By Naomi Klein & Sivan Kartha
Boston Globe (11/25/19)
As Bernie Sanders brings his plans for a Green New Deal to Iowa, one part is proving most resonant: the idea that, as our economy rapidly shifts to renewable energy, power companies should be publicly owned and controlled, and the biggest polluters should help underwrite the costs.
Interestingly, this is the part of the Sanders plan, which builds on the resolution introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, that has received the most pushback from media commentators—who have been quick to dismiss public ownership over renewables as impractical and radical.
Yet for many Iowans, it is precisely these parts of the Sanders plan that make it most exciting.
Bernie’s plan stands apart is in its insistence that fairness is not only owed to people in places like Iowa, but to people living on the other side of the planet.
Plenty of Iowans support renewable power and feel a tremendous sense of urgency about the climate crisis—after all, their communities are facing historic flooding, and their crops are dying as a result of both record-setting heat and cold. But like most of us, Iowans also have a keen sense of fairness. And they know from hard experience that when for-profit companies own the wind farms that dot their rolling hills, consumers and working people get a raw deal.
For instance, Alliant Energy, one of two major investor-owned utilities serving the state, raised rates in 2017 and 2018 and then sought to hike the average consumer’s monthly bill by yet another $20 this year (an effort that has been unsuccessful so far). Even as Alliant collected $500 million in profits last year, showered money on shareholders, and paid its CEO over $6 million, it blamed the rate increases on the cost of new wind investments.
For the thousands of Iowans who have been packing Sanders rallies over the last few weeks, it’s experiences like this that have made the senator’s climate plans so resonant. They understand that at a time of tremendous economic inequality and injustice, only a plan firmly rooted in both fairness and boldness has a hope of building the support necessary to take on the big polluters and win transformative climate action.
Meeting the scale and urgency of climate crisis
The boldness of Sanders’ plan is not in question. He is proposing to spend an astounding $16.3 trillion to get our economy off fossil fuels, an exponentially greater investment than any other candidate, one that actually meets the scale and urgency of the climate crisis. And yet it is how he is proposing both to raise and spend that money that is the true game-changer.
More than a decade of so-called market-based climate policies have expected workers and consumers to foot most of the bill for climate action. The result is often fierce backlash: In Chile, an increase in public transit fees sparked the recent uprising, and in France, an increase in fuel costs did the same. As in Iowa, it’s not that people are opposed to climate action. They are simply so overburdened by stagnant wages, job losses, and cutbacks to social services that they can’t accept getting stuck with the bill for the climate crisis.
Sanders’ Green New Deal plan doesn’t ask them to. Instead, it calls for polluters and the rich to pay their fair share …
CARBON OFFSETS: Nothing More Than Guilt-Free Delusion For Privileged Pollution?
Do they run the risk of letting individuals think they’re off the hook for their carbon sins?
Climate One (8/30/19)
A carbon offset is a credit – a way to offset a unit of pollution created in one place by, say, planting a tree, or otherwise sequestering carbon, somewhere else. But in the race to bring carbon emissions to zero, are offsets a legitimate tool, or a delusion that allows heavy emitters a way out of taking real action?
“I just need to recruit everybody to make sure the forests remain forests and the farmlands have as many trees as possible,” says Pauline Kalunda, Executive Director of Ecotrust Uganda, a non-governmental conservation organization in Uganda. She uses money from carbon offsets purchased in wealthy countries to help build environmental resilience at the community level. Buying offsets can help fund carbon-reduction projects in developing economies with limited funding – but they don’t help reduce dirty air back home.
Are you really off the hook for the damage you do?
“We ultimately need to get to a point where it is really, really expensive to pollute so that people pollute a lot less,” maintains Kahlil Baker, Executive Director of Taking Root, a Canada-based group which also works with the offset market to promote economic development among smallholder farmers in Nicaragua. Voluntary offsets are great for eco-conscious consumers who want to ease their climate guilt. Do they run the risk of letting individuals think they’re off the hook for their carbon sins?
“I’m a lot less worried about offsets from individuals than I am about Chevron offsetting,” says Zoe Cina-Sklar, a climate justice campaigner with the advocacy group Amazon Watch. She worries about corporations and other large polluters using offsets to avoid accountability under state climate policies.
Barbara Haya, a research fellow at UC Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Public Policy, who studies California’s offsets program, echoes this worry. “We’re allowing businesses in California like Chevron and Phillips and other large emitters to continue to emit,” she claims, “because they’re buying these credits that many of which don’t actually represent real emissions reductions.”
But Rajinder Sahota, who leads the Cap and Trade program for the California Air Resources Board, disagrees with the takeaways of Haya’s research. “The offsets don’t play a specific line item in reducing emissions towards our target,” she counters, “they are a compliance currency under the cap and trade program.”
Ultimately, carbon offsets work best, as Derik Broekhoff from the Stockholm Environmental Institute puts it, as the icing on the cake and not the cake itself. “The advice for voluntary offset has always been reduce your own emissions first,” he suggests, “and then turn to offsets as a kind of additional even charitable contribution that you can make towards both helping the climate and making the world a better place.”