Harvard Magazine "Climate Crisis" Cover Article Features Nine White Men (And One Woman)

Posted by Brad Johnson Sat, 31 Oct 2020 01:49:00 GMT

Climate Crisis: Can We Dial It Down?,” the November cover issue of the magazine sent to all of Harvard University’s thousands of alumni, is yet another in a long line of climate-change think pieces by white men interviewing other white men.

(Understandably, all of the interviewees are professors or alumni of Harvard University.)

The piece, written by managing editor Jonathan Shaw ‘89, hits the traditional technocratic notes with such an approach – a physics-heavy understanding of the enormity of the global crisis, some trenchant words from Bill McKibben questioning neoliberalism, and then several pages of discussion of the potential deployment of new technology, from electric vehicles to direct air capture and solar geoengineering (blotting out the sun with stratospheric pollution to cool the earth).

Nine of the ten interviewees are white men:

  • Dan Schrag, director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment
  • Bill McKibben, Harvard ’82, journalist and climate activist
  • James Stock, professor of political economy
  • Richard Zeckhauser, professor of political economy
  • Joseph Aldy, professor of the practice of public policy
  • David Keith, professor of public policy and applied physics
  • Peter Huybers, a professor of earth and planetary sciences and of environmental science and engineering
  • Raymond Pierrehumbert, Harvard ’76, professor of physics at Oxford
  • Frank Keutsch, professor of engineering and atmospheric science

The tenth, Katharine Mach, Harvard ’04, an associate professor at the University of Miami School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, provides a voice of caution about geoengineering.

Shaw gives the last word to Schrag’s perspective that the catastrophe of man-made global warming may compel the catastrophe of deliberate man-made global cooling. This hubristic logic of destructive escalation has of course led to great tragedy throughout human history. Harvard’s role in one such disaster, the Vietnam War, was detailed in David Halberstam’s “The Best and the Brightest.”

Shaw was not able to incorporate a section on climate refugees into the cover article; the piece appears as a sidebar in the printed magazine. It features his other female interviewee, Jennifer Leaning, professor of the practice of health and human rights at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and associate professor of emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The nine men interviewed are highly intelligent and accomplished men who have dedicated their lives to understanding and combatting the climate crisis. But like all people they do so within the constraints of their skills, experiences, and social position; their numerous commonalities (including those with the author of the piece) lead to a stunted vision of what is at stake and what can be done, let alone what should be done, about the poisoning of our climate system for the profit and power of the few.

An intentional corrective to this bias and limited perspective can be found in the newly published All We Can Save, an anthology of climate essays and poems by 50 racially and geographically diverse women, co-edited by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Harvard ‘02.

Biden: Climate Change Is 'The Number One Issue For Me'

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 28 Oct 2020 17:16:00 GMT

Speaking on the Pod Save America show, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden explained that acting on climate change is his top priority and why he doesn’t expect another fossil-fueled electricity plant to be built in the United States.

Biden told hosts Dan Pfeiffer and Jon Lovett, both former Obama White House staff, “It’s the number one issue facing humanity. And it’s the number one issue for me.”

Biden’s campaign is running multiple ads on television and the Internet highlighting the costs of climate pollution to Americans and Donald Trump’s climate denial.

Biden argued that because of the Recovery Act “which [Obama] gave me the authority to run,” “we were able to invest in bringing down the cost of renewable energy to compete with coal, gas, and oil.” The Recovery Act did play a significant role in spurring renewable energy deployment, including wind manufacturing, although other countries have seen solar power costs decline even more rapidly than the U.S. (The Recovery Act’s energy components were primarily overseen by Joseph Aldy.)

“It’s becoming a fait accompli,” Biden continued, “No one’s going to build another oil or gas-fired electric plant. They’re going to build one that is fired by renewable energy.”

Biden’s prediction runs counter to current industry projections, which bullishly expect continued growth even though Biden is right about the financial advantage of renewable power. If a Biden administration restores sanity to the U.S. power market by eliminating distortionary subsidies for the construction of new natural-gas plants, his expectation may come true.

