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It’s OK that Democrats don’t have a national climate policy

More than a year after the election of Donald Trump, the opposition Democratic Party still hasn’t found its voice on climate change.

That’s according to an essential overview of the situation from the Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer. Taken at face value, it’s not good news: Despite consistent rhetoric that climate change is among the most important challenges of the century, the Democratic Party has no large-scale cohesive plan to tackle it.

OK, that fact is worrying.

However, while Meyer is correct in his assessment of national politics, he makes one glaring omission: Climate action at the local and state level around the United States is, if anything, healthier and more ambitious than ever before. And it’s more often than not driven by Democrats. After a two decade-long quixotic quest for a unified federal climate policy, party members are finally willing to admit that their climate strategy can’t rest on economy-wide national legislation alone.

“We need to do everything we can to fight climate change,” says Keith Ellison, a congressman from Minnesota and deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee. “That means having a bill ready for passage when we take power, and it also means pushing for more immediate wins to lower carbon emissions at the state and local levels by building upon the work of aggressive climate policy in states like Minnesota, California, and New York.”

In city halls, boardrooms, and statehouses across America, what’s (not) happening on climate in today’s Washington is mostly a sideshow. The science is clear, climate-related disasters are happening now, and in most cases, it makes economic sense to take action immediately. So on the front lines of climate change, from San Juan to San Francisco, Minneapolis to Miami, the message is clear: This problem is too important to wait for Congress and the president to get their act together.

Since President Trump announced his intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement back in June, more than 2,500 local leaders from all 50 states have signed a pledge saying, “We are still in.” In aggregate, those leaders — mayors, governors, CEOs, university presidents, etc. — represent more than half of all Americans. As an independent nation, they’d rank third in the world in terms of share of total emissions — nearly 10 percent of the global total. But this collective is pushing some of the most ambitious climate policy anywhere on Earth.

And contrary to what you might hear in Washington, pro-climate efforts don’t come at the expense of the economy. In New York City, emissions are down 15 percent since 2005. In the same timeframe, the economy has grown by 19 percent. In Minneapolis, emissions are down 18 percent while the economy is up 30 percent.

Even in red states like Kansas and Texas, bipartisan coalitions are emerging to take advantage of tremendous renewable energy resources in wind and solar. In 2005, Kansas sourced less than 1 percent of its electricity from wind. Now, it’s at 25 percent and, like California, is on pace to get 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources in the next few years. There is now a nationwide job boom in construction and installation of renewable energy.

If you ask Democrats and advocates directly, this kind of progress has changed the prevailing wisdom of what effective U.S. climate policy looks like.

“We know it’s possible because we’re doing it,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement from Bonn, Germany. “The West Coast offers a blueprint: This is how you build a thriving, innovative economy that combats climate change and embraces a zero-emission future.”

Inslee is helping lead a sizeable, but unofficial, U.S. delegation at the ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn. Dan Firger of Bloomberg Philanthropies, whose boss, Michael Bloomberg serves as an outspoken U. N. special envoy for cities and climate action, calls it a “shadow climate government.”

“We’re less concerned about a silver bullet bill in Congress than we are about how best to get near-term carbon reductions done,” Firger told Grist, adding that the former New York City mayor believes in “bottom-up climate action.”

Lou Leonard, a senior vice president at the World Wildlife Fund, points to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based approach to reducing carbon emissions among several northeastern U.S. states. Already, one of the largest carbon schemes in the world, it stands to expand after this month’s elections resulted in Democratic victories in the Virginia and New Jersey governor races. Those states are now set to join the initiative.

“We cannot put all our chips in a federal solution,” says Leonard from Bonn, where his organization is helping support the We Are Still In delegation. “That’s not the way the U.S. economy works, that’s not the way politics works, and it’s certainly not the most obvious path to success.”

Still, The Atlantic’s Meyer has a point: Democrats need to be able to combine all these local policy victories into a national and global win. After all, worldwide carbon emissions are on pace for a new record high in 2017. But this inside-out approach has precedents for yielding real results.

Climate change inherently is a problem that requires local action. And increasingly, those working for climate policy have shifted their efforts to support local early adopters. It’s a strategy specifically designed to build an eventual national consensus.

“There’s more happening than many people are aware of,” says Steve Valk, the communications director for Citizens Climate Lobby. “City and state initiatives — as happened with gay marriage — can drive a national policy.”

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It’s OK that Democrats don’t have a national climate policy

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California may use 50 percent renewable electricity by 2020, a decade ahead of schedule.

