“The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophe”.
Pope Francis, June 18, 2015
In his long-awaited encyclical on the environment and climate change publicly released last week, Pope Francis called for swift action to save the planet from environmental ruin, urging world leaders to hear “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.” He called for a change of lifestyle in rich countries steeped in a “throwaway” consumer culture, and an end to “obstructionist attitudes” that sometimes put profit before the common good. Pope Francis said protecting the planet is a moral and ethical “imperative” for believers and nonbelievers alike that should supersede political and economic interests.
A major theme of the encyclical is the disparity between rich and poor. “We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet,” he said.
“Our house is going to ruin, and that harms everyone, especially the poorest. Mine is therefore an appeal for responsibility, based on the task that God has given to man in creation: “till and keep the garden” in which he was placed. I invite everyone to accept with open hearts this document, which follows the church’s social doctrine”, the pope said.
In a transcript of the pope’s encyclical on the DemocracyNow.org website, Pope Francis said protecting the planet is a moral and ethical imperative, for believers and nonbelievers alike, that should supersede political and economic interests. He also dismissed those who argue that technology will solve all environmental problems and that global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth.
A major theme of the encyclical is the disparity between rich and poor. “We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, we destroy the planet.”
Climate change is already happening, and its effects have already been disastrous on the poorest countries and the poorest people, who don’t have the means to defend themselves from it. They are also part of the human population who have the least responsibility for what is happening, being that they consume less fossil fuels.
Author Naomi Klein said on Democracy Now Thursday that “this encyclical, we can’t overstate the importance of it, the impact that it will have. It’s hard to respond to a document that runs close to 200 pages, when it was just released in non-draft form a few hours ago. We’re all still digesting it, Amy. But it is very clear that a door has just been opened, and a gust of wind is blowing through, where it is now possible to say some very powerful truths about the real implications of climate change, really the root causes.”
“And I think a lot of the discussion about the encyclical in the U.S. media cycle has focused and will continue to focus on the impact on Republicans and on climate deniers, many of whom are Catholic. And it is certainly a challenge to that demographic in the United States, because the pope is coming out so clearly on the side of climate science in saying this is real and this is happening. But I think that it’s too easy to say that this is just a challenge to Rick Santorum and Jeb Bush. Frankly, it is also a challenge to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and to large parts of the green movement, because it is a rebuke of slow action. It very specifically says that climate denial is not just about denying the science, it’s also about denying the urgency of the science. The document is very strong in condemning delays, half-measures, so-called market solutions. It very specifically criticizes carbon markets, the carbon offsetting, as an inadequate measure that will encourage speculation and rampant consumption.
“And I think probably the most significant part of it, the big picture, is the foregrounding of the culture of frenetic consumption in the wealthy world and among the wealthy. And this is really significant, because I think large parts of the climate change discussion tries to have it all ways and say, “No, we’ll just have green growth. We’ll just have—we’ll consume green products.” And, you know, this goes a lot deeper than that and says, no, we need to get at the underlying values that are feeding this culture of frenetic consumption that is entirely unsustainable.”
In the encyclical, the pope states that: “In a corrupt culture, we can’t believe that laws will be enough to change behaviors that affect the environment.” Naomi Kline responds: Well, I think, when he’s referring to corruption, I believe he’s referring to the influence of polluting companies, of multinational corporations, which he also goes after in the encyclical. And I think this is one of the most significant things about the document. One might expect of a religious document about climate change to erase difference, right? to say, “Well, we’re all in this together,” and certainly it talks about the Earth as our common home. But it also recognizes explicitly the power dynamics in capitalism, which is to say that there are forces within the system that are actively working against change. And that is probably what he’s referring to when he’s talking about how there may be laws, but the laws aren’t enforced. And, you know, indeed the laws are also inadequate, which is also addressed in the document, and it has some very specific calls for another level of environmental law, which is a part of the document that I haven’t been able to look at, you know, closely enough.
And another thing I have to say is, you know, I am—I have accepted this invitation to speak at a conference which is about digging more deeply into the document, because there’s an understanding that it does take time to digest a document of this length, this multilayered, and it requires that kind of deeper analysis. And I think that this intervention, five months ahead of U.N. climate conference in Paris, is tremendously significant. It’s going to push political leaders to go further. It’s going to be a tool for social movements.
A lot of the language of the climate justice movement has just been adopted by the pope—I mean, even of phrases like “ecological debt.” The pope is talking about the debt that the wealthy world owes to the poor. I mean, this is a framing that comes originally from Ecuador, from the movement against drilling in the Amazon. And, you know, this is a phrase that was never heard in mainstream circles until just now, actually. I mean, I’ve never seen such a mainstream use of that term.
