NYSERDA, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has released its strategic plan for the next three years. We fought to pass the legislation in 2019 that governs where this plan seeks to go. As we continue to fight to fund the 2019 mandate (the CLCPA), this document maps out how the state energy bureaucracy sees the state moving forward.
The crime that environmental justice addresses is a challenge to wholly grasp. Carelessly discarding toxic waste that will kill and maim people is a true but misleading definition. Sometimes the perpetrators are not careless or arbitrary. Sometimes the polluters pretend that consequences do not exist, even to the point of creating media campaigns to bolster their claims. Remember clean coal? When the people of the Biblical era began to identify and address the need for justice, they had an inkling of the human potential to kill myriads, but no context of how far some humans are willing to go.
The term “environmental justice” is complex as well, easy to understand from a surface reading yet complicated once one delves into the subject. The fact to know is the highest carbon producing and toxic generating facilities and factories are deliberately located in black and brown communities. Indigenous communities are not far behind. Factories close and the owners take no responsibility for the lethal consequences they leave behind because they took no responsibility while the factories ran.
Environmental justice is endemic, having been with us since the origins of the industrial revolution. Cleaning up one’s industrial messes were never mandated, or the mandates were rendered toothless. The common false claims such as “paying for it will cost jobs” or “we’ll go bankrupt, and no one will have a job” or “we gave them a community (jobs); they should take some responsibility” highlight how deeply buried in the fabric of the economy and the culture the supposed “right to pollute” runs.
The environmental cost of doing business is hardly ever, if ever, factored into corporate business plans. The cost of carbon and environmental pollutions is not included as a debit line in accounting spreadsheets.* A tech company can claim they are “carbon neutral,” but not only did they build that way to save money, they ignored the other environmental degradations they precipitated. The city, the county, the state, or sometimes even the federal government are left with the poisonous consequences. Corporations takes their profits and leave the taxpayers with the environmental costs, which run into the billions, if not the trillions now.
We must convert to a clean renewable energy economy, which will run into trillions of dollars. Where are the additional trillions of dollars to clean up the toxic waste we have now going to come from? From where will the additional money come from to pay for the asthma, the cancers, and the other circulatory and respiratory illnesses caused by these known toxins already present in neighborhoods in every state?
You want to do justice? Then, get angry. Start asking questions. Challenge zoning boards. Demand municipal and county leaders address environmental consequences. Teach your friends and your neighbors. Force the issue into the local news. Preach it.
You want to do justice, which makes you a descendent of the prophets. Taking up the yoke of the commandments is not an easy task, but in every generation, believers have harkened to the call.
- Training for Green Teams
- Workshops (post Covid19)
- Board/ House Committee Training
- Sustainability Manual
- Sustainability Training: setting priorities and implementation
- Network connections local and regional
- Private Consultations
- Legislative updates
- Lobby Training as a person of faith
- Networking with local/regional climate groups
- Lobby opportunities, state and national
- Citizens Respond to Climate Change – A Civics Lesson
- Climate Legislation and Faith
- Environmental Injustice and Racism
- Faith Advocacy Training
- Theology of Speaking to Power
- Build Back Better – Was, Is, Might Be
There are two ways to view the United Nations’ COP26 convocation in Glasgow that ended this past weekend. Either COP26 was a complete failure for the planet and a win for the fossil fuel industries, or COP26 accomplished part of its mission to highlight how far we have come in ten years and what we must do in the next ten years. An element of truth may be found in both views.
The typical method for evaluating laws and initiatives on climate change hinges on three criteria. The first is a baseline of cutting carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. The second is stopping or substantially reducing government subsidies to fossil fuel industries. The last criterion is a carbon tax or carbon-producer penalties that curb carbon producing behaviors. COP26 did not produce any policies that address any of these three criteria.
Therefore COP26 was a complete failure.
Except, the United Nations and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has no authority to enforce anything in any agreement. In the Paris Agreement, UNFCCC was tasked with structuring and publicizing voluntary national goals and commitments. The original COP agreement cannot make any country or corporation do anything.
