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The Unannounced Death of the Green New Deal: Part 2 – An Object of Projection

November 5, 2020

By Michael Swifte

 

[Part 1: The Unannounced Death of the Green New Deal: What Happened to the People’s Plan?]

 

 

You don’t need an impeccable record — if you champion the Green New Deal, the movement will have your back.

 

—Michelle Goldberg, New York Times [SOURCE]

 

 

 

The Green New Deal is as much a narrative device as a set of policy levers.

 

—Julian Brave Noisecat, Vice president of Policy and Strategy, Data for Progress [SOURCE]

 

In Part 1 of this series I described the shift in messaging and language that accompanied the apparent silencing of demands for well principled engagement with advocates of First Nations and frontline communities. I posed questions about the integrity of the Green New Deal process in light of the unanswered demands placed before New Consensus by members of Climate Justice Alliance.

In Part 2 I will explore how the elements of the Green New Deal came together with the transfer of momentum from the People’s Climate Movement to the Sunrise Movement, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), and the Green New Deal brigade of progressive vehicles and Democrat aligned NGOs in the wake of the 2018 midterms. I will show how the momentum, built on the endorsement of the Green New Deal by grass roots advocates, was exploited to give Democratic presidential hopefuls a set of talking points and commitments.

The fuzziness of the “100% clean” language allowed candidates like Jay Inslee and Joe Biden to retain certain concessions for carbon capture utilization and storage. They were aided by progressive media outfits like Vox, Grist, New Republic and The Intercept chipping away at the scope of allowable “clean energy” sources. Mouthpieces for climate NGOs were careful not to acknowledge the concessions built into the climate plans of Democratic presidential hopefuls. Few if any took the time to point out that “clean energy” and “renewable energy” are 2 very different things. In fact one prominent writer/wonk suggested we leave the language “fuzzy”.

The interlocking directorates (Sunrise Movement, New Consensus, Justice Democrats and Data for Progress) that all connect back to Democrat aligned NGOs (World Resources Institute, Demos, the Center for American Progress and the Sierra Club), fashioned an object of projection for all who may benefit from what it represented. They fashioned a deal that promised a fossil fuel phase out, but it was not backed up by any scrutiny of bipartisan legislation designed to bring on a new oil boom.  Environmental NGOs promised to “vigorously” fight against fossil fuel friendly legislation, but they only offered under-resourced efforts. The Green New Deal proponents fashioned a set of policies and plans that offer to bring justice, but they cannot name the principles under which they engage with grass roots organisations.

Transferring the climate justice momentum

21 April 2017 to 2 November 2018

In April of 2017 the Climate Justice Alliance put out a short paper articulating the principles of a Just Transition. In it they pointed to the “false solutions” of carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS), fracking and “clean coal” making sure to direct the reader to the elements of extractivism that will not disappear if we allow any false solutions to continue to expand.

The path of extracting, transporting, processing, and consuming these technologies is paved with communities riddled with cancer, reproductive and respiratory disease, among other devastating health impacts. [SOURCE]

On the eve of the 2017 People’s Climate March in Washington Bernie Sanders and Mark Z Jacobson co-authored a piece for The Guardian calling for an “aggressive transition” to “clean, renewable solutions”. The authors confidently asserted that renewables can be at the center of plans for breaking our dependence on fossil fuels. Note the inclusion of the word “clean” in relation to the concept of ‘100%’.

University researchers and the not-for-profit Solutions Project have mapped out how we can achieve a 100% clean, renewable energy future for all 50 states and 139 countries by 2050. With their research, governments in the US and around the world can learn exactly how to break dependence on fossil fuel, why we don’t need fracking and how we can move aggressively in terms of sustainable energy and energy efficiency. [SOURCE]

Any confidence in the assertions that achieving 100% renewables is possible in the near term or the long term are founded in the work of Mark Z Jacobson et al. In August 2017 research was published that clearly frames real renewables as the core of a systemic response. While in many places biomass burning is erroneously regarded as ‘renewable’, Jacobson et al stick to wind, water and solar (WWS).

While some suggest that energy options aside from WWS [water, wind & solar], such as nuclear power, coal with carbon capture and sequestration (coal-CCS), biofuels, and bioenergy, can play major roles in solving these problems, all four of those technologies may represent opportunity costs in terms of carbon and health-affecting air-pollution emissions. [SOURCE]

In November 2017 John Noel from Clean Water Action identified a problem with the bipartisan political will for tax subsidies for enhanced oil recovery (EOR). Noel appears to be perennially under-resourced when it comes to resistance against legislation. His work ought to have been mentioned in Naomi Klein’s book ‘On Fire’. Both Klein and Noel have argued that EOR with tax credits for sequestered CO2 could massively expand US proven reserves.

Strange days in Washington, D.C. right now. New legislation dubbed the FUTURE Act is supposedly a climate solution. But in reality the FUTURE Act would put drinking water at risk, encourage more oil drilling without putting adequate protections in place, and add to the more than $20 billion in taxpayer subsidies the oil and gas industry enjoys every year. Yet some elected officials who fight tirelessly for more action on climate have been hooked and are supporting the bill. Why? [SOURCE]

Despite my active efforts on Twitter and elsewhere to monitor the political will for, and active resistance against tax credits for CCUS and EOR, I did not notice Noel’s work until recently. There appears to be a pattern of limp-wristed support for efforts to fight the tax credit/subsidy that was expanded in passing the provision of the FUTURE Act. In February of 2018 Noel was able to summon up a decent list of ENGO supporters to resist the FUTURE Act, but barely anyone noticed, and nobody took the time to highlight the bipartisan support it received in a way that enlightened the public.

Section 45Q is a handout to oil companies. If 45Q expands as proposed, the CO2-EOR subsidy benefiting oil producers alone could cost taxpayers as much $2.8 billion each year. That would make it the single biggest subsidy to the fossil fuel industry in the United States…

 

Expanding the tax credit for CO2-EOR disproportionately affects people of color and environmental justice communities, as low income and people of color are more likely to live near oil fields and be subjected to the associated pollution and health impacts. [SOURCE]

On February 9, 2018 the FUTURE Act provisions were passed with very little attention paid by climate justice NGOs. In April 2018 Data for Progress published a report commissioned by Justice Democrats called ‘The Future of the Party’. In it they argue that “The Democratic base is ready for multi-racial populism”, and that non-voters and young people should be targeted. The enduring theme of Data for Progress is that progressive candidates are the future of the party.

THERE IS NO QUESTION:
Democratic primary voters support a populist progressive agenda that ties racial justice to progressive economic populism. The days are long gone when a message proclaiming “the end of big government as we know it,” could win a Democratic primary. [SOURCE]

In May of 2018 the climate justice movement momentum was managed through the People’s Climate Movement (PCM), an organisation created after the success of the 2014 People’s Climate March. Its purpose is to engage a broad swathe of NGOs and advocacy groups around climate justice activism. As such the collective will of climate justice activists was reflected in their messaging which was in support of a “100% renewable economy” and a “just transition”. In an article for MintPress Jessica Corbett quotes both the PCM director Paul Getsos, and the executive director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Miya Yoshitani who went on to make the demand for a memorandum of agreement from New Consensus on behalf of the Climate Justice Alliance.

With the upcoming mobilization, PCM said it “aims to transform the energy of resistance into action by calling on leaders and elected officials to invest in real solutions to the climate crisis that prioritize the most impacted and vulnerable of our communities, like a massive, just transition to a 100 percent renewable economy that ensures safe and healthy communities, the right to organize for all workers, and millions of family-sustaining jobs. [SOURCE]

The essential elements of what was sold as the Green New Deal up until the resolution was introduced were repeatedly articulated by climate justice leaders like May Boeve. In a July 2018 media release in preparation for ‘Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice’ an event connected with the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit, Boeve articulated the need for speed in delivering climate justice while covering all the elements of the Green New Deal concept which was only a few months away from being introduced by AOC.

We need a fast, fair, and just transition away from fossil fuels to a 100% renewable energy economy, that protects vulnerable people already impacted by climate change and creates good paying jobs and opportunities for all.  [SOURCE]

New Consensus was founded in early 2018, reportedly as a policy vehicle to develop the Green New Deal. Rhiana Gunn-Wright described to David Wallace-Wells how New Consensus engaged with the other Green New Deal vehicles with the exception of Data for Progress.

And the origin story of how it literally happened is pretty short and normal. At New Consensus, the founders have been thinking for a while about a Green New Deal and what does it mean — what will it take to have an economic approach outside of neoliberalism? They made contact with the Sunrise Movement, who had already been working on their own idea of a Green New Deal. And then I came on board. New Consensus was already connected to Justice Dems. This is before, you know, the squad had won their primaries, but they had all been endorsed by Justice Dems. By September, most had been through their primaries, if not all, and so that meant that new consensus was connected to this group of likely incoming freshmen. [SOURCE]

In August 2018 the Democratic National Committee (DNC) reversed an amendment that was designed to ban fossil fuel corporation donations. In Tom Perez’s resolution CCS and advanced nuclear were mentioned along with reaffirmation of support for the “fossil fuel workers in an evolving energy economy”.

WHEREAS, these workers, their unions and forward-looking employers are powering America’s all-of-the-above energy economy and moving us towards a future fueled by clean and low emissions energy technology, from renewables to carbon capture and storage to advanced nuclear technology; and

 

WHEREAS, to support fossil fuel workers in an evolving energy economy, we must commit to securing their right to a strong, viable economic future, which includes maintaining employment and their health care and pension benefits; [SOURCE]

 

Alex C. Kaufman in an August 2018 article quotes a Twitter thread featuring Kate Aronoff wherein she argues that the Perez amendment was not about unionised workers, but rather the bosses who profit from them. This interpretation is sound, bosses have more money than individual union members. Aronoff’s point would be fine if she ever took the time to tell us which ‘forward-looking’ employers the unions work with to advance business as usual.

To put a fine point on it: This proposal isn’t to let union members keep donating to the DNC. It’s to let fossil fuel executives keep donating and selling influence among Democrats. Certain unions (incl some building trades) see their interests as aligned with those of executives [SOURCE]

In early September 2018 organisers of the ‘Rise for Climate’ event in San Fransisco clearly indicated that the demand at the ‘Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice’ march was “100% renewable” energy. If you look at the statements from various key figures in the broader People’s Climate Movement you will see that word “renewable” is often replaced with the word “clean”. This tends to happen more depending on how closely an organisation is connected with the Democrats.

San Francisco, CA — Today, 30,000 people took to the streets of San Francisco as part of the “Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice” march. A massive crowd marched from the Embarcadero Plaza to Civic Center, demanding racial and economic justice, an end to fossil fuel production, and a just transition to 100% renewable energy that supports workers and communities.

In late September, just in time for AOC’s midterm campaign, Data for Progress released their Green New Deal Report. In it you can see the insertion of the word ‘clean’ and a reframing of what is regarded as ‘clean energy’. Included are advanced nuclear, biomass burning, and fossil fuel with carbon capture. 

All electricity consumed in America must be generated by renewable sources, including solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, sustainable biomass, and renewable natural gas, as well as clean sources such as nuclear and remaining fossil fuel with carbon capture. [SOURCE]

In early November 2018 shortly before the midterms Vogue magazine published a heavy styled video wherein Instragram personality turned actor Bria Vinate explains the Green New Deal highlighting AOC’s stated commitment to “100% renewable” energy.

Like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York, who wants the U.S. to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 [SOURCE]

A narrative vehicle, or how to leave the door open?

10 April 2018 to Present

On April 10, 2018 Data for Progress released ‘The Future of the Party’, a document commissioned by Justice Democrats, the people who recruited AOC. By September 2018 they had released their Green New Deal Report

 THERE IS NO QUESTION: Democratic primary voters support a populist progressive agenda that ties racial justice to progressive economic populism. The days are long gone when a message proclaiming “the end of big government as we know it,” could win a Democratic primary. [SOURCE]  

In late December 2018 Sunrise co-founder Evan Weber was quoted in Vox by Bill McKibben’s colleague at Grist dot com David Roberts. Weber was talking about the failed efforts by AOC and Sunrise Movement to launch a Green New Deal select committee on the promise of “100% Renewable” electricity by 2030.

For us [] the more important thing for the draft legislation was always to have a platform for candidates to run on in 2020. [SOURCE]

Roberts made a comment that reads to me like a briefing for climate justice activists and Green New Deal promoters.

The delicate dance is to keep the GND fuzzy enough to allow a broad coalition of people and interests to see themselves in it — which is, somewhat miraculously, what seems to have happened so far — while specifying it enough to avoid having it watered down into a feel-good buzzword. [SOURCE]

I think comments like these from journalist/stenographers like David Roberts who’re half inside-the-tent are important to consider as we unpack what exactly the Green New Deal was constructed to do. Our considerations should focus on questions of: What was made specific? What was left undefined?, and for the honest broker, What was at risk of being quietly rejected?

Sean McElwee co-founded Data for Progress after spending time at Demos: A Network for Idea and Action which was founded by Rockefeller Brothers Fund president Stephen B. Heintz. In early January 2019 McElwee made it clear the end goal was always to influence the Democrat agenda.

Policy details are going to matter and be very important, [] But the actual meta politics question is how do we make sure, in a roughly two-year period, … Democrats create an agenda? [SOURCE]

McElwee deals in demographics, focus groups, polling and crunching data to produce the kind of intelligence that helped Justice Democrats select and recruit AOC. If grass roots groups were engaged in developing the Green New Deal under their own terms then the work of Data for Progress would be beneficial, but without the specific demands of First Nations leaders and advocates for frontline communities, it’s work becomes resoundingly hollow and easily captured by the Democrat-neoliberal agenda.

David Roberts always seems to be at least a few weeks ahead of events. In mid January 2019 he made a series of pronouncements in a piece on the question of what is and is not “clean energy”. His writing did not make it clear what we ought to understand when a public figure says “clean energy” saying we should leave the question “as open as possible”.

If the GND insists from the outset on 100 percent renewables, it will immediately lead to infighting. Policy wonks will attack it as unnecessarily expensive; anyone who believes in a role for other carbon-free resources (which includes more than a few on the center left and right) will be shut out.

Roberts presents an aggressive argument in favour of leaving the door open for any and all forms of extractivism as long a some abatement is involved that can contribute to net-zero.

But it doesn’t need to be resolved now. We don’t need to have this fight. The language of the GND can, and should, focus on what matters: carbon.

Contrary to Roberts’ argument that environmentalists need not insist on firmly supporting 100% renewables, I would argue that if we don’t heed First Nations and frontline community advocates demands for a fossil fuel phase out, no nuclear and 100% renewable energy, then we will have no chance to stop the efforts of bipartisan Democrats to expand 45Q tax credits which are crucial to financing CCUS, DAC and EOR projects.