So, it is very important in that way. But, I mean, I have to say, on a personal level, that as thrilled as I am that the Vatican is leading in this way and that this pope is leading in this way and bringing together the fight against poverty with the fight to act on climate change, that doesn’t mean that there’s a complete merger between the climate justice movement and the Vatican here. I mean, obviously there are huge differences that remain over issues like marriage equality, reproductive rights and freedom, to name just a few.”
Nathan Schneider, columnist with the Catholic weekly, America, who has been covering Catholic engagement with climate change, talks about what the encyclical means for the Catholic community and the number of languages it’s been released in and how large the document is: “Well, this is really the first Third World encyclical. You know, this is coming from a pope who was shaped in really significant ways by economic crises during the Cold War in Argentina and being in the middle of a battleground between the First and Second World powers. It was drafted by a cardinal from Ghana. So this is coming from the side of the world that we don’t normally hear from. And it’s very much in line with things that popes have been saying for decades, you know, going back to Paul VI, then John Paul II, Benedict XVI. So, a lot of the content is actually not so new for Catholics, but the emphasis and that—the language of climate debt, the language—the recognition that there is a divide here between the rich countries and the poor. And this is a cry from the developing world, from what has been labeled the Third World, for change.”
“The pope is calling here for us to change how we live, how we—what we do with our resources. You know, this is not just moving from one kind of consumerism to another. This is a kind of spiritual renewal and also a material renewal, that—in which we turn ourselves toward an economy that’s sustainable, that’s life-giving, both for humanity and the rest of the world.”
The global warming genie has escaped his bottle! He has begun to show his wrath, which is only likely to worsen in the coming years, decades and centuries, and there is presently no end in sight!
He’s leaving plenty of evidence. The only way we can all help weaken him is by stopping our nonessential burning of fossil fuels, stopping deforestation especially of the tropics, and doing things which naturally result in more greenhouse gases being added into the earth’s atmosphere and oceans (such as overeating, wasting food, not recycling, not reusing things whenever possible, running our air conditioning and furnaces needlessly, using energy derived from tar sands industry, doing other things that frivolously burn fossil fuels such as going for joy rides, cruising, etc.. Because our atmosphere is where Global Warming lives and breathes (now that he’s escaped the bottle) and because he gets his tremendous strength to wreak havoc on the world by his breathing in greenhouse gases that have been accumulating to record high concentrations in the earth’s atmosphere (as a by-product of our burning carbon-based fuels in our cars, trucks, airplanes, power plants, ships, boats, trains, machinery, recreational products and the like) we need to all put him on a crash diet, NOW!
According to David Owen, author of Green Metropolis and The Conundrum: How Scientific Innovation, Increased Efficiency, and Good Intentions Can Make Our Energy and Climate Problems Worse, the proportional share of the fuel burned during a round trip from New York City to Melbourne, Australia, is greater than the total amount of energy that the average resident of the earth uses, for all purposes, in a year. Forestalling global calamity is a preemptively worthy, ethically justifiable and economically achievable goal for everyone on the planet, especially in this era of television, radio, computers, Skype, the iPhone and virtual reality. Climatologists, environmentalists, CEOs, religious leaders, students and tourists seeking entertainment or to broaden their horizons, and government officials ought use the least greenhouse gas emitting technologies available to them to accomplish their objectives; they should not have to cross the oceans and great land masses of world (requiring vast burning fossil fuels) just to be present in person. Likewise, our government leaders and business people ought minimize the amount of products traded with distant countries, so as to minimize the amount of fuel burning required in the shipment of goods by air, sea and over miles and miles of terrain. Transportation of billions of tons of goods along with extensive long distance vacationing and business trips by millions of people every year is simply no longer sustainable. Such activities are becoming ethically wrong because they are unquestionably harming the planet and all the living things it is home to, both now and in the future.
We cannot and must not wait for technology to bail us out. Scientists the world over say it is now paramount that all humans begin acting in significant ways to reduce their annual greenhouse gas emissions. Otherwise, we will never get Global Warming to go back into his bottle – where he belongs! Greenhouse gases accumulate atmospherically over time – they build up in the atmosphere and oceans from year to year. Their volume is accelerating in earth’s atmosphere and as well as in its oceans, and the total volume will likely keep accelerating for some time due to compounding factors (positive feedbacks) of the earth’s natural systems. That’s why it’s of the utmost importance – paramount – that everyone act in ways to reduce their annual carbon footprint, immediately, before Global Warming becomes all to powerful, uncontrollable and for generations, a tragedy for civilization.
