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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.]

 

 

 

 

Being Made Invisible

Being Made Invisible

Tortilla con Sal,

October 7, 2020

By Stephen Sefton

 

 

Over thirty years ago, the moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre* noted that an inability to engage competing rationalities critically disables the proponents of the moral and intellectual tradition failing to do so. That kind of fundamental, banal critical failure has always characterized the societies of the Western imperialist powers, in every sphere of intellectual and moral life. It may have been less noticeable before the current advent of a challenging multi-polar world, but the resulting crisis of Western elites’ power and prestige has highlighted their innate moral and intellectual bankruptcy as never before.

 

Anyone challenging the moral and intellectual bad faith of entrenched corporate elite interests gets attacked or ignored. Various otherwise quite well-known figures defending Julian Assange against US and allied NATO country governments’ efforts to destroy him, have experienced this, finding themselves attacked or marginalized even more than usual. Slightly different, but ultimately just as sinister, has been the treatment of dozens of very eminent scientists questioning received wisdom about the current COVID-19 outbreak. In both cases, justice and freedom of speech are important underlying motifs.

Few are surprised that defenders of Julian Assange against the UK injustice system are misrepresented or excluded by imperialist country governments supported by all the disinformation outlets their countries’ oligarchs control. However, scientists questioning public policy on COVID-19 find themselves marginalized not only by dominant liberal opinion but also by majority progressive opinion too. Eminent scientists like John Ioannides, Sunetra Gupta, Sucharit Bhakdi, Alexander Kekulé, Dolores Cahill and dozens of others find themselves in effect, if not disappeared, certainly generally excluded from public discussion.

Julian Assange

Overall, Western liberals and progressives have failed to engage, let alone credibly refute, the arguments of this very significant, unquestionably well-qualified body of scientific opinion. Nor do they engage  the savage class attack enacted as public policy on COVID-19 to impose a corporate capitalist economic reset on the peoples of North America and Europe.  In a similar way, the West’s disinformation lynch media have misrepresented the case against Julian Assange, lying about the facts and unjustly smearing him at every turn while also burying the massive attack on free speech his probable extradition to the US represents.

In general, prescribed untruths are propagated and imposed not just via corporate news and entertainment media, but also by almost all the main international information sources. These include practically all the high profile international non governmental organizations and practically every international institution in the United Nations system, the European Union or the Organization of American States. Sincere witnesses to truth have little to no chance of surviving uncompromised in these morally and intellectually corrupt organizations and systems.


Leonard Peltier, Ana Belén Montes, Mumia Abu Jamal

 

Sinister political power and corporate money smother and suffocate efforts to challenge the cynical, mendacious status quo. Extreme historical examples in the US include the murders of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and the subsequent persecution of the Black Panther movement. A great number of anti-imperialist heroes like Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu Jamal, Ana Belen Montes or Simon Trinidad, among many others, remain unjustly imprisoned. Among current examples of Western information perfidy, the Assange show trial, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons scandal and the prolonged Russiagate farce stand out.

Everyone will have their own experience of this reality. For example, efforts to suppress the “Planet of the Humans” film highlighted how corporate money moulds, manipulates and corrals opinion in favor of a phony Green New Deal which environmentalists like Cory Morningstar have challenged for years against systematic suppression of their arguments. Liberal and progressive environmentalists mostly exclude incisive class-conscious analysis while celebrating pseudo-progressive, corporate-friendly pap. Across the board, systematic disinformation deliberately negates democratic process by denying people fair access to vitally relevant factual appraisal and analysis. Knowledgeable people presenting well attested evidence find themselves effectively disappeared.

For people in countries targeted by the North American and European imperialist powers none of this is new. In most Western foreign affairs reporting on countries from Russia and China, to Iran and Syria, to Venezuela and Cuba, intellectual and moral honesty are almost entirely absent. In the majority world, this experience of being practically invisible extends to whole peoples. Most people in North America and Europe could hardly care less about people far away in distant, usually culturally very different countries. Very few people know enough to be able to effectively challenge the unending deceit of most official Western accounts of events in those countries targeted by North American and European oligarchies and the governments they direct.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, Haiti is perhaps the most egregious example, or maybe Honduras, or perhaps Bolivia… Unquestionable though, is the vicious, psychopathic hatred propagated by Western media, NGOs and institutions against Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. These are the last three revolutionary governments in Latin America left standing after the wave of US and EU promoted coups and lawfare offensives of the last fifteen years. In Cuba’s case, the hatred is occasionally dressed up as grudging recognition of the Cuban Revolution’s great example of international solidarity and love between peoples, embodied in so many ways, but above all by its unparalleled international assistance during the ebola and COVID-19 outbreaks.

If influential media outlets, NGOs and international institutions in the West really admired Cuba’s infinitely-far-beyond-their-reach example of human love and solidarity , they would campaign relentlessly demanding an end to the criminal US coercive measures attacking Cuba’s people’s basic well-being. Of course they do not, because they are cynical hypocrites who detest Cuba’s revolutionary commitment to and defence of the human person as the centre and focus of the country’s national development. The same is true of Venezuela and Nicaragua. On these two countries, Western disinformation media, NGOs and institutions have sunk to previously unplumbed depths of in-your-face criminality and odious falsehood.

Despite everything, Venezuela continues resisting outright violation of basic UN principles by North American and European elites who have directed their countries’ regimes and institutions to steal Venezuela’s wealth and attack the country’s people, just as they did successfully to Ivory Coast and Libya up to and including 2011. They have attempted to do the same to Iran, without success. Despite every indication to the contrary, they believe the delusion that by destroying Venezuela they stand a better chance of overthrowing the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions and crushing the nationalist revolutionary impulse in the region for good. They can barely tolerate even the social democrat versions of that impulse in Mexico and Argentina.

Nicaragua is still in the early stages of Western attempts to attack its people so as to weaken support for the country’s Sandinista government led by President Daniel Ortega. That is likely to change through 2021, which is an election year here in Nicaragua. In Nicaragua’s case, the big lie is that the country is a brutal dictatorship that has failed to protect its people from COVID-19. Precisely the opposite is true. Nicaragua has been the most successful country in Latin America and the Caribbean in protecting both its people’s health and their economic well being during the international COVID-19 crisis. Similarly, it is the country’s political opposition, bankrolled, trained and organized by the US government and its European Union allies, which has brutally attacked Nicaragua’s people. They did so using armed violence in 2018 and they have done so by demanding more and more illegal coercive economic measures against their own country from both the US and the EU. Likewise, they promote an endless international disinformation war.

Not one international human rights NGO or any international human rights institution has researched the experience of the thousands of victims of Nicaragua’s opposition violence in 2018. Not Amnesty International nor Human Rights Watch nor the International Federation for Human Rights nor the Inter-American Human Rights Commission nor the Office of the UN High Commisioner for Human rights, nor any European Union institution, none of them have. To do so would reveal the big lie that the opposition protests were peaceful. Every single one of those institutions has falsely claimed the Nicaraguan government brutally repressed peaceful demonstrations in 2018. All the Western corporate media and alternative information outlets covering international affairs have parroted that lie. The truth about Nicaragua and the events of 2018 is available in independently produced texts, audio visual material and testimonies like these:

So far, virtually none of this substantial material or other available material has been publicly addressed or seriously analyzed by any academic, anywhere, comparing, contrasting and appraising official accounts, witness testimony and audio-visual and documentary evidence. Practically every single academic writing on Nicaragua has been content to regurgitate the same lies and misrepresentations spread about by all Western media, NGOs and institutions who have relied absolutely exclusively on US government funded opposition sources. None of them have done genuine original honest research on the issue of opposition violence. Not one. All the abundant material documenting the truth of what happened in Nicaragua in 2018 is invisible.

Being made invisible by Western media, NGOs and academics is nothing new. It just means becoming subsumed in the anonymous masses of the majority world whom the Western elites have always looted, murdered and abused. Despite this reality, the overwhelming majority of people in North America and Europe hold the irrational, ultimately self-destructive belief that their rationality is morally superior to their rivals’. To make sure they hold on to that demented false belief, their ruling classes have to disappear the truth, whether it’s to do with an individual like Julian Assange or a whole country, like Cuba, Nicaragua or Venezuela.

* “Whose Justice? Which rationality?” (PDF 21Mb)

 

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

Wrong Kind of Green

September 11, 2020

By Michael Swifte

 

 

Is this a people’s plan or is this a process to get elected officials a policy in a timeline that will allow them to promote it around the 2020 election?

 

— John Washington speaking on behalf of Climate Justice Alliance to New Consensus and networks on 18 March 2019 [Source]

 

False Solutions continue to poison, displace, and imprison communities

 

Nuclear, fracking, “clean coal”, incineration and even prisons are offered as economic transition solutions to the climate crisis, but only continue to harm the health of people and the planet. 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. These false solutions turn low-income communities, communities of color and indigenous communities into sacrifice zones. These do not move us toward a just transition.

 

Climate Justice Alliance, Just Transition Principles, 21 April 2017 [Source]

 

You could say that the Green New Deal died when the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force recommendations came through, or perhaps that was the moment we knew that the Jemez Principles  and the principles of a Just Transition had been abandoned more than a year before? Perhaps they were abandoned shortly after John Washington’s straight forward, perfectly articulated warning to New Consensus? Or perhaps they were abandoned as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey prepared the Green New Deal resolution with it’s “clean” and “net zero” language replacing the language of fossil fuel phase outs and 100% Renewables? Perhaps the Sunrise Movement, New Consensus, Justice Democrats and Data for Progress all fell in line with the net zero language of ruling class carbon accounts while paying lip service to fighting fossil fuels and pushing the advocates for First Nations and frontline communities further from the negotiating table?

I’ve looked and I’ve watched and I may be wrong, but it seems like the concerns of the Climate Justice Alliance fell off the map in March 2019 after they presented their position on the importance of observing the Jemez principles in the development of the Green New Deal to New Consensus and its connected networks. At some point between the first promises of a fossil fuel phase out and no new nuclear energy that were part of the notional Green New Deal endorsed by 350 dot org and 600+ of their NGO friends in January 2019, and the release of the Unity Task Force recommendations, any notion of actually centering-frontline-communities in the development of a Green New Deal were, it seems, abandoned. Not long after the Green New Deal Resolution was introduced on 7 February 2019, 350 dot org’s Julian Brave Noisecat took up a key position at Data for Progress whose September 2018 report on the Green New Deal more completely resembles the net zero language of “clean energy” rather than the phase out language of “100% Renewables”. The exact phrase Bria Viniate used in reference to the Ocasio-Cortez/Sunrise version of the Green New Deal in Vogue shortly before the November 2018 midterms is “100% Renewables”. The new phrase at the center of the Green New Deal after the introduction of the Green New Deal Resolution is “100% clean, renewable and zero emissions”.

 

Key Documents

Jemez Principles: https://www.ejnet.org/ej/jemez.pdf

Just Transition Principles: https://climatejusticealliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/CJA_JustTransition_Principles_final_hi-rez.pdf

People of Color Environmental Justice: “Principles of Working Together” http://www.ejnet.org/ej/workingtogether.pdf

Green New Deal Resolution: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/116/hres109/text

Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations: https://joebiden.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/UNITY-TASK-FORCE-RECOMMENDATIONS.pdf

Data for Progress – Green New Deal Report: https://www.dataforprogress.org/green-new-deal/

Fake it until you make new plans?

19 November 2018 – January 10 2019

When First Nations groups like the Lakota Law Project celebrated the creation of a Green New Deal in November 2018 they did so after hearing Ocasio-Cortez tell of her experiences at Standing Rock and saying “we have to get to 100 percent renewable energy in 10 years”.

Now, we find ourselves in this struggle together. Every aspect of the Green New Deal must be implemented now.

 

Chase Iron Eyes, Lakota People’s Law Project lead counsel [SOURCE]

In December 2018 Climate Justice Alliance issued a statement that made it clear that it’s primary demand was that Green New Deal builders go to the grass roots and take direction from there.

The proposal for the GND was made public at the grasstops level. When we consulted with many of our own communities, they were neither aware of, nor had they been consulted about the launch of the GND.

 

Climate Justice Alliance [SOURCE]

In January of 2019 Climate Justice Alliance and Indigenous Environment Network made very clear the commitments that would need to be upheld to keep a Green New Deal functioning.

What we want to do is strengthen and center the Green New Deal in environmental justice communities that have both experience and lived history of confronting the struggle against fossil fuel industries,

 

Angela Adrar [SOURCE]

 

The way that the plan was developed and shared is one of its greatest weaknesses,

 

Angela Adrar [SOURCE]

One of the most significant statements, attributable to Angela Adrar, is hard to date. The comment appears in the Green New Deal section of the CJA website but I could not find it in any published documents. It contains a dire warning about “Net Zero” and the burden that will be felt by frontline communities.

 

Allowing for neoliberal constructs such as Net Zero emissions, which equate carbon emission offsets and technology investments with real emissions reductions at source, would only exacerbate existing pollution burdens on frontline communities.

 

Angela Adrar [SOURCE]

On the eve of the release of the letter to congress from 626 environmental groups including 350 dot org Tom Goldtooth from Indigenous Environment Network reaffirmed the need for Green New Deal proponents to engage under the appropriate principles.

We’re asking that leadership of the Green New Deal meet with us and have a discussion how we can strengthen this campaign with the participation of the communities most impacted.

 

Tom Goldtooth [SOURCE]

Speaking upon the release of the letter of 626 groups and in reference to the input from IEN and CJA, Goldtooth indicated that commitment to “real solutions” were hard won. It’s important to note that at the time of the release of this letter Ocasio-Cortez was on record supporting “100% Renewables” having tweeted a call for a “wartime-level” mobilization in a January 2, 2019 tweet. [LINK]

Of course, we really had to assert ourselves on different issues that are very dear to us on seeking real solutions to mitigate climate change.

 

Tom Goldtooth

 

Goldtooth goes on to make it very clear that “real solutions” do not include carbon capture utilization and storage.

The techno fixes are very critical as well. In our analysis, it’s part of the false solutions. Carbon capture and storage, for an example, the technology is still being tested out there, concerns around leakage, and a lot of the private sector, the polluters, will benefit now, only to find out that there’s complications, and really justifying the offset regimes that happen in this scenario to where carbon capture and storage just isn’t working. Carbon capture use and storage and these other areas are very critical concerns with us. We have formed solidarity with other entities that have been addressing this issue as well. And so, we’re very thankful to all the other green groups, the six hundred and twenty some signatures, that they stand with us in looking for real solutions. [SOURCE]

Below is a key passage from the strongly aspirational letter of the 626 groups, January 10, 2019. The claims within have been rendered into empty promises since the introduction of the Green New Deal Resolution. More than a dozen bipartisan bills aimed at expanding fossil fuel extraction are making their way through congress. Bills designed; to expand the refining and use of fossil fuels through 45Q tax credits & modifications to the tax code; develop pipeline corridors; provide support and funding for R&D; and enable the use of financial instruments like private activity bonds. Scarce little has been done by Green New Deal Resolution cosponsors, proponent NGOs or climate justice and progressive NGOs to fight against the bipartisan 45Q bills or indeed in support of the solitary bill designed to eliminate the 45Q tax credit, the End Polluter Welfare Act 2020.

Further, we will vigorously oppose any legislation that: (1) rolls back existing environmental, health, and other protections, (2) protects fossil fuel and other dirty energy polluters from liability, or (3) promotes corporate schemes that place profits over community burdens and benefits, including market-based mechanisms and technology options such as carbon and emissions trading and offsets, carbon capture and storage,nuclear power, waste-to-energy and biomass energy. [Source]

The resolution and the handover to Democrat apparatchiks

4 February 2019 – 18 March 2019

Julian Brave Noisecat was able to see and respond to the language of the Green New Deal resolution before it was introduced. On February 4, 2019 Noisecat made comments published in Politico that show him attempting to bridge the contradiction between fighting for a fossil fuel phase out and fighting for net-zero.