In the interview, Biden went on to claim that in the 1980s he was “the first person ever to lay out the need to deal with global warming,” and that Politifact said “it was a game changer.” This bit of puffery refers to his successful introduction in 1987 of the Global Climate Protection Act, amending Rep. George Brown (D-Calif.)’s 1978 Global Climate Program Act (15 USC Chapter 56) to explicitly discuss manmade global warming as a U.S. policy priority.

Biden was far from the first in the world (or in the U.S. Congress) to call attention to the greenhouse effect, however. Scientists raised the specter of global warming in congressional testimony in the 1950s and 1960s, and the Clean Air Act of 1970 explicitly mentioned climate pollution. Hearings for Rep. Brown’s legislation began in 1976.

Politifact has confirmed Biden’s considerably less grandiose claim that he was “one of the first guys to introduce a climate change bill,” which is entirely accurate. However, Politifact did not call his bill a “game changer,” a false claim Biden has repeatedly made. Rather, they cited Josh Howe, a professor of history and environmental studies at Reed College, who said it was “important not to overstate the impact of Biden’s bill.”

Consistent with the campaign spots, Biden explained why he believes “we have a moral obligation to everyone” to act on climate change:
Look what’s happening right now. You just look around the United States of America. Forests are burning at a rate larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined being lost. People are losing their homes, their lives. In the middle of the country, we’re in a situation where you have 100-year floods occurring every several years wiping out entire, entire counties, and doing great damage.

He argued that the United States makes up “15 [percent] of the problem” and other countries are responsible for the rest. (The United States is actually responsible for about 25 percent of cumulative climate pollution.)

Calling it “bizarre” that everyone doesn’t recognize the economic potential of climate action, Biden noted that “the fastest growing industries are solar and wind.” This remarkable claim is essentially correct: solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians share the top three spots with nurse practitioners as the fastest growing professions in the United States.

Biden noted these jobs are “not paying 15 bucks an hour, they’re paying prevailing wage.” He did overstate the quality of these jobs, saying they pay “45 to 50 bucks an hour, plus benefits,” or a $90,000 annual salary. The actual median wage of solar installers and wind technicians is closer to $50,000, which is still considerably more than a $15-an-hour ($30,000 annual) salary.

The solar industry largely opposes unionization, something Biden has elsewhere pledged to change.

Full Transcript:

LOVETT: Trump seemed to think he had a kind of gotcha moment there at the end when you talked about transitioning away from oil and fossil fuels, even though ending subsidies for those industries is very popular. And he really wishes you’d say you’d ban fracking, even though you haven’t. At the same time, you’ve set these ambitious climate goals as part of your plan. And a lot of polling shows that climate change is the number one issue among young people, particularly among young people deciding whether or not to vote. What is your message to those young people who are passionate about this issue but skeptical that they can count on you, or really any politician, to actually deliver and take this issue with the urgency it demands?

BIDEN: It’s the number one issue facing humanity. And it’s the number one issue for me. And all the way back in the 80s—I’m the first person ever, ever to lay out the need for a, to deal with global warming. And back in those—and Politifact said, “Check it out, it was a game changer.” And, but, it’s just the way in which this campaign had been run from the beginning about me in the primaries that it just never got traction.

Look, climate change is the existential threat to humanity. The existential threat to humanity. Unchecked, it is going to actually bake this planet. Not—this is not hyperbole. It’s real. And we have a moral obligation. There’s not many things—Dan and I worked together a long time. You don’t hear me often invoke a moral obligation. We have a moral obligation, not just to young people, we have a moral obligation to everyone.

Look what’s happening right now. You just look around the United States of America. Forests are burning at a rate larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined being lost. People are losing their homes, their lives. In the middle of the country, we’re in a situation where you have 100-year floods occurring every several years wiping out entire, entire counties, and doing great damage.