This lack of authority and weakened encouragement to act is what Greta Thunberg was referring to when she condemned the prodigious diplomatic production of empty sentiments and weak commitments as “blah, blah, blah.” The negotiations were mostly between white men over the age of sixty years who arrived at the conference on private or chartered jets. The last point to the sense of failure is more lobbyists for the fossil fuels industries attended than diplomats.
The final agreement in Glasgow is hollow and dependent on the voluntary cooperation of governments and corporations – just as it was envisioned in the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement, even with its voluntary mandate, is working though. Ten years ago, the world was well on its way to a 4oC – 6oC rise in ambient temperature by 2100. At Glasgow, the scientists announced we have bent the curve downward to 2.7oC. No one will argue we have saved the planet from climate change yet, but the trajectory is in the correct direction. Despite the billions of dollars spent in the past ten years by the fossil fuel industry to defeat renewable energy and climate change legislation, we are still accomplishing systemic change.
Towards this incremental trend downwards, a global treaty on methane was brokered by the USA and UK, which was signed by more than 100 countries. A 24/7 Carbon-free Energy Compact was formed that cemented the partnership between renewable energy companies with Sustainable Energy for All and UN Energy. Over 100 companies pledged to stop deforestation by 2030, which is weak because the Amazon Basin could be entirely deforested before then. Organizations and governments pledged $10.5 billion towards helping emerging economies transition from fossil fuels. No more financing is allowed for international fossil fuel projects. Public financing for overseas coal projects is ending.
As the last ten years have shown and Glasgow confirmed, national governments are going to be the cars at the back of the train. NGO’s, renewable energy companies, scientists, engineers, non-national governments (state and local), and climate activists are driving the train.
We bid goodbye to the utterly dismal threat of complete extinction of the planet and life. Though tentative and not at full strength, we celebrate the successes at turning the tide and reversing the global warming trend. Although we are not close to our goal, we have made great strides that should give us hope and renew our strength to continue the legislative and regulatory battles that loom.
Yes, when community organizers declare “you are the change,” Glasgow COP 26 confirms it. As a fellow citizen of the planet, thank you.
For a deep dive into the statements made above, go to https://climateactiontracker.org/publications/glasgows-2030-credibility-gap-net-zeros-lip-service-to-climate-action/
When Vice News interviewed the mayor of an Oregon town who lost a third of its housing to last year’s wildfires, the mayor offered the following sentiment. She was asked if encouraging people to return was a good idea with the ongoing threat of another wildfire. Her response was that climate change is everywhere and this is where they were choosing to make a stand.
Her statement struck me as odd. While her determination was admirable, her plan seemed misplaced as was the municipal money she had allocated. They were building Recreational Vehicle (RV) hookups to help displaced residents who could not afford to rebuild to return to town. Approving expenditures to help people return sounds worthwhile and a proper function of government at first glance. However, in a time of escalating climate change, the proper first priority of government is not accommodating people. The priority must be creating a survivable environment, a concept that only specialized segments of government bureaucracies who use emergency management centers typically encounter. A climate-stricken world requires an entire revamping of the role of government. The new reality is climate change is an ongoing crisis.
The climate change crisis in Oregon may be wildfires while the coastal flooding is the ongoing destruction in Miami, Florida. California and the rest of the southwestern United States are suffering prolonged droughts. Parts of Germany and Belgium are inundated with swollen rivers while the Indian subcontinent faces the extremes of misplaced monsoons.
Certain religious traditions have more to say about long ongoing crises than others. Diaspora religions living among other majorities have long understood that there is no instant or elegant solution to resolving a long enduring crisis. Success is not characterized as overcoming or winning, instead success is defined as creating a dynamic balance that adjusts as the surges of tension and confrontation roil.
Most holy scriptures are a chronicle of the crises in the lives of human beings and their nations.[i] The religious voice offers powerful methodologies for navigating the effects of climate change and countering the greedy interests that want us to ignore climate change. Contrary to the sneering condescension of critics, the proffered methods are not â€˜let us pray on it.â€™ Seeking common ground, aligning communal interests, raising and promoting volunteers, redirecting self-interest, and confirming universal ideals that can inspire all are some of the religious lessons that people of faith still use today. Multi-religious initiatives for the communityâ€™s good inspire and work.
