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The fact is: Facts don’t matter to climate deniers

In an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box this week, Energy Secretary Rick Perry falsely claimed that carbon dioxide was not the primary driver of the Earth’s climate. Instead, he offered, maybe it’s “the ocean waters and this environment that we live in.” (Umm, what?)

This is pure hogwash, and the largest professional organization for atmospheric science said as much. In a letter to Perry, Keith Seitter, the executive director of the American Meteorological Society, said that while it’s OK to be skeptical — that’s the heart of the scientific method — “skepticism that fails to account for evidence is no virtue.” Ouch.

His letter concluded that if Perry does not understand the drivers of climate change, “it is impossible to discuss potential policy changes in a meaningful way.” That’s where Seitter’s letter went wrong.

There’s just no reasoning with Perry’s kind of denial. After watching spats like this for more than a decade now, I’ve come to the realization that there is no graph, no chart, no international consensus statement, no engraved stone tablet lowered from heaven that could to convince someone who — by choice — refuses to believe a fact. It doesn’t matter to them how confident the scientific community is. And we’ve reached the point where debating denial is a waste of time. The need to fight climate change is just too urgent to wait for everyone to get on board.

The main problem I saw in the meteorologists’ letter (and, in general, with the current state of the climate debate) was its assumption that somehow climate deniers only need more information to see the light. Scientists have spent more than 30 years now trying to provide as much information in as many ways as possible and, if anything, climate denial is only getting more entrenched. What will it take for scientists to realize that this denial is a choice?

Decades of communications and psychology research shows that appeals to shared goals, values, and basic decency are a more effective way of working with conservatives on climate change. In red states across the country, renewable energy is booming, and it’s not because people there necessarily “believe” in climate change. It’s because renewable energy provides solutions that make sense. Scientists and liberal politicians need to move beyond trying to convince skeptics, and start working with them. There’s no time to lose.

In the 14 years that Perry served as governor, Texas grew into a wind superpower. It generates nearly a quarter of the entire country’s wind power, making Texas the top wind-producing state. (Of course, Texas is now the number one producer of natural gas, too.)

Other red states are producing a rapidly growing amount of wind power; in fact, most of the country’s wind-rich states are in the heartland. Of the 14 states that now produce more than 10 percent of their electricity from wind, eight are red states. The five states that now devote more than 20 percent of their grid to wind — Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, and Oklahoma — all voted solidly for Donald Trump in 2016. The American Wind Energy Association reports that 99 percent of the country’s wind turbines stand in rural areas.

Climate denial is harmful in many ways, but it’s not preventing the spread of carbon-free power.

Maybe advocates for climate action should try to learn something from these red states. Judging by their quiet fondness for renewables, they’ve been doing a better job than the blue ones. The Texas wind boom came into being partly because Perry stayed out of the way and let investment dollars flow to the cheapest sources of power generation. In West Texas, that means wind — as it does in parts of at least 20 states right now.

But even Texas is not installing renewable energy fast enough. After accounting for the high cost of fossil-fuel pollution on public health, water, and other factors, people in nearly every state in the union would realize that wind is the cheapest option, according to an analysis by the University of Texas. If we want to get those wind turbines in the sky as quickly as possible, accurately accounting for those costs should be our bipartisan focus, not outing climate denial.

People in red states are already feeling the effects of climate change and acting to mitigate it. So let’s stop trying to persuade deniers and focus on ways to work together to reduce emissions and advance renewable energy. That’s the message that experts on weather and climate should be sending people like Perry. If some Republicans want to embarrass themselves by ignoring climate science, that’s their choice, and history will judge them harshly for it.

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The fact is: Facts don’t matter to climate deniers

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What’s the Deal With Rex Tillerson?

Mother Jones

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I’m not quite sure how to phrase this, but, um, what’s the deal with Rex Tillerson?

The guy was CEO of ExxonMobil. Out of the blue, Donald Trump decides to make him Secretary of State, a job about as unexpected as if someone made me head of NASA. He gets confirmed, and since then he’s….

What? He refuses to talk to the press. He’s barely hired anyone. He seems happy to go along with plans to decimate the department. He doesn’t appear to have any particular ideology or goals. In fact, it’s not really clear what he even does all day.

So what’s the deal with Rex Tillerson?

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What’s the Deal With Rex Tillerson?

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Trump Has No Idea What He Just Did or the Backlash That Awaits

Mother Jones

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The negotiations leading up to the Paris climate accord involved years of delicate diplomacy and thousands of voices offering guidance. President Donald Trump’s handling of the decision to leave was the polar opposite.

