Friday, January 31, 2014

The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth

Book Review: The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth by Eric Pooley (Hyperion 2010)

This is a well-written journalistic account of the history and dynamics of climate politics, particularly in America. All the players and factions are represented in a fairly non-biased approach. This book shows the pragmatic power of a moderate, less radical environmentalism that can work with less biased business interests and get results. It is a riveting tale, as Bill Clinton said. It is a big book but makes a compelling narrative. Climate politics is all about negotiation, concession, and consensus and the author narrates the tale like you are right there watching things unfurl. It mainly portrays the years 2007-2010 but refers much back to earlier times for background.

The three biggest players in this tale are probably Al Gore, Fred Krupp –president of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers. There are many others including President Obama. The motivations and influence of the more fringe elements are sometimes involved as well – the Climate deniers and skeptics as well as the more radical environmental groups and activists.

The book begins with the Bali Roadmap in 2007 where eleven thousand people from 190 countries convened to discuss climate. The conference was intended to lead to an agreement in 2009 (in Copenhagen) that would be a successor to the ailing and mostly failed Kyoto Protocol where countries, excluding the U.S., committed to emissions reductions. George W. Bush was still president and Al Gore had just won a Nobel Prize – though he was by no means satisfied with his influence on commitments to emissions reductions. Hurricane Katrina was still fairly fresh in people’s minds and the IPCC and climate scientist James Hansen were saying that the climate situation was more pressing than previously thought – but not all climate scientists agreed. The main obstacles to emissions reduction commitments were/are political but psychological as well. Such reductions would be good for society in the long run but there would be hardships in the short-term. By nature politicians don’t think beyond the next election and many people have a hard time thinking beyond the next paycheck. The Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act ended in a stalemate and did not pass.

The idea of cap-and-trade came about from academic economists in the 1960’s. In the 1980’s the policy people at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) adopted the idea and by the 1990’s they helped pass through a version of it to reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) from coal-burning power plants. It was fairly successful, with costs less than predicted. One help was the availability of low-sulfur coal from western North America. Reductions in SO2 led to reduced problems with acid rain in Canada and the northeast forests. Cap and trade is a market-based approach to reducing pollution and has some advantages over a carbon tax. The key part of cap and trade is the cap on pollution, or on CO2 emissions in the newer proposals such as in the Lieberman-Warner bill. Any cap, whether through a tax or a carbon market, establishes that industries will have to pay to pollute or emit greenhouse gases. The difficult part is how to allocate allowances to the various polluting/emitting entities without incurring undue costs to those who buy their products. Cap-and-trade for CO2 emissions would aid investment in clean energy. Climate activists and others argue that this would balance the playing field so that clean energy tech could compete. Business interests and fossil fuel related companies argue that it would be a financial loss and electricity prices would skyrocket as clean energy technologies are barely economically feasible at best. But cap and trade also has some complexities – mostly related to allocation of allowances – that leaves many policy people suspicious. Implementation of cap and trade in Europe showed that allowances could be allocated unfairly and certain companies profit at the expense of others. In future U.S. proposals there would be much negotiation and analysis about how to allocate allowances. A fair amount of this book details these negotiations. In many ways the climate conflict is one of short-term gain against long-term pain. As time progresses and that long-term pain gets closer, that pain will be far more expensive to relieve than it would if we made a stronger effort now.

One formidable force in the climate debate is the “unofficial” Green Group, which consists of a number of American environmental organizations. These groups include the Sierra Club on the “left,” Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in the middle and EDF on the “right.” It was EDF that championed the caps at Kyoto. Carl Pope, the leader of the Sierra Club, considered the Lieberman-Warner bill too weak, but as time would show, such bills were too strong for Congress – so the environmental left’s inability to compromise could be problematic. Al Gore had just written his book – The Assault on Reason – which considered the powerful effects of advertising and media persuasion on American politics. Gore and left-leaning environmentalists were often at odds – he being more centrist and more willing to compromise. Gore had started the Alliance for Climate Protection as a well-funded advertising arm meant to influence public opinion. He envisioned a large global populist movement for climate action. He wanted to balance against pro-fossil fuel advertising but in the coming years he would have to contend with an upswing in far-right climate change denial advertising. Gore sought to consolidate the message of climate activists of all types.