 The language I read was clean, renewable, zero emissions — which is that ‘keep the door open’ approach,” said Julian NoiseCat, policy director with the climate group 350.org, adding that his organization pressed Ocasio-Cortez to include a statement requiring the phase-out of fossil fuels. [SOURCE]

 Noisecat made his comment while he was still employed by 350 dot org. Within a couple of months he would become the Director of Green New Deal Strategy with Data for Progress. While 350 dot org, in theory, still support a fossil fuel phase out, Data for Progress have always used the language as it appeared in the GND resolution. There is nothing that Data for Progress are doing or have done that is strategically supporting a fossil fuel phase out. As reported on January 18, 2019 a few weeks before the GND resolution was published, Greg Carlock, a key author of the Data for Progress – Green New Deal Report published in September 2018, thinks carbon capture utilization and storage is inevitable.

There is no scenario produced by the IPCC or the UN where we hit mid-century decarbonization without some kind of carbon capture.

Carlock also works for the World Resources Institute (WRI) as Manager for Climate Action and Data. WRI have never been committed to phasing out fossil fuels or building 100% renewables.

 

It is firmly understood that going 100 percent renewable in 10 years is technically impossible—like, physically and engineering-wise, it is impossible, [SOURCE] https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/01/first-fight-about-democrats-climate-green-new-deal/580543/

In testimony to the House Resources Committee on February 6, 2019, at a hearing titled: ‘Climate Change: The Impacts and the Need to Act’, Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of Uprose and steering committee co-chair of Climate Justice Alliance reiterated the need for a just transition.

VIDEO: The House Committee on Natural Resources hosted the hearing “Climate Change: The Impacts and the Need to Act”:

 

To effectively tackle climate change, we must invest in a Just Transition toward specifically local, living economies of scale.

 

Just Transition is a vision-led, unifying and place-based set of principles, processes and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy – not just for workers but for whole communities. This means approaching production and consumption cycles holistically and waste-free.

 

This transition away from fossil fuels itself must be just and equitable, redressing past harms and creating new relationships of power for the future through reparations, living wage jobs and economic and social development that aims to address historical harm and discrimination. If the process of transition is not just, the outcome will never be. [Source]

An FAQ document that was apparently released in error on February 7, 2019 in advance of the introduction of the Green New Deal Resolution shows that the team formulating the resolution were cognisant of the implications of the change in language from “100% Renewables” to “100% clean and renewable” or “clean, renewable and zero-emission energy” which became the specific language in the resolution.

 

 Why 100% clean and renewable and not just 100% renewable? Are you saying we won’t transition off fossil fuels?

 

Yes, we are calling for a full transition off fossil fuels and zero greenhouse gases. Anyone who has read the resolution sees that we spell this out through a plan that calls for eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from every sector of the economy. [SOURCE: Green New Deal FAQ Fact Sheet, February 7, 2019]

 

On February 7, 2019 Indigenous Environment Network released their ‘talking points’ on the Green New Deal resolution offering an instant rejection of the “net-zero” language.

The primary goal of the AOC-Markey Green New Deal (GND) Resolution is to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions”. We reject net-zero emissions language (as well as carbon neutral and zero-carbon) because it implies the use of carbon accounting that includes various types of carbon pricing systems, offsets and/or Payments for Ecological Services (PES).

 

We can no longer leave any options for the fossil fuel industry to determine the economic and energy future of this country. And until the Green New Deal can be explicit in this demand as well as closing the loop on harmful incentives, we cannot fully endorse the resolution. [SOURCE]

In response to the release of the Green New Deal resolution the Indigenous Environment Network released a statement on February 8, 2019. In it they make very clear their position on nuclear energy and their concerns stemming from the door being left open for nuclear in the resolution language.

The Green New Deal (GND) resolutio[n], as it is written right now, with no exclusion of nuclear energy to be considered clean energy, would open the door for Yucca Mountain to be reconsidered for dumping the nuclear energy waste. It would create the largest nuclear waste transportation campaign in history, possibly endangering residents in 44 states, thousands of towns and cities, and our Indigenous territories. [SOURCE]

It’s clear from Ed Markey’s dismissive statements at a press conference on February 11, 2019 unveiling the Green New Deal Resolution that there was a clear break in language of and the responsibility for the Green New Deal. His responses suppose that moderate Democrats should be kept happy. At the same moment First Nations and frontline advocates were clearly unhappy.

We’ve drafted it in a way that can get the support of progressives and moderates inside our caucus.

 

Ed Markey

 

That’s what you should focus on. Focus on the resolution.

 

Ed Markey [SOURCES]

The language of the resolution itself calls for the exercise of the same values enshrined in the Jemez principles.

in transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses. [SOURCE]

In her February 13, 2019 piece for The Intercept following the introduction of the GND resolution Naomi Klein did not mention the disappearance of a fossil fuel phase out or note the change in language.  If 350 had pressed Ocasio-Cortez on a phase out like Noisecat says, you would think it ought to be mentioned by 350’s leading light? Klein instead called for vigilance and ensuring responsiveness to pressure from frontline communities.

The Green New Deal will need to be subject to constant vigilance and pressure from experts who understand exactly what it will take to lower our emissions as rapidly as science demands, and from social movements that have decades of experience bearing the brunt of false climate solutions, whether nuclear power, the chimera of carbon capture and storage, or carbon offsets. [SOURCE]

By mid March 2019 the Climate Justice Alliance were pushed to the point where they felt they had to ask some questions about the values held by New Consensus: Who funds it? and, To whom is it accountable?

To this end, in order for us to continue in this process, we have four clear demands:

 

  1. Include both the Jemez Principles and the Environmental Justice Principles of Working Together in all work stemming from this gathering and forthcoming;

 

  1. Disclose and maintain transparency in funding sources, current and emerging, and commit that funding directly to those most impacted, including frontline and base-building organizing groups, alliances and networks for the development of policy priorities and language;

 

  1. Clearly outline who New Consensus is accountable to and who it works for; and why is there redundancy, going into communities where work is already being done when the country is vast and there are so many other places where there isn’t yet consensus;

 

  1. Commit to New Consensus’ participation in a strategy meeting with CJA and allied frontline partners in order to move our collective conversation and possible relationship forward, we would ask that a MOA be entered into between New Consensus and CJA frontlines.[SOURCE]

John Washington presented his strident arguments to new Consensus and GND partners on March 18, 2019 following the reading of the CJA statement by Miya Yoshitani. Robinson Meyer reported in The Atlantic in June 2019 that “difficulties came to a head” that day, but he did not specify which 2 activists raised issues.

The meeting was bumpy from the first hour, when two environmental-justice activists interrupted proceedings to protest the absence of the Climate Justice Alliance, a national network of urban, rural, and indigenous groups. The alliance had been asked to endorse the Green New Deal, but it had not been asked to help write it, the activists charged.

 

But one of the major demands the environmental-justice activists raised at the meeting has gone publicly unanswered. They asked a simple question: Who’s funding New Consensus? [SOURCE]

The Series

In Part 2 of this series I will look more closely at the negative impacts of marginalizing First Nations, frontline and grass roots voices, and how the fuzzy “clean” language of the Green New Deal Resolution left room for all the Democratic presidential hopefuls to capitalise on climate and justice issues, even when their real commitments would put them at odds with a fossil fuel phase out or 100% renewables.

In Part 3 I will look in depth at the neglected battlefields in stopping fossil fuel extraction including the bipartisan bills supporting expansion of the already misused 45Q tax credit making their way through congress, and the forces lining up to profit from the absence of any real commitment to eliminating fossil fuel subsidies from the DNC through the Progressive Caucus and onto the Green New Deal proponents.

Conclusion

Angela Adrar observed that the way the grass roots component of the Green New Deal was developed is its “greatest weakness” and that the “grasstops” announcement of the Green New Deal concept was not preceded by consultation with grass roots networks. We should keep this in mind whenever we think about the Green New Deal. We may never discover what happened after the March 2019 New Consensus meeting, but we do know there is an enormous responsibility on the shoulders of any honest brokers to redress the relationships compromised in the process of delivering policies for Democrat presidential hopefuls.

We should take as a warning and a lesson the words of Mark Charles at the Native American Presidential Forum in August 2019 as reported by Julian Brave Noisecat.

Now, if you have a house that’s built on a bad foundation, you’re going to get cracks in your walls. You’re going to get gaps in your windows. And you’re going to get a creaky floor,” he said, his oration reaching its soaring conclusion. “And you can scream and you can fight about what color to paint the walls, what kind of calking to use in your windows, and what kind of carpet to put on your floor, but until you go into the basement and examine your foundation and do something to firm those up and make those strong—you are never going to fix the problems in the house.” The audience cheered. Some women who had been cautious with their lele’s earlier really let loose.” [SOURCE]

 

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

‘Green’ billionaires behind professional activist network that led suppression of ‘Planet of the Humans’ documentary

The Grayzone

September 7, 2020

By Max Blumenthal

 

“We must take control of our environmental movement and our future from billionaires and their permanent war on Planet Earth. They are not our friends.”

 

-Jeff Gibbs, director of “Planet of the Humans”

Green' billionaires behind professional activist network that led suppression of 'Planet of the Humans' documentary | The Grayzone

 

It is hard to think of an American film that provoked a greater backlash in 2020 than “Planet of the Humans.” Focused on the theme of planetary extinction and fanciful proposals to ward it off, the documentary was released for free on YouTube on April 21. The date was significant not only because it was the eve of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, but because a global pandemic was tearing through America’s social fabric and exposing the human toll of the country’s globalized, growth-obsessed economic model.“The Michael Moore-produced ‘Planet of the Humans’ faced a coordinated suppression campaign led by professional climate activists backed by the same ‘green’ billionaires, Wall Street investors, industry insiders and family foundations skewered in the film.”

Even before “Planet of the Humans” was released, however, the producers of the film had fallen under pressure to retract it. Upon the film’s release, a who’s who of self-styled climate justice activists proceeded to blanket the internet with accusations that it was a racist, “eco-fascist” screed that deliberately advanced the interests of the oil and gas industry. When “Planet of the Humans” was briefly yanked from YouTube thanks to a questionable copyright claim by an angry climate warrior, the free speech organization Pen America issued a remarkable statement characterizing the demands for retraction as a coordinated censorship campaign.

What had this documentary done to inflame so much opposition from the faces and voices of professional climate justice activism? First, it probed the well-established shortcomings of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power that have been marketed as a green panacea. “Planet of the Humans” portrayed these technologies as anything but green, surveying the environmental damage already caused by solar and wind farms, which require heavy mining and smelting to produce, destroy swaths of pristine land, and sometimes demand natural gas to operate.

While major environmental outfits have lobbied for a Green New Deal to fuel a renewables-based industrial revolution, and are now banking on a Democratic presidency to enact their proposals, “Planet of the Humans” put forward a radical critique that called their entire agenda into question.

As the director of the documentary, Jeff Gibbs, explained, “When we focus on climate change only as the thing destroying the planet and we demand solutions, we get used by forces of capitalism who want to continue to sell us the disastrous illusion that we can mine and smelt and industrialize our way out of this extinction event. And again, behind the scenes, much of what we’re doing to ‘save’ the planet is to burn the ‘bio’ of the planet as green energy.”

“Planet of the Humans” crossed another bright green line by taking aim at the self-proclaimed climate justice activists themselves, painting them as opportunists who had been willingly co-opted by predatory capitalists. The filmmakers highlighted the role of family foundations like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in cultivating a class of professional activists that tend toward greenwashing partnerships with Wall Street and the Democratic Party to coalitions with anti-capitalist militants and anti-war groups.

Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org and guru of climate justice activism, is seen throughout “Planet of the Humans” consorting with Wall Street executives and pushing fossil fuel divestment campaigns that enable powerful institutions to reshuffle their assets into plastics and mining while burnishing their image. McKibben has even called for environmentalists to cooperate with the Pentagon, one of the world’s worst polluters and greatest exporters of violence, because “when it speaks frankly, [it] has the potential to reach Americans who won’t listen to scientists.”

Perhaps the most provocative critique contained in “Planet of the Humans” was the portrayal of full-time climate warriors like McKibben as de facto lobbyists for green tech billionaires and Wall Street investors determined to get their hands on the whopping $50 trillion profit opportunity that a full transition to renewable technology represents. Why have figures like Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Michael Bloomberg, Virgin’s Richard Branson, and Tesla founder Elon Musk been plowing their fortunes into climate advocacy? The documentary taunted those who accepted these oligarchs’ gestures of environmental concern at face value.

For years, leftist criticism of professional climate activism has been largely relegated to blogs like Wrong Kind of Green, which maintains an invaluable archive of critical work on the co-optation of major environmental organizations by the billionaire class. Prominent greens might have been able to dismiss scrutiny from radical corners of the internet as background noise; however, they were unable to ignore “Planet of the Humans.”

That was because Oscar-winning documentarian Michael Moore put his name on the film as executive producer, alongside his longtime producer, Gibbs, and the scholar-researcher Ozzie Zehner. “Michael Moore validates this film,” Josh Fox, the filmmaker who led the campaign against “Planet of the Humans,” told me. “So if Michael Moore’s name is not on that film, it’s like a thousand other crappy movies.”

By racking up millions of views after just a month on YouTube, “Planet of the Humans” threatened to provoke an unprecedented debate about the corruption of environmental politics by the one percent. But thanks to the campaign by Fox and his allies, much of the debate wound up focused on the film itself, and the credibility of its producers.

“I had some sense that the film was going to ruffle some feathers, but I was unprepared for that response from what ended up being a group of people who are like an echo chamber – all related to the same funding organizations,” said Zehner. “It’s a pretty tight circle and it was a really strong, virulent pushback.”

The line of attack that may have gained the most traction in progressive circles portrayed a convoluted section of the film on the dangers of population growth and overconsumption as Malthusian, and even racist. Zehner told me he considered the attacks opportunistic, but “from a public relations standpoint, they were effective. What we were trying to do was highlight the dangers of a consumption-based economic model.”

The backlash to “Planet of the Humans” also related to its portrayal of renewables as badly flawed sources of energy that were also environmentally corrosive. Many of those attacks painted the film’s presentation of solar and wind to present the documentary as out of date and filled with misinformation.

Oddly, the professional activists who coordinated the campaign to bury “Planet of the Humans” glossed over an entire third of the documentary which focused on the corruption and co-optation of environmental politics by “green” foundations and “green” investors.

As this investigation will reveal, those climate justice activists were bound together by support from the same family foundations, billionaire investors, and industry interests that were skewered in the film.

Josh Fox Planet of the Humans billionaires

Filmmaker Josh Fox

“Censorship, plain and simple”

The ringleader of the push to suppress “Planet of the Humans” was Josh Fox, the Oscar-nominated director of the film “Gasland,” which highlighted the destructive practices inherent to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fox launched the campaign with a sign-on letter calling for the documentary to be retracted by its producers. Then, in an incendiary takedown published in The Nation, he branded Michael Moore “the new flack for oil and gas,” a racist, and “eco-fascist” for producing the film.

As videographer Matt Orfalea reported, Fox’s crusade began the night Moore’s film was released, with an unhinged mass email to online publishers that blasted the documentary as “A GIGANTIC CROCK OF SHIT.” Fox commanded, “It must come down off your pages immediately.”

Hours later, Fox fired off another breathless email to a group of public relations professionals. “A number of reputable websites are hosting this abomination and I need your support in getting them to take it down,” he wrote. The following day, Fox took to Twitter to assure his ally, 350.org founder Bill McKibben, “We are on it.”

Next, Fox organized a sign-on letter demanding the film “be retracted by its creators and distributors and an apology rendered for its misleading content.” Among the letter’s signatories was academic and renewables advocate Leah C. Stokes, who proclaimed her wish in an article in Vox that “this film will be buried, and few will watch it or remember it.”

On April 24, Josh Fox claimed he had successfully pressured an online video library, Films For Action, into removing “Planet of the Humans” from its website. His victory lap turned out to be premature, as Films For Action re-posted the film and publicly condemned Fox’s campaign to drive it into oblivion.

The relentless push by Fox and others eventually triggered a striking statement by PEN America, the free speech advocacy group. “Calls to pull a film because of disagreement with its content are calls for censorship, plain and simple,” PEN America declared.

“Listen, nobody called to censor this movie,” Fox insisted to me. “We asked the filmmakers as part of their community to retract it, because it unfairly attacked people that we know are good, honest dealers and its premise was wrong and false.”

