The New Political Climate
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Co-hosts Steve Curwood and Bruce Gellerman explore how the mid-term elections changed the playing field for climate change and energy policy. President Obama says he sees potential bipartisan common ground in energy issues. And Rep. Charlie Bass says he’s willing to listen. The New Hampshire Republican rode the electoral wave back into Congress. He tells Steve Curwood how Republicans and Democrats might make progress on clean energy. But a number of the newly elected deny the science supporting man-made climate change. LOE’s Jeff Young reports on the anti-science sentiment among the Republican freshman class, and the fight that’s brewing over the regulation of greenhouse gases. (12:00)
Californians Vote Resoundingly to Keep Climate Law
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California will continue to prepare for living with carbon constraints after voters there trounced an oil-funded effort to put its climate change law on ice. The vote signals to businesses and investors that emitting carbon will carry a cost, at least in the state where 12 percent of the nation’s population resides. Host Steve Curwood speaks with longtime climate legislator State Senator Fran Pavley. Then, LOE's Ingrid Lobet gives us a roundup of the results of some of the western governors' races. (06:20)
Cap-and-Trade Takeaway/ Mitra Taj
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Midterm elections swept out a slew of Democratic candidates from the House of Representatives, many of whom had cast controversial votes in favor of last year’s cap-and-trade bill to cut greenhouse gas emissions. LOE’s Washington correspondent Mitra Taj reports on what this year’s election results tell us about popular support for legislating solutions to climate change. (03:50)
What's Next for the Congressional Global Warming Committee?/ David Kreutzer and John Passacantando
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The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming was created in 2007 by Democrats who hoped it could stand up to challenges to climate change solutions. Now, with Republicans regaining control of the House, the committee is likely to fold. We'll hear two opinions - one from David Kreutzer of the conservative Heritage Foundation, the other from longtime environmentalist John Passacantando - on the legacy of the committee. (05:50)
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It was a tense, last minute negotiation but, at the bottom hour, diplomats from the 193 nations who attended the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan finally came to an agreement. Jane Smart of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature tells host Bruce Gellerman that the parties agreed to 20 targets to hold off the loss of biodiversity and to pay countries for the use of their resources. (06:30)
Greening Aruba/ Pippin Ross
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The Caribbean island Aruba is growing at a fast pace. And now a new green movement has emerged to make sure that rapid development doesn't come at the expense of the environment. As producer Pippin Ross reports, the movement was spearheaded by a hotel owner who teamed up with the government to show that being a steward for the environment can be profitable. (06:50)
BirdNote® The Hardy Harlequin/ Mary McCann
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Histronicus histronicus, the North American waterfowl known as the Harlequin, is the only duck of its kind that breeds and eats along fast-flowing rivers and streams. Mary McCann has this BirdNote ® on the Harlequin's unusual behavior. (02:00)
It's mealtime for a moose and her yearling in a small pond in northern Maine.
HOST: Bruce Gellerman & Steve Curwood
GUESTS: Charlie Bass, Fran Pavley, Jane Smart, David Kreutzer, John Passacantando
REPORTERS: Jeff Young, Pippin Ross, Ingrid Lobet, Mitra Taj
BIRDNOTE: Mary McCann
CURWOOD: From Public Radio International, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
GELLERMAN: And, I’m Bruce Gellerman. After a shellacking, President Obama holds out hope for cooperation on energy and global warming. A newly-elected Republican lawmaker talks terms.
BASS: My concept is that we start approaching the issue of carbon neutrality by trying to put together an energy bill rather than an environmental bill. I think that the concept of cap and trade, Waxman-Markey style is really not viable.
CURWOOD: Also, voters in California turn back an attempt to roll back renewable energy requirements.
PAVLEY: We’ve talked about the link to air pollution. We’ve talked about impacts to our water supply, but we’ve mostly talked about the importance of having a clean and secure energy source.
CURWOOD: Just ahead, the long term environmental effects of the mid-term elections. Stick around.
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman.
CURWOOD: And I’m Steve Curwood. The Republican take-over of the House of Representatives changes the political landscape. But, President Obama believes that – at least on energy and climate- the two parties can work together.
OBAMA: I think the smartest thing for us to do, is to see if we can get Democrats and Republicans in a room who are serious about energy independence, and are serious about keeping our air clean and our water clean and dealing with the issue of greenhouse gases, and seeing are there ways that we can make progress in the short term and invest in technologies in the long term that start giving us the tools to reduce greenhouse gases and solve this problem.
GELLERMAN: But the new GOP Majority leadership in the House is skeptical of climate change science. And Republicans want to limit the Administration’s power to regulate greenhouse gases through the Environmental Protection Agency. On this, the President wasn’t budging.
OBAMA: The EPA is under a court order that says greenhouse gases are a pollutant that fall under their jurisdiction. And I think, you know, one - one of the things that's very important for me is not to have us ignore the science, but rather to find ways that we can solve these problems that don't hurt the economy, that encourage the development of clean energy in this country, that in fact may give us opportunities to create entire new industries and create jobs that -- and that put us in a competitive posture around the world.
CURWOOD: If the President is in a mood to reach across the aisle to collaborate on energy, one hand that might reach back is that of a re-minted Republican Congressman from New Hampshire – Charlie Bass. Representative Bass lost his second District seat in 2006 after six terms in office. He now returns to Washington to reclaim his seat and his seniority, which pretty much allows him to pick his committee assignments.
He’s an advocate of renewable portfolio standards that require electric utilities to obtain a percentage of their power from renewables – standards adopted by more than half of the states. Charlie Bass calls himself a moderate Republican. He finds the science of climate change credible, but does not support the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the Democratically controlled House to cap and trade greenhouse gases. Welcome to Living on Earth, sir!