Even if the GND targets carbon-free energy at the headline level, there’s no reason environmentalists can’t go right on fighting for policies that support renewables. Everyone can continue to fight for the carbon-free sources they most support or believe in, including nuclear fans, CCS fans, whoever. [SOURCE]

In mid January 2019 Sunrise Movement spokesperson Stephen O’Hanlon distanced his organisation from the letter of 626 groups released earlier that month.

…not the full vision of the Green New Deal. It is a set of climate priorities for the new Congress. [SOURCE]

In an article that appeared on March 12, 2019, a week before the statement made to New Consensus by Climate Justice Alliance members, Rihana Gunn-Wright and New Consensus founder Demond Drummer made statements strongly suggesting that they were proactively reaching out to the grass roots.

All too often, said Gunn-Wright (a 2019 Grist 50 honoree), policies are divorced from people’s lived realities. “Then the onus ends up on the communities that are hurt, that usually have less social capital, less political capital, less time to take to the streets, to organize to get that policy reconsidered,” she explained. As policy lead for New Consensus, she wants to flip that script on its head, and consult with marginalized communities first.

 

At its core, New Consensus shares some priorities with the environmental justice movement, which emphasizes equity in climate and environmental solutions. “The EJ movement clarifies how issues of climate change actually are directly related to issues of social justice, racial justice, economic justice,” Drummer said.

In the same article Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats who were the first Democrat entity to commission a report from Data for Progress articulates how “crucial” New Consensus are to furthering a Green New Deal.

Their role is crucial in seeing a Green New Deal that is going to not just address climate change but also rising inequality, [SOURCE]

The vagueness of the Green New Deal resolution is embodied by the fuzzily understood term “clean energy”.  The vague language of “zero emissions” energy and an almost universal unwillingness to clarify meanings of key terms left room for Carbon Capture Coalition member The Nature Conservancy to voice it’s support for a Green New Deal approach to emissions reductions in late March 2019.

We welcome serious discussions about climate solutions,[ ]We are prepared to support legislative proposals that immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We are especially optimistic about market-based proposals for a price on carbon. [SOURCE]

In early April 2019 on a Next System project podcast Kate Aronoff who writes for new Republic and is a fellow at Data for Progress argued that the very issues around which the Climate Justice Alliance reasserted the principles of engagement with First Nations and frontline communities are yet to be resolved. Arnoff found a skillful way of acknowledging there are problems without attending to the nature of those problems and eliding to the insinuation that the ongoing process of creating a Green New Deal will crack that “nut”. This approach relies on blind faith in the Green New Deal proponents, whoever they may be.

But several people have rightfully pointed out that the resolution, which is currently the most arrived-at form we have for the Green New Deal, does not include language about fossil fuels, which neither does the Paris Agreement, notably. I think that is a nut to be cracked, and I think something that’s certainly essential to figuring out what that looks like. [SOURCE]

In a mid April 2019 interview presidential hopeful Jay Inslee made the case for why the green new Deal had been so successful to date. He was free to argue that Green New Deal proponents were “paying attention” to frontline communities because New Consensus had not publish a memorandum of agreement requested by Climate Justice Alliance.

And it’s been successful, because (a) people are talking about climate change, (b) it has raised aspirational levels. You can’t do this with a nip and tuck, building a fossil-free economy over the next several decades is a Herculean proposition. Third, it has helped bring in frontline communities, marginalized communities, communities of color. It brought them to the table to understand why, as you’re doing a just transition, it can help you reduce income inequality because you’re building jobs, you’re paying attention to these communities.

 

So I think, given the urgency and the scale of the challenge, we have to keep all low- and zero-carbon technologies on the table. [SOURCE]

Ben Geman writing in Axios made an excellent observation about Jay Inslee’s climate platform in early May 2019. Geman appears to recognise why the Green New Deal resolution and it’s fuzzy language was so useful to presidential candidates.

The plan steers clear of mandating technology-specific generation sources, which leaves room for nuclear and carbon-capture alongside renewables.[SOURCE]

Writing about Jay Inslee’s climate plans in early May 2019, David Roberts slipped into a world of delusion. The policy discussion he predicted never really happened. Instead the public was subjected to discussion of the electoral platforms of a bunch of Democratic candidates and Bernie Sanders. Each candidate having variations on the language and framing in the Green New Deal resolution and the Data for Progress report.

The Green New Deal and the grassroots energy behind it have ensured that every one of the Democrats running for president will be forced to prioritize climate change. There’s finally going to be a policy discussion. [SOURCE]

In early May 2019 AOC flagged her technology agnosticism. The First Nations and frontline activists who had endorsed the Green New Deal when it’s language suggested no new nuclear must have felt betrayed at this point.

I don’t take a strong anti- or pro-position on it,” the New York Democrat said about nuclear energy in an interview late last week. Her Green New Deal resolution, which calls for “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy” to meet 100 percent of U.S. power needs in the next 10 years, “leaves the door open on nuclear so that we can have that conversation,” she said. [SOURCE]

The co-founder of Data for Progress gave an interview in June 2019 that lays bare the marketed nature of the Green New Deal. Have a look at the following 4 quotes and ask yourself if people from ‘diverse’ communities are being hired for the right reasons.

 The path to leftist electoral power is through racial justice and economic justice,

 

Our gains on the left have exclusively come from more diverse candidates.

 

I can get in the room, I am taken seriously,

 

We wrote a Green New Deal report, polled it, and we will fuck you up if you don’t support it, [SOURCE]

In mid June 2019 the Service Employees Union International (SEIU) (a founding partner of Avaaz) president endorsed the Green New Deal giving its promoters opportunity to suggest that the unions were on board. If the Green New Deal was really about getting out of fossil fuels and putting unions at the center then the SEIU president ought to have raised the issue of the support among big industrial labor organizations for carbon capture utilization and storage as a ‘climate solution’.

But the Green New Deal is more than a plan for transitioning the U.S. economy out of fossil fuels. It’s also a model for how lawmakers should design any proposal to restructure the economy—by putting worker power and unions at the center. [SOURCE]

In mid July 2019 Jeff Merkley introduced a bill that would amend the US Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to include a new section that would expand 45Q tax credits for carbon capture and storage projects. The bill is ostensibly about labor standards for energy jobs, but the 48D amendment would enshrine a subsidy that will financially enable an enhanced oil recovery boom and the continuation of coal fired power while providing opportunities for the development of a fossil hydrogen or ‘blue hydrogen’ industry facilitated by carbon capture.

“(3) QUALIFIED CARBON DIOXIDE.—The term ‘qualified carbon dioxide’ means carbon dioxide captured from an industrial source which—

 

“(A) would otherwise be released into the atmosphere as industrial emission of greenhouse gas,

 

“(B) is measured at the source of capture and verified at the point of disposal or utilization,

 

“(C) (i) is disposed of by the taxpayer in secure geological storage (as such term is defined under section 45Q(f)(2)), or

 

“(ii) utilized by the taxpayer in a manner described in section 45Q(f)(5), and

 

“(D) is captured and disposed or utilized within the United States (within the meaning of section 638(1)) or a possession of the United States (within the meaning of section 638(2)). [SOURCE]

In mid July 2019 Jeff Merkley joined with AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka to announce a new bill to create good jobs and support “clean energy”. Trumka is a long time critic of the Green New Deal whose organization is a member of the Carbon Capture Coalition.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a press conference at the U.S. Capitol, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka today unveiled the Good Jobs for 21st Century Energy Act, major new legislation to create good-paying jobs in the transition to clean energy.

Among the cosponsors and endorsers of Jeff Merkley’s ‘S.2185 – Good Jobs for 21st Century Energy Act’ are some of the key players in advancing expanded tax credits for CCUS like the labor organisations who are members of the Carbon Capture Coalition and the Natural Resource Defense Council who were members of the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative until it became the Carbon Capture Coalition at which time it was replaced by The Nature Conservancy. Also among the endorsers is Data for Progress which works closely with the progressive Democrats who introduced and sponsored the End Polluter Welfare Act 2020. Among the cosponsors are at least 5 Green New Deal Resolution cosponsors including Jeff Merkley and Kamala Harris who, as Joe Biden’s running mate, has clearly stated that she is against fossil fuel subsidies.

Merkley’s legislation is co-sponsored by ten of his Senate Democratic colleagues, including Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Michael Bennet (D-CO). The Good Jobs for 21st Century Clean Energy Act is endorsed by AFL-CIO, the Blue Green Alliance, the United Steelworkers, Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA), the Union of Concerned Scientists, Data for Progress, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters of the United States and Canada. [SOURCE]

In late Auguest 2019 Data for Progress published their ‘scorecard’ of Jay Inslee’s climate plans. In it they further redefine “clean energy” as renewable or non-renewable. In the public conception “clean energy” is interchangeable with “renewable energy”. The creation of the term “non-renewable clean energy” demonstrates that the word “clean”, as it appears in the Green New Deal Report includes, nuclear, biomass burning, fossil hydrogen and carbon capture.

NON-RENEWABLE CLEAN ENERGY SOURCES

The development and use of nuclear, hydrogen, and carbon capture energy technologies [SOURCE]

One of the energy wonks chipping away at the acceptable boundaries of ‘clean energy’ is Leah Stokes. In late August 2019 she began to reveal her leanings toward advanced nuclear which she would later suggest was a form of “clean energy”.

It’s very hard to target a net-zero emission economy by 2050 if we are shutting down nuclear,” Leah Stokes, an assistant professor of environmental politics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, told me. “A lot of people on the left believe that, but very few are willing to say it. [SOURCE]

In mid September 2019 Julian Brave Noisecat quoted Tom Goldtooth regarding the March 2019 New Consensus meeting after outlining the importance of the process to develop the Jemez Priciples. Noisecat ought to have been highly aware of the significance of the failure of New Consensus to respond to the demands of Climate Justice Alliance representatives, but chose not to write up his position.

At a March convening to begin drafting a Green New Deal, leaders of the Climate Justice Alliance voiced concerns that the progressive climate platform was not being developed according to the Jemez Principles and the Principles of Environmental Justice. “I’m not saying there hasn’t been some positive movement and some incorporation of environmental justice with white organizations,” said Goldtooth, whose organization, IEN, is part of the Climate Justice Alliance. “But the challenges are still there with the Green New Deal.” [SOURCE]

In late September 2019 a colleague of Naomi Klein at The Intercept, Rachel M. Cohen supplied a quote from Brad Crabtree the co-director of the Carbon Capture Coalition discussing a conversation he had with Ed Markey. If true, and if there was any real interest in uncovering the Democrats plans for business as usual, then Markey’s remarks would have rocked the very foundations of the Green New Deal.

“I have personally spoken to Senator Markey after the Green New Deal was introduced, and he said carbon capture is in,” said Brad Crabtree, co-director of the Carbon Capture Coalition, a group of roughly 60 companies, unions, research institutes, and energy groups that support carbon-capture technology. “I asked him directly, and he was pretty categorical, and immediately then talked about what he tried to do for carbon capture in Waxman-Markey. [SOURCE]

The ‘A 100 Percent Clean Future’ report which was published in early October 2019 was authored by John Podesta et al for the Center for American Progress (CAP). It is a document very much aligned with ‘clean energy’ rather than renewable energy. Rather than taking a position against nuclear energy and CCUS, Podesta et al acknowledge there are “concerns” and call for “stronger dialogue”.  This stance poses no threat to the objectives of the CAP, ClimateWorks or the Design to Win plan it was created to deliver – carbon capture for ‘unavoidable’ fossil fuel use.

Economically disadvantaged communities, tribal communities, and communities of color have historically been marginalized in the development of national climate policies. Confronting the legacies of systemic racism and injustice will require a much closer collaboration with environmental justice advocates to incorporate their perspective and expertise. While there are broad areas of agreement, these communities have well-founded concerns about market-based policy mechanisms, nuclear waste, and carbon capture and sequestration. These and other questions of policy design require stronger dialogue and collaboration to ensure the agenda for climate action achieves pollution-free communities to protect and advance the right of all people “to breathe clean air, live free of dangerous levels of toxic pollution, access healthy food, and share the benefits of a prosperous and vibrant clean economy.” [SOURCE]

In mid October 2019 Leah Stokes gave a talk at UC Santa Barbara called ‘The case for a Green New Deal’. Stokes is an expert and an energy wonk who specializes in pragmatic analysis. She has been welcomed on panels and in discussions with the likes of Kate Aronoff, Julian Brave Noisecat, Naomi Klein, and many others.

We need to phase out the oil and gas industry, really important. And that’s not gonna be easy, but that is a really important fight. [SOURCE]

In a December 2019 feature by Eric Holthaus, Julian Brave Noisecat provided the perfect description of the Green New Deal in the hands of the brigade of progressive Democrat aligned entities.

What the progressive movement has been doing is really changing the narrative. The Green New Deal is as much a narrative device as a set of policy levers.

Noisecat transitioned from 350 dot org to Data for Progress shortly after the March New Consensus meeting. The consent of grassroots advocates had already been acquired in terms of the impressions  created among the public who are polled by Data for Progress. Noisecat arrived after the damage had already been done. His job was to hold the line.

Sean McElwee, founder of Data for Progress, says he gave NoiseCat “executive authority” in crafting a Green New Deal focused on racial equity and environmental justice. He wanted to figure out how to create transformational change – not in the next 10 years, but in the next two years…

Sean McElwee acknowledges that Noisecat has been highly effective and characterizes the effectiveness of his efforts in terms of the impact on Democratic electoral platforms.

Looking at the Green New Deal a year later, the central victory is an increase in ambition and equity in the presidential candidate platforms. [SOURCE]

In early December 2019 David Roberts quoted John Noel and took a close look at enhanced oil recovery without looking at the raft of bipartisan bills before congress at the time.

“If the industry can perfect CO2 injection into shale formations and tight oil,” John Noël, a researcher at Greenpeace, told me, “it could unlock an almost endless amount of oil under the right conditions.”

In his conclusion Roberts, as usual, frames the pragmatic position for those who privately are not committed to phasing out fossil fuels as rapidly as possible in line with the demands of First Nations and frontline community advocates. His conclusion begs the question, How much fossil fuel extraction should be allowed to be ‘unavoidable’?

It may be that EOR can play a constructive role in a comprehensive decarbonization plan, helping to reduce the carbon content of the oil we can’t avoid using. But its use and limitations should be shaped by the public interest, not by the interests of oil and gas investors. [SOURCE]

In mid December 2019 Mark Z. Jacobson et al reasserted their claims about the achievability of 100% renewables (water, wind, solar). In the process Jacobson specified that CCUS, nuclear and biomass are not needed.

Thus, its conclusion that “including nuclear power and natural gas plants that capture CO2 consistently lower[s] the cost of decarbonizing electricity generation” was not shown. As calculated here, a transition to 100% WWS energy should reduce private and social costs substantially over those incurred by BAU energy without the need for nuclear power, fossil fuels with carbon capture, or bioenergy. [SOURCE]

In early February 2020 Jason Albritton from The Nature Conservancy provided testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee: Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change. In that testimony he confirmed TNC’s commitment to supporting 45Q tax credits and legislation like the USEIT Act.

