Making Momentum Matter!
Post-Manchin, the climate fight morphs in many ways
Assuming for the moment that the “Inflation Reduction Act” actually passes (he says, looking worriedly over his shoulder at the shadowy form of Senator Sinema), it clearly transforms not just the energy landscape but the political landscape. There will be—there always are—new battles to fight and new opportunities to exploit. And we’ll have to do it because, of course, we remain way behind in the race to catch up with physics. Not quite as far behind as last week, but plenty far.
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So a few thoughts
There will remain plenty of room for executive action, and in some ways it may be easier once the bill is passed and there’s less need to coddle Prime Minister Manchin; the push for a climate emergency declaration will continue (three people were arrested last night outside the Congressional Baseball Game calling for just that).
One place where executive action is required is on maximizing the payoff for this new bill overseas. They don’t call it “global” warming for nothing, and now John Kerry has something to work with. A good sign yesterday, as Germany (driven by the new Green leadership) announced plans for a Build Back Better Berlin-style, with $180 billion for a rapid energy conversion. But figuring out ways to make progress in places like Vietnam is at least as important. The Cairo climate conference in November just got more interesting.
The conventional wisdom is that Congress is done for a good while now on energy and climate legislation—that the IRA will be a once-every-thirty-years effort. It’s never a good idea to bet against the dysfunction of our central government, but with somewhat more encouraging reports emerging about the possibility for Democrats to hold control of Congress in the midterms, you never know. One big structural result of all the money this bill will pour into the renewable sector: there will before long be solar and wind barons and vested battery interests able to throw their weight around in DC.
State and local government action will be ever more important. We’re moving into a period of rapid execution and deployment—activists will have more ability to push City Halls and State Houses because there will be money around to make real change possible. But “possible” is distinct from “actual,” and the difference will rely on more pushing.
And the big one: the movement now needs to shift more of its attention and vigor from Politics to the other player big enough to matter, Finance. There’s been lots of wonderful work on banks and asset managers, but it’s never had the undivided attention given to politics (in part because it doesn’t have the regularly scheduled elections to drive that focus, though shareholder season in the spring gets a little more notice each year). Taking on the big banks is key (join our Banking on the Future pledge at Third Act if you haven’t already); if you had any doubts, note that it’s the strategy the fossil fuel industry is busily adopting. West Virginia, Texas, et al are trying to intimidate banks to keep lending to Big Carbon; we need the treasurers of blue cities and states (where most of the money lives) to match their game. At the moment, as a new report last week made clear, not one of the 27 biggest banks in the world “has committed to end financing for new oil and gas exploration, and only one has promised to cut all coal financing in line with International Energy Agency guidelines.” Alec Connon, director of the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition, explained last week in the Guardian that banks like Chase are actively lobbying on behalf of their fossil fuel clients.
Oh, and a bonus gift, provided by one keen-eyed reader. If you’re wondering if financial strategies really work to curtail fossil fuel expansion, here’s a tidbit from the official quarterly report from the Dallas branch of the Federal Reserve. It’s noting the fact that even with high oil prices there has not been a surge of investment into the oil patch. The reason, as one beleaguered executive explains, is the success of divestment campaigns over the last decade:
Investors are still not coming back to the well, so to speak. Private investors like endowments and foundations are structurally gone for good, and it is actually different this time. Pension plans are also hesitant to commit capital despite high prices. Public equity investors are still demanding too much, which has caused firms to go public via a special-purpose acquisition company and reverse merger transactions, indicating the discount demanded by traditional initial public offering investors is too high to stomach. The administration may be getting blamed, but it is the investors’ fault.
I read that and thought of the hundreds of thousands of people who have played roles large or small in those divestment campaigns around the world. There’s lots more we can do; we’ve got momentum now, and the best use of momentum is to roll over the opposition.
Other news from around the world of climate and energy
+The BBC reports that weatherpeople across the UK were assailed by climater deniers for reporting on record temperatures earlier this month.
