ENR 7191 is the required internship course for the Master’s in Environment and Natural Resources. Students can fulfill this requirement through their jobs in an environmental field, through a formal full-time internship, or through part-time volunteer opportunities. I chose the third way to do this by working on the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign in Columbus.
Although I have been working on the Ready for 100 Columbus campaign for the past 1.5 years, I had not made it the center of my activities due to work and other courses. This summer I had the chance to spend my coursework time on the campaign. It was a great experience, and I learned that I love doing this kind of work.
Mike Foley, director of sustainability for Cuyahoga County, speaks at the Clean Energy for All Ohio Training on June 2, 2018.
The objectives I had for the summer were:
Hold a successful 100% Clean Energy for All Ohio training on June 2. We achieved that goal, training about 50 people who heard from energy leaders in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Oberlin, as well as Tom Foley, sustainability manager for Cuyahoga County. As a result, five new Ready for 100 campaigns got started around the state.
Restart the grasstops part of the campaign by doing power mapping of the mayor and members of city council, and community mapping in neighborhoods of Columbus. We got this done with the help of two other interns for the campaign.
Identify and start a new communications chair. We promoted Brittany Converse, a longtime volunteer who works for the city.
Speak about Ready for 100 at community and neighborhood events. I spoke at the Clean Energy for All Ohio training, a projection art event at Flowers and Bread in Clintonville, and led the panel discussion following a showing of Reinventing Power. I was also invited to be part of the city’s application for the Bloomberg Climate Challenge Grant, pulling together information about tax abatements for sustainability.
Hold tours of several renewable energy facilities in Columbus and Ohio. I was not able to do this. But I did make it to the Growing Local Solar workshop on August 1 at Denison University, where I learned about aggregation in Ohio, the carbon tax in Athens, how to overcome barriers to solar, and toured the Denison solar array.
About 45 people attended our showing of Reinventing Power with a panel discussion on August 9, 2018.
One of the best things about the summer was getting to work with two other interns for the campaign, one from the Glenn College and one from School of Environment and Natural Resources. Suddenly work that we had been wanting to do for months, like power mapping and community mapping, got done. We couldn’t pay these interns – we could only offer course credit – but it was amazing to have them on board. I wanted to get more interns in the fall, but national Sierra Club changed its policy and now requires paying interns $15 an hour. We don’t have money for that.
It is not an exaggeration to say this summer was pivotal to the direction of the Ready for 100 Columbus campaign. When we started, we were trying to get sign-on letters from local businesses in Clintonville and the Short North. It was a disaster. Employees couldn’t sign, managers were never there or too busy, and most were hesitant about signing. Quickly we realized that approach was not working and switched to gathering signatures on our AddUp petition to the city. We got 300 signatures at Comfest alone, about 1600 during the summer.
We also did some serious campaign planning work, identifying our theory of change, targets, tactics, partnerships, and budget. This laid the groundwork for our campaign moving forward.
Summer 2017 was extremely busy with environmental advocacy work, most of it centered around the Ready for 100 Columbus campaign and my work as a Climate Reality leader. I also participated in several progressive political events.
Ready for 100 Columbus
My work on the Ready for 100 campaign got underway in earnest this summer with two Sierra Club training conferences: the National Gathering of all Ready for 100 leaders in Miami on June 21-23, and a Connect the Dots training for four Ready for 100 team members in Oakland on July 13-16. Both trips to train local activists were paid for by Sierra Club.
Aerial Art Action in Miami
The Ready for 100 National Gathering was held in Miami in conjunction with the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which passed a resolution supporting cities committing to 100% renewable energy. At the gathering we got presentations on the vision for Ready for 100, creating a public narrative, campaign principles, effective practices, roles and capacities, and community dialogues. We also did an aerial art action on Miami Beach, coordinated by John Quigley, who organized the famous aerial art action at the Eiffel Tower during the Paris Climate Conference.
El Capitan in Yosemite, Summer 2017
I was the only one from Columbus to attend the Ready for 100 training in Miami, but in July I got to take a team of four people to a Connect the Dots training in Oakland. Whereas the Miami training was more about high-level campaign principles and story, the Oakland training concentrated on the nuts and bolts of how to run a campaign. Another Columbus group attended a second Connect the Dots training in Washington, D.C., and together our teams were assigned to put together the same Connect the Dots training in Columbus in the fall.
Muir Woods, Summer 2017
Since I rarely get to the west coast, I decided to go early and use two days before the conference to tour Yosemite National Park and Muir Woods National Monument. I stayed in a hostel in downtown San Francisco and caught a daylong tour to both places. I got hundreds of great photos at both Yosemite and Muir Woods, but photos cannot do either of these two natural wonders justice. You have to go and see them for yourself.
I wasted no time in putting what I learned at these trainings into practice with the Ready for 100 campaign in Columbus. This summer I started being asked to speak about Ready for 100 at multiple events, including:
My Ready for 100 Columbus team also organized a coalition launch on July 18, designed to reach out to supporters and like-minded advocates in other environmental groups in Central Ohio, to start building our base moving forward. About 20 people showed up, and a couple of them became core volunteers.
(left to right) Me, Kristen Ricker, and Preeti Jaggi gave a presentation of “The Climate Crisis and Its Solutions” on June 17.
After mentoring at the Climate Reality training in Denver in March, I worked hard to keep up with my leadership commitments. Upon returning to Ohio, I worked with Preeti Jaggi and Kristen Ricker, two other Climate Reality leaders in Columbus, to host a presentation of the slideshow at Upper Arlington Public Library on June 17. We each took a third of the presentation and gave it to an audience of about 40. Given how much we had to fit planning, publicity, and rehearsal of the presentation between other activities, we were thrilled to get that many people.
Also this summer, Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power was released. I was invited to a special showing of the film for city leaders in Cleveland on June 24, then attended free showing in Columbus at the Wexner Center on August 2, Gateway Theater on August 3 where I spoke as part of a panel after the film, and Lennox Town Center on August 9. At the three Columbus showings, we had postcards for people to sign asking City Council to commit Columbus to 100% renewable energy. We got about 100 postcards at each event.
Finally, in August journalist Jill Cody put out a call over the Climate Reality intranet for authors of book chapters for her forthcoming book Climate Abandoned. One of the chapters needing an author was on the “Product of Doubt.” Between school and other environmental activities, I didn’t have much time to write a book, but this is a topic I have read about extensively, and I couldn’t resist. I signed up to write the chapter, which ended up dominating my winter, spring and breaks until I turned in the 51-page manuscript in August 2018. The chapter was so substantive, covering climate denial campaigns of Exxon and the Koch brothers, that Jill broke it into three sections for the published book, which you can find here.
This summer I have not been able to do much direct political organizing, but I did attend three memorable events: the People’s Summit held June 9-11 in Chicago, a Bernie Sanders rally to save our health care on June 25 in Columbus, and the Mobilize 88 summit held July 22-23 at Deer Creek Park in Ohio.
I was somewhere to the right in the upper deck of this audience witnessing history.
The People’s Summit, organized by Our Revolution, People for Bernie, and the National Nurses Union, was full of amazing and inspiring speakers like Nina Turner, Van Jones, Nomiki Konst, RoseAnn DeMoro, Naomi Klein, Michael Moore, Linda Sarsour, Thomas Frank, Larry Krasner, Chokwe Lumumba, and of course Bernie Sanders. You can see the recorded sessions here.
