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Fri, Mar

The Oil War and Climate Change

CLIMATE

CLIMATE WATCH - The  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released April 4, warns that global emissions must peak in just three years to stay below the 1.5°C warming ceiling for a livable future.

“I started to think about the parallels between climate change and this war,” Ukraine’s leading climate scientist, Svitlana Krakovska, told The Guardian. “It’s clear that the roots of both these threats to humanity are found in fossil fuels.”

But also in delay. The world has known about fossil fuels’ climate threat at least since James Hansen’s congressional testimony in 1988, shortly after which President George H.W. Bush promised to counter the greenhouse effect with “the White House effect,” the first of countless broken promises over three plus decades of delay.

As a result, the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released on April 4, warns that global emissions must peak in just three years to stay below the 1.5°C warming ceiling for a livable future — a target that could easily have been hit with gradual changes begun decades ago, but that now calls for cuts so drastic that scientists involved with Scientist Rebellion declared flatly that “1.5°C is dead.”

Following the report’s release, Scientist Rebellion staged direct non-violent actions of civil disobedience in 27 countries, involving more than 1,000 arrests. In Los Angeles, four members chained themselves to the doors of JP Morgan Chase, the bank that’s funded more new fossil fuel projects than any other, according to a recent NGO report “Banking on Climate Chaos.”

One of the four, NASA climate scientist Peter Kalmus, tweeted ahead of time, “Brief summary of the new IPCC report: We know what to do, we know how to do it, it requires taking toys away from the rich, and world leaders aren’t doing it.”

“Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals, but the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a press briefing when the report was released. “Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

Yet, that’s just what’s being contemplated at every level from President Joe Biden, who announced the intention to expand production and export liquefied natural gas to Europe in response to Russia’s war, down to the Port of Los Angeles, where staff is pushing a proposal to nearly double crude oil throughput at the Phillips 66 terminal without even doing an environmental impact report.

The report itself was almost as clear: “the Paris climate goals could move out of reach unless there are dedicated efforts to early decommissioning, and reduced utilization of existing fossil fuel infrastructures, cancellation of plans for new fossil fuel infrastructures, or compensation efforts by removing some of the CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.”

The last option, carbon capture and storage or CCS is especially controversial. Overshooting the 1.5°C ceiling has made it a virtual necessity in the long run, but for now it remains “extremely expensive and energy-intensive, even as the costs of alternatives have plummeted,” as Inside Climate News reported in March.

“We should absolutely invest in long-term research and development, really green energy technologies, for really true solutions,” said Kassie Siegal, director of the Climate Litigation Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But we need to distinguish between that and between gimmicks promoted by polluters just to prolong their profits, which is what CCS is today.” What’s more, “The government needs to invest in climate solutions that also protect biodiversity in our natural world,” she pointed out. “There are so many things like protecting old-growth forests, for example, that will both give a climate benefit in terms of the atmosphere and also promote biodiversity and promote resiliency in the face of the climate crisis that’s all around us.”

As things stand now, CCS is a “false solution,” she told Random Lengths News, “It must be rejected, and California needs to remove the subsidies and the perverse incentives that it’s currently granting.” Perhaps the most perverse example is an Occidental Petroleum proposal to finance a CCS plant in Texas by selling credits in California’s transportation carbon market, and then pump the captured carbon dioxide into aging oil fields to extract even more oil.

In contrast to Biden’s initial focus on providing liquid natural gas to Europe, climate activist Bill McKibben, co-founder of 360.org, advocated a different path as Vladimir Putin’s invasion began: “immediately invoke the Defense Production Act [DPA] to get American manufacturers to start producing electric heat pumps in quantity,” that could total tens of millions of units, on the model of the Lend-Lease Program prior to entering World War II.

The DPA is just one of several sources of executive power Biden could employ, as detailed in a report CBD issued that same week. But congressional funding could help do even more.

In early April, U.S. Congressional Reps. Cori Bush and Jason Crow and Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced legislation to invest $100 billion in “reinvigorating the domestic clean energy industrial base using the Defense Product Act,” according to a summary from Bush, and to provide $30 billion for the Energy Department to weatherize and insulate 6.4 million homes over the next 10 years, plus $10 billion to procure and install millions of heat pumps. This spending would be a fraction of one year’s “defense budget” but would do far more to ensure long-term global security than spending more on weapons.

