Opinion | What Biden Can Do About Climate Change – By David Leonhardt – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Leonhardt is a senior writer at The Times.

Credit…Marly Gallardo

“During the months that Joe Biden and President Trump were campaigning against each other, vast sections of the American West caught on fire. More than five million acres burned, and the air in California, Oregon and Washington was sometimes more harmful to breathe than in the pollution-clogged cities of India.

In the Atlantic Ocean this year, there have been more big storms recorded than in any previous year — 29 thus far, so many that the group that names storms exhausted the English alphabet and had to switch to Greek. Nine of those storms became much more intense in the span of a single day, an event that was rare before the planet was as warm as it now is.

Worldwide, the month of September was the hottest ever measured, and 2020 may end up being the hottest year. The Arctic is warming even faster than the rest of the planet, and glaciers are losing more ice each year than can be found in all of the European Alps. Sea levels now seem to be rising at an accelerating pace. In Siberia, melting ice appears to be releasing gases that cause gigantic explosions, leaving craters that are up 100 feet deep.

Climate change is a fantastically complex phenomenon. It does not proceed at a steady pace, and scientists are often unsure precisely what its effects are and which weather patterns are random. But the sum total of the evidence is clear — and terrifying. The earth is continuing to warm, breaking new records as it does, and the destructive effects of climate change are picking up speed. Future damage will almost certainly be worse, maybe much worse.

Yet there is also a major way in which 2020 has the potential to be a turning point in the other direction. A president who has called climate change a hoax — whose administration has tried to discredit government scientists and has overhauled federal policy to allow more pollution — has lost re-election. He has lost to a candidate who made climate policy a bigger part of his campaign than any previous winning president.

The last two Democratic presidents, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, put a higher priority on expanding health insurance than fighting climate change. Mr. Biden, by contrast, has said he will accomplish his unavoidable short-term priorities — controlling the coronavirus and restarting the economy — in significant part by fighting climate change.

He has proposed spending $2 trillion on clean energy over the next four years to put people back to work, a sum that’s almost 20 times larger than the clean-energy spending in Mr. Obama’s 2009 economic-recovery package. Embedding clean-energy measures into other policy areas is likely to be a theme of the Biden presidency. His advisers have told me that during almost every policy discussion, they ask themselves how to incorporate climate.

The issue is simply more salient today than it was in 2008, as Gina McCarthy, who ran the Environmental Protection Agency under Mr. Obama and has advised Mr. Biden, points out. “The difference between then and now is that the issue of climate change is so much more relevant and personal now,” said Ms. McCarthy, who runs the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There is a real opportunity here that I think Biden is capturing.”

What he can accomplish, of course, will depend on Congress — and specifically on whether Democrats manage to win both Senate runoffs in Georgia in January. That won’t be easy. If Democrats don’t win both, Republicans will keep Senate control, and one of the world’s few major political parties that rejects climate science will be able to block large parts of Mr. Biden’s agenda.

But even in that scenario, he is likely to shift federal policy in a profound way. His advisers have spent months thinking about how to reduce carbon emissions through regulation rather than legislation. And Mr. Biden may also be able to win over a few Republican senators — which is all he would need — for an economic recovery bill that included billions of dollars of clean-energy spending.

The fact that Mr. Biden seems inclined to make the climate a top priority does not stem from a longtime personal obsession. He is not Al Gore. But he has spent his career trying to understand where the center of the Democratic Party is moving and then moving with it. And both the Democratic Party and the country have moved on climate.

For many young progressives and political activists, who will have to live most of their lives on a planet suffering from climate-related damage, climate is the defining issue. “There’s so much pressure from the outside, from young activists — it’s very impactful,” said Kathy Castor, a Democrat from the Tampa area who heads the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Consider that Bernie Sanders made Medicare for All his signature issue; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has made the Green New Deal hers.

If anything, the attention on racial injustice since George Floyd’s killing in May has put more momentum behind climate policy. When Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts released the Green New Deal — a statement of principles, rather than a detailed piece of legislation — last year, some moderate Democrats and climate experts criticized its breadth. It called not only for stopping global warming but also for addressing economic inequality and racism.