Fox likened “Planet of the Humans” to radio host Mike Daisey’s monologue on visiting the Foxconn factory in China where iPhones are made, and which was retracted by NPR after major fabrications came to light. “It’s clear to me that the filmmakers… put incorrect information into the film that they knew was incorrect. That thing was out of date,” Fox said of the Moore-produced documentary. “And many, many people from within our community reached out to them, which I didn’t know actually, prior to the release of the film and said, ‘This information is incorrect. What are you doing?’”

Fox was particularly incensed at Michael Moore for attaching his reputation to the film. He described the famed director as one of “the bad guys”; “a megalomaniacal multi-millionaire who craves attention unlike anyone I’ve ever met”; “the 800-pound elephant in the room”; the maker of a “racist” and “eco-fascist” film; and “a multi-millionaire circus barker” guilty of “journalistic malpractice.”

“The real bully is Michael Moore here,” Fox maintained. “It’s not me.”

Though Fox and his allies did not succeed in erasing “Planet of the Humans” from the internet, the documentary was momentarily removed from YouTube on the grounds of a copyright claim by a British photographer named Toby Smith. In a tweet he later deleted, Smith said his opposition to the film was “personal,” blasting it as a “baseless, shite doc built on bull-shit and endless copyright infringements.”

As the attacks on “Planet of the Humans” snowballed, director Jeff Gibbs attempted to defend his film. Following an article at The Guardian branding the film as “dangerous,” Gibbs emailed the paper’s opinion editors requesting a right of reply. He told me they never responded. However, just hours after Toby Smith’s politically-motivated copyright claim prompted YouTube to remove Gibbs’ documentary, he said The Guardian reached out to him for comment. “How’d they catch that so early?” he wondered.

A few left-wing journalists tried to push back on the attacks as well. But in almost every case, they were spiked by editors at ostensibly progressive journals. Christopher Ketcham, author of “This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption are Ruining the American West,” was among those unable to find a venue in which to defend the documentary.

“I have come across very few editors radical enough to have the exceedingly difficult conversation about the downscaling, simplification, and the turn (in the developed world) toward diminished affluence that a 100 percent renewable energy system will necessarily entail,” Ketcham reflected to me. “You see, they have to believe that they can keep their carbon-subsidized entitlements, their toys, their leisure travel — no behavioral change or limits needed — and it will all be green and ‘sustainable.’”

Naomi Klein, perhaps the most prominent left-wing writer on climate-related issues in the West, did not weigh in to defend “Planet of the Humans.” Instead, the Intercept columnist, social activist, and Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University was an early participant in the campaign to suppress the film.

According to McKibben, “Naomi [Klein] had in fact taken Moore aside in an MSNBC greenroom” before the documentary’s release to lobby him against publishing the film. Klein later signed Josh Fox’s open letter demanding the film be retracted.

On Twitter, Klein condemned “Planet of the Humans” as “truly demoralizing,” and promoted a “big blog/fact check” of the film by Ketan Joshi, a former communications officer for the Australian wind farm company Infigen Energy.

Mining a green future and burying the cost

Like most opponents of “Planet of the Humans,” Ketan Joshi painted the documentary as “a dumb old bull in the china shop that is 2020’s hard-earned climate action environment.” And along with other critics, he accused the film’s co-producers, Gibbs and Zehner, of wildly misrepresenting the efficiency of renewables.

To illustrate his point, he referenced a scene depicting the Cedar Street Solar Array in Lansing, Michigan with flexible solar panels running at 8% efficiency – purportedly enough to generate electricity for just 10 homes. Because that scene was part of a historical sequence filmed in 2008, Joshi dismissed it as an example of the film’s “extreme oldness.”

However, this February, the solar trade publication PV Magazine found that Tesla’s newest line of flexible solar shingles had an efficiency rate of 8.1% – almost exactly the same as those depicted in “Planet of the Humans.”

While it is true that mono-crystalline solar panels boast a higher efficiency rate (between 15% and 18% in commercially available form), they were also on the market back in 2008. These panels are significantly more expensive than the flexible, less efficient panels, however. And their efficiency levels do not account for the intermittency inherent to solar energy, which does not work well in cloudy or dark conditions.

Yet according to Josh Fox, the most vehement opponent of “Planet of the Humans,” the planet-saving capacity of solar and other supposedly clean forms of energy was so well-established it was beyond debate.

“The premise of the film is renewable energy doesn’t work and is dependent on fossil fuels. And that is patently ridiculous,” Fox remarked to me. “And the reason why I got into this is because I had young environmentalists – young people who are steadfast campaigners – calling me in the middle of the night, freaking out, [telling me] ‘I can’t believe this!’ And I looked at them and I said, ‘Well, there’s a reason why you can’t believe this; it’s because it’s not true.’”

But was the presentation of renewable energy sources in “Planet of the Humans” actually false? Ecological economist William Rees has claimed that “despite rapid growth in wind and solar generation, the green energy transition is not really happening.” That might be because it is chasing energy growth instead of curtailing it. Rees pointed out that the surge in global demand for electricity last year “exceeded the total output of the world’s entire 30-year accumulation of solar power installations.”

Are there not reasonable grounds then to be concerned about the practicality of a full transition to renewables, especially in a hyper-capitalist, growth-obsessed economy like that of the United States?

A September 2018 scientific study delivered some conclusions that contradicted the confident claims of renewables advocates. A research team measured solar thermal plants currently in operation around the world and found that they are dependent on the “intensive use of materials,” which is code for heavily mined minerals.

minerals renewable energy IEA

Minerals needed to produce renewable energy (Source: International Energy Agency / IEA)

 

Further, the researchers found that the output of these plants was marred by “significant seasonal intermittence” due to shifting weather patterns and the simple fact that the sun does not always shine.

The negative impact of massive wind farms on the environment and marginalized communities – an issue highlighted in “Planet of the Humans” – is also a serious concern, especially in the Global South. Anthropologist and “Renewing Destruction: Wind Energy Development, Conflict and Resistance in a Latin American Context” author Alexander Dunlap published a peer-reviewed 2017 study of wind farms in the indigenous Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca, Mexico, which has been marketed as one of the most ideal wind generation sites in the world. Dunlap found that the supposedly renewable projects “largely reinforced income inequality, furthered poverty entrenchment and increased food vulnerability and worker dependency on the construction of more wind parks, which cumulatively has led to an increase in work-related out-migration and environmental degradation.”

When wind turbines reach the end of their life cycle, their fiberglass blades, which can be as long as a football field, are impossible to recycle. As a result, they are piling up in rural dumping sites across the US. Meanwhile, the environmentalist magazine Grist warned this August of a “solar e-waste glut” that will produce “megatons of toxic trash” when solar panels begin to lose efficiency and die.

In response to my questions about so-called renewable energy, Fox referred me to a close ally, Anthony Ingraffea, who signed his letter calling for “Planet of the Humans” to be pulled. A civil engineer and co-founder of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, which advocates for renewables, Ingraffea is a former oil and gas industry insider who turned into a forceful opponent of fracking. In the past six years, he has produced scientific assessments for the governments of New York State and California on a transition to mostly renewable energy sources.

Ingraffea slammed “Planet of the Humans” as “way off base” and derided research by Ozzie Zehner, the co-producer, as “conspiracy theory shit.” He contrasted his credentials with those of Zehner, boasting that while he has earned 15,000 citations in peer-reviewed academic journals during his career as an engineer, Zehner had chalked up a mere 300.

When I turned to the subject of social and environmental damage caused by so-called renewables, Ingraffea argued that the burning, storing, and transportation of fossil fuels outweighed any of those costs. According to Ingraffea, when New York State makes a decisive transition to renewables, only about 2% of the state’s land would be occupied by solar and wind farms – which translates to about 1,100 square miles.

He pointed to the New York State Assembly’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act as an embodiment of the foresight of proponents of a near-total transition to renewable energy. The bill, which calls for the state to run 70% of its publicly generated energy off of “renewable energy systems” by 2030, also mandates that “35 percent of investments from clean energy and energy efficiency funds [be] invested in disadvantaged communities.”

“That’s wisdom speaking,” Ingraffea said of the legislation. “That’s telling you that yes, we are aware of the problem that you said we should be aware of. Yeah, we’re not all dumb. We’re not all crazy. We’re not all ideological. Not all technical nerds who just fall in love and want to make sex with solar panels.”

However, the communities (or their designated NGO representatives) supposedly compensated through the New York State bill are not located in the regions that will be most impacted by the extraction necessary to manufacture so-called renewables. Already devastated by coups and neocolonial exploitation, swathes of the Global South from Bolivia to Congo – home to massive reserves of cobalt hand-mined in “slave conditions” for electric car batteries and iPhones – are being further destabilized by the minerals rush.

Even mainstream environmentalists acknowledge that rising reliance on renewable energy “means a lot of dirty mining” to extract the minerals required for electric batteries and solar cells. This prospect has sparked excitement within the mining industry, with the editor of Mining.com, Frik Els, dubbing Green New Deal spokeswomen Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Greta Thunberg “mining’s unlikely heroines.”

“Going all in on the green economy and decarbonisation requires siding with the greens against fossil fuels,” Els informed fellow mining industry insiders. “It means selling global mining as the solution to climate change because mining metals is the only path to green energy and green transport.”

Mining com Greta Thunberg AOC

The inevitable rush on minerals required to power the green revolution has not exactly delighted residents of the Global South, however.

Evo Morales, the indigenous former president of Bolivia, was driven from power in 2019 by a military junta backed by the United States and local oligarchs, in what he branded a lithium coup. With the world’s largest untapped lithium resources, Bolivia is estimated to hold as much as half of the world’s reserves. Under Morales, the country guaranteed that only state-owned firms could mine the mineral.

The ousted socialist leader argued that multi-national corporations supported his right-wing domestic opponents in order to get their hands on Bolivia’s lithium – an essential element in the electric batteries that provide the cornerstone to a digital economy dependent on smartphones, laptops, and electric vehicles. “As a small country of 10 million inhabitants, we were soon going to set the price of lithium,” Morales said. “They know we have the greatest lithium reserves in the world [in a space of] 16,000 square kilometers.”

minerals electric cars IEA

Minerals needed to produce electric cars (Source: International Energy Agency / IEA)

 

Just before the military coup in Bolivia, a report (PDF) by the World Economic Forum’s Global Battery Alliance reported that the global demand for electric batteries will increase 14-fold before 2030. Almost half of today’s lithium is mined to produce electric batteries, and the demand for the mineral will only rise as power grids incorporate high levels of battery powered tech and the demand for electric vehicles increases.

Electric batteries are also heavily reliant on cobalt, most of which is mined from Congo, and often in illegal and dangerous conditions by child labor. In December 2019, over a dozen Congolese plaintiffs sued Apple, Google’s Alphabet parent company, Microsoft, Dell, and Tesla, accusing them of “knowingly benefiting from and aiding and abetting the cruel and brutal use of young children in Democratic Republic of Congo (‘DRC’) to mine cobalt.”

This July, Tesla CEO and electric battery kingpin Elon Musk appeared to take partial credit for the 2019 military coup that forced Bolivia’s Evo Morales from power, asserting that big tech billionaires like him could “coup whoever we want.”

The payoff for all the dirty and deadly mining required to manufacture the solar panels, wind turbines, and electric batteries required to power the new industrial revolution is supposed to be a planet no longer faced with a “climate emergency” – and nevermind the damage to the Earth and its non-human inhabitants. But with the demand for electricity constantly growing, is it even possible to power an economy like that of the US with entirely renewable sources of energy (excluding nuclear)?

A scientific projection by one of the closest allies of Josh Fox and Anthony Ingraffea was supposed to have answered that question and put all doubts to bed. Instead, it resulted in acrimony and embarrassment for its author.

The 2050 transition goal: real science or a murky crystal ball?

In his piece hammering “Planet of the Humans” in The Nation, Fox touted “the proliferation of 100 percent renewable energy plans put forward by Stanford University Professor Mark Jacobson” as one of the most important pieces of evidence refuting the film’s grim narrative.

Jacobson’s study, according to National Geographic, was “a foundation stone” of the Green New Deal proposal put forward by Democratic Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It was also central to the energy plan advanced by the  presidential campaigns of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who co-authored an op-ed with Jacobson that called for a full transition to “clean” energy by 2050.

Jacobson, like Ingraffea, is an environmental engineer and political partner of Fox. The Stanford professor helped Fox found the environmental advocacy organization the Solutions Project, alongside actor Mark Ruffalo and the banker and former Tesla executive Marco Krapels in 2011. (More on this group later.)

Besides his working relationship with Jacobson, Fox failed to acknowledge that the professor’s all-renewables projection was strongly challenged by 21 leading energy scientists in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. The scientists concluded Jacobson’s paper was rife with “invalid modeling tools, contained modeling errors, and made implausible and inadequately supported assumptions.”

A survey of the debate by Scientific American scoffed at Jacobson’s remarkable assumption “that U.S. hydroelectric dams could add turbines and transformers to produce 1,300 gigawatts of electricity instantaneously… or the equivalent of about 1000 large nuclear or coal power plants running at full power.”

Jacobson retaliated against his critics by filing a $10 million defamation lawsuit, which he was forced to withdraw in 2018. Legal commentator Kenneth White described the suit as “clearly vexatious and intended to silence dissent about an alleged scientist’s peer-reviewed article.”

This April, a DC Superior Court judge invoked anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) legislation that reportedly ordered Jacobson to pay the defendants’ legal fees.

“Planet of the Humans” co-producer Ozzie Zehner saw Mark Jacobson’s flameout as a symptom of a wider problem within mainstream climate activism. “When Big Greens talk about ‘facts,’ they often aren’t talking about what most people understand to be facts,” he explained. “They’re usually talking about models, which attempt to predict the future based on estimations of physical conditions, projections, and assumptions. Greens industrialists claim they can accurately model a renewable energy future and its effects on the global biosphere. But our best science can’t even model a fish tank.”

Ingraffea insisted that Jacobson’s legal fight had only begun, and said the professor’s critics were “partially driven by Mark [Jacobson] having made a very famous name for himself in an arena with many other people working, and they’re not getting all the fame.”

Jacobson echoed this line in his own defense: “They don’t like the fact that we’re getting a lot of attention, so they’re trying to diminish our work.”

“Give the guy a break,” Ingraffea appealed. “You know, if he’s wrong, of course he’s wrong. No one’s going to be right. No one could possibly be right right now about what’s going to happen in 25 years. We’re all entitled to our projections. We’re all entitled to our crystal balls.”

That same courtesy was not extended by Ingraffea and his allies to the makers of “Planet of the Humans,” however. “We were unable to identify any factual errors in the film, and we’re open to the idea that we could be wrong about some things,” Zehner said. “But we’d like to have that debate and not be shut down.”

Among the wave of attacks on “Planet of the Humans,” a disproportionate number were churned out by renewables industry insiders, from an “innovation strategist” at the Green Power Energy firm that was criticized in the film for clearing a Vermont mountaintop to build a wind farm (“For me, this film was personal,” he stated), to Now You Know, a podcast by two mega-fans of Elon Musk who fawningly refer to the billionaire as “Elon” and have proudly declared that they are “long on Tesla stock.”

Missing from nearly all of the takedowns was the documentary’s scathing critique of the corruption of environmental politics by billionaires and elite family foundations.

“The conversation our critics really didn’t want to have was about the last one-third of the film,” Zehner remarked, “which dealt with the influence of billionaires and money in the environmental movement, and the divestment sham.”

The shell game of fossil fuel divestment

The tactic of fossil fuel divestment is at the heart of the so-called climate justice movement’s plan to defeat the fossil fuel industry. Launched by Bill McKibben’s 350.org and a coalition of professional activists soon after the re-election of President Barack Obama in 2012, the campaign has resulted in institutions like Oxford University and Goldman Sachs supposedly divesting their holdings in oil and gas companies. Campaigners like McKibben simultaneously encouraged their constituents to invest in funds whose portfolios were supposedly free of fossil fuel companies.

“Planet of the Humans” raked this tactic over the proverbial coals, demonstrating how investment funds endorsed by 350.org have engaged in a shell game in which fossil fuel assets are simply replaced with investments in plastics, mining, oil and gas infrastructure companies, and biomass.

“The big issue with divestment is that it absolves the destructive power of extreme wealth,” Zehner explained. “It’s saying that family foundations can be forgiven and money can be moved into mining, gas and oil infrastructure, solar, wind, and biomass. They divest from the brand name coal companies while investing in infrastructure companies that support coal mining.”