The Nature Conservancy believes that carbon capture, utilization and storage is a valuable part of that climate solution set. We support efforts to ensure carbon capture is available as an effective tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining environmental safeguards. [SOURCE]

In early February 2020 Jason Albritton from The Nature Conservancy provided testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee: Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change. In that testimony he confirmed TNC’s commitment to supporting 45Q tax credits and legislation like the USEIT Act.

 

Testimony was also provided to the House Energy and Commerce Committee: Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change by Lee Anderson, government affairs director with the Utility Workers Union of America. It is clear from his statements that the most important battle ground in fighting for a fossil fuel phase out will be in the senate and congressional committees where the concerns of the people should get a fair hearing.

Building on recent landmark reform of the federal 45Q tax credit to incentivize deployment of carbon capture technology, the USE IT Act will foster continued development and deployment of carbon capture by authorizing the EPA Administrator to coordinate with the Secretary of Energy on furthering research, development and demonstration of carbon utilization and direct air capture technologies. [SOURCE]

 John Noel has consistently sounded the alarm about enhanced oil recovery with CO2 from CCUS or direct air capture. He operates where he needs to be, but sadly his work is not adequately amplified among his high reach networks. The testamony presented to the hearing ‘Consideration of H.R. 1166, the Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies Act’ should have been major news in the fight to phase out fossil fuels.

The industry’s campaign to undermine true climate solutions in order to maintain demand is real and well documented. CO2 EOR cannot be siloed off from the rest of a company’s portfolio or business strategy. Any policy that subsidizes increased oil production, which improves the borrowing position of the oil company, not only bolsters its ability to plow revenues back into expansion efforts, but also strengthens its social license and ability to run political interference against real  climate action. Climate science and carbon math are not complete without an honest analysis of political power. [SOURCE]

In mid March 2020 the DNC Platform Committee published their ‘Guidelines for the Platform Committee’s policy recommendations’. It’s a testament to the effective marketing of the Green New Deal concept and the fuzzy definitions that support it that an entity with an horrendous and ongoing track record of accepting fossil fuel money could make any claim to be inspired. I would note that Steve Kretzmann from Oil Change International is on the DNC Platform Committee.

Use the Green New Deal’s vision and aspirations as a framework [SOURCE]

In late March 2020 Politico reported on the negotiations in preparation for the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force and the supposed integration of the Green New Deal priorities into the Biden platform. Sean McElwee, like many others says that the fight to keep the core values of the Green New Deal, (real or based on pretence), was yet come.

“The dirty little secret is everyone’s talking to Biden’s campaign,” said Sean McElwee, co-founder of the liberal think tank Data for Progress. “There will be fights, but at the end of the day, progressives still hold votes in the Senate and increasingly Democratic voters stand behind our views. I expect we’ll see Biden embracing key planks of the ambitious agenda progressives have outlined on issues like climate and pharmaceutical policy.”

 

The Sunrise Movement will work to defeat Trump “no matter what,” said Evan Weber, national political director of the organization, by registering and turning out voters in key battleground states. But whether Sunrise does “broad anti-Trump campaigning” or “explicitly back[s] Vice President Joe Biden” if he becomes the nominee, Weber added, depends on what Biden’s campaign does to “demonstrate that they are taking the climate crisis seriously. [SOURCE]

In what seems like a distraction from the private interests who’ve lined up opportunities for the enhanced oil recovery revolution while strengthening a tax credit that will be a game changing fossil fuel subsidy, Oil Change International and the Next System project collaborated on a report into the potential nationalization of fossil fuel companies. The mid April 2020 report is effectively a thought exercise sold as a possible response to the ‘COVID crisis’ integrated as part of the Green New Deal. The Next System project is uniquely positioned to propagandize this moment. As a hub connecting climate activism with regenerative or ‘natural capitalism’, and a broad selection of movement builders and philanthropically funded social justice orientated NGOs, it is well placed to affirm the apparent potential of a dramatic progressive shift in Democrat policy.

A Federal Just Transition Agency would receive and manage fossil fuel assets with the express goal of a phase-out grounded in just transition principles, and coordinate and finance investment in public and community infrastructure for a new, resilient economy. Processes like those in the Climate Equity Act of 2019 should be used to ensure accountability to frontline communities and labor unions through policy development and implementation. The transition should also build on such grassroots efforts as Gulf South for a Green New Deal’s Policy Platform and the Climate Justice Alliance’s Just Transition Principles. [SOURCE]

A week after the release of the OCI/NextSystem report, Data for Progress shared results of it’s polling on nationalization measures sewn into bail out deals attached to COVID recovery plans. Data for Progress highlighted the positives as they see them saying “large swaths of voters of color support the policy”.

This support is promising given that some prominent left-leaning climate advocates have argued that public ownership of fossil fuel companies could be an effective way to phase out fossil fuels, promote energy democracy and protect vulnerable workers. Indeed, public ownership would give the government and taxpayers, not fossil fuel CEOs and billionaires, authority to decide what kind of energy future we want. [SOURCE]

In late April 2020, Grist dot com published a video called ‘The Narwhal Curve’ made in collaboration with Leah Stokes wherein she asserts that nuclear energy is “clean energy”.

In 2018, about one third of our energy systems came from clean energy sources like wind solar nuclear and hydropower. [SOURCE]

Demos is a Democrat aligned NGO cofounded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund president Stephen Heintz. It helped develop the career of Sean McElwee from Data for Progress. In late May 2020 it released it’s Frontlines Climate Justice Executive Action Platform. The initial signatories to the platform included the Climate Justice Alliance who have never acknowledged publicly that they recieved the memorandum of agreement they demanded from New Consensus. There are dozen’s of follow up signatories including 350 dot org. New Consensus are not listed as a signatory, and I would note that the document pushes for a “renewable energy transition” without mentioning the term “100% renewable”.

In tackling the urgency of the climate crisis, prioritizing the most

 

impacted communities for the protections and benefits of an economy-

 

wide renewable energy transition is a moral imperative. [SOURCE]

In early July 2020 when the Biden Sanders Unity Taskforce recommendations came through David Roberts merely wrote an update fixed to the top of an article he wrote in May 2020. That Roberts felt no need to formally digest the Unity Task Force recommendations suggests that he had significant access to briefings from key progressives engaged in the Biden team’s wide ranging consultations.

In short, the broad US left-of-center coalition appears to be aligning around a common climate policy vision. That vision is described in the following piece, first published on May 27.

Roberts indicates that he has full knowledge of the areas where conflicts that amount to the difference between keeping it in-the-ground and accepting a net zero emissions ledgered outcome will occur, but rather than acknowledge the almost complete absence of controversy, he preferred to update a six weeks old article.

If there’s any chance for bipartisan climate policy, it probably starts with carbon capture, use, and sequestration.

 

It creates another tension with industrial unions, which stand to benefit from the jobs building carbon capture projects and CO2 pipelines, and with Democratic moderates who are beholden to those unions. And it’s going to create a long-term tension with carbon wonks, who increasingly agree that, like it or not, gigatons of carbon need to be pulled from the atmosphere.

 

Climate unity is at hand, if Democrats can grasp it [SOURCE]

In mid July 2020 the Biden/Sanders team released their climate plans which demonstrate that leaving the door open to CCUS and making gross compromises in the Unity Task Force allowed for the continuation of long term plans for CO2 enhanced oil recovery. The near silence on 45Q tax credits from the climate justice NGOs prevents general awareness of the fossil fuel subsidies which would support the extractivist plans embedded in the Biden/Harris climate platform.

Biden will double down on research investments and tax incentives for technology that captures carbon and then permanently sequesters or utilizes that captured carbon, which includes lowering the cost of carbon capture retrofits for existing power plants — all while ensuring that overburdened communities are protected from increases in cumulative pollution. [SOURCE

In mid July 2020, shortly after the release of the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force recommendations and the release of the Biden/Harris “clean energy” plans Julian Brave Noisecat penned a piece for The Guardian that was headlined by the absurd assertion that there isn’t much difference between the Green New Deal and the Biden/Harris team’s climate plans.

Part of Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda, these plans are a Green New Deal in all but name. If you set aside the most attention-grabbing left-wing programs included in New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s 2019 Green New Deal resolution, like Medicare for All and a federal job guarantee, Biden’s plans broadly align with an approach advocated by the left-wing of the Democratic party.

 

This is, in the broadest strokes, the climate policy gospel according to many progressives. Biden’s plans draw upon the Green New Deal-inflected recommendations issued by the joint taskforce convened by surrogates of the Biden and Bernie Sanders campaigns, including Ocasio-Cortez. They also crib heavily from plans devised by Washington governor Jay Inslee’s climate-focused presidential campaign and are delightfully similar to policies drafted by Data for Progress, an upstart leftwing thinktank where I work. (Full disclosure: we provided research and recommendations to the joint taskforce and campaign.) [SOURCE]

In a mid July 2020 statement Varshini Prakash who sat on the Unity Task Force pushed the argument that the Sunrise Movement and their allies moved Democrat electoral climate policies in a good direction. Prakash is perhaps the leading proponent of the absurd idea that an abundance of pro-climate rhetoric is somehow a good thing even in the face clear statements in support of the very mitigation stratgeies that will deliver an enhanced oil recovery boom and more business as usual, albeit with some carbon abatement.

Our movement made this possible, but there’s more work to do, and the urgency of the crisis demands that we keep pushing. Vice President Biden must build on these commitments and make these actions an immediate and urgent priority on day 1. Our movement, alongside environmental justice communities and frontline workers, has taught Joe Biden to talk the talk. Now, let’s defeat Trump and mobilize in mass after the election to get Biden to walk the walk. [SOURCE]

Leah Stokes called nuclear energy “clean energy” in her video collaboration with Grist dot com called ‘The Narwhal Curve’. In mid July 2020, shortly after it was revealled that advanced nuclear had made it through the Unity Task Force deliberations she joined with the Sunrise Movement’s San Diego leading light Nikayla Jefferson to write about energy transformation and racial justice. Stokes inciated last year that she would support direct air capture, but does not appear to have offered an opinion specifically for or against CCUS which is the preeminent signifier of a self serving pragmatist.

Make no mistake: Fossil fuel companies need to tell lies about the costs that their dirty infrastructure imposes on Black communities. Because if we understood the truth, and if we valued Black lives, there will be nowhere for the fossil fuel plants to go. [SOURCE]

In late July 2020 Ilhan Omar introduced the latest version of the End Polluter Welfare Act. The bill contains specific provisions against the expansion and improper use of 45Q tax credits for fossil fuel projects. The introduction of the bill did not lead to an ongoing campaign to highlight the 45Q tax credit as a crucial fossil fuel subsidy, indeed the EPW Act was introduced and then promptly ignored. No effort was made to highlight provisions against 45Q that were also included in previous versions of the bill introduced by Bernie Sanders.

 The End Polluter Welfare Act is a vital part of the move off fossil fuels. It’s fundamentally absurd that we continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industry at the exact moment we need to ramp down the extraction and burning of coal, oil, and gas, [SOURCE]

Ilhan’s statements when she introduced the EPW Act suggest that there is an apetite for an agressive engagement with leglislative process to fight fossil fuel subsidies. The reality is that Ilhan’s statements were all there was.

It’s past time we end the billions of taxpayer subsidies to fossil-fuel companies,” Omar said in a statement. “Our focus right now needs to be on getting the American people through this difficult, unprecedented time, not providing giveaways to polluters. [SOURCE]

Few journalists have bothered to call the action as it is. There are plenty of pragmatists selling particular narratives for their editors, but there are few who see the donkey-elephant show for what it is, a neoliberal carnival of greenwashing. In late July 2020 Steve Horn showed that he was one of the few who were prepared to tell the whole truth about Biden’s climate plans.

The plan doesn’t call for any type of oil fossil fuel industry phaseout. The words “fracking” and “natural gas” are missing from the text altogether. The terms “coal” and “fossil fuel” only show up once, and not in the context of an industry phaseout… [SOURCE]

Ensuring Ed Markey, flag bearer for the Green New Deal remained a Democrat senator became a rallying point for the Sunrise Project in late July 2020. Sunrise threw heavy support behind Markey’s senate primary campaign. It should be noted that Ed Markey promoted gas as a “bridge fuel” while the fracking boom was in full swing.

Markey is poised — and arguably more prepared than any other politician in the US government — to fill in the conceptual aspirations of the Green New Deal resolution that he cosponsored with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with practical policies and to get them passed in Congress. [SOURCE]

Emily Holden from The Guardian US reported in late July 2020 that many leading figures in the Democrats, Democrat aligned NGOs and climate justice aligned NGOs acknowledged the Biden campaign’s lack of commitment to phasing out fossil fuel production and extraction. Holden would know well that the Biden team’s plans have barely changed since the primaries.

The measures that draw electrical workers to Biden’s plan are the same ones that push more vocal climate activists away. Biden doesn’t set a date to phase out drilling for oil and gas – although he would prohibit new drilling on public lands. He doesn’t lay out a timeline for shifting away from gasoline-reliant cars. And he is mum on limiting fossil fuel exports, which would still cause climate damage, even if they are being burned outside the US. [SOURCE]

In late July 2020 Data for Progress released a memo titled ‘Biden’s updated climate agenda has the markings of a Green New Deal’. In it you will find the phrase used by Julian Brave Noisecat and Varshini Prakash to describe Biden’s climate plans.

In September 2018, Data For Progress released a report entitled A Green New Deal: A Progressive Vision for Environmental Sustainability and Economic Stability, designed to fill in the details of the progressive climate agenda. The report translates the emerging consensus on the Left — that the climate, jobs, and justice crises are inextricably intertwined — into concrete targets informed by what science and technology said were necessary and possible. Joe Biden’s evolving presidential climate plan has come to embrace and echo that consensus and converge with many of the targets we laid out two years ago. In other words, it is a Green New Deal in all but name.

It is clear from the memo that 100% renewables, or even substantial support for renewables is not on the table.

At this moment of profound crisis, we have the opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable economy – one that will put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050. [SOURCE]

In early August 2020 a large group of economists issued a letter in support of a fossil fuel phase out.  The economists did not offer a critique of the Biden campaign’s policy positions and how they fall well short of the necessary actions/commitments needed to deliver a real fossil fuel phase out.

Governments must actively phase out the fossil fuel industry. Bailouts and subsidies to big oil, gas and coal companies only further delay the essential energy transition, distorting markets while locking us into a future we cannot afford. Instead, a coordinated phaseout of exploration for and extraction of carbon resources allows governments to redeploy funds towards green technology, infrastructure, social programs and good jobs, spurring an economic transition that benefits people and the planet. [SOURCE]

In early August 2020 John Laesch, a DNC platform committee member attempted to push through an ammendment that specifically challenged the 45Q tax credit for enhanced oil recovery and CCUS that is opposed in the End Polluter Welfare Act 2020. Laesch alleges in his own blog that “sander staffers” pressured himself and others to drop their ammendments. Laesch’s ammendment was controversially removed, but in the ensuing media frenzy, few if any public figures among the progressive Democrats, Democrat aligned NGOs, or climate justice aligned NGOs saw fit to mention 45Q tax credits. They railed against fossil fuel subsidies with the hashtag #EndFossilFuelSubsidies, but 45Q tax credits/subsidies were not put in the frame.