Meanwhile on the other end, the more extreme end, of the media-hype spectrum are the climate skeptics – many, believe it or not, with ties to the tobacco companies and with contrarians who argued against the dangers of cigarette smoking. They also refuted the notion that CFCs contributed to the hole in the Ozone layer – which is fairly well-established. The Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), and other anti-tax groups are the key purveyors of climate skepticism in the media. These groups were depicted more recently in a news documentary called – Climate Denial – which is definitely worth a watch. Basically, this is the sad and rather disgusting face of media hype. Many of these groups hype their numbers, make outrages claims like climate change being an orchestrated hoax, skew the science any way they can, and rely on junk science as much as possible. Even so, they are a powerful force and there is likely to be significant amounts of “dark money” headed their way from those who stand to benefit if their views are accepted by more of the mainstream. They once enjoyed open contributions from the likes of Exxon-Mobil but the science got too strong and Exxon-Mobil pulled away. The mainstream media may well be an accomplice in that they tend to like to show two sides of a story – which inadvertently strengthens the weaker side in this case. The author notes three stages of “climate denial” that have been predominant as the science has become more solid: 1) it’s not happening, 2) it’s happening and it’s unstoppable, since we’re not the cause,  and 3) it’s happening and we’re the cause but it won’t be so bad. In any case, their policy is the same – that nothing should be done. They are mostly ideologues that paint climate activists of any sort as part of an eco-socialist conspiracy. They might be right-wing paranoid extremists who excel at media hype and junk science. People like Siegfried Frederick Singer, Myron Ebell (leader of CEI), and Steve Milloy are characterized. Ebell, often portraying himself as a scientist, was a political science major. One of the main functions of these climate deniers was/is to sow uncertainty. They are helped by the likes of senator James Inhofe, Rush Limbaug, and the biased but media-savy gang at Fox News.

Fred Krupp, executive director of EDF, is a firm believer in market-based solutions to environmental problems. EDF scientists pioneered the field of environmental economics. Indeed EDF was founded by scientists. Quantifying pollution per industry and allowances allotted based on that, is a key part of these economics. As an example- it might be cheaper for some industry to pay others to reduce deforestation to keep carbon sinks intact (in an equivalent manner) than to reduce their own emissions. Hardcore environmentalists tend to abhor the market-based approach of EDF – some even calling them a “corporate front group,” yet they have gotten more policy established than any other group. They got DDT banned, got lead out of gasoline, helped get McDonalds to drop its styrofoam packaging, not to mention the SO2 cap-and-trade deal that reduced pollution and acid rain. But like the NRDC and Sierra Club’s legal defense arm, Earthjustice – EDF was adept at suing, often citing the 70’s Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act and working with or influencing the EPA and public policy. Legal victories based on oppositional tactics helped solidify the environmental movement. However, as time went on those brought diminishing returns and groups like EDF favored a more pragmatic and less oppositional approach. EDF was instrumental in persuading California’s energy giant, PG & E, to halt building more power plants and instead focus on efficiency, networking, and renewable energy. It was a success and a model for the benefits of industry-supported energy conservation. EDF’s economic environmentalism was interested in building coalitions – with business, with organizations, with politicians, and with demographic groups. A market-based approach is one that unleashes creativity. The ideology that says capitalism and the profit motive are evil would not accept a green-based profit motive. One might see it as eco-capitalist but the emphasis is on what could work for that specific situation rather than adherence to any ideological model. Krupp went bipartisan and dissuaded such unspoken ideological demands from the group. The phasing out of CFCs also involved a cap-and-trade approach where the cap was decreased through time and emissions were traded. It was said to be quite effective. EDF’s Michael Oppenheimer collaborated with Boyden Gray and the G.W. Bush administration in order to pass the market-based SO2 scrubber legislation. They took a lot of flack from other environmental orgs for both working with/for Republicans and for favoring a market-based solution over a command-and-control format.

