Understanding Climate Legislation

Six Arenas

Sitting in front of a computer screen in the middle of another Zoom conference on climate change, the exuberance of the presenters is consistently tested by the scope of the legislative endeavors that must pass. The issue is not the cliché that “no bill is perfect,” which is true. Rather, climate change is a threat multiplier across every human activity and endeavor, and its footprint is global. A Green New Deal bill will accomplish much in the coming decade, but no one bill can anticipate nor address all the issues created by human output in the last one hundred years.

At present, we are on a baseline trajectory to raise the median temperature of the earth by 2100 +3.5oC (6.4oF). The baseline is the output of carbon we are experiencing today without any change or mitigation.  Today’s baseline is unsustainable, and the result would be a planet with huge swaths of uninhabitable land and ocean by the end of the century. With the proposed legislation, we will continue to produce carbon, pumping the element into the water and into the air, but the goal is to control and reduce the carbon output to a sustainable +1.5oC (2.7oF).

M.I.T.’s Management Sustainability Initiative divides up the carbon reduction puzzle into six arenas:

  1. Energy Supply
  2. Transport
  3. Buildings and Industry
  4. Growth
  5. Land and Industry Emissions
  6. Carbon Removal

Our legislative endeavors need to force changes in each of these six areas. If all the areas are not addressed, even if only one area is ignored, we will be unable to reach our sustainable goal of +1.5oC (2.7oF). Each area requires a firm legislative shove, often more than one. What follows is an outline of what is contained in each arena and what must be done. Each bullet point requires new aggressive legislation.

Energy Supply

The big four carbon producers that must be reduced to as close to zero as possible are:

  • Coal
  • Oil
  • Natural Gas
  • Bioenergy (e.g. wood, wood pellets)

The energy producers that do not produce carbon are called renewables. They must take over as much energy production as possible:

  • Solar
  • Geothermal
  • Wind
  • Nuclear* (*renewable but not clean)

The lever that forces the energy supply to shift from coal/oil/gas to renewables is:

  • Carbon price/Carbon Tax

We may also need a break-through technology that does not emit greenhouse gases. Several have been proposed but none will be available in the foreseeable future. Funding is through research and development.

  • New Zero-Carbon Breakthrough

Transport

All forms of transportation (ships, planes, trucks, cars) must shift to,

  • Energy Efficiency
  • Electrification

Buildings and Industry

All mechanicals in buildings and the processes and machines for manufacturing must make the same shift as transportation.

  • Energy Efficiency
  • Electrification

Growth

Some parts of the world are already experiencing a slowdown in population from an exponential trajectory to a geometric one, although not all populations are decreasing. Economic growth as defined by Gross Domestic Product must also decrease. We need to aim for less people and less stuff, backing away from a growth model for economies.

  • Population
  • Economic Growth

Population tends towards self-regulating when education rates rise in general and when education policies specifically targeting women are implemented. The issues of less manufactured goods are partially addressed in “Right to Repair” laws that create longer-lasting products and the legal ability/capability to repair locally.

Land and Industry Emissions

While energy consumption is tackled above, the pollution generated by industry and agribusiness must all be addressed. Monoculture agribusiness must transform to soil-healthy processes that are not dependent on manufactured fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides.

  • Deforestation
  • Methane, fertilizers, HTC’s, and PFC’s

Carbon Removal

The only known carbon removal technology available today is replanting what we have destroyed on land and in the ocean. We will need new technology to pull carbon out of the air, either enhancing natural removals or manually sequestering carbon. Such technology does not exist yet.

  • Afforestation
  • Technological Carbon Removal

Putting the Points Together

No one bill will address all these issues. Legislation that redirects agriculture hardly seems like a climate change bill but both monoculture farms and beef ranches are huge contributors to the carbon pollution matrix. Government investments in education lead to smaller households in the next generation, an education bill. Shifting government subsidies from coal, oil, and gas to renewables would address the most significant source of carbon production, which is a straightforward energy bill. One bus can remove sixty cars from the daily commute, which would be funded in a transportation bill.

Some solutions will require international treaties and corporate compliance. We should invest in research and development, which would have a side effect of reducing college costs as the Sputnik program did. Corporations are guilty of the worst carbon pumping crimes and they need to fundamentally change or be forced to change into implementors of solutions.

We must pass legislation that does not include wishful thinking. A breakthrough technology just around the corner, hydrogen-powered cars for example, is a fantasy. The technology solution is not around the corner, which is no surprise because we have not invested much in developing such an invention. New technologies require investment and time; we have given neither.

Final Word

Your head should be spinning. At the least, organizing the bullet points in one place presents a clear direction of what sorts of legislation and regulations we need in the next year. Every bill is a battle and we need a lot of bills to become law.

