations to be able to address this threat to life itself on the planet.”

If so, the most viable way might be to offer a partial settlement of the Juliana case before going to trial. One form of settlement could be an enforceable consent decree consisting of interim steps to halt further fossil-fuel mining and infrastructure development. Such a settlement would help secure Obama’s measures to close the Arctic to drilling and halt coal leasing on federal lands.

Young Americans could use a down payment on the colossal climate mortgage hanging over their future. And President Obama could use a climate legacy. It may be worth his time now to sit down with the “plucky millennials” who sued him to save the planet – before his time in office runs out.

The Conversation

Mary Wood, Philip H. Knight Professor of Law, University of Oregon; Charles W. Woodward, IV, Post Graduate Research Fellow, University of Oregon, and Michael C. Blumm, Jeffrey Bain Scholar & Professor of Law, Lewis & Clark

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

For China, climate change is no hoax – it’s a business and political opportunity

Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon shake hands during a joint ratification of the Paris climate change agreement in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, Sept. 3, 2016. How Hwee Young/Pool Photo via AP
Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon shake hands during a joint ratification of the Paris climate change agreement in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, Sept. 3, 2016. How Hwee Young/Pool Photo via AP

Matthew Kahn, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

In mid-November, while Americans were preoccupied with election returns, China sent some of its clearest signals yet that it will continue to pursue an international leadership role on issues including climate. At an international climate change summit in Marrakech, the Chinese government reasserted its commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The government announced that its aggregate emissions will peak by 2030 or earlier, and that its emissions per dollar of economic output will decline sharply.

For 25 years I have taught my economics students that climate change represents the ultimate “free rider problem.” To slow global climate change, we need to reduce aggregate global emissions. Yet each individual nation’s efforts are too small to “solve” the problem, so it has only weak incentives to take costly mitigation actions, and strong incentives to “free ride” on the benefits of emission reductions by other countries.

From this perspective, President-elect Trump’s pledges to “cancel” the Paris Agreement and dismantle President Obama’s carbon mitigation initiatives follow standard economic logic. If the United States backs out of commitments to reduce national emissions, it still benefits from other countries’ efforts.

Why, then, is China is pressing ahead with low-carbon initiatives? My research suggests several motives. Chinese leaders want to improve the quality of life in their nation’s cities by reducing air pollution; win large shares of promising export markets for green technologies; and increase China’s “soft power” in international relations. Taking aggressive action to cut carbon emissions helps China in all three areas.

Workers examine wind turbine blades at a Vestas Wind Technology factory in Tianjin, 2010.
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File

Reducing coal’s cruel impacts

Much of the staggering rise in China’s carbon dioxide emissions in recent decades came from burning coal to produce electricity for the nation’s industrial sector. While this growth has created millions of jobs and wealth for the nation, coal-fired power plants are major sources of greenhouse gases and conventional air pollutants that affect millions of people.

A large body of research, including joint work by U.S. and Chinese scholars, has demonstrated that air pollution in China causes thousands of premature deaths yearly. Coal also provides winter heating in China’s colder cities. Recent epidemiology research has found that coal use for heating greatly increases fine particulate air pollution, which has raised morbidity and mortality rates.

Using data from around the world, economists have found that when countries develop economically they move up an “energy ladder.” As a nation grows richer, it tends to substitute more expensive but cleaner fuels such as natural gas for cheap, high-polluting fuels like coal. A natural experiment that occurred in Turkey as natural gas pipelines were built throughout the nation between 2001 and 2014 showed as people gained access to natural gas, air quality improved and mortality rates declined.

China has more coal than natural gas resources, but as its citizens grow wealthier, their willingness to pay to avoid pollution increases. This trend will encourage substitution toward cleaner fuels. As such, China’s political leaders will likely prioritize policies that substitute natural gas for coal, which should reduce air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.

Economic deceleration, industry restructuring, and new energy and environmental policies have slowed the growth of coal consumption in China and are also driving more centralized and cleaner uses of coal.
U.S. Energy Information Administration

Pursuing green and profitable export markets

China’s economic growth has been fueled by manufacturing for export. Now it faces rising competition from other lower-cost manufacturers that produce cheap goods such as sneakers and clothes. In response, China is seeking new export markets. Electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines represent promising markets in a world with ample demand for lower-carbon transportation products and power-generating capacity.

Trade economists have posited that there is a home market effect that drives certain large industries to concentrate in countries with large domestic markets. Firms in these industries gain experience in producing low-cost, high-quality products by selling to home markets. After they go through this process of learning by doing, they turn to exporting.