I move to amend page 46, line 20 to bring back and improve upon a sentence from the 2016 Democratic Platform, “Democrats believe the tax code must reflect our commitment to a clean energy future by eliminating special tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies, including any tax subsidies for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), carbon capture and storage (CCS) or direct air capture (DAC). [SOURCE]

In early August 2020 Kamala harris introduced S.4513 – Climate Equity Act of 2020 which aims to define frontline communities and how they are represented. I suspect this bill was introduced with the help of AOC to polish up Harris’ poor reputation on racial justice.

(A) IN GENERAL.—Subject to subparagraph (B), the Board of Advisors shall be composed of not less than 10 members that provide diverse and fair representation of frontline communities and allies of frontline communities, 1 of whom shall be designated chairperson. [SOURCE]

Mindy Isser, writing about the endorsement of the Green New Deal by the American Federation of Teachers took a look at the state of labor movement support for the Green New Deal in the sort of depth that has rarely taken place since the Green New Deal was introduced. Her ivestigation highlights the underexplored division in the labor movement and raises serious questions about how a just transition might begin to be negotiated.

Yet the AFL-CIO has remained resistant. When Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) introduced the Green New Deal legislation in February 2019, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters, “We need to address the environment. We need to do it quickly.” But he also noted that, “We need to do it in a way that doesn’t put these communities behind, and leave segments of the economy behind. So we’ll be working to make sure that we do two things: That by fixing one thing we don’t create a problem somewhere else. [SOURCE]

David Roberts knows perfectly well that the fossil fuel industry, big industrial unions and the bipartisan Democrats have no interest in phasing out fossil fuel extraction. He knows that extractivism causes harm to frontline communities whether or not carbon capture is applied. He knows that the door has been left open for CCUS because direct air capture is the flagship allowable carbon capture technology for climate justice activists. And yet he continues to remain pragmatic about CCUS plans. In early August 2020 he made a statement that clearly shows that he is fully aware of the destruction that extractivism always causes.

The evidence is now clear enough that it can be stated unequivocally: It would be worth freeing ourselves from fossil fuels even if global warming didn’t exist. Especially now that clean energy has gotten so cheap, the air quality benefits alone are enough to pay for the energy transition. [SOURCE]

In mid August 2020 Elaine Godfrey quoted Julian Brave Noisecat in reference to the perception problems with Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s running mate. Again the ‘we can shift the bad actor’ mentality is on show.

The same guy who was willing to sit down with Strom Thurmond is now talking like he wants to be the 21st-century FDR,” Julian Brave NoiseCat, the vice president of policy and strategy at the progressive polling firm Data for Progress, told me. “A savvy politician like Harris is going to see where the winds are blowing and move in that direction.

Noisecat cites Harris’ work on the Climate Equity Act as a positive despite the fact that the bill will go nowhere before the upcoming election.

Her collaboration with AOC on the Climate Equity Act shows that she can take some fairly left-wing and justice-oriented conversations to the highest office in the land, and that’s a good thing, [SOURCE]

The climate justice aligned NGOs appear to put more faith in letters and petititions than exposing the truth of neoliberal bipartisanship. In mid August 2020 a group of the usual suspects prepared a petition that called for commitment to a fossil fuel phase out, but they did not mention tax breaks or 45Q tax credits.

Dear DNC Coalition

 The Democrats need to hear from you: The Democratic platform must include a strong and unambiguous plan to phase out fossil fuels while protecting workers and communities. [SOURCE]

In mid August 2020 Dylan Matthews wrote a piece for Vox that I suspect would have otherwise been written by his stable mate David Roberts. Matthews is right to point out that bringing the Sunrise Movement “inside the tent” limited the chances of public conflict.

Biden has deeply consolidated support from just about every part of the progressive institutional infrastructure, not least through the unity task forces, which offered party activists and experts aligned with Bernie Sanders a chance to build the party platform in collaboration with Biden loyalists. Groups like Sunrise that were formerly thorns in Biden’s side have been brought inside the tent, where they can influence Biden internally without creating messy public drama. [SOURCE]

Bernie Sanders endorsed Joe Biden in mid August. His arguments were similar to many others and focused on getting rid of Trump. Rather than standing on principle and not letting the Green New Deal become watered down or gutted and used as a greenwash for Biden, Sanders chose to abandon his “political revolution” once again.

Sanders acknowledged on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that he and his supporters “surely did not” get everything they wanted. But if Biden’s proposals become policy, “Joe Biden will become the most progressive president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And that, in this moment, is what we need. [SOURCE]

In a New York Times article in mid August 2020 Lisa Friedman explains that the donor community are happy and that some donors were influenced by Biden’s work with “youth leaders”.

Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris already are where the donor community wants them to be on the issue…

 

Several donors said they were not early supporters of Mr. Biden, having preferred candidates that were more outspoken on climate change, but they praised the former vice president for working with youth leaders in groups like the Sunrise movement and issuing an aggressive plan [SOURCE]

In mid August 2020 Vox published Bernie Sanders’ remarks from a policy pitch he gave to the Democratic National Convention. The pitch made no mention of renewable energy or phasing out fossil fuels. Despite Biden’s climate and infrastructure plans specifically referring retrofits of coal fired power stations, Sanders still thinks Biden is the man to “heal the soul of our nation”.

Joe will rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and fight the threat of climate change by transitioning us to 100 percent clean electricity over 15 years. [SOURCE]

In mid August 2020 Colin Rees from Oil Change International was quoted by Alexander C. Kaufman at The Huffington Post asserting that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were against fossil fuel subsidies like the ones John Laesch tried to challenge at DNC2020. This is despite the fact Kamala Harris cosponsored a bill introduced by Jeff Merkley in July 2019 that would, if passed, strengthen the 45Q tax credit/subsidy for carbon capture projects.

This is a commonsense position held by both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. … The DNC should immediately include it in the platform. [SOURCE]

In mid August Brian Kahn from Gizmodo-Earther quoted the “manager’s mark” document provided by the DNC after the cotnroversial removal of John Laesch’s enhnced oil recovery amendment . The quote contradicts itself, but most people would not percieve the contradiction because the reality of “clean energy” plans is not generally understood. The Democrats cannot support eliminating tax breaks for fossil fuels and extend tax incentives for “clean energy” because clean energy includes fossil fuels and therefore will result in the destruction and negative impacts on nature and frontline communities that extractivism always causes.

Democrats support eliminating tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuels, and will fight to defend and extend tax incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy. [SOURCE]

The day after Brian Kahn’s piece was published Biden’s policy director doubled down on the no fossil fuel subsidies lie. Biden’s climate plans released during the primaries in 2019 are identical in all the most important respects. The Unity Task Force process did nothing to close the door on CCUS, advanced nuclear or fracking.

Vice President Biden’s commitment to ending fossil fuel subsidies remains as steadfast as it was when he outlined this position in the bold climate plan he laid out last year,” Stef Feldman, policy director for the Biden campaign said in a statement to The Verge. “He will demand a worldwide ban on fossil fuel subsidies and lead the world by example, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies in the United States during the first year of his presidency, [SOURCE]

Varshini Prakash who represented the Sunrise Movement at the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force was interviewed on Democracy Now by Juan Gonzalez in mid August 2020. Prakash says that they were able to move the timeline for getting to clean electricity by 15 years, but she does not outline the rationale behind remaining silent on the reasons for her concessions to CCUS, advanced nuclear and fracking.

Getting to 100% renewable energy by 2050 is absolutely impermissible for island nations, for young people who are growing up at a true crossroads between chaos and destruction and a livable planet right now. And so, we pushed, and we won some pretty significant victories. We were able to move up the timeline on decarbonizing the electricity sector by 15 years, so now the Biden administration is committing to 100% clean electricity by 2035. [SOURCE]

In a mid August 2020 article The Real News Network quoted a Sanders staffer offering a contradictory version of the events that lead to John Laesch’s amendment being removed. This version of events makes no sense in the light of Laesch’s own writing from 2 weeks earlier before his amendment disappeared. The outcome from the episode is that all and sundry Democrats and NGO mouthpieces were given an opportunity to speak up against fossil fuel subsidies without having to acknowledge the existence of, or attempts to expand 45Q tax credits. The truly sad thing is that Laesch’s own words were ignored by those with the power to amplify his concerns about the coming enhanced oil recovery boom.

Jeff Weaver, a long-time aide to Bernie Sanders, told The Real News he had spoken to Laesch who had agreed to the amendment being removed. “He agreed to the language being taken out in exchange for certain other amendments that he supported,” Weaver said, adding that it was indeed a “clerical error” which was rectified after the statement was scrubbed. [SOURCE]

The North America director for 350 Action penned a piece for The Nation in mid August 2020 which did not mention the full version of John Laesch’s experience of having his amendment dropped. This was consistent with all the statements made by all the Democrats – progressive or otherwise – who spoke about the incident. The same was the case for all NGO mouthpieces and the vast majority of journalists. Through their failure to fully recount the incident they assisted in masking off the specific tax credits that have been expanded through bipartisan efforts during the first Trump presidential term.

By evading the need to stop fossil fuel subsidies and phase out fossil fuel extraction, the DNC leadership is avoiding the root causes of climate change and environmental injustice. [SOURCE]

In mid August Peter White at The Tenessee Tribune outlined the shannanegans that went on during the DNC platform development process. It wasn’t only John Laesch who was under pressure to drop amendments. Members representing progressive positions were manipulated in multiple ways. You can see from the below quote how much John Laesch’s recollections differ from the version of events provided by senior Sanders staffer Jeff Weaver.

I submitted nine amendments on climate and some of them were dropped without my consent. This is both against the rules and undemocratic,” said John Laesch, a Sanders member of the Platform Committee. “I would have understood if they wanted to change a few words, but they wanted to eliminate any reference to eliminating fossil fuel subsidies for enhanced oil recovery, the fossil fuel industry’s plan to address the climate crisis.” [SOURCE]

In late August 2020 the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis through it’s chair Brian Shatz released ‘The Case for Climate action: Building a Clean economy for the American People’. Among the members are Sheldon Whitehouse, a proponent of the FUTURE Act and the USEIT Act, Jeff Merkley whose Good Jobs for 21st Century Energy Act aims to strengthen tax credits for sequestered CO2, and Ed Markey who in 2019 reportedly told the brightest fossil fuel industry lobbyist in the US, Brad Crabtree, that carbon capture “is in”. The pipelines advocated here are the absolute opposite of phasing out fossil fuels or keeping them in the ground. Ed Markey, the top Democrat proponent of the Green New Deal, the man who expressly stated that he wanted to appeal to “progressives and moderates”, is putting his support behind CO2 pipeline expansions that could only be possible with tax breaks like those contained in bipartisan efforts to strengthen 45Q tax credits and support the development stream for the CCUS supplied CO2 enhanced oil recovery boom.

Decarbonizing the electricity sector (and industrial sector) will also require new types of interstate pipelines. The United States already has nearly 5,000 miles of pipeline to carry carbon dioxide,117but we will need thousands more miles if we commit to a carbon capture and storage network that scales to the likely need. All scenarios examined in the 2018 IPCC report on holding global warming to 1.5 degrees required the use of carbon capture and storage.118 We may also need new pipelines to carry hydrogen or other chemicals created to store electricity produced by wind and solar generators. Like new transmission, new pipelines are challenging to permit. To achieve emission reduction goals, we will need well-crafted federal policy changes to aid the buildout of this pipeline network without sacrificing environmental review processes. [SOURCE]

Upon the release of the Senate Democrats ‘case’ policy director Food & Water Action, Mitch Jones released a statement. If his disparagements of the Senate Democrats report seem particularly forceful, it may be because on August 24, the day before the report was released, Food and Water Action published an endorsement of Ed Markey for the senate.

This climate report from the Senate Democrats completes a trifecta of underwhelming and inadequate proposals from Democratic leadership. Like the June report from the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and the recently-released Democratic Party platform, this report relies on false solutions designed to placate the oil and gas lobby. Further, it fails to address the vital need to end the extraction, processing, and burning of fossil fuels, and instead sees a future for fossil fuels tied to the false promise of carbon capture. It even fails to include a call to ban new fossil fuel extraction on public lands, a position that was endorsed by virtually all candidates in the Democratic presidential primary. [SOURCE]

‘Food & Water Action Endorses Ed Markey for U.S. Senate’ [SOURCE]

In late August 2020 M.V. Ramana and Schyler Edmunston from Beyond Nuclear International made the case against nuclear with perspective rightly informed by the First Nations people who’ve warned against the extractivist impacts of uranium mining of First Nations land. The authors discuss 2 variants on the Green New Deal, one in Canada and the other championed by Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins.

Last but not least, Green New Deal proposals emphasize ethics and equity. The Pact for a Green New Deal, for example, wants to ensure that the necessary energy transition “is socially just and doesn’t hurt those at the bottom of the economic ladder; and that it respects Indigenous rights.” It is precisely those groups that have been hurt most by the nuclear fuel chain.

 

Around the world, the uranium that fuels nuclear plants has predominantly been mined from traditional lands of Indigenous peoples, whether we are talking about Canada, India, the United States, or Australia. There is ample evidence of devastating health consequences from the production of uranium, for example, on the Navajo and the Lakota nations. [SOURCE]

In early September 2020, a little over a month before Oil Change International endorsed Joe Biden, OIC senior campaigner Collin Rees, as part of a joint letter to Joe Biden, made a statement that shows he’s fully aware of the role played by Obama’s energy tsar in wrangling the industrial labor organizations in the Carbon Capture Coalition for the net zero agenda.

Joe Biden can’t address the climate crisis while listening to people taking checks from the fossil fuel industry like Ernest Moniz, Jason Bordoff, Ken Salazar, and Heather Zichal. Biden must act boldly in collaboration with grassroots leaders fighting for environmental and climate justice—which means ruling out positions for dangerous ‘all-of-the-above’ boosters whose time has passed,” said Collin Rees, Senior Campaigner at Oil Change U.S. [SOURCE]

In early September 2020 Varshini Prakash was quoted a New York Times article by Michelle Goldberg regarding the impact of the Green New Deal on Ed Markey’s career. The quote shows how necessary it has been to have someone who can engage with moderates. Pleasant things can always be said about Ed Markey as long as you don’t acknowledge his compromise positions or his senate committee attendence record.