Bernie Sanders leads a rally to save our health care in Columbus on June 25, 2017. That’s my friend Puja with her arm raised on the upper left.
Bernie’s Save Health Care Rally was held inside Lifestyle Communities Pavilion, which only holds about 4,000 people, but it was packed. I worked the media table with my friend Puja Datta, who was also chosen to be on stage with Bernie. The atmosphere was electric, as local politicians Mary Jo Kilroy and Betty Sutton turned out.
Mobilize 88 featured keynotes by three women of color – Nina Turner, Anoa Changa, and Stacey Hopkins. Look up their work. Several local progressive activists also spoke. Here is coverage from Real News Network.
As most of my friends know, I am currently working on a master’s in public administration at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs. One of my classes was PUB 6010 Legal Environment of Public Affairs. As part of that class, I was asked to submit a public records request to an agency.
Flag Road leading into Oceti Sakowin camp.
Given that I had recently visited Standing Rock, I decided to submit a request on February 3 to the Ohio State Highway Patrol for all records pertaining to the deployment of 37 state troopers to North Dakota to assist with security regarding protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation from October 29, 2016, to November 15, 2016.
When a public records request is denied, it’s usually on the grounds that it is too broad. I didn’t think that would apply to my request, which concerned 37 specific officers deployed to a specific location on specific dates. Surely they could produce the records pertaining to that deployment.
Riot Police manhandle peaceful water protectors praying near DAPL construction and desecrated sacred sites on October 22, 2016. Photo by Rob Wilson Photography
On March 17, I received a response from P.R. Casey IV, associate legal counsel and public records manager for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, denying my request on the grounds that it was too broad. He said I had to ask for specific records rather than all records related to the deployment. This was difficult without knowing what specific records they had.
The denial put me in good company: Public records requests from both the Columbus Dispatch and Cincinnati Enquirer had been denied as well. So I called Randy Ludlow, the Dispatch reporter who had filed their request for copies of any use of force reports during the deployment.
I asked if the Dispatch was going to take legal action on their denial. Ludlow said probably yes, so I asked if I could join the case. To that he said no, but he told me about a new procedure to file a complaint about the denial of a public records request through the Court of Claims. After hanging up, I looked up the site and filed a complaint that day, along with the filing fee of $25.
Court of Claims
Within a week, I got a letter from the court saying they were accepting my complaint and referring it for mediation. I then got another letter stating that two attorneys with the attorney general’s office were filing as legal counsel for the state police. Then I got a message from an attorney at the Court of Claims wanting to have a pre-mediation conference.
Ohio state troopers at a protest near Turtle Hill near the Standing Rock reservation on November 2, 2016. By Conor Handley and downloaded by Ohio state police.
All of this freaked me out a little bit, so I did some more research. I found that the large newspapers in the state are represented by attorneys for the Ohio Newspaper Guild. I found names for two attorneys who work on public records law at a high-priced law firm in Cleveland.
On a lark I decided to call one. I was surprised when he picked up on the first ring – I had expected to reach a receptionist or an answering machine. But since he did, I explained the situation and asked his advice. He told me that I couldn’t afford to hire his law firm, but if I would send him an outline of the case, he would take a look and offer some quick thoughts. I was pretty amazed, but I sent him an email the next day, and he responded the day after that.
I started with the Enquirer case, which was a gold mine. The Enquirer had asked for:
The names and ranks of the 37 officers sent to North Dakota under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) agreement between the two states
All communication issued or received by the highway patrol regarding the deployment
Any documents that outline the actual EMAC agreement between Ohio and North Dakota
Any highway patrol documents that govern EMAC agreements.
All of these requests were denied for various reasons: 1, because of concerns for the safety of the officers; 2, as overly broad (it was the same request I made and denied for the same reasons); 3, because of security concerns; and 4, because they didn’t have such a document.
The Enquirer case then went to mediation, which failed. At that point the case was assigned to a “special master” named Jeffrey W. Clark to hold a formal legal hearing, then issue a report and recommendation. Clark began by ordering the attorneys for the state to submit a response to the Enquirer’s public records request explaining in detail why they were denying it.
Why the denial
A photo taken by Ohio state police during a protest at Turtle Hill near the Standing Rock reservation. Via Muckrock.
Within two weeks, the state attorneys filed an 84-page document consisting of 19 pages of legal arguments and 65 pages of exhibits, including an affidavit from a commanding officer for the Ohio state police and pages upon pages of what they said were threats to the safety of police officers on social media, including doxxing one North Dakota officer.
The agency’s main reasons for denying the public records request were 1) they didn’t want the identity of the Ohio state police officers known because they were worried about their personal safety, and 2) they cited a pipeline about to be constructed in Ohio and said they don’t want to divulge police strategy because they may want to use that same strategy in case of protests in Ohio.
A woman holds up a feather in front of a line of riot police on November 1, 2016. Photo by Rob Wilson Photography
Regarding their first reason for not producing the records of what Ohio state police did at Standing Rock, I thought they were far too concerned about police safety with very little concern for the safety of water protectors. In all the protests I watched online and heard about through social media, I did not see one single case of a protester carrying a weapon. Instead, I saw that a 19-year-old girl from New York City got her arm blown apart by a concussion grenade, an 18-year-old Sioux girl had her arm broken by police, another Sioux woman lost her eye to concussion grenades, while others were attacked by police dogs badly handled by private security traced to an Ohio kennel through a logo clearly visible on their truck and not licensed in North Dakota.
Remaining in prayer as the militarized police force moves in on the water protectors on Hwy. 1806 on November 1, 2016. Photo by Rob Wilson Photography
Throughout all of this, the Morton County, N.D., sheriff’s department brazenly lied to the public about events when video easily proved they were lying, yet for months the media reported what the North Dakota police said as the truth while not even talking to protesters. Few journalists actually visited the camps and saw the protests for themselves, and one who did, Amy Goodman, was herself arrested and charged with felony rioting before the judge threw the case out of court.
Had online outlets like Unicorn Riot and TYT Politics, along with citizen livestreamers like Kevin Gilbertt, Johnny Dangers, and Ed Higgins not been there to document events, we would have no idea what really happened, and the Sioux would have been crushed with little fanfare – all because they wanted to protect their water supply from a pipeline that had been rerouted after people in mostly white Bismarck complained about it running next to their town’s water.
All that said – apparently one police officer from North Dakota did have his identity outed on social media (though I never saw it, and I paid a lot of attention to this issue) and felt his safety was threatened. On that basis, I decided to reiterate that identifying information about the Ohio officers could be redacted from any documents released to me. I figured that would be a show of good will and maybe make them more willing to release documents.
A photo taken by Ohio state police deployed to assist with security at the pipeline protests at Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. Click to enlarge. Via Muckrock
Regarding the second main reason for denying the request – that a pipeline being constructed in Ohio and they don’t want to divulge police strategy because they want to use that same strategy in case of protests here — this was the security exemption they kept claiming for not releasing the records. They don’t want us to know what Ohio state troopers did at Standing Rock because they want to be able to do the same things in case of pipeline protests in Ohio.