China’s Communist Party (CCP) has offered special incentives, including free land and low interest rate loans, to businesses in the green energy sector. By providing these cost advantages, the CCP hopes to give Chinese manufacturers a first mover advantage. And with the rise of China’s universities, China is now home to a huge number of engineers with the training and expertise to compete with Japan and South Korea in developing new technologies.

Over 21 million new cars were sold in China in 2015. China uses more oil than any other country except for the United States, and is projected to become the world’s top oil consumer by 2034. This outlook gives Chinese leaders a major incentive to develop green transportation.

China’s central government is offering direct subsidies to people who purchase electric cars, and many major cities are offering tax incentives for local automakers to produce and market electric and hybrid vehicles. Such policies have helped Chinese electric car and bus maker BYD become the largest electric vehicle producer in the world.

Event introducing the Yuan, the latest plug-in hybrid mini SUV from BYD, in Beijing, April 2016. In 2015 BYD sold more electric cars than Tesla, Nissan and GM combined.
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

China is also seeking market dominance in clean energy technology. The nation’s ambient air pollution and its greenhouse gas emissions would both decline if China could produce more electricity using clean renewables rather than relying on coal. It has been the largest producer of solar photovoltaic cells in the world since 2007, and overtook Germany as the nation with the largest installed photovoltaic capacity in 2015.

U.S industrial regulators have accused China of engaging in predation and dumping low-cost solar panels that compete with U.S products. But environmentalists should cheer that potential buyers in importing nations now face lower prices – especially global companies like Wal-Mart which are pledging to shrink their carbon footprints. As the price of renewable power equipment declines, the law of demand predicts that more U.S. companies will go green.

There is a key synergy between electric vehicles and green power generation. As studies have shown, driving an electric vehicle that runs on electricity generated from coal can produce more greenhouse gas emissions than operating a conventional gasoline vehicle. If Chinese exports of electric vehicles and renewable generating technologies lead to their joint adoption by suburbanites, greenhouse gas emissions from both transportation and power generation will fall.

Investing in soft power

For decades, the world’s media have portrayed China as a bully and trade cheat abroad and a repressive power at home. In cutting carbon emissions, the Communist Party seeks to boost its own political legitimacy in the international arena as well as with the Chinese people.

By committing to pursue ambitious environmental goals, Chinese leaders hope to signal to both domestic constituents and international actors that China is an international leader and cares about its own people. A “leading nation” plays an active role in international relations, helps to keep the peace and promotes global public goods. At a time when the United States appears to be stepping back from its leadership role, the CCP may see a chance to fill the vacuum, and make money in the process.

The Conversation

Matthew Kahn, Professor of Economics, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What could the rest of the world do if Trump pulls the US out of the Paris Agreement on climate change?

News of Drumpf’s election has had a deep impact on global climate talks now going on. IISD/ENB | Liz Rubin
News of Drumpf’s election has had a deep impact on global climate talks now going on. IISD/ENB | Liz Rubin

Henrik Selin, Boston University and Adil Najam, Boston University

Climate change negotiators from around the world – now meeting at the COP22 conference in Marrakech, Morocco – continue steadfastly with the task of putting meaning and action into the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement to bring down global greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet, the tone in Marrakech has suddenly become more subdued. While many conversations remain staunchly defiant, others have assumed a funeral-like quality, as national delegates and civil society representatives try to assess the ramifications of the U.S. presidential election.

Elections have consequences for global climate change negotiations and the future of the planet.

 

President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly stated he does not believe in human-induced climate change. He has argued that climate change is an expensive hoax that was created by the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive. He has also declared his intent to roll back federal climate change and renewable energy policy. Most poignantly for Marrakech, he has loudly declared an intention to “cancel the Paris climate agreement.

 

Some cling to the hope that President Trump will forget pronouncements made by Candidate Trump just as Candidate Trump had ignored the pontifications of Citizen Trump. An important indicator of why this may not be the case is the appointment of Myron Ebell as head of the transition team for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ebell, also a front-runner to be appointed as head of the EPA, is an outspoken climate change denier who flat out rejects the Paris Agreement as unconstitutional.

Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and likely head of the EPA in the Trump administration talks to Climate Home during COP21 in Paris.

Notwithstanding the mechanics of officially “leaving” the Paris Agreement – which stipulate a four-year process – how should the rest of the world respond if the Trump administration were to formally or informally disengage from the Paris Agreement?

We think there are at least four ways in which things can unfold.

