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Georgians Respond to Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 08:04

On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis released his Encyclical, which addressed the ever-increasing issue our world has to face -- climate change. Within this letter, he beseeches all of mankind to see climate change as a moral issue: it is the poorest, and most vulnerable among us that will suffer the most as the earth continues to change. With his letter, he joins with dozens of other world leaders who are beginning to recognize that these shifts in climate are a serious problem; he, along with these individuals, are paving a more developed path on the way to climate negotiations in Paris later this year.

 

It is important that we recognize this important step that the Pope, and thus the Catholic church, has taken in its efforts to combat climate change. What is perhaps most profound about the Pope’s message is that he calls all human beings to participate as one to deter these effects; from religious leaders, to scientists, to activists, Pope Francis addresses his letter to all those “of good will”.

And in Georgia last week, in front of a small church called St. Timothy’s, we tried to embody Pope Francis’ ideal. Members of the Church stood alongside environmentalists in solidarity and support of the Encyclical. The purpose of the press conference was not only to reiterate Pope Francis’ message that we need to do all we can and work together to combat climate change, but also to show that regardless of background, ideology, or religion, we can call for a commitment to cleaner air, food, and water from an interfaith perspective.

Almost 50 people attended the event, at which religious leaders, scientists and environmental activists said their piece. Among the speakers were individuals like Reverend Gerald Durley, one of his generation's greatest civil rights activists, connecting climate change to the progression of human dignity; Reverend Daniel Dice, who outfitted St. Timothy’s with solar at no cost in partnership with a local solar business and made the sacred space almost completely self-sufficient; Susan Varlamoff, Director of the University of Georgia's Office of Environmental Sciences, who was tasked by Atlanta's archdiocese to head up a group of Catholics, scientists and others to create a plan to put the pope’s encyclical into action; Rob McDowell, Environmental Policy Program Director; Ian Karra of the Sierra Club; and more.

Karra, in his statement, reiterated the Pope’s message:

“Georgians, regardless of ideology or background, must hold our state leaders accountable for protecting critical clean air safeguards. Our faith partners have long been leaders in the fight for clean energy. With landmark measures like the Clean Power Plan and an updated smog standard to be finalized this year, Georgia's elected leaders and regulators should embrace clean energy as a way to create jobs and protect public health for our state. Hearing that message from the faith, business, scientific, and environmental communities- the groups represented here today- will be essential in shaping Georgia's clean energy future.”

Kate McCormick From Compass

In push for public health, pediatricians and medical professionals set powerful standards

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 07:37

Perhaps the most effective theater for influencing public opinion on environmental health is the medical community.  Championing the dangerous health issues of climate change for physicians nationwide, Dr. Donald Arnold recently worked with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to publish a dynamic opinion piece for The Tennessean. In it, he calls air pollution an “imminent threat” to the health of children, and encourages other medical professionals to publicize the effects of environmental issues on health.

 

Arnold was a featured speaker at the Vanderbilt Clean Power Plan forum in May, where policymakers, scholars and physicians from around the country gathered to affirm the clinical health effects of climate change from varied medical perspectives. Arnold addressed a topic for which he is well-known: childhood asthma.

 

“I’ve been a pediatrician for several decades and have witnessed firsthand the adverse effects of air pollution on children, particularly with asthma,” Arnold said.  “I was grateful for the opportunity to speak at Vanderbilt, because there can be few opportunities to speak to broader audiences, yet we need to reach the public most.”

 

As a medical professional, Arnold said he strongly believes in encouraging the medical community to speak up about the ties they witness between health and the environment, because of the great trust patients and the public put on doctoral opinion.

 

Arnold has been emphasizing importance of focusing on the Clean Power Plan because it represents the health trends of the next generation.

 

“Not only are our children our future, but they are, in a sense, the canary in the coal mine,” Arnold said. “We’ve proved that the adverse health effects of pollution directly affect children by putting them in the emergency room and giving them asthma.The lifelong effects of pollution result in substantial human suffering.”

 

Chris Ann Lunghino, an organizer for the Vanderbilt CPP forum and the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said Arnold’s voice and the support of the medical community is invaluable.

 

“Health experts are a powerful voice in Tennessee for ensuring the adoption of a strong final ​Clean Power Plan and a strong State Implementation Plan that maximize energy efficiency and solar and wind power,” Lunghino said. “Tennesseans care about their health and the health of their children.”

 

Lunghino pointed out that a recent Energy Foundation Poll indicates that over 2/3 of Tennessee voters support the Clean Power Plan, and that improving public health by reducing air pollution is one of the most persuasive reasons for that support.

 

Other speakers at the Clean Power Plan forum included Bob Martineau, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation; Dian Grueneich, former California public utility commissioner; Joe Hoagland, vice president of stakeholder relations, Tennessee Valley Authority; and Scott Henneberry, vice president of smart grid strategy, Schneider Electric.

 

 

 

M.C. Tilton From Compass

World Leaders Moving Away from Coal, Fossil Fuels

Tue, 06/30/2015 - 14:13

 

June has proved to be a great month for the climate, as countries around the world tackle the dangers of fossil fuels head on. Perhaps the action getting the most attention was the announcement earlier this month from G7 leaders that they will phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century. While the details remain unclear, the commitment from the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, the UK, Japan, and Italy is an important sign that the G7 countries are prepared to take responsibility as we move toward the climate negotiations in Paris later this year.  

 

While all fossil fuels are feeling the pressure of a carbon constrained world, coal is most clearly feeling the heat.

 

A recent POLITICO article highlighted coal’s demise in the United States, drawing particular attention to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign which has led to the retirement of 195 coal plants in the United States. The market value of publicly traded coal companies fell by 50 percent in less than a year. The industry is facing pressure from all sides, including grassroots activism in communities across the country. Now, President Obama is helping to ensure that coal cannot return to its dirty ways with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.       

 

But the U.S. is not acting alone in its move away from coal and other fossil fuels -- far from it.  As Katie Fehrenbacher recently noted in Fortune, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates “there are as many as 200 organizations that have pledged to cut back or eliminate investments in coal or in fossil fuels more generally.”  

 

And it is not just small funds that are divesting from coal. In a major blow to the coal industry, the Norwegian government decided decided in early June to sell the coal shares in its $890 billion government pension fund -- the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund.

 

Meanwhile, Oxfam launched a campaign calling on newly re-elected United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron to make good on a pledge he signed with the leaders of the other two main political parties to end the use of unabated coal for power generation. Now activists want Cameron to commit to the specifics by producing a concrete plan to stop burning climate-wrecking coal by 2023, taking the lead in encouraging other rich countries to phase out fossil fuels and dirty coal, and pushing for a fair and ambitious deal at the UN climate talks, including pledging the UK's fair share of finance to help the world's poorest adapt to climate change. You can support this effort by signing the petition and sharing the coal animation narrated by Simon Pegg.

 

All of this is contributing to coal’s downward spiral, which is then further fueled by short sellers who have noted the industry’s failings as coal shares return less than other investments. And in a desperate effort to save themselves, even the oil and gas industry is piling on, calling on governments to set a global price on carbon in the hopes that coal will bare the brunt of the damage.

After decades of pollution, it is clear that the rich countries of the world, particularly the countries of the G7, must act to stop pollution from coal -- the biggest contributor to climate disruption. It is clear that they are prepared to talk the talk, and now it is time for them to walk the walk and fill in the specifics for their plan to end our reliance on coal and all fossil fuels if we are to have a chance in the fight against climate disruption.