The pipeline under construction they were likely referring to is Rover, which is owned by Energy Transfer Partners, the same company that owns Dakota Access, and is slated to go across 18 counties in the state. Construction of the pipeline has begun, and already the state has fined ETP $431,000 for 18 violations of the Clean Water Act, including a spill of millions of gallons of drilling muck that destroyed a Category 3 wetland (the highest quality) in Stark County.
Apparently Clark, the special master in the Enquirer case, was as dissatisfied as I was with the state’s reasons for not releasing public documents regarding the state troopers’ deployment to Standing Rock. On March 8, he ordered the state to send him a copy of the EMAC agreement between Ohio and North Dakota under seal within five days so he could decide if it really was covered by the security exemption that the state attorneys were claiming.
Ribbons tied between flagpoles at Oceti Sakowin camp.
The state then filed a motion for a protective order for the EMAC (the first time I’ve ever heard of protective order being filed for a document). Clark granted this motion, but then ordered the state again to turn over an unredacted copy of the EMAC within five days, then he would have seven days to review it. The state turned over the EMAC on March 30, then on April 4 the state filed a motion requesting the EMAC be returned. On April 13, Clark filed for a seven day extension to review the EMAC. A few days after that, Gov. John Kasich took public responsibility for ordering the deployment of Ohio state troopers to Standing Rock.
Finally on April 24, Clark issued his report and recommendation regarding the Cincinnati Enquirer’s four-part public records request. On the first request for the names and ranks of Ohio state officers sent to North Dakota, Clark found the state had “improperly denied” this request. It was okay to withhold the names while the officers were on deployment, but now several months after their return, the state had not demonstrated the officers were at risk of harm, Clark said.
The medic tent at Oceti Sakowin camp
On the second request for all communications issued or received by the highway patrol regarding the deployment, Clark supported the state’s denial on the grounds it was too broad. He said the state had given the Enquirer a chance to file a narrower request, but the Enquirer had not done so.
On the third request for the EMAC agreement, Clark found it should be released. The state had asserted the document contained deployment plans, vulnerability assessments, and tactical response plans, but Clark found most of it was administrative and billing information. The state had also claimed releasing the EMAC would put other states that had agreements with North Dakota at risk, yet at least six other states had already released their own EMAC agreements.
Keeping an eye on police atop Turtle Hill
Clark did say a few portions of the EMAC could be redacted under the security exception, such as some of the militarized police equipment – yet Indiana’s EMAC contained the entire list, including 42 sidearms, 37 AR-15 rifles, 16 riot gear outfits, and 23 shotguns, among other things.
On the fourth request for policies governing EMAC agreements, the state denied the request on the basis that no such documents exist, and Clark supported the denial.
Incredibly, after the special master found the state should release the EMAC agreement, the state still refused to do so. The point of contention is the names of officers who were deployed, which are listed in the document. The state simply said no to the special master’s recommendation. The case then went to an actual trial judge at the Court of Claims, who upheld the special master’s recommendation and ordered the state to turn over the EMAC agreement. The case can now be appealed to the 10th District Court.
My public records case
A photo taken by Ohio state police looking down on activity from atop Turtle Hill. Via Muckrock. Click to enlarge.
Shortly after my public records complaint was accepted at the Court of Claims, I got a call to have a pre-mediation conference with an attorney at the court. She kept asking me specifically which records I wanted from the state police. Without knowing what they have, I just reiterated that I didn’t see why a request for records regarding specific officers sent on a specific mission at a specific location on specific dates was too broad. She said it’s possible the state police would have personal correspondence with their families in the documents. I responded that I didn’t see why state police would be sending their wives grocery lists over the state email system. The court attorney then said it was likely my case would go to mediation.
Warrior woman water protector holds sage and walks in front of riot police near the desecrated sacred sites and DAPL construction on October 22, 2016. Photo by Rob Wilson Photography
A week after that, I got a message from P.R. Casey, the attorney who had originally denied my request. He said he had a proposal for me. When I called back, he talked to me for a half-hour, which surprised me he would spend that long on my case. Casey offered to send me everything he had already sent other reporters who had filed public records requests to see if that would satisfy what I was looking for.
He also reiterated that I needed to ask for specific records. I told him that was difficult without knowing what specific records they had, and he acknowledged that was a catch-22. I agreed to look at the documents he sent, and if that wasn’t enough, maybe they would help me pinpoint specific records to request. Casey then asked if I would drop my case with the Court of Claims. I said that would depend on what I found in the documents, and he admitted that it might be up to the mediator to decide if a further request would be a new case or an addendum to this case.
Information sent to the deploying officers including weather reports in North Dakota, employee assistance information, how to vote absentee, and how to get travel reimbursements.
A use of force incident report with so much redacted that there’s no way to know what happened except that it was at Mandan County Correctional Center, where many of the people arrested at Standing Rock were held.
Financial documents showing that Ohio state police requested $574,271 in reimbursement from North Dakota for the cost of the deployment – $512,921 for personnel costs including $271,992 in overtime, plus $58,824 in travel costs and $2,530 in assorted costs including $1,473 for a cost that was redacted. It also showed the officers routinely worked 12 to 14 hour days while deployed at Standing Rock.
One disk of photos and videos taken by Ohio state troopers during the deployment, and one disk of videos taken by others during the deployment. The first disk showed that police had a sniper positioned on a hill above one of the main protest locations, and that they had someone embedded in with the protesters during the action. The second disk included video of activist Erin Schrode being shot by a rubber bullet. See more here
One commander’s personnel file with personal information redacted, with a promise to go through the emails of two commanders that reference North Dakota or the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.
Sniper shown sitting on top of Turtle Hill in photo released by Ohio state police. Via Muckrock. Click to enlarge
This was a lot of interesting information, especially the photos and videos, which were released without any difficulty. I’ll have to remember that as a public records request trick next time. Another trick was asking for emails from addresses ending in “nd.gov” or “mortonnd.org” or addressed to specific commanding officers with the Ohio state police. A third trick was asking for financial documents.
A few weeks later, P.R. Casey sent another thing I had asked for, the list of other public records requests the state police had received from the date of the deployment until the present. I had meant to ask only for other requests about the deployment to Standing Rock, but what Casey sent me was an 88-page list of every request the state police have gotten. Most were news media and attorneys asking for accident reports. Only a few were about Standing Rock. It is interesting to see the sheer volume of requests this agency gets every week – it’s a lot.
Protests at the bottom of Turtle Hill in a photo taken by Ohio state police. Via Muckrock. Click to enlarge.
After that, the attorney from the Court of Claims contacted me again to ask if the response to my complaint had satisfied me or if I wanted more documents. From looking at the documents Casey sent, I was able to decide which specific things I wanted to ask for: a copy of the EMAC agreement, which for my purposes could be redacted; copies of the daily briefings given to Ohio state troopers; and any use of force reports, the same request as was made by the Dispatch.
Like the Cincinnati Enquirer case, my case did end up going to mediation. During a 30-minute teleconference, state attorneys agreed to send me a copy of the EMAC with the officers’ names redacted, but denied my requests for the daily briefings and use of force reports on the basis of the security exemption to the Public Records Act.