In one of the most controversial scenes in “Planet of the Humans,” Bill McKibben was seen inaugurating a wood-burning biomass energy plant at Middlebury College, where he has been a scholar-in-residence. The environmental leader praised the initiative as “an act of courage.”

Because the event took place in 2009, McKibben and his allies have attacked the scene as an unfair representation of his current position. In an official 350.org response to “Planet of the Humans,” McKibben claimed that his views on biomass have evolved, leading him to cease his support for the energy source in 2016.

Yet less than a week after The Nation published Josh Fox’s incendiary attack on Michael Moore and “Planet of the Humans,” Nation editor-in-chief D.D. Guttenplan hosted an event with McKibben that was sponsored by a fund with major investments in several wood-to-energy biomass companies.

Called Domini Impact Investments, the fund claims to hold investments in “68 companies… that both impact forests and depend on them, whether for forest derived products or ecosystem services.” One such Domini holding is a wood-to-energy company called Ameresco, which builds “large, utility-scale biomass-to-energy plants,” according to its website.

Domini Impact also features its sustainable “timber” holdings, including Klabin SA, a company with logging operations spanning 590,580 acres in Brazil. Klabin SA manufactures pulp and paper products and operates a 270MW on-site black liquor biomass plant. This May, just days after Domini sponsored McKibben’s talk, the company purchased a second biomass plant.

(Fabio Schvartzman, the former CEO of Klabin SA, was charged with 270 counts of homicide in Brazil this January, after allegedly concealing knowledge of an imminent dam burst to protect the share price of his current company, Vale. The 2019 Mariana dam collapse has been described as Brazil’s worst environmental disaster.)

While introducing the Domini-sponsored event with McKibben, The Nation’s Guttenplan stated, “By investing in the Domini Funds, you can help build a better future for the planet and its people, and be part of a movement working to address a wide range of social and environmental issues including human rights, climate change mitigation and forest stewardship.”

Neither McKibben nor Guttenplan responded to email requests for comment from The Grayzone.

Domini Funds was hardly the only investment fund that McKibben has partnered with to promote fossil fuel divestment – and which has engaged in the shell game exposed in “Planet of the Humans.”

In what was perhaps the film’s most devastating scene, narrator Jeff Gibbs detailed how McKibben has advised 350.org members to direct their money into the Green Century Fund, an investment portfolio that boasts of being “wholly owned by environmental and public health nonprofit organizations,” and free of fossil fuel stock.

Green Century Funds Bill McKibben invest fossil fuels

As “Planet of the Humans” revealed, however, the Green Century Funds’ portfolio has contained heavy investments in mining companies, oil, and gas infrastructure companies, including an exploiter of tar sands, the biofuel giant Archer Daniels Midland, McDonald’s, Coca Cola (the world’s leading plastic pollution proliferator), logging giants, and big banks from Bank of America to HSBC.

Asked about this section of the film, Josh Fox dismissed it as out of date. He claimed that “the entire idea of what constitutes a divested fund has changed really radically over the last eight years, starting at first from just oil, coal and gas investments, to then encompassing things like plastics and the meat industry and derivatives and all other options.”

However, a probe of the 2019 Securities and Exchange Commission filings by Green Century Funds showed the fund held thousands of shares in meat giant McDonald’s and Royal Caribbean Cruises, among other mega-polluters. The latter company’s Harmony of the Seas ship happens to be the most environmentally toxic cruise liner on Earth, relying on three massive diesel engines to burn 66,000 gallons of fuel a day. By the end of one voyage across the Atlantic, the ship has expended the same amount of gasoline as over 5 million automobiles traveling the same distance.

Green Century’s SEC filing boasted that it elicited a pledge from Royal Caribbean “to make its food waste management and reduction strategies more public.” It also claimed to have “helped convince McDonald’s, the largest purchaser of beef in the world, to restrict the use of antibiotics in its beef and chicken supply chains.”

It was a classic case of greenwashing, in which corporate behemoths burnished their reputation among progressives by embracing cosmetic reforms that did little to challenge their bottom lines.

When I informed Fox about Green Century’s ongoing investments in carbon-heavy industries, he said, “Well, I’m all for an investigation of those things on real grounds.”

In the same breath, Fox pivoted to another complaint about “Planet of the Humans”: “The film attacks Bill McKibben in ways that were unfair and untrue.”

Was that the case, though? One of the most provocative points about McKibben and his allies in “Planet of the Humans” – that they function as de facto public relations agents for the “green” billionaires seeking to cash in on the renewables rush – was never coherently answered. But as this investigation reveals, the climate warriors criticized in the film are sponsored by many of those same billionaires, as well as the network of family foundations that help set the agenda for groups like 350.org.

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund incubates 350.org

In perhaps the most uncomfortable scene in “Planet of the Humans,” Bill McKibben was shown visibly squirming as an interviewer asked him about family foundation support for his 350.org.

“We’re not exactly Big Greens,” McKibben insisted during a 2011 interview with climate journalist Karyn Strickler. “I’m a volunteer, we’ve got seven people who work full time on this 350.org campaign.”

With a telling smirk on her face, Strickler asked McKibben how his group sustained itself.

“To the degree that we have any money at all it’s come from a few foundations in Europe and the US,” McKibben insisted.

He mentioned “a foundation based in Sweden, I think it’s called the Rasmussen Foundation that I think has been the biggest funder.”

After some prodding by Strickler, a visibly uncomfortable McKibben divulged that the “Rockefeller Brothers Fund gave us some money right when we were starting out. That’s been useful too.”

However, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Rasmussen were not observing the birth of 350.org from the sidelines. In fact, the Rockefeller Brothers were instrumental in establishing 350.org and guiding the organization’s agenda. It began when the foundation incubated a group called 1Sky with a $1 million grant. McKibben immediately joined as board member.

As documented by radical environmentalist Cory Morningstar, 1Sky’s launch was announced at a 2007 gathering of the Clinton Global Initiative by former President Bill Clinton, who stood on stage beside Rockefeller Brothers Fund President Stephen Heintz. Four years later, the Rockefeller Brothers announced “the exciting marriage of 1Sky and 350.org — two grantees of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s Sustainable Development program.”

Why McKibben was so uncomfortable about discussing his relationship with Rockefeller was unclear. Perhaps he was concerned that the organization he once described as a “scruffy little outfit” would be seen as a central node in the donor-driven non-profit industrial complex.

Whatever his motives were, since the testy exchange with Strickler, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has contributed over $1 million to McKibben’s 350.org.

Alongside a network of foundations and “green” billionaires, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and its $1.2 billion endowment serves as a primary engine of the network of self-styled “climate justice” activists that sought to steamroll “Planet of the Humans.”

These interests have cohered around the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA), which is located in the New York City offices of the Rockefeller Family Fund.

The EGA enables elite foundations and billionaire donors to cultivate a cadre of professional “doers” during retreats in scenic locations. One first-time student attendee said the retreat experience was designed with “the intention of strengthening relationships between funders and build[ing] relationships within the environmental movement.” As soon as she arrived, she was “paired with mentor ‘buddies,’ folks who had been to past EGA Retreats to show us the ropes.”

These encounters take place in Napa Valley, California, or at the Mohonk Mountain House resort in New York’s Hudson Valley.

report by the Threshold Foundation described the theme of the 2015 EGA fall retreat at Mohonk: “‘Fund the Fighters!’ That’s the rallying call from the stars. Not the celestial stars, but from well-known artists such as Mark Ruffalo and Naomi Klein.”

In accordance with its relationship with the EGA’s network of environmental cadres and outfits like 350.org, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund embraced their fossil fuel divestment campaign, shedding its stocks in oil and coal while increasing assets in other industries that can hardly be described as green. A look at the results of the foundation’s move offers another disturbing case study in the divestment shell game.

The Rockefeller Brothers go “green,” invest in Halliburton

In 2014, following consultations with 350.org, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced that it was divesting from fossil fuels. “We were extremely uncomfortable with the moral ambivalence of funding programs around the climate catastrophe while still being invested in the fossil fuels that were bringing us closer to that catastrophe,” Rockefeller Brothers Fund President Stephen Heintz said.

At a December 2015 side session of the UN climate conference in Paris, 350.org executive director May Boeve joined Heintz to celebrate the foundation’s decision to divest. “A growing number of investors representing a growing amount of capital do not want to be associated with this industry any longer,” Boeve stated.

350.org’s Boeve and Rockefeller’s Heintz at the UN climate summit in 2015

 

A look at the most recent publicly available financial filing of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, from 2018 (PDF), offered a clear glimpse at the shell game that divestment has entailed.

According to the filing, while the Rockefeller Brothers freed itself of fossil fuels, the foundation remained invested in companies including the oil services giant Halliburton, the Koch-run multinational petroleum transportation partnership Inter Pipeline Ltd, and Caterpillar, whose bulldozers are familiar at scenes of deforestation and Palestinian home demolitions. (Several NGOs that advocate divestment from companies involved in the Israeli occupation of Palestine, such as +972 Magazine and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, have also received support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund).

The foundation padded its portfolio with stock in financial industry titans like Citigroup and Wells Fargo, as well as Newcrest Mining, Barrick Gold, Wheaton Precious Metals Corporation, and Agnico Eagle Mines.

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund listed at least $20 million of investments in Vision Ridge Partners, which was itself invested in a biomass company called Vanguard Renewables under the guise of “renewable energy.” In December 2019, Vanguard Renewables forged a partnership with Dominion Energy – the energy giant whose Atlantic Coast Pipeline was defeated this June thanks to grassroots environmental mobilization – to convert methane from farms into natural gas.

Since the Rockefeller Brothers Fund answered 350.org’s call to divest from fossil fuels in 2014, the foundation’s wealth has increased substantially. As the Washington Post reported, “the Rockefeller Brothers fund’s assets grew at an annual average rate of 7.76 percent over the five-year period that ended Dec. 31, 2019.”

The outcome of the Rockefellers’ widely praised move established a clear precedent for other elite institutions: by allowing organizations like 350.org to lead them by the hand, they could greenwash their image, offload stocks in a fossil fuel industry described by financial analysts as a “chronic underperformer,” and protect their investments in growth industries like mining, oil services, and biomass.

McKibben, for his part, has marketed fossil fuel divestment as a win-win strategy for the capitalist class: “The institutions that divested from fossil fuel really did well financially, because the fossil fuel industry has been the worst performing part of our economy… Even if you didn’t care about destroying the planet, you’d want to get out of it because it just loses money.”

Blood and Gore make “the case for long-term greed”

In another move apparently intended to burnish its green image while padding its assets, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund invested over $100 million in Generation Investment Management’s Generation Climate Solutions Fund II and Generation IM Global Equity Fund.

These entities are jointly managed by Al Gore, the former US vice president who negotiated a notorious carbon offsets loophole at the 1997 Kyoto Climate Protocol that has been blamed for the release of 600 million tons of excess emissions. Gore launched the fund alongside David Blood, the ex-CEO of asset management for Goldman Sachs, in order to promote a climate-friendly capitalism.

In a 2015 profile of Blood and Gore’s Generation Investment Management fund, The Atlantic’s James Fallows described their investment strategy as “a demonstration of a new version of capitalism, one that will shift the incentives of financial and business operations” toward a profitable “green” economy – while potentially saving the system of capitalism from itself.

Blood was blunt when asked about his agenda: “We are making the case for long-term greed.”

The banker Blood and the green guru McKibben shared a stage together at the 2013 conference of Ceres, a non-profit that works to consolidate the mutually beneficial relationship between Big Green and Wall Street.

Bill McKibben (on the right) and former Goldman Sachs executive David Blood at the 2013 Ceres conference

 

The event featured a cast of corporate executives from companies like Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and GM. Sponsors included Bank of America, PG&E, Bloomberg, Citi, Ford, GM, Prudential, Wells Fargo, TimeWarner, and a collection of Fortune 500 companies.

During their conversation, the investor Blood pledged to mobilize “something in the order of $40 to $50 trillion of capital” in renewables, underscoring the massive profit center that a transition to “green” energy represents.

“It’s entirely dependent on what kind of political will we can muster,” McKibben proclaimed, pledging to work toward Blood’s goal.

The unsettling sight of McKibben discussing multi-trillion dollar profit possibilities with a former Goldman Sachs banker was featured prominently in “Planet of the Humans,” and undoubtedly helped inspire the ferocious backlash against the documentary by the 350.org founder’s network.

McKibben was far from alone among climate justice warriors in his dalliance with the billionaire class, however.

A foundation-supported “ragtag bunch”

Before Josh Fox launched his media blitz against “Planet of the Humans,” he directed a full-length documentary vehicle for 350.org, titled “Divest.” For the 2016 film, Fox followed McKibben and allies like Naomi Klein as they embarked on a cross-country road trip to promote fossil fuel divestment.

Fox’s ties to the professional activists extend to the funding network centered around the Environmental Grantmakers Association. Between 2012 and 2017, Fox’s film company International WOW reported grants totaling $2.5 million. Much of that funding came courtesy of the Rockefeller Brothers Cultural Innovation Fund and Rockefeller MAP fund, as well as the Ford and Park Foundations.

Josh Fox International WOW funding foundations

Foundation funding for Josh Fox’s production company International WOW (Source)

 

In 2012, the year Fox and his allies launched their campaign promoting fossil fuel divestment, he co-founded an environmental advocacy group called the Solutions Project. He conceived the organization alongside celebrity actor Mark Ruffalo, former Tesla executive Marco Krapels, and Stanford University’s Mark Jacobson – the professor behind the dubious 2050 all-renewables projection.

The four founders gathered seed money from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation of the eponymous film actor, and from the 11th Hour Foundation of Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy, according to Fox. Fox said that after a power struggle and an attempt to force him out in order to raise several million from the Sierra Club, he, Krapels, and Jacobson eventually left the organization.

Krapels has since launched an electric battery company in Brazil – another country that happens to hold a massive reserve of lithium and other minerals necessary for his products. Brazil has experienced a rush on lithium mining in recent years thanks to the roaring demand for lithium-ion batteries.

Krapels’ former partner at Tesla’s disastrous Solar City project, Elon Musk, announced plans this year to build an electric car factory in Brazil. Musk has even reportedly sought an audience with the country’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, to further his business interests.

Today, the Solutions Project is “100% co opted and sold out,” Fox acknowledged. Indeed, the group’s board members currently include Brandon Hurlbut, a former Obama Department of Energy official who founded Boundary Stone Partners – a lobbying firm that represents the nuclear industry. Also on the board is Billy Parish, the founder of Mosaic, a financial firm that declares its “mission to revolutionize two of the biggest industries in the world: energy and finance…” Mosaic’s website states. “We focus on the integration of doing good (for the planet) and doing well (financially).”

According to its website, the Elon Musk Foundation is among the Solutions Project’s funders. The organization describes Musk as “the guy who is trying to save humanity in like four or five different ways,” comparing him to a Marvel Comics superhero.

In reality, Musk is a ferocious union-buster who recently fired workers for staying home as the Covid-19 pandemic hit – but not before deceiving them into believing they had permission to safely quarantine.

Other Solutions Project supporters include the Skoll Global Threats Fund, run by eBay billionaire Jeffrey Skoll. Skoll funded Al Gore’s film on climate change, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which went into production soon after Gore launched his Generation Investment Management fund – an inconvenient truth pointed out by “Planet of the Humans.”

The 11th Hour Project foundation of Google CEO Schmidt and his wife remains a supporter of the Solutions Project after ponying up the seed money to launch it. Asked in 2014 about the inequality and displacement that start-up tech businesses bring to the Bay Area, where Google is located, Schmidt responded, “Let us celebrate capitalism. $19 billion for 50 people? Good for them.”

When I challenged Fox about the co-optation of climate justice politics by tech oligarchs like Skoll, Schmidt, and Musk, he grew defensive. “You have to see these things in a time continuum of us trying to take off big, something bigger than anybody’s ever tried to take on in the world,” he stated, referencing his and his allies’ fight against the fossil fuel industry. “They’re bigger than Nazi Germany, bigger than America. Bigger than all of them combined. We’re a ragtag bunch of extraordinarily committed people who are willing to put our lives on the line to stop the fossil fuel industry.