Religions work in a specific manner in the public sphere. They offer established principles that set priorities of action and promulgate rules that define boundaries of acceptable actions. Saving lives is always the highest priority because life is sacred. Preventing the circumstances that threaten life is the next priority because it leads to the highest priority. In contrast, politicians talk about saving money and saving jobs as the highest priorities. The religious models accept those political talking points, but place them within the context of saving lives, putting jobs and money in a healthier and more achievable context.
When my new county executive was elected, I met him at a gala fundraising for another organization. After congratulations and introductions, he asked what was on my mind.
â€œAsphalt,â€ I said.
I continued. â€œYou inherited a budget from your predecessor with a funding structure of replacing roads after twenty years of use. The extremes of climate change in our county have probably reduced the lifespan of our roads by five years, give or take. Did you know this was happening?â€
â€œLet me look into that,â€ he said.
The upshot of that conversation was an aggressive tarring campaign, where a crew walks every road with a hot tar machine in tow, filling in every crack in the asphalt with tar. The process gives the road another two to three years of life. The tarring program had disappeared in the rush to cut government spending in previous administrations. The tar is inexpensive, but the crew time is costly â€“ not as costly as putting in new roads though. The county executiveâ€™s response is an example of the dynamic flexibility required to address the facts of climate change. The politicianâ€™s priority of money and jobs was preserved and my priority of preventing destructive circumstances was achieved.
(A quick aside, the asphalt example can be correctly categorized as an example of adaptation. Adapting to climate change is a necessary step that many in the environmental advocacy arena dismiss as a distraction from the goal of clean renewable energy legislation or worse, a surrender to the failure of ridding the world of carbon producing fossil fuels. The events of the past few years have clarified that adaptation will be a necessary component of any climate change legislation, an unfortunate but predictable development. Most politicians are amenable to adaptation spending in their districts.)
While my county executive is an elected position, he used the bureaucracy to address the effects of climate change. The public rhetoric to address carbon pollution often overlooks the power of the bureaucracy. Bureaucracies are slow, rigid, and cranky; they are depicted as prone to corruption with political appointments and highjacked bids. The crimes reach the news cycles, but the day-to-day work, plodding up and down the streets for instance, are beneath notice. Bureaucracies do work and they can be quite powerful.
The dynamic power of a federal bureaucracy can have global reach, addressing not just the effects but the sources of carbon pollution. Reuters reported on August 16th, 2021, that the â€œU.S. Treasury to oppose development bank financing for most fossil fuel projects.â€ Fossil Fuel companies can longer use the multilateral development banks across the world to fund their projects. The only exceptions are countries buying coal plants to shut them down and poor countries with no infrastructure purchasing some natural gas-powered generation downstream. Using the bureaucracy, the U.S. government has shut down an â€œat the sourceâ€ funding stream for the fossil fuel industry. The U.S. Treasury is using its leverage in a new manner to shut down new fossil fuel development across the globe. While the U.S. Treasury has offered â€œguidanceâ€ throughout its history, this is a climate first and a welcome one.
Addressing climate change is not about a stand against the effects of climate change. All the industries that oppose addressing climate change are happy with this misguided stance and encourage it. The more effort that is expended on the destruction and costs produced by climate change, the less effort is available to attack the sources of climate change. The mayor in Oregon is truly looking out for her citizens and the town, for which she deserves our compliments and encouragement. People who use their political power to raise the downtrodden and stricken deserve the support of religious affirmation. However, when the means of support are misdirected, more productive actions need to be introduced and corrected if possible.
As we examine the laws, regulations, and allocations in our local communities, we must keep the following mantra in mind: We cannot fight climate change; we can only fight the sources of climate change.
