Climate Change Legislation in a Nutshell

Six Arenas

Sitting in front of a computer screen in the middle of another Zoom conference on climate change, the exuberance of the presenters is consistently tested by the scope of the legislative endeavors that must pass. The issue is not the cliché that “no bill is perfect,” which is true. Rather, climate change is a threat multiplier across every human activity and endeavor, and its footprint is global. A Green New Deal bill will accomplish much in the coming decade, but no one bill can anticipate nor address all the issues created by human output in the last one hundred years.

At present, we are on a baseline trajectory to raise the median temperature of the earth by 2100 +3.5oC (6.4oF). The baseline is the output of carbon we are experiencing today without any change or mitigation.  Today’s baseline is unsustainable, and the result would be a planet with huge swaths of uninhabitable land and ocean by the end of the century. With the proposed legislation, we will continue to produce carbon, pumping the element into the water and into the air, but the goal is to control and reduce the carbon output to a sustainable +1.5oC (2.7oF).

M.I.T.’s Management Sustainability Initiative divides up the carbon reduction puzzle into six arenas:

  1. Energy Supply
  2. Transport
  3. Buildings and Industry
  4. Growth
  5. Land and Industry Emissions
  6. Carbon Removal

Our legislative endeavors need to force changes in each of these six areas. If all the areas are not addressed, even if only one area is ignored, we will be unable to reach our sustainable goal of +1.5oC (2.7oF). Each area requires a firm legislative shove, often more than one. What follows is an outline of what is contained in each arena and what must be done. Each bullet point requires new aggressive legislation.

Energy Supply

The big four carbon producers that must be reduced to as close to zero as possible are:

  • Coal
  • Oil
  • Natural Gas
  • Bioenergy (e.g. wood, wood pellets)

The energy producers that do not produce carbon are called renewables. They must take over as much energy production as possible:

  • Solar
  • Geothermal
  • Wind
  • Nuclear* (*renewable but not clean)

The lever that forces the energy supply to shift from coal/oil/gas to renewables is:

  • Carbon price/Carbon Tax

We may also need a break-through technology that does not emit greenhouse gases. Several have been proposed but none will be available in the foreseeable future. Funding is through research and development.

  • New Zero-Carbon Breakthrough

Transport

All forms of transportation (ships, planes, trucks, cars) must shift to,

  • Energy Efficiency
  • Electrification

Buildings and Industry

All mechanicals in buildings and the processes and machines for manufacturing must make the same shift as transportation.

  • Energy Efficiency
  • Electrification

Growth

Some parts of the world are already experiencing a slowdown in population from an exponential trajectory to a geometric one, although not all populations are decreasing. Economic growth as defined by Gross Domestic Product must also decrease. We need to aim for less people and less stuff, backing away from a growth model for economies.

  • Population
  • Economic Growth

Population tends towards self-regulating when education rates rise in general and when education policies specifically targeting women are implemented. The issues of less manufactured goods are partially addressed in “Right to Repair” laws that create longer-lasting products and the legal ability/capability to repair locally.

Land and Industry Emissions

While energy consumption is tackled above, the pollution generated by industry and agribusiness must all be addressed. Monoculture agribusiness must transform to soil-healthy processes that are not dependent on manufactured fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides.

  • Deforestation
  • Methane, fertilizers, HTC’s, and PFC’s

Carbon Removal

The only known carbon removal technology available today is replanting what we have destroyed on land and in the ocean. We will need new technology to pull carbon out of the air, either enhancing natural removals or manually sequestering carbon. Such technology does not exist yet.

  • Afforestation
  • Technological Carbon Removal

Putting the Points Together

No one bill will address all these issues. Legislation that redirects agriculture hardly seems like a climate change bill but both monoculture farms and beef ranches are huge contributors to the carbon pollution matrix. Government investments in education lead to smaller households in the next generation, an education bill. Shifting government subsidies from coal, oil, and gas to renewables would address the most significant source of carbon production, which is a straightforward energy bill. One bus can remove sixty cars from the daily commute, which would be funded in a transportation bill.

Some solutions will require international treaties and corporate compliance. We should invest in research and development, which would have a side effect of reducing college costs as the Sputnik program did. Corporations are guilty of the worst carbon pumping crimes and they need to fundamentally change or be forced to change into implementors of solutions.

We must pass legislation that does not include wishful thinking. A breakthrough technology just around the corner, hydrogen-powered cars for example, is a fantasy. The technology solution is not around the corner, which is no surprise because we have not invested much in developing such an invention. New technologies require investment and time; we have given neither.