This is the militarized police force sent to confront and remove water protectors on November 1, 2016. Photo by Rob Wilson Photography
The attorneys did clarify that the redacted use of force report they had sent previously was really a compilation of all the RTR, or response to resistance, reports that Ohio state troopers had filed during the entire deployment to North Dakota. They thought these reports would have the details I was looking for about what exactly Ohio state troopers did in Standing Rock, but that was also why they had redacted all of the information.
After that, the mediator asked me to dismiss my complaint so they could close my case. He said if I want to pursue additional legal action to get the briefing emails and response to resistance report, I would have to submit a new public records request, have that denied, go through mediation again, and likely take it to a trial court, where I would need to counter the state’s arguments as to why these documents can be withheld under the security exemption.
That’s really beyond what I as a citizen without an attorney or time to do detailed legal research can do, and I’m sure they know that. The Dispatch was also denied access to the use of force reports, and unlike me, they have attorneys, so I hope they pursue their case as the Enquirer did.
Three days after my mediation, The Intercept published leaked copies of 13 briefings given by a private security firm called TigerSwan to officers deployed to Standing Rock. The documents are appalling. They show exactly what all of us thought – that police were conducting nothing less than a counter-insurgency operation such as our troops have done in Iraq – only this one was aimed against peaceful American citizens simply trying to protect their water. The report shows how militarized police treated water protectors as jihadist enemy to find, fix and eliminate. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what happened at Standing Rock.
Water protectors march down desecrated sacred ground to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline on October 22, 2016. Photo by Rob Wilson Photography
Front banner at the March for Science in Washington, DC, on April 22, 2017.
Front banner on the left side of Pennsylvania Avenue at the People’s Climate March in Washington, DC, on April 29, 2015.
Front banner on the right side of Pennsylvania Avenue at the People’s Climate March in Washington, DC, on April 29, 2017.
April is Earth Month – which under a Trump administration means a lot of environmental activism. This year saw two historic marches in Washington, DC, each with sister marches around the country: the March for Science and the People’s Climate March.
A denier dinosaur at the March for Science.
I had planned to go to the March for Science in Columbus, where thousands of people said they planned to attend, then go to Washington for the People’s Climate March. But when a family gathering unexpectedly pulled me to North Carolina, my husband, Paul, and I decided to go to Washington for both marches. It was a grueling but rewarding experience.
The weather at the two marches could not have been more different. On April 22, it was cold, rainy, and windy at the March for Science. I hadn’t brought an umbrella, and ended up buying one from a street vendor. Even so my clothes, shoes and everything inside my backpack got soaked.
Marcher at March for Science.
The rain didn’t seem to depress turnout. We arrived at the Washington Monument as the pre-march rally was getting under way. There was just one checkpoint to have bags searched, and the line to get in ran for dozens of blocks. Instead, we took refuge inside a tent that had wifi, where I plugged in my phone and watched the speakers through the live feed from Democracy Now.
When it came time to march, Paul ran out to get some photos at the front of the lineup. I lingered behind to take photos of people’s signs. The signs were unique and creative, based on specific areas of science or supporting science, facts, and evidence in general. These were people who had spent a long time studying in their fields and were proud of their accomplishments.
A sign left at the Capitol building.
Eventually I worked my way out of the crowd to find the march had already started. So I ran down Constitution Avenue for what seemed like forever, and got in front of the lineup at the intersection with Pennsylvania. There I was able to get a few photos of the parade banner, where if you look closely, you can see Bill Nye and climate scientist Michael Mann leading the charge. I also got 20 minutes of video of the march until my phone batter ran out.
The March for Science ended at the U.S. Capitol, where I continued to get photos of people and their signs. Despite the rain, the mood was happy and defiant. People gathered in drum circles to chant “This is what peer review looks like” and wore dinosaur costumes with signs saying “The meteor is a Chinese hoax.” Many signs were left on the fence of the Capitol building as a message to those inside.
You can see a slideshow of 142 photos I took at the March for Science below.
People’s Climate March
Whereas weather during the March for Science was cold and wet, it was hot and sunny a week later for the People’s Climate March. The temperature hit 91 degrees F, tying a record for April 29 in Washington, DC. Marchers were told to bring sunscreen, which we did. Despite using an SPF 70, the sunscreen sweated off, and I got sunburned enough to peel on my face and arms.
The Indigenous Rights banner at the People’s Climate March.
Still, it was an incredible experience. We arrived an hour before the march began and got to take lots of photos at the lineup on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Capitol building. Environmental justice was a huge theme of the march, with the Protectors of Justice –indigenous communities and people of color who are at the frontlines of climate change – leading the charge.
The CO2LONIALISM wagon at the People’s Climate March.
Some particularly notable displays included the CO2LONIALISM wagon shot full of arrows depicting sovereignty, language, reparations, and feminism; the 10-foot puppet of murdered Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres; and the many colorful parachute banners.
The lineup wound down Pennsylvania Avenue, turning on Third Street in front of the Capitol, then on Jefferson down the Washington Mall. After the Protectors of Justice were
Creators of Sanctuary – immigrants, LGBTQUI, women, Latinos, waterkeepers, food sovereignty and land rights
Builders of Democracy – labor, government, workers, voting rights, and democracy groups
Guardians of the Future – kids, parents, elders, youth, students, and peace activists
Defenders of Truth – scientists, educators, technologists, and health community
Keepers of Faith – religious and interfaith groups
Reshapers of Power – anti-corporate, anti-nuclear, fossil fuel resistance, renewable energy and transportation
Many Struggles, One Home – environmentalists, climate activists, and more
Resist banner near Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC.
The next stop for the climate march was the White House. Marchers came up Pennsylvania Avenue, then turned up 15th Street NW to Lafayette Square. On the way they encountered the large “Climate Change Affects Us All” chalkboard that had made its debut at the 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City, along with the large Mercy for Earth balloon and a display of members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as puppets of the oil industry.
The Climate Change Affects Us All chalkboard made its debut at the People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014.
By the time I got to Lafayette Square, I was exhausted. Everyone was sitting down, and I found a place in the shade to rest and put on more sunscreen. Finding my husband took a while, and finding water took even longer. I had long since consumed the water I had brought, and saw no water on the march route. Unfortunately there were only a few street vendors with water, all with long lines. Finally a police officer sitting in his air conditioned SUV gave me a bottle of water. He must have felt sorry for me – and might not have done the same for a person of color.
The climate ribbon display was also in Paris during the 2015 climate conference.
That water allowed me to finish the march and stay for the rally at the Washington Monument, full circle from where we had begun the week before at the March for Science. The rally featured indigenous leaders, music, and a long list of speakers including the children who had touched off resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline by running from Standing Rock to Washington, DC.
The climate ribbon tree that I saw at the climate conference in Paris was there, with people hanging ribbons for what they did not want to lose to climate change. Then everyone left their signs in front of the Washington Monument arranged to spell out “Climate Jobs Justice.” The crowd was buzzed a couple of times by low-flying helicopters from the White House.
You can see a slideshow of 170 photos I took at the People’s Climate March below.
A marcher at the rally after the People’s Climate March.
What do these two marches mean? First, they show the widespread public support for policy based on science and evidence, and for action to address climate change. About 1.1 million people marched for science on April 22, with 100,000 in Washington, DC. Over 200,000 people marched for climate in Washington on April 29, with 370 sister marches around the country.