BASS: Glad to be with you!
CURWOOD: So tell me, what’s possible now on energy and climate change? The President in his post-election press conference made a point of saying energy was an area of possible bipartisan compromise. What do you see happening here?
BASS: Well, energy by definition, is not partisan, it’s really regional. You know the northeast, the southwest, Alaska-- it’s domestic vs. international. Unfortunately, the Waxman-Markey bill became a real political football. And so, I think the concept of cap and trade Waxman-Markey style is really not viable. However, the nexus between the development of renewable energy capabilities and carbon sequestration is very close.
So, my suggestion or concept is that we start approaching the issue of carbon neutrality by trying to put together an energy bill rather than an environmental bill that would achieve a certain level of energy independence, i.e. renewable energy production- a national thermal and electric portfolio standard, for example. The net result might be that we would have the same outcome, or a similar outcome to a cap and trade bill, and we might use the tools of cap and trade but the concept and the mechanisms for achieving those objectives would be quite different.
CURWOOD: Who among the Republican leadership do you see as being willing to meet the President part way on his call for bipartisan compromise on energy?
BASS: Well, of course, I’m not sure outside of John Bayner, who the Republican leaders are going to be. On Energy Commerce Committee, where I plan to serve, the only member of Congress that really will be unwilling to work with me on this kind of an approach will be somebody, first of all, who doesn’t like any kind of alternative energy, and secondly, thinks that the earth is getting cooler rather than warmer, and that the combustion of hydrocarbons has no impact on the environment. If that’s the case, there’s no way to start.
But if most members of Congress support alternative energy development- the question is how can you tie that to a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that reaches the same type of goal as Waxman-Markey, but in a different direction. And my concept at least is to start with the renewable portfolio standard, which is not particularly popular amongst Republicans. But it’s a lot more popular than cap and trade.
CURWOOD: What do you make of the number of Republican candidates who had platforms in the last elections that rejects the scientific findings on human caused climate change?
BASS: Yeah, that’s a problem. As you said earlier, the solution to this problem has got to be bipartisan, and it may be very difficult to get a plan out of the Commerce Committee with Republicans in charge, because if a majority of them don’t like any action on climate change, then it’s going to be difficult. But, it’s something I feel strongly about and I’m willing to work with, even though I don’t exactly know how I will succeed. I think there are a handful of Republicans on the committee now who are willing to work on this problem.
CURWOOD: Now, to what degree do you expect Republicans to focus on the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act, and where do you stand on that?
BASS: Well, that’s a very difficult issue. Obviously, having the command and control rulemaking of the EPA exerting pressure on the Congress to move on climate change is not very popular amongst Republicans. I haven’t made up my mind yet as to whether or not I think that authority should be overruled. I would only point out that it was Republicans that gave the agency that authority to begin with, back in the early 90’s and so, I think we ought to be very careful about repealing it because it’s really our- I believe it’s our party that put it in place to begin with.
CURWOOD: Where do you think this election tells us about where your party, the Republicans, are now on the questions of climate change, energy, on the environment?
BASS: Well I think there’s a significant level of support for developing alternative energy resources. The problem is that Republicans generally aren’t too specific about how to go about that. And so, I would seek, I think, to identify colleagues who have similar districts that don’t have oil, gas and coal but do have the potential for significant new economies in, for example, from biomass, from wood, from energy cane or miscanthus or from agricultural waste, and so forth, and try to educate these members as to what their priorities should be. I think that there are Republicans that feel that alternative energy and climate change may potentially be good economic policy, rather than bad.
CURWOOD: Former Congressman and, now, Congressman-elect, Charles Bass, Republican from New Hampshire, thank you so much, sir.
BASS: Thank you very much.
GELLERMAN: For a look now at the new political climate on Capitol Hill, we turn to LOE’s Jeff Young. So, Jeff, how does Congressman Charlie Bass fit in?
YOUNG: Well, I’d say Congressman Bass has some interesting ideas there, but I don’t think that he’ll have much company amongst his fellow Republicans heading to Congress. Probably the most striking thing about how this issue played in this election was the strong anti-science sentiment. We heard Republican candidates not just rejecting, say, a particular proposal on climate, like cap and trade, but rejecting outright or casting doubt on the well founded science that says climate change is largely caused by us, by the greenhouse gases from human activity.
GELLERMAN: So climate deniers. How many? Give us some examples.
YOUNG: By my count, it’s a rough count, we’re gong to have about three-dozen new members of the House and Senate who essentially reject climate science. Here’s one example, this is Senator-elect Ron Johnson from Wisconsin.
JOHNSON: No, I absolutely do not believe the science of man-caused climate change is proven, not by any stretch of the imagination. I think it’s far more likely that it’s just sunspot activity or something in geologic eons of time where we have changes in the climate.
YOUNG: And, remember Bruce, that the message from science is clear: The National Academy says climate change is, quote, “caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks.” And what’s more, some Republicans who agree with the science paid a political price. I spoke with Bob Ingliss, he’s represented South Carolina’s fourth district for 12 years but he lost in the Republican primary. And Congressman Ingliss told me he lost mostly because he spoke out about the reality of climate change.
INGLISS: The received orthodoxy at the moment is, you know, to just say that climate change is a bunch of hooey we don’t need to do anything. But if you come along and you say, ‘No, it’s a matter of stewardship, let’s take action here,’ unfortunately way too many republicans are looking at me like I’ve grown an extra head or something.