Now, though, that broad approach means that climate policy feels like a crucial part of another progressive priority: combating racial inequities, by reducing the disproportionate health damage that pollution causes in Black and Latino neighborhoods. Rhiana Gunn-Wright, who helped write the Green New Deal and now runs the climate program at the Roosevelt Institute, said that she used to spend a lot of time answering questions about how climate change and racial justice were connected. “I don’t get asked those questions anymore,” she added.

In addition to the activist energy, broader public opinion seems to be shifting, as climate change has gone from being a hypothetical future problem in many people’s minds to an everyday problem. In a Pew Research Center poll this year, 52 percent of Americans said that dealing with global climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress. In 2009, only 30 percent did. In a New York Times/Siena College poll during the campaign, 66 percent of likely voters said they favored Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan, with only 26 percent opposed.

As Ms. Gunn-Wright said, “It’s getting harder and harder to act like climate change is a long-term issue that’s coming down the pike.”

Regardless of what happens in the Georgia elections, Mr. Biden’s approach to climate change will differ from Mr. Obama’s. Like most of the Biden agenda, this change reflects a larger shift in the party. In the case of climate, Democrats have become more hardheaded about the tricky politics of the issue. The change has been subtle, and no politician has ever announced it. But it has also been fundamental.

Democrats used to focus their efforts to pass a climate bill on the idea of raising the cost of carbon emissions, through either a tax or a system of permits, known as cap-and-trade. For all of the complicated details, the basic idea was simple: If dirty energy became more expensive, people would use less of it.

Many economists favor this approach, because it harnesses the power of market incentives to shift millions of people’s behavior. Mr. Obama also hoped that the market-oriented approach might win enough Republican votes to get it through the Senate. It did not.

Without bipartisan support, a price on carbon has a huge political weakness. Because higher costs are the central part of the plan, opponents are able to brand it as a tax increase for hard-working families. That criticism helped defeat the Obama plan in the Senate and has also led to the downfall (or weakening) of climate policies in other countries. If a carbon price can’t pass, its technocratic elegance and economic efficiency are irrelevant.

Having learned this lesson, many progressives changed their strategy. They have moved away from a carbon price and now focus on the two other major ways that a government can address climate change. The first is to subsidize clean energy so it becomes cheaper and, in turn, more widely used. The second is put in place rules — often called standards — that simply mandate less pollution, leaving utilities and other companies to work out the details of how they will emit less carbon.

These two approaches are the core of the Biden agenda. And the creation of standards will be the most important one if Democrats fail to win both Senate races in Georgia.

Crucially, a president already has the legal authority to enact standards in the sectors that emit the most carbon, like utilities and transportation. Mr. Biden will not need new legislation to do so. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act applied to carbon emissions, allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to restrict them. Mr. Obama used this power, and Mr. Biden will probably be even more aggressive.

Standards can have a big effect. The Obama policies, combined with technological advances in solar and wind power, have helped reduce coal’s share of the power sector to 20 percent, from almost 50 percent in 2010. Thirty states have created their own energy standards, including California, New York, Arizona and Colorado, which has also helped. In some cases, the state-based policies are the result of a referendum.

That’s a sign that these standards tend to be more popular than energy taxes: Most Americans support pollution reductions. Opponents still portray them as tax increases, as they no doubt will during the Biden administration. “The oil industry is always going to be arguing that no matter what you do, it’s a price on carbon,” as Mr. Markey told me. But it’s easier for climate advocates to win that argument.

In some cases, Mr. Biden may use the threat of regulation to negotiate with industry. Automakers seem open to making a deal. When Mr. Trump tried to free them from Obama-era restrictions, some balked. Many auto executives understand that clean-energy cars are the future. They would rather get working on the transition, rather than having to maintain two different product lines — gas-guzzling vehicles in some places (like red states) and more fuel-efficient cars elsewhere (like California and Europe).

With a Republican Senate, the Biden climate agenda will consist of dozens of smaller pieces, rather than one sweeping piece of legislation. The Agriculture Department will create incentives for farms to emit less carbon, and the Energy Department will do the same for buildings. On Capitol Hill, the administration will try to add some clean-energy subsidies to legislation on virus relief and infrastructure.