“If you took a step back, having different factions within the movement was a good thing: EDF and NRDC and others could push for results inside the dysfunctional system, and Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and others could stand outside and argue for more and better. They complemented one another. But up close it didn’t feel that way.”

EDF was apt to take a weaker deal that they could strengthen later – as occurred in the Montreal Protocol on ozone depletion and in the acid rain situation. Other groups were not likely to agree to weaker rules or compromise. Anti-corporatism could also be problematic for relations among groups.

A quick history lesson regarding Al Gore’s failed 1993 BTU tax is given. This early try at an energy tax was defeated on the basis of economics and spurned more anti-tax and industry groups to lobby against it. EDF was also against it – preferring cap-and-trade. It should be noted that in some places both are in effect. Various early climate bills are discussed as well including the McCain-Lieberman bill – the second version of which was killed in the Senate in 2005. Lieberman (an orthodox Jew) sees his climate advocacy as a duty of stewardship. Al Gore believes climate protection is a moral duty. Gore encouraged the Sierra Club to focus on climate. Gore’s 2006 documentary – An Inconvenient Truth – introduced more people to the climate issue and its science. For the next few years he went around the country doing slide shows and a big advertisement campaign in order to promote the seriousness of the climate issue in the hopes that climate action would be mandated by a vast majority of people. 2008 saw Gore’s ad campaign and a counter-ad campaign by the climate skeptics through Myron Ebell’s CEI group. Europe had implemented cap-and-trade in 2005 but problems with accurate assessments of emissions and subsequent rewarding of allowances made it inequitable and the carbon market price even crashed at one point. However, by the end of 2008 the Europeans were beginning to hit their emissions reduction targets. Ebell used the early European problems as proof that it would not work.

Part of Fred Krupp’s job at EDF was to meet with CEOs and make the case for climate action. He landed several CEOs who agreed that it was a problem. Among them were Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers and GE CEO Jeff Immelt. Several CEOs and EDF and others formed an unofficial informal climate group. CEOs from Alcoa, BP, and DuPont would also be involved. Several companies in the group were involved in renewable energy projects including wind turbines and carbon sequestration design. Duke Energy was the third largest CO2 emitter in America due to their twenty coal-fired power plants. Later they would also become the 4th largest producer of renewable energy in the Western hemisphere. Rogers kept a desire to fix the climate along with his desire to make money for his company and shareholders. Activists protested his latest proposed coal-fired power plant. He also proposed early Carbon Capture coal-fired plants. Rogers worked with Krupp on climate issues even though EDF and Duke had been on the opposite side of legal battles. Rogers previous company Cinergy merged with Duke. Both received SO2 allowances but delayed action on installing SO2 scrubbers. They waited and finally complied years later after using the initial allowance money as a capital influx. Duke made out a bit on their delay tactics but eventually came into compliance. The rather confidential group of CEOs and entities became known as the Climate Change Initiative (CCI). Rogers was also a member and leader of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI). Other energy CEOs like those of Peabody Coal and Massey Energy’s rather extremist Al Blankenship considered Rogers to be a traitor to the environmental communists. Many of Roger’s colleagues at the new Duke Energy did not generally share his views about climate change so his role was difficult. Among environmentalists there was the informal confederation of groups known as the Green Group. The left wing of the group – Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace, had no interest in a corporate-involved group but Francis Beinecke, president of Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) was invited. Think tank leaders were also invited. It seems that part of the CCI group purpose was to hash out the details of initial allowances and cap targets through time. In January 2007 the CCI group re-launched more publicly as USCAP – the U.S Climate Action Partnership. They released a Call to Action which ruffled some feathers. EEI was furious at Rogers, the chairman of EEI, for being involved. Rogers’ main point was that legislation to regulate carbon emissions is inevitable – either “we” help shape it or let someone else – like the EPA – shape it. Later, some USCAP CEOs met with senator Barbara Boxer and her Environment and Public Works Committee. Republican senator John Warner was part of that committee. He would later be a co-creator of the Lieberman-Warner bill to adopt cap-and trade. Steve Milloy, a climate change denier of would also refer to the traitors within the business community. Climate change denier senator James Inhofe would call them “climate profiteers.” Though most coal industry executives saw cap-and-trade or a carbon tax as an industry killer, a few saw the potential of a rebound after carbon capture and storage projects came on line. One of these companies was USCAP member Caterpillar who lost contracts due to the position of the CEO in USCAP.