“Yeah, that’s that’s really laudable,” Fox continued, referring to his own efforts, “and for a multi-millionaire circus barker, as Bill McKibben calls Michael Moore, to take potshots using flawed science, dishonest techniques, misrepresentation of the timeline, and 1,000 other things that are journalistic malpractice and that was called out by an extraordinary number of people – that’s the real story here. The real bully is Michael Moore here. It’s not me.”

The Producer

This year, Josh Fox launched a one-man show and film called “The Truth Has Changed.” According to promotional material for the performance, Fox narrated his experience as “an eyewitness to history” who “was the subject of a 100 million dollar smear campaign from the oil and gas industry.”

“Josh Fox was the beta test for the types of propaganda and smears the gang that created Cambridge Analytica is now known for world wide,” the film’s website stated. “And Josh is telling his story in an uncompromising way like never before.”

The performance was supposed to have enjoyed a lengthy run this January at one of the most renowned venues for political theater in the country, The Public Theater in New York City. But the show was abruptly canceled after the Public accused Fox of violating the theater’s code of conduct through “a series of verbal abuses to the staff.”

Fox, who is Jewish, retaliated by accusing the theater’s directors of anti-Semitism. According to the New York Times, Fox “said he had been told that he was too passionate, too loud and too emotional.”

“To me that is distinctly cultural,” Fox told the paper. “That’s a classic anti-Semitic trope.”

Behind the drama over the monologue’s cancellation, a more salient issue lingered. The executive producer of Fox’s “The Truth Has Changed” was Tom Dinwoodie, a wealthy “cleantech” entrepreneur and engineer who owned dozens of patents on solar technology, and therefore stood to reap a massive windfall profit from the renewables revolution that Fox and his allies were campaigning for.

Dinwoodie, who signed Fox’s letter calling for the retraction of “Planet of the Humans,” was a top donor to the Rocky Mountain Institute, a so-called “do-tank” where he serves as a lead trustee. In 2014, Dinwoodie helped oversee the merger of his think tank with billionaire Virgin CEO Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room, which was founded with “a mission to stimulate business-led market interventions that advance a low-carbon economy.”

“Increasingly, the solutions for climate change are those policy measures that drive economic growth,” a spokesman declares in a video announcing the strategic partnership between Branson’s non-profit and Dinwoodie’s Rocky Mountain “do-tank.”

In the same video, billionaire former Democratic Party presidential candidate and Rocky Mountain Institute donor Tom Steyer emphasized the profit motive behind the renewables transition: “Changing the way we generate and use energy is the largest industry in the history of the world. There is no time to waste.”

This July 9 – the day after the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force released its policy recommendations – the Rocky Mountain Institute launched the Center for Climate Aligned Finance in partnership with four of the biggest banks in the world: Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase.

The initiative, according to Rocky Mountain, will serve as “an engine room for the financial sector to partner with corporate clients to identify practical solutions through deep partnerships with industry, civil society and policymakers to facilitate a transition in the global economy to net-zero emissions by mid-century.”

The partnership represented an obvious boon for green tycoons like Dinwoodie who profit from renewable energy. And for the big banks that continued to top the list of the world’s most prolific investors in the fossil fuel industry, it was another opportunity to greenwash their public image.

Given the economic interests represented by Dinwoodie and his “do-tank,” it was easy to understand why he signed Fox’s letter calling for “Planet of the Humans” to be retracted. The documentary had not only hammered his political partner, Richard Branson, as a PR savvy oligarch exploiting environmental politics; it took aim at the ethos of Big Green outfits that comforted their ruling-class funders with the promise that they could do good while continuing to do well.

When I asked Fox why he thought big tech tycoons and their family foundations were plowing their fortunes into climate activism, he responded, “Probably saving the planet.”

The Danish connection

While wealthy green businessmen like Dinwoodie and Elon Musk furthered their commercial interests by underwriting green advocacy, the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation and its closely affiliated KR (Kann-Rasmussen) Foundation have strategically directed their resources into nurturing a who’s who of professional climate warriors – including several that played a role in the campaign to suppress “Planet of the Humans.”

Brian Valbjørn Sørensen, the executive director of the KR Foundation, was a former special advisor to the center-left Danish government that lost power in 2015. KR’s chair, Connie Hedegaard, was the ex-minister for climate and energy for the center-right Danish government of Anders Fogg Rasmussen, who went on to serve as secretary general of the NATO military alliance. As the European Union’s first climate chief, Hedegaard argued that renewable energy could strengthen NATO’s soft power against Russia by reducing natural gas imports from the designated enemy state.

KR’s support for groups like 350.org surfaced in “Planet of the Humans” during the cringe-inducing scene in which journalist Karyn Strickler grilled Bill McKibben about his organizational funders. According to the KR Foundation, it donated $2 million to 350.org in 2019.

Toby Smith, the photographer who filed the copyright claim against Planet of the Humans on explicitly “personal” grounds, happened to have been the media outreach director of a KR-funded non-profit called Climate Outreach. As the Rasmussen family’s KR Foundation stated in a recent financial filing, it initiated grants totaling nearly $2 million to Climate Outreach in 2019 alone.

When British columnist George Monbiot published a vitriolic condemnation of “Planet of the Humans” in The Guardian, he neglected to mention that he had been a board member of the Rasmussen-backed Climate Outreach.

The V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation has also supported Naomi Klein’s environmentalist outfit, The Leap, according to the foundation’s website.

Klein, a longtime critic of elite family foundations and the billionaire class, was among the most prominent figures to join the campaign to censor “Planet of the Humans.” As her ally McKibben acknowledged, she unsuccessfully pressured Michael Moore to retract “Planet of the Humans” before it was even released.

Klein has celebrated the Danish government where KR Foundation leaders have served for advancing “some of the most visionary environmental policies in the world.” At the same time, she has denounced the “autocratic industrial socialism” of the Soviet Union and the “petro-populism” of the socialist government of Venezuela, where Denmark has recognized US-backed coup leader Juan Guaidó.

Klein’s recent broadsides against Venezuela contrasted strongly with her signing of a 2004 open letter that proclaimed, “If we were Venezuelan… we would vote for [Hugo] Chavez”; and a 2007 column in which she wrote that thanks to the Chavez government, “citizens had renewed their faith in the power of democracy to improve their lives.”

Naomi Klein and Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on November 4, 2015. Gurria was a former Finance Minister in the administration of Mexico’s neoliberal former president, Ernesto Zedillo. Gurria won the OECD’s “Globalist of the Year” award for his role in negotiating the NAFTA free trade deal and “promot[ing] trans-nationalism.”

From Big Green critic to “Planet of the Humans” opponent

Naomi Klein’s opposition to “Planet of the Humans” was surprising given the views she has expressed in the past on mainstream environmental politics. In 2013, for example, she bemoaned the “deep denialism in the environmental movement among the Big Green groups [on how to fight climate change]. And to be very honest with you,” she continued, “I think it’s been more damaging than the right-wing denialism in terms of how much ground we’ve lost.”

In her widely acclaimed 2008 book “The Shock Doctrine,” Klein documenting the Ford Foundation’s role as a CIA cutout that helped establish the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Chicago.

The Ford-funded academic department nurtured the infamous “Chicago Boys,” a group of neoliberal economists led by Milton Friedman who conceived the disaster capitalist “shock doctrine” that inspired the title of Klein’s book. They applied their program to Chile as General Augusto Pinochet’s economic advisors following his CIA-backed military coup to destroy the leftist government of Chilean President Salvador Allende.

Klein also surveyed the Ford Foundation’s support for the “Berkeley Mafia” at the University of California that advised the hyper-repressive junta of General Suharto, which toppled Indonesia’s socialist government in 1965.

“The Berkeley Mafia had studied in the US as part of a program that began in 1956, funded by the Ford Foundation…” Klein wrote. “Ford-funded students became leaders of the campus groups that participated in overthrowing Sukarno, and the Berkeley Mafia worked closely with the military in the lead-up to the coup…”

Henry Kissinger, the Nixon foreign policy guru whom Klein identified as the mastermind of the dirty war in Chile, had previously served as the director of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s Special Strategies Project, which helped conceive US national security strategies for countering the spread of communism.

Today, the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Brothers Fund support an array of liberal causes, from diversity and racial justice initiatives to the network of NGO’s organizing for fossil fuel divestment. At the same time, the Ford Foundation backs organizations that push regime change in Latin America, partnering with the US government to fund Freedom House, a DC-based NGO which supported the failed coup to oust Nicaragua’s elected leftist government in 2018. For its part, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has supported The Syria Campaign, a public relations outfit that clamored for US military intervention to remove the UN-recognized government of Syria.

In 2011, when Klein was appointed to 350.org’s board of directors, she joined forces with an environmental organization incubated by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and supported by the Ford Foundation. “As 350.org founder Bill McKibben puts it: unless we go after the ‘money pollution,’ no campaign against real pollution stands a chance,” Klein wrote at the time.

Klein’s 2015 book and documentary film on climate change, “This Changes Everything,” was initially launched as a project called “The Message.” It was supported with hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from a who’s who of major family foundations that help sustain McKibben’s political apparatus.

In one of several grants to the book and film project, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund contributed $50,000 to “The Message” via a non-profit pass-through called the Sustainable Markets Foundation. [PDF]

Susan Rockefeller served as a co-executive producer of the documentary version of “This Changes Everything.” Her husband, David Rockefeller Jr. is the son of tycoon David Rockefeller, a US government-linked cold warrior who co-founded the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and helped back the US-managed coup that put Pinochet and the Chicago Boys in power in Chile. Rockefeller Jr., a major supporter of conservationist causes, is a former chairman of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and board member of Rockefeller Financial Services.

In 2014, the Ford Foundation chipped in with $250,000 to Klein’s project. [PDF]

Klein’s “The Message” also benefited from $140,000 in support from the Schmidt Family Foundation of Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy. The Schmidt Family Foundation is an ongoing contributor to McKibben’s 350.org, kicking in $200,000 in 2018 [PDF].

In April 2019, Klein released “A Message From The Future,” a video collaboration with Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and artist and pundit Molly Crabapple, which promoted the Green New Deal as a pathway to a renewable-powered economic utopia.

Crabapple, a vehement supporter of Washington’s campaign for regime change in Syria, is an Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fellow at the New America Foundation, a Democratic Party-linked think tank substantially funded by Google’s Schmidt, the Ford Foundation and the US State Department.

In a recent The Intercept column, Klein took aim at Schmidt, describing him as one of the billionaires exploiting “a coherent Pandemic Shock Doctrine” to begin “building a high tech dystopia.” She noted that Schmidt is closely aligned with the national security state as chair of the Defense Innovation Board, which consults for the Pentagon on the military’s application of artificial intelligence.

Schmidt also happens to be a proponent of a “smart” energy grid, which he says will “modernize the electric grid to make it look more like the Internet.” Such a model would not only benefit tech companies like Google which make their money buying and selling data, but the U.S. national security state, whose partnerships with big tech companies increase the capacity of its surveillance apparatus.

The Senate version of the Green New Deal calls for the construction of “smart” power grids almost exactly like those Schmidt imagined. Klein and other high-profile Green New Deal proponents have neglected to mention that this seeming benign component of the well-intentioned plan could represent a giant step on the way to the “high tech dystopia” of Silicon Valley barons and their national security state partners.

In May 2018, Klein became the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University. The position was created “following a three-year, $3 million campaign…including a dozen foundations.” Among the “early and path breaking contributors,” according to Rutgers, was the Ford Foundation.

Gloria Steinem (L) and Naomi Klein at the 2018 Rutgers ceremony inaugurating Steinem’s endowed chair

 

Contributions also poured in for the endowment from tycoons like Sheryl Sandberg, the billionaire chief operating officer of Facebook and advocate of corporate “Lean In” feminism; and Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood mogul who was sentenced this March to 23 years in prison for first degree criminal sexual assault. According to Rutgers, Weinstein provided “a gift of $100,000 in honor of his late mother, who shared Gloria Steinem’s hopes for female equality.”

I had hoped to have a conversation with Klein, a former colleague at the Nation Institute, about her reflexive opposition to a documentary that advanced many of the same arguments that appeared in her past writings. Was the exclusive focus on carbon emissions by professional climate warriors not a blinkered approach that ignored the environmental damage inherent in producing still-unproven renewable technology? Did “cleantech” tycoons not have a vested interest in advancing a global transition to the renewable products their companies manufactured? And when she had clearly articulated the problems with billionaire-backed Big Green advocacy, why had Klein cast her lot with a political network that seemed to epitomize it?

My emails were met with an auto-reply informing me Klein was “off grid,” and referring me to her personal assistant.

According to Fox, high-profile climate warriors like McKibben and Klein had no interest in speaking to me about their opposition to the film because “it’s like four months ago, man, everybody’s moved on.”

Seeing green in Biden

By August, members of the professional climate advocacy network that saw its interests threatened by “Planet of the Humans” was preparing for a much more elaborate on-screen production that promised new opportunities.

In the weeks ahead of the Democratic National Convention, climate justice organizations like the Sunrise Movement 501 c-4 which emerged in the shadow of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential run and condemned former Vice President Joseph Biden as a tool of the establishment suddenly changed their tune.

Flush with dark money from Democratic Party-aligned billionaires, Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash stated on July 14 – the day Biden released his clean energy plan: “It’s no secret that we’ve been critical of Vice President’s Biden’s plans and commitments in the past. Today, he’s responded to many of those criticisms: dramatically increasing the scale and urgency of investments… Our movement, alongside environmental justice communities and frontline workers, has taught Joe Biden to talk the talk.”

While it brands itself as a grassroots movement that has organized anti-establishment stunts putting centrist figures like Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the spot, the Sunrise Movement was incubated with a grant from the Sierra Club, the Mike Bloomberg-backed juggernaut of Big Green organizing. Today, offices of the two organizations are located a floor apart in the same building in downtown Washington DC.

Ahead of the DNC, the Biden campaign introduced a $2 trillion plan pledge to invest heavily in renewable technology to achieve “a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.” The plan promised to erect 500 million solar panels in the next five years alongside 60,000 new wind turbines.

With the demand for solar plummeting due to the coronavirus pandemic, the prospect of gigantic government subsidies was music to the ears of the “cleantech” tycoons who sponsor Democratic Party-aligned climate advocacy organizations.

Many of these green millionaires and billionaires had feasted at the trough of Obama’s stimulus package, which was directly responsible for powering the rise of America’s solar industry. After promising upon his inauguration to invest $150 billion in “a new green energy business sector,” Obama doled out an eye-popping $4.9 billion in subsidies to Tesla’s Elon Musk and a $1.2 billion loan guarantee for Tom Dinwoodie’s SunPower US to construct the California Valley Solar Ranch. In June 2019, an “avian incident” caused a fire at the SunPower Solar Ranch project, impacting over 1200 acres and knocking out 84% of generating capacity for several weeks.

“Planet of the Humans” presented viewers with the disturbing story of the Ivanpah solar plant, a signature initiative in Obama’s green energy plan which was co-owned by Google. Gifted with $1.6 billion in loan guarantees and $600 million in federal tax credits, Ivanpah was built on 5.6 square miles of pristine public land close to California’s Mojave National Preserve. In its first year, the massive plant produced less than half its of its planned energy goal while burning over 6000 birds to death.

The Ivanpah solar thermal plant and its three power towers spans across the Mojave Desert

 

Because of the intermittency inherent to solar power, the gargantuan energy project has had to burn massive amounts of natural gas to keep the system primed when the sun is not shining. Despite its dependence on fossil fuel, Ivanpah still qualifies under state rules as a renewable plant.

“The bottom line is the public didn’t expect this project to consume this much natural gas,” David Lamfrom, California desert manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, told the local Press-Enterprise. “We did not have full knowledge that this was what we were signing up for.”

Even after the Obama administration poured billions of dollars into solar projects, solar energy output increased between 2008 and 2016 by a mere .7% as a total of American energy production.

Meanwhile, across the country, many new wind projects remain stalled due to community concerns about land destruction. In the home state of Green New Deal advocate Sen. Bernie Sanders, the only remaining wind project was canceled this January.

For raising questions about the efficacy and environmental cost of renewable projects like these, and proposing an explicitly anti-capitalist solution to the corporate destruction of the planet, the makers of “Planet of the Humans” were steamrolled by a network of professional climate activists, billionaire investors and industry insiders.