We are asking our legislator allies to cover all these legislative areas when we cannot track them ourselves. Using the M.I.T structure, we can organize progress in each of the six arenas. This tracking helps us help our legislators stay informed and on-track, while keeping ourselves informed as best we can.

We can do this.

After a weekend of protests over the murder of George Floyd

In the protests over the state-mandated lockdowns a week earlier, the protesters were shouting, “My rights! My rights!” Pretending they were innocent victims, they were asking us to consider, “What are my rights?”

The correct response at the time was, “If you want rights enforced, then what are your responsibilities in return.” President Kennedy had something to say on the subject.

Then came the murder of George Floyd. All the arguments over rights and responsibilities were put under a glaring focus that played across our screens. In this light, the arguments over rights are selfish and shallow, coming from a place of no fear while parading around government buildings fully armed. Few if any were arrested.

“Where are my rights?” The African American community is asking a more fundamental question. It is the same question they have asked since they arrived here on slave ships: “Where are my rights?”

Where are they, indeed. As the protests across the nation demonstrate, the rights of Black men and Black women are lacking in most every metropolitan city from coast to coast, and in the rural outposts in between. I am surprised that I have not seen a protest sign saying, “Do I even have rights?”

“Do citizens have rights in the United States of America?” On paper, you do; however, in the streets, it may depend on the color of your skin.

Testimony before the NY State Senate Committee

Testimony before the NY State Environmental Conservation Committee

12 February 2019

I am Rabbi Glenn Jacob, and while I am executive director of New York Interfaith Power & Light – an organization dedicated to passing climate science-based legislation from a religious perspective, I come here first representing the initial wave of climate refugees in New York State. In 2012 on 29 October, Superstorm Sandy slammed my neighborhood in Oceanside, Long Island with a five-foot surge of water. My house had over $100,000 worth of damage, of which $18,000 was covered by flood insurance. I told my wife the day after the storm that we would move, and in November 2017, I moved from 25 miles east of Manhattan to 40 miles north.

My personal experience is framed in my religious perspective. I and my organization are non-partisan, representing about 15 different religious denominations from Suffolk County on Long Island to the city of Buffalo, with all points, rural, suburban, and urban in between. The message we bring is that climate change is a moral issue and the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) is a matter of personal and professional integrity.

Contrary to caricatures, most synagogues, churches, mosques, temples, and gurdwaras have no issue accepting scientific facts, concepts, and conclusions. Climate change is real, climate change is manmade, and the only question is what is humanity going to do? To do nothing, to keep the status quo is evil in religious language. It is the path to more harm and danger to human life – deliberating allowing destruction is evil, a human, preventable evil.

The good news, to borrow the term from the Protestant Tradition, is that we have the knowledge base, the technology and the wherewithal to address climate change. Everything to address climate change is in some sort of readiness in New York State, from detailed plans for job creation to the equitable spread of resources, to energy infrastructure initiatives. The only thing we have lacked in the last few years is the political will.

Our religious traditions do not tolerate half-truths, because they have no integrity. To say that we are going to lose jobs in the fossil fuel industry is to deny that we are bringing entirely new energy industries into the state. To say that the CCPA will cause prices to rise is a half-truth as well. We already balk at paying for the damages of evermore powerful storms and violent temperature swings. Roads meant to last 20 years are lasting 15 years or less; we have yet to fix the most expensive damage from Sandy. Do you want to spend the taxpayers’ money solving the crisis or do you want to spend ever increasing sums patching roads, wires, sewers, channels, and buildings, which we see are already falling short of completion, just to maintain the status quo?

Whether you want to or not, you will be spending large sums of taxpayer funds on climate change in the coming years. The climate science and our real-world experience confirm this conclusion; no prophecy is necessary. Climate change is more than a technical issue, a reasonable issue, or a political issue; it is an unavoidable moral issue. The question from your religious constituents is: Are you going to spend state funds with integrity, namely the CCPA and its goals to address climate change, or are you going to squander the short twelve-year window we have to address climate change? We are the first generation to confront climate change and we are the last generation that can address climate change.

As I stated in the beginning, the CCPA is a matter of integrity, the integrity of the political will to act.

My TEDx Talk

“God in the Public Square” has been posted here. This seventeen minute talk examines non-theist God beliefs, a huge part of our culture today that few even acknowledge exists. For non-theists, God is a “What” rather than a “Who”. Non-theists have been central to the conversation in the Public Square since the founding of the United States and are still in the middle of the great debate.

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TEDx Adelphi University | AU PAC | April 5th 2016. Copyright Chris Bergmann Photography