Foreign policy will also be geared toward persuading other countries to emit less. China, in particular, has shown more willingness to listen to American requests on climate change than on other big subjects, like human rights and intellectual property.

Will this be enough to avoid the worst consequences? It is impossible to know. Our chances would certainly be better if Congress were able to pass major legislation.

“We have to use every tool in the toolbox on climate action, before it is too late,” Ms. Castor said. Ms. McCarthy added: “We are way past the time when we should be looking incrementally instead of very aggressively.”

That aggressive approach depends on Democrats winning both Georgia races, which would give them 50 Senate seats and allow Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties. In that case, Democrats could pass much of Mr. Biden’s proposed clean-energy spending. This money would increase spending on research and development, as well as give consumers and businesses incentives to make immediate changes. Many more families would probably buy an electric car, for example, if the government subsidized the purchase and also paid to build many more charging stations.

A Democratic Senate could also try to protect Mr. Biden’s regulatory authority from court challenges, especially given the newly conservative makeup of the Supreme Court. Some climate advocates even hope the Senate would be willing to revisit targeted carbon taxes, perhaps only for the power sector.

The biggest reason to believe that Mr. Biden’s presidency may mark a new era in climate policy is also the biggest reason for pessimism about the future. The effects of climate change seem to be accelerating. The coming years will bring more fires, more unbreathable air, more extreme storms and more flooding, as well as damage that we cannot yet predict. At some point, voters may demand aggressive action and punish politicians who put a higher priority on the profits of the energy industry than on the condition of the planet.

We’re not there yet. But Mr. Biden seems to grasp that his success in fighting climate change will go a long way toward defining his success as president.”

Opinion | When Will Electricity Companies Finally Quit Natural Gas? – By Justin Gillis and Michael O’Boyle – The New York Times

By Justin Gillis and 

Mr. Gillis is a contributing opinion writer. Mr. O’Boyle is director of electricity policy for the research firm Energy Innovation.

Credit…Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group, via Getty Images

“As Americans suffer through immense wildfires, rising coastal flooding and an epic hurricane season, the nation’s corporations want you to believe they are coming to grips with the climate crisis.

Among the companies pledging bold emissions cuts are those that generate America’s electricity, which emit more than a quarter of the nation’s global-warming pollution. Yet, that same industry is about to make a strategic error that could render meeting its own goals far more expensive, if not impossible.

As they shut down costly and dirty coal-burning power plants, the electrical companies are planning to build 235 gas-fired power stations across the country, according to our analysis of figures compiled from commercial databases by the Sierra Club. The companies claim these are needed to replace the coal plants, and to balance fluctuations in electricity generation from rising levels of wind and solar power. This investment in new gas plants would exceed $100 billion.

If the plants are built, along with the pipelines to support them, they are likely to run for 30 or 40 years — long past the point that emissions from the electrical grid need to approach zero if we are to have a reasonable climate future.”

California Is Trying to Jump-Start the Hydrogen Economy – The New York Times

“IRVINE, Calif. — Since President George W. Bush fueled a minivan with hydrogen 15 years ago, the promise of cars and trucks powered by the fuel has come up mostly empty.

That hydrogen pump, in Washington, closed long ago. But in California, the beginnings of a hydrogen economy may finally be dawning after many fits and starts.

Dozens of hydrogen buses are lumbering down city streets, while more and larger fueling stations are appearing from San Diego to San Francisco, financed by the state and federal governments. With the costs of producing and shipping hydrogen coming down, California is setting ambitious goals to phase out vehicles that run on fossil fuels in favor of batteries and hydrogen. Large auto and energy companies like Toyota Motor and Royal Dutch Shell have committed to supplying more cars and fueling stations.

“In past cycles, there was always something missing,” said Matthew Blieske, Shell’s global hydrogen product manager. “There was a policy missing, or the technology wasn’t quite ready, or people were not so serious about decarbonization. We don’t see those barriers anymore.” “

9 Things the Biden Administration Could Do Quickly on the Environment – By Lisa Friedman – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. campaigned on the most ambitious climate platform of any presidential candidate in history, promising to spend $2 trillion over four years to draw down planet-warming fossil fuel emissions and convert much of the nation to clean energy.