Final Word

Your head should be spinning. At the least, organizing the bullet points in one place presents a clear direction of what sorts of legislation and regulations we need in the next year. Every bill is battle and we need a lot of bills to become law.

We are asking our legislator allies to cover all these legislative areas when we cannot track them ourselves. Using the M.I.T structure, we can organize progress in each of the six arenas. This tracking helps us help our legislators stay informed and on-track, while keeping ourselves informed as best we can.

We can do this.

Biden “Build Back Better” Plan is out

We’ve added a comparison page for you to evaluate the new Biden Infrastructure Plan. This plan will be the primary initiative for moving the nation to a clean, renewable energy future while addressing past environmental injustices. A consortium of environmental groups proposed “The Thrive Act” earlier this year, which addresses climate change and environmental justice in a scientifically grounded set of proposals. You can now compare a snapshot of both plans in an easy-to-read table on our new page pinned to the menu on the our homepage..

Thrive Agenda

Announced on February 1, 2021: NY Renews becomes the official state anchor of the national THRIVE AGENDA, commonly known as The Green New Deal. The elements and structure of the THRIVE AGENDA is already familiar to New Yorkers who pushed and won the Climate and Community Leadership Protection Act and are now advocating the Climate and Community Investment Act. You can read the THRIVE AGENDA in detail on their website.

You (You kindhearted soul) Are The Target

The competent magician compels the audience to turn their attention elsewhere while the switch is made, seemingly unseen. Magicians are Old School though, because entire industries have adopted the mechanism of deception as their entire public relations strategy. The tobacco industry got away with it for fifty years and now the fossil fuel industry is well into its fourth decade of deceit. Their latest target is your growing desire to address climate change.

The Exxon-Mobil’s, Shell’s and Koch Brothers know they can no longer suppress or delay your fear of climate change consequences. All forms of communication are beaming video, pictures, and commentary of the rising natural events that are destroying lands, disrupting regions, and leaving swathes of dead creatures, even human beings. The corporations know the entirety of the fossil fuel industry is responsible. They even recognize that most of the world’s population knows of their culpability.

Still, they hope to delay the dismissal and banning of fossil fuels and their byproducts. They have an excellent plan. They are not going to talk about their responsibility, they are going to broadcast your responsibility. They are presenting a marketing plan that declares, “You are the problem, and you are the solution to climate change.”

Yes, you are the problem and all that you need to do is tidy up your little piece personal property. Save the planet by putting in a compost heap. Help your community by consolidating your errands into a minimum number of trips. Dry your laundry on a line in the backyard. Change out lightbulbs. Replace that dirty old furnace with a new, efficient model. Use the Energy Star program and replace all your appliances as they age. Recycle.

Do all these things, the marketing promises, and you will have addressed your personal responsibilities. You are done and you should be proud of yourself for addressing climate change. Sit back and appreciate life.

Each and every step of this pernicious initiative is a lie, a devastating one too. Compared to the gigatons of emissions being pumped into atmosphere, every possible act and deed an individual can do to address their personal responsibilities is negligible. Your actions are a drop of spit off the pier when the freighter is discharging its bilge water in the harbor.

What do you really need to do to address climate change?

  • Hold the fossil fuel industry accountable. This is the action they fear. Bringing attention to their culpability and demanding action against them is what they are paying P.R. firms to help them avoid.
  • Demand loudly and often that your legislators act
  • Elect legislators who support climate change legislation
  • Demand that state agencies and regulatory bodies enforce environmental laws.
  • Go to zoning board meetings
  • Attend public meeting of state and county agencies.
  • Broadcast as loudly as the fossil fuel industry does.

Vote!

The equation is simple. Belief in God and scientific confirmation of climate change coalesce into the imperative that the believer must vote climate change this November. The fact of climate change demands that we vote for candidates willing to address global warming at all levels of government. The local races are just as important as the state and national ones.

What is the most important thing a religious person must do now? Vote.

You feel the imperative to praise God? Vote for God’s creation.

You feel the need to repent to God? Then vote for God’s gifts to humanity.

Do you believe that holy words and the sacred relationship with God are being subverted for selfish gain? Vote.

Feeling helpless? Vote.

Vote with your faith, but vote.