And by the way, as Dan, you may remember, the first thing that Barack [Obama] and I were told about when we took, when we went over to, were taking to the, over to the Defense Department, they said the greatest threat facing, the greatest security threat America faces is climate change. Because what’s going to happen, you can see massive movements of populations fighting over land. Fighting over the ability to live. And it, it is an existential threat.

And so I just think—but also presents an enormous opportunity. It’s a bizarre. You know, we’re one of the few countries in the world that’s always been able to take things that are serious problems and turn them into opportunities. It’s also the vehicle by which we can not only save the planet, but we can generate such economic growth and lead the world. But we have two problems.

One, we have an internal problem in the United States. What are we going to do? We make up, we make up 15 of the problem but we’re in a position where the rest of the 85 percent of the world’s responsible for the rest. We can go, we can go net neutral in terms of carbon tomorrow, and we’re still going to have our shores flooded. We’re still going to have these terrific hurricanes. The polar caps are going to continue to melt. We’re going to have, we’re going to have hurricanes and storms that will, and they’re going to increase.

And so we have to do two things. We need a president who can lead the world. That’s why I was so deeply involved in setting up the existence of the Paris climate accord. As well as do the things we have to do and can do.

And the last point I’ll make—I’m happy any detail you’d like me to, but the last point I’d make is that, you know the way we have to do this is we—you know we cannot discount the concerns of people what it means to their well-being. And not only in the future. And now but what about how they make a living.

That’s why I’m the first person I’m aware of that went to every major labor union in the country and got them to sign on to my climate change plan, which is extensive.

We’re going to get to zero net emissions for the production of electricity by 2035. And it’s going to create millions of jobs. But we got to let people— we can’t be cavalier about the impact it’s going to have on how we’re going to transition to do all this. But I just think it’s a gigantic opportunity, a gigantic opportunity to create really good jobs.

LOVETT: What do you see as the relationship you’re going to have? So a lot of climate activists— You have said basically, “We have to do everything we can to get Joe Biden in office. It’s an existential threat.” And then their plan is they’re going to put a ton of pressure on you to make sure that you really deliver on solutions around climate change. What do you expect to do?

BIDEN: I’m going to put pressure on them. I’m going to put pressure on them to live up to what their, this cause they talk about. And it starts off with voting. It starts off with volunteering. It starts off with making sure that they’re organizing, and they’re taking care to make sure that people on the, on the, on the fence-line communities get taken care of. Make sure the priorities are set. So we end up in a situation where people who are hurt the most could help the quickest.

You know, it’s—this is, uh you know I, I understand the sense. But the fact is that, look, the first thing we’re gonna do is make sure that we use the ability we have now, and I will as president, to do away with a hundred changes in, in, in executive orders he’s, and he’s put forward to do everything from allow more methane to seep into the, into the atmosphere, allow to pollute rivers, a whole range of things. We can do that very very quickly.

But it’s also going to require us to make sure that we deal with what we have to do now. For example, we should—you know, as you guys know, because you both worked in administrations, that the President of the United States has control over 600 billion dollars in signing federal contracts. Everything from one of the largest auto fleets and trucking fleets in the world to infrastructure.

When as, as—Daniel remember when the president asked me to handle, make sure we got the Recovery Act and 800 billion dollars was going to be distributed to keep us from going into a depression, he gave me the authority to run that from beginning to end. And what we did was we were able to invest in bringing down the cost of renewable energy to compete with coal, gas, and oil.

And so now you see what’s happening. It’s becoming a fait accompli. No one’s going to build another oil or gas-fired electric plant. They’re going to build one that is fired by renewable energy.

We have to invest billions of dollars in making sure that we’re able to transmit over our lines. You may remember, Dan, when we sat in that of those office buildings in the between, the interregnum period there, and we thought we could just make sure we could transfer this through, this renewable energy across the country at all? Remember we had that big map up, and we showed all the, all the high tension wires were going to go? Well—

PFEIFFER: Smart grid.