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California may use 50 percent renewable electricity by 2020, a decade ahead of schedule.

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Puerto Rico JUST met the halfway mark to restoring power. Then the lights went out again.

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Puerto Rico JUST met the halfway mark to restoring power. Then the lights went out again.

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As new pipeline battles ramp up, the DOJ vows to prosecute activists who stop construction.

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As new pipeline battles ramp up, the DOJ vows to prosecute activists who stop construction.

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Singing protesters interrupt a White House presentation at COP23.

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Singing protesters interrupt a White House presentation at COP23.

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Nearly all of Puerto Rico is without power AGAIN after a line repaired by Whitefish fails.

Kathleen Hartnett White, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, stammered through her confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

When Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, a Democrat, asked if she believes climate change is real, she wavered but settled on the right answer: “I am uncertain. No, I’m not. I jumped ahead. Climate change is of course real.”

That’s a surprise. Hartnett White, a former chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, has a long history of challenging climate science and promoting fossil fuels. Notably, she has said that carbon dioxide isn’t a pollutant.

But that’s not to say she’s made peace with established science. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, quizzed Hartnett White over how much excess heat in the atmosphere is absorbed by oceans. “I believe there are differences of opinions on that,” she said, “that there’s not one right answer.” For the record, the number is about 90 percent.

Then things got bizarre. Appearing frustrated with equivocating answers, Whitehouse pressed her on basic laws of nature, like whether heat makes water expand. “I do not have any kind of expertise or even much layman study of the ocean dynamics and the climate-change issues,” she said.

Watch below, if you dare:

After the hearing, Whitehouse tweeted, “I don’t even know where to begin … she outright rejects basic science.”

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Nearly all of Puerto Rico is without power AGAIN after a line repaired by Whitefish fails.

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Fiji leads U.N. climate talks that warming kept it from hosting

On Wednesday, in Bonn, Germany, a delegation from the Pacific delivered a declaration to leaders who had assembled for the United Nations annual climate conference. Calling themselves “Pacific Climate Warriors,” the group collected more than 23,000 signatures from people all over the world demanding the pursuit of more ambitious targets than those set in the Paris Agreement.

“For more than two decades, negotiations have failed to deliver the action required to protect Pacific homes and livelihoods from dangerous climate change,” George Nacewa, from the South Pacific archipelago of Fiji, said in a statement released by the delegation.

But at this year’s Conference of Parties (COP), the 23rd round of negotiations and the second since the passing of the Paris Agreement, attendants from some of the most vulnerable places on earth are hopeful that their concerns will finally take center stage.

“This is a Pacific-led COP,” said Nacewa. “And we are here to ensure the world hears genuine voices from the Pacific.”

Although the climate talks are taking place in Germany’s capital, Fiji’s government is presiding over them, and its prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, is leading the agenda. Since Fiji is still recovering from Tropical Cyclone Winston, which devastated the country last year, Germany stepped in to provide facilities and help foot the huge costs that come with holding the conference. (France spent $197 million to host the climate talks in 2015.)

The unusual arrangement underscores the uneven power dynamic Fiji and other small island nations face: The countries that are already most affected by climate change, the ones that most need international action, are unable to actually host the forum — and truly illustrate the scope of the problem to the people responsible for acting on it.

“All over the world, vast numbers of people are suffering,” Bainimarama said in his opening speech. “Our job as leaders is to respond to that suffering with all means available to us.”

Tropical Cyclone Winston made landfall in Fiji as a Category 5 storm in February of last year. It killed 44 people and plundered more than 30,000 homes. Damage and loss from Winston amounted to 20 percent of the country’s GDP — more than $950 million dollars.

There’s a lot on the line for Bainimarama, whose country was recently ranked as having the 15th highest disaster risk, according to the World Risk Report. In addition to forecasts showing an increased frequency of severe storms — an issue also threatening islands, like Puerto Rico and Dominica in the Caribbean — Fiji has seen a rate of sea level increase nearly twice as high as the global average. Rising ocean water infiltrates fresh water supplies and damages farmland. A World Bank report forecasted that these factors will likely cause more than $50 million dollars — roughly four percent of GDP — of damages annually on Fiji’s main island alone. Residents of 64 Fijian villages are already leaving their homes because of encroaching tides, while 830 more settlements face relocation.