Markey was the most prominent figure on the Green New Deal aside from A.O.C.,” said Varshini Prakash, the Sunrise Movement’s executive director. “If he goes down in a Democratic primary, immediately the story that gets spun out of that is, ‘The Green New Deal is a losing political proposition.’ [SOURCE]

In early September 2020, just as I was submitting Part 1 of this series, the Thrive Agenda was announced. It was supported by a significant representation of climate justice NGOs including some that were marginalized by progressive Democrats and the Democrat aligned NGOs that serve their electoral interests. #TimetoThrive achieved very little other than boost the numbers for a Sierra Club petition. It seems that it was a product of the constant polling done by Data for Progress.

This polling shows that economic recovery plans that center racial, economic, and climate justice are popular with broad swaths of the electorate, including in battleground states and districts. [SOURCE]

The Green New Deal redeems the moderate with compromise positions, as long as you champion it. I would contend that making Ed Markey’s electoral success essential incentives turning a blind eye to his compromise positions.

In an article in The Atlantic in mid September 2020 Elain Godfrey outlines how Sean McElwee and a colleague – most likely Julain Brave Noisecat – were invited to discuss climate policy with the Biden team in March 2020 despite Bernie Sanders not having yet suspended his campaign.

In their March meeting, McElwee and a colleague attempted to persuade the Biden team to endorse a kind of quasi–Green New Deal. Their hope: If the presumptive Democratic nominee took a stronger stance on climate change in particular, he could get more young people and progressives excited about his campaign. They urged the campaign to endorse a commitment to reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century, and to invest in low-income communities that are disproportionately affected by pollution. The Biden team was worried that moving left on climate would be all risk and no reward. But McElwee assured them that it would be both popular and good policy. They didn’t extract much in the way of immediate commitments, McElwee told me after the meeting. But he had—he has—a longer-term plan.

Godfrey observes the shift in McElwee’s progressive messaging over time, now tailored to the mainstream which means more suitable for moderate Democrats.

The second stage of Sean seems to have begun about a year ago. McElwee started talking much less about moonshot progressive goals and much more about tailoring the progressive message to mainstream Democratic voters.”

Godfrey also quotes Julian Brave Noisecat who seems to have a knack for spinning the ugly into the acceptable. Did the compromise positions presented by Data for Progress to the Biden team help prime the Unity Task Force process to deliver more business as usual?

“Biden really could be a crypto-progressive president,” Julian Noisecat [SOURCE]

In late September 2020 Varshini Prakash was intrviewed by KK Oetesen at the Washington Post. The interview spotlights Prakash and the Sunrise Movement as if they were not part of a collective effort supported by a brigade of NGOs, think tanks, and progressive Democrat entities.

If Sunrise hadn’t been a disruptive, local movement, there’s no way that we would have actually ended up on that task force. And if we hadn’t [brought] the movement’s agenda into the task force, I don’t think that Joe Biden would have embraced a plan to get 100 percent clean electricity by 2035. I don’t think he would have embraced the demand that came up through movement organizers in New York of embracing investment into communities of color and low-income communities who have been affected by the climate crisis or environmental degradation. [SOURCE]

In late September 2020 Steve Horn explained the reality of Biden’s climate plans to “double down” on CCUS. Horn outlines the extensive efforts of Ernest Moniz to shape net zero ‘climate soltuions’ that will please fossil fuel companies, the big indutrial labor organizations and bipartisan Democrats.

While the Biden campaign has promised to slash “fossil fuel subsidies at home in his first year” in office, both his supporters and those of progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), his chief challenger for the nomination, backed CCUS in the climate platform forged by their post-primaries “unity” task force in July. In August, the Biden campaign emerged from Democratic National Committee platform negotiations with a pledge to support the “development and deployment of carbon capture sequestration technology,” as well as to “double down on federal investments and enhance tax incentives for CCUS. [SOURCE]

In late September 2020, just after the first presidential debate, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interviewed Kate Aronoff who, as usual, was frank about the fact that Biden is not fully committed to the Green New Deal, but, as usual, Aronoff didn’t speak to the specifics that would put her comments in a different light. Aronoff pushes the same line that all Green New Deal promoters push which is that the work will need to be done after Joe Biden is voted in. Aronoff, by not speaking to the existence of CCUS and advanced nuclear in Biden’s plans, can quite easily perpetuate the false impression created by those who’ve said the Green New Deal and Biden’s climate plans bare some resemblance.

Yeah, it’s the most progressive climate policy that a Democratic presidential candidate has ever run on, and it’s not nearly enough. Activists pushed this to be the best plan that we’ve seen from a Democratic nominee, and we know that, in January, when he is hopefully elected, that he’ll need to be pushed really aggressively in order to make any of that a reality. So, it’s a good starting place, and it’s just that. [SOURCE]

In early October 2020 Jean Chemnick wrote about how the executive level decision making for implementing climate plans may take shape. John Podesta has championed, as a long time “climate consiglieri to Democrat presidents, a National Climate Council that would support coordination between federal, state and local levels of government. It would be modelled on the National Security Council.

Podesta wrote a memo in 2008 that called for a National Climate Council when he headed the Obama-Biden transition team. The idea was never adopted, though Podesta went on to helm Obama’s second-term climate effort in a role that served roughly the same purpose of providing White House oversight to domestic and international climate efforts.

A National Climate Council would support a “Podesta-like” position in the White House. A top climate official with significant authority. Jason Bordoff, who is thought to be highly influential in the Biden campaign team advocates for the creation of a “deputy national security advisor for climate and energy” working under the National Security Council.

“You need a really single, forceful, powerful actor within the White House with the mandate to lead the president’s climate agenda across the White House and the rest of the government,” said Jason Bordoff, who served as senior director for energy and climate change at the NSC under Obama.[SOURCE]

In early October 2020 Oil Change International endorsed Joe Biden. They could have chosen not to endorse any presidential candidate and made some clear responses to the substance of Biden’s climate plans. There is everything to be gained in terms of better informing the public about the influence of the oil, gas and coal industry on the Democratic party from unpacking precisely what is in Biden’s climate plans and asking how they got there.

Oil Change U.S. was not shy to critique Joe Biden throughout the primary campaign. We pointed out where his plans fell short, and when he took advice from the wrong advisors. But we also know he’s listening — both Biden and Harris are signatories of the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, and even in the last week they’ve announced fossil fuel executives will have no place in their transition team. With Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the White House, we know there will be room to shape a more just and equitable future. [SOURCE]

The Sunrise Movement ‘Victory Squad’ kept the message very simple in early October 2020. The message is that getting a Green New Deal is all about defeating Trump. Sadly, maintaining the integrity of the Green New Deal is not an issue.

We have the chance to win big – electing Green New Deal champions to Congress, turning out our peers in states where the youth vote can defeat Trump, and all the while building our movement to be ready to bring in the decade of the Green New Deal. But it’s gonna take all of us, giving the time that we can, to get us there. [SOURCE]

Leslie Kaufman wrote a piece for Bloomberg Green in early October 2020 regarding the “energy clash” on the Biden team. Kaufman recognizes the significance of the Unity Task Force as a translational process that takes the inputs from key stakeholders to produce policy platforms for the Biden team. As you can see from the quote, the favored approach to the lack of ‘unity’ flowing from the task force process is to accentuate the positive (we moved Biden further left) and eliminate any mention of the patently negative (fracking, nuclear and CCUS still on the table) thereby avoiding discussing the true nature of the concessions that were made.

After Biden refused to support the Green New Deal during last week’s debate with Trump, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “Our differences are exactly why I joined Biden’s Climate Unity Task Force — so we could set aside our differences & figure out an aggressive climate plan to address the planetary crisis at our feet.” Another task force member, Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash, told Bloomberg Green in September that left-wing environmentalists “will have a lot of work to do even if he’s elected. [SOURCE]

In early October 2020 Nikayla Jefferson, a Sunrise Movement organiser, repeated an assertion Julian Brave Noisecat made after the Unity Task Force recommendations came out and Biden’s ‘Buld Back Better’ climate plans were released. The assertion is demonstrably untrue and entirely reliant on not unpacking what is actually in Biden’s plans and who continues to advise the Biden team on energy policy, eg Ernest Moniz.

It is a testament to the power of the youth movement that, since the end of the primary season, Biden has released his climate plan as a Green New Deal in all but name. [SOURCE]

In mid October 2020 Jean Chemnick wrote about the closed nature of the Biden campaign team’s engagement as it prepares transition plans. Chemnick quotes a person characterising the campaign process as “a black box”.

Everyone who’s producing policy ideas is hoping they can get it into that bloodstream,” said Andrew Light, a State Department climate official under President Obama who is now a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute. “If you’re working on something now, you’re probably not aiming to just produce an academic article if you really want to make a difference.

Chemnick indicates the likely influential role of Jason Bordoff who advocates for a position to be created within the National Security Council.

It’s unclear which proposals are gaining traction — though several sources mentioned that Obama energy and climate adviser Jason Bordoff seemed to have the campaign’s attention. The National Security Council alum has proposed that Biden create a deputy national security adviser on climate to better integrate those concerns into national security planning [SOURCE]

In late October 2020 Jeff Merkley introduced the ‘Protecting America’s Economy from the Carbon Bubble Act of 2020’. The stated purpose of the bill is to prohibit finace for “new sources” of fossil fuels. Merkley is a Green New Deal cosponsor, member of the Senate Democrats SCCC that recently recommended support for CCUS pipeline infrastructure, and in 2019 he introduced a bill that would expand tax credits/subsidies for CO2 enhanced oil recovery, fossil hydrogen and all forms of carbon capture utilization and storage.

The Protecting America’s Economy from the Carbon Bubble Act of 2020 would help safeguard the economy by prohibiting financial companies from making new investments in fossil fuels—investments that are not only accelerating climate chaos, but also risk destabilizing the global economy. [SOURCE]

If we look at how the term “new sources” is defined we can see that the operative word is “proven”. In the case of CO2 enhanced oil recovery reserves become proven when recovery techniques improve and market conditions are suitable. It is quite posible that CO2 enahanced oil recovery projects may not be regarded as “new sources” under this bill. Given that Jeff Merkley has supported legislative efforts to fund the infrastructure that would expand the enhanced oil recovery industry, it stands to reason that he would not introduce 2 bills that are counterposed in their objectives.

(4) the term ‘new sources’ means— 2 ‘‘(A) any production in excess of proven developed producing reserves of fossil fuels as of the date of enactment of this section; or ‘‘(B) new or expanded fossil infrastructure that would facilitate the production described in subparagraph (A); and [SOURCE]

In late October 2020 following the third presidential debate the LA Times reported a rhetorical statement that is clearly contradicted by Biden’s own plans. In terms of subsidies like the 45Q tax credit, there is nothing to signifiy that Biden is comitted to hodling up the bipartisan political will. I suspect there has been overwhelming silence from progressives and Democrat aligned NGOs because, in the end they serve net zero rather than a fossil fuel hase out, and direct air capture which will be necessary to achieve negative emissions falls under the umbrella of technologies that could get a boost from tax credits for capture ans sequestration of CO2.

“I would transition from the oil industry,” Biden said. “It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time — over time,” he added after Trump interrupted him. “And I’d stop giving to the oil industry — I’d stop giving them federal subsidies.” [SOURCE]

The extended pretence of climate justice leaders

7 February 2019 to Present

Before Trump, the Democrats had their Clean Power Plan, an all-of-the-above suite of solutions where the groundwork was being laid for the coming enhanced oil recovery boom. They were happy to have the climate justice movement with it’s 2 leading lights determining the acceptable boundaries of discussion. Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein were an effective foil, a reference point for climate messaging.

After Trump was voted in the climate justice movement and it’s associated ENGOs had a choice. Focus on bipartisan Democrats who would continue to help advance efforts made during the Obama presidency, or join with the generalised anti-Tumpism while ignoring the political will they had largely ignored during the Obama years.

The Biden campaign team is now replete with Obama era advisers like Ernest Moniz the Obama era energy secretary, Gina McCarthy Obama’s EPA director, and Jason Bordoff, former special assistant on energy and climate change to President Obama.

The Green New Deal campaign was never more than an electoral greenwash to facilitate the ambitions of moderate Democrats in advancing energy policy and managing resistance against long term plans to deliver favorable finance for new fossil fuel frontiers.

Klein and McKibben are nearing the end of their usefulness. When the Green New Deal Resolution came along they didn’t say “Hey! What is this “net zero”?”, “What happened to keep-it-in-the-ground?”, or “How is ‘clean’ different from renewable?”. They chose instead to cheer on as climate justice activism was captured to facilitate the electoral agenda of of the Democrats. Everyone got played, or silenced, or played along and stayed quite on anything that might rattle the momentum.

On 7 February 2019 Dharna Noor published an interview with the climate policy director at Greenpeace USA, Janet Redman who explained how we ought to understand “clean energy” as distinct from renewable energy. This is a critical understanding of the language that crucially shifted when the Green New Deal Resolution became the central object of Democrat endeavours. If critically applied, an honest understanding of what is and is not “clean energy”, will result in unpacking the political will for business as usual, and exposing the absence of a desire to phase out fossil fuels and drive back extractivism.

Yeah, renewable and clean are slightly different. Renewable energy means wind, water, and sunlight. Things that are coming from the environment around us that never run out. Clean energy can mean a lot of different things to different people. It can mean nuclear power to some people. It’s clean because it doesn’t emit carbon. It’s not clean because we need to do uranium mining to make that energy, and we need to do something with that waste that’s now toxic. Sometimes lawmakers and environmentalists have tried to sneak in gas as a way of talking about clean energy, because it, in some forms, is less dirty than burning coal. Studies have recently shown that that’s not true at all; unfortunately, it’s just as bad, as climate-harming, as other forms of fossil fuel. It is, in fact, a fossil fuel. [SOURCE]

On the same day that the Green New Deal Resolution was introduced, 7 February 2019 The Chronicle of Philanthropy published an opinion piece by Angela Adrar from Climate Justice Alliance and banker Tyler Nickerson, a regular writer for TCP. I am left with the question,  Did that package of bills arrive? I am also concerned that philanthropy stepped in at this juncture given that CJA have gone silent in regard to their demands for accountability from New Consensus.

Now grant makers can put their money and influence behind a package of bills that incorporate many issues such as economic development, social justice, and the environment. [SOURCE]

The technology neutrality or willingness to consider new nuclear energy or willingness to leave existing nuclear energy undisturbed was made plain in early February 2019 immediately following the introduction of Green new Deal resolution. Advocates for First Nations and frontline groups were clearly concerned, but where were the admonishments and warnings from climate justice movement leaders?

“The resolution is silent on any individual technology which can move us toward a solution to this [climate change] problem,” Markey said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “There [are] no individual prescriptions in the resolution which is why we think we’re going to be able to get a broad base of support, and then we’ll let the debates begin on the individual solutions.”