Vrinda Manglik From Compass

California Families Hit Hard By Utility Proposal

Tue, 06/30/2015 - 12:44

Last year, I started my own landscaping business, my wife is a teacher and together we support our three wonderful children on a small salary. For us, every dollar counts as we wait for our business to grow, and cutting down our energy bill is one way to save.

We live in Hemet, California, where it can get really hot, so we open the windows, hang out at the community pool, and use fans when we can. Plus, it’s nice to feel like we're doing our part to avoid relying on dirty energy (you may have heard about our smog problem). I recently heard about a new proposal to change how we pay for electricity from my friend Allen, who works the Sierra Club. When I heard that the majority of households, including mine, were going to pay way more, I was shocked and mad.

It is frustrating that utilities are messing with our energy bills to "help" communities that get really hot in the summer, when they aren't. Most of the year a lot of us fall under the low-energy category, so after the summer is over, and the air conditioning goes off we, go back to paying lower rates. But because the utilities want to significantly raise rates on low-energy users, my family will pay up to $150 more a year than we do now. This is money that I would rather be spending on diapers, food, and clothing for my kids.

In addition to charging people like me the same the same as those who use a lot of energy, the utilities want to tack on an extra $10 a month to our bill. This fixed charge is permanent and will not be reduced if we use less energy. Their argument? Customers that use way less energy because of solar are not paying for the energy grid, when they absolutely are. Nearly all of the utilities customers are still sending them a check and only a tiny fraction of customers are paying less than $10 a month on a bill. Asking everyone to pay more when only a sliver of households are paying nearly nothing is not only an attack on rooftop solar, but any household that does its best to conserve.

Lastly, the utilities are trying to sell their plan as one that will help low-income families when in fact it is quite the opposite. Families in my community don’t make a lot of money, including ours. We are the ones who can least afford major bill increases. The vast majority of households that are considered “high-energy users” are also high income. According to a California Energy Commission report, only eight percent of the state's low-income residents are high energy users.

There is a better way, which is why when we heard about Commissioner Mike Florio's plan we got excited. His plan will give some bill relief during the summer months, but will keep my rates low for the majority of the year as we use less energy. Overall, we will only pay $2-$3 a month more. Also, it completely eliminates the fixed charges, which is a big win for families like mine who want to conserve.

In our house, we do everything that we can to cut back on our energy use to save money and be good to the planet. We hope that one day we will be able to invest in energy efficient appliances and rooftop solar, but we need a rate plan that will support that and utilities to get out of the way of change. It is time that they stop using people like us to benefit their bottom line. We can speak for ourselves, and know that the Florio plan is a far better for my family, our environment, and our values.

Glen Perez and his family are residents of Hemet, California

From Compass

Low-Income Families Paying High Costs With CA Utilities' Plan

Tue, 06/30/2015 - 12:44

Last year, I started my own landscaping business, my wife is a teacher and together we support our three wonderful children on a small salary. For us, every dollar counts as we wait for our business to grow, and cutting down our energy bill is one way to save.

We live in Hemet, California, where it can get really hot, so we open the windows, hang out at the community pool, and use fans when we can. Plus, it’s nice to feel like we're doing our part to avoid relying on dirty energy (you may have heard about our smog problem). I recently heard about a new proposal to change how we pay for electricity from my friend Allen, who works the Sierra Club. When I heard that the majority of households, including mine, were going to pay way more, I was shocked and mad.

It is frustrating that utilities are messing with our energy bills to "help" communities that get really hot in the summer, when they aren't. Most of the year a lot of us fall under the low-energy category, so after the summer is over, and the air conditioning goes off we, go back to paying lower rates. But because the utilities want to significantly raise rates on low-energy users, my family will pay up to $150 more a year than we do now. This is money that I would rather be spending on diapers, food, and clothing for my kids.

In addition to charging people like me the same the same as those who use a lot of energy, the utilities want to tack on an extra $10 a month to our bill. This fixed charge is permanent and will not be reduced if we use less energy. Their argument? Customers that use way less energy because of solar are not paying for the energy grid, when they absolutely are. Nearly all of the utilities customers are still sending them a check and only a tiny fraction of customers are paying less than $10 a month on a bill. Asking everyone to pay more when only a sliver of households are paying nearly nothing is not only an attack on rooftop solar, but any household that does its best to conserve.

Lastly, the utilities are trying to sell their plan as one that will help low-income families when in fact it is quite the opposite. Families in my community don’t make a lot of money, including ours. We are the ones who can least afford major bill increases. The vast majority of households that are considered “high-energy users” are also high income. According to a California Energy Commission report, only eight percent of the state's low-income residents are high energy users.

There is a better way, which is why when we heard about Commissioner Mike Florio's plan we got excited. His plan will give some bill relief during the summer months, but will keep my rates low for the majority of the year as we use less energy. Overall, we will only pay $2-$3 a month more. Also, it completely eliminates the fixed charges, which is a big win for families like mine who want to conserve.

In our house, we do everything that we can to cut back on our energy use to save money and be good to the planet. We hope that one day we will be able to invest in energy efficient appliances and rooftop solar, but we need a rate plan that will support that and utilities to get out of the way of change. It is time that they stop using people like us to benefit their bottom line. We can speak for ourselves, and know that the Florio plan is a far better for my family, our environment, and our values.

Glen Perez and his family are residents of Hemet, California

From Compass

Industry-Sponsored Poll Findings Demonstrate The Importance Of Question Wording

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 14:05

Last week, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) released partial results of a poll they commissioned to gauge public opinion about the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed new ozone standards. The headline of their press release, “More Americans Concerned with Economic Harm of Increasing Federal Regulations Than Environmental Benefit,” certainly caught my attention. This claim runs counter to most other national surveys we have seen recently, which demonstrate strong bipartisan support for environmental and public health protections including the Clean Power Plan’s carbon pollution limits and stronger national ozone standards.

 

As always, I turned to the data itself for a clearer understanding of the poll’s findings. Unfortunately, NAM declined to release the full results of this poll, which was conducted by FTI Consulting. Without full transparency in survey methods and sampling demographic results, it is impossible to fully vet the quality of this poll and its findings.

 

For example, we cannot take a look at question ordering. As the Association of Public Opinion Research states on their website, "In some surveys, the order of the questions may be designed to ‘lead’ the respondent to a kind of conclusion that produces a predictable response." We have seen some industry polls use strange question ordering to prime respondents to answer later questions in a certain way. Moreover, we cannot look at the demographics of the final survey sample. Did it closely match the demographic profile of the national electorate? We would assume so, but it is impossible to check without full survey results.

 

Transparency issues aside, the one-page polling memo released by NAM did include a handful of the survey questions and response options. The headline finding that Americans are more concerned about the “economic harm of increasing federal regulations” than on “the environmental benefit” appears to be based on the following question:

 

What do you see as the bigger problem for your local area?

  • Less economic growth and job opportunities caused by regulations (66%)

  • Lower air quality caused by pollution (23%)

 

This is an odd poll question, and the stark results demonstrate that question wording and answer choices can have a significant effect on survey results. This question is confusing at best; is it asking someone whether the economy or low air quality is a bigger problem in their area? Or, is it asking whether people think potential economic harm from “regulations” outweighs positive impacts on air quality? NAM’s interpretation of the survey results seems to indicate the latter. But if I heard this question in a phone survey, I’d probably interpret it the first way.