Now, with the Biden campaign promising a new flood of renewable subsidies and tax breaks under the auspices of a “clean” energy plan, the public remains in the dark about what it is signing up for. Even if the ambitious agenda fails to deliver any substantial environmental good, it promises a growing class of green investors another opportunity to do well.

 

[Max Blumenthal is the editor-in-chief of The Grayzone, an award-winning journalist, and the author of several books. He has produced print articles for an array of publications, many video reports, and several documentaries, including Killing Gaza. Blumenthal founded The Grayzone in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.]

Planet of the Humans Backlash

Journal of People, Peasants and Workers

May 11, 2020

By Yves Engler

 

Planet of the Humans

The backlash may be more revealing than the film itself, but both inform us where we are at in the fight against climate change and ecological collapse. The environmental establishment’s frenzied attacks against Planet of the Humans says a lot about its commitment to big money and technological solutions.

A number of prominent individuals tried to ban the film by Jeff Gibbs and Michael Moore. Others berated the filmmakers for being white, male and overweight. Many thought leaders have declared they won’t watch it.

Despite the hullabaloo, the central points in the film aren’t particularly controversial. Corporate-industrial society is driving human civilization/humanity towards the ecological abyss and environmental groups have largely made peace with capitalism. As such, they tout (profitable) techno fixes that are sometimes more ecologically damaging than fossil fuels (such as biomass or ethanol) or require incredible amounts of resources/space if pursued on a mass scale (such as solar and wind). It also notes the number of human beings on the planet has grown more than sevenfold over the past 200 years.

It should not be controversial to note that the corporate consumption juggernaut is destroying our ability to survive on this planet. From agroindustry razing animal habitat to plastic manufacturers’ waste killing sea life to the auto industrial complex’s greenhouse gases, the examples of corporations wreaking ecological havoc are manifold. Every year since 1969 humanity’s resource consumption has exceeded earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources by an ever-greater volume.

It is a statement of fact that environmental groups have deep ties to the corporate set. Almost all the major environmental groups receive significant cash from the mega-rich or their foundations. Many of them partner directly with large corporations. Additionally, their outreach strategies often rely on corporate media and other business-mediated spheres. It beggars belief that these dependencies don’t shape their policy positions.

A number of the film’s points on ‘renewable’ energy are also entirely uncontroversial. It’s insane to label ripping down forests for energy as “green”. Or turning cropland into fuel for private automobiles. The film’s depiction of the minerals/resource/space required for solar and wind power deserves a far better response than “the data is out of date”.

The green establishment’s hyperventilating over the film suggests an unhealthy fixation/link to specific ‘renewable’ industries. But there are downsides to almost everything.

Extremely low GHG emitting electricity is not particularly complicated. In Québec, where I live, electricity is largely carbon free (and run by a publicly owned enterprise with an overwhelmingly unionized workforce, to boot). But, Hydro-Québec’s dams destroy ecosystems and require taking vast land from politically marginalized (indigenous) people. Likewise, nuclear power (also publicly owned and unionized) provides most of France’s electricity. But, that form of energy also has significant downsides.

In the US in 2019 63% of electricity came from fossil fuels, 20% from nuclear and 17% from ‘renewables’. But, even if one could flip the proportion of fossil fuels to ‘renewables’ around overnight there’s another statistic that is equally important. Since 1950 US electricity consumption has grown 13-fold and it continues to increase. That’s before putting barely any of the country’s 285 million registered private automobiles onto the grid. Electricity consumption is growing at a fast clip in China, India and elsewhere.

Oil is another source of energy that is growing rapidly. Up from 60 million barrels a day in 1980 and 86 million in 2010, 100 million barrels of oil were consumed daily in 2019. That number is projected to reach 140 million by 2040.

On one point I agree entirely with critics of the film. It’s unfair to (even indirectly) equate Bill McKibben with Al Gore. Representing the progressive end of the environmental establishment, McKibben has engaged in and stoked climate activism. Gore was Vice President when the US led the destruction of the former Yugoslavia, bombed Sudan and sanctioned Iraq.

Still, it’s ridiculous for McKibben and others to dismiss the film’s criticism of his decade-long promotion of biomass and refusal to come clean on 350.org’s donors as divisive. “I truly hope that Michael Moore does not succeed at dividing the climate movement. Too many have fought too long to build it”, he tweeted with a link to his response in Rolling Stone titled “‘A Bomb in the Center of the Climate Movement’: Michael Moore Damages Our Most Important Goal.” Echoing this theme, Naomi Klein came to her 350.org comrade’s defence tweeting, “it is truly demoralising how much damage this film has done at a moment when many are ready for deep change.” Democracy NowCommon Dreams, the Guardian and other media picked up her remark.

If it is divisive to criticize McKibben’s positions, then the same must be said of his own criticisms aimed at those demanding the Pentagon be highlighted in decarbonization efforts. In a June New York Review of Books column titled “The Pentagon’s Outsized Part in the Climate Fight” McKibben pours cold water on those who have asked him about the importance of “shrinking the size of the US military” (the world’s largest single institutional emitter of fossil fuels) in the fight for a sustainable planet. In fact, his piece suggests the Pentagon is well-positioned to combat the climate crisis since right wingers are more likely to listen to their climate warnings and the institution has massive research capacities to develop green technologies. McKibben seems to be saying the green movement should (could) co-opt the greatest purveyor of violence and destruction in the history of humanity! (In the Wrong Kind of Green blog Luke Orsborne offers a cogent breakdown of McKibben’s militarism.)

McKibben’s repeated advocacy of the private electric car could also be considered divisive. In Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? McKibben calls for “millions and millions of electric cars and buses” (alongside “building a hell of lot of factories to turn out thousands of acres of solar panels, and wind turbines the length of football fields.”) Does anyone believe the planet can sustain a transportation/urban planning system with most of the world’s 7.8 billion people owning 3,000-pound vehicles?

When an electric car is powered from a grid that is 63% fossil fuels the GHG it contributes per kilometer of travel is generally slightly less than an internal combustion engine. But the production and destruction phases for electric vehicles tend to be more energy intensive and they still require the extraction and development of significant amounts of resources. Additionally, the private car underpins a land, energy and resource intensive big box retail/suburban economy. (For details see my co-authored Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay.)

Moreover, as Death by Car recently pointed out, “electric vehicles are haloware — a product that exists to distract attention from continuing SUV and pickup sales. If this thesis is correct, then it is a huge mistake for progressive forces to express enthusiasm” for electric vehicles. Of the 86 million new passenger and light commercial vehicles sold globally in 2018 about 1.2 million of them were powered by battery-only electric engines while 37 million were pickups and SUVs. In other words, for every new battery-electric car there were 30 new SUVs/pickups sold. Alongside growing buzz about electric vehicles, the number of SUVs increased from 35 million to 200 million between 2010 and 2018.

McKibben and associates’ ability to frame the film as divisive rests on the stark power imbalance between the ‘green’ capitalist and degrowth outlooks. While there are few profits in the consume-less worldview, McKibben is situated at the progressive end of a network of organizations, commentators and media outlets empowered by hundreds of billions of dollars of ‘green’ capitalism. This milieu has counterposed solar, wind and biomass to the hyper fossil fuel emitting coal, natural gas and oil industries. But, they aren’t keen on discussing the limitations of their preferred energies and the fundamentally unsustainable nature of limitless energy (or other) consumption. And they certainly don’t want any spotlight placed on environmental groups ties to the mega-rich and an unsustainable model.

Fragments of wind turbine blades await burial at the Casper Regional Landfill in Wyoming. Photographer: Benjamin Rasmussen

But, in reality it’s not the criticism that bothers. Wrong Kind of GreenDeath by CarCounterpunch and various other small leftist websites and initiatives have long documented McKibben and associates’ concessions to the dominant order. Often more harshly than in the film. What is unique about Planet of the Humans is that these criticisms have been put forward by leftists with some power (Michael Moore’s name and the funds for a full-length documentary, most obviously.) In other words, the backlash is not a response to the facts or argument, per se, but the ‘mainstreaming’ of the critique.

The environmental establishment’s ability to generate hundreds of hit pieces against Planet of the Humans suggests the movement/outlook has amassed substantial power. But, it’s not always clear to what ends. Most indicators of sustainability are trending in the wrong direction at the same time as top environmental figures have risen to the summits of power. Québec’s most prominent environmentalist, Steven Guilbeault, recently became a cabinet minister in the Liberal government while the former head of World Wildlife Fund Canada, Gerald Butts, was Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff. These individuals happily participate in a government that oversaw a 15 million tonne increase in Canada’s GHG emissions in 2018 and then decided to purchase a massive tar sands pipeline.

The incredible popularity of Planet of the Humans — seven million views on YouTube — suggests many are worried about the ecological calamity humanity is facing. Many also sense that the solutions environmental groups are putting forward don’t add up.

The lesson to be learned from the film and the frenzied attacks against it is that questioning the system — be that capitalism or the mainstream environmental movement — won’t make you friends in high places.

 

[Yves Engler is the author of 10 books, including A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and ExploitationRead other articles by Yves.]

Clinton to McKibben to Steyer to Podesta: Comments on Planet of the Humans by Michael Swifte

May 20, 2020

by Michael Swifte, Wrong Kind of Green Collective

 

 

“I think that the mainstream climate movement needs to collapse. It needs to end. And that the very comfortable organizers within that mainstream climate movement working in those NGO jobs – they need to fail. I think they need to be brought down. I think they need to have a little bit of hardship and a bit of suffering, and they need to create space for those historically oppressed groups.” [1]

 

— Tim DeChristopher, Transformation without Apocalypse – Episode #6 [SOURCE]

 

To understand the “damage” Bill McKibben claims the Planet of the Humans documentary has done to the climate justice movement you have to look at where 350 dot org began.

A fifty million dollar beginning

Bill McKibben has been in a dance with philanthropo-capitalists for more than a decade. He may not have been paid to be the face of 350 dot org but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t ‘corporate’ money around.

There was corporate and philanthropic money from the start. Bill Clinton announced 50 million from a “range of corporate and non-profit partners” for 1Sky at the 2007 Clinton Global Initiative. Bill McKibben was on the board of 1Sky in 2009 before it was merged with 350 dot org.

Watch this video and ask yourself how anyone could claim to be a leader of a ‘grassroots’ organisation or say that 350 dot org was ever a “rag-tag bunch of kids”. Watch the video.

 

Cory Morningstar has been tracking, analysing and cataloguing this stuff for 10 years, and by “this stuff” I mean the global capture of climate justice activism through #networkedhegemony at the behest of the non profit industrial complex #NPIC. Cory follows the money, analyses the networks, and interrogates the messaging.

#NewPower networks connect 350 dot org to a vast web of similarly funded campaigns and critically deliver opportunities to shape the Democratic party agenda. 350’s global expansion was built on replicating the organisations, institutions and campaigns that positioned it in the US and Canada.

Here are some links providing deep background on the #NewPower constructs and networks that empower the ‘climate cartel’.

‘Rockefellers’ 1Sky Unveils the New 350.org | More $ – More Delusion’

http://www.theartofannihilation.com/rockefellers-1sky-unveils-the-new-350-org-more-more-delusion/

‘SumOfUs are Corporate Whores | Some Of Us Are Not’

http://www.theartofannihilation.com/sumofus-are-corporate-whores-some-of-us-are-not/

Jessica Bailey at Rockefeller Brothers Fund actually used the word ‘merger’ to describe the union of the 2 campaign organizations incubated by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

“Bill McKibben, who has been a 1Sky board member and will chair the new 350.org board, once referred to 1Sky as the U.S. Embassy for 350.org and 350.org as 1Sky’s foreign legion.[] Matching 350.org’s talent for mass mobilization and online action with 1Sky’s advocacy and field campaign experience is tremendously exciting. Mergers are tough, and I applaud the leaders in both organizations for recognizing they’d be stronger together.“ [SOURCE]

Comments on Planet of the Humans

Planet of the Humans is a worthy documentary for it’s revelations about “green energy” and the failures of the climate justice movement. It is a testament to Jeff Gibbs’ extensive documentation and long commitment to environmental issues. I was pleased that it included the Climate Challenge segment with Karyn Strickler pitching a question from Cory Morningstar to Bill McKibben, and I was glad the film makers told the truth about Ivanpah and Robert F Kennedy Jr’s ties to fossil fuel giants.

Planet of the Humans is mostly about North America, and while it opens up a range of departure points for discussion of planetary issues, it’s a documentary about North American humans and westerners more generally, not the 100s of millions of blameless people who struggle to put food on the table. I found the discussion of the ‘population issue’ concerning given how little time had been given to putting global consumer markets into perspective, but documentary making is about access, and Jeff Gibbs has gained access to the world of “green energy” in North America. Michael Moore brings access of a different but equally vital kind, if you want to make a splash with a documentary.

Departure points are vital if we’re to make the most of what Planet of the Humans has highlighted as key issues. If the climate justice movement has failed and the environmental movement has been captured by billionaires, what else have they messed up? What are the other billionaire philanthropists doing to capture the efforts of environmental campaigners? What new diabolical schemes are planned to keep business as usual going?

People who feel inspired or moved by Planet of the Humans should look into biomass burning in Europe and the future plans for burying CO2 produced from burning biomass under the North Sea. American and European philanthropies have invested staggering amounts of money into organisations like the European Climate Foundation which is part of a global empire of similar organisations. The IPCC mitigation pathways are replete with the term BECCS (bio-energy with carbon capture and storage).

I watched Planet of the Humans after watching the Earth Day livestream discussion with Michael Moore, Jeff Gibbs and Ozzie Zehner. I hope that Michael Moore’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders and his plea that we put environmentalism into the hands of young people like the Sunrise Movement which was incubated by the Sierra Club is not the position of all three film makers. We can’t take Michael Moore’s words as a call to action so we are going to have to make our own calls to action.

Watch the full video of Karyn Strickler interviewing Bill McKibben on Climate Challenge here:

 

Departure point: John Podesta and a parallel climate campaign

In 2007 a plan was launched by 6 foundations. This plan #DesigntoWin produced the ClimateWorks Foundation, headed by John Podesta, which has spearheaded the incubation and funding of re-granting NGOs globally. ClimateWorks is perhaps the world’s largest recipient of  climate philanthropy having received more than 1.3 billion USD since it’s inception in 2008.

John Podesta has a long relationship with the Clintons, both as politicians and philanthropists. In the various roles he has played – always as a Democrat – his focus has been on the future of energy and how to message a position on climate change for the party and for the global philanthropo-capitalist agendas.

Have a read of the Wikileaks ‘Podesta Emails’ that refer to Bill McKibben and/or Tom Steyer. Check out the ‘climate tick tocks’ for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, the updates from philanthropist-billionaires like Tom Steyer and Henry Sandler, or Chris Lehane’s ‘big idea’ briefing that became the ‘Clean Power Plan’ (more business as usual). [SOURCE]

Podesta is always engaged with philanthropists. The Sandler Foundation helped establish the Center for American Progress which Podesta heads up. It helped fund the Australian climate justice regranting NGO the Sunrise Project and the US Beyond Coal campaign. Tom Steyer, a former Wall St banker, hedge fund manager and friend of Nancy Pelosi befriended Podesta who welcomed him into his Center for American Progress. Podesta encouraged Steyer to start his NextGen Climate Action Committee. It is likely that Steyer’s dubious defection from the ranks of billionaire fossil fuel investors and hedge fund managers was orchestrated under the advice of Chris Lehane. Steyer’s defection would see him join with McKibben and 350 at high profile events, and according to the Podesta emails they were in regular contact.

350/McKibben have been a foil for Democrat positioning on climate. The non profit industrial complex needed a global climate justice brand, and it needed to nestle it in a web of networks all connected by funded talking points and touchstone pieces in Rolling Stone and Grist. Granting and regranting NGOs pass over talking points in their transactions with grant recipients. Billionaires on every continent get to play the game.

Important background on the Design to Win plan here:

http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/09/11/the-manufacturing-of-greta-thunberg-for-consent-volume-ii-act-i-a-design-to-win-a-multi-billion-dollar-investment/

Background on the largely ignored mitigation plans of big oil & gas here:

http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/10/19/perfect-distractions-and-fantastical-mitigation-plans/

Departure point: The Steyer-Taylor Center and financing for CCS

Tom Steyer and his wife Kat Taylor fund the Steyer Taylor Center at Stanford. The center was headed from it’s founding in 2011 until September 2018 by Dan Reicher who has spoken in favour of financing to support carbon capture and storage on numerous occasions.