YOUNG: You know, when a six-term congressman like Bob Ingliss gets the boot for basically talking about global warming as a reality, other politicians pay attention. And I would argue that this trend toward a denial of climate science is a serious setback for those who have been working to build a coalition for bipartisan action on climate change.
GELLERMAN: And, what about the Republicans who control the House and its important committees, what do we know about their agenda on energy and climate?
YOUNG: Well Representative John Boehner of Ohio, is expected to become speaker,
last year in an interview he said, quote, it was “almost comical” to think that carbon dioxide is harmful. Several members angling for chairmanships of important committees have pledged to use those committees to investigate climate scientists. This is already causing a stir in the science community.
It’s pretty clear that House Republicans will attack EPA for its attempt to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. California congressman Darrell Issa will likely take over the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Here’s what he told us on election night:
ISSA: EPA has been skipping steps in its their rulemaking and in their public notice. Those are areas where we want to make sure EPA is neutral. We just want them to play by the rules, and do what they are mandated to do.
GELLERMAN: That sure sounds like the Republicans are playing hardball.
YOUNG: You know, I think there’s going to be some tension between those Republican members who do want to look for some common ground— say like we heard from Congressman Bass— and others who don’t. And, the Republican strategy, which paid off on Election Day, has largely been to deny the Democratic president any cooperation or success.
And, now that they have their eyes on the presidential election just two years away, I don’t see a whole lot of incentive to give him a victory on a high-profile issue like energy.
GELLERMAN: Yeah, so where does this leave us in terms of an energy bill, or a climate bill?
YOUNG: Broad scale efforts to cap or price carbon are pretty much dead for the foreseeable future. A more piecemeal approach, something like what we heard the President and Representative Bass talk about—eh, possible.
All of this places a lot more importance on the two things that are happening now, and that’s the regulatory authority of EPA to cut CO2 emissions, that’s shaping up as a really big fight, one that’s going to pick up some democratic support, along with Republicans. And, two: the state and regional efforts that are underway to address climate change. And, interestingly those regional efforts did pretty well in this election season.
GELLERMAN: Well, that’s a good place to end, because that’s what we’ll be talking about next. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young, thanks a lot.
YOUNG: Thank you.
- Charles Bass’ Website
- Republicans for Environment
- LOE’s Jeff Young interviews Republican Rep. Bob Ingliss, who says he lost his seat because of his views on climate change.
- LOE’s Bruce Gellerman talks to David Jenkins with the group Republicans for Environmental Protection.
[MUSIC: Elex Talk Tape: New Cool Collective “Afrokan” from Out Of Office (Dox Records 2008)]
GELLERMAN: Just ahead, Californians reject a move to gut climate change legislation. Keep listening to Living on Earth!
[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Chuck Leavell: Tomato Jam” from Southscape (Evergreen Arts 2000)]
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.
GELLERMAN: And, I’m Bruce Gellerman. Advocates are calling it the largest-ever vote for clean energy. Californians resoundingly defeated an oil-company backed initiative to shelve its global warming law. Sixty-one percent voted against the effort, so California will stay on a strict path to increase the use of clean energy.
CURWOOD: Republicans played a major role in preserving California’s renewable standards, including President Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who mocked the federal government for failing to act on climate change.
SCHWARTZENEGGER: While we are doing all of these great things, there is no action in Washington. Isn’t that interesting? No action in Washington. Those reforms are always lost or killed somewhere between the White House and Capitol Hill and the K Street lobbyists. Somehow America has created its own Bermuda Triangle where all those ideas and great reforms disappear somehow or evaporate. The one thing about California, though, is we never wait for Washington.
CURWOOD: Technology companies, venture capital and the Latino vote also helped preserve California’s climate protection law. State Senator Fran Pavley is an author of California’s breakthrough laws limiting vehicle and overall carbon pollution. Fran Pavley says California has some lessons for the rest of America.
PAVLEY: In California we’ve really not talked about just climate change and global warming. We’ve talked about the link to air pollution, we’ve talked about the impact to our water supply, our high sierra snow pack is at risk. But we’ve mostly talked about the importance of having a clean and secure energy source. We don’t want to be gamed by Texas and we certainly don’t want to rely on dependence foreign oil. We’re very concerned about that.
And I think, on the federal level, they need to talk about it in that regard. When I talk to constituents, from all different political perspectives, they want the option of having more efficient appliances so they can save money on their utility bills. They want energy efficient homes, they want more weatherization of homes. They certainly want, and this is polled every year for ten years since I carried the clean car law, they want broader consumer choice and more fuel-efficient and energy-efficient cars that are less polluting.
So, I think in California we never started with talking about cap and trade, I think the federal government started with that approach. I think that if you talk to different states there is a lot of good things happening in states, as well as cities, I think that is where you will see the groundswell of increased effort.
CURWOOD: Well it looks like here in America, actually, there are two different countries: There’s one where you have a federal government that seriously doubts the necessity of acting on climate, and then you have other parts of the country, in California and elsewhere, where people are stating firmly that they do want to act and using the government process to do so. How do you feel about that?
PAV: There might be what’s perceived as a mixed signal, but again I’d like to challenge the federal government to reframe the discussion. I believe national security is a critical issue that Americans everywhere would be supportive of addressing.
I’ve held some hearings with the top military officials from the Navy and the Marines and others. Did you know the military has, for their policy, a 30 percent reduction of energy use by 2020? That exceeds what California trying to do! They are doing it with bio-fuels, reduced dependence on foreign oil, which they think is a critical national security issue. They are worried about massive migrations and movements of people creating unrest. So they are making aggressive steps to become more sustainable, it’s really quite fascinating.
CURWOOD: How hopeful are you that a viable greenhouse gas reduction system can be started with California in the lead?