Scenario 1: Walk out with the US

If the Trump administration decides to withdraw from the Paris Agreement then other major economies which are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will have justification to do the same. This is de facto what happened with the 1997 Kyoto Protocol once it became clear that the U.S. would not ratify and was not serious about its implementation.

Not least because the Paris Agreement came together as a result of much diplomatic leadership by the Obama administration, other countries would feel a legitimate sense of anger and disappointment towards the United States if it were to walk away from the agreement.

 

Whether the walkout is a formal withdrawal from the agreement or an informal abdication from its responsibilities, the Paris Agreement would be effectively doomed as signatories fail to meet pledges to reduce country emissions made in Paris. The implication of such a scenario is that the UNFCCC negotiation process could just wither away and critical agreed-upon temperature goals would slip further out of reach.

 

Scenario 2: Kick the US out

As the world’s largest economy, although not by the margins it once was, and the world’s largest emitter of CO2, the U.S. remains central to the enterprise of curtailing global climate change, but arguably is no longer as indispensable as it once was.

Such a rationale and the anger that would be triggered by a U.S. walk-out of the Paris Agreement, particularly amongst the European Union (EU) and China, could induce the parties that remain serious about the agreement to adopt a retaliatory posture. While it would be unprecedented, countries could decide that a U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement should have real consequences for U.S. involvement and participation in the U.N. climate change process.

If they were to do so, they would be taking a cue straight out of Donald Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal” and its key dictums of “fighting back very hard” and “using every leverage.” As Donald Trump puts it in his book: “The worst thing you can possibly do [is to] seem desperate… That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you’re dead.”

There has already been at least one suggestion that a U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement should be met with not just forcing the U.S. out of all global climate arrangements but imposing “economic sanctions in the face of this [Trump’s] treaty-shredding lawlessness.”

 

 

Scenario 3: Wait it out

Even if a Trump administration is compelled to take early and visible action on the Paris Agreement to appease its political base, such action could be temporary – either because the reality of governance will eventually trump the necessity of politicking, or because the next election in four years could unseat the Trump administration.

Reasoning along such lines could compel the other countries to simply wait out any tantrums of the Trump administration. Essentially, this would mean ignoring U.S. theatrics in the hope that time will bring either sanity or a different president to the White House who would steer the U.S. back into support of the Paris provisions.

Other major powers, especially China, may also view this as an opportunity to assume international political and environmental leadership without fully igniting the wrath of a Trump White House by actively pushing the U.S. aside. Then the result could be a de facto sidelining of the United States as an essential player in global climate change politics, at least for a while.

 

Scenario 4: Engage the US

Unseemly as Donald Trump may seem to many countries on many levels, it is not easy – maybe not even possible – to ignore or sideline the world’s largest economy and still the only real superpower on the planet. On all sorts of international issues the world will have to learn to engage President Trump. This could also be the case for climate change.

Attendees at COP22 lament the victory of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and call on civil society to take greater action on climate change.
Photo by IISD/ENB | Liz Rubin

During the George W. Bush administration, other major actors kept negotiating with the United States even after its unequivocal rejection of the Kyoto Protocol. Back then other countries believed that the importance of the United States as both a leading political and economic power and greenhouse gas emitter was so great it was better to keep it inside the UNFCCC process.

Such engagement with the Trump administration can take place both through multilateral channels and in bilateral talks, mainly with China and the European Union. The question would be whether President Trump would be willing to remain engaged, and on what terms.

What should Marrakech do?

At one level the delegates at Marrakech can simply ignore the election results for now, especially when current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits them Wednesday. After all, Barack Obama is still U.S. president. And no one – truly, no one – knows what a President Donald Trump might actually do, or not do, come January 20, 2017.

Perhaps it is wise for COP22 to remain mum for now. It would not be wise, however, for the world to not start preparing for different scenarios. The next COP does not meet until November 2017, somewhere in Asia. By then it may well be too late to think about options, probably from a negotiation perspective and certainly from the perspective of the planet’s health.

The Conversation

Henrik Selin, Associate Professor in the Frederick S Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University and Adil Najam, Dean, Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Forget Shorter Showers: Why Personal Change Does Not Equal Political Change #PoliticalChange #UniteBlue

Would any sane PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?

Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption — changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much — and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.

Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect. Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.

Or let’s talk energy. Kirkpatrick Sale summarized it well: “For the past 15 years the story has been the same every year: individual consumption — residential, by private car, and so on — is never more than about a quarter of all consumption; the vast majority is commercial, industrial, corporate, by agribusiness and government [he forgot military]. So, even if we all took up cycling and wood stoves it would have a negligible impact on energy use, global warming and atmospheric pollution.”