In December 2007, a radical environmental group called Rising Tide North America launched a fake USCAP website with much higher reductions mandates. In 2008 they protested the building of Duke Energy’s new Cliffside coal-power plant, depicting Rogers as a greedy energy CEO even though he was one of the few that actually endorsed a carbon cap. Site blockades, trespassing, and vandalism are also methods that are used. Such “direct action” as it is called, is designed to inspire others through the tale of it – perhaps a kind of passionate and creative propaganda. One might also see it as a fanaticism of the cause. Earth First is a similarly radical group that uses such techniques. It is unclear and debatable actually how useful they are to the cause of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of the body of the book deals with the development of the Lieberman-Warner bill in late 2007 and early 2008. New pro-coal groups posed as business groups and re-oriented from an anti-climate change stance to one of knowing the best way to deal with it. Climate activists called them professional delayers. Indeed, delay is a tactic of coal interests who see their eventual extinction (without CCS). One group, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC) launched a high dollar advertising campaign so again much of the climate war has been waged by the ad media. Clean coal propaganda adorned the Democratic National Convention. The idea of clean coal – now considered to be an oxymoron – was a frequent phrase in the 2008 election. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) was another group that waged an ad war against the Lieberman-Warner bill. Lieberman and Warner both realized that their bill was unlikely to pass. The idea was to work a carbon cap bill of some kind into the political landscape. This had been done before with McCain-Lieberman but this new one had more detail and longer debate among more potentially affected factions. In that sense, it was a refinement of the process. The polluter pays philosophy was countered by the argument that the taxpayers were demanding the cheaper energy. Those to the “left” considered the large sellable allowances granted to the utilities in the plan as a “windfall” while the utilities insisted the cash influx was needed to get to compliance and keep rates down. Climate became a “wedge issue” on the right as well as on the left with those in the middle being the only ones willing to negotiate. Many groups, left and right, climate activists and climate skeptics, formed specific opinions about the bill – some on the right touting discredited studies and some on the left saying it did not go far enough. Meanwhile EDF attempted to calculate the cost of implementing ghg emissions reductions. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) made a similar study, also endorsed by the US Chamber of Commerce, that was grim – and apparently short-sighted and discredited. The EDF study was wider and more thorough but both were given even weight in news stories. Along with how to allocate allowances, another problem for cap-and-trade is where to set the carbon price and how to reduce it through time. Krupp and EDF preferred to keep it low and only bring it down when renewables began to make headway. The environmental left tended to despise the idea of carbon offsets but some form of cost containment would be needed. Some groups favored a safety valve approach where if carbon would reach a ceiling price, there would be new permits issued. EDF did not favor that approach at all. They sought instead the ability to offset the inability to reduce emissions by buying reductions – even outside the U.S. system. Some thought that idea invited corruption.