PAVLEY: I’m very hopeful because we’ve seen the pattern before. California is big enough with 38 million people. We actually have more people than all of Canada, so, just to put that in perspective. But, California will work very collaboratively with other states. We actually have a strong network through organizations like the National Conference of State Legislators and these are people from states all over the country who are doing amazing things in their cities and their states.
I think each state has a different way to approach this. What works in one state may not be the same policies that are the best in another state. And, when I was back in Copenhagen last December, and Governor Schwarzenegger was there too, we both thought all the action was going to come from down below: individuals, cities, communities, more sustainability, pedestrian-oriented communities, state legislators and organizations working together.
We have built a tremendous coalition here in California in supporting these policies: it’s health advocates, it’s people concerned about water supply, it’s small and large businesses, university and college students, the interfaith community, an amazing coalition of Christian Muslim and Jewish leaders, and that’s is a strong voice that represents the majority of people who live in California. Those same kinds of coalitions, with variances obviously, state-by-state, are what is going to move this forward.
CURWOOD: Well I want to thank you for taking the time with me today.
PAVLEY: Well, thank you very much.
CURWOOD: California State Senator, Fran Pavley, is an author of the state’s greenhouse gas law that was just re-affirmed at the ballot box.
GELLERMAN: Let’s stay in California and turn to Ingrid Lobet, LOE’s Western Bureau Chief for a look at the Governor races in the region and how they might affect clean energy legislation. So, Jerry Brown is the once and future governor of California…
LOBET: That’s right. Actually both California and Oregon decided they liked Democrats they had seen before. California reelected Jerry Brown, who was governor in the ‘70s, and Oregon elected Democratic John Kitzhaber, who was governor in the late ‘90s ‘til 2003.
Kitzhaber says he wants Oregon to go beyond the goal that it already has – 25 percent of its energy renewable and reducing carbon emissions below 1990 levels in 15 years. He thinks these should be more than merely goals, perhaps a limit on carbon. By the way Bruce, Kitzhaber’s background is as an emergency room doctor.
GELLERMAN: Hmm. Well, let’s go the elections in the Silver State and the Land of Enchantment.
LOBET: Ok, both Nevada and New Mexico elected Republican governors who are Latino. In New Mexico, it’s Susana Martinez. New Mexico is really interesting because it alone has signed on to carbon limits that will allow it to work in sync with California. And yet the same day New Mexico officials issued their climate change regulations, which happen to be on Tuesday, the voters of New Mexico chose District Attorney Sandra Martinez. And she says she wants to get rid of scientifically unnecessary regulation, and move forward on New Mexico’s rich oil and gas reserves.
In Nevada, Judge Bryan Sandoval gave up a lifetime appointment on the federal bench to run for governor. His platform says nothing about energy. As Attorney General in Nevada, though, he like a lot of Nevadans strongly opposed Yucca Mountain as a repository for high level nuclear waste.
GELLERMAN: Do we have time for anyone else? Let’s see, Colorado elected a new governor too, right?
LOBET: Yeah, Colorado is also interesting. They elected John Hickenlooper, a Dem, a former exploration geologist-- that means coal and oil and gas-- also a popular brewpub owner and the mayor of Denver. As mayor he’s been working on Denver’s carbon footprint, he’s pushed green architecture, waste reduction, he’s big on water reuse, and he says he was proud to attend the climate conference in Copenhagen last year.
GELLERMAN: So, a doctor, a pub owner, a judge and a top cop…a real diverse group of Western governor’s. Thanks a lot, Ingrid.
LOBET: You’re welcome.
GELLERMAN: Living on Earth’s Western Bureau Chief Ingrid Lobet.
[MUSIC: Jake Shimabukuro “Going To California” from My Life (EP) (Hitchhike Records 2007)]
CURWOOD: Well, clean energy seemed to be selling well out West, but in coal country, things turned out a little differently.
BOUCHER: Not only should we continue to use coal, we need to use coal in greater amounts than we’re using it today! That’s what we’re committed to!
CURWOOD: Rick Boucher apparently wasn’t committed enough for voters in Virginia’s ninth district. The Democratic Congressman lost his seat after serving nearly three decades in the House of Representatives. Many blame his departure on one “yes” vote in particular-- the cap-and-trade bill to address climate change.
That was the biggest environmental legislation of recent years, and after it scraped through the House, it died in the Senate. Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent Mitra Taj has been following how supporters of the House bill have fared, and she joins me now. Hi there, Mitra!
TAJ: Hi Steve!
CURWOOD: So, a lot of focus on the representatives who voted for this cap-and-trade bill to cut greenhouse gas emissions. I guess it’s seen as a kind of bellwether for future legislation. Mr. Boucher lost his seat— was that mostly because he voted for it?
TAJ: In Boucher’s case, I think that’s fair to say. The sound byte you heard was from a pro-coal rally he attended, and while he was talking supporters for his challenger were passing out flyers calling him a “traitor” to coal country for voting yes. And this is despite his role in helping secure billions of dollars for the industry in the bill.
CURWOOD: And I guess where the fossil fuel industry is powerful, candidates who supported cap and trade probably had a tougher time. Now Mitra, you were in Virginia’s fifth district, where clean energy advocate Democrat Tom Perriello lost his seat. What did you hear from voters there?
TAJ: Yeah, well, I stopped by an event for Perriello’s opponent, Robert Hurt, who ended up winning, and while cap and trade wasn’t the only concern, it was definitely in the mix.
MAN 1: Why am I voting for Hurt? Because he’s a true conservative, he won’t vote for the health care bill, he’ll vote to repeal it. And he also won’t be for cap and trade, which will run further jobs out of here.
