Those of us in the battle to save the planet - and all living forms - from the catastrophic consequences of Climate Change - more vicious hurricanes, tsunami, typhoons, tornadoes, blizzards, drought, flood, fire on an apocalyptic scale), public health (more viruses, disease, famine, disease-causing insects), conflict (due to the potential of 200 million climate refugees as coastal areas are flooded) and economic stress (billions and billions to rebuild after climate-caused destruction as we have seen first-hand with Hurricane Sandy, not to mention higher food prices) - have had to do battle with the likes of the Koch Brothers, who have spent $100 million funding Climate-change deniers, with politicians in the pocket of Big Oil like Senator Inhofe who at least once a year gives a speech decrying climate change as a hoax and a fraud aimed at enriching the clean-energy entrepreneurs, and ignorant people who even after their lives have been devastated by climate change catastrophe, declare, "I think comon sence would dictate that if you live along the coastal areas than things like this happen its not climate change..its called what its always been called Mother Nature!" [sic]
(This comment was in reaction to an article titled, "Hurricane Sandy showed that our rebuilding efforts need reform").
Despite the death, destruction and despair all around us, and despite President Obama's declarations that climate change must be addressed with urgency, these forces have caused virtual paralysis at the federal level,
Just last week, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe used the opportunity of the polar vortex which plunged half of the country into record cold as proof in the fiction of Global Warming. Imagine, cold in winter! He did not make such remarks during December, when the country was in record heat. Nor did he remark on the fact that the last dozen years have been the warmest on record, with 2010 setting the all-time record.
Storms of a magnitude that are not supposed to strike except once in a hundred years, are besetting us every couple of years.
The economics alone (since that seems to be the only thing they understand) scream for addressing climate catastrophes. Climate Change deniers like Inhofe claim that making adjustments will cost the economy too much and destroy the American Way of Life. But besides investing in new, locally sourced and homegrown industries and jobs, they fail to take into account what climate disasters cost: The U.S. had the world's two costliest natural disasters in 2012- Superstorm Sandy and the drought cost $100 billion the Koch Brothers stand to make $100 billion in profit if they get the Keystone XL Pipeline built). Between 2011-2013, Congress spent nearly $140 billion cleaning up the pieces of battered communities.
"The nearly $400 per household spent annually over the past three years could be the beginning of a very costly future as climate-related extreme weather multiplies," Daniel J. Weiss and Jackie Weidman wrote in "Disastrous Spending: Federal Disaster-Relief Expenditures Rise amid More Extreme Weather."
Pretty soon, someone will keep track of climate change deaths (10,000 in the Haiyan typhoon, 1800 in Katrina), and climate change refugees, like in war.
Indeed, following the impact of Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, Governor Cuomo proposed a $17 billion strategy that will transform New York’s infrastructure, transportation networks, energy supply, coastal protection, weather warning system and emergency management to better protect New Yorkers from future extreme weather. these are essentially mitigation efforts, rather than addressing the cause of the severe climate events.
Still, the climate change deniers have managed to control things at the federal level.
As a result, most of the response to climate change have come from the state and local level.
This was made demonstrably clear at a Climate Change forum, held at the Universalist Unitarian Church of Shelter Rock.
North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth vowed to continue policies aimed at protecting the environment begun by her predecessors Newburger and Kaiman (in contrast to President Reagan, who dismantled the solar panels that Carter had put on the White House), and North Hempstead's Sustainability Officer Fran Reid (North Hempstead is one of the few towns to have a sustainability officer).
Reid offered a presentation on Climate Change based on conference conducted by former Vice President Al Gore who has made the issue of Global Warming his life's work and through his film "Inconvenient Truth," has done more to make the crisis understandable for people.
It includes a steady stream of disasters and catastrophes connected to the effects of global warming, exacerbated by human activity.
"The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change, " stated James Hansen, former director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in August 2012 (July 2012 was the hottest month on record).
"The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather related catastrophes is climate change," stated Munich Re (one of the two largest reinsurance companies in the world), Sept. 27, 2010.
Indeed, back in 2006, Al Gore predicted precisely what would happen to New York City if a storm on the scale of Superstorm Sandy hit.
Global warming is contributing to an increased incidence of extreme weather because the environment in which all storms form has changed from human activities, said Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. "You look out the window and you see climate change in action."
It's not just violent hurricanes and floods which are brought on because the hotter oceans send more moisture into the air, but the same forces literally suck moisture out of land, causing droughts and wildfires.
