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Monday, October 5, 2015

Big Soda takes a hit. Let's make Big Oil next.

Occasionally I run across articles pooh-poohing the idea of divestment in fossil fuels for one reason or another.  It's happened often enough that I have a stock comment/response:

"Why divestment is useful:

"1) Fossil fuel companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on image advertising. Divestment demonstrations and social media are a very inexpensive way to blow a hole in the positive images created.

"2) If you sell your shares in a fossil fuel company, yes, someone else buys them, but the price goes down. Falling prices are not what most intelligent investors are looking for in their investments.

"3) Divestment campaigns help to raise awareness of the risk of investing in companies that depend for their livelihood on wrecking the habitability of our planet. The handwriting is on the wall, and at some point, there will be a race to the exits by investors. We can see some of that happening now with coal. Jim Cramer, host of a popular daily show on investing (CNBC's "Mad Money"), has been telling callers for a while now, 'I don't want you to invest in coal. Bad idea.'

"4) Campus divestment campaigns draw attention to the complicity of otherwise respected institutions like Harvard and Brown universities in the burning of fossil fuels and give young people a way to directly play a role in combating climate disruption."

Sunday's edition of the New York Times has an excellent article about what has happened in recent years to an entirely different industry, the sweetened soft drink industry, entitled "The Decline of 'Big Soda.'" I recommend that you pass it along to anyone who doesn't understand the logic behind the fossil fuel divestment movement. It's a lengthy article, and well worth the time to read in its entirety, but the first few paragraphs are a good summary:

"Five years ago, Mayor Michael A. Nutter proposed a tax on soda in Philadelphia, and the industry rose up to beat it back.
"Soda lobbyists made campaign contributions to local politicians and staged rallies, with help from allies like the Teamsters union and local bottling companies. To burnish its image, the industry donated $10 million to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

"It worked: The soda tax proposal never got out of a City Council committee.

"It’s a familiar story. Soda taxes have also flopped in New York State and San Francisco. So far, only superliberal Berkeley, Calif., has succeeded in adopting such a measure over industry objections.

"The obvious lesson from Philadelphia is that the soda industry is winning the policy battles over the future of its product. But the bigger picture is that soda companies are losing the war.
"Even as anti-obesity campaigners like Mr. Nutter have failed to pass taxes, they have accomplished something larger. In the course of the fight, they have reminded people that soda is not a very healthy product. They have echoed similar messages coming from public health researchers and others — and fundamentally changed the way Americans think about soda." [added emphasis mine]

The article goes on to add that "The drop in soda consumption represents the single largest change in the American diet in the last decade ... "  Wow.

So, that's my thesis. The divestment movement is about de-legitimizing the fossil fuels industry. Once that is accomplished, these dirty, polluting fuels that threaten the habitability of our planet can be relegated to the slag heap of history where they belong.

[NOTE: I try very hard to tweet several times daily on key news articles about global warming. I also post the items tweeted and then archive them, by topical thread, in a Facebook group called Climate Change-Global Warming Info. If you'd like to see more information on this vital issue, you can join the group here.]

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

My kind of hypocrisy

Is better than the other kind.

A short (Twitter) debate on the subject of hypocrisy

Herewith, a long-past conversation between me and another party (I'll call her the Adversary) on Twitter:

Third Party:
.@Peoples_Climate @RobertKennedyJr @CherylHines @RachaelEHarris marching for @Waterkeeper

@christianhebel @RobertKennedyJr @Peoples_Climate @CherylHines how big is ur carbon footprint on private jets, multiple compounds, limos?

Do other celebs get a pass because they DON'T express concern about climate?

Limo liberals leaving giant carbon footprints but slamming everyone else have zero credibility.They r just too stupid 2 see it

Translated, I guess that means "yes," they get a pass. Interesting logic for a lawyer.

It's one thing to express concern while being a fraud. Silence probably best from the hypocrites. DiCaprio is a climate fraud

But, sounds as if you're good w/ silence from everyone on this issue. Or, disproving science by claiming celeb hypocrisy?

I'd rather silence from the idiot celeb faux activists than hear their inane and hypocritical comments. Silence can be golden

Thx, yes, got that, also that you're dodging the question. Think about it sometime when you have a few minutes.