Dan Reicher is a Clinton administration energy wonk who spent some of the Obama years at Google. He’s the Founding Executive Director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy & Finance, but is now at the Stanford Woods Institute. Reicher explains how the future is all laid out for enhanced oil recovery with CO2 in this 2016 video. His slides include the prexisting CO2 pipeline maps for enhanced oil recovery.

 

A quote from the video:

“Carbon capture and sequestration is a key climate change strategy. You ask the IPCC, you ask the International Energy Agency.”

Reicher argues that with the CO2 pipeline infrastructure that is already in place and the right financial instruments “Full scale cost effective CCS” is deliverable.

Here is Reicher discussing private activity bonds and CCS. In the past he has spoken about the usefulness of master limited partnerships. Both of these financial instruments have been included in bipartisan bills currently before congress.

“It’s less about how to make it work technically these days but more about how to make it work financially,” [SOURCE]

Here is a quote from Reicher speaking at the Exxon funded Global Climate and Energy Project – Research Symposium in 2015.

“We really need to be using CCS for coal, natural gas, and a whole host of industrial carbon sources. But the costs are too high,” [SOURCE]

The Steyer-Taylor Center has partnered with the Exxon incubated and funded Global Climate and Energy Project which was ended in August 2019.  Exxon are a founding member of the Strategic Energy Alliance along with Bank of America who support the – Sustainable Finance Initiative along with the Steyer-Taylor Center. [SOURCE]

Departure point: The Green New Deal and the failing phase out

Dan Lashof is the director of the World Resources Institute and the current COO of Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate America and Nextgen Policy Center. In January Lashof co-wrote an opinion piece for the Houston Chronicle with Occidental Petroleum – Low Carbon Ventures president Richard Jackson. Oxy’s air capture plans support their enhanced oil recovery efforts and net zero targets through negative emissions from their planned air capture for CO2 enhanced oil recovery project. [SOURCE]

There’s a lot of interest in Oxy’s direct air capture plans which are supported by Carbon Engineering who have a long list of investors including Bill Gates, Murray Edwards, Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, LLC, Chevron Technology Ventures and BHP. [SOURCE]

The World Resources Institute provided 2 of the 3 Data for Progress researchers that developed the #netzero language that made it into the Green New Deal resolution. After the resolution came and went it has become clear that any sort of commitment to a fossil fuel phase out had been abandoned.

Important background on the ties between the World Resources Institute and Data for Progress here:

http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/02/13/the-manufacturing-of-greta-thunberg-for-consent-the-new-green-deal-is-the-trojan-horse-for-the-financialization-of-nature/

The Green New Deal has taken some of the pressure from McKibben/350. The Clean Power Plan was business as usual, but a little bit cleaner. The GND allows Democrats to appear to be taking a harder line on climate,  but it’s a vehicle that has little legislative substance.

The Green New Deal must be failing to deliver a fossil fuel phase out if the director of the WRI, a so called ‘environmental advocate’, can share a by-line with a big oil executive to spruik a project that is the opposite of phasing out fossil fuels and seemingly nobody cares.

Here’s a quote from Dan Lashof regarding Oxy’s air capture for CO2 enhanced oil recovery project that clearly shows he’s not working for a fossil fuel phase out.

“On the other hand, to the extent that you’re expanding the total energy resources base and extending the fossil-fuel era, obviously that doesn’t solve the climate problem.” [SOURCE]

Data for Progress, New Green Deal Research Director and World Resources Institute US, Manager for Climate Action and Data, Greg Carlock referred to a WRI working paper on direct air capture in a recent blog post for WRI. The paper refers to Oxy’s DAC for CO2 EOR project as an example of where investments are increasing.

“Some companies interested in combining enhanced oil recovery with direct air capture are increasing investments. For example, Occidental Petroleum is partnering with Carbon Engineering to build potentially several direct air capture plants.” [SOURCE]

Departure point: Drax, BECCS and the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative

  1. On April 21, 2020, while the global oil market was in free fall, it was reported that a formal agreement had been signed confirming that Drax would be part of a consortium that included Equinor and Phillips 66 to develop “the world’s first net zero carbon industrial cluster” in Humber, UK. [SOURCE]

 

  1. Equinor are a member of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative who are funding the Teesside CCS cluster. [SOURCE]

 

  1. Drax have been trialling BECCS (bio-energy with CCS) in the UK. [SOURCE]

 

  1. The lions share of the biomass burned by the Drax Group is from North America. [SOURCE]

 

  1. BECCS is in 3 of the 4 pathways offered by the IPCC working group on mitigation. [SOURCE]

Departure point: European Climate Foundation and industrial CCS clusters

Laurence Tubiana is a former French ambassador to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and CEO of the European Climate Foundation.

 

“The phase when abatement of emissions from industry was considered impossible is over. Industry leaders are looking at totally disruptive technologies and visions.” [SOURCE]

I could try and explain how the ECF is positioned to shape the ‘climate solutions’ on offer, but Cory Morningstar has already done it perfectly:

“As “the core of the ClimateWorks system in Europe“, the ECF constitutes an integral part of the regional global network created by the San Francisco-based ClimateWorks. ClimateWorks works to oversee and shape climate-related policy work worldwide. Launched in 2008 – the same year as ClimateWorks) – the ECF is a regranting foundation like its US counterpart.” [Background on the European Climate Foundation]

3 key points about European Climate Foundation

  1. The European Climate Foundation commissioned Element Energy to prepare 2 reports. One report is on carbon capture utilisation and storage for gas, coal, oil and biomass, and the other is on liquid fuels (hydrogen) which will largely come from processing North Sea gas and sequestering the CO2 in geological storage or from electrolysis using electricity largely supplied from the grid that is ostensibly renewable.
  2. Element Energy prepared reports for the developers of Teesside CCS industrial cluster and for the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative which are funding the Teesside CCS cluster as part of their UN endorsed Kickstarter Initiative investments.
  3. It is clear that the European Climate Foundation which is part of the ClimateWorks empire under the Design to Win plan, are 100% in support of further entrenching fossil fuel extraction and use as part of their #NetZero

5 studies relating to BECCS and industrial clusters in Europe

2018: Study funded by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative

‘Policy Mechanisms to support the large-scale deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)’

“Element Energy and Vivid Economics have assessed policy mechanisms that could accelerate the deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to the scale required to meet climate change targets. The report begins by considering why, despite the central role that CCS plays in many deep decarbonisation trajectories, CCS has failed to build momentum. Having identified the problems, the work lays out policy and market mechanisms that could stimulate investment across the stages of deployment, acknowledges regional circumstances, and suggests principles that could help governments and firms to collaborate. Note that in this report CCS includes CCUS (carbon capture, utilisation and storage) in those cases where storage is permanent.'” [SOURCE]

2018: Study funded by the European Climate Foundation

‘Low-carbon cars in Europe: A socio-economic assessment’

“Hydrogen production for the transport sector is expected to be dominated by water electrolysers, steam methane reforming (SMR) and by-product from industrial processes (for example chloralkali plants). These sources form the basis of the production mix in this study. Other potential sources include waste or biomass gasification, or SMR with carbon capture and storage. These additional routes could potentially provide low cost, low carbon hydrogen, but are not yet technically or economically proven and have not been included in the cost assumptions below.” [SOURCE]

2017: Study funded by the European Climate Foundation and Industrial Innovation for Competitiveness (i24c)

‘Deployment of an industrial Carbon Capture and Storage cluster in Europe: A funding pathway’

“The 2020s will be a make-or-break decade for so many aspects of the low carbon transition. CCS in industrial plants needs to be part of the picture. Getting the financing right is clearly an essential first step. But we also need to establish the right frameworks for shared liability between operators and tackle some of the concerns the public and some policymakers still harbour over industrial CCS. This report shows the way for at least one of the hurdles related to CCS. I hope you enjoy reading it.” [SOURCE]

2011: Study funded by the One North East Regional Development Agency and the North East Process Industries Cluster.

‘Tees Valley CCS Network’

“An Element Energy study has looked at the logistics of implementing a shared CCS pipeline network in the Tees Valley to connect major CO2 emitters in one of the UK’s largest industrial clusters. By Harsh Pershad, Element Energy”[SOURCE]

2019: Study prepared for European Climate Foundation in collaboration with the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Climate-KIC, the Energy Transitions Commission, RE:Source,and SITRA.

‘Industrial Transformation 2050: Pathways to Net-Zero Emissions from EU Heavy Industry’

“BIOMASS WILL BE REQUIRED PRIMARILY FOR FEEDSTOCK Achieving net zero emissions for the economy as a whole will lead to multiple competing claims on scarce biomass re-sources. The use of biomass for fuel or feedstock can compete with alternative uses for land like food or feed production, conservation for maintained biodiversity, or as a ‘sink’ for CO2 emissions. Furthermore, once the biomass has been extracted, there are multiple competing uses, from simple combustion for heat or electricity generation (the largest use today) to the production of transportation fuels, or use with CCS for ‘negative emissions’ to offset remaining emissions in other sectors.” [SOURCE]

2017: Research paper prepared for Chatham House by independent policy analyst Duncan Brack

‘Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate’

“Biomass is classified as a source of renewable energy in national policy frameworks, benefiting from financial and regulatory support on the grounds that, like other renewables, it is a carbon-neutral energy source. It is not carbon-neutral at the point of combustion, however; if biomass is burnt in the presence of oxygen, it produces carbon dioxide. The argument is increasingly made that its use can have negative impacts on the global climate. This classification as carbon-neutral derives from either or both of two assumptions. First, that biomass emissions are part of a natural cycle in which forest growth absorbs the carbon emitted by burning wood for energy. Second, that biomass emissions are accounted for in the land-use sector, and not in the energy sector, under international rules for greenhouse gas emissions.”

 

“Many of the models used to predict the impacts of biomass use assume that mill and forest residues are the main feedstock used for energy, and biomass pellet and energy companies tend to claim the same, though they often group ‘low-grade wood’ with ‘forest residues’, although their impact on the climate is not the same. Evidence suggests, however, that various types of roundwood are generally the main source of feedstock for large industrial pellet facilities. Forest residues are often unsuitable for use because of their high ash, dirt and alkali salt content.” [SOURCE]

 

End notes:

[1] Verbatim: “I think that the, the mainstream climate movement, needs to, needs to collapse. It needs to end. Um, and, and that the very comfortable organizers within that mainstream climate movement, ah, working in those NGO jobs, um, they, they need to fail. Um, I think they need to be brought down. I think they, they need to, ah, have a little bit of hardship and a bit of suffering, and they need to create space for, ah, for those historically oppressed groups.” Tim DeChristopher, Transformation without Apocalypse – Episode #6

 

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

WATCH: Planet of the Humans [Full Film]

WATCH: Planet of the Humans [Full Film]

April 22, 2020

 


WKOG caveat: Industrial civilization is destroying all life on Earth. Human destruction of biodiversity is not created equally: “Yet tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world, and 80% of our planet’s biodiversity is found in tribal territories.” [Further reading: The best conservationists made our environment and can save it, Stephen Corry] Human population is often identified as a problem because it strains the world’s resources and pollutes. [1] The first and most efficient way to address over consumption is to reduce consumption in the North is to a) redistribute the resources, (all arable land, etc.) to the Global South, to sustain those in the Global South, and b) phase out the production of all superfluous consumer products that harm life and biodiversity. [Further reading: Too Many Africans?, July 11, 2019] An analysis of population growth that accounts for the vast differences in consumption across class and region is critical in examining the worldwide environmental crisis.

 

Jeff Gibbs, Writer, Producer, Director:  “At long last our film “Planet of the Humans” is now released to the world! It’s one of the happiest days of my life, and a day I fervently hope has a role in initiating some real change in the world. “Planet of the Humans”  is now available free of charge to everyone on planet Earth courtesy of our partnership with Michael Moore. Please help us spread the word by sharing, blogging, posting, tweeting, emailing, or pony expressing your enthusiasm and urgency about why people must see this movie.”

Planet of the Humans takes a harsh look at how the environmental movement has lost the battle through well-meaning but disastrous choices, including the belief that solar panels and windmills would save us, and by giving in to the corporate interests of Wall Street.

Jeff Gibbs, the writer/producer/director of Planet of the Humans, has dared to say what no one will – that “we are losing the battle to stop climate change because we are following environmental leaders, many of whom are well-intentioned, but who’ve sold out the green movement to wealthy interests and corporate America.” This film is the wake-up call to the reality which we are afraid to face: that in the midst of a human-caused extinction event, the so-called “environmental movement’s” answer is to push for techno-fixes and band-aids. “It’s too little, too late,” says Gibbs. “Removed from the debate is the only thing that might save us: getting a grip on our out-of-control human presence and consumption. [1] Why is this not the issue? Because that would be bad for profits, bad for business.”

“Have we environmentalists fallen for illusions, ‘green’ illusions, that are anything but green, because we’re scared that this is the end — and we’ve pinned all our hopes on things like solar panels and wind turbines? No amount of batteries are going to save us, and that is the urgent warning of this film.”

This compelling, must-see movie – a full-frontal assault on our sacred cows – is guaranteed to generate anger, debate, and, hopefully, a willingness to see our survival in a new way—before it’s too late.

[Jeff Gibbs, Writer, Producer, Director | Ozzie Zehner, Producer | Michael Moore, Executive Producer]

 

[1]

History’s Largest Mining Operation Is About to Begin. It’s Underwater—and the Consequences are Unimaginable.

History’s Largest Mining Operation Is About to Begin. It’s Underwater—and the Consequences are Unimaginable.

The Atlantic

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2020 ISSUE

 

By Wil S. Hylton

 

Mining robots, such as these, will help unlock a subsea gold rush. Source: World Economic Forum

Unless you are given to chronic anxiety or suffer from nihilistic despair, you probably haven’t spent much time contemplating the bottom of the ocean. Many people imagine the seabed to be a vast expanse of sand, but it’s a jagged and dynamic landscape with as much variation as any place onshore. Mountains surge from underwater plains, canyons slice miles deep, hot springs billow through fissures in rock, and streams of heavy brine ooze down hillsides, pooling into undersea lakes.

These peaks and valleys are laced with most of the same minerals found on land. Scientists have documented their deposits since at least 1868, when a dredging ship pulled a chunk of iron ore from the seabed north of Russia. Five years later, another ship found similar nuggets at the bottom of the Atlantic, and two years after that, it discovered a field of the same objects in the Pacific. For more than a century, oceanographers continued to identify new minerals on the seafloor—copper, nickel, silver, platinum, gold, and even gemstones—while mining companies searched for a practical way to dig them up.

Today, many of the largest mineral corporations in the world have launched underwater mining programs. On the west coast of Africa, the De Beers Group is using a fleet of specialized ships to drag machinery across the seabed in search of diamonds. In 2018, those ships extracted 1.4 million carats from the coastal waters of Namibia; in 2019, De Beers commissioned a new ship that will scrape the bottom twice as quickly as any other vessel. Another company, Nautilus Minerals, is working in the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea to shatter a field of underwater hot springs lined with precious metals, while Japan and South Korea have embarked on national projects to exploit their own offshore deposits. But the biggest prize for mining companies will be access to international waters, which cover more than half of the global seafloor and contain more valuable minerals than all the continents combined.

Regulations for ocean mining have never been formally established. The United Nations has given that task to an obscure organization known as the International Seabed Authority, which is housed in a pair of drab gray office buildings at the edge of Kingston Harbour, in Jamaica. Unlike most UN bodies, the ISA receives little oversight. It is classified as “autonomous” and falls under the direction of its own secretary general, who convenes his own general assembly once a year, at the ISA headquarters. For about a week, delegates from 168 member states pour into Kingston from around the world, gathering at a broad semicircle of desks in the auditorium of the Jamaica Conference Centre. Their assignment is not to prevent mining on the seafloor but to mitigate its damage—selecting locations where extraction will be permitted, issuing licenses to mining companies, and drafting the technical and environmental standards of an underwater Mining Code.