In the United States, drought conditions in August 2012 caused 1452 counties in 32 states to be declared disaster areas.
Just a few months ago, Super Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, killed at least 10,000 people in the central Philippines, with huge waves sweeping away coastal villages and devastating one of the main cities in the region.
Soon after, at the UN climate talks in Warsaw, Naderev "Yeb" Sano, the leader of the Phillipines delegation, declared, Sano had no hesitation in connecting Typhoon Haiyan to climate change: “What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw.”
It was the second year in a row that Sano addressed the Climate Change conference after a massive typhoon hit his country.
A year ago, after Typhoon Bopha killed more than 1,100 people, he declared, " The outcome of our work is not about what our political masters want. It is about what is demanded of us by seven billion people. I appeal to all: Please, no more delays, no more excuses. Please, let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around, and let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to do so, to find the courage to take responsibility for the future we want."
But then again, the Philippines is not a powerful or rich country.
You know what he should do? Do the only thing that Washington politicians can understand: his country should sue the biggest carbon polluters for damages.
It's not Mother Nature. It's us humans who burn fossil fuels - the rise in carbon emissions into the atmosphere traces back to the Industrial Revolution, based on burning fossil fuels.
In the absence of a national campaign to reverse course, akin to the Manhattan Project, states and localities have taken the lead.
Governor Andrew Cuomo deserves credit for putting resources into developing electronic charging stations along the highway, funding research into clean energy, for the energy audits available through NYSERDA, and there is even a group within his government that is advocating for a windfarm off the south shore of Long Island. But environmentalists are upset that he has not firmly taken a stand to ban hydrofracking.
(Similarly, Obama has spoken out on the need to address climate change, has done his best to allocate funds to the development of clean, renewable fuels, but at the same time, he has been an eager booster of hydrofracking and oil production.)
Congress has refused to adopt a cap-and-trade standard in order to use market forces to control carbon emissions (which is actually a conservative idea, like Obamacare), but NYS Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, at the Climate Change Forum, spoke of The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. It is the first market-based regulatory program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (www.rggi.org).
What this means is that states sell emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in consumer benefits: energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other clean energy technologies. A coal-fired plant which does not utilize all its credits can sell to someone else, but in this way, the total emissions are effectively "capped."
Schimel reported that RGGI has cut carbon emissions by 40%, and at the same time has had direct economic benefits: $1.6 billion in New York State alone, affecting more than 55,000 households and 628 businesses.
But Schimel warned that there is a serious new threat which could undo all of the effort of states and localities to control their environmental fate: the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty (TPP).
The treaty, which would involve 12 countries representing 38% of the world's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is being negotiated in secret -even Congressmembers are not privy - by some 600 "trade advisors" (lobbyists) for the largest multinational corporations on the planet - Chevron, Halliburton, Monsanto, Walmart. (Most of what is known about the TPP’s provisions are from leaks; Wikileaks provided the first public mention.)
"The trade advisors have privileged access, but your congressman can only see a small part," Schimel said.
Although it is called a “free trade” agreement, the TPP is not mainly about trade. Of TPP’s 29 draft chapters, only five deal with traditional trade issues. One chapter would provide incentives to offshore jobs to low-wage countries. Many would impose limits on government policies that we rely on in our daily lives for safe food, a clean environment, and more. Our domestic federal, state and local policies would be required to comply with TPP rules.
The TPP would even elevate individual foreign firms to equal status with sovereign nations, empowering them to privately enforce new rights and privileges, provided by the pact, by dragging governments to a supranational tribunal to demand taxpayer compensation over policies that they claim undermine their expected future profits.
There are no human rights safeguards. No consumer protections No environmental protections.
Now, NAFTA (and tax policy) has been responsible for 50,000 American factories shutting down, and the decimation of US manufacturing jobs.
The TPP is NAFTA on stereoids, says Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt).
"I have the same concerns as with NAFTA and even more with this," Senator Sanders said "It's being negotiated virtually in secret. It gives enormous power for corporations over national governments and local governments all over the world - worry very much that this is an agreement written by the leading corporations of the world, to benefit them, and will be continuation of policy of driving wages down in US and continuing this race to the bottom which has been so harmful.
Another comparison is RLUIPA - the law that removes the ability of localities to restrict religious use.
The effect of TPP though would be to force US wages and working conditions down to the lowest level - in fact, the government would be forced to purchase goods and services from the lowest bidders (just as it buys its uniforms from foreign manufacturers, and was forced to use a Canadian software company to build the Obamacare website).