Polls show that the vast majority of people think science has improved their lives and support public funding for science, while concern for climate change is at an eight-year high. Large majorities of Americans, including a majority of Trump voters, support action on climate.
A sign left at the U.S. Capitol after the March for Science.
Fortunately, we don’t need Trump to start taking action on climate. Some things you can do in your individual life include:
Bike, walk, or take public transportation to work
Trade your gas car for a hybrid or electric vehicle
Get an energy audit for your home
Ask your utility about energy from renewables
Eat less meat or eliminate meat consumption altogether
You can also act to change things on a collective level. Some ideas are:
Join the Sierra Club or another environmental group and sign up for action alerts. Sierra Club has a rapid response team to keep you posted on actions and events in your area.
Save phone numbers for your U.S. and state representatives into the favorites on your phone so you can call them quickly and easily when news breaks out.
Find and follow your local Indivisible or progressive group on social media.
A sign left near the Washington Monument after the People’s Climate March.
One promising front in the climate campaign is cities. Urban areas are responsible for 70% of carbon emissions, and 90% of cities are at risk from climate change. At the Paris climate conference, 1000 cities across the world pledged to go 100% renewable by 2050. Now that movement is coming to the United States with the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign. So far 28 cities and one state have committed to going 100% renewable, with discussions in dozens more.
Although things seem so bleak right now that scientists have to come out of their labs and Native American grandmothers into the streets, it’s times like this that show us what we are made of. I was heartened by the massive participation, creative signs, and visionary art at the March for Science and People’s Climate March. Millions of Americans are not going to let the current administration exploit the planet and destabilize the climate without a major fight.
Demonstrators gather at the entrance to the Wayne National Forest in Nelsonville, Ohio, on December 1, 2016, to protest a BLM auction of oil and gas leases on public land in the forest. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Dawley.
Over the objections of the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, the Bureau of Land management on December 13 auctioned off leases for parcels in Wayne National Forest to oil and gas corporations for fracking.
Parcels in the Marietta unit of Wayne National Forest marked off for auction to oil and gas corporations for fracking.
More than 750 acres across 17 parcels in the forest’s Marietta unit were sold to 22 oil and gas companies for a total of about $1.7 million. Winning bids ranged from $2 per acre to $5,806.12 per acre.
Originally the BLM had posted 31 parcels in Wayne National Forest for lease, but pulled 17 at the last minute, finding that they already had existing oil and gas leases. A few of the pulled parcels even have operational wells.
Discussion of fracking in Wayne National Forest goes back to 2011, when the BLM proposed leasing parcels of the forest to oil and gas operations. At that time the Sierra Club joined with other groups such as Athens County Fracking Action Network and Buckeye Forest Council to successfully lobby Wayne Forest supervisor Anne Carey to withdraw consent for fracking.
But in late 2015 the BLM brought back plans to frack Wayne National Forest. The agency held information sessions near each of the forest’s three main units in Athens, Marietta, and Ironton. In Athens 200 citizens showed up to oppose fracking.
The sale came after BLM issued a draft Environmental Assessment, a “fast-track” assessment of the risk of oil and gas drilling in the Marietta unit, along with an unsigned Finding of No Significant Impact in April 2016. Their proposal was to lease fracking rights to 40,000 acres, including 18,000 acres in the first auction. More than 50 oil companies expressed interest.
In response, the Sierra Club with Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Ohio Environmental Council submitted a 78-page letter demanding a full Environmental Impact Statement, a much more comprehensive examination of environmental risks.
Activists rallied against fracking in Wayne National Forest outside Sen. Rob Portman’s office in Columbus on November 3, 2016.
The groups said the draft assessment had not taken into account that:
Fracking poses a risk to water quality through contamination of rivers, streams, and water tables from fracking fluid and disposal wells.
Fracking harms air quality through pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and ozone.
Methane from fracking significantly increases greenhouse gas emissions, adding to climate change that increases the chances of extreme weather events, sea level rise, and impacts to infrastructure.
Fracking poses significant human health and safety risks such as increased risk of cancer, birth defects, and heart attacks.
Fracking poses a risk to wildlife species such as the northern long-eared bat and threatens loss of wildlife habitats.
BLM must end all new fossil fuel leasing and fracking on public lands in order to limit greenhouse gas emissions and keep fossil fuels in the ground required to meet the Paris Agreement on climate change, the environmental group’s letter said.
Activists rallied against fracking in Wayne National Forest outside Sen. Rob Portman’s office in Columbus on November 3, 2016.
Sierra Club also worked with Center for Biological Diversity and Ohio Environmental Council to ask the U.S. Forest Service to intervene to stop the sale of Wayne National Forest for fracking. Under federal rules, BLM oversees oil and gas operations, but the Forest Service must consent to these activities and can withdraw consent at any time.
“Public lands are for the people, not for the benefit of Big Oil and Gas,” Lena Moffitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said in a statement last month. “Drilling for oil and gas means more fracking, and fracking means poisoning our air and water, and threatening the health of our communities and our environment. At a time when clean energy like solar and wind is proving to be safest, healthiest and most cost-effective way to power our country, it’s high time we recognized that we need to leave dirty fuels like coal, oil and gas in the ground.”
Unfortunately, the BLM did not take concerns raised by Sierra Club and other groups into account and declined to do an in-depth Environmental Impact Statement. In October the BLM published its final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact, setting the auction date for December 13.
The auction was conducted entirely online. To bid, interested parties had to sign up through the auction portal, declare they intended to use the land for oil and gas exploration, and provide their bank account information to receive a maximum bid allowance.
Activists made plans for how to counter fracking in Wayne National Forest at a meeting on October 27, 2016.
Several environmental groups ran campaigns against fracking in Wayne National Forest. More than 4,000 people sent letters to the U.S. Forest Service through an action alert posted by Ohio Sierra Club. An Action Sprout petition posted by Ohio Environmental Council got over 8,000 signatures, and a Change.org petition posted by Athens County Frack Action Network netted over 99,000 signatures.
In addition, protests were organized at the offices of Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown, as well as at U.S. Forest Service offices in the Athens unit.
Coincidentally, also on December 13, the Environmental Protection Agency released its final report showing that fracking has indeed contaminated drinking water. This was a change from the draft report that found such contamination only in isolated cases.
The EPA updated the report after a virtually unanimous outcry from environmental protection organizations across the country as well as its own Science Advisory Board.
Activists rallied against fracking in Wayne National Forest outside Sen. Rob Portman’s office in Columbus on November 3, 2016.
BLM has 60 days to issue the fracking leases sold on December 13. Companies then must apply for a permit to drill, a process that takes at least six months.
Parties interested in opposing fracking in Wayne National Forest will meet on Thursday, January 26, at 6 p.m. in Room 100 of the Northwood-High Building, 2231 N. High St., Columbus, OH 43201, to discuss options following the December auction.
The death of Cecil, a well known lion who lived on a protected reservation as part of a research project in Zimbabwe, was hard enough to come to terms with. It took about a week of me seeing posts about it in my Facebook feed before I could bring myself to look into it further. Then when the killer was identified as a trophy-hunting dentist from Minnesota, it was even harder to deal with the fact that Cecil will so needlessly killed by an American. As rage poured out from around the world, it was clear that Cecil’s killing struck a very deep chord in many people.