The week before that, addressing rising gas prices, four representatives, including Orange County Rep. Katie Porter, sent a letter to House leadership urging a direct cash rebate for consumers, paired with legislation they introduced to repeal of some of the hundreds of billions in tax subsidies for fossil fuel companies, whose profits had soared last year, even before recent price-hikes. “The money spent on unnecessary subsidies could be far better spent on efforts to shield the American people from the consequences of Putin’s war against the Ukrainian people,” they wrote.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed off-setting the increased costs of oil by sending vehicle owners $400 debit cards, limited to two rebates per person. In response to initial criticism, he’s also proposing $750 million in grants for local transit agencies to offer up to three months of free transit.

But why just three months? Most transit costs are paid for by taxes. Why not all?

“Permanent year-round free transit for Californians could help solve a lot of problems,” said Joe Lyou, president and CEO of the Coalition for Clean Air. “It would provide relief from the high cost of gasoline, reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, and help us meet our greenhouse gas reduction requirements.”

Siegal agreed. “The best solution is for public transportation to be both zero emissions and free for people,” she said.

Rebates could also be better targeted to meet broad economic needs, not just subsidize gas consumption. A group of Democratic assembly members has proposed sending every California taxpayer a $400 check. And the leaders of the state senate and assembly have proposed giving $200 payments to each California taxpayer and their dependents, with eligibility capped to households making less than $250,000 per year.

More broadly, there’s an ongoing struggle to rationalize California’s climate policies. In early April, California utility regulators put an indefinite hold on a proposed plan to revise the state’s net energy metering rules, making rooftop solar energy less affordable — a clear step in the wrong direction. At the same time, State Sen. Lena Gonzalez celebrated her Fossil Fuel Divestment Act passing out of committee. It would require the state’s two retirement funds to divest from fossil fuel companies by July 1, 2027, except in case of emergency.

But most comprehensively, on April 5, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office [LAO] released a detailed set of six reports on climate change impacts across the state, one broadly dealing with cross-cutting issues, the others specifically targeting transportation, health, housing, K-12 education, and workers and employers. Five types of impacts were covered: (1) higher temperatures and extreme heat events, (2) more severe wildfires, (3) more frequent and intense droughts, (4) flooding due to extreme precipitation events, and (5) coastal flooding and erosion from sea-level rise.

Siegal called it “a set of really precedential and important reports,” but stressed the need for the LAO to apply those findings “when analyzing legislation, because unfortunately, legislation that has been considered and actually passed into law in recent years has been grossly insufficient to deal with the scale of the crisis in our state.” Indeed, the legislature just received its first “D” grade from California Environmental Voters for the 2021 session.

A similar pattern can be seen at the Port of LA, where staff is seeking approval of Phillips 66 Wharf Improvement Project with only the most minimal level of environmental analysis — what’s known as a minimum negative declaration. CBD was one of eight organizations who joined in a Feb. 18 comment letter noting that “Disguised as an improvement project … in reality this is an expansion project that would nearly double crude oil throughput” while extending its operation up to 40 years, thus necessitating a full environmental impact report: “An EIR is required because the Project is counter to state and regional GHG- and smog-reduction policies, which will require the phaseout of fossil fuel infrastructure, rather than expansion.”

There are multiple other problems cited in the comment, as well as neighborhood council comments. But former port attorney Pat Nave, a principal drafter of Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council’s comments, said something striking.

“Back when I was still working at the port there was a big discussion on what you do with renewing marine oil terminal leases, because they’re all heavily polluted — pipelines everywhere, all the tanks leak,” Nave said. “So, the feeling was that any long-term one should, before they’re renewed, undergo an EIR. So, if there is pollution there it should be cleaned up.”

That was 18 years ago — before the port supposedly saw the light and rebranded itself as an environmental leader. Of course, the Phillips terminal never underwent that review, because it never had a long-term lease — just another way the port and its favored companies cut corners in the shadows. But at least they considered doing things responsibly. It’s way past time to get started — at every level, from the port, to the state, to the country, to the planet.

“We are in the midst of a crisis,” Siegal said. “There’s a lot of damage and harm that’s ongoing now, but as the world’s scientists have said, every fraction of a degree matters, and every second counts, and so nothing matters more than what happens today and what happens this year to get us on the right track and give us a brighter future.”

(Paul Rosenberg is a California-based writer/activist, senior editor for Random Lengths News, and a columnist for Salon and Al Jazeera English. This article was first published in RandomLengthsNews.com)