Much of the next sections go into politics: negotiation, concession, being true to constituents, the influence of special interests, media campaigning, etc. Meanwhile Hansen had upped alarmism in noting NASA data that ten of the planet’s hottest years on record were between 1997 and 2008. Gore met with Obama before the election but Hansen declined to join him, not wanting to be associated with either party. Hansen began a bit of activism – advocating for a moratorium on new coal-power plants. Rogers even slipped in to hear him speak in Charlotte. Rogers also wanted to slip in one last pre-planned coal-power plant without carbon capture and storage. He wanted to do this with offsetting in mind – increasing renewables and shutting down more polluting inefficient capacity (which would have to be done soon from aging anyway.) Rogers thought that Hansen was convincing about the threat but weak on solutions. He saw even the modest near-term emissions targets as unrealistic without major expense. CCS technology is still largely untested and unperfected large-scale. In fact, several estimates suggest CCS to be do-able for only about 10-20% of coal burnt due to expense, logistics, reservoir availability and capacity, etc. Another issue is what the price coal would have to be for CCS to be economically viable even with initial support. Early CCS needs to be incentivized and generous carbon allowances and offsets to utilities could do that. Rogers and Hansen met for dinner in New York in the summer of 2008 and discussed climate change – Hansen’s recent dial-back from 450 to 350, the feasibility of CCS, carbon offsetting possibilities, and nuclear energy, which Hansen advocated to the horror of many environmentalists. Both agreed that a carbon cap was needed. Rogers did not like Obama’s idea of 100% auctions on carbon offset allowances as he thought it would over-penalize electricity rate-payers in Midwestern states where much of the electricity comes from coal. Obama proved eventually to be flexible on that. Rogers also met with Obama on the campaign trail and then again with Obama and a group of energy and climate experts for a 3hr brainstorming session. Obama realized that the climate issue would have to be embraced by the masses before solutions would come to be accepted. He clothed the issue as an investment in jobs. Later these would be called “green-collar “jobs. Krupp met with Van Jones, a former activist turned pragmatist who had a flair for bringing the issue to the working class in a positive way. Green jobs became the battle cry.

Sierra Club leader Carl Pope advised against cap-and-trade. He also preferred to wait until after the election. He stated that two thirds of the climate change solution could get done without a price on carbon. The then high price of gasoline was also an issue with some echoing Newt Gingrich’s – Drill Baby Drill.

Lieberman-Warner legislation had died. Obama aides had sought to pair cap-and-trade with the stimulus bill. Hansen was convinced cap-and-trade would not work and favored stiff carbon caps as part of a fee and dividend system. Gore favored 2009 action on cap-and-trade as part of an energy bill rather than splitting the bills up. Certain emissions targets were agreed to by members of the Green Group in a document called Transition to Green. Targets by 2020 were to be 25 to 40% lower than 1990. Obama instead called for 2020 levels to be at 1990 levels with more reduction afterward. Rogers felt that utilities required 40% of allowances for free instead of the 100% auction the Green Group wanted. National Wildlife Federation pulled out of USCAP. Rising Tides North America had invaded a USCAP meeting and wrapped tape around stuff saying – Global Warming Crime Scene. Their main point was to paint EDF as traitors to the cause.