Met Office lead meteorologist Alex Deakin said "it's scary in some ways", adding: "I find it more frustrating and offensive for my colleagues - some of the great minds in climate science. Show a bit of respect and do a bit more research rather than just believe Bob down the pub or Tony on YouTube."
+Old colleague and friend Clémence Dubois has a rousing attack on French oil giant Total for their war-profiteering and their ongoing efforts to build yet another oil pipeline across Africa
+Climate scientists are urging the White House to shut down plans for the huge Willow oil complex proposed for Alaska’s North Slope: “No sound environmental impact statement can approve a carbon bomb during a climate crisis. Listening to the science means acting on the science, and acting on the science here means rejecting Willow.”
+A remarkable piece of reporting from ProPublica about how Barbados is handling its debt crisis and the climate crisis at the same time. It’s a story with resonance across the Caribbean
Were it not for the disasters worsened by climate change, much of the region’s debt might not exist in the first place. Jamaica’s debt, for example, can be tied to the response to Hurricane Gilbert more than three decades ago. Grenada’s is in part because of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Dominica’s 2017 loss, relative to its GDP, was the equivalent of a $44 trillion hit to the U.S. economy.
+ProPublica also ranks every county in the U.S. on how they’ll do as the climate crisis proceeds. I don’t know whether to be proud or alarmed that the four top counties, and six of the top seven, are in my beloved Vermont. Best to avoid Louisiana, Arizona, and South Carolina… Relatedly, 72% of young homeowners tell pollsters they anticipate climate damage to their homes in coming years.
Nearly two in three (64%) young homeowners believe it likely they will choose or be forced to move due to climate change-related extreme weather in the next 30 years, compared to 27% of all homeowners.
+Turns out there are conversion kits to turn your bike into an e-bike. Which may be a good thing, because tax incentives for e-bike purchases were cut (very shortsightedly) from the Senate bill during the Manchin appeasement sessions
+Terry Tempest-Williams and Rebecca Solnit with a joint essay on the climate emergency? Yes please
Between the scientists and engineers, philosophers and poets, Indigenous leaders, climate activists and engaged youth, we know what to do and how to do it. We have a multiplicity of tools, we have a kaleidoscopic vision where each of us can offer up the gifts that are ours, and most importantly, we have the spiritual will to change the course of our destiny on fire.
+The NYTimes covers the failures of FEMA to get disaster victims back on their feet, in a really striking piece of reporting
Brock Long, who ran FEMA from 2017 to 2019, said there’s a better way to help survivors.“What if we gave the homeowner $60,000 to do the repairs to their house?” said Mr. Long, who is now executive chairman of Hagerty Consulting, which helps governments and businesses prepare for disasters. “If we repair the house, they can keep some equity.”
+In a study that will effect billions of people, researchers at Korea’s Pusan University studied the prevalence of heatwaves in the region for the last 60 years and concluded that as the climate changes “dry heatwaves occur mainly in northwestern East Asia, while moist heatwaves are prevalent over southern East Asia.” If you had to choose, most may be worse.
+The Wall Street Journal studies climate offset plans and finds…some problems
“There’s a lot of pressure at the corporate and the individual level to take action on climate change,” said Danny Cullenward, policy director of CarbonPlan, a San Francisco-based carbon-accounting nonprofit. “The problem is the market isn’t working, and people are talking about it instead and relying on it instead of taking the actions that they need to take.”
In the same vein, Time magazine finds air-conditioning causing as many problems as it solves on a hot world.
+Princeton is one of the few Ivies still trying to profit off fossil fuels and the end of the world. Alum Claire Kaufman offers a comprehensive summary of how to get the tiger out of the university tank
+The BBC has a beautiful (and appropriately sinister) retelling of the day in 1992 that the king of American PR laid out the plan for climate denial to Big Oil
Though few outside the PR industry might have heard of E Bruce Harrison or the eponymous company he had run since 1973, he had a string of campaigns for some of the US's biggest polluters under his belt.He had worked for the chemical industry discrediting research on the toxicity of pesticides; for the tobacco industry, and had recently run a campaign against tougher emissions standards for the big car makers. Harrison had built a firm that was considered one of the very best.