[i] Following Judah Magnes PhD, Gleanings 1948
The Exxon-Mobil corporation relies on eleven senators to silence attacks on the fossil fuel industry and to defeat legislation that would hurt their business. They particularly detest the Carbon Tax proposals, which are necessary to convert the economy to a renewal energy economy. Under the rubric of Citizens United, the purchase of U.S. senators by donation and unspecified support is legal. The eleven senators who are considered “owned” by Exxon-Mobil company executives are:
1. Joe Manchin -D 2. John Barrasso -R 3. John Cornyn -R 4. Steve Daines -R 5. Shelly Moore Capito -R 6. Marco Rubio -R 7. Chris Coons -D 8. Maggie Hassan -D 9. Mark Kelly -D 10. Kyrsten Sinema -D 11. Jon Tester -D
The reports from the field observations on climate are returning with ever worsening reports, as predicted. Heat absorption, the Arctic and Antarctica, mounting land degradation tallies are ticking upward, which again, were explicated in the climate models. Last week, Greenpeace released a report on an Exxon lobbyist who was tricked in admitting fierce lobbying behind the scenes and the corruption of key senators to prevent climate change legislation in the U.S. Senate, as per the Tobacco playbook of fifty years ago. The interview also shows the campaign to prevent climate change legislation is shifting into another, well-documented gear: â€œGive up,â€ certain no-name writers press. â€œGive up and go home; enjoy these better days while you have them.
The new task at hand is not defending the veracity of the data. The evidence proving climate change has swayed approximately 70 percent of the American population according to the latest surveys. Climate Denialism continues to lose adherents as the effects of global warming are experienced by more people with no alternate explanations possible. Scientists and activists are winning the first battle of denialism, but the fossil fuel industry has already moved on.
More than one set of delaying tactics are described in the earlier Tobacco Industry playbook, which goes back fifty years. Thwarting legislation is a multi-pronged approach requiring several different strategies, and different types of timing. As denialism tapers off, the fossil fuel industry is pivoting to two other methodologies: denigration and delay. As the Tobacco Industry demonstrated, these tactics work, delaying anti-tobacco legislation and litigation for fifty years.
On the denial track, we have passed through most of the â€œdenial that the problem exists,â€ although there is still funding flowing to professional deniers such as the Heartland Institute. Thirty percent of Americans still believe that climate change does not exist, that it is a hoax, or that its existence and effects are overblown. These public relations campaigns have been unusually effective.
One of the most effective components happening now is the half-step campaign. The half-step is the acknowledgement by the industry that climate change exists. Such pronouncements are hailed as great milestones and proof the fossil fuel industry is finally paying attention to the threat of climate change. In truth, they have been paying close attention since the late 1970â€™s according to their own internal studies and documents. With this half-step announcement, the industry pivots to a stance of non-engagement. In the same breath that they confirm climate change is real, they deny that climate change is a problem. No one needs to act because climate change is benign.
Continuing further down the denial track, the fossil fuel industry pushes two specific ideas. The first project is to deny that the fossil fuel industry is the cause. They point fingers at cows, governments, corporate agriculture and most effectively, at ordinary people. There are kernels of truth in their accusations, but not even close to a whole, accurate truth. Just enough truth to make the accusations appear tenable is part of the strategy.
Their claim is if everyone would take personal responsibility for their contributions to climate change, the crisis would be solved. The argument is demonstrably false, but it accomplishes its true goal of shifting the conversation away from fossil fuels. Other permutations include â€œweâ€™re trying, why arenâ€™t youâ€ or â€œweâ€™re doing our part, everyone else is the problem.â€ Most insidious of all is the claim â€œnot to worry, a technological is fix is coming to save us.â€ There is no technology in a production pipeline to address climate change now.
The second idea, which has not emerged fully into blossom yet, is to deny that we can solve climate change. The climate is complicated involving ocean currents under the ocean to carbon accretion in the upper layers of the atmosphere, and no one can really understand all of it. Even the climate scientists do not have all the answers, they claim. The fossil fuel industry will humbly profess the problems are too complicated to solve at this time, but they promise to continue studying the issue.
Delaying action on climate change is the arena in which doomerism is actively pushed. Two types of delay are in play, but both are concerned with politics. The most expensive element in the industryâ€™s push to stop legislation is lobbying. They make donations to politicians and political campaigns. If they identify a vulnerable legislator, they fund campaigns to raise a primary challenger or fund the candidate who supports their industry in the full election. They have lobbyists in every state, working with municipal, county, and state legislators and with the regulatory agencies. They fund think tanks and institutes whose sole purpose is to stop climate change legislation from being passed. They have been successful.