But then as others began comparing their causes to Cecil’s, as if to minimize what happened to him, my feelings became a jumble. Of course these other causes were important, but so was this case, which represented far more than just one lion but the entire relationship of humans with animals and the environment. To sort out my feelings, I wrote a Facebook note called “Comparing Causes,” which several of my friends began sharing and told me deserved a wider audience.
One of my friends had a particularly good suggestion: Submit it to The Dodo, an online publication about animals where writers and bloggers could submit their work. I took her advice and posted it. Then the next day I emailed the editors to ask if they would be willing to feature it — and they did! This was quite an honor because only a very few pieces are selected to be featured on The Dodo, and usually those are by big names in the animal welfare profession.
On August 3, my piece — under the new and more click-worthy headline “Let’s Just Stop Using Cecil To Talk About Abortion” ran next to pieces by Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free, and Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States. The piece makes the points that all efforts to increase the welfare of humans, animals and the environment are important, that they are all related, that not every person has to participate in every cause, and that no one is perfect at even their own causes.
The Dodo posted the piece on their Facebook page, where it got over 1000 shares, and their Twitter feed, where it got about 100 retweets, favorites, and responses. It also got 46 comments on the piece itself, most of them favorable but some not. I was happy to see all of them. This is my first foray into online publishing, and if I get this inspired by something in the future, I may just write something else.
I liked this article in that it made an attempt to systematically apply some of the decision-making concepts we have been looking at to the environmental arena. Kleindorfer listed five special aspects of environmental decision-making:
The relatively insignificant effect that individuals have on the environment, along with the perception that the individual bears the costs but society gets the benefits
The perception that the problem is with industry or government
The cost of environmental protections, and the difficulty of weighing costs against benefits
Long term effects of environmental improvement are hard to weigh against near term costs
Lack of scientific proof of causality between action and outcome
Kleindorfer looks at some strategies for addressing some of these issues. For example, if costs are perceived as high and benefits as low, regulation and an appeal to ethics is needed. If costs are low and benefits high, we need to make sure people understand the benefits. If costs and benefits are both high, people need to be convinced the problem is unacceptable and there is an alternative.
Kleindorfer classifies environmental problems into four types:
Easy, which the market or simple regulations can solve
Commons dilemmas, which require regulations and standards along with an appeal to ethics
Information problems, which require providing information and seeking participation and consensus
Tough problems, which require pretty much all of the above
Kleindorfer ends by arguing that an appeal to self interest won’t work to get people to take action on environmental problems. He thinks you have to appeal to social responsibility or a sense of ethics. This is what he calls legitimation, and he says it’s the foundation of all environmental decision making.
Individual vs collective
Since my main interest in this class is climate change communication, I want to explore how Kleindorfer’s concepts apply to this problem. First, I can see how all five of Kleindorfer’s characteristics of environmental deicison making apply to this issue. I’m especially interested in #2, because I don’t think it’s just a perception but a very valid concern. We cannot address climate change simply by individual actions. There have to be major structural changes in how dependent our society is on fossil fuels and on the realistic options offered to individuals, industries, and government to reduce their use. People cannot use public transit if there isn’t any in their area or if taking the bus would add a two-hour commute each way to work. Most people realistically don’t have time to grow all their own food. Most people don’t have $20,000 lying around to use for installing solar panels.
There are things individuals can do such as using energy-saving light bulbs and eating less meat. But it will take major structural changes before our society can kick its dependence on fossil fuels, and furthermore the fossil fuel interests are going to do everything in their power to delay this or keep it from happening. That’s where climate change becomes a real public policy issue, because without policies that encourage growth of renewable energy industries, we might never get beyond the talking stages.
To make public policy happen, we do have to be able to explain the other points of Kleindorfer’s environmental decision making tree, namely how benefits outweigh costs, how benefits will accrue now and not just into the future, and how action is scientifically linked to outcome.
The costs and benefits of averting climate change are both high — though the cost of doing nothing is no less than the extinction of humans and all other species. One of our best bets may be to argue that the costs of *not* addressing climate change are unaffordable, along with showing the solutions. Those may be investment in renewable energy and taxing carbon as a way to internalize the externalized costs of fossil fuels.
So far as the four types of environmental problems, climate change is pretty clearly in the “tough” camp. It’s going to require pretty much every tool to address — regulations, standards, incentives, subsidies, taxes, etc.
Kleindorfer’s notion that environmental issues must be argued from social responsibilty rather than self-interest is interesting, but I am not sure I agree. On the one hand, more companies than ever have social responsibility units and want to portray what they are doing as good for society and the responsible thing to do. Animal protection groups have had a lot of success getting companies to sign onto animal welfare standards using this line of reasoning. On the other hand, most of those companies wouldn’t do it if they didn’t think their customers cared about such standards and that it wasn’t good for their bottom lines.
The same is true of environemental standards, maybe even more so. Most people care about clean air and clean water, and companies active use green programs as part of their advertising, to the point that “green washing” has become a term for companies that talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Again, these companies would not be appealing to the consumer’s sense of environmental ethics if they didn’t think it would help their bottom line. For example, hotels that give you the opportunity not to wash your towels every day also save a ton of money in water, heating and detergent bills.
Such concerns, however, don’t really translate to the individual who isn’t trying to sell you something or get you to do something. They are going to be motivated much more by self interest. If we could have gotten farmers to stop applying so much manure to their fields in Northwest Ohio simply by appealing to a sense of the greater good, Toledo’s water supply never would have been in danger.
Regardless of what motivates a company, government, or individual to do the right thing, it’s good when they do it. But we do have to know what motivates them in order to set up the right public policy programs to elicit the type of behavior we want, and to explain to them why they should support these policies.
This is a reaction to readings in ENR 8150 Advanced Environment, Risk, and Decision Making. The readings were Forgas, J.P. Ch. 1 (Introduction) and Zajonc, R.B. Ch. 2 (Feeling and Thinking) pp. 1- 58 in Feeling and thinking: The role of affect in social cognition, ed. by Joseph P. Forgas. (Cambridge University Press, 2001).
These chapters both made the case that cognition (memory, learning, recognition) is a separate process from affect (emotions, attitudes, preferences). I get that, but they certainly do seem to work together and influence each other a lot. Zajonc argues that the physical structures of the brain show they are separate processes, since emotions originate in the amygdala while cognition originates in the hippocampus.
Zajonc points out that the amygdala is closer than the hippocampus to the thalamus, which is the organ that relays sensations, thoughts and feelings to the appropriate place in the neocortex for processing and response. That is true, but it also looks like the amygdala and hippocampus are literally right next to each other in the brain. Who’s to say there aren’t connections between these two structures that cause cogniton and emotions to influence each other before either one reaches the thalamus?
I have also long been intrigued by the similarities and differences between the brains of humans and other animals. Mammals all have a similar limbic system to humans, which means they likely feel similar emotions. This system was developed during evolution and has gone through many species to us. Where we differ is in the much larger frontal lobes where we do a lot of thinking, analyzing, and planning.
So my question is, is activity in the frontal lobes different from cognition? Are the frontal lobes where the thalamus sends cognitive information from the hippocampus, whereas emotional information goes somewhere else? And if so, why is emotion so much more powerful in the sense that it can move you to act, whereas simple cognitive information cannot? It would seem that if the frontal lobes are so much bigger in people, they would be more powerful than the tiny amygdala. Yet again and again we see emotions are more powerful.