+Who’d a thunk it? New research makes clear that cleaning up fossil fuel pollution raises property values and helps the local economy.
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I think next Friday will finish this epic nonviolent yarn once and for all! If you want to read the first 86 chapters of The Other Cheek, you can find them in the archive.
Predictably, morning came first for Momo and Gloria, and so Cass rose quickly to see if she could quiet them down and buy a little more sleep for the rest of the crew, who were stretched out on cots or, in the case of Perry, simply collapsed on a chair in front of a glowing monitor.
“She needs to go out and pee,” said Gloria.
“We’re not going out right now,” said Cass. “There’s too many people out there. Luckily, Momo knows how to pee in a bucket—Wei showed me.”
Afterwards Gloria cuddled the dog in her arms. “I love her,” said Gloria. “She’s a very brave dog.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because there’s a lot of people who don’t want her to live here,” said Gloria. “You could hear them shouting last night, ‘Send her back.’”
“You know that everyone here is making sure no one has to go back anywhere they don’t want to, right?”
“Father Aaron said we could stay as long as we liked.”
“You like Father Aaron?”
“Yep. But it would be better with Coke.”
“What would be better?”
“What we did last night—communion.”
“Ah,” said Cass. “Interesting point.”
As they talked, others began to stir. Sister Noreen appeared at the door with a sack of bagels, and began slicing them. “We’ll get a schedule going for using Father Aaron’s shower,” she told Cass. “But if you don’t want to wait there’s a small locker room down by the basketball court in the youth wing. I’ve brought towels.”
“Thanks,” said Cass. “How’s the crowd outside?”
“Reduced,” said Sister Noreen. “I didn’t talk to anyone, but I could see Maria down there talking to some of them. But I imagine they’ll be back in force—it may be a bit of a scene at Mass today.”
At that point Matti walked in, still wrapped in the parka that MK had brought him the night before. He looked exhausted, worn, sad. Not pretty, thought Cass—instead, he looked grave, and handsome.
“Good morning,” he said.
“Good morning,” said Cass.
“You want to see Momo do a trick?” asked Gloria. “Watch this.” She put a small biscuit on top of the dog’s head, and then held up a hand.
Momo stood stock still, second after long second. “That’s amazing,” said Matti. Finally Gloria clapped, and then Momo shook her head, dislodging the biscuit, which she gobbled as it hit the floor.
“I don’t think I could wait that long,” said Gloria. “Not if it was something that I really wanted to eat, like a cookie.”
“You’ll learn,” said Cass. “Growing up is a lot about waiting to eat cookies.”
“I’m older than Momo,” said Gloria.
“Not in dog years,” said Matti.
“What’s a dog year?” said Gloria skeptically.
Before he could answer, Maria came in, smiling.
“Remember Reverend Hardesty?” she asked Cass.
“The prayer warrior? Shielding the city against demons?” she said.
“Indeed,” said Maria. “SonRise Ministries. He’s out in the street with some of his crew, but he’s very conflicted. Very eager to send, um, certain of our guests to their, um, points of origin,” she said, looking at an oblivious Gloria, who was seeing if Momo would leave a biscuit on her belly. “But equally eager to protect Wei from being turned over to the godless Communists.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Cass.
“Hey,” said Maria. “Fifty percent. Anyway, it’s kind of fun to see him wrestling with the contradictions. It’s like a charrette at school. Good morning, Gloria. Good morning, Matti, Noreen.”
“Would you like a bagel?”
“Let me help you slice them,” said Maria. ‘It was a beautiful dawn, by the way. A big moon in the sky—it seems weird to think there are people up there again.”
“On the moon? Who?” said Sister Noreen.