MAN 2: Take your pick, cap and trade, the stimulus… Take your pick…
MAN3: It’s going to increase the price of everything we buy!
MAN4: You’re in coal country. Cap and trade is not going to be a friend to the coal country.
CURWOOD: Okay that’s coal country. Clearly attempts to associate cap-and-trade with cost worked there. What about the big picture across the country?
TAJ: Well in the big picture, what matters is what happens in competitive districts; politicians are always watching what swing voters want. And, I actually found that in those races more cap-and-trade supporters running for reelection kept their seats than those who voted no on the cap-and-trade bill. Not much more, about 40 percent compared to 30 percent, but I think voters clearly weren’t going to the ballot box to send a message about the climate bill.
CURWOOD: So is this what the takeaway will be when people look back and think about how voters respond to policies like cap-and-trade?
TAJ: I guess it’s hard to say what our collective political memory will be on this a few years out, but the battle over the narrative is definitely happening now. You have some industry lobbyists saying you know, voters overwhelmingly rejected Democrats and their agenda, including their plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions… And you have environmentalists arguing back that, no, actually Americans have consistently polled in favor of cutting carbon pollution and encouraging clean energy jobs.
CURWOOD: And, what about the candidates who voted "yes" and lost their seats?
TAJ: Well I caught up with Tom Perriello in Virginia just before he lost his bid, and he seemed to regret the state of the Senate much more than his vote.
PERRIELLO: I think we have just hemorrhaged jobs to China and hundreds of billions of dollars to petro-dictators by not doing this. I mean the Republicans and the spineless Democrats in the Senate that stood in the way of a national energy strategy have probably cost the country a generation worth of jobs.
Because we can either be part of this, and lead it, or we can follow and weep for the next 50 years because the senators didn’t have the guts to stand up for what was going to create the next great American decade. I’d rather stand with America on that, then to stand with the haters.
CURWOOD: Okay, no regrets there for Mr. Perriello, for voting to support cap-and-trade legislation, but then, of course, he didn’t win. Thanks Mitra.
TAJ: Thank you, Steve!
CURWOOD: Mitra Taj is Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent.
- Follow the debate over what the midterms meant for cap-and-trade votes.
- Click here for statistical analysis of the cap-and-trade vote.
- Click here for a breakdown of Congressmen and women who voted for and against the cap-and-trade bill.
- After the elections, environmental groups pointed to this poll that shows little voter concern over candidates' support for cap-and-trade in key districts
GELLERMAN: The incoming Republican leadership has indicated it might disband the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. In 2006, Nancy Pelosi, as the new Speaker of the House, created this committee after the mid-term elections of 2006, after both houses of Congress switched control from Republican to Democratic.
With the White House and bigger majorities after the 2008 elections, Democrats hoped to enact comprehensive energy and climate legislation – but their control of Congress has proved short-lived. David Kreutzer, Research Fellow in Energy, Economics, and Climate Change with the Heritage Foundation has these thoughts.
KREUTZER: Decades-long mandates are fickle things. Republicans recaptured the House much more quickly and decisively than any could have thought two years ago. With their new majority in the House, Republicans are likely to do something many Democrats probably wish they had done themselves two years earlier: eliminate the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
Though the Select Committee never had legislative authority -- it could only hold hearings and make recommendations -- it was the bull-horn for climate legislation, and its leaders were instrumental in passing the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill of 2009. That bill would have levied an energy tax of tens to hundreds of billions of dollar per year. And for the first decade, virtually all of the revenue had to be promised to a host of special interests from tree farmers to utility companies in order to engineer the slimmest of majorities for the bill’s passage.
A large tax increase during a recession is bad economics and bad politics. So the deal making and arm-twisting backfired, especially for those who voted “yes” in energy and manufacturing districts. Virtually none who voted for Waxman-Markey made that vote part of their campaign this year. Instead those in close races bragged they didn’t vote for Waxman-Markey, or they did their best to dance around their vote.
It appears even the Select Committee saw the writing on the wall. In 2009 the committee issued 104 press releases, 52 percent of which were about global-warming science or legislation. As cap and trade became an anchor around the necks of legislators, the bull-horn turned elsewhere. Of the 131 press releases in 2010 only 16 percent concerned global-warming science or legislation, whereas 52 percent dealt with the Gulf oil spill, a much more popular target.
What then does the future hold for the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming? Encouraging a politically suicidal vote for many House members as its main accomplishment, the committee is likely to die early in the next Congress, with little mourning on either side of the aisle.
CURWOOD: David Kreutzer, Research Fellow in Energy, Economics, and Climate Change with The Heritage Foundation. But, former Greenpeace USA leader John Passacantando sees the situation – and the GOP’s plans – rather differently.
PASSACANTANDO: Ed Markey’s Select committee on had two roles-- one good, one bad. And now, without it, things are going to get ugly. First the good: While some of the biggest polluters were paying front groups to deny global warming- and the mainstream press was blindly covering it- Markey’s committee brought in top scientists to talk about the emerging science on climate change. Experts explained climate change’s role in driving wild fires, more powerful storms, the meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet, even the impacts in New England.
This committee investigated and exposed polluters use of front groups to send fabricated letters opposing climate legislation to house members from senior citizens, minorities and veterans. Markey’s team probed into BP and Haliburton’s roles after the deep oil well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The Select Committee was the central, trusted place in America- where the truth could be told about climate change.