 

It is no secret that Americans are anxious about the health of the U.S. economy; in national polls, jobs and the economy top nearly every list of national priorities.

 

Pollsters have long understood that Americans are more likely to be opposed to “regulations” in the abstract than they are to be opposed to specific environmental and public health protections. One of the clearest examples of this tendency comes from a survey released by Pew Research Center in 2012. While the data is now a few years old, it offers a unique glimpse into the complex world of environmental public opinion.

 

According to the survey, 52 percent of American adults believed that, in general, “government regulation of business usually does more harm than good.” Just four-in-ten (40 percent) said that government regulation is “necessary to protect the public interest.” But at the same time, the survey found little public appetite for reducing federal regulations in specific areas, including environmental protection. Half of those surveyed (50 percent) said that federal regulations in the area of “environmental protection” should be strengthened, while 29 percent thought they should be kept the same as they are now. Just 17 percent said that they should be reduced.

 

While many Americans are wary of regulations in the abstract, the public tends to support specific environmental protections. And NAM’s survey question asks about generic regulation, but they interpreted the results as if it had tested support for a specific environmental rule (a stronger national ozone standard).

 

Dozens of national surveys have recently demonstrated strong public support for environmental and public health protections, including the Clean Power Plan’s carbon pollution limits and stronger national ozone standards. According to a 2014 Washington Post/ABC News poll, 70 percent of U.S. adults say the federal government should limit "greenhouse gases from existing power plants in an effort to reduce global warming.” Moreover, 60 percent think the federal government should limit the release of greenhouse gases even if it "significantly lowered greenhouse gases but raised your monthly energy expenses by 20 dollars a month."

 

When it comes to ozone standards, nearly seven-in-ten voters (68 percent) support the EPA setting "stricter limits on the amount of smog that power plants, oil refineries and other industrial facilities can release,” according to a November 2014 survey conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research on behalf of the American Lung Association. And Americans do not see environmental protection and economic growth as mutually exclusive. Three-in-five Americans (69 percent) believe that, in the long-run, protecting the environment will "improve economic growth and provide new jobs," according to recent polling from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

 

In short, this one industry-sponsored survey -- the full results of which have not been publicly released -- does not disprove what dozens of other polls have found: the American public is largely supportive of environmental protections that protect the public and the environment from dangerous corporate air and water pollution.

Grace McRae From Compass

Supreme Court Mercury Decision Threatens Public Health, But Won't Revive Big Coal

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 11:37

Today's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court to send the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) back to the EPA for further proceedings is a decision that endangers public health, but it won't revive the fortunes of Big Coal. These standards were designed to safeguard local communities against dangerous pollution from power plants. Unfortunately, today millions of Americans won't yet be able to breathe more easily.

Practically speaking, today's decision won't revive the fortunes of Big Coal or slow down our nation's transition to clean energy. Most utilities have long since made decisions about how to meet the standard, since the compliance deadline was April 2015. Only a few dozen coal plants are still operating today with no pollution controls for mercury and air toxics and no clear plans to install them.

The headwinds for coal just won't be reversed by this decision. Facing ever-tougher grassroots opposition and competition in the marketplace, coal fell from its perch as our number-one source of energy this April for the first time since 1950 (as far back as we have data), providing just 30 percent of our energy mix, while renewables were at almost 10 percent. Today's Supreme Court decision won't shift that momentum.

However, it is a setback for public health, and one that I find especially enraging as the mom of a little daughter, who shouldn't have to face any more delays in cleaning up this toxic mess. The pollution at issue here is scary stuff, and today's decision will slow down our progress in getting it out of our air, our water, and the fish at the local seafood counter. The mercury, arsenic, and other poisonous metal and acid gas pollution that these MATS protections are meant to control pose serious dangers to pregnant women and young children. EPA scientists have estimated that as many as one in 10 women have mercury levels in their blood high enough to cause brain damage or other neurological harm to a developing baby.

The MATS protections, which were finalized in 2012, require coal- and oil-fired power plants to reduce emissions of mercury by 90 percent and to strongly curtail the emissions of other toxic pollutants, like lead, arsenic, and hydrochloric acid gas. And the industry had been making steady progress in doing just that, in the three years since the standard was finalized. Now, we're in limbo. As my colleague Sanjay Narayan, attorney and leading legal expert on MATS, put it,

Congress decided more than two decades ago that no child should be born with brain damage or other neurological harm, simply because industrial polluters refuse to pay for pollution controls. But today, five justices of the Supreme Court have decided to make an exception for Big Coal -- the industry responsible for the majority of mercury, arsenic, and acid gas pollution in the United States.

So what's next for the standard? In today's 5-4 ruling, the Court determined that the EPA didn't adequately consider costs at the front-end of the process when the agency set the standard, and sent the rule back to the D.C. Circuit Court. It's important to note that the EPA did consider the costs of the rule, but not at an early enough stage in the process, according to the Supreme Court. So once the EPA has reevaluated those costs, it's possible that the court could ultimately uphold MATS as written. We will see. For more on the legal implications and next steps for the decision, we'll be sharing a new post soon from Sanjay on the legal background and implications of the Supreme Court MATS decision.

In the meantime, American families will have to endure more delays and uncertainty in delivering the much-needed health benefits of this standard. Once fully implemented, the MATS protections would have annually prevented up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 asthma attacks, and would have saved $90 billion in healthcare costs -- not to mention shielding countless young children from the lifelong neurological damage that exposure to mercury can cause.

Also frustrating is that industry's claim that the standards would impose unbearable costs has already been demonstrated to be untrue. The majority of coal plants across the country have already installed, or are in the midst of installing, the necessary equipment to comply with the standard -- without any catastrophic consequences for utilities or ratepayers. These plants that have already cleaned up show that protecting our communities from pollution isn't just possible, it's already happening, and it's the right thing to do.  

Now that the Supreme Court has sent this case back to the district court, we hope these questions will be resolved quickly.  We are counting on the EPA to ensure that the coal industry's progress in cleaning up its noxious pollution isn't stalled any further, so that countless young children across America can grow up safe and healthy, and our daughters aren't still facing this same threat when they become moms someday.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

The Pope Takes a Stand for #OurFuture

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 09:11

Last week, one of the most anticipated documents – Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change – was released. His message was heard all across the world, including our nation’s capital, where decision makers and GOP presidential candidates all gathered for the Faith and Freedom Conference. Interning at the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) in the national office in Washington, D.C. has provided me with a unique opportunity to engage in various demonstrations and convergences at this political epicenter. Given the impeccable timing of the conference with key faith and political leaders and the Pope’s Encyclical, I gathered at the hotel with the other student activists for a press conference, followed by bird dogging candidates about their stance on the Encyclical and climate change. Bird dogging is a tactic used to put continuous pressure on your target about your issue, and is just one example of the many ways that young people can utilize in organizing local coordinated actions at the grassroots level.

While trying to track down presidential hopefuls was an exciting and new experience for me, even more exciting is what is written in the Pope’s Encyclical and what it stands for. In it, Pope Francis frames climate change as a moral issue and calls for sweeping action to address the immediate threats it poses to the world, especially the most vulnerable populations. It stresses the strong interrelated ties to environmental and social injustices, consumerism, and of course, how it fits with the teachings and practices of Christianity. As someone who grew up and identifies with a religious background, it excites me that the Pope’s Encyclical makes a huge milestone in bridging the gap between faith communities and the environmental movement to reach new people who might not otherwise see the necessity to care or take action.