Despite all this, Fiji is faring better than some of its neighbors. And even as it loses land, the country is gaining climate refugees from other island nations. The government of Kiribati bought 6,000 acres in Fiji to prepare for a mass migration because its 33 coral atolls and reef islands could be completely submerged by 2100.

For the people of Fiji, Kiribati, and the rest of the Pacific, the international community’s willingness to curb the worst effects of climate change literally equates to their continued existence or total loss of cultures. So when Prime Minister Bainimarama told his fellow heads of state in his opening speech, “We must not fail our people,” attendants from the Pacific held out hope that perhaps the rest of the world would see climate change as they do — something that’s happening here and now, not a nightmare we still hope to avoid.

“This provides a very critical opportunity,” says Alfred Ralifo, climate policy manager for the South Pacific branch of the World Wildlife Fund, who lives in Fiji. “The role has amplified the voice of small island developing states at this COP and has brought to the forefront all the challenges and the needs that small island developing states face in terms of mitigation, adaptation, and ensuring that our needs are actually heard and prioritized as part of the agenda.”

Bainimarama has laid out Fiji’s vision for COP23, which includes capping the global average temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsuis above pre-industrial temperatures. Pledges by each signatory of the Paris Agreement — currently every nation in the world, though the United States plans to bow out — would only hold that rise to 3 degrees at best.

The Fijian prime minister also spearheaded an initiative to push for oceans to be an integral part of the U.N. climate talks by 2020. Oceans are only mentioned once in the Paris Agreement, but Bainimarama believes they should garner more attention because they play a critical role in regulating global temperatures by absorbing heat and carbon.

“Being a small island we have a lot of ocean resources,” says Ralifo, adding that the health of the world’s open seas has a disproportionate effect on his nation’s food and water security. “We feel that we cannot address global climate change without any action on oceans.”

Ralifo also says it is important for Fiji to push for increased financial support for small island states, not only for mitigation but also for adaptation to the effects of a warming climate. Leaders from vulnerable nations are also expected to bring up compensation for “loss and damage” — paid for by wealthier countries who emit more carbon and are most responsible for climate change.

“This COP should be about the people, not the profits of the polluters,” said the Pacific Climate Warrior George Nacewa. “Climate change is real and impacting us now. It’s imperative that we stand up for the Pacific.”

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Fiji leads U.N. climate talks that warming kept it from hosting

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The Senate just approved Trump’s pick for NASA chief. You can probably guess what he thinks about climate change.

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The Senate just approved Trump’s pick for NASA chief. You can probably guess what he thinks about climate change.

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Trump’s election pushed young people to run for office — and a bunch of them won.

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Trump’s election pushed young people to run for office — and a bunch of them won.

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Physics – Scientific American Editors

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Physics
New Frontiers
Scientific American Editors

Genre: Physics

Price: $4.99

Publish Date: May 22, 2017

Publisher: Scientific American

Seller: Macmillan / Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC


In the world of physics, very little in the universe is what it first appears to be. And science fiction has imagined some pretty wild ideas about how the universe could work – from hidden extra dimensions in Interstellar to life as a mental projection in The Matrix. But these imaginings seem downright tame compared with the mind-bending science now coming out of physics and astronomy, and in this eBook, Physics: New Frontiers, we look at the strange and fascinating discoveries shaping (and reshaping) the field today. In the world of astrophysics, the weirdness begins at the moment of creation. In “The Black Hole at the Beginning of Time,” the authors discuss theories of what might have come before the big bang. Could our 3-D universe have sprung from the formation of a black hole in a 4-D cosmos? The math says: maybe. Later, in “The Giant Bubbles of the Milky Way,” the authors describe massive structures dubbed “Fermi bubbles” at its center – structures that no one noticed until recently. Technological innovations make much of this new science possible, as we see again in “Neutrinos at the Ends of the Earth,” where 5,000-odd sensors frozen deep within a cubic kilometer of ice in Antarctica aim to catch neutrinos in order to study distant cosmic phenomena. Scientists are also dissecting molecules with the most powerful x-ray laser in the world, as explored in “The Ultimate X-ray Machine.” Even our most fundamental notions of what reality is are up for debate, as examined in “Does the Multiverse Really Exist?” and the aptly named “What Is Real?” in which the authors question whether particles are indeed material things at all. While all of this abstraction might seem like a fun exercise in mental gymnastics, living things must also abide by the laws of physics, which, according to “The Limits of Intelligence,” may prevent our brains from evolving further. Then again, as we’ve learned, things could be different than they appear…

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Physics – Scientific American Editors

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