Now the bad: Markey’s committee, working closely with Henry Waxman’s team, wrote and passed climate legislation, hoping the Senate could do the same and President Obama could sign it. Unfortunately, many of the biggest environmental groups, with notable exceptions like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, simply didn’t hold the line. The House Bill was a massively complicated 2,000 page document containing huge subsidies to the coal industry and coal burning power companies like Duke Energy, an unfortunate part of the Democrat’s base.
This climate bill also created a sketchy carbon-trading regime for Wall Street that sounded eerily like the market in securitized mortgages that brought us the financial bubble. Then a similar bill collapsed in the Senate, but the ‘yes’ vote in the House remained a terrible liability in the election. Some three-dozen Democratic house members who voted for this bill lost their seats. Of course these members faced races in the toughest of economic times, adding to that a vote for a climate bill that became a corporate giveaway didn’t help.
And, finally, the ugly: Incoming Republican Speaker John Boehner has promised to get rid of these specially created select committees. He’s also skeptical when it comes to climate change. And, with no limit to how much money corporations can now plow into political campaigns, he’s likely to find plenty of support in this new era. What’s next? Do you remember back in June when Republican house member from Texas, Joe Barton, apologized to BP for the rough treatment it was getting from the White House for pumping all that oil into the Gulf of Mexico? The polluters are going to be handled with kid gloves again. Good times for them, bad times for the planet. This storm will pass, but for right now, hold on. It’s going to be a wild ride.
CURWOOD: John Passacantando is president of Our Next Economy, a business designed to help renewable energy efforts navigate the opposition from fossil fuel interests.
[MUSIC: Andrew Bird “You Woke Me Up” from Useless Creatures (Fat Possum Records 2010)]
CURWOOD: Coming up, a landmark deal to protect the Nature. That’s just ahead, right here at on Living on Earth.
[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Chuck Leavell: “Jessica” from Southscape (Evergreen Arts 2000)]
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman.
CURWOOD: And I’m Steve Curwood. Scientists say the planet is losing species at a rate not seen in 65 million years, not since the massive dinosaur die-off. Now, after 18 years of intensive, international negotiations designed to save the world’s biodiversity, diplomats have finally come up with an agreement.
GELLERMAN: Negotiators from 193 nations met in Nagoya, Japan. Two weeks of round-the-clock discussions came down to a middle of the night, nail-biting session that led to the historic deal. Jane Smart was at the UN Convention on Biodiversity summit. She’s Director of the Biodiversity Conservation Group at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Dr. Smart joins me from Geneva, Switzerland. Welcome to LOE!
SMART: Thank you very much!
GELERMAN: I understand it was a frantic night of last minute negotiations. Were you up at two am when it concluded?
SMART: Oh, yes, I was in the room. It was all very, very exciting seeing this big step forward for nature.
GELLERMAN: Actually, as I understand it, it’s three steps forward!
SMART: Three steps forward. So, on the table, there was a kind of a package deal: the big plan to save nature, to be achieved by 2020, a new protocol for access to genetic resources, and also a big plan to pay for everything. And, the parties had agreed that they would go for all three or nothing. So, that required quite a lot of negotiation, right up until the last minute.
GELLERMAN: Let’s call about the protocol- the Nagoya Protocol, it’s being called now- this notion of sharing the access to genetic resources.
SMART: Yes, so for a long time the developed world, the North mostly speaking, has enjoyed access to the biodiversity, or the nature, the species occurring in developing countries. And, there’s been no payback for those countries. So, what’s really positive about this new protocol is that there now has to be a payback.
So if a company wants to take, I don’t know, a species of fungus or a species of mammal or frog and isolate a chemical from it, and develop a drug, for instance, they’re now going to have to negotiate with that country a fair deal for the sharing of the benefits- in other words, money.
GELLERMAN: Let’s talk about saving nature. They came up with 20 specific targets, as I understand it.
SMART: That’s right, 20 targets for 2020, to try and hold the loss of biodiversity or nature in ten years time.
GELLERMAN: Well, previously, they were supposed to save something like 10 percent of the oceans by 2012, so far I think it’s one percent.
SMART: Yeah, that’s a pretty dismal one, cause that was a target set and not reached. And we’re at one percent of that seventy percent of the planet that is ocean. But, a new target has been set for ten percent by 2020, and actually, that’s not a bad target. So, actually we have to increase by ten times what we have now. And the way around this is to set up marine protected areas and ensure that, you know, we enforce the protection of those areas to bring back fish stocks from near collapse, in some cases.
GELLERMAN: How much land do they want to protect?
SMART: On the land, the target is a little bit weak. It says 17 percent. And, sometimes places have reached that already. The current value globally is around 13 percent, so that isn’t as ambitious as we would have liked it at IUCN, we would have like to have seen a bit… a more… a further stretch on that one.
GELLERMAN: Somebody is going to have to pay for all of these ambitions. How much money is on the table and how much money is going to be needed?
SMART: Clearly, we need more money. I mean, at the moment it’s pretty dismal. So we have three billion a year, US dollars, going into biodiversity-related aid, is the technical term. Clearly, this amount needs to increase.
GELLERMAN: Japan came up and pledged, what, two billion dollars. Why would they do that?
SMART: I think Japan really wanted a success, and that’s great. You know, I’m so glad that Japan is meeting because they really, really wanted this to work, and without their leadership, it wouldn’t have worked. Um, as you know, the US is not a party to the convention. That’s a great shame, everybody involved feels it would be a wonderful if the US were to ratify the biodiversity convention.
GELLERMAN: I hear a ‘but’ there.
SMART: Well, they were in the room. Interestingly, people from the US were there, but I think the process for ratifying conventions in the US, as I understand it, is quite long and involved. I think, well, IUCN and other organizations have to keep applying a little pressure in the hope that President Obama will place us up on the list of his priorities.