BIDEN: That’s right. Exactly right. But what happened? What happened was Not-In-My-Neighborhood people didn’t want to have high-tension wires in their neighborhood. So what we’re going to do, and what’s happening now—and working on this for three years you have a lot of folks in Silicon Valley and other places doing research on battery technology. So now we’re going to be able to store—for example, they can have a battery about as wide as my, the, the width of my arms and about this thick—that if you have solar power in your home, you—and the sun doesn’t shine for a week, that battery will store it. You’re going to be able to have all the energy you need in the meantime.

We’re going to provide 550,000 charging stations—for real!—on the new infrastructure, green infrastructure we’re going to be building. We’re going to own the electric automobile market. We’re going to create a million jobs in doing that.

These aren’t—this is not hyperbole—these are things that have been run through by economists and Wall Street and, and also by people who are in, in, in, in the thought community, the people who are running these major institutions.

And so there’s so much we can do. And we can create a clean environment. We can also grow the economy and get people good wages. The fastest growing industries are solar and wind. Solar and wind. And they’re not paying 15 bucks an hour, they’re paying prevailing wage. Every single contract the president gave me the authority to let when we were running the Recovery Act, every single one, paid prevailing wage. That’s 45 to 50 bucks an hour, plus benefits. And so that’s how we’re going to grow this economy.

2020 Climate and Energy Ballot Initiatives

Posted by Brad Johnson Mon, 26 Oct 2020 15:09:00 GMT

Columbus' ballot initiative would give Ohio's largest city 100% renewable electricity.
Although there are fewer climate ballot initiatives than in 2018, there are some important local measures on the ballot this November. In particular, Columbus, Ohio has an initiative to confirm AEP as its monopoly electricity provider as part of a plan to rapidly reach 100% renewable electricity.

The only major statewide initiatives are in Alaska and Louisiana, both of which have ballot measures to increase oil drilling taxes.

Here is a review of climate and energy initiatives, measures, and state constitution amendments on the ballot this November 3, drawn from Ballotpedia and Earther's Dharna Noor:


Alaska Ballot Measure 1, the North Slope Oil Production Tax Increase Initiative: The campaign Vote Yes for Alaska's Fair Share proposed the ballot initiative to increase taxes on oil production fields located in Alaska's North Slope that exceeded certain output minimums. According to Robin Brena, chairperson of Vote Yes for Alaska's Fair Share, three oil production fields—Alpine, Kuparuk, and Prudhoe Bay—met those criteria. BP ($4.54 million), Conoco Phillips ($4.70 million), Hilcorp Energy ($4.3 million), and ExxonMobil ($3.74 million) are funding the campaign to defeat Measure 1.

California Proposition 15, the Tax on Commercial and Industrial Properties for Education and Local Government Funding Initiative, would require commercial and industrial properties, except those zoned as commercial agriculture, to be taxed based on their market value, rather than their purchase price, overturning part of 1978's Proposition 13.

"Oil and gas companies are among the biggest forces lobbying against this measure because they could stand to lose out on a lot of money if it passes," according to Noor. For example, Contra Costa County, the home of Chevron's oil refinery in Richmond, would gain about $400 million a year in property taxes.

Opponents are falsely claiming Prop 15 would harm California's solar industry.

Louisiana Amendment 2, the Include Oil and Gas Value in Tax Assessment of Wells Amendment: This amendment would allow the presence or production of oil or gas to be taken into account when assessing the fair market value of an oil or gas well for ad valorem property tax purposes. It is supported by Louisiana's oil and gas industry.

Louisiana Amendment 5, the Payments in Lieu of Property Taxes Option Amendment: amends the state constitution to authorize local governments to enter into a cooperative endeavor agreement with new or expanding manufacturing establishments -- such as the oil and gas facilities -- and allowing the manufacturing establishments to make payments to the taxing authority of whatever amount instead of paying property taxes.