The possibility that the Senate could remain under the control of Republicans, who have generally opposed climate legislation, puts a damper on some of his biggest-ticket plans. But with or without Democratic control of the Senate, the first 100 days of the Biden administration are likely to see a flurry of executive actions addressing climate change, as well as a major push to insert clean energy provisions into legislation that could pass with a bipartisan coalition.

Here are nine things Mr. Biden may do early on to put the United States back on a path to addressing climate change.

 – By Nadja Popovich and Brad Plumer – The New York Times

“President Trump has made dismantling federal climate policies a centerpiece of his administration. A new analysis from the Rhodium Group finds those rollbacks add up to a lot more planet-warming emissions.”

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Opinion | The Coronavirus and a World Without Meat – By Jonathan Safran Foer – The New York Times

By 

Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of “Eating Animals” and “We Are the Weather.”

Credit…Jun Cen

“Is any panic more primitive than the one prompted by the thought of empty grocery store shelves? Is any relief more primitive than the one provided by comfort food?

Most everyone has been doing more cooking these days, more documenting of the cooking, and more thinking about food in general. The combination of meat shortages and President Trump’s decision to order slaughterhouses open despite the protestations of endangered workers has inspired many Americans to consider just how essential meat is.

Is it more essential than the lives of the working poor who labor to produce it? It seems so. An astonishing six out of 10 counties that the White House itself identified as coronavirus hot spots are home to the very slaughterhouses the president ordered open.

In Sioux Falls, S.D., the Smithfield pork plant, which produces some 5 percent of the country’s pork, is one of the largest hot spots in the nation. A Tyson plant in Perry, Iowa, had 730 cases of the coronavirus — nearly 60 percent of its employees. At another Tyson plant, in Waterloo, Iowa, there were 1,031 reported cases among about 2,800 workers.

Sick workers mean plant shutdowns, which has led to a backlog of animals. Some farmers are injecting pregnant sows to cause abortions. Others are forced to euthanize their animals, often by gassing or shooting them. It’s gotten bad enough that Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, has asked the Trump administration to provide mental health resources to hog farmers.

Despite this grisly reality — and the widely reported effects of the factory-farm industry on America’s lands, communities, animals and human health long before this pandemic hit — only around half of Americans say they are trying to reduce their meat consumption. Meat is embedded in our culture and personal histories in ways that matter too much, from the Thanksgiving turkey to the ballpark hot dog. Meat comes with uniquely wonderful smells and tastes, with satisfactions that can almost feel like home itself. And what, if not the feeling of home, is essential?

And yet, an increasing number of people sense the inevitability of impending change.

Animal agriculture is now recognized as a leading cause of global warming.  . . . “

Opinion | The Pandemic Has Created a Youth Unemployment Crisis. We Can Fix It. – By Collin O’Mara – The New York Times

By 

Mr. O’Mara is the president and C.E.O. of the National Wildlife Federation.

Credit…Fotosearch/Getty Images

“Nearly 7.7 million American workers younger than 30 are now unemployed and three million dropped out of the labor force in the past month. Combined that’s nearly one in three young workers, by far the highest rate since the country started tracking unemployment by age in 1948.

Nearly 40 percent worked in the devastated retail and food service sectors. And as the most recently hired, young workers are typically the first let go and often the last rehired, especially those of color.

As our country’s leaders consider a range of solutions to address this crisis, there’s one fix that will put millions of young Americans directly to work: a 21st-century version of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

In 1933, when President Franklin Roosevelt created the C.C.C., he was facing, as we are today, the possibility of a lost generation of young people. The conservation-minded president’s idea was to hire young unemployed men for projects in forestry, soil conservation and recreation. By 1942, the 3.4 million participants in “Roosevelt’s Tree Army” had planted more than three billion trees, built hundreds of parks and wildlife refuges and completed thousands of miles of trails and roads.”