Note: This site was helpful in trying to understand the functions of the different parts of the brain that Zajonc discussed.
Emotion and action
Continuing with the emotion and action idea … Emotions are what precipitates action, which is why campaigns to get people to DO something — sign a petition, vote for a candidate, write a letter to their senator, recycle, turn out the lights, pass legislation to address climate change — must have an emotional hook. Here is a great campaign that has helped to curtail consumption of shark fin soup in China.
On another thread I posted a link to a story about the most powerful political ads of all time. Ads like Johnson’s “Daisy Girl” or Reagan’s “Morning in America” are pretty much purely based on emotion. This is something the most effective designers of political ads understand. Are they manipulative? Yes. Do they work? Absolutely yes. Is it ethical? In my opinion, it depends.
If the cognitive substance that the ad is conveying through emotion is true, then yes it is ethical. “This is your brain on drugs” is iconic — and a pretty good representation of what actually happens to the brains of drug addicts. However, the “Swift Boat” ad that derailed the candidacy of John Kerry was not ethical because only one of the 13 men in the ad who claimed to have served with Kerry actually did, and by all accounts Kerry’s service in Vietnam was exemplary, the opposite of what the ad conveyed.
So what does this mean for environmental issues today? In short, the lesson seems to be, climate science needs an effective ad agency. Complex material can be communicated through emotion, imagery, and storylines, and there is nothing wrong with doing so, as long as you do not misrepresent the subject you are communicating.
Some scientists seem to find this conclusion — and this type of communication in general — to be appalling. Last week I followed a protacted Twitter discussion between Richard Betts, a senior climate scientist in Britain, with Dana Nuccitelli, a blogger for The Guardian and one of the science communicators behind the Skeptical Science website. Betts took exception to this headline, arguing that it was sensationalist. He went on to say most science journalism was sensationalist, then compared Nuccitelli’s column to the work of David Rose, a columnist at the Daily Mail who often attacks climate science (here for example), and questioned the motives of Nuccitelli in writing it. Of course Nuccitelli was pretty offended by all this, and several people jumped into the debate on both sides.
My point is, if climate science is going to use the scientific information we are learning about in this class, it will have to deal with attitudes of people like Betts, who seem to think using any reference to emotion is sensationalist and manipulative. Sometimes scientists can be their own worst enemies!
On the other side of the scale, however, is a climate scientist like Katharine Hayhoe, who gets it. She has long called for communicating climate science not through technical details but through values and emotion. Here is her 30-second “elevator pitch” for how to communicate climate science. She may not know about all the research we are reading about in this class that backs up her approach, but she is demonstrating it.
Repetition, repetition, repetition
I wasn’t sure what to make of many of the Zajonc experiments showing that simple repetition makes people like something more, even if that item is competely unrelated to anything else in their lives. What this made me think of was the idea, often attributed to the Nazis, that if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.
Then add in the subconscious priming with smiley faces and frowns, and talk about manipulation! I am pretty sure such manipulation (for example, inserting a few frames of a smiley face or frowny face just before or in the middle of an ad or TV show) is illegal. But that wouldn’t stop a lot of political advertisers, and it would be practically impossible to track or enforce in the internet age.
Perhaps Zajonc’s findings apply mainly to things people have not had previous exposure to or don’t know much about. If they had already been exposed to something long enough to form an opinion, then maybe this type of repetition and priming wouldn’t have an effect.
Regarding climate change, that’s where the fossil fuel interests and free market fundamentalists beat scientists to the punch. By funding a series of front group campaigns to paint concern about climate change as alarmist and climate change itself as a hoax — all of this before most people have had any exposure to what climate science is or how the climate even works — they have already “primed” much of public opinion. Just look at the comments to any news story about climate change to see that.
Communicating something as complex as climate change is already challenging because the science is complex, and because some scientists think so much with their hippocampus that they don’t understand the importance of the amygdala. But now we’ve also got to deal with a public primed against climate science. It will take a special talent — maybe the “emotional giant” that Zajonc doesn’t think exists — to figure out how to overcome all this.
The reading I was most interested in this week was Wainwright and Mann on “Climate Leviathan.” Categorizations like this help us to understand current debates and schools of thought about an issue as complicated as climate change and what to do about it.
A similar paper came out just this fall from Matthew Nisbet called “Disruptive ideas: public intellectuals and their arguments for action on climate change.” Nisbet’s paper is much more U.S. based and discusses three camps: ecological activists like Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein, smart growth reformers like Al Gore and Jeffrey Sachs, and ecomodernists like Roger Pielke Jr. and Andy Revkin.
If I were to superimpose Nisbet’s analysis onto Wainwright and Mann’s, the ecological activists would likely fall into Climate X, while the smart growth reformers would fall into Climate Leviathan. I don’t know where the economodernists would fall. They seem to be most typified by an organization called the Breakthrough Institute, started by Ted Norhaus and Michael Shellenberger. I finally stopped following them on Twitter because I never saw them put forward a constructive solution, but only criticisms of why anything that anyone else put forward wouldn’t work. At some point you have to stop attacking others and advocate something of your own. They seem to like nuclear power, but so does James Hansen, who probably belongs in the Climate Leviathan camp more than anywhere else, since his main solution is a carbon tax.
Given these considerations, I think Wainwright and Mann’s analysis of the climate debate is more comprehensive both in terms of geography and history. Wainwright and Mann clearly trace the line of thought they discuss back to their historical origins, not just with philosophers like Marx and Hegel, but even back to the Book of Job. They also include a discussion of non-American responses to climate change, such as a possible Asian response through Climate Mao, or even the Islamist response which falls into Climate X because it works against capitalism.
I thought their discussion of all four possible responses to climate change was really interesting and right on point. Yesterday’s elections certainly showed Climate Behemoth. Now that the Republicans have taken the Senate, the worst climate denier in Congress, James Inhofe, is in line to head up a key environmental committee. Congress is likely to put bills in front of President Obama to fund the Keystone pipeline and gut the EPA’s carbon pollution standards.
Whether Obama will stand strong and veto these measures, or try to “compromise” by passing some of what the climate deniers want, is an open question. Certainly people who care about the environment, such as the 400,000 of us who showed up to march in New York City, will need to make our wishes known. Now is not the time to give up or go inactive.
The Climate Mao discussion was also interesting, especially in light of actions in China since this paper was published. Wainwright and Mann point out that the major advantage to Climate Mao is the state doesn’t need the approval of Congress or anyone else to enact laws and measures to lower carbon emissions and control pollution. They can just do it. China did it in Beijing just before the Olympics, and they are doing more of it to address the terrible smog and pollution problems that plague the country. The Chinese government knows it is not completely immune to civil unrest, and it doesn’t want these problems to lead to a rebellion.
I haven’t read Naomi Klein’s new book, “This Changes Everything,” yet – that’s planned for Christmas break. But it sounds like she would fall into the Climate X camp as Wainwright and Mann call for it. If everything went the way Wainwright and Mann describe, and a new world order could be created based in social justice and opportunity, that would be incredible.