As Pope Francis said, “I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”

The Pope’s thoughts echo the refrain of the People’s Climate March - to change everything, we need everyone. Making the connections from local to global is a crucial point of demonstrating power, and 2015 is a big year to just that in the build up to COP21 in Paris. Organizing anything from a bird dogging event in order to influence local leaders to planning a solidarity event for the Gulf South Rising - the mass mobilization to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina - are all examples of potential ways young people can take tangible steps to answer the call; regardless of one's religious or secular beliefs. To find out more on how to get involved with the SSC, sign up to receive email updates on the website and take action in the International Committee.

Students have the power to lead the movement and put pressure on domestic politics and university administrations at every step – the moment is now.

Anne Davis From Compass

The Pope Takes a Stand for #OurFuture

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 09:11

 

Last week, one of the most anticipated documents – Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change – was released. His message was heard all across the world, including our nation’s capital, where decision makers and GOP presidential candidates all gathered for the Faith and Freedom Conference. Interning at the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) in the national office in Washington, D.C. has provided me with a unique opportunity to engage in various demonstrations and convergences at this political epicenter. Given the impeccable timing of the conference with key faith and political leaders and the Pope’s Encyclical, I gathered at the hotel with the other student activists for a press conference, followed by bird dogging candidates about their stance on the Encyclical and climate change. Bird dogging is a tactic used to put continuous pressure on your target about your issue, and is just one example of the many ways that young people can utilize in organizing local coordinated actions at the grassroots level.

While trying to track down presidential hopefuls was an exciting and new experience for me, even more exciting is what is written in the Pope’s Encyclical and what it stands for. In it, Pope Francis frames climate change as a moral issue and calls for sweeping action to address the immediate threats it poses to the world, especially the most vulnerable populations. It stresses the strong interrelated ties to environmental and social injustices, consumerism, and of course, how it fits with the teachings and practices of Christianity. As someone who grew up and identifies with a religious background, it excites me that the Pope’s Encyclical makes a huge milestone in bridging the gap between faith communities and the environmental movement to reach new people who might not otherwise see the necessity to care or take action.

As Pope Francis said, “I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”

The Pope’s thoughts echo the refrain of the People’s Climate March - to change everything, we need everyone. Making the connections from local to global is a crucial point of demonstrating power, and 2015 is a big year to just that in the build up to COP21 in Paris. Organizing anything from a bird dogging event in order to influence local leaders to planning a solidarity event for the Gulf South Rising - the mass mobilization to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina - are all examples of potential ways young people can take tangible steps to answer the call; regardless of one's religious or secular beliefs. To find out more on how to get involved with the SSC, sign up to receive email updates on the website and take action in the International Committee.

Students have the power to lead the movement and put pressure on domestic politics and university administrations at every step – the moment is now.

 

 

Anne Davis is pursuing a double major in Environmental Science & Policy and Sociology at the College of William & Mary, and an SSC Summer Intern.

From Compass

From Los Angeles To The Vatican: A Global Call For Climate Action

Fri, 06/26/2015 - 11:33

I have been a member and leader in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, the largest Archdiocese in the country, for nearly 15 years. As a member of the Office of Religious Education (ORE), I have served as Director of Biblical Formation and currently serve as the Director of Pastoral Juvenil, the branch of the department that provides formation for Latino youth.

Here in Los Angeles, we see the effects of climate disruption first hand, from the statewide drought to skyrocketing temperatures. We’re all feeling the effects of climate disruption, but some people, like the poor and marginalized, are the ones being more radically affected by these climatic changes, a point the Encyclical, Laudato Si, highlights several times. As a result, the most vulnerable have to cope with life-threatening issues like water scarcity, increased flooding, suffocating smog, and food insecurity.

One of the most concerning things is that climate change is no longer a regional or country-specific issue that only affects some. It has become a worldwide problem felt by everyone at various degrees.

That’s why Pope Francis’ Encyclical is so important. This is the first document of its type in the history of the Catholic Church that focuses exclusively on climate and ecology. It is the first document that highlights the need to hold humanity responsible for the actions we have taken that are now endangering our common home. The Encyclical presents an opportunity for people of faith and “all people of goodwill” to unite in support of a shared cause: care of our common home in order to protect those most vulnerable. Pope Francis knows that fully caring for creation will help real people, right now, and especially the generations to come.

It’s clear that climate change is a moral issue. As the spiritual leader of one billion global Catholics and over 70 million U.S. Catholics, Pope Francis’ moral teaching and guidance about care for others and care of God’s creation has the power to make a real difference as we tackle the climate crisis.

Catholics bring a distinctive and important voice to this conversation because we’re a global church that has a connection to believers around the world, putting us in touch with what’s going on in communities on every continent. Further, the Church respects the role of science and has recognized human-caused climate change for decades. Our unique perspective means we need to be a part of this conversation, and the release of today’s Encyclical is a wonderful opportunity to engage in this conversation not only with our fellow Catholics, but with others in our communities who are of different faiths and backgrounds.

Pope Francis is making a direct call for dialogue on this important issue. He calls the different sectors of society; religious, science, civic, political, etc. to participate in transparent dialogue to reach compromise and solutions on this important issue. Environmental degradation requires immediate action. Our planet and our most vulnerable communities do not have time to waste.

We have a great responsibility to take action. As Pope Francis says, we must be remembered as the generation that put forth solutions and not the generation that let the planet waste as a result of global indifference.

Alberto Embry From Compass

Pope Francis's Encyclical and Environmental Justice

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 13:24

 

As a practicing Catholic, I eagerly awaited the publication of the Holy Father Francis’ Encyclical Letter, titled ‘LAUDATO SI’ (Be Praised) On Care for our Common Home. An encyclical letter has been used for hundreds of years by the Vatican to inform the bishops and laity on positions of the pope. Over 50 years ago, Pope  XXIII  addressed the nuclear crisis, rejected war, and offered a proposal for peace. In 1971, Pope Paul VI brought the world’s attention to the serious problems of pollution, saying, “Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation he risks destroying it and becoming his turn the victim of this degradation.”

 

And now, Pope Francis has released an Encyclical Letter meant to be read and considered by everyone regardless of faith affiliation. This Letter, which is actually more of a book, is insightful, comprehensive, and even poetic while grounded in scientific inquiry and concern for the world’s poor.

 

And this Letter is a manifesto of and for environmental justice. Overwhelming evidence shows that low-income communities and people of color bear disproportionate environmental burdens in our society. These communities are repeatedly chosen as sites for massive, polluting industrial facilities and landfills.  Their air, land, and water are poisoned and contaminated by pollutants spewed out of giant smokestacks and bled into the ground from concentrations of toxic waste.

 

In his Encyclical, Pope Francis links climate change and pollution in the first chapter. “Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor and causes millions of premature deaths.” “Climate change as a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social and economic …and (m)any of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena linked to warming.”

 

Most lamentably the Holy Father declares, “(t)he earth, our home is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”

 

He attributes this state to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. His critical observations of the environment are based on science (he used to be a chemistry teacher), and he reminds us of the Gospel of Creation in which humankind should care and respect all God’s creatures, and the climate is a common good.