However, constituents vote, and they lobby too. The power of the electorate is formidable when it is engaged and their aggregated votes and demands of legislators are effective; they are a deep challenge to the fossil fuel industry despite their billions of spent dollars. To delay the electorate, they hire firms to prevent aggregating into large coalitions. These firms target individuals who are aggregators of public concern including scientists, teachers, clergy, pundits, environmental groups, and informed politicians. They also attempt to discourage people from taking up the cause using media, social media, print campaigns, and any other method they think may work. They have money to spend.
The promotion of doomerism, the fear that it is too late to save the planet and that all is lost, is a pernicious delaying tactic. The voice of doom sends the message that nothing can be done. The concerned citizen who learns this terrible truth should go home and close their doors. They should use their energy to live the best life they can while they can because all is lost. They should give up the fight because the battle is already lost; we are too late.
â€œI came to view with despair all the gains I had made under the sun,â€ Kohelet records in the Book of Ecclesiastes, falling into a funk of futility despite his recounted successes. Doomerism is the latest expression of well-attested despair. Despair is crippling, leading to withdrawal from the world and from everything that gives life meaning and worth; it is an affliction.
As a tool to discourage people from taking community and political action, despair is potent. From young adults through every decade through the elder years, despondency is a cruel and crippling reality to the vulnerable. â€œNo sickness like despairâ€ declared Israel Salanter Lipkin centuries ago.
To the power hungry and cynical, promoting despair in the opposition or in the population is a documented path to success. Take the fight out of oneâ€™s enemies and they will not bother to raise their arms in defense, much less raise a counterattack. Peeling off parts of the population who would care about climate change and neutralizing them is an appealing strategy. The promotion of doomerism lately demonstrates the effort is well underway.
Across the globe in almost every generation, people have risen to overcome their despair and move forward. Despair is an ancient problem, which is found in the writings of every religious tradition. St. Francis of Assisi encouraged his fellows, declaring that hope is the antidote to despair. The ancient Jewish traditions argue that despair is the loss of hope. The Buddhist teachings direct the practitioner to lean into the despair, using the pain as a lever to raise others out of their despair.
Despair is real and its presence is a necessary component of our response to climate change. Hopelessness reminds us of all that is precious to us, from our fellow human beings to the planet that sustains us all. The suffering of human beings from global warming is cataloged as an evil in the Western religious traditions and as avoidable suffering in the Eastern traditions. Both traditions are on point, signaling why despair over the climate is painful and even crippling at times.
The toxic nature of despair is not a foregone conclusion. The presence of despair is a moment of self-revelation, an insight that all is not right. Anguish is an opportunity to examine the causes of our pain and to challenge our lack of hope. The propaganda surrounding the push of climate doomerism is an attempt to extinguish the presence of hope. Hope is the target to be eliminated as the industry pushes against change.
Despondency need not be a stumbling block. The power of this human sentiment is available to all people, and the power can be a great source of motivation. Without this element of threatened hopelessness, the fights for climate change legislation would be an academic one or the work of a professional gunslinger who earns a paycheck lobbying politicians. Despair is an engine that galvanizes the religious soul, that bothers the people on the sidelines who await a goad to act. Despair is the call to action. The presence of despair informs us that this battle to save the planet is the movement of peoples against the lust for wealth and power. As climate change is global, the gathering to force change on the fossil fuel industry is worldwide, and all of this gathering, each and every individual joining the cause, begins with despair.
As one organizer declares in her email signature, â€œFrom pain, to protest, to power.â€ Despair is not a conclusion, but a beginning point. From anguish and hopelessness, the only path is upward.
In any nationwide initiative to move the American population to change course, the two key demographics are the apathetic and the complacent. Unfortunately for most of our polling experts, these demographic groups nest comfortably within all age cohorts, zip codes, races, and economic profiles. Two representative projects seeking to push the general populace to address climate change are taking the challenge to rouse these lethargic individuals to pay attention. The question is whether these well developed, well presented efforts work as intended.