It is hard to see how this treaty could benefit Americans, but amazingly, the Obama Administration is looking for fast-track authority - meaning that Congress would not even get a chance to debate or have input into the treaty.
Just the day before this Climate Change Forum, Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Representative Dave Camp (R-Mich.) officially introduced fast-track trade authority legislation in Congress. Fast track is a process that bypasses Congress’ constitutional role in the treaty process. Fast track prohibits amendments to a trade treaty, limits Congress’ right to debate and requires an up-or-down vote (even though Senate Republicans have filibustered more than 400 other times since President Obama took office) within 90 days of the treaty coming before the Congress.
Here's an example of how TPP might undermine us locally:
Take the proposal to build a Liquid Nitrogen Terminal off the south shore of Long Island. Building it would not only set the stage for transiting fracked natural gas from upstate New York and Pennsylvania through our roads, but would likely prevent the alternative use: an offshore windfarm in what is considered the best location in the country for wind power.
Even if New York and New Jersey and the various localities say no, under TPP, a foreign corporation could demand access to the terminal, and could sue the locality for "lost income" based on opposition. It could effectively nullify local environmental protection laws, not to mention zoning, labor laws, and on and on.
Besides environmentalists, which see this as essentially coming under the thumb of corporatists, workers would be harmed.
The TPP has been under negotiation for five years, and the Obama administration wants to sign the deal by early 2014. Opposition to the TPP is growing at home and in many of the other countries involved.
Public Citizen has an action alert out (action.citizen.org) (Click through to “Write Your Representative to Vote ‘No’ on Fast Track Trade Authority.” The Coalition For a Prosperous America, representing “manufacturing, agricultural, worker, consumer and citizen interests,” also has a page you can use to tell Congress to vote against fast-track trade authority. (action.prosperousamerica.org)
(To see the leaked details of TPP: www.citizen.org/documents/Leaked-TPP-Investment-Analysis.pdf).
Ironically, to battle against TPP may require an alliance with some "strange bedfellows" - alliance with the Right Wing. (perhaps that's why Obama is pushing so hard for it - he knows that anything he wants will be opposed.)
After all, it was Rick Santorem (former Senator, perennial Presidential candidate) who so successfully crushed the treaty in the Senate that would have spread Americans With Disabilities Act standards to the rest of the world. That treaty would have gone far not just to make it easier for our disabled veterans and seniors and children to travel abroad, but would have gone a far way to removing the stigma that disabled experience in their communities, often resulting in children being hidden away rather than allowed to be part of community and society.
The basis for Santorem's opposition was the fiction that the treaty would have dared to make the US subject to foreign authority - even allow black-shirted forces to grab special needs children out of the clutches of home-schooling (or should we say brainwashing, but that is another story).
And so, even with Senator Dole who was the force behind the Americans with Disabilities Act, sitting in his wheelchair in the chamber, the Republican Senators managed to prevent the treaty from passing.
If they could argue that the treaty to spread American standards for accommodating disabled people would subject this nation to the authority of a foreign power, what are we to make of the Trans Pacific Partnership Treaty.
It will be an interesting test to see how much of the Republican opposition to a treaty based on the concern of relinquishing our sovereignty (which it specifically wouldn't), would come together to oppose this treaty which absolutely would - but is favored by their campaign donors and benefactors.
The strategy in this, as in all things, is to rally people to "contact your Congressmen". "Make Noise." But as we have seen over and over again now - with gun violence prevention legislation, minimum wage, unemployment benefits - it doesn't seem to matter if 55, 60, 70, 75, even 90 percent of "The People" favor legislation or not. The Congress people only march to the drum of money (they no longer need to worry about voters because they have taken care of manipulating election results with various techniques including gerrymandering, voter suppression, and on and on).
Here's a different strategy: we should be marshalling local reporters because the ramifications of this treaty are not confined to the lofty international or even federal layers, but will strike us at our core.
Local reporters - not the mainstream, which if you start with Fox which is a propaganda tool (admittedly so) to implement Republican policy, and move on through the mainstream which, like the politicians, is beholden to their revenue sources (American Petroleum Institute, Exxon-Mobil - just look at who advertises).
Get the reporters to flood the White House trade representatives and Senate and House trade committees with probing questions and demands for documents, and force them to expose what they are doing and explain or defend it.
Get the local reporters to embarrass the national reporters - the ones who have the access and the ear of the movers and shakers - to demand answers. That will result in the editorial writers - Nick Kristof, Paul Krugman, for example - to start writing.
And that's the path to turning this around.
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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