 “[T]he text of the actual resolution makes it abundantly clear — we must embrace every zero-carbon resource available to eliminate climate pollution and dramatically increase our investment in clean energy innovation,”Josh Freed, vice president for clean energy at Third Way, said in a statement. [SOURCE]

In early February 2019 Kate Aronoff who went on to become a fellow at Data for Progress described the situation as it is and acknowledged that, yes, 100% renewables was the basis of the green new Deal concept before the resolution was introduced. Amazingly, Aronoff makes to prescription for what climate justice activist and frontline advocates might do to address the issue. The claim that the issue of 100% renewables versus 100% clean energy was “hotly debated” is contestable. I can’t say that a fulsome discourse took place. If it did then John Noel’s efforts would have received more attention and support.

Unlike the original resolution calling for a Select Committee on a Green New Deal — which called for 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 — this one calls for the U.S. to reach net-zero emissions by 2030. The difference is more than semantic, and energy wonks have hotly debated it since Ocasio-Cortez, Sunrise, and other groups began pushing the call for the latter in November. While full reliance on renewables would have all energy come from sources such as wind and solar, net-zero entails an openness to so-called negative emissions technologies, a suite of measures ranging from the experimental — like carbon capture and storage, machines to extract carbon from industrial processes and put it underground — to the conventional, like afforestation, or planting trees that suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. [SOURCE]

In late February 2019 Naomi Klein’s colleague at The Intercept , Rachel Cohen made the same acknowledgemnt as many others including Kate Aronoff, that the Green New Deal does not expressly rule out forms of supposedly ‘clean energy’. Naomi Klein had written about the Green New Deal resolution the week before without mentioning CCUS or nuclear. Indeed, Klein managed to discuss the unions without ever acknowledging how many are with Carbon Capture Coalition.

The Green New Deal resolution doesn’t explicitly rule out carbon capture technology, but in a section that deals with removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, the authors endorse “proven low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage,” like protecting land and planting new trees. Other vaguely written sections of the resolution, however, could open the door for carbon-capture technology. The resolution endorses “creating solutions to remove” emissions, and endorses the international exchange of technology, products, and services to address climate change.

 

The Sunrise Movement does not see “a heavy role for carbon capture and storage,” said Weber, the group’s political director, though he said it could be worth investing in some research and development for so-called heavy industry like steelmaking and shipbuilding. He noted that carbon capture technology is “pretty expensive compared to just reducing emissions by moving toward alternative forms of energy.” Ocasio-Cortez’s and Markey’s offices did not return requests for comment. [SOURCE]

In early March 2019, a month after Julian Brave Noisecat who was still working with 350 dot org acknowledged that the Green New Deal resolution had a “keep the door open approach” in regard to it’s specific language, Mark Z. Jacobson and a colleague reasserted that a 100% renewable Green New Deal was possible without nuclear or CCUS. This position is in line with the position articulated by Janet Redman from Greenpeace USA in February 2019.

Critics claim, though, that the Green New Deal is unaffordable and uneconomical and will sink the US into more debt. Having led the research team that developed science-based plans to transition each of the 50 states to 100% wind, water, and solar (WWS) in all energy sectors (electricity, transportation, heating and cooling, and industry), we conclude the opposite is true: the benefits of clean energy systems greatly exceed the costs. 10 other independent research groups similarly find that 100% renewable energy systems are low cost without fossil fuels with carbon capture or nuclear power. [SOURCE]

In mid April 2019 AOC in partnership with The Intercept, Naomi Klein, Avi Lewis and Molly Crabapple produced a fanciful video that did not attend to the spectre of the coming enhanced oil recovery and fossil hydrogen booms, but rather, they focused on aspirational outcomes.

‘A Message From the Future With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ [SOURCE]

Sunrise Movement co-founder Stephen O’Hanlon spoke at a rally in Washington in early May 2019, in it he reasserted the commitment to “100% renewables” despite the change of language with the introduction of the Green New Deal Resolution. But in order to prioritize 100% renewables you have to be 100% committed to a fossil fuel phase out.

We have proven solutions to 100% renewable energy like wind and solar — we want to be prioritizing development of them. That said, we don’t want to shut down nuclear power plants and replace them with coal-fired power plants. [SOURCE]

In early July 2019 the NDN Collective published a position paper titled ‘Mobilizing and Indigenous Green New Deal’. One of the authors was Julian Brave Noisecat. By this point Noisecat had become a crucial member of Data for Progress team that defined the language that he argues is “not specific” enough. Indeed Noisecat was on staff when D4P invented the phrase “non-renewable clean energy”.

NDN Collective shares the concern stated by IEN that the language around “green infrastructure” and “renewable clean energy” is not specific enough to prevent future co-optation and abuse. The term ‘green infrastructure’ has been utilized to describe various carbon capture mechanisms which, like carbon trading, allow extractive industries to continue the dirty and unjust extraction of fossil fuels. Nuclear energy production and energy generated by large hydroelectric dams are both zero-emission energy production practices that carry deep toxic and damaging legacies within Indigenous communities and homelands.

 

NDN is the most ambitious, systemic effort to empower Indigenous communities in the history of philanthropy. (slogan on website)[SOURCE]

In mid September 2019 Naomi Klein sat on a panel with Julian Brave Noisecat and organizer Jane McAlevey. Klein stumbles into a criticism of Green New Deal proponents. With the Green new Deal in the hands of various Democrat aligned groups including the Sunrise Movement, it should be no surprise that the level of engagement from the public is merely a matter of metrics and polling.

“I come across people all the time who are like, “I love the Green New Deal , I have no idea how to get involved”, like, they’re in the women’s movement you know, they’re teachers or nurses, and it’s not…The path of entry isn’t clear yet to enough people who actually are the people who have the most to gain.” Naomi Klein [SOURCE]

In late September 2019 Naomi Klein sat down with former The Atlantic and Boston Globe editor, and strong supporter of 350 dot org Wen Stephenson to discuss her new book ‘On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal’. Klein, rather than point out the greatest threats to phasing out fossil fuels, threats she articulated in ‘This Changes Everything’, Klein explains how she helped promulgate “hope” in the Green New Deal. If her “fairy tale” had attended to the real risks to a Green New Deal, like the coming enhanced oil recovery and fossil hydrogen booms, then it would have been a different, but much much more honest film.

“Our experience when we did the Message From the Future film — which is a fairy tale, I admit that — but people wept, because they were like, I had not allowed myself to imagine a future that was not terrible. I think there’s a space for that, for giving ourselves those little exercises, because most of us have never let ourselves do it.”

 

“I think one reason for hope is that we are having more debates about the structural crisis within democracy, that this is happening in parallel. When I look at history, and these moments when progressive change happened, it does tend to be like a dam breaking, and we do tend to see a lot of change very quickly, after long periods of no change.” [SOURCE]

In late October 2019 Naomi Klein spoke about her new book at a Berkeley Journalism event. In her talk she reinforced the need to observe climate justice principles while at the same time suggesting that the Green new Deal is building on the work of the climate justice movement rather than eroding its substance to further the agenda of the Democrats.  Yet another moment where Klein failed to disturb the agreed narrative.

The Green New Deal…this is a political framework that builds on the work of the climate justice movement over many decades…the principles that the frontline communities need to design the response, [SOURCE]

In late February 2020 Janet Redman reasserted the need the to work directly against the fossil fuel industry’s plans for continued extractivism under 45Q tax credits.

We need to think about what’s the most important way to spend our money and our political will,” which means shifting to renewables, not working on things that allow the fossil fuel industry to continue producing, said Janet Redman, the environmental group’s climate director. [SOURCE]

Like the many letters sent by collections of climate and social justice NGOs, the US Climate Action Network ‘Vision for Equitable Climate’ document contains firmly stated positions against technologies like CCUS, but leaves key operators out of the spotlight. This is standard for any NGO or collective that wants to support a Green New Deal, but does not want to marginalize itself. While they take a position against CCUS and direct air capture for CO2 enhanced oil recovery, they do respond to the specific ‘clean’ language in the Green New Deal Report and the resolution that followed it.

Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground and Stop Expansion.

 

Target a Just Transition to 100% Renewable Energy.

 

Ensure That Polluters Pay the Full Costs of Their License to Operate.

 

Ensure That Polluters Pay for the Cost of a Just Transition. [SOURCE]

Silence leaves no paper trail. This is where making arguments gets more difficult because pointing out what someone or a group ought to have done this or that places a critic in a field of conjecture. As someone who has been pointing out the truth of the term “clean energy” for the past 4 years and who has written extensively about the engagement of industrial labor organizations with the efforts of big oil, gas and coal to deliver tax credits as an effective subsidy, I think I have an excellent vantage point to argue for what ought to be said by anyone claiming to be committed to phasing out fossil fuels.

As I have argued in multiple forums, avoidance of unpacking certain inconvenient truths is the key mechanism in the thinking of self censoring, high reach individuals. I would argue that this is why Naomi Klein went dark before the Unity Task Force recommendations were released followed quickly by Biden’s Build Back Better plans, and why Greenpeace did not fill the gap created when John Noel went on paternity leave shortly before the presidential climate policy season.

Part 3

In the final part of this series I will review my investigations into bipartisan efforts to expand tax credits as a subsidy for CO2 enhanced oil recovery, and examine the pragmatic choices made by high reach individuals out of fear of losing influence and career position. I will show how the largely ignored bipartisan political will supports a relentless fossil fuel industry hell bent on further entrenching fossil fuel extraction through massive expansions in pipeline and refining infrastructure. I will show that no matter who is the next president, all who support a Green New Deal will need to train their eyes very closely on legislative process, especially senate committees.

Conclusion

The substance of Biden’s climate plans compared against the original basis of the Green New Deal that was sold to First Nations and frontline advocates reveals a stark contrast. For the Green new Deal to function in the political space, it has to belong to the Democrats. The Democrats will never settle for policies that actually threaten the power and profits of fossil fools. The Green New Deal had to satisfy the progressives and their friends the Democrat aligned NGOs, but it also had to function as a messaging vehicle for moderate Democrats, hence its language is so vague that it does not raise difficult questions.

Prevarication is the process whereby lies are told and truths are omitted. The vast majority of voices speaking for or about the Green New Deal have either a narrative or a funding stream to protect, sometimes it’s both. Between the abrogations of all the various players sits the unattended truth, that First Nations and frontline communities are not safe enough for NGOs to leave in charge of exercising the principles of a Just Transition.

 

+++

*Since you made it to the end, and if you have any energy to read on. Please enjoy these ponderings on the metaphor I have chosen to represent this series.

’15 Things About Weekend At Bernie’s That Don’t Make Sense (But We Don’t Care)’

https://www.therichest.com/world-entertainment/15-things-about-weekend-at-bernies-that-dont-make-sense-but-we-dont-care/

 

 

[Michael Swifte is an Australian activist and a member of the Wrong Kind of Green critical thinking collective.]

 

 

 

 

Correcting Eva Golinger on Venezuela

Chicago ALBA Solidarity

August 19, 2017

by Stansfield Smith

 

Od izbora 1998., venecuelanski predsjednik Hugo Chavez kritizirao je ameri?ku politiku GALLO / Getty

As the class struggle heated up in Venezuela this year, fueled by interventionist threats by the pro-US Organization of American States (OAS) bloc, many former supporters of the Bolivarian revolution have remained sitting on the fence. Fed up with these fair-weather friends and their critiques which recycle corporate news propaganda, some defenders of Venezuela such as  Shamus Cooke,  Greg Wilpert, Maria Paez Victor,  have come with articles clarifying the stakes and calling the so-called “left” to account.

Among the disaffected is Venezuelan-American lawyer Eva Golinger, the author of The Chávez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela and self-described friend and advisor to Hugo Chávez.

The day after Trump threatened to militarily intervene in Venezuela, Jeremy Scahill posted his interview with Eva Golinger on The Intercept, one reinforcing some corporate press distortions of Venezuela under President Maduro. Golinger hardly goes as far in this anti-Maduro campaign as Scahill, who more clearly fits what Shamus Cooke characterized as “the intellectually lazy “pox on both houses” approach that has long-infected the U.S. left.”

To her credit, Golinger does emphasize the real class issue ignored by “pox on both your houses” liberals like Scahill: Washington’s and the Venezuelan right-wing’s goal is to crush the heart and backbone of the Chavista revolution, “the grassroots, the social movements, the workers, the community organizers, the people who are actually the ones trying, struggling to hold on to anything that’s left of this movement that they have been building and empowering themselves with now over the past fifteen years or so.”

And, counter to claims of Maduro “authoritarianism,” she correctly notes in her recent article,

“Imagine if protestors were to use lethal weapons against security forces in the U.S., even killing some of them. In Venezuela, the anti-government protestors have even burned innocent bystanders to death because they suspected them of being ‘chavistas’. Were that to happen in the U.S., the repression and forceful action by the state would far exceed the leniency exercised by the Venezuelan government in the face of these deadly demonstrations.”

Yet within her valuable analysis, and precisely because of her valuable analysis, both in the interview and in her article Golinger makes some statements that require correction.

  1. Golinger writes “The demonstrations arose from the massive discontent throughout the country as food shortages, lack of access to medications, skyrocketing inflation and erosion of democratic institutions have intensified since Maduro won office by a slim margin in 2013.”

In fact, the violent demonstrations arose as part of a coordinated effort by OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro, the US government, and the rightwing MUD opposition to generate a chaos in the streets that demanded OAS “humanitarian intervention’ to restore order and displace the Maduro government. While there is massive discontent due to food and medication shortages and inflation, those most affected by this, the working classes and poor, are not the ones participating in the anti-government protests.

American lawyer Eva Golinger poses for a portrait in Manhattan, New York, U.S., July 29, 2017. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

2. Golinger defends Attorney General Luisa Ortega, [“the judicial maneuvering by the country’s highest court to silence critics should cease.”] who was eventually removed by unanimous vote of the Constituent Assembly after recommendation by the Supreme Court. The issue was not simply being a critic; Ortega had failed to prosecute violent protesters and their financial backers, and lied to the public.

3. Golinger says “they [the Maduro government] even gave over a half a billion dollars to Trump’s inauguration fund.” This is clearly wrong, as has been pointed out on the article’s comments section. PDVSA gave $500,000 to Trump inauguration. Yet Golinger and the Intercept do not correct this.

4. Golinger writes “A growing number of Venezuelans who supported Hugo Chávez and his policies have distanced themselves from his successor, dismayed by the country’s turn from a once vibrant participatory democracy towards a closed one-party state, intolerant of critics.”

She, as with other fair-weather friends, sees a divide between the Maduro and Chavez eras, when in fact the fundamental problems of oil dependence, corruption, bureaucracy existed throughout this period, in part overshadowed by Chavez’ charisma and high oil prices.

That the majority of opposition MUD parties are participating in the coming October regional elections clearly proves Venezuela is not a “one-party state, intolerant of critics.”

5. She writes “President Maduro’s convening of a constituent assembly to rewrite the nation’s constitution has been vehemently rejected by the opposition and has caused severe internal rifts within his own movement.”