Or let’s talk waste. In 2005, per-capita municipal waste production (basically everything that’s put out at the curb) in the U.S. was about 1,660 pounds. Let’s say you’re a die-hard simple-living activist, and you reduce this to zero. You recycle everything. You bring cloth bags shopping. You fix your toaster. Your toes poke out of old tennis shoes. You’re not done yet, though. Since municipal waste includes not just residential waste, but also waste from government offices and businesses, you march to those offices, waste reduction pamphlets in hand, and convince them to cut down on their waste enough to eliminate your share of it. Uh, I’ve got some bad news. Municipal waste accounts for only 3 percent of total waste production in the United States.

I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.

So how, then, and especially with all the world at stake, have we come to accept these utterly insufficient responses? I think part of it is that we’re in a double bind. A double bind is where you’re given multiple options, but no matter what option you choose, you lose, and withdrawal is not an option. At this point, it should be pretty easy to recognize that every action involving the industrial economy is destructive (and we shouldn’t pretend that solar photovoltaics, for example, exempt us from this: they still require mining and transportation infrastructures at every point in the production processes; the same can be said for every other so-called green technology). So if we choose option one — if we avidly participate in the industrial economy — we may in the short term think we win because we may accumulate wealth, the marker of “success” in this culture. But we lose, because in doing so we give up our empathy, our animal humanity. And we really lose because industrial civilization is killing the planet, which means everyone loses. If we choose the “alternative” option of living more simply, thus causing less harm, but still not stopping the industrial economy from killing the planet, we may in the short term think we win because we get to feel pure, and we didn’t even have to give up all of our empathy (just enough to justify not stopping the horrors), but once again we really lose because industrial civilization is still killing the planet, which means everyone still loses. The third option, acting decisively to stop the industrial economy, is very scary for a number of reasons, including but not restricted to the fact that we’d lose some of the luxuries to which we’ve grown accustomed, and the fact that those in power might try to kill us if we seriously impede their ability to exploit the world — none of which alters the fact that it’s a better option than a dead planet. Any option is a better option than a dead planet.

Besides being ineffective at causing the sorts of changes necessary to stop this culture from killing the planet, there are at least four other problems with perceiving simple living as a political act (as opposed to living simply because that’s what you want to do). The first is that it’s predicated on the flawed notion that humans inevitably harm their landbase. Simple living as a political act consists solely of harm reduction, ignoring the fact that humans can help the Earth as well as harm it. We can rehabilitate streams, we can get rid of noxious invasives, we can remove dams, we can disrupt a political system tilted toward the rich as well as an extractive economic system, we can destroy the industrial economy that is destroying the real, physical world.

The second problem — and this is another big one — is that it incorrectly assigns blame to the individual (and most especially to individuals who are particularly powerless) instead of to those who actually wield power in this system and to the system itself. Kirkpatrick Sale again: “The whole individualist what-you-can-do-to-save-the-earth guilt trip is a myth. We, as individuals, are not creating the crises, and we can’t solve them.”

The third problem is that it accepts capitalism’s redefinition of us from citizens to consumers. By accepting this redefinition, we reduce our potential forms of resistance to consuming and not consuming. Citizens have a much wider range of available resistance tactics, including voting, not voting, running for office, pamphleting, boycotting, organizing, lobbying, protesting, and, when a government becomes destructive of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we have the right to alter or abolish it.

The fourth problem is that the endpoint of the logic behind simple living as a political act is suicide. If every act within an industrial economy is destructive, and if we want to stop this destruction, and if we are unwilling (or unable) to question (much less destroy) the intellectual, moral, economic, and physical infrastructures that cause every act within an industrial economy to be destructive, then we can easily come to believe that we will cause the least destruction possible if we are dead.

The good news is that there are other options. We can follow the examples of brave activists who lived through the difficult times I mentioned — Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, antebellum United States — who did far more than manifest a form of moral purity; they actively opposed the injustices that surrounded them. We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.

This article, along with other landmark Orion essays about transformative action, are collected in a new anthology,Change Everything Now. Order your copy here.

Derrick Jensen is the author of Thought to Exist in the Wild, Songs of the Dead, Endgame, Dreams, and other books. In 2008, he was named one of Utne Reader’s “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World.” His Orion column is called “Upping the Stakes.”

Forget Shorter Showers: Why Personal Change Does Not Equal Political Change.