This amendment is widely opposed by environmental, religious, and other civic organizations.

"The main lobbying force behind this measure is Cameron, a liquified natural gas firm," writes Noor. "Last year, based on a payment in lieu of taxes agreement, the company paid just $38,000 in taxes. But if it had to pay their full taxes, it would have paid $220 million. The company’s agreement is now expiring, so it’s fighting to make it—and other agreements like it—last forever."

These kinds of industry tax breaks are why Louisiana stays poor forever, explains Together Louisiana:

Michigan Proposal 1, the Use of State and Local Park Funds Amendment: makes changes to how revenue in the state's park-related funds can be spent, including (a) making projects to renovate recreational facilities eligible for grants and (b) requiring that at least 20% of the parks endowment fund spending be spent on park capital improvements, and (c) removing the cap on the size of the natural resources trust fund. The initiative has split the climate movement in the state, as the measure "would allow Michigan’s Parks Endowment Fund to sell off oil and gas leases on public lands," Noor writes. "After that fund is full, any additional oil and gas money would go into a Natural Resources Trust Fund, which is also used for natural resources protection and recreation."

The Michigan Democratic Party, conservation organizations, and the Michigan Oil and Gas Association support the measure, but the Michigan Sierra Club and the Environmental Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party stands in opposition.

Nevada Renewable Energy Standards Initiative Question 6 (2020) is the required second vote on the initiative, passed in 2018, to add language to the Nevada Constitution requiring the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard to increase to 50 percent by 2030. In 2018, this ballot initiative was approved as Question 6, and therefore needs to be approved again in 2020 to amend the Nevada Constitution. On April 22, 2019, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) signed Senate Bill 358 (SB 358), which was designed to require the same RPS percentage by 2030 as the amendment on the ballot.

New Mexico Constitutional Amendment 1, the Public Regulation Commission Amendment: changes the utility-oversight Public Regulation Commission (PRC) from an elected five-member commission to an appointed three-member commission. New Mexico's PRC is currently dominated by fossil-fuel supporters. Climate organizations overwhelmingly support the amendment.

"Supporters of the measure say that New Mexico is unlikely to meet its 100% clean energy target under its current system because the commissioners’ elections are so often riddled with corporate money," Noor writes. "Under the new system, a bipartisan nominating committee, which would include at least one representative from a local Indigenous group, would come up with a list of environmental experts from the state, and the governor could choose which ones to appoint."


Albany, California, Measure DD, Utility Tax: A “yes” vote supports authorizing an increase to the utility users tax from 7% to 9.5% and application of a 7.5% tax on water service, generating an estimated $675,000 per year for general services including disaster preparedness, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, emergency response and environmental services.

Berkeley, California, Measure HH, Utility Tax: A “yes” vote supports authorizing an increase to the utility users tax from 7.5% to 10% on electricity and gas and a 2.5% increase to the gas users tax, generating an estimated $2.4 million per year for municipal services including reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Boulder, Colorado, Ballot Measure 2C, Public Service Company Franchise, and Measure 2D, to Repurpose the Utility Occupation Tax: These initiatives would allow the city of Boulder to abandon its efforts to establish a 100% renewable-electricity municipal utility and instead enter a long-term monopoly agreement with Xcel Energy with less ambitious renewable targets.

Local climate organizations overwhelmingly oppose 2C.

Denver, Colorado, Ballot Measure 2A, Sales Tax to Fund Environmental and Climate-Related Programs and TABOR Spending Limit Increase: A "yes" vote supports authorizing the city and county of Denver to levy an additional 0.25% sales tax generating an estimated $40 million per year to fund climate-related programs and programs designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, thereby increasing the total sales tax rate in Denver from 8.31% to 8.56%.