 

Just as Sierra Club’s founder John Muir declared, “(w)hen we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe,” Pope Francis also exhorted, (e)verything is connected and “(c)oncern for the environment thus needs to be joined in a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.” Pope Francis explained an “integral ecology” in chapter four of the Encyclical as the way to see the connection respecting human dignity and caring for the natural world.

 

Pope Francis also digs into the problems of coal extraction, carbon credits, and the hopeful utilization of clean energy to help solve the climate crisis. The Holy Father cities the Rio Declaration of 1992, “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific inquiry shall not be used as a pretext for postponing cost-effective measures which prevent environmental degradation. This precautionary principle makes it possible to protect those who are most vulnerable and whose ability to defend their interest.”

 

Political leaders from the local level up to the international level need to live up to their responsibilities to fight the climate crisis and reduce consumption levels in their own communities and countries.

 

The atrocities that we have committed to Earth and her peoples are catching up with us. Vulnerable communities are already feeling the impacts of increased floods, heat waves, drought and air pollution, as well as their associated impacts to health and economic prosperity. The overwhelming problems of the climate crisis must be tackled on the personal and global level.

By working toward environmental justice, which includes including the people most affected in solutions and remedies, holistic efforts can bear fruit. Pope Francis reminds us that everyone can do something every day to reduce our consumption in order to leave our one and only planet Earth with clean air and water for our children and grandchildren. Individuals, policymakers, young people -- everyone can aspire a “civic and political love” that includes care for Creation and for each other.

Take action by calling on our world leaders to act on climate in Paris!

Leslie Fields From Compass

Coal Plant That Advocates Worked to Retire Will Become Clean-Powered Google Data Center

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 12:39

Photo: The Widows Creek coal plant near Stevenson, Alabama.

Google announced this week that it will be opening its newest data center -- which will be 100 percent powered by renewable energy -- at the site of a soon-to-be retired Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal plant in Alabama that is being phased out thanks to the advocacy of Sierra Club and many others. It's one of the most powerful, inspiring examples yet of the energy transformation that we're driving all across this nation, and if done right, it could also provide an economic boost for Widows Creek workers and the local community.

"It's exciting to see Tennessee Valley Authority working with the state and regional economic agencies to repurpose this old, polluting coal plant in a way that will jumpstart green industry growth, renewable power, and job creation in Alabama," said Jonathan Levenshus, a senior Beyond Coal campaign representative in the region.

This is especially timely, as news is just breaking today that the Environmental Protection Agency and Alabama Power have reached an agreement to phase out coal at several units and to crack down on air pollution from the remaining units.

Sierra Club activists and allies were instrumental in securing retirement of the Widows Creek coal plant, pointing to its serious air, water, and climate pollution and urging the TVA to retire it and create a responsible transition program for its workers. After a decade of advocacy and litigation, the Sierra Club and others reached an agreement with TVA in 2011 that was one of the most sweeping clean air victories in Southeastern history. It required retirement of 18 TVA coal units, including phasing out Widows Creek units 1 - 6 between 2013 and 2015 (most coal plants contain multiple units, or boilers). Then, as part of TVA's energy planning process, we pushed hard for retirement of the remaining units at Widows Creek, which TVA's board voted to do at a meeting this May.   

The Sierra Club had started a conversation with TVA's board chair and the regional economic development agency in Jackson County earlier this year about a responsible transition. Now that this news has broken, it's important that Google and TVA ensure this transition provides good, union jobs to workers from Widows Creek and the local community to ensure that the economic benefits of this project go to those who most need them. That includes the many jobs this project promises to create in construction, renewable energy development, and energy efficiency projects.

The project provides a welcome example of redevelopment with clean energy. As a Google official noted:

"The idea of repurposing a former coal generating site and powering our new facility with renewable energy -- especially reliable, affordable energy that we can count on 24/7 with the existing infrastructure in place -- was attractive," said Gary Demasi, director of Data Center Energy and Location Strategy for Google.

Google officials added that they will continue to work with the TVA to develop more clean energy as well. "Thanks to an arrangement with Tennessee Valley Authority, our electric utility, we'll be able to scout new renewable energy projects and work with TVA to bring the power onto their electrical grid," said Patrick Gammons, Google's senior manager for Data Center Energy and Location Strategy. "Ultimately, this contributes to our goal of being powered by 100 percent renewable energy."

Levenshus said TVA has a great track record of helping its employees when coal plants retire, and this decision is no different. "It's gratifying that TVA has chosen to work with Google to redevelop the site and bring new construction, renewable energy and high-tech jobs to this rural community, which has relied on the coal plant for the last 60 years. Building this new data center in Jackson County will strengthen the regional economy and help move Alabama forward."

He added that this decision offers a model to other utilities nationwide when exploring how to redevelop coal plant sites. And Google's clean energy leadership continues to be an inspiration.

"Google's commitment to clean energy is good for the environment, business, and our economy," said Levenshus. "It demonstrates that using renewable power is not merely a goal for big tech companies, but an expectation going forward."

I look forward to seeing more economic and clean energy redevelopment at former coal sites across the U.S. -- it's an excellent way to truly move beyond coal to clean energy, bring good jobs to communities, and ensure that America remains an innovation leader in the 21st century.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

The Fight for Fair Trade: How Far We’ve Come, How Much Further We Will Go

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 11:46

After a long, arduous fight, Congress passed legislation that will put harmful trade pacts on the fast track. Now our job is to put aside this momentary loss, build on the incredible momentum we have created in the fight for fair and responsible trade, and shift focus to the even bigger fights ahead. We must now focus on defeating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and ensuring the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) does not become another polluter giveaway. Most importantly, we must continue to build a movement so powerful that it is impossible for governments to allow trade rules to interfere with climate, environmental, and other public interest policies.

 

We can achieve this. Just look at how far we’ve come. It wasn’t long ago when it seemed like almost no one had heard about the TPP or “fast track.” Yet today, there are millions of people taking action against harmful trade rules. Sierra Club supporters alone sent more than 300,000 messages and made more than 10,000 calls to members of Congress. They organized and attended events across the country educating community members about the impacts of the TPP and opposing fast track and unfair trade. It seems that more people than ever are aware of the dangers posed by free trade deals and are engaging in the long-term process of building a new model of trade.

 

Climate disruption also played a critical role in the fight against fast track. Across the United States, activists demanding climate action and fighting for clean air and clean water banded together on trade. At the national level, dozens of environmental organizations—some that have long engaged in trade work, many new to the fight, and some supporters of past free trade deals—helped lead the broad and diverse coalition fighting fast track because of its threats to our climate and environment. As the Washington Post noted, despite the Administration’s efforts, “Obama’s environmental allies [are] not buying his trade pitch on climate.”

 

All of this work changed the national debate on trade. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi voted against fast track in part because it would hinder the ability to address climate change. When she addressed the House before the first House fast-track vote she said: “The connection between the environment and commerce is inseparable,” and that, “we need to slow this fast track down.” In her June 15 op-ed in USA Today, she said that “it is clear that the debate on the trade authority is probably the last of its kind. The intense debate of the past few weeks has further convinced me that we need a new paradigm.”

 

We’ve certainly built momentum toward a new paradigm. So what comes next?