In 2009 there was development of the Waxman-Markey climate bill. Much negotiation ensued with formulas for allowances and offsets put forth. Big Oil was not negotiating much and Waxman and Markey sought to give them less allowances – figuring higher gasoline prices would be easier to deal with than higher electricity prices. The Senate passed a resolution that any climate bill must achieve its goals without increasing gasoline or energy prices. Projected costs for Waxman-Markey varied according to who made the study. The EPA projected lower costs. Climate skeptics said it would be very costly. GOP “wingnuts” like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck painted it as an evil conspiracy by the left to control the prosperous as slaves. Negotiations about allowances and targets came to be portrayed as buying votes. Most of these were among utilities represented by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI). Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, advocated inaction on climate, saying it would be best to leave it to future generations that would have better technology – to the delight of the delay and deny crowd – but seemingly against common sense. Hansen called Waxman-Markey a “counterfeit climate bill.” He wanted a moratorium and immediate beginning of a phase-out of coal. Gore favored an eventual adoption of both cap-and-trade and a carbon tax. Such was the case in places like Denmark, a country that has had success with renewable energy and efficiency. Although some coal groups agreed to many concessions in Waxman-Markey there was the problem of a cap being in effect before (large-scale) implementation of CCS was ready – so others did not endorse it. Some Republicans like John Boehner liked the bill being around because they thought it would be seen as another failed BTU tax and make the party stronger. Krupp and Gore liked to emphasize the cap of cap-and-trade while naysayers depicted the trade part as some sort of “Madoff or Ponzi scheme.” Others pointed out the current and future costs that climate change would exact as an important “true cost” factor. Limbaugh and Beck called it a wealth redistribution scheme. Others pointed out that the Great Energy Transition (to renewable energy) would inevitably need to be funded and cap-and-trade and/or a carbon tax were a means to this end. Steve Milloy referred to it as the beginning of Green Big Brother in his book – Green Hell. McCain called the bill a farce because it bought off energy, steel, and agriculture. With quite a bit of wrangling Waxman-Markey passed the house. But it would die in the Senate. Some say Obama did not advocate enough, that he was more committed to the Health Care act. The Tea Party was rising to power and held cap-and-trade as an ideal example of government control through taxation. The propaganda and ad wars continued, and continues today. Apparently, Glenn Beck accused Van Jones of being a Communist and part of a conspiracy due to his radical past experimenting with Communism, Anarchy, and Libertarianism. He was defamed enough to resign as a member of Obama’s staff. Beck was boycotted somewhat at the time for calling Obama racist against white people. The distant hope was that the bill would pass the Senate before the 2009 U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen – now attended by 27,000 people, but that was not to be. Soon thereafter, so-called “climategate” happened where climate skeptics claim to have found evidence that climate scientists had “cooked data.” Apparently, there had been some errors and omissions but nothing that changed any conclusions but typically those with a bias will use any info to try and validate their view, which is the real goal of most opinion zealots. Basically, climategate was insignificant difference changed into fluffed up B.S. Of course, in a media war – the truth can get hidden.

Senator James Inhofe, came to Copenhagen to announce that climate change was a hoax. A reporter asked him: “If there’s a hoax, then who’s putting on this hoax and what’s the motive?” He mentioned something about the U.N., the U.S., and the Hollywood elite. A German reporter just scoffed, “You’re ridiculous.” Nothing much got resolved at Copenhagen, much like Bali. The U.S., China, India, and other developing countries are still running without officially planned emissions reductions. China did agree to a reduction of “carbon intensity” or emissions per unit of GDP. Some said/say that U.S. emissions reductions are irrelevant if China (now the world leader in carbon emissions) did not commit to reductions. Others stressed that if the U.S. would commit it would force these other countries to follow suit faster that they otherwise would. Obama was adamant and insisted on confronting the Chinese on this issue – to the point of bursting into Copenhagen meetings uninvited. He did get some Chinese concessions – with future verification to be worked out later.

On Feb. 26, 2010, Lindsay Graham announced in the Washington Post that “Cap and trade is dead.” Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman tried a plan B approach but not much came out of it and so a U.S. carbon cap remains elusive. Since the publication of this book, cap-and trade apparently has been adopted at the state level in California with success touted by EDF. Obama and the EPA are pushing for executive order requirement for power plants to reduce carbon. Hansen and Bill McKibben continue to insist on the need to scale back to 350 PPM of CO2 in the atmosphere. CCS has yet to catch on but there are several projects running and in varying stages of running. Germany, Spain, Denmark, and a few other countries have made the committed dash for renewable energy with variable success. Natural gas availability as a power-plant replacement for coal as well as decreased demand and a few warm winters has allowed the U.S. to reduce carbon emissions rather unexpectedly to mid-1990’s levels. Meanwhile atmospheric global CO2 has increased beyond the 400 ppm threshold.

Basically, anyone who is into climate policy should read this book as it really gives the breadth of the ideas, hopes, and fears of those factions and their individual representatives that will be impacted by climate legislation.

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