Events have shown “severe internal rifts” to be false. The July 30 vote was a major victory for the Chavistas and a major defeat for the rightwing. Now the violence has mostly ended and opposition parties say they will participate in the upcoming elections.

6. Scahill dishonestly claimed the July 30 vote for the Constituent Assembly

“was held after an order issued by Maduro. Why that was necessary was baffling even to former supporters of Chavez, as the Bolivarian movement has often celebrated its constitution as a revolutionary and meticulous document. For many seasoned observers, the whole affair reeked of an effort to consolidate power.”

Scahill’s “seasoned observers” is a euphemism for “professional corporate media propagandists.”

To clarify, Venezuela’s constitution  Article 348 states

“The initiative for calling a National Constituent Assembly may emanate from the President of the Republic sitting with the Cabinet of Ministers; from the National Assembly by a two-thirds vote of its members; from the Municipal Councils in open session, by a two-thirds vote of their members; and from 15% of the voters registered with the Civil and Electoral Registry.”

In other words, rather than being an act that violated the constitution, a little fact checking would show Maduro’s action followed the constitution to the letter.

7. Scahill claims “The vote for the assembly was boycotted by many Venezuelans and when the official results were announced, it was clear that the tally had been tampered with.”

Like the claims of “no doubt” Russia interfered with the US election, Scahill’s “it was clear” comes with no evidence attached.

Golinger, who is not as hostile as Scahill, still says, “There’s a lot of indication that it wasn’t a free and fair vote — that the tallies are not accurate.” But she likewise gives no evidence for this “indication”.

In fact, international election observers have vouched for the validity of the vote, and the agreement of opposition parties to run in the upcoming regional elections implies they accept the integrity of the National Electoral Council.

8. Golinger says the government chose the candidates for the Constituent Assembly, so it would have won regardless of how many voted. In fact, people were free to nominate anyone, and in the end, there were 6120 candidates for 545 seats. She does not mention that Chavista candidates won for the simple reason that the opposition boycotted the Assembly election, having planned to have overthrown Maduro by then.

9. Scahill asserts

“Maduro’s forces have also conducted raids to arrest opposition figures and both government forces and opposition forces have been involved in lethal actions during protests. It must be pointed out that Maduro controls the country’s military and intelligence forces and those far outgun all of the combined masses of government opponents.“

Is he actually surprised that a country has armed forces that can outgun the civilian population? Scahill does not mention that army and police members have also been charged with killing opposition protesters.

10. Golinger makes a series of misleading statements comparing the present Constituent Assembly process to the one that took place under Chavez. The Chavez one

“was put to a vote after he was elected, to whether or not people actually wanted to proceed.  More than 70 percent of those participating said yes. Then they elected the members. Then it was done in this extremely open, transparent way. You know, there were drafts of the constitution passed around and discussed in communities. And then it was put to another vote to actually ratify it by the people on a national level. So I mean, we’re missing almost all of those steps this time around and it lasted four months, it had a mandate of four months. And it wasn’t all-supreme, that it could be a legislator and an executor and an enforcer, which is what we’re seeing now.”

No mention that the Chavez era turnout to convoke an Assembly brought out 37.8% of the population (92% voted yes, not 70%). This July 30, voter turnout was higher, 41.5%.  No mention that now, just as before, proposed changes to the constitution must be made public, discussed and voted on by national referendum. No mention that the present Assembly is all-supreme — even over Maduro — unlike the previous Assembly, because this is what the present constitution states, not the case before.

Article 349: “The President of the Republic shall not have the power to object to the new Constitution. The existing constituted authorities shall not be permitted to obstruct the Constituent Assembly in any way.”

It is hard to believe Eva Golinger does not know this. She claims the present process is a “major rupture” from the Chavez era, when in fact the government and Constituent Assembly are simply following the Chavez 1999 constitution.

11. She says, “I wish that they hadn’t moved forward with this rewriting of the constitution and creating this sort of supra government, because it does make it more difficult to find a solution to the crisis.”

We see that the opposite is the case. The vote for the Constituent Assembly has made it easier to find a solution.

Maduro did not act in an authoritarian manner. He did not quell the violent protests by declaring a national emergency and resorting to police and military repression. He did not use death squads, or torture, jail and exile the opposition. Instead he called for a Constituent Assembly, and with the mass show of support in the election, the violence has died down, and most of the opposition has returned the electoral field.

We should call this for what it is: a humanitarian example for other governments when faced with social unrest.

With the July 30 Assembly vote, the US, the OAS Almagro bloc, and the opposition MUD have suffered a serious defeat, as even the hostile New York Times has noted. This gives the progressive forces an opening to resolve the serious problems the country faces. The extent it will make use of this opportunity to break out of the unresolved social, political and economic conflicts of the last few years remains to be seen.

 

[Stansfield Smith, Chicago ALBA Solidarity, is a long time Latin America solidarity activist, and presently puts out the AFGJ Venezuela Weekly.]

The Work of Revelations: Snowden, the Torture Report, and the Diminishing Returns of Info-Spectacles

Popaganda

January 2, 2015

 

omidyar-lede

Omidyar, right, with (clockwise from left) Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, and Laura Poitras. Illustration by Matthew Woodson. Photo: Matthew Woodson. Image: THE PIERRE OMIDYAR INSURGENCY [Source]

 

“An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come,” wrote Victor Hugo. Isn’t that ultimately the message of Les Misérables? In contrast to the revolutionaries hopelessly slaughtered en masse at the barricades, it’s Jean Valjean’s unimpeachable righteousness alone that ultimately drives his longtime tormentor to suicide. I dreamed a dream…

Rather than just being the domain of French Romantics and office motivational posters, the notion that information alone has transformative power is the cornerstone of establishment left thinking. It stems from liberal enlightenment ideals that configure history as a linear progression—embodied in the apocryphal quote about the moral arc of the universe. It goes one way, and that’s forwards towards progress. This coincides happily with the preponderance of lawyers in the ranks of mainstream human rights and civil liberties groups, for whom information is the sine qua non of preparing briefs and mounting cases.

There’s a more controversial theory that information isn’t inherently good. Even revelatory information—stuff the powerful don’t want you to know—ostensibly in the service of a progressive goal, can be used for right-wing ends if it obscures or moderates a more radical prescription. If information is getting used to co-opt a more radical course of action, then that project is reactionary.

For its part, progressive e-magazine TruthDig doesn’t want people messing with this line of thinking in the case of the Senate Torture report: “When the truth is spoken by politicians…skeptics are right to suspect it’s not merely the truth. It is always tailored to redound to some benefit to the speaker. But there are moments in history when that doesn’t matter.”

We’re being told it’s one such moment now. The Senate Intelligence Committee has released a heavily redacted, heavily abridged “Executive Summary” of its 6,000 page report on CIA torture. Adding to the report’s mystique is the fact that the White House and CIA wanted to suppress the information contained within, with the CIA even hacking the computers of Senate staffers compiling the report. The torture report seems like the most illicit kind of revelatory information, so it’s created an enormous amount of commentary and condemnation.

However, with the exceptions of some specific ghoulish details, most of the information was already known. The most horrific facts—that the CIA raped prisoners, that torture was used to fabricate justifications for the War in Iraq, that human beings were tortured to death, that almost a quarter of torture cases were the result of mistaken identity—had all been reported on within the last decade.

There’s a disconnect between the content of the torture report and the narrative that now surrounds the event itself. When TruthDig called for putting skepticism aside, it was in a piece hailing Senators Dianne Feinstein and John McCain as their progressive heroes of the week. Feinstein’s fingerprints are on many of the US’s worst abuses of this century, and McCain is one of the most bloodthirsty figures in the US government, and by extension the planet. Given that these newly minted progressive heroes are some of the worst imperialists, and the torture report’s aura doesn’t reflect reality, this seems like exactly the right moment for those meddlesome skeptics to be asking questions.

The journalists and public figures who promote the torture report present it as transformative information, but it’s shaping up to be a spectacle that sets the left back yet again. The report has followed many parallels with the last time this happened, the spectacle surrounding Ed Snowden’s leaks to Glenn Greenwald et al. The Snowden drama provided a useful template for how dissent is going to be managed, channeled, and moderated going forward. The way the NSA leaks were handled has provided the elites a scalable model for taking the release of even revelatory information and using it to come out on top and consolidate their power.

***

Fortunately, last October Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media had an acrimonious public divorce with once-hire Matt Taibbi. If Taibbi had been someone with less social capital, then the failure of Racket might’ve just been a momentary hiccup for the internet’s hottest journalistic “insurgency.” As it stands, the fact that people want to be in Taibbi’s orbit has opened up a lot of space for analysis of Omidyar’s would-be media empire, where the establishment consensus was once airtight. It’s certainly vindicated what Taibbi said about journalists being akin to an easily spooked herd of deer, who only get around to asking the right questions “eventually. But far after the fact.”

When the leaks began, they painted a complete picture of a monster whose contours had only previously been hinted at. Stories about warrantless wiretapping and the size of “Top Secret America” had won their authors Pulitzers and hinted that the US government was spying on all of us. There were reports of a secret government data-storage facility of gargantuan proportions being built in Utah. Stories had periodically cropped up in unexpected places about the government’s ability to record and store all our communications. However, now the public knew the truth definitively. There was excitement, talk of change, reform, maybe even something more drastic. Soon, the whistleblower went public. More stories came out, about more countries.

However, there were problems from the outset. Tarzie, one of maybe 3 or 4 people asking the right questions from the outset, drew these threads out in August 2013 in his “Fuck the Guardian” series. Some of the serious problems were a zeal for secrecy and redactions, an over-emphasis on one set of actors at the expense of the bigger picture, and a single-minded devotion to “debate” and reform as the ideal solution. There were plenty of other problems, like the smearing of Chelsea Manning and a near-monopoly on information, all of which spoke to having surrendered ground to the very enemies being exposed. The entire event was taking place on the state’s terms, and as Arthur Silber wrote, “when the state floods the zone, any chance for reform is dead.”

However, the state weren’t the only interested parties. There was a big story to be told, after all, and a billionaire patron chose to underwrite the project. The consensus that instantly emerged–and remained firmly in place until Racket’s collapse–was that Pierre Omidyar was a “civic minded billionaire.” What was being exchanged between Omidyar and Greenwald was a paycheck for prestige. As Tarzie pointed out at the beginning, PayPal had conducted an extrajudicial corporate blockade against WikiLeaks that hobbled the organization, and Greenwald lied about Omidyar’s involvement.

When it came out that Omidyar had funded regime change in Ukraine and the election of a fascist PM in India, and would profit handsomely for it, this revelatory information wasn’t enough to tarnish the “civic-minded” gloriole. “Since the rich man in question has demonstrably been involved in funding imperialist activities,” explained Patrick Higgins, the Snowden leak keepers were now “by extension, running interference on imperialism’s behalf.” A typical imperialist oligarch bought a bulletproof reputation as a civic-minded hero, for only $250 million (of which only $50 million has actually been paid so far). To get an idea of what a robust return on investment this is, Bill Gates has to spend billions of dollars a year in order to be seen as a humanitarian while defending capitalism’s brutality and making Malthusian calls for population reduction in Africa and Asia.

Snowden eventually came out of his self-imposed media exile and played a part in the vaunted debate. It’s been reported that whistleblowers tend to be conservative individuals, and this makes sense. Someone who thinks the CIA is an organ of state terrorism is unlikely to get hired there, nor would they seek to restore it to an imagined past if they joined up and eventually found this to be the case. That explained phenomena like Snowden’s insistence that information be mediated by “responsible journalists and government stakeholders,” and a whole slew of reactionary statements he made as the spectacle went on.

As Snowden explained, he was “still working for the NSA” in spirit, seeking to reform temporarily disoriented agencies. For anyone hoping that substantive change would result, this is a death sentence. As Chris Floyd said, “the system itself is not under threat [when] the only goal of any revelations will be ‘reform.’ ‘Reform’ and ‘debate’ can always be managed by those who control the levers of power.”

In the end, the public accrued very limited benefits if any. There were stories that essentially recapitulated the same theme of mass government data collection, told with some different details but committed salesmanship. Long after most of the world has moved on, The Intercept’s reporters still use the same breathless promotional language. In mid-December 2014 Jeremy Scahill was promoting a “Blockbuster” story at The Intercept that’s basically a longer version of a story already reported at Der Spiegel 14 months ago. There wasn’t even reform, either, with one failed bill widely derided as a “sham.” Even First Look supporters concede that the NSA ultimately “retained its powers.” And they might have stronger defenses against future leakers in place now, thanks to Ed Snowden. As reported in a Wired cover story, as Snowden took documents from NSA servers, he did so in a way that “[gave] the government time to prepare for leaks in the future,” in case anyone more radical than him came along.

If anyone benefitted from the event, besides the leak’s owners and the state, it was the tech sector. Snowden updated Thomas Jefferson for the disruptor set when he recommended restraining government surveillance with “the chains of cryptography.” He announced the Reset the Net initiative on June 5th, 2014. By unveiling it a year after the Guardian released its first Snowden-sourced story, the event was marketed as the solution to government surveillance, the logical endpoint of the events that have preceded it. According to Wired, Reset the Net is “a coalition of more than two-dozen tech companies,” i.e. former partners in government spying who would now be the vanguards of privacy. When Trevor Timm, a board member of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation with Greenwald, listed “Four Ways Edward Snowden Changed The World,” two reasons were essentially sales pitches for the tech industry. To hear left celebrities orbiting the Snowden trove tell it, all Silicon Valley had to do was suffer a mild public shaming in order to become zealous guardians of their users’ privacy.

***
Obviously, some factions of the state and oligarch class* would rather the public know nothing. However, if this isn’t an option, then there are ways to accrue benefits from the information release. The Snowden spectacle has shown how the guilty parties can create positive outcomes for themselves, coming out even better than before. The common threads include:

  1. A distracting, singular focus on one set of actors at the expense of other guilty parties.
  2. An erasure of related and often more serious crimes.
  3. The lionizing of deeply reactionary figures.
  4. Right-wing, power-serving “solutions.”
  5. The erasure of leftist ideas from the left.
  6. A further fetishizing of the transformative power of revelation.

In the Snowden spectacle and the torture report, there are two situations in which information is released to the public. It’s been known, but now there are specific details and official confirmations. This is presented as a revelation, and re-stated in different permutations to retain public interest. From there, the ruling class will create an unexpected victory.

  1. Distracting Focus on One Set of Actors

In the case of the Snowden leaks, over a year of reporting focused almost exclusively on the NSA. There was almost no reporting done on the private sector, or the 16 other government agencies that comprise the Intelligence Community—from the FBI and DEA to Army intelligence and the National Reconnaissance Office.

In the case of the Senate torture report, the focus has been exclusively on CIA torture authorized and directed by the Bush administration and its lawyers. Dick Cheney has come out of the shadows to issue ghoulish pronouncements about torture’s goodness, acting as a cartoonish, literally heartless proxy for the entire cast of villains.