 

For one, we defeat the TPP. Proponents of the pact will use the environment chapter to argue that the TPP has the strongest protections of any trade deal for the environment. There are a number of problems with this argument.  For one, it sets an exceedingly low bar given that trade pacts like NAFTA have been devastating for the environment. And second, focusing on the environment chapter (which, incidentally, we don’t think will be strong enough to have a meaningful impact on the ground or will be enforced) is missing the forest for the trees.

The TPP and trade pacts like it threaten our very ability to make the changes in our global economy that we need to solve the climate crisis. As just two examples, they give broad new rights to the fossil-fuel industry at a time when we must be reining in pollution from coal, oil and gas and fully transitioning to clean energy. And they encourage and expedite more exports of fossil fuels despite the fact that scientists and experts warn that the majority of coal, oil, and gas must stay in the ground.

We also have a chance to expose and stop the threats that TTIP—the trade deal with the European Union which is still at an early stage of negotiation—poses to our air, water, and climate. We must focus again on the harmful “investor-state” rules that Senator Elizabeth Warren helped bring to the forefront of the debate on trade. These dangerous rules empower multinational corporations to challenge climate and clean energy policies in private trade courts. Similarly, we must challenge rules in TTIP that would create a system “harmonizing” safeguards by offering new opportunities for foreign governments and corporations to intervene early on in our rule-making process.  And we must fight rules in the pact that would require the U.S. Department of Energy to automatically approve exports natural gas and require automatic approval of U.S. crude oil exports, therefore incentivizing more oil and gas production, consumption, and dependence.

And even beyond the TPP and TTIP, there is a bigger fight at stake. We’ll expose the fact that trade deals are political documents as much as they are legal ones and that trade rules only have power if governments give them power. Our long-term work is to continue to build our movement so strong and fierce that it becomes unthinkable for governments to cede control over domestic policies as a result of free trade rules because the backlash would be too severe. That’s the movement we’re working toward, and we are well on our way. Join us in the fight for fair trade and a safe climate. Add your name to our petition to demand fair trade, not toxic trade, and let us know you’re still with us in this fight.

 

Ilana Solomon From Compass

Coalition of State Leaders Urge NY Governor Cuomo to End Coal Bailouts, Secure Clean Energy

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 11:01

Photo: New York Beyond Coal activists table at a recent fair.

More than 70 elected officials in New York sent a letter to Governor Cuomo this week calling on him to stop bailing out old coal plants and instead responsibly transition the state to clean energy.
 
Under Governor Cuomo’s administration, aging, unprofitable coal plants have received new life via some major money from the state, and proposals have even been floated for some "zombie" coal plants to come out of retirement and burn dirty fuel again. For example, since January 2013 the Cayuga coal-fired power plant near Ithaca has been receiving over $4 million per month in ratepayer subsidies to continue burning coal, and is now is vying for an additional $145 million bailout.
 
New York is the only state in the country that is currently considering bringing back coal plants from the grave once they have already been retired, undermining significant progress on climate and clean air in the state.
 
New York Beyond Coal representative David Alicea says Wednesday's letter from so many state officials represents a positive sea change for clean energy in the Empire State.
 
"This letter represents more than one-third of New York State's legislators, who represent more than eight million people," said Alicea. "In a state that has been racked by extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, it's clear that our state legislators get it. We need to act on climate and getting off coal is an important first step in meeting our carbon reduction goals."
 
The letter was led by New York Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton of the state's 125th district, who said rate-payers should not be on the hook for the millions it would take to prop up dirty coal.
 
"Given that we are lagging in our battle against climate change, and renewable energy is now competitive with outdated and dirty fossil fuels, we simply cannot ask New Yorkers to pay for energy that damages our climate and our health,” said Assemblywoman Lifton. “In every major decision we make about energy and the environment, we have to use our resources to move us as quickly as possible to a renewable energy future if we are to protect our children and future generations."
 
Councilwoman Irene Weiser of the town of Caroline agreed that customers cannot foot the bill. "Right now Governor Cuomo's policies are impacting the people in my town that I represent and New Yorkers across the state – who already pay the highest electric rates in the continental U.S. – to pay millions of dollars additional every month to bail-out unnecessary coal-fired power plants," she said.
 
Alicea said the Governor's coal bailout policy sets a dangerous precedent. Because New York's infrastructure is aging and as renewable energy is ramped up, fossil fuel plants are going to face tough economics that will only get worse as time goes by.
 
"This is the time to be figuring out how to responsibly transition workers and communities instead of giving hundreds of millions of dollars to big polluters," he said.
 
Assemblywoman Lifton echoed Alicea's comments. "As we transition from the old to new energy systems, we must provide adequate supports for the affected communities and workers; that is a critical part of making this very big change fair and workable for all New Yorkers," she said.
 
We couldn't agree more. A good transition is one that not only ensures that workers and communities can maintain their standard of living, said Alicea, but have a chance to benefit from the renewable energy revolution. The Sierra Club will continue to help ensure that there is the political support and resources to help these communities transition.

Heather Moyer From Compass

Investors See Strong Upside in Climate Solutions

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 09:37

Efforts to solve the climate crisis are unleashing a wave of innovation, entrepreneurialism and economic opportunity in the private sector.  With growing uncertainty about the long term viability of fossil fuels and the decreasing cost of clean energy, Fortune 500 companies, institutional investors, money managers and others are taking notice. Even the former head of Shell is saying that fossil fuel divestment is a reasonable response to the industry’s lack of leadership on the issue. But divestment alone is not enough.

 

The White House agrees, which is why it is demonstrating leadership with its Clean Energy Investment Summit, where commitments totaling $4 billion from the private sector and through executive actions were announced. The summit serves as a forum for foundations and other private sector investors, including, according to the official White House fact sheet, “hundreds of organizations as diverse as the University of California, Goldman Sachs, and The Sierra Club Foundation” to share their ideas and insights on scaling investment in innovative technologies to reduce carbon pollution. For our part, we announced an additional investment of $4 million from our endowment.

 

When people think of the work of The Sierra Club Foundation, they usually think of our funding for grassroots advocacy efforts to move the planet beyond fossil fuels and towards a clean energy future. But there’s another – and equally important – side to our fight to protect the planet: our investments. While Sierra Club organizers are working hard to shut down the next coal-fired power plant or securing more aspirational renewable energy standards, the Foundation is teaming up with scores of other investors to research, identify, and invest in clean energy and other technologies to bring critical climate solutions to scale. 

 

Tackling the climate crisis can only be achieved by transitioning the global economy to a clean energy future that protects workers, our communities and our air and water. By investing in clean energy, The Sierra Club Foundation is putting our money where our mouth is. Equally important, we are confident that these long term investments will hit our return objectives to fund our activities long into the future. Coal stocks are plummeting and clean energy is expanding rapidly. Given the inherent risk of long term investments in fossil fuels in a world where the G7 nations just committed to complete de-carbonization over the course of the century, it only makes sense to invest in what’s taking their place.  Although the science demands a faster timeline that what the G7 proposed, the future is still pretty certain. 

 

The Sierra Club Foundation has a history of using our endowment to support the move to a clean energy future. Before this summit, our combined operating and endowment funds of approximately $60 million included $6 million of investments in renewable energy, efficiency, clean energy technologies and green bonds; however, we recognized that those commitments were not enough. With this new commitment (approximately 20% of our endowment), we are specifically targeting innovative technologies and clean energy investments that offer potential solutions to accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy.