Despite claiming that he’s been “hearing from a lot of people,” Trump doesn’t appear to have any more detailed knowledge of climate change or the 2015 deal now than when he first pledged to cancel it on the campaign trail. The “lots of people” he’s heard from include a disproportionate number of climate change deniers, even though there are far more leaders in industry and on both sides of the aisle advocating for the US to remain in the agreement. They have argued that the Paris deal is important to the US, not just for its environmental merits, but also so that the country is not excluded from the rest of the world, both economically and politically.

His months of hints and delays on a decision have drawn more than one comparison to The Bachelor reality show, but one with the highest of stakes. He recently went to the strongest US allies at the G-7 without a clear answer, leading the G-6 to isolate the US when it issued its communiqué that reaffirmed the agreement. As Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent noted, Trump’s nationalist case to exit Paris “does not allow space for recognition of what the Paris deal really is, which is constructive global engagement that serves America’s long term interests, as part of a system of mutually advantageous compromises.”

Trump doesn’t have any sense of the backlash that’s coming for him and the US now that he’s kickstarted the process of pulling out, which won’t be official for another three years. Two factors will especially hurt the US: First, the world has been dealing with the US as an unreliable partner on climate change for more than two decades, and leaders still well remember the other times the US reversed course on its promises; second, the world has never been more aligned in favor of action, making climate change a much bigger factor in the US relationship with its allies in non-climate related issues—from trade to defense to immigration—than it once was.

Trump officials might have taken note of the consequences of US inconsistency with the 1997 Kyoto climate treaty. President Bill Clinton signed the treaty, which had binding targets, but never submitted it to the Senate for ratification. In 2001, Bush officials declared Kyoto dead and withdrew the US from the agreement. International backlash ensued. Some in the Bush administration, which like Trump’s was split on how to handle Kyoto, came to regret how it was handled for the damage it did to the standing of the US in the world.

“Kyoto—this is not talking out of school—was not handled as well as it should have been,” Bush’s Secretary of State* Colin Powell said in 2002. “And when the blowback came I think it was a sobering experience that everything the American president does has international repercussions.”

In her 2011 memoir, then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice detailed the reaction Bush faced in meetings with European leaders. Because of the way the administration handled the abrupt withdrawal, “we suffered through this issue over the years: drawing that early line in the sand helped to establish our reputation for ‘unilateralism.’ We handled it badly.” Rice called it a “self-inflicted wound that could have been avoided.”

US withdrawal also shifted the power dynamics across the world and gave Russia, which signed the agreement, greater leverage in international affairs. Russia’s ratification became pivotal to the treaty entering into force, and in turn, it used its ratification to gain Europe’s backing to enter the World Trade Organization, even while the US still had outstanding concerns. President Vladimir Putin noted in 2004 that the “EU has met us halfway in talks over the WTO and that cannot but affect positively our position vis-a-vis the Kyoto Protocol.” Paris has already met the threshold needed to go into effect, but Russia is still pursuing a similar role and reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris accord today, seasoned with some light trolling: “Of course the effectiveness of implementing this convention without the key participants, perhaps, will be hindered,” a Kremlin spokesperson told CNN. “But there is no alternative as of now.”

We’re decades away from the Kyoto treaty now, but many experts expect a US exit from Paris not to weaken the world’s resolve in addressing climate change as much as it will create a power vacuum other countries might be eager to fill. Andrew Light, a senior fellow with the World Resources Institute, says it is “definitely going to hurt the US with respect to other countries sitting down and negotiating on anything the US is interested in.” Light, who was a State Department climate official in the Obama administration, argued, “We’re creating a vacuum in parts of the world where we have very clear security interests, not just climate, but security in North Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. It creates an opening that China, the EU, and even India can step in and fill.”

Conservatives have issued similar warnings.

In a New York Times op-ed earlier this month, George Shultz, a former Cabinet member of the Reagan and Nixon administrations, and Climate Leadership Council’s Ted Halstead wrote, “Global statecraft relies on trust, reputation and credibility, which can be all too easily squandered. The United States is far better off maintaining a seat at the head of the table rather than standing outside. If America fails to honor a global agreement that it helped forge, the repercussions will undercut our diplomatic priorities across the globe, not to mention the country’s global standing and the market access of our firms.”

It’s little surprise that Trump’s own secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, agrees, preferring the US to retain a seat at the table.