However, the focus on the Bush administration has erased contemporary Democratic culpability in the torture program. The 2002 briefing of House Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Jay Rockefeller by the CIA was, according to CIA war criminal and noted sociopath José Rodriguez, “short and sweet.” Though Democrats at the at the time adduced torture as a reason to vote for Democrats, it was, like anti-war opposition, cheap posturing to score political points.

A few years later, it was rising Democratic star Barack Obama’s turn to sweep torture under the rug after exploiting it for electoral reasons. In a tremendously revealing statement that received scant attention at the time, then-Senator Obama said that impeachment was off the table because it was reserved for “serious breaches” of the President’s authority. The statement was a clear indication that Obama didn’t—and doesn’t—consider torture to constitute a serious offense, at least when committed by the United States. Though candidate Obama made overtures to investigate torture, his 2008 behavior on FISA showed how hollow these promises were. On the campaign trail, the Senator declared that he would filibuster TeleCom immunity, before voting for it once it was politically expedient. When Obama was elected and made “look forwards, not backwards” his mantra, the Democratic leadership owned torture as much as Bush.

Just like the NSA was the sole focus of the Snowden cache, a casual observer would think that the CIA were the sole perpetrators of torture after 9/11. The singular focus on the CIA has erased the fact that the US military was responsible for many of the most horrific abuses of the War on Terror. Abu Ghraib, for instance, was born out of a policy to “’Gitmoize’ Iraq,” applying the brutal torture policies of America’s Cuban hellhole to the entire nation of Iraq. Military installations were the sites of countless crimes, like Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base or Iraq’s Camp Nama, whose name was backronymed to mean “Nasty-Ass Military Area.”

The Senate torture report has successfully cordoned off torture as the work of one agency and one set of elites, when the entire political class and national security apparatus is guilty.

  1. Erasure of Related and More Serious Crimes

The Snowden event brought us dozens of stories that reiterated essentially the same point. Less publicized was Reuters’ August 2013 report on NSA-DEA “parallel construction,” where the NSA was giving warrantlessly surveilled information to the DEA, who then build up a criminal case under the pretense that the information had been lawfully obtained. In this case, abstract reports on government abuse were crowding out concrete reports of government abuse. The narrative around the Senate report has taken this aspect of the Snowden drama to a much higher degree. There is a constellation of American crimes that are being erased, whitewashed, and legitimized by the focus on the CIA torture report.

The Obama administration and the CIA saw the kind of legal and political mess that came from indefinite detention, and concluded that assassination was easier. A 2004 report from the CIA’s inspector general warned that “The agency faces potentially serious long-term political and legal challenges as a result of” the torture regime. “The report was the beginning of the end for the program,” according to journalist Mark Mazzetti. “The ground had shifted, and counterterrorism officials began to rethink the strategy for the secret war. Armed drones, and targeted killings in general, offered a new direction.”

Consequently, the Obama administration has waged a far more vicious assassination campaign than Bush ever did, with thousands killed in drone strikes and even American citizens targeted for extrajudicial murder. Obama’s theory of executive power was best summarized by Attorney General Eric Holder explaining that “due process” didn’t need to involve a trial by jury, but could be achieved by the President deciding to murder you in one of his “Terror Tuesday” meetings.

That’s not to say that torture isn’t still practiced. Torture is still common practice in Guantánamo Bay, where inmates are subjected to excruciating force-feedings. The experience of having a feeding tube slid through the nasal cavity and down into the prisoner’s stomach is usually compared to having a razor blade shoved through the nostril and down the throat.

Obama’s vaunted torture ban has also not banned torture, merely returned it to the grey-area status it enjoyed before the Bush administration codified it. The CIA has long practiced torture, like under the Phoenix program in Vietnam or taught at the notorious School of the Americas. Today, the CIA maintains its “extraordinary rendition” and secret prison programs, with loopholes in place for torture to continue more covertly. Torture is still allowed for the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), and since expanding JSOC’s operational scope has been a cornerstone of Obama’s war-fighting policies, some inductive reasoning indicates that it’s expanded into those dark corners. As the blog Moon of Alabama points out:

The Army Field Manual 2 22.3. Appendix M is still in force and it allows “interrogation techniques” which the UN’s Committee against Torturesays (PDF) amount to torture. The White House is also still believing that using torture abroad is not covered by the UN Convention Against Torture and thereby permissible.

This, together with Appendix M, lets me assume that the U.S. is still torturing people abroad. Why else would it keep those legal holes open?

All this is only to discuss how torture is still practiced in prosecuting the War on Terror (or as it’s called now, the Overseas Contingency Operations). It’s an entirely different story about the United States practicing torture in its system of mass incarceration through solitary confinement, which “human beings experience…as torture,” according to Dr. Atul Gawande.

  1. Reactionary Heroes

The release of the torture report has lead to some strange scenes. Teju Cole, for instance, a longtime critic of American imperialism, thanked Dianne Feinstein “for [her] service” in the pages of the New York Times. Dianne Feinstein has long been a supporter of almost every imperialist venture the US has embarked upon. Her husband’s status as a member of a lucrative government contractor also makes her, quite literally, a war profiteer.

As for John McCain, this release affords him to playact the maverick that the media needs to remind everyone that he is. It’s also erased the fact that in 2008 McCain fought to exempt the CIA from a torture restriction.

Besides Feinstein and McCain, the biggest hero in the release of the torture report has been John Kiriakou, the CIA case officer who first blew the whistle on the CIA’s torture program. As is typical of National Security whistleblowers, Kiriakou is deeply conservative, a “patriotic” spy whose “Letters from Loretto” penitentiary spend a lot of time railing against the FBI. A common theme of his letters are slams against the FBI for their dishonesty, positioning the CIA—who’ve spent over a decade running a global torture and assassination program—as the honest Agency.

At least the Snowden case gave Americans a fresh face, who only exposed his retrograde beliefs gradually. The Senate torture report has boosted “heroes” who are some of the past decade’s most imperialist figures.

  1. Power-Serving Solutions

Jane Mayer, who’s written more about America’s post-9/11 torture regime than any other journalist, wrote in the New Yorker that “torture is becoming just another partisan issue.” Particularly given the incoming Republican-majority Senate, torture accountability seems like a position that the Democrats can own after having tacitly endorsed it. According to Mayer, Feinstein “proved that Congress can still perform its most basic Madisonian function of providing a check on executive-branch abuse,” while “By contrast, the new report, even before it was released, came under attack from Republicans.” Soon, newly minted transparency and accountability heroine Feinstein will be out, replaced by Republican Richard Burr, “a staunch defense and surveillance hawk,” according to Joshua Eaton at Al Jazeera. “At the same time, one of the intelligence community’s most outspoken voices, Mark Udall, will leave the committee after losing re-election last month.” The departure of the Democrats “threatens to stall attempts to reform the nation’s surveillance laws and avoid transparency about the CIA’s controversial interrogation program,” Eaton says. The narrative, as it’s taken hold, paints a clear distinction between Democrats and Republicans on this issue.

For a Democratic party seeking to reinvigorate its increasingly apathetic base after what Dr. Cornel West calls “a Wall Street and drone presidency,” this is a great branding opportunity. One of Obama’s first decisions in office was to immunize torturers. However, with a Republican Congressional majority imminent, this is a perfect chance for the soon-to-be-helpless Democrats to act like they’d been champions of transparency all along.

For those who remember the now-ancient years of Bush’s second term, the reason proffered to vote for Democratic representatives in 2006 was to stop the Bush agenda. Then, Democrats still couldn’t do anything without a Democrat in the White House. Once Americans gave the Democratic party the veto-proof Democratic supermajority that they needed for some sweet Change, they discovered that relatively little could get done in the face of Republican intransigence. Increasing numbers of Americans see little hope in the two-party system, but the torture report provides a golden opportunity for the Democrats to burnish their image anew.

The report puts torture back in the contested category it once enjoyed. Democrats can once again compel their supporters to go to the polls to vote against torture and in favor of transparency—just like they did in 2006 and 2008, and by recycling the exact same rhetoric. That Hillary Clinton is making a public show of denouncing torture and praising the report’s release is a sign that this is exactly what’s going to happen. Clinton, who supported torture and is “a walking profanity” embodying the worst American corporatism and imperialism, signals that the Democrats are interested in play-act opposition to torture once again, after years of tacit approval.

Beyond just the Democrat/Republican modality, the torture report is functioning as a whitewash for the entire American project. There’s the predictable “rally ‘round the flag” effect—the idea that only America could produce a work of decency and introspection like a report on its own torture program.

Then there’s the hand-wringing over how aberrant torture is—how America lost its way—and accompanying appeals to return to an imagined past. “When I was growing up,” a typical missive goes, “Americans thought of torture as a tactic used by history’s villains.” It’s true, America thought of torture as a uniquely evil tactic, while committing it covertly and teaching it to its proxies. While the author of the above passage was growing up, learning that torture was the sole domain of dictators and terrorists, the US was exporting torture expertise throughout the Southern Cone.

Torture has been with the US since its foundation—what could the treatment of African slaves be called besides that? Overseas torture programs also date back at least to the counterinsurgency to subjugate the Philippines at the birth of the 20th century. So the idea that the CIA torture program was a unique, momentary evil that erupted from the minds of Dick “work the dark side” Cheney and John “the President can crush a baby’s testicles” Yoo serves to conveniently whitewash America’s history as a white supremacist and imperial entity. The release of the torture report is propagating these narratives even as it seems to challenge power.

  1. An Erasure of Substantive Leftist Beliefs

Adolph Reed has written about how one of the ideological functions of neoliberalism is to erase substance from politics, and leave only empty signifiers. “Being a progressive is now more a matter of how one thinks about oneself than what one stands for or does in the world.” The Snowden drama was remarkable for how much it divorced substantive leftist politics from a position called “leftist.” Leftists went to the mattresses for a journalist’s right to redact, hoard, and genuflect to NatSec concerns. “Marxists, anarchists, libertarians and Occupy activists now call a billionaire by his first name”:Pierre. The Snowden leaks told the left some information about bulk collection in exchange for dragging it rightward.

The torture report is so far succeeding in erasing more of the left. Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, published a New York Times op-ed calling for Obama to pardon the Bush administration. “If the choice is between a tacit pardon and a formal one, a formal one is better. An explicit pardon would lay down a marker, signaling to those considering torture in the future that they could be prosecuted.” Besides the obvious inversion of reality evinced by Romero’s position, and the childish treatment of “the law” as some supernatural Platonic construct, it’s literally the ACLU advocating pardons for war crimes. Stephen Walt reiterated this position in a Foreign Policy piece that compared Chelsea Manning to Dick Cheney. A few days later, he tweeted this:

Merry Christmas, torturers. #empathy

A few days after Romero’s op-ed, the ACLU published a piece titled “CIA Agents Said ‘No’ to Torture.” The reason people are discussing the torture report is because CIA personnel said “yes” to torture, but the ACLU is here to remind Americans that #NotAllSpies chose to commit this offense to human dignity. These case officers and analysts the ACLU is celebrating held fast to their day jobs assassinating people, subverting foreign democracy, or otherwise manifesting “the ruling class’s determination to retain power and privilege.”

Those who did torture were, shockingly, not even trained torturers. This is according to one narrative that’s cropped up, echoed by progressive outlets like Mother Jones and lawyers for prisoners’ rights group Reprieve. Deferring to the state’s euphemisms for torture, Mother Jones says that “Extreme interrogations…went on for more than three months before CIA officers received any sort of training in the new techniques from anyone.” For some, evidently, the problem is that CIA torturers hadn’t been briefed on proper torture techniques. This probably resulted in total amateur mistakes like threatening to murder their mothers instead of sisters, or blasting Metallica for 8 hours when they should’ve been blaring Marilyn Manson. Maybe liberal outlets were too quick to pounce on the $80 million payments to those two torture psychologists, since there were too few torture-professionals rather than too many.

Whatever the celebrity left believes their positions to be, many of their concerns don’t seem particularly left-wing. Even less than a month into the torture report drama, we’ve seen calls for pardons, celebrations of CIA spies, and a focus on improper torture techniques and insufficiently trained torturers. With heroes like Feinstein and McCain at the center of this, there’s no rightward boundary for how far the left can slide.

  1. The Fetishizing of Information

In the end, the fetish for information above all else is reified. If only the public learns the truth, if only the lawyers who overwhelmingly staff human rights groups have more direct evidence, something will change. Each revelatory event is also presented as the proverbial Big One, restarting the cycle from scratch. There have been diminishing returns, but the salesmanship is just as enthusiastic.

Shahid Buttar, the executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, called the torture report “the most important document revealing crimes of the intelligence agencies since the Pentagon Papers.” The Snowden leaks, Wikileaks and Cablegate, the Washington Post’s “Top Secret America”—all these events didn’t accomplish much since this is the event we’ve been waiting for. Buttar harkens back to the Pentagon Papers, which have become the Ur-Leak Event in all these conversations. Daniel Ellsberg himself adds to the mystique of each event by coming out and saying he’s been waiting his whole life for it (free idea for The Onion: “Daniel Ellsberg can’t remember all the people who are the next Daniel Ellsberg”).

The narrative that This Is The Leak Event We’ve Been Waiting For serves to keep the public interested in supporting leftish groups like the ACLU, whose lawyers can now meet standing requirements and prepare the relevant briefs. It also resets the clock, convincing a new group of people that justice is imminent while the ruling class manages increasingly favorable outcomes. The Snowden spectacle worked out so well that the torture report offers more reactionary ideas for even less new information.

The idea that information itself, especially information you’re not supposed to possess, is its own good is an article of faith. There’s additional pressure because pointing out that revelatory information is already publicly available is associated with the political right. When someone points out that the information isn’t “new,” it’s usually a crass attempt at smarmy self-promotion or a diversionary tactic from a party with some stake in derailing the inquiry (Mark Ames once wrote “you can always tell a paid troll by their ‘nothing new here’ nonsense”).

However, the left can’t embrace these events without interrogating them more than is going on now. As it stands, the ruling class is being strengthened by these spectacles, and seeing their power further entrenched. Most insidiously, with each info-drama, the left is being purged of actual leftist substance. The idea that’s reflexively invoked, “at least now we know,” is wrong—there’s more than that going on. As Chris Floyd said:

Yet revelations of these machinations, of government/corporate crime or “excesses,” have made no difference. Nothing changes, because the commanding heights of politics and media are in the hands of people deeply committed to preserving the system that gives them wealth and power.

We live in an age of revelation. There has never been era in which so much clear and glaring evidence of so many horrific crimes and abuses by state and private power has been so widely and freely available. Year after year, the revelations pile up. None of it makes any difference. Instead, power doubles down.

The truth alone might not set us free. Powerful entities are working to see it does nothing, or even make us less free in the end.

Update: additional reading– “Liberals vs. Radicals on the Power of Information

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