A (very) simple thought experiment

I've been thinking about this exchange recently, for a couple of reasons:

1) The inability or unwillingness of the other party to respond to my point is pretty typical of the few debates I've had about climate change on Twitter (I generally try to avoid these, on grounds that they're a waste of time, as this example ... exemplifies).

2) Hypocrisy seems to be such a favorite accusation from those on the right. I suppose that is because it is so handy, especially on climate change. If you're going to say anything about that issue, you need to first prove that you are perfect (i.e., you're basically a net-zero-emissions person). That's almost impossible, so by definition, any celebrity calling for action is clearly a hypocrite. You took a bus to New York City for the 2014 Climate March? Stay home and stop using fossil fuels, you hypocrite!

I propose in response the following thought experiment:

Let us consider Celebrity A, who has the audacity to tweet that climate change is a serious problem and that action is needed to deal with it, and Celebrity B, who tweets only about his upcoming movie. Otherwise, Celebrity A and Celebrity B act exactly the same--they have similar houses, vacations, autos, etc.

It probably goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: 

          I prefer Celebrity A. 

And that's true even if Celebrity A is actually endorsing climate action as a way of attracting more fans, some of whom may go to see her movie. She's a celebrity, and hundreds or thousands of people are going to listen to what she has to say, and many of them will take it seriously, especially if it validates their own personal views or actions.

So, thanks to Al Gore, Leo DiCaprio, Daryl Hannah, Sarah Silverman, RFK Jr., Bill McKibben, and others who have been willing to use the glow of their celebrity to cast more light upon this most pressing issue of our time.

So what's the other kind of hypocrite?

Several sources I consulted say "hypocrisy" is a synonym for "mendacity" (lying). So when a politician lies about climate change and knows or should know better, that's the other kind of hypocrisy. One of my personal favorites is Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the Chair of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. After finding out last Election Night that she'd be the new chair due to Republicans taking a majority in the Senate, she called climate change a real problem, then said a recent volcanic eruption in Iceland had emitted the equivalent of 1,000 years worth of emissions from all of Europe's autos and manufacturing. Totally bogus, of course, but who needs to get basic facts straight in order to perform their responsibilities to the American public on an issue of overwhelming importance?

That's the kind of hypocrisy I cannot abide.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Excellent talk on abrupt climate change

I've been listening to climate change videos from YouTube while running recently, and came across an excellent one today. Its title is "Abrupt Climate Change: Past, Present, and Future," and it's the Nye Lecture from the Fall 2014 conference of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Although it is 52 minutes long, it is well worth the time.

I especially wanted to pass it along because the presenter, Jim White, is an excellent communicator who uses simple, down-to-earth language and really succeeds in getting away from the wonkishness that makes so many scientific talks difficult to understand and listen to.

His message is straightforward:
- There have been extremely abrupt climate changes in the past (as science has advanced, it's become clear that some were more abrupt than anyone realized--up to 100 to even 1,000 times as fast as the global temperature rise observed over the past century).
- Our current emissions of greenhouse gases constitute an extremely rapid change in the climate system ("we're in a period of abrupt change now").
- We don't really know what caused abrupt changes in the past.
- Even the current rate of climate change can result in abrupt impacts on society, such as occurred when Hurricane Sandy caused just enough additional storm surge to flood parts of the New York City subway system and result in billions of dollars in damages.

The danger of this situation is aptly summed up in one of his examples--that of an early explorer paddling along the Niagara River and suddenly realizing there's a waterfall ahead, trying to get to shore, and failing. The "real tipping point," White explains, is not when the boat goes over the falls. It's the moment when it is no longer possible to get to shore first.

Mr. Nye, a geosciences professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, was also interviewed last month on EcoShock Radio.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Letter: Boston's amazing, ominous winter

I'm currently involved in the Energy Independent Vermont campaign to establish a carbon pollution tax in Vermont. This letter, which appeared in the Valley News February 25, is in support of that proposal.

To the editor:

A recent New York Times opinion article described Boston's recent experience as the "winter from hell," with the author adding, "We are being devastated by a slow-motion natural disaster of historic proportions."