“Two Chinese people,” said Maria.
“Two Chinese women,” said Matti.
“That’s very cool,” said Cass.
“That was kind of my idea,” said Matti. “I told them it would go over well.”
“Well, you were right,” said Maria. “Lunar ladies—about time.”
“Do you think they’re really there,” said Perry, who was rousing himself, and looking at his screen.
“If they’re on schedule, they’re there and getting ready for the broadcast,” said Matti. He crossed over and sat down next to Perry, talking quietly enough that the others couldn’t make out their conversation.
“So,” he said to Perry. “Try Ordos. And stallion.”
“What?” said Perry.
“For passwords. If its director Liu who’s handling this part, and I’d be surprised if it isn’t, then maybe it’ll help. I don’t know, but it’s basically all he talked about for a while. How he’d been sent off to some place called Ordos in Mongolia. And some story about a stallion and getting thrown off. He talked about it a lot.”
“Director Liu? From central propaganda?” said Professor Lee, who had apparently been listening in from her cot next to the computers, and was now rising. “You were talking to him?”
“Yep,” said Matti. “Not all the time, but he seemed to be personally in charge the last couple of months. And he wanted to get the phrasing of things just right, so that Silicon Valley would be excited—that’s what he kept saying. He didn’t care about Washington, he cared about the Valley.”
Barbara Lee was working on the Chinese-language keyboard attached by a cord to one of the monitors. “Those don’t seem to—were there any other words you remember from that story? Just stallion?”
“I think there was a mare too,” said Matti. “I didn’t understand the story at all.”
Professor Lee went back to tapping, the sound of the keys loud in the sleeping room. She would type for a minute, watch the screen, type some more. After about five minutes she paused.
“Um—Perry, look here,” said Professor Lee. “’MareofOrdos,’ in pinyin spelling—am I right that that’s opened the backdoor? It did, didn’t it?”
Perry stared down at the screen, and made a few clicks himself. “We’re in,” he said. “Now don’t do anything. Don’t let them know we’re in. All we need to do is make the switch tonight, and the longer we wait to do that the longer it will take them to react.”
“I thought about that last night too,” said Matti. “You’re worried that the officials in Beijing will shut down the whole thing once the DL appears, right?”
“Yep,” said Professor Lee. “It will take them a few seconds to figure out what’s going on, but not much more. That’s why we’ve told the DL to talk fast.”
“I’ve met him—he’s not such a fast talker,” said Matti. “Anyway, here’s an idea. You’ve been to Beijing, right?”
“I was born there,” said Professor Lee.
“Well, you know how basically the whole government is all located in a few blocks around the center? Like, maybe a mile radius from the Forbidden City?”
“Everyone wants to be near the emperor,” said Professor Lee. “Or in this case the chairman.”
“Well, those are the only people who would shut down the feed, right?”
“Probably,” said Professor Lee. “No one outside the top leadership would dare to interfere.”
“Well,” said Matti. “What if they didn’t know. This is all happening across cellphones, right? And cellphones can be geo-fenced.”
Perry was looking up at him. “That’s—what you’re saying is, keep the Beijing feed clean? With the astronauts talking? While the rest of the world is looking at the DL?”
“You don’t even need to fence off all of Beijing—just the central city, where all the ministries are.”
“That’s actually kind of brilliant,” said Professor Lee. “It takes advantage of the extreme centralization of the Chinese government. There’s only a few people with any kind of independent authority, and they’re all a few blocks apart. Can we do it, Perry?”
“Probably,” he said. “Cell phone networks are pretty basic, and advertisers use geographical algorithms all the time—you can buy space in a certain neighborhood for a day, and text everyone about, like, your new restaurant. Let me see what I can do.”
“Thank you, Matti,” said Professor Lee quietly.
“Can I use your cot?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said, and he climbed in, pulling his parka over his head. When Flora woke up a few minutes later she came and sat vigil by his cot most of the morning, making sure no one woke him.