The Limits of Religion and How It Informs the Religious Response to Climate Change

Part of addressing climate change is the technical challenges. The methods of science and engineering have proven themselves to be far more capable in providing probable solutions to climate change than religion. The sacred foundational texts and the subsequent holy documents were never envisioned as scientific directives. Even when droughts threatened and bubonic plagues charged down the Silk Road, all the religions from China to Europe were not capable of investigating the sources and resolving the crises. Modern science and engineering are late in the history of religion, and all our technical solutions are recent.

Another part of addressing climate change is a question of which government policies to implement. The Hebrew Bible knew only kings and tyrants, judging monarchs good or bad based on their worship of Adonai God. Solomon is mentioned as imposing heavy taxes and forcing onerous conscription to build his temple, but he is judged as a good king based solely on his choice of building a temple to Adonai God. Economics and government policies are not part of the religious foundations.

When a recession descends upon a country, whether the country is Iran, Saudi Arabia, India or Italy, there are only a few reasonable choices the government has available to effectively address the crisis. Bringing a country out of recession looks similar around the world and the dominant religion of the country has no bearing on the government course of action. Certainly, believers pray to God that the policies work, but the choice of policies is not a religious call.

Religions are at its best when they identify the sacred values of solving a crisis such as global warming. Religion has always had a unifying power, bringing people together for a cause. Religion at its best creates identity and nobility of the cause. Religion can drive the conversation in the public square and religion can reframe cacophony of self-interested voices (such as the fossil fuel industry), giving clear perspectives on the choices we must make.

The world does not need or want a Jewish, a Muslim, or a Christian solution to the global climate pandemic. The world needs a religious voice clarifying the sacred tasks that must be undertaken. The world needs a clear moral direction that can overcome the forces of greed and nationalism at this critical juncture.

Raising a religious voice in a time of unchecked nationalism and political partisanship is daunting. Religious people are dismissed with causal disdain, which is why the moral vacuum must be reclaimed. We must raise our religious voices in the public square and in our legislator’s offices (even if remotely). What good is all our protestations and claims of piety if we do not speak our faiths to our governments and our fellows to address the climate?

“We won’t get fooled again!”

While the United States has been locked down, carbon emissions have decreased by 5.5 percent. The skies have cleared over major metropolitan areas and the sunny days are simply gorgeous. However, sheltering Americans in their homes left the rest of the nation producing carbon emissions at an incredible 94.5 percent of the rate before the pandemic struck. How could this happen?

The answer is the fossil fuel industry. The utilities are still running at full tilt. Diesel trucks and trains are still crisscrossing the country at steady rates. Essential manufacturing and cattle management are continuing unabated.

We have been taken for idiots.

For decades, climate change advocates have worked at the grassroots level, encouraging individuals and households to become involved in the fight to save the planet from global warming. The most common method of raising volunteers is teaching them individual responsibility, of reducing their own carbon footprints. Our websites, toolkits, and workshops are full of strategies and advice for individual choices and household choices for green living. Most of material is good and worthy.

In fact, many of the best suggestions for individual greening are also promoted by the fossil fuel industry, particularly utilities. They offer promotions for digital thermostats and LED lightbulbs nearly every month. We should have been more suspicious.

The utilities have been emphasizing their customer’s individual responsibility for climate change while remaining silent about their own outsized culpability. “Don’t look at us,” they are saying, “look at what you are doing. You are guilty of not doing enough.” At a time when households are absolutely doing their part by staying home, the carbon emissions only dropped 5.5%.

The utilities are responsible for most of the rest of the carbon pollution, 60%, 70%, or 80%. The reality could not be starker. Utilities were, are, and will be the worst polluters until we stop them. At this time of pandemic, energy sector bailouts should be targeted at clean renewable energy sources. Natural gas and coal powerplants should be wound down as soon as possible.

Furthermore, the only path out of the pandemic-caused recession/depression is government spending. FDR’s New Deal was a spending plan focusing on infrastructure, of which the United States is already in great need. The new energy structure necessary for the 21st century needs to be built and it must be built for a green energy economy.

Individual responsibility is a still a great entry into the green activism. However, the ultimate goal is not individual actions, but government and industry actions. Let us not allow ourselves to be taken for malleable idiots again.

A Prayer for these Times

 â€œEvery hand that we don’t shake must be a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern.

Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise. 

So, as we keep a level of social distance, let us all remain spiritually near to each other, by responding to this health emergency with love and care for everyone’s well-being. 

May Adonai give us the wisdom to continue to react appropriately to this crisis and heal those who have been infected.” 

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

B’nai David-Judea Congregation

Los Angeles, CA