While no individual weather event can be attributed directly to global climate change, it's equally true to say that today, no individual weather event is completely unaffected by climate change. Anyone who understands basic physics knows that adding more carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas, to the atmosphere will warm our planet. In the case of Boston, this appears to have led to record warm sea temperatures offshore which in turn have made more moisture available for a biblical series of storms--totaling seven feet of snow in a mere three weeks.
With this in mind, it's important to note that Vermont's state legislature is currently considering a proposal that would put a price on carbon pollution in Vermont. More information about this concept, which aims to reduce Vermont's carbon pollution, benefit the state's economy and create jobs while treating low-income Vermonters fairly, is available at

I hope other Vermonters will join me in supporting this effort to make carbon polluters pay. Global warming threatens our future, and the time to take action is now.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Guest blog: Stating the case for renewable energy in Vermont

Kathryn Blume, a friend who is active in Vermont energy and climate circles, posted the following on Facebook today.  I like it, and asked for permission to repost here:

There's been a peck of absurd hoo-ha and some childish fol-de-rol here in Charlotte [a town near Burlington, Vt.] over concerns about renewable energy projects sullying some obscure form of virginity possessed by our fair and delicate town.
In response, I posted this on FPF [Front Porch Forum], and have received messages of kudos, gratitude, and approval--some by folks feeling a little too shy to stick their neck out for the cause. On behalf of all you concerned-but-retiring peeps out there, I am happy to re-post:

"While I appreciate everyone's concern for the politics, economics, and logistics of siting "industrial" energy-generation projects in Charlotte, I think it's important to keep in mind the fact that climate change is accelerating rapidly, and addressing it requires that we get off fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

"We demand abundant energy--exactly when we want it--to power every aspect of our lives. While one might be uncomfortable with the look of a field full of solar panels, or a wind turbine on a ridge top, they hardly rival the massive impacts of true industrial energy generation: entire mountains and forests destroyed due to mountaintop removal coal mining and tar sands extraction, earthquakes and poisoned groundwater due to fracking, massive offshore oil spills collapsing entire marine ecosystems, pristine rivers polluted by leaking pipelines, communities endangered by exploding oil trains...the list goes on.

"The big difference is that we don't live in Alberta or the Gulf Coast or Appalachia or Nigeria or Lac-Mégantic or San Martín Texmelucan de Labastida or Arkansas or Oklahoma or Montana or Michigan - so we don't have to experience the consequences of all that firsthand. We just get to benefit from the results.

"Of course, it's important that energy generated in Vermont stay in Vermont and benefit Vermonters. And yes, the politics and policies can be complex, and we do need to engage them consciously and deliberately. But ultimately, if we're going to power our lives, then the least we can do is take responsibility for it."

So there.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Pricing carbon in Vermont

The following letter to the editor (from yours truly) appeared in the Valley News on Friday, 13 February:

Charge for Carbon Pollution

To the editor:

As California's massive drought rolls on and Boston is buried in record snowfalls, it's apparent that something is going wrong with our planet's climate.

If you're like me and many others concerned about global warming and the unplanned experiment we are currently carrying out on the climate of the only livable planet we know of, you should be aware of a coming campaign to put a price on carbon pollution in Vermont. This campaign, under the name Energy Independent Vermont, will seek to reduce Vermont's carbon pollution, benefit the state's economy and create jobs, and do so in a way that is fair to low-income Vermonters. You can find out more about it at

Please join me and many other Vermonters in this effort to make carbon polluters pay while at the same time helping homeowners save energy and money. It's that simple.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Climate tweets for 17 October 2014

Florida denier pols challenged as rising sea levels get more real:  via @washingtonpost 
[flooding, science, denial]

Spot Water Shortages Begin in Sao Paulo:  via @BloombergNews 
[Brazil, drought]

When Climate Change Has Already Come: @CityLab:
[sea level, Virginia]

Desert drought dust ups avalanche danger in Colorado backcountry: @COindependent:

South Pacific climate activists blockade Australia coal port: … via @BBCNews
[sea level, flooding]

Businesses go green, little faith in U.N. climate plan: … via @TR_Foundation 
[investing, divestment, risk]

Curry Advocates Against Action on Climate Change: @HuffPostGreen:
[Judith Curry, science, denial]

RT TGWF @greenwebfound:
Do you want Twitter to stop burning #coal? Sign the petition @Avaaz:  #climatemarch continues online!