To find the kind of momentum it eventually gained to enter into force in record time, negotiators in Paris had to bridge differences between developing and industrialized nations. “One of the great achievements of Paris, but sometimes overlooked, is it gave a very strong signal that climate change is no longer an isolated area of diplomacy,” Light says. For example, climate change and renewable energy became building blocks in the US relationship with India, leading eventually to a bilateral commitment on climate change in the run-up to Paris.

While the US retreats, other nations are going to be building bridges with China as it curbs its sizeable greenhouse gas footprint. That’s already happening: This week, the EU and China engaged in a climate summit where they signaled their “highest political commitment” to Paris, just as Trump pulls out. This will also not help the US president in his much-vaunted fight against terrorism. He’s losing goodwill not just with Europe, but with partners in developing nations that stood to benefit from the $3 billion commitment the US had made to climate finance—another commitment that Trump won’t deliver on. That means losing one of the main ways the US has built friendly relationships with countries that can otherwise be fraught with tension. Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy offers China as an example: “The South China Sea. Human rights. Trade. Currency manipulation. When U.S.-China relations are discussed we often ascribe these issues some level of tension. However, our countries’ cooperation has historically been more cordial and productive in one area: environmental protection.”

Union of Concerned Scientists’ Director of Strategy and Policy Alden Meyer, a longtime expert on the UN climate process, compared the US to the cartoon character Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip, always taking away the football from Charlie Brown at the very last moment. The rest of the world is likely to become weary of the US constantly taking away the ball when it comes time to negotiate tough issues like trade and terror, which Trump has sought to champion.

Or as United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres put it this week, countries all over the world have only two options on climate: “Get on board or get left behind.”

* Corrected

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Trump Has No Idea What He Just Did or the Backlash That Awaits

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Elon Musk Threatens to Ditch Trump’s Advisory Council Over Paris Climate Treaty Withdrawal

Mother Jones

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Amid news reports that President Donald Trump is preparing to pull the US out of the Paris climate treaty on Wednesday, Tesla CEO and member of Trump’s economic advisory council, Elon Musk, threatened to step down as an adviser if the president went through with the withdrawal.

Musk took to Twitter to insist he had done all he could to convince Trump to remain in the accord. When asked what he would do if his efforts went unheeded, the Tesla CEO said he would have no choice but to leave:

Musk is among a growing list of executives, Republicans, and oil industry leaders urging Trump to remain in the treaty that 195 countries have signed.

In December, Musk attracted widespread criticism for his decision to serve on Trump’s advisory team, which includes other heads of powerful companies such as Disney and Walmart. While he previously expressed reservations regarding Trump’s fitness for the Oval Office, Musk would later rationalize his decision to advise Trump as his effort to provide a “voice of reason” in the increasingly erratic administration.

On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer refused to confirm mounting reports of Trump’s plan to pull out of the agreement. When asked specifically about Musks’ threat, Spicer told reporters, “Let’s wait and see what the president’s decision is.”

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Elon Musk Threatens to Ditch Trump’s Advisory Council Over Paris Climate Treaty Withdrawal

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Exxon’s Shareholders Just Forced the Oil Giant’s Hand on Climate Change

Mother Jones

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In a landmark victory in the fight against climate change by corporations, Exxon Mobil shareholders on Wednesday voted to approve a plan that could force the oil company to release more information concerning its efforts to combat global warming.

The 62.3-to-37.7 landmark vote, which took place at Exxon’s annual meeting in Dallas, comes amid mounting investor pressure for management to be more accountable when working to prevent worldwide temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius—a goal stipulated in the Paris climate accord. The energy giant has been notoriously resistant to such calls, with some board members claiming the company already produces enough reporting on the issue.

Last year, when the same measure was called to a vote, only 38.1 percent of shareholders supported it. In the interim, several new lawsuits against Exxon, including ones from the attorney generals in New York and Massachusetts, have been launched, accusing the world’s largest oil company of knowingly misleading the public about the effects of global warming for decades. In a twist, Exxon and its former head, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, are among those urging the Trump administration to remain in the accord.

The unprecedented resolution on Wednesday was announced just hours after multiple news outlets reported President Donald Trump intends to withdraw from the historic Paris climate agreement, although the president himself remained coy on Twitter about his final decision.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli recently told CNN that Exxon’s defense of the Paris accord amounted to “empty words unless the company backs them up with action.” On Wednesday, DiNapoli applauded the shareholder vote as an “unprecedented victory,” noting the onus was now on Exxon to meet the demands of its investors and take climate change “seriously.”

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Exxon’s Shareholders Just Forced the Oil Giant’s Hand on Climate Change

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