Petition requesting the U.S. Congress members and President Barack Obama to adopt the proposal called “Conserve, NOW” which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the United States and create jobs in the areas of adding to and reconstructing infrastructure in cities and counties of the U.S. to accommodate and encourage less fossil fuel burning in transportation and fossil fuel derived energy presently used in homes.
U.S. Officially Submits Its Target 2025 Annual Greenhouse Gas Emissions to the United Nations, as Called for by the Framework Convention on Climate Change
WASHINGTON – The United States officially submitted its emissions-cutting target to the United Nations on Tuesday morning, formalizing its commitment to reducing emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
The Obama administration had previously announced the goal in its work with China on a bilateral climate agreement. The Tuesday submission makes the pledge official.
“With today’s submission of the U.S. target, countries accounting for more than half of total carbon pollution from the energy sector have submitted or announced what they will do in the post-2020 period to combat climate change,” wrote Brian Deese, senior adviser to the president, in a blog post Tuesday morning.
Under a system established through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, individual countries are putting forward their own emissions commitments, referred to as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs. Countries are supposed to submit their INDCs to the U.N. by March 31. The submissions will be the basis for an international climate agreement, which leaders expect to reach at the upcoming negotiation session in Paris at the end of 2015.
The U.S. described its target as “fair and ambitious” in the U.N. document, and said that the country has already undertaken “substantial policy action to reduce its emissions.” The submission says that the U.S. is already on a path to reach its previously submitted goal of cutting emissions 17 percent by 2020, and the new commitment will require the country to speed up its rate of emissions reduction.
The European Union, Norway and Mexico submitted their commitments last week.
The Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, which includes 34 Democratic senators and 83 Democratic House members, sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday praising the commitment. “One of the three pillars of the Climate Action Plan is to lead international efforts to address global climate change. As a nation that has contributed more than a quarter of all global carbon pollution, it is our responsibility to lead,” they wrote. “As a nation already feeling the effects and costs of climate change, it is also in our national interest to do so.”
Jennifer Morgan, global director of the climate program at the World Resources Institute, called the U.S. target “a serious and achievable commitment” in a statement. Based on WRI’s research, the U.S. can meet the goal by using existing federal authority, and make even further reductions as technology advances, Morgan said.
Other environmental groups were more critical of the submission, arguing that the U.S. could make a more ambitious commitment. Greenpeace legislative representative Kyle Ash said in a statement that the pledge “begins to treat the wound, but does not stop the bleeding.” “As the world’s second largest emitter, the US must strengthen its commitment to climate solutions before Paris to ensure an agreement that immediately spurs the necessary transition away from fossil fuels and towards 100 percent renewable energy,” said Ash.
The Obama administration is expected to face staunch opposition from the Republican-led Congress to any sort of international climate agreement. It remains unclear at this point whether the international agreement will be finalized as a treaty, which would require Senate approval, or take some other legal form that does not require approval. The Obama administration has long sought an alternative format to try to avoid a battle with the Senate.
Wisconsin Utilities, Public Service Commission and Governor Walker Being Bad Actors in Leading Fight Against Solar Energy in Wisconsin
Once considered a Midwestern leader in clean energy development, Wisconsin is now referenced as one state where electric utilities with the backing of regulators are putting up financial roadblocks against the solar industry.
A new report in the Washington Post mentions Wisconsin along with New Mexico and Arizona as states where traditional utilities like WE Energies and Madison Gas & Electric are fighting to maintain electric sales in the face of a changing marketplace.
The story quotes from a private meeting three years ago where power company executives were told that as demand for residential solar continued to soar, traditional utilities could soon face serious problems from “declining retail sales” and a “loss of customers” to “potential obsolescence.”
“Industry must prepare an action plan to address the challenges,” warned the Edison Electric Institute, the leading industry trade association. All four of Wisconsin’s investor-owned utilities are members.
The meeting at a resort in Colorado Springs, Colorado, became “a call to arms for electricity providers in nearly every corner of the nation” wrote reporter Joby Warrick.
“Three years later, the industry and its fossil-fuel supporters are waging a determined campaign to stop a home-solar insurgency that is rattling the boardrooms of the country’s government-regulated electric monopolies,” he wrote.
Warrick’s report also makes the link between the electric utilities and the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a nonprofit organization with financial ties to billionaire fossil fuel industrialists Charles and David Koch.
In Wisconsin last year, the state Public Service Commission approved major price increases in electric rate structures for state utilities. Utilities argued the changes were needed to cover the cost of maintaining the power plants, poles and wires in the face of slowing electric sales.