GELLERMAN: Can a plan to hopefully save the word’s biodiversity by 2020- can that have any hope of success without the United States?
SMART: That’s a very good question. Well, the United States is going to have to play ball in some way or another because the access and benefit sharing protocol will apply to the recipient countries that they want to go into and take biodiversity from, if you like. So the idea is to bring to a halt, this so-called bio-piracy. And I think the United States, whether they’ve ratified the convention or not, will be subject to those laws as they gradually come into place.
GELLEMAN: It’s taken 18 years of intensive negotiations to get where we are now coming up with targets. How confident are you that ten years from now we’ll be able to see tangible results from this conference, that they’ll meet the targets?
SMART: Well, you know, I think in my business, working for IUCN, you have to be a bit of an optimist. Your glass has to be half full. And, although we’ve failed, let’s be honest, we’ve failed in 2010 to meet the so-called 2010 target, as I say- I’m more ambitious this time around because there’s been more buy-in, I would say, by governments- more understanding of the issues.
The imperative is there. You can feel that people are starting to understand what might happen if we don’t meet these targets, which is reaching these so-called tipping points and seeing big changes in ecosystem functioning that really will impact us and the way we live. It’s already happening.
If we think of the Pakistani floods, there’s no doubt that deforestation made the impact of those far worse. The tsunami wouldn’t have been so damaging to people had the mangrove not been so destroyed in that part of Asia. And, there are many, many other examples like this, and the knowledge is starting to, I think, have traction with governments.
GELLERMAN: Dr. Smart, thank you very much.
SMART: You’re most welcome!
GELLERMAN: Jane Smart is with the IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
[MUSIC: Orgone “Crabby Ali” from The Killon Floor (Ubiquity Records 2007)]
CURWOOD: Okay, so you’re thinking about getting away from the cold this winter? Well, reporter Pippin Ross has a green destination to suggest: Aruba. This Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela is basically a barren rock about twenty miles long - that doesn’t even have a river. But Aruba does have splendid beaches, consistent sun and exciting dives to shipwrecks and coral reefs. Tourism has recently grown so fast on Aruba that authorities are a putting a moratorium on new hotel construction while developing a green plan. But you don’t have to wait to sample the eco-accommodations offered by a hotelier who is leading the sustainability effort. Here’s Pippin’s report from her trip.
[BIRD SOUNDS, BEACH NOISES]
WOMAN 1: Okay, welcome! This morning, we are here at the Sand Bar gathered together for our beach clean-up.
ROSS: At the upscale Bucuti Beach resort in Aruba, guests are getting instructions on the beach clean-up they’re asked to be part of during their stay.
WOMAN 2: We have our equipment here— plastic bags, bottles of water, some clippers…
ROSS: The visitors are volunteering to help clean the beach even though they’re paying at least $260 a night to stay at the plush resort.
WOMAN 2: Who would leave trash on this beautiful beach?
WOMAN 3: People are people and we’re staying at a green hotel so what the heck! We might as well get in the rhythm with it…Okay…
ROSS: The 104 room hotel recycles nearly everything and doesn’t use industrial strength commercial cleaners. Instead, they clean with what housekeeper Agnes DePalm calls the strongest cleaning products of all.
DEPALM: Just simple kitchen vinegar that we use, together with baking soda. When you combine those two products together and put in the drains, it cleans up the drain.
ROSS: The resorts’ environmental sensitivity isn’t part of the current hotel trend to ‘Go Green’ in ways like urging guests to hang onto their towels for another day. Bucuti Beach Resort’s extreme green started about 25 years ago when Aruban local Ewald Beimans got a three million dollar loan from the Dutch Government to build one of Aruba’s first hotels. At the time, the island’s primary business, an oil refinery, was shutting down and attracting tourists seemed the only economic hope. Beimans launched his swank, beachfront hotel by hanging a coil of copper piping he found at the dump up on the roof.
BEIMANS: and I attached it to hoses and I laid it in the sun, and that heated the water…
ROSS: Going solar on the desert–like island was easy. But water is precious, and expensive. To give his hotel customers the comfort they demand for his prices, Beimans designed bathrooms that use about a quarter of the water consumed in hotel toilets, sinks, and showers…
BEIMANS: It’s taking in air, converting it to pressure, and therefore you get less water and more air in the water and you have the impression that you’re doing very well but it uses probably about 50 to 60 percent less water per minute than a conventional shower.
ROSS: Water the hotel reuses.
BEIMANS: This is distilled seawater, it’s extremely costly to produce, so why waste it? The shower and basin goes into a tank. It is then recycled and dispersed in the gardens for the wonderful lawn that you have down there. No cost.
ROSS: Each room has a sensor that turns off lights and air conditioning when no one’s around. To avoid plastic, the morning newspaper is hung from old pillowcases redesigned into bags. In the restaurants, straws are only given on request, and any leftover food is composted, or given away. What Ewald Beimans never expected, is how much money being green saves.
BEIMANS: I’ll give you an example: We had a dramatic increase couple of years ago because of energy costs went up. Well, our energy bill has increased minimally. And so therefore, I didn’t have to raise my rates. I didn’t have to put in an energy surcharge.
ROSS: Every other hotel on the island did. The problem, says James Hepple, president of the Aruba Hotel and Tourism Association, is that the recession is making most resorts balk at the investment required to go green in ways more significant than washing fewer towels.
HEPPLE: The resistance is probably more from the hotels saying to the customers it hasn’t proven to them to be a great marketing advantage at this particular time.