Columbus, Ohio, Issue 1, Electric Service Aggregation Program Measure: A "yes" vote supports authorizing the city to establish an Electric Aggregation Program, which would allow the city to aggregate the retail electrical load of customers within the city's boundaries, and allowing customers to opt-out of the program. If passed, the City of Columbus will develop a detailed plan for operation and management of aggregation; include in the plan a commitment to 100 percent renewable energy; and commit to encourage development of renewable-energy facilities in Central Ohio. AEP is financing the campaign in support of the initiative. If voters approve the aggregation program, AEP Energy would lock in most of Ohio’s largest city as its power customer for up to 15 years; the program would be the largest outside California, the company says. The initiative is also strongly backed by local and national environmental organizations and trade unions. The Ohio Coal Association stands against the proposal.

Portland, Oregon, Measure 26-219, Uses of Water Fund Charter Amendment: A "yes" vote supports amending the city's charter to authorize the city council to spend monies from the Water Fund and increase rates to cover expenses for general public uses, such as neighborhood green areas and community gardens.

The various other tax, policing, infrastructure, and campaign finance initiatives on the ballot have climate justice implications, as do, of course, the candidate elections.

Report: Big Law Overwhelmingly Supports Big Carbon

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 01 Oct 2020 21:11:00 GMT

The 2020 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard is the first to detail the scale of top law firms’ role in the climate crisis. Using the best data available, the Law Students for Climate Accountability assessed litigation, transactional, and lobbying work conducted by the 2020 Vault Law 100 law firms—the 100 most prestigious law firms in the United States—from 2015 to 2019.

Their findings:

  • Vault 100 firms worked on ten times as many cases exacerbating climate change as cases addressing climate change: 286 cases compared to 27 cases.
  • Vault 100 firms were the legal advisors on five times more transactional work for the fossil fuel industry than the renewable energy industry: $1.3 trillion of transactions compared to $271 billion of transactions.
  • Vault 100 firms lobbied five times more for fossil fuel companies than renewable energy companies: for $36.5 million in compensation compared to $6.8 million in compensation.
There are four firms that have only engaged in pro-climate work in the covered period, earning an A grade:
  • Cozen O’Connor
  • Schulte Roth & Zabel
  • Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton
  • Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
The worst firms include:
  • Paul, Weiss worked on as many cases exacerbating climate change as 62 other Vault 100 firms combined.
  • Allen & Overy was the legal advisor on more transactional work for the fossil fuel industry than 78 other Vault 100 firms combined.
  • Hogan Lovells lobbied more for fossil fuel companies than 92 other Vault 100 firms combined.
  • Latham & Watkins is the only firm to be in the Top 5 Worst Firms for both transactions and litigation exacerbating climate change

The report also details the work that Latham & Watkins, Norton Rose Fulbright, Vinson & Elkins, Gibson Dunn, Baker Botts, and Greenberg Traurig did on behalf of the Dakota Access Pipeline project, including numerous efforts to crack down on the water defenders.

The group is calling on law students and firms to take the Law Firm Climate Responsibility Pledge to stop taking on new fossil fuel industry work, continue to take on renewable energy industry work and litigation to fight climate change, and to completely phase out fossil fuel work by 2025.

Top 5 Worst Firms for Litigation
  • Paul Weiss: 21 cases (7x the average)
  • Gibson Dunn: 18 cases
  • Sidley Austin: 16 cases
  • Latham & Watkins: 13 cases
  • Tie: Baker & Hostetler / Baker Botts / Munger, Tolles: 10 cases
Top 5 Worst Firms for Transactions
  • Allen & Overy: $153,365,000,000 (15x the average)
  • Vinson & Elkins: $108,217,000,000
  • Latham & Watkins: $94,815,000,000
  • Clifford Chance: $83,708,000,000
  • Milbank: $59,180,000,000
Top 5 Worst Firms for Lobbying
  • Hogan Lovells: $7,085,000 (24x the average)
  • Akin Gump: $6,820,000
  • Squire Patton Boggs: $4,755,000
  • McGuire Woods: $2,320,000
  • Steptoe & Johnson: $1,920,000

Download the full report.