For MGE customers, fixed charges for residential electric service went from $10.50 to $19 a month.
MGE customers fought against the changes and eventually got the company to agree to a series of community listening sessions before pursuing additional fixed rate prices hikes going forward. At one point, MGE had talked about raising residential customer fixed charges to nearly $70 a month by 2017.
Meanwhile, the state Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin is facing a lawsuit from Madison-based Renew Wisconsin and the Alliance for Solar Choice of San Francisco, saying it was guilty of discrimination by passing additional fees on solar customers in the WE Energies 2014 rate case.
Gov. Scott Walker has appointed all three members of the PSC, with the naming in February of former Department of Administration secretary Mike Huebsch to the powerful regulatory agency.
Koch Industries has significant operations in Wisconsin, including Flint Hills Resources, which produces gasoline and asphalt; the C. Reiss Coal Co., which supplies coal throughout the Great Lakes region; and Georgia-Pacific, the packaging and paper firm. Georgia-Pacific’s chemical division is also a producer of proppant resin, a coating for small particles used in hydraulic fracturing.
Another current decision of interest to the utility companies, the PSC, and the governor is American Transmission Company’s (ATC) and Xcel Energy’s proposed Badger-Coulee transmission line project, which stretches from the La Crosse area to Madison in Wisconsin. It is estimated 345-kilovolt, 180-mile line project will cost $580 million.
More than 200 people attended a public hearing in the Town of Holland by the PSC in December. Most of the people who testified in front of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin voiced their opposition to the project. Some cited health concerns from massive power lines and others questioned whether it’s necessary.
Xcel Energy is one of project partners. A spokesman at the meeting, Tim Carlsgaard, said power lines need a capacity upgrade. Plus, he said, Wisconsin has a 10 percent renewable energy mandate and wind energy is the best option for the Midwest. Carlsgaard said it’s nearly impossible to develop wind energy in Wisconsin.
“Where it’s located is out in the rural areas,” Carlsgaard said. “Out in western Minnesota, southern Minnesota, parts of the Dakotas. The only way to bring that energy to the people is by building transmission lines. There are not existing lines in those areas.”
Dr. Patrice Tronstad, of Prairie View Elementary School, presented PSC administrative law Judge Michael Newmark with a poster signed by students opposing the project. The line could run right next to the Holmen school.
Onalaska Mayor Joe Chilsen said he doesn’t want the Badger-Coulee transmission line to be built at all. But, if the proposed project running from the La Crosse area to Madison is approved, he urged PSC officials not choose the route that could cut through his city. Chilsen said the power line could affect property values and aesthetically damage the city along the Mississippi River.
“This in essence kills all our future economic growth, our business growth in Onalaska,” he said. “I’m absolutely flabbergasted that this is even being considered.”
Chilsen also testified that future expansion plans for Mayo Clinic and other businesses could come to a halt if the Badger-Coulee line comes through the area.
Chilsen was one of the dozens of people who testified before two PSC commissioners: chairman Phil Montgomery and commissioner Ellen Nowak.
Commissioner Eric Callisto didn’t attend because his term is ended in February.
The now 3-person Walker appointed PSC decided last Thursday, March 26, 2015 to allow the construction of the new power line from La Crosse to Madison, over the objections by the public. Discussions and debate over the power line have lasted years, with many opposed citing environmental and aesthetic grievances. The Badger Coulee high-voltage transmission line will be built and it will follow a route from a substation near Holmen, north of La Crosse, to the Madison area, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) decided in a unanimous preliminary vote.
Opponent group, Citizens Energy Task Force, said it is “appalled, but not surprised” by the decision, saying there was not enough study of alternatives to building another huge power line. It conceded the construction of the line is “economically driven, with the economic benefits going to utilities while ratepayers being saddled with massive unneeded debt and the health, environmental and quality-of-life consequences that come with these unsightly, unnecessary lines,” the citizen group said. Organizations that have been fighting the proposal said they are considering filing a petition for a rehearing by the PSC or challenging the validity of the PSC’s decision in circuit court.
“More than 90 units of local government tried in vain to understand why these lines are needed,” said Maureen Freedland, La Crosse County Board supervisor. “Our local planning rights have been stripped from us. The decision is a blow to our values and the way of life for our rural Wisconsin neighbors.”
The PSC is expected to issue a final order on the project within four weeks, and Wisconsin-based ATC and Minnesota-based Xcel said they will start contacting property owners on the chosen route yet this year. Construction of the line is expected to begin in 2016 and it is scheduled to go into service in 2018.
Sources: March 11, 2015, report by Mike Ivey of The Capital Times.
Reports aired on Wisconsin Public Radio.