But honestly, I just don’t see that happening, at least not in the near term. We can certainly use the climate crisis to try to push this agenda, whether overtly or covertly. The Green Climate Fund seems like one mechanism to do this, but as we read, it has a lot of problems – chiefly, who is going to fund it? So I’m not getting my hopes up about a new utopia of climate justice.
Instead, I personally put my hat in with the smart growth reformers. For now I feel like the best hope of lowering carbon emissions is a massive switch to renewable energy and a price on carbon. You can argue both programs within the capitalist framework that so much American identity revolves around. Renewable energy creates permanent, well paying jobs while preserving our natural resources, and it makes us energy independent while a cleaner environment improves human health. A price on carbon addresses the market failure caused by the externalities of dirty fuels not having to pay for the costs they impose on society, and if the money is redistributed to America families, it would boost the economy and create jobs.
All of this seems like a much more palatable way to advocate for programs that would reduce carbon emissions. Unfortunately other than on a volunteer basis, most Americans simply don’t care if Tuvalu vanishes into the sea or millions of Bangladeshis are flooded out of their homes. The stock issues in any election are economy and jobs. Fortunately, climate change can be addressed through those frames, and without having even to mention climate change itself, which has become politicized beyond all recognition.
The price of solar panels is continuing to come down, and soon I hope we will start to see a shift toward their use. Of course the utility companies will try to fight this. But letting people derive their own energy from the sun so they can be independent appeals not just to liberal environmentalists, but libertarian Tea Partiers. There may be new alliances to be forged.
One thing is for sure: People who care about the environment will need to think openly and creatively, and not dismiss an idea or an alliance just because they haven’t used it before. This is a time when all hands need to be on deck and all ideas on the table.
One thing Wainwright and Mann are also right about is the Climate Behemoth stance is not sustainable. It is reactionary, but they don’t have programs or solutions of their own. If smart growth reformers put forth real solutions, communicate them effectively, and make alliances even within the typical base of the Behemoth, they have a chance of success.
Tuesday’s policy chapter was on energy and environment policy, which is the area of policy I hope to specialize in while at the Glenn School. The reason I decided to get a degree at the Glenn School is because I would like to help make a difference in this policy area. But I also have a lot to learn first, and this chapter was really helpful. However, I do not think it gave enough weight to what I and many others see as the most pressing issue facing the country, and really our entire species, today: climate change.
Over the past couple of years, I have started to become increasingly concerned with climate change. The science is clear: The planet is warming, humans are responsible, the cause is carbon being put into the atmosphere mostly from burning of fossil fuels, and if we do not drastically reduce our use of fossil fuels in the next decade or so, we are likely to tip the planet’s environment into something totally different from what human civilization evolved in. It will likely be beyond our ability to adapt, and beyond the ability of most other species. We will be headed to the earth’s sixth mass extinction, with our own species as endangered as the rest.
This is not hyperbole. If anything, the scientific community has been too conservative in how they estimate and express the threat. But it is very real. Much of the research on climate change has been done right here at Ohio State at Byrd Polar Research Center. This center has sent scientists all over the world to drill ice cores in glaciers and ice sheets. Gas bubbles trapped in these cores tell us what the atmosphere was like on earth going back 800,000 years.
At no time has there ever been as much carbon in the atmosphere as there is now, and throughout this time, temperature closely tracks carbon. In the past 150 years – a blip in geological time – carbon has shot up beyond all previous measurements. Temperature is following and will also go beyond previous measurements if we do not stop pumping carbon into the atmosphere.
Already the planet has warmed 0.7⁰C since the Industrial Revolution, and because carbon hangs in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, we have about another degree of warming in the pipeline. That puts us perilously close to the 2⁰C threshold that scientists have said we cannot not go beyond. (Even that threshold seems high, given the effects we’ve seen at less than 1⁰C.)
And yet, the science is being ignored. Just this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued the synthesis report for its Fifth Assessment, using the strongest language yet. Climate change is set to inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on people and the natural world unless carbon emissions are cut sharply and rapidly, according to the report.
Yet, the reaction of the chairman of the House Science Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) was to shrug it off as “nothing new.” The House Science Committee is full of climate change deniers who are anti-science. They dismiss the IPCC as baseless – thousands of scientists from all over the world who put in five years going through 30,000 pieces of research in a review process that incorporated 143,000 expert comments. All of this work was on a volunteer basis.
Climate change denial has become a litmus test for Republicans, which is terrifying. It’s like turning gravity or e=mc2 into a political issue. It’s not political. It’s science. But what has happened over the past several years is that corporations and interest groups that don’t like the ramifications of the science have spent millions of dollars to raise doubt and impugn scientists. The most definitive study found that a staggering $1 billion a year has been spent on climate change denial, mostly in untraceable dark money from front groups whose donors are secret.
Last week saw another key event. A recording was leaked of a presentation by a particularly notorious front group king pin named Richard Berman at a conference of the oil and gas industry. Berman was caught on tape telling corporations like BP, Anadarko Petroleum, Devon Energy, and others that they have to wage “endless war” by digging up dirt on environmentalists. “You can win ugly or lose pretty,” Berman said, adding that they could donate $3 million to his front group attacking environmental groups, and he would keep their payments absolutely secret.
I personally am so happy to see Berman’s chicanery exposed to the world. For years he has been running front groups paid with dark money to attack animal welfare groups, teachers unions, MADD, the CDC and the EPA, among others. He has dozens of front groups, all run as nonprofits that funnel “donations” to his personal PR firm. It’s a shady business that has made him millions, and is shockingly legal in this country.
The exposure of Berman marks a turning point in the climate wars. No longer do we need to continue dealing with front group attacks on climate science. Climate denial is no longer a tenable position, regardless of what Republicans think. The problem is real, and dealing with it has been delayed for so long that it’s now extremely urgent. There is a legitimate debate on what to do about climate change, but there is no more legitimate debate over whether it is happening.
Fortunately, a whole bevy of solutions are available and in the works. Renewable energy is more affordable than ever. The cost of solar has fallen from $76.67 per watt in 1977 to $0.74 per watt in 2013. Research and development is underway for better battery storage and projects like solar roadways and solar panels that can act as windows. Hybrid and electric vehicles are becoming common place. Not every development will pan out, but a lot of them will, and none too soon.
Unfortunately the fossil fuels companies are not on board. Scientists have calculated that in order to stay below the 2⁰C threshold for warming the planet (again this is high), the carbon budget for humans to burn from 2000 to 2050 is 886 Gigatons. But from 2000 to 2010, we already used 321 Gt, leaving us a maximum of 565 Gt for the rest of the century.
Yet the fossil fuel companies have identified and made plans to extract and burn 2,795/Gt of carbon, worth $27 trillion dollars. That is five time more than the allowable amount to keep a semi-livable planet. And they are spending lots of money to extract increasingly extreme forms of fossil fuels such as tar sands, deep sea drilling, mountaintop removal mining, and fracking. The fact is, if humanity is to survive beyond the next couple of generations, most of that carbon must be left in the ground.
The next 10 to 15 years are going to be a critical time for our country and for the world. Time will tell if we can make the enormous switch from fossil fuels to renewables. It is a switch often compared to the civil war years when so much of the country’s physical labor was performed by slaves. One way we ended slavery was by switching to fossil fuels, and now we need to take the next step to renewables. I want to spend the second half of my life helping to make that happen.