While The En-Roads Initiative presents an accessible presentation of what we need to do to address climate change, the academic presentation defines the audience who will interact eagerly with the webpage. The player can toy with all the sliders and watch the graph rise or fall as the player attempts to drop the rise in temperature to 1.5 oC. Those who enjoy science and who enjoy learning will embrace the site wholeheartedly. Developed and sponsored in part by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the academic approach is on clear display.
Back in 2019, CNN took a different approach to much of the same scientific evidence, offering an interactive quiz. The designers of the quiz offered a short piece of seven questions with four choices for all but one section (it had three). Each choice was ranked as a comparison to â€œhow many millions of cars would be removed from the road.â€ After attempting to place the four choices of any question in the proper order, the quiz offered instant answers, rewards (you did better than 50% of others), and snippets of information. This worthwhile exercise led the quiz-taker to set priorities of what must be done first. According to the science, the top five choices most affecting the release of carbon in descending order are:
- Getting rid of chemicals in refrigerators and ACâ€™s
- Wind generation installation
- Throwing away less food in every setting
- Eating a plant-heavy diet
- Restoring tropical rain forests
The CCN quiz ends at this point. The quiz/interactive article is short, working within the typical length of an online news media presentation of articles. Conforming to CNN publishing conventions, the articles convey the evidence-based information in a topical manner, allowing the reader to examine the presented evidence and make conclusions.
The data behind the quiz leads to a diversity of actions-to-take within the top priorities. Getting rid of chemicals is a regulatory process; wind generation is national legislation together with the free market economy; and changing diet while also changing how we treat food is individual action and free market economy. The top five solutions create a convincing conclusion of the necessity of a variety of approaches to solving the climate crisis.
Variety and diversity are anathema to addressing apathy and complacency though.
Both interactions with the climate science data are designed to convince and engage people who are asking one question: â€œClimate change is real, so, what do we have to do?â€ The presented solutions signal several angles of attack to address the crisis. Not stated, but certainly one concrete conclusion is no one elegant solution to climate change is possible. Several solution sets are necessary and within each set, a variable number of different tasks and protocols are required for success.
The disconnect between the reality of solution sets and the human desire for simple directions is daunting. When the apathetic are roused enough to ask, the request is typically circumscribed by the demand to â€œjust give me the back of the envelope version of what Iâ€™ve got to do.â€ Such a thing does not exist. Even the plea for a one-page executive summary is probably not possible. Yet, the request is an opening for meaningful change to occur.
The Pew Research reports an aggregate of 62% of Americans believe in climate change, broken down at 90% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans in 2019. About 70 percent of the surveyed believe the United States should prioritize developing clean renewable energy. The numbers indicate a large popular movement willing to accept climate science. None of these recorded shifts in attitude give direction on how address the large groups of complacent or apathetic people captured within the findings though.
All the solution sets require these groups not only to accept but to participate. People need to participate in all the solution sets and in all the facets of each solution set. One set of solutions may examine personal actions such as beef consumption or electricity providers, but other sets are demanding from politicians legislative and regulatory action at the local, state, and national levels. Such behavior is contrary to the attitudes these people and their households are presenting, which is a request for a simple set of directions. Not only a simple set of directions, these groups want easy-to-follow directions.
To date, the challenge these two demographics present has not been met. For example, New York State mandates that its utilities must provide a community solar option for all its customers, which is an excellent development. On the Con Edison site, which serves New York City, the customer must log into their account online account first, then navigate three pages, clicking the correct buttons to land on the Choices page. On this specific page, the customer must navigate through pages on ratings, tips for selecting, and choosing. Only after these pages can the customer click the â€œfind offersâ€ button, only to be confronted with more choices before providers are posted. The customer then must navigate the page to find the correct filters for renewable energy providers (they are at the bottom of the webpage). Choosing a community solar provider is a complicated process complete with dead end tangents, misplaced buttons, and pages upon pages of text to navigate. Even the most dedicated are challenged.
These two demographics, the apathetic and the complacent, demonstrate the grassroots challenges that continue to thwart efforts to address climate change. Climate change is not simple to explain, to understand, or to address. Swaths of population are demanding that organizers, scientists, engineers, and lobbyists keep it simple. Their lack of actions indicate they will not rise reduce their carbon footprint until the process is simplified. The requests are not reasonable nor fair, but they must be addressed.