Friday, November 11, 2016

Where Are We?

 This is a new world for a blogger like me.  I have been reading and following national policy on climate and explaining its importance.  Tuesday plunged that approach into question.  What follows here are the first flailing attempts at making sense of where we are.  Like all of you, I find myself in a new world with a great many questions to answer.

On November 5, just six short days ago, I wrote this:

“In the end, it simply seemed that a Clinton administration would result in greater cuts than a Sanders administration.  On that, reasonable people could differ, and I have great respect for those that vehemently supported Bernie.  But on this, reasonable people cannot differ:  there is a huge chasm between Hillary and Donald.  There is no reason to even list his policies.  There are none except to gut anything related to climate action.  Hillary?  Wants to make the US a clean energy superpower.  Donald?  Drill, baby, drill.”

I failed.  I should have listed his policies.  In gruesome detail.  But who wanted to imagine such a horrible world?  I don’t think I could face imagining it.  Maybe my own form of climate denial.  How horrible.  Denial of reality is horrible.  Even now, with President Elect Trump working on his cabinet, I can barely bring myself to list the harms a Trump administration will bring.

Here is just a little smattering of what is in store, starting with gutting or eliminating the EPA (interestingly, the latter may bring challenges for him, because it will be harmful to some businesses that have competitive edge in a regulated world), NOAA and NASA.  Who will collect and store all the data that we need to make informed decisions?  Albany Times Union wrote a wonderful editorial urging people to “drill down” for the facts on climate.  But the question is, if people couldn't drill for the facts with an EPA and NASA and NOAA publishing them, how will they drill for facts without funded science institutions?  In the context of the world we will face, ditching the Clean Power Plan doesn’t seem like such a big deal, really.  Its goals were weak and it was unlikely to get through the courts much before it was made obsolete by market advances in renewables anyway.  But the Supreme Court?  The existing legislation that protects our water and air will be gutted if not outright repealed.  The Halliburton loophole will look like child’s play.  Pipelines and compressor stations served up everywhere.  CAFE standards pushing for increasing mileage standards on cars, the regulations on airplanes…likely gone.  A small, painful reminder of what we have just lost?  We likely won't see those EV charging corridors that were just announced, unless Obama is very very fast.

Fossil fuels have such a great future now, that their value on the stock market immediately went up after the election.  Renewables took a dive.  Depressing.  I should have drawn a picture of it.  It was way more appealing to consider the shiny clean energy superpower.  (I will save for another blog post why that was a serious miscalculation and what we should learn from that).

With all that horror now in store for us, it is clear that the very narrow hopes we had for avoiding 2C are all but crushed.  Or so it seems.  Folks like David Roberts and Joe Romm, who know energy policy and politics quite well certainly think it looks that way.  Hard to argue with them.

And I won’t.

But I will point out all the reasons that I take heart.

Personally, I am reassured by the idea that nearly 200 nations committed to COP21 and it was ratified faster than just about any other international law, ever. There is international momentum on climate. Trump's promise to withdraw from the Paris agreement may be reason for India and China to stop trying.  On the other hand, it may actually be motivating to India and China and others to double down. They now know they CANNOT COUNT ON OUR HELP OR LEADERSHIP.  They know it falls to them.  And to deal out consequences to us. The international political climate on climate change is different now. And our refusal to respect the globe's future may be treated as actions of a rogue nation. And rightly so.  (It is cold comfort to our own children. No one wants to be in a rogue nation.)

China, in particular, will be pricing carbon nationally as of January.  Perhaps they will implement a border adjustment, which will levy a tariff from any country without one.  Perhaps they will join together with other nations to pressure us.  Certainly, they will be the clean energy superpower and clean up in the market.

So, the Republicans may be in charge of both the legislature and the White House, but they aren’t in charge of the rest of the world.

Moreover, international action may be supported by some states.  California and the RGGI states will likely have envoys to the UN COP work. And then there are the mayors, along with Michael Bloomberg, who is the UN's special envoy on cities.

So international work may continue or even be intensified.

But we contribute about 15% of the world's emissions. That may drop if Trump's economic polices manage to plunge us into economic contraction. That remains to be seen. Economic downturns aside, every effort we make to reduce emissions here in the US is necessary.


It may be through local, state or regional political action. It may be through corporate action. It may be through charity work. It may be individual action.

There are today many attorneys general that have formed a coalition to investigate Exxon.  They may find that they have more work to do.  The Governors may be a line of action, too.

Now is the time to support initiatives for community gardens, municipal actions to encourage cycling or composting. Community solar. State initiatives to bring solar companies or increase sales of EVs. It's time to install your own solar, if you haven't. As always, the argument for these is not just cutting emissions. Now, more than ever, the future uncertainty in markets and in geopolitical stability is a case for predictable energy prices that go with solar panels, for example. Energy independence now takes on a whole new meaning. These economic arguments are true for individual action and action at all levels of government and industry.

Gas is killing coal. That will continue. In the meantime, markets are supporting renewables and this appears irreversible.  They will continue to be adopted, though not as quickly as we need to avoid 2C.  (Unfortunately, the grid and storage are problems that really required federal action. This is now a stumbling block indefinitely.)

There is a lot left that we can do. But the terrain has shifted hugely.

People have asked me about my thoughts on carbon taxes in a Trump world. I am going to watch. Carefully.  But suffice it to say, I am doing a lot of thinking. My gut is yelling to ignore the federal level. And as much as I love carbon taxes, I am not convinced that NY would ever pass one, preferring regulatory structures over taxes. Cuomo has started us on a path to 40% cuts by 2030 and 80% cuts by 2050. Bolstering that is probably the most bang for our political buck.

And I have one last thing to say on where I think we stand.

To all those that didn't want "incrementalism," now you know what that really looks like.

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