 

The White House and The Sierra Club Foundation agree that to tackle the climate crisis we need to transition the global economy to a clean energy future, and make fossil fuels something relegated to the history books. As a grantmaker, we are engaging every avenue to create the right policy conditions for this shift to occur. As an investor, we are redoubling our commitment to funding the technological innovations that will protect the planet AND improve our bottom line. The old, tired argument over environmental protection vs. economic growth is just that… old and tired. Investments, deployed responsibly, can deliver both an environmental and economic punch.

Peter Martin From Compass

In Bonn, Hope Abounded For The 2015 Climate Deal, But Tough Work Lies Ahead

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 14:37

In the lead up to the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris later this year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was recently hosting its annual Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) session in Bonn, Germany. This session, ADP 2.9, came six months prior to COP21 and presents the Parties -- the negotiating bodies for each country -- with a need to further develop and clarify the text that came out of the previous intersessional, ADP 2.8, in Geneva, Switzerland. This text will be used during the final 2015 climate negotiations in Paris, and will give us the 2015 Agreement.

 

Janice Meier is a volunteer with the Sierra Club who volunteers on the Club's behalf as a co-chair of the Climate Action Network's Technology Working Group. She was blogging from Bonn.

 

The G7 got the timing and the optics right in signaling to the world that today is when we commit to a decarbonized world, but by committing to a 40-70 percent reduction in emissions according to 2010 levels by 2050, the world’s leading economies are laying out the basic justification for the work being done in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) toward the 2015 agreement. None of these countries is likely to meet this target without phasing out fossil fuels and rapidly scaling up non-carbon energy sources. And each of these countries understands that the best choice for getting the job done is cooperative global action via a sealed climate deal in Paris this December.

 

Then there’s the substantive action by sub-national entities, provinces, states, cities, and towns that are working the pre-2020 ambition angle and offering opportunity to make a difference where it counts --  in our communities.

 

But no one who has spent substantial time in this process would discount the difficulty of reaching an agreement, applicable to all Parties, for the 2015 Paris deal.

 

To quote Mohamed Adow, Senior Climate Change Advisor for Christian Aid, “The text which will make up the Paris agreement is like a lens we’re all looking through to a safe and secure world.  At the moment it’s a bit grubby and hard to see through. The co-chairs of the negotiations on the Paris agreement need to go away and give it a good clean so that leaders can see what needs to be done."

 

And it now appears that the Co-chairs of this work are planning to do exactly that: to produce a suggested text “starting point” by July 24, 2015 for Parties to reflect on and absorb leading into the upcoming August negotiating session. This is an important start, but it’s important to note that it’s only a start.

 

In order to actually seal the Paris deal, we will have to fight our way past questions on which countries need to give support or receive support in order to take appropriate climate action (differentiation), how to make the deal legally-binding in the face of country constraints (bindingness), how to review country actions with respect to the science (adequacy), and how to scale up climate action from the inadequate levels we are seeing in the current early climate action “contributions,” in order to ensure that we meet our climate goal (increasing ambition).

 

In the end, the health and economic co-benefits will far outweigh the costs, and climate finance will be necessary to get us there. Securing that funding, technology transfer and capacity building will be the primary source of trust to hold the 2015 deal together.

We have a promising start, now let’s capitalize on it.

From Compass

UN Climate Talks Moved Slow, Steady

Mon, 06/22/2015 - 09:59

In the lead up to the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris later this year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was recently hosting its annual Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) session in Bonn, Germany. This session, ADP 2.9, came six months prior to COP21 and presents the Parties -- the negotiating bodies for each country -- with a need to further develop and clarify the text that came out of the previous intersessional, ADP 2.8, in Geneva, Switzerland. This text will be used during the final 2015 climate negotiations in Paris, and will give us the 2015 Agreement.

 

Andy Katz is a member of the Sierra Club Federal and International Climate Campaign leadership team and the Sierra Club California Legislative Committee. He is a volunteer with the Sierra Club, and he was blogging from Bonn.

                                      

The anticipation is building for the international climate negotiations to result in a newfound resolve to fight climate disruption. While this process culminates with a major summit in Paris this December, the current so-called “intersessional” meetings in Bonn, Germany are crucial for negotiators to prepare language for the new legal agreement. As one of two Sierra Club leaders who participated as observers at this month’s session, this dispatch notes the progress that’s been made toward an agreement but also the long road ahead on the way to protecting the climate.

 

Aiming for greater ambition on climate action and more predictability on climate commitments than the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, 196 countries started with the clear elements of an agreement -- and nearly 100 pages of text compiled earlier this year in Geneva -- to narrow down into what is expected to be about a 15 page core agreement, followed by more explanatory declarations and decisions supporting its implementation.

 

Like recent agreements, this one is based on nationally-determined emission reduction targets – exactly how often and when these targets are increased to make up the “ambition gap” is a major negotiating issue, as is the inclusion of a long-term goal of moving to 100 percent clean energy to send a clear market signal to business sectors. The previously announced U.S. target of 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 is on the path to 80 percent emissions reductions by 2050. Consolidation of targets will help measure global commitments and the additional level of progress needed, since the current level of commitments could still trigger warming between 3 – 4 degrees Celsius.

 

Also of great importance was the inclusion of finance for developing countries requiring assistance to transition to sustainable development. Aspirational statements for developed country funding of this and other critical elements of a package like adaptation and technology transfer have yet to develop into specific commitments. President Obama’s proposal for initial funding of the Green Climate Fund is pending an uncertain fate in Congress.

 

Active sessions in Bonn stretched for over 12 hours daily, ranging from large negotiating groups sorting out language, smaller panels focused on issues like how to avoid double-counting efforts when reductions are measured across countries and sectors, and informal side events help process unresolved issues like what the legal form of the agreement may look like. State Department officials made time to meet with us and other environmental advocates in between a busy schedule of bilateral meetings with international negotiators – a slow but important process toward a complex agreement critical to the future of our planet.

 

The Sierra Club is preparing to send an urgent message from our local communities – to Washington and Paris alike– that the Earth can’t wait to protect our climate. Stay tuned for more on how Sierra Club’s Local to Global campaign will build on what’s achieved in Paris with stronger action from the bottom up.  

From Compass

Scott's at it Again: Florida's Parks Now at Risk

Mon, 06/22/2015 - 08:58

In March, the Governor of Florida shocked much of the country with childish antics -- instead of addressing the problem of climate change, he found a solution in completely ignoring it. Despite the fact that Florida will be severely affected by rising ocean levels, temperature changes, and wildlife extinction, Governor Rick Scott decided that the best option was to restrict the usage of words like “climate change” and “global warming.”

Thought you’d seen the last of Gov. Scott’s climate denying and anti-environmental antics? Think again. Once more, Gov. Scott finds himself on the front pages with another ironic headline. Now, Gov. Scott and the Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection he appointed, Jon Steverson, have proposed to allow hunting, grazing of cattle, and logging in protected state parks. You read that right: arguing it will help preserve parks in Florida, Scott has suggested we cut down trees, kill animals that live in the habitat, and allow invasive cattle to strip the ground of grass and shrubbery.