If People Grasped the Full Cost of Cars, They Might Make Greener Choices

“If more consumers understood the total costs of car ownership it could promote a shift to cleaner, lower-emission alternatives, according to a new paper co-authored by an economist at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES).

In a survey of more than 6,000 consumers in Germany, researchers found that people underestimate the total cost of vehicle ownership by €221 ($240) per month on average. Although they correctly estimated their spending on fuel on average, they “severely” underestimated all other major expenditures, including depreciation, repairs, taxes, and insurance. The misjudgment amounts to 52 percent of the actual costs.

We discuss a set of potential solutions. For example, rather than having a label on new cars only showing the future fuel costs, the label could include the full expected monthly costs of ownership.
— Kenneth Gillingham
If these consumers were aware of the true costs, the researchers then calculate, it could reduce the number of cars in Germany by as much as 17.6 million, or 37 percent.

“If people underestimate how much it costs to own a car, they are more likely to own cars, rather than use other, cleaner, modes of transportation,” says Kenneth Gillingham, an associate professor of environmental and energy economics at F&ES and corresponding author of the paper. “And because repair costs are higher for conventional gasoline-powered cars, the underestimation could affect the uptake of electric vehicles as well.”

The researchers suggest that these miscalculations can be used as leverage in creating new policies that promote cleaner transportation choices — for instance, car sharing, alternative-fuel vehicles, public transport, biking or walking.”

Source: If People Grasped the Full Cost of Cars, They Might Make Greener Choices

The Original Long Islanders Fight to Save Their Land From a Rising Sea – By Somini Sengupta and Shola Lawal – The New York Times

By Somini Sengupta and 

“SHINNECOCK NATION, Southampton, N.Y. — A maritime people who once spanned a large swath of the eastern Long Island shore, the Shinnecock Indians have been hemmed into a 1.5-square-mile patch of land on the edge of a brackish bay. Now, because of climate change, they’re battling to hold on to what they have left.

Rising seas are threatening to eat away at the Shinnecock lands. But the tribe is using everything at its disposal to calm the waves and restore a long, slim beach at the edge of Shinnecock Bay: dredged sand, sea grasses, beach grasses, boulders, oyster shells.

It’s a forever battle. Climate change is swelling and heating the world’s oceans at an accelerating pace. Inevitably, the Shinnecock will have to bring more sand to replenish what the rising tide keeps washing away. More grass will have to be planted. This spring, Shavonne Smith, director of the tribe’s environmental department, wants to expand the oyster reef designed to dissipate the energy of the waves.

“We have an inherent responsibility to protect the homeland,” Ms. Smith said on a recent Monday morning walk along the shore. “It’s not the type of thing where you can work against nature. You work with it.” “

David Lindsay:

Thank you Somini Sengupta and Shola Lawal for a lovely article. The Shinnecock Indians are using nature to fight the rising sea in eastern Long Island, which is important. However, overpopulation and pollution caused by humans are root causes of global warming and the rising sea, according to about 99% of credentialed climatologists. Edward O Wilson of Harvard has written that some scientists think that the right population for the planet is perhaps 4 billion, or approximately half of the 7.6 billion we are at now.

I am currently reading “A Distant Mirror,” by Barbara Tuchman, about Europe in the 14th century, and how it dealt with the Bubonic Plagues that wiped out roughly half of Europe’s population. The doctors then said it was caused by the position of the planets. Most common people were sure it was God’s punishment for unpardonable sins—like Noah’s flood. No one suspected it was a tiny thing called a virus, carried by the rats and fleas which were part of every day life.

The coronavirus COVID-19 is a reminder that God, or nature, works in mysterious ways. It is a tragic irony, that such modern plagues might help mitigate the onset of global warming and the sixth great extinction of species. We have only decades, not centuries, to reduce our carbon dioxide and green house gas footprint to zero, or see the wrath of God again, as in 1348.

If you are a Franciscan Christian, or an environmentalist of any persuasion, that believes in the sanctity of all forms of life, and values non-human species, you have to be torn, when the plague comes knocking at your door. As you and some of your loved ones die a wretched death, you can temper your despair. The silver lining is that it might, possibly be for a greater good.