ROSS: Frustrated by the other hotels hesitation to go green, Beimans’ actively attends conventions where he lectures Caribbean hotel owners on how investing a million dollars now on a solar, water and waste redesign will be repaid in about three to four years.
BEIMANS: So what this message is to the hoteliers is if you don’t jump on the bandwagon of the environmental journey, eventually you’re going to be out of business.
ROSS: His decade long message-pushing is working. In the last 3 years, the Hyatt, the Westin and 5 other hotels on Aruba have all become Green Globe Certified. That means they satisfied 21 conditions created for the hotel industry at the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit. Beimans’ environmental movement is also backed by many locals. Last year, three quarters of Aruba’s pro-development government was voted out of office and replaced with a new regime promising to do whatever is needed to prevent the tourist trade from trashing the island. Tiko is a tour guide who doesn’t hesitate to let visitors riding his van know the locals have had enough.
TIKO: Everything we lose! We lose all the nature of the island. As a tour guide, we don’t agree with this, what they did in the last 15 years to the island of Aruba.
ROSS: Hotels consume about 60 percent of the island’s resources. To control that, the government has imposed a two year moratorium on any new hotels. Minister of Tourism, Otmar Oduber, says there’s also a plan in the works to require that a percentage of hotel profit go to funding alternative energy and infrastructure.
ODUBER: So, the contribution of the hotels and the private sector, I think, has the space and opportunity to be better than it is right now.
ROSS: Several hotels have offered to invest in the island’s expanding wind-power in the hope that doing so can be voluntary, and not law.
Aruba’s green hotels are already being booked for this winter’s high tourist season. The Bucuti Beach resort has sustained the island’s highest occupancy rate for ten years. There’s no exact data on why, but Ewald Biemans believes it’s because more and more people like to take a vacation without leaving a big footprint. For Living on Earth, I’m Pippin Ross.
CURWOOD: There’s an unusual duck with an unusual name: Histrionicus histrionicus. And as BirdNote’s Mary McCann tells it, the bird, commonly known as the Harlequin, has some unusual behavior as well.
[CALL OF THE HARLEQUIN DUCK]
MCCANN: Some ducks don’t sound like ducks at all. Some, like the Harlequin, squeak, earning them the nickname of “sea mice.”
[CALL OF THE HARLEQUIN DUCK]
MCCANN: Harlequins are unique in the duck world in other ways as well. Alone among North American waterfowl, Harlequins breed along fast-flowing rivers and streams. Quick and agile in rushing white water, they dive to the bottom of mountain streams for food.
[SOUND OF FAST-FLOWING STREAM]
MCCANN: What kind of a name is “Harlequin” for a duck? If you’re lucky enough to spot one of these rare birds in winter, perhaps along a rocky shoreline of Puget Sound in Washington or Penobscot Bay in Maine, you may guess the answer.
[SOUND OF WAVES ON A ROCKY SHORE]
MCCANN: Dressed in multi-colored patches, Harlequin is the jester of traditional Italian comedy. The male duck with the jester’s name is just as striking, with his slate-blue feathers and vivid white, black, and chestnut markings.
The rigorous lives of Harlequins require great adaptability – transitioning from fresh water to salt, from meals of caddis fly larvae to crabs and barnacles. Some, in fact, migrate by traveling directly downstream from the mountains to the ocean. Constant, however, is their unmatched ability to swim and feed in the turbulent waters where they live.
[CALL OF THE HARLEQUIN DUCK]
- BirdNote® Hardy Harlequins was written by Todd Peterson
- Calls of the Harlequin Duck provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by G.M. Bell
CURWOOD: That’s Mary McCann for BirdNote. To see some photos of the Harlequin, Histrionicus histrionicus, go to our website L-O-E dot O-R-G.
[MUSIC: Marco Benevento “Music Is Still Secret” from Between Needles And Nightfall (Royal Potato Family 2010)]
GELLERMAN: On the next Living on Earth: high rise farming - reaching for the skies, for space to feed a rising population.
DESPOMMIER: Oh you'd be amazed, you’d be absolutely amazed. First of all you wouldn't see the building because all you would see would be the plants growing inside a totally transparent building. It would look like the plants were being suspended in mid-air.
GELLERMAN: Going up! Fifteenth floor: eggplant, tomatoes, lettuce—vertical farming, next time on Living on Earth, from PRI, Public Radio International.
[SFX: WATER SOUNDS]
CURWOOD: We leave you this week knee deep in wet weeds.
[MOOSE MUNCHING ON AQUATIC PLANTS]
CURWOOD: At a small pond in northern Maine, a yearling moose and her mom munch on aquatic plants. Producer Mark Seth Lender watched them eat for a long while until they slowly walked off into the underbrush to escape the rising heat of the day.
Moose yearling chewing with her mouth wide open. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender, Salt Marsh Diary (c))
[SOUNDS OF MOOSE EATING: Earth Ear: Moose Recording: Mark Seth Lender Salt Marsh Diary ©]
CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Bobby Bascomb, Eileen Bolinsky, Ingrid Lobet, Helen Palmer, Jessica Ilyse Smith, Ike Sriskandarajah, Mitra Taj, and Jeff Young, with help from Sarah Calkins, Sammy Sousa, and Emily Guerin. Our interns are Nora Doyle-Burr and Honah Liles. We had engineering help this week from Dana Chisholm. Jeff Turton is our technical director. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes.
GELLERMAN: You can find us anytime at L-O-E dot org – and while you’re online, check out our sister program, Planet Harmony. Planet Harmony welcomes all and pays special attention to stories affecting communities of color. Log on and join the discussion at My Planet Harmony dot com. And check out our Facebook page, it’s PRI’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman.
CURWOOD: And I’m Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.
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