Both Gov. Scott and Steverson have supposedly proposed this “plan” as a way to offset the cost of Florida’s 171 state parks. They have suggested a leasing program be implemented so that ranchers can take over parts of state park land and allow their cattle to graze. Hunting season for deer, birds, and even bears is also on the table, if permits are approved, despite the fact that there has never been hunting in any of the state parks. Both Gov. Scott and Steverson are also contemplating whether or not to sell off huge chunks of park land to timber companies, with the possibility of building coal mines. Untimately, the two leaders want to exploit Florida’s wildlife and wild places and make its state parks into cash cows.

If you find yourself in Florida canoeing down a river, birdwatching in the woods, or hiking on a trail, there’s a possibility you would stumble across a coal mine polluting the river you’re on; a hunter taking aim at the birds you’re enjoying; or cattle stripping the land of not only the trail, but the scenery around it. Despite the fact that Steverson says he wants the parks to be a place "where the next generation of Floridians and visitors can continue to enjoy our state's diverse natural and cultural sites," both the Secretary and the Governor seem committed to doing the opposite.

The Sierra Club and many other environmental groups and community leaders are coming out in opposition to their Governor’s plans.

“State parks are supposed to be a place that protects wildlife, not a place to kill them,” said Frank Jackalone of the Sierra Club in Florida. “Talk about destroying the recreational experience for people.”

Other individuals are speaking out as well, including park rangers who have spent much of their lives protecting these lands,  activists from the Defenders of Wildlife, and regular citizens from the communities nearby.

Over the next coming weeks, these proposals will be brought up in hearings. We will have the opportunity to voice our opposition to these plans that put our beloved trees, rivers, and wildlife at risk. In addition, according to the Palm Beach Post, Steverson’s very own appointment is under fire. The Florida Cabinet will soon meet to vote on the Governor’s appointments.

There is still time to save our parks, to save the nature trails, the wildlife, and the very land we hold dear.

Florida is obviously a place where many people not only live, but where many Americans travel . It is their parks -- the sprawling swamplands, the lush forests, the relaxing coastlines, that drive many people to make the trek down to one of our most southern states. And now, these areas are under threat. For those who appreciate this land, both visitors and Floridians alike, it comes down to us to protect them. Voice your opposition to these plans and your unhappiness with the consequences they may bring -- tell Governor Scott and Secretary Steverson that you want these lands protected, so that they can be appreciated for generations to come.

Kate McCormick From Compass

In Bonn, Spirit Holds But Progress Is Slow

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 11:21

In the lead up to the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris later this year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was recently hosting its annual Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) session in Bonn, Germany. This session, ADP 2.9, came six months prior to COP21 and presents the Parties -- the negotiating bodies for each country -- with a need to further develop and clarify the text that came out of the previous intersessional, ADP 2.8, in Geneva, Switzerland. This text will be used during the final 2015 climate negotiations in Paris, and will give us the 2015 Agreement.

 

Janice Meier is a volunteer with the Sierra Club who volunteers on the Club's behalf as a co-chair of the Climate Action Network's Technology Working Group. She was blogging from Bonn.

 

We all know the story out of Lima, Peru at the last Conference of the Parties (COP): The then Co-chairs of the work that should have led to the 2015 Agreement took the initiative to get the ball rolling by suggesting a text that was pulled together from many Party-generated sources and was slightly edited for better coherence.

 

While the process would seem to be rational if you are trying to get a quick start to an important document, the Co-chairs failed to understand just how fiercely Parties hold their national sovereignty. To make a long story short, the session ended with the Parties rejecting that text as not being “Party-driven” meaning that not all content and editing was done by the Parties themselves.

 

Fast forward to the recent “intersessional” meeting of the Parties in Geneva, and we find a new pair of Co-chairs who came into the position with the mindset that they can do no more than facilitate meetings and make suggestions in “scenario notes” on how they think the meetings will play out. We met in Geneva with the Co-chairs fully chastised, and we got a round of “any text you want Parties, throw it in.” The move was hugely popular with the Parties, and Geneva ended on a high note of cooperation that overachieved by getting the text safely banked early and allowed bonus time for Parties to chat on the issues.

 

Fast forward once more to the most recent intersessional in Bonn, Germany, when at the end of a long week of Parties “streamlining” the text, they had done little more than consolidate some paragraphs by introducing more choices in brackets. The hard discussions were still out of sight, and Parties were beginning to see the wisdom of allowing chairs to organize the text (without deleting ideas).

 

It was pointed out that in the current schedule, we have only 14 more negotiating days before Paris. The U.S. and others have called for the August/September intersessional to be extended. The Co-chairs responded by listing all that needs to be done in these few days, beginning with consideration of what happens to the negotiations after Paris: Do they continue as is? Do they come under one or more of the Subsidiary Bodies?

 

Most delegates I’ve spoken with were clear: Paris is not the end, it is the beginning of pre-2020 preparation for an ongoing process that could, and in my opinion, should go on for the foreseeable future. So, add this process question to the tough nuts: how to make the agreement fair, how to ensure that climate action is cranked up to put us on the pathway to the 2C or preferably 1.5 C goal, and how to ensure that that Parties are living up to the spirit of the agreement in practice as well as on paper.

 

Earlier last week, we finally heard the Parties say that they want the Co-chairs to take steps to better organize the text so that the negotiations can begin now.

 

Will the Co-chairs hear the call?

 

Here’s hoping they will accept the trust of Parties declared in last week's Stock-taking meeting and leverage that great spirit of cooperation into real progress on toward the Paris agreement. My take is that Parties have finally understood the message that there is not time to waste and they know that we all flourish only when we cooperate. Nothing stands in our way except ourselves.

From Compass

Proposed Truck Efficiency Standards for Trucks Are a Step in the Right Direction

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 11:07

Today the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation proposed the next round of standards that will make our freight trucks more efficient in years to come. This is good news -- these standards will reduce oil consumption, all while reducing the cost of shipping goods and protecting our planet.

Medium and heavy-duty vehicles, everything from large pickup trucks to tractor-trailers, are one of the fastest growing sources of oil use. While they account for only seven percent of the vehicles on the road, they use a quarter of all fuel. At the same time, while our passenger cars have become more efficient in recent years, tractor trailers still average roughly six miles per gallon, the same as they have for decades.

According to the EPA and DOT, the standards announced today will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil or 75 billion gallons of fuel over the lifetime of the vehicles under these standards. From aerodynamic trailers to advanced transmissions, these standards will drive new and existing technologies into the marketplace and onto trucks. These technologies save consumers money, when fuel savings bring down the costs of transporting goods, the average household could save nearly $150 a year by 2030 and $275 by 2040 assuming all savings and costs are passed through to consumers.

When countries gather this year in Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, efficiency and emissions standards for passenger cars and heavy-duty trucks will be centerpieces of the United States’ plan to cut carbon pollution. Indeed, the administration estimates these proposed truck standards will keep 1 billion metric tons out of the atmosphere. This is roughly equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the electricity and power use from all U.S. residences for one year.

While these standards will ensure continual improvement in trucks through 2027, it is possible to make these gains and realize their benefits sooner. Analysis conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy finds that we can reduce new truck fuel consumption 40 percent by 2025.  Accelerating these reductions in fuel use will not only yield greater climate benefits but also will substantially reduce shipping costs.

The proposed standards are a critical step forward in cutting oil use and carbon pollution. In the coming months, EPA and DOT will take comments on how they can improve these standards. Stay tuned for more information on how you can thank the Obama administration for its hard work and ask them to make these critical standards stronger.

Jesse Prentice-Dunn From Compass

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