Writing the code has been difficult. ISA members have struggled to agree on a regulatory framework. While they debate the minutiae of waste disposal and ecological preservation, the ISA has granted “exploratory” permits around the world. Some 30 mineral contractors already hold licenses to work in sweeping regions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. One site, about 2,300 miles east of Florida, contains the largest system of underwater hot springs ever discovered, a ghostly landscape of towering white spires that scientists call the “Lost City.” Another extends across 4,500 miles of the Pacific, or roughly a fifth of the circumference of the planet. The companies with permits to explore these regions have raised breathtaking sums of venture capital. They have designed and built experimental vehicles, lowered them to the bottom, and begun testing methods of dredging and extraction while they wait for the ISA to complete the Mining Code and open the floodgates to commercial extraction.

At full capacity, these companies expect to dredge thousands of square miles a year. Their collection vehicles will creep across the bottom in systematic rows, scraping through the top five inches of the ocean floor. Ships above will draw thousands of pounds of sediment through a hose to the surface, remove the metallic objects, known as polymetallic nodules, and then flush the rest back into the water. Some of that slurry will contain toxins such as mercury and lead, which could poison the surrounding ocean for hundreds of miles. The rest will drift in the current until it settles in nearby ecosystems. An early study by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences predicted that each mining ship will release about 2 million cubic feet of discharge every day, enough to fill a freight train that is 16 miles long. The authors called this “a conservative estimate,” since other projections had been three times as high. By any measure, they concluded, “a very large area will be blanketed by sediment to such an extent that many animals will not be able to cope with the impact and whole communities will be severely affected by the loss of individuals and species.”

At the ISA meeting in 2019, delegates gathered to review a draft of the code. Officials hoped the document would be ratified for implementation in 2020. I flew down to observe the proceedings on a balmy morning and found the conference center teeming with delegates. A staff member ushered me through a maze of corridors to meet the secretary general, Michael Lodge, a lean British man in his 50s with cropped hair and a genial smile. He waved me toward a pair of armchairs beside a bank of windows overlooking the harbor, and we sat down to discuss the Mining Code, what it will permit and prohibit, and why the United Nations is preparing to mobilize the largest mining operation in the history of the world.

Until recently, marine biologists paid little attention to the deep sea. They believed its craggy knolls and bluffs were essentially barren. The traditional model of life on Earth relies on photosynthesis: plants on land and in shallow water harness sunlight to grow biomass, which is devoured by creatures small and large, up the food chain to Sunday dinner. By this account, every animal on the planet would depend on plants to capture solar energy. Since plants disappear a few hundred feet below sea level, and everything goes dark a little farther down, there was no reason to expect a thriving ecosystem in the deep. Maybe a light snow of organic debris would trickle from the surface, but it would be enough to sustain only a few wayward aquatic drifters.

That theory capsized in 1977, when a pair of oceanographers began poking around the Pacific in a submersible vehicle. While exploring a range of underwater mountains near the Galápagos Islands, they spotted a hydrothermal vent about 8,000 feet deep. No one had ever seen an underwater hot spring before, though geologists suspected they might exist. As the oceanographers drew close to the vent, they made an even more startling discovery: A large congregation of animals was camped around the vent opening. These were not the feeble scavengers that one expected so far down. They were giant clams, purple octopuses, white crabs, and 10-foot tube worms, whose food chain began not with plants but with organic chemicals floating in the warm vent water.

For biologists, this was more than curious. It shook the foundation of their field. If a complex ecosystem could emerge in a landscape devoid of plants, evolution must be more than a heliological affair. Life could appear in perfect darkness, in blistering heat and a broth of noxious compounds—an environment that would extinguish every known creature on Earth. “That was the discovery event,” an evolutionary biologist named Timothy Shank told me. “It changed our view about the boundaries of life. Now we know that the methane lakes on one of Jupiter’s moons are probably laden with species, and there is no doubt life on other planetary bodies.”

Shank was 12 years old that winter, a bookish kid in North Carolina. The early romance of the space age was already beginning to fade, but the discovery of life near hydrothermal vents would inspire a blossoming of oceanography that captured his imagination. As he completed a degree in marine biology, then a doctorate in ecology and evolution, he consumed reports from scientists around the world who found new vents brimming with unknown species. They appeared far below the surface—the deepest known vent is about three miles down—while another geologic feature, known as a “cold seep,” gives rise to life in chemical pools even deeper on the seafloor. No one knew how far down the vents and seeps might be found, but Shank decided to focus his research on the deepest waters of the Earth.

Scientists divide the ocean into five layers of depth. Closest to the surface is the “sunlight zone,” where plants thrive; then comes the “twilight zone,” where darkness falls; next is the “midnight zone,” where some creatures generate their own light; and then there’s a frozen flatland known simply as “the abyss.” Oceanographers have visited these layers in submersible vehicles for half a century, but the final layer is difficult to reach. It is known as the “hadal zone,” in reference to Hades, the ancient Greek god of the underworld, and it includes any water that is at least 6,000 meters below the surface—or, in a more Vernian formulation, that is 20,000 feet under the sea. Because the hadal zone is so deep, it is usually associated with ocean trenches, but several deepwater plains have sections that cross into hadal depth.

Deepwater plains are also home to the polymetallic nodules that explorers first discovered a century and a half ago. Mineral companies believe that nodules will be easier to mine than other seabed deposits. To remove the metal from a hydrothermal vent or an underwater mountain, they will have to shatter rock in a manner similar to land-based extraction. Nodules are isolated chunks of rocks on the seabed that typically range from the size of a golf ball to that of a grapefruit, so they can be lifted from the sediment with relative ease. Nodules also contain a distinct combination of minerals. While vents and ridges are flecked with precious metal, such as silver and gold, the primary metals in nodules are copper, manganese, nickel, and cobalt—crucial materials in modern batteries. As iPhones and laptops and electric vehicles spike demand for those metals, many people believe that nodules are the best way to migrate from fossil fuels to battery power.

The ISA has issued more mining licenses for nodules than for any other seabed deposit. Most of these licenses authorize contractors to exploit a single deepwater plain. Known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, or CCZ, it extends across 1.7 million square miles between Hawaii and Mexico—wider than the continental United States. When the Mining Code is approved, more than a dozen companies will accelerate their explorations in the CCZ to industrial-scale extraction. Their ships and robots will use vacuum hoses to suck nodules and sediment from the seafloor, extracting the metal and dumping the rest into the water. How many ecosystems will be covered by that sediment is impossible to predict. Ocean currents fluctuate regularly in speed and direction, so identical plumes of slurry will travel different distances, in different directions, on different days. The impact of a sediment plume also depends on how it is released. Slurry that is dumped near the surface will drift farther than slurry pumped back to the bottom. The circulating draft of the Mining Code does not specify a depth of discharge. The ISA has adopted an estimate that sediment dumped near the surface will travel no more than 62 miles from the point of release, but many experts believe the slurry could travel farther. A recent survey of academic research compiled by Greenpeace concluded that mining waste “could travel hundreds or even thousands of kilometers.”

Like many deepwater plains, the CCZ has sections that lie at hadal depth. Its eastern boundary is marked by a hadal trench. No one knows whether mining sediment will drift into the hadal zone. As the director of a hadal-research program at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts, Timothy Shank has been studying the deep sea for almost 30 years. In 2014, he led an international mission to complete the first systematic study of the hadal ecosystem—but even Shank has no idea how mining could affect the hadal zone, because he still has no idea what it contains. If you want a sense of how little we know about the deep ocean, how difficult it is to study, and what’s at stake when industry leaps before science, Shank’s research is a good place to start.

Ifirst met shank about seven years ago, when he was organizing the international mission to survey the hadal zone. He had put together a three-year plan to visit every ocean trench: sending a robotic vehicle to explore their features, record every contour of topography, and collect specimens from each. The idea was either dazzling or delusional; I wasn’t sure which. Scientists have enough trouble measuring the seabed in shallower waters. They have used ropes and chains and acoustic instruments to record depth for more than a century, yet 85 percent of the global seabed remains unmapped—and the hadal is far more difficult to map than other regions, since it’s nearly impossible to see.

If it strikes you as peculiar that modern vehicles cannot penetrate the deepest ocean, take a moment to imagine what it means to navigate six or seven miles below the surface. Every 33 feet of depth exerts as much pressure as the atmosphere of the Earth, so when you are just 66 feet down, you are under three times as much pressure as a person on land, and when you are 300 feet down, you’re subjected to 10 atmospheres of pressure. Tube worms living beside hydrothermal vents near the Galápagos are compressed by about 250 atmospheres, and mining vehicles in the CCZ have to endure twice as much—but they are still just half as far down as the deepest trenches.

Building a vehicle to function at 36,000 feet, under 2 million pounds of pressure per square foot, is a task of interstellar-type engineering. It’s a good deal more rigorous than, say, bolting together a rover to skitter across Mars. Picture the schematic of an iPhone case that can be smashed with a sledgehammer more or less constantly, from every angle at once, without a trace of damage, and you’re in the ballpark—or just consider the fact that more people have walked on the moon than have reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on Earth.

The first two people descended in 1960, using a contraption owned by the U.S. Navy. It seized and shuddered on the descent. Its window cracked as the pressure mounted, and it landed with so much force that it kicked up a cloud of silt that obscured the view for the entire 20 minutes the pair remained on the bottom. Half a century passed before the film director James Cameron repeated their journey, in 2012. Unlike the swaggering billionaire Richard Branson, who was planning to dive the Mariana in a cartoonish vehicle shaped like a fighter jet, Cameron is well versed in ocean science and engineering. He was closely involved in the design of his submarine, and sacrificed stylistic flourishes for genuine innovations, including a new type of foam that maintains buoyancy at full ocean depth. Even so, his vessel lurched and bucked on the way down. He finally managed to land, and spent a couple of hours collecting sediment samples before he noticed that hydraulic fluid was leaking onto the window. The vehicle’s mechanical arm began to fail, and all of the thrusters on its right side went out—so he returned to the surface early, canceled his plan for additional dives, and donated the broken sub to Woods Hole.

A 3-D model of the Mariana Trench
A 3-D model of the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on Earth. Most of what we know about its topography has been gathered by sonar. Only three crewed expeditions have reached the bottom. (Data Design Co)
The most recent descent of the Mariana Trench was completed last spring by a private-equity investor named Victor Vescovo, who spent $48 million on a submarine that was even more sophisticated than Cameron’s. Vescovo was on a personal quest to reach the bottom of the five deepest trenches in the world, a project he called “Five Deeps.” He was able to complete the project, making multiple dives of the Mariana—but if his achievement represents a leap forward in hadal exploration, it also serves as a reminder of how impenetrable the trenches remain: a region that can be visited only by the most committed multimillionaire, Hollywood celebrity, or special military program, and only in isolated dives to specific locations that reveal little about the rest of the hadal environment. That environment is composed of 33 trenches and 13 shallower formations called troughs. Its total geographic area is about two-thirds the size of Australia. It is the least examined ecosystem of its size on Earth.Without a vehicle to explore the hadal zone, scientists have been forced to use primitive methods. The most common technique has scarcely changed in more than a century: Expedition ships chug across hundreds of miles to reach a precise location, then lower a trap, wait a few hours, and reel it up to see what’s inside. The limitations of this approach are self-evident, if not comic. It’s like dangling a birdcage out the door of an airplane crossing Africa at 36,000 feet, and then trying to divine, from the mangled bodies of insects, what sort of animals roam the savanna.All of which is to say that Shank’s plan to explore every trench in the world was somewhere between audacious and absurd, but he had assembled a team of the world’s leading experts, secured ship time for extensive missions, and spent 10 years supervising the design of the most advanced robotic vehicle ever developed for deepwater navigation. Called Nereus, after a mythological sea god, it could dive alone—charting a course amid rocky cliffs, measuring their contours with a doppler scanner, recording video with high-definition cameras, and collecting samples—or it could be linked to the deck of a ship with fiber-optic cable, allowing Shank to monitor its movement on a computer in the ship’s control room, boosting the thrusters to steer this way and that, piercing the darkness with its headlamps, and maneuvering a mechanical claw to gather samples in the deep.

I reached out to Shank in 2013, a few months before the expedition began. I wanted to write about the project, and he agreed to let me join him on a later leg. When his ship departed, in the spring of 2014, I followed online as it pursued a course to the Kermadec Trench, in the Pacific, and Shank began sending Nereus on a series of dives. On the first, it descended to 6,000 meters, a modest target on the boundary of the hadal zone. On the second, Shank pushed it to 7,000 meters; on the third to 8,000; and on the fourth to 9,000. He knew that diving to 10,000 meters would be a crucial threshold. It is the last full kilometer of depth on Earth: No trench is believed to be deeper than 11,000 meters. To commemorate this final increment and the successful beginning of his project, he attached a pair of silver bracelets to the frame of Nereus, planning to give them to his daughters when he returned home. Then he dropped the robot in the water and retreated to the control room to monitor its movements.

On-screen, blue water gave way to darkness as Nereus descended, its headlamps illuminating specks of debris suspended in the water. It was 10 meters shy of the 10,000-meter mark when suddenly the screen went dark. There was an audible gasp in the control room, but no one panicked. Losing the video feed on a dive was relatively common. Maybe the fiber-optic tether had snapped, or the software had hit a glitch. Whatever it was, Nereus had been programmed to respond with emergency measures. It could back out of a jam, shed expendable weight, guide itself to the surface, and send a homing beacon to help Shank’s team retrieve it.

As the minutes ticked by, Shank waited for those measures to activate, but none did. “There’s no sound, no implosion, no chime,” he told me afterward. “Just … black.” He paced the deck through the night, staring across the Stygian void for signs of Nereus. The following day he finally saw debris surface, and as he watched it rise, he felt his project sinking. Ten years of planning, a $14 million robot, and an international team of experts—it had all collapsed under the crushing pressure of hadal depths.

“I’m not over it yet,” he told me two years later. We were standing on the deck of another ship, 100 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, where Shank was preparing to launch a new robot. The vehicle was no replacement for Nereus. It was a rectilinear hunk of metal and plastic, about five feet high, three feet wide, and nine feet long. Red on top, with a silvery bottom and three fans mounted at the rear, it could have been mistaken for a child’s backyard spaceship. Shank had no illusion that it was capable of hadal exploration. Since the loss of Nereus, there was no vehicle on Earth that could navigate the deepest trenches—Cameron’s was no longer in service, Branson’s didn’t work, and Vescovo’s hadn’t yet been built.

Shank’s new robot did have a few impressive features. Its navigational system was even more advanced than the one in Nereus, and he hoped it would be able to maneuver in a trenchlike environment with even greater precision—but its body was not designed to withstand hadal pressure. In fact, it had never descended more than a few dozen feet below the surface, and Shank knew that it would take years to build something that could survive at the bottom of a trench. What had seemed, just two years earlier, like the beginning of a new era in hadal science was developing a quixotic aspect, and, at 50, Shank could not help wondering if it was madness to spend another decade of his life on a dream that seemed to be drifting further from his reach. But he was driven by a lifelong intuition that he still couldn’t shake. Shank believes that access to the trenches will reveal one of the greatest discoveries in history: a secret ecosystem bursting with creatures that have been cloistered for eternity in the deep.

“I would be shocked if there aren’t vents and seeps in the trenches,” he told me as we bobbed on the water that day in 2016. “They’ll be there, and they will be teeming with life. I think we’ll be looking at hundreds or thousands of species we haven’t seen before, and some of them are going to be huge.” He pictured the hadal as an alien world that followed its own evolutionary course, the unimaginable pressure creating a menagerie of inconceivable beasts. “My time is running out to find them,” he said. “Maybe my legacy will be to push things forward so that somebody else can. We have a third of our ocean that we still can’t explore. It’s embarrassing. It’s pathetic.”

While scientists struggle to reach the deep ocean, human impact has already gotten there. Most of us are familiar with the menu of damages to coastal water: overfishing, oil spills, and pollution, to name a few. What can be lost in the discussion of these issues is how they reverberate far beneath.

Take fishing. The relentless pursuit of cod in the early 20th century decimated its population from Newfoundland to New England, sending hungry shoppers in search of other options. As shallow-water fish such as haddock, grouper, and sturgeon joined the cod’s decline, commercial fleets around the world pushed into deeper water. Until the 1970s, the slimehead fish lived in relative obscurity, patrolling the slopes of underwater mountains in water up to 6,000 feet deep. Then a consortium of fishermen pushed the Food and Drug Administration to change its name, and the craze for “orange roughy” began—only to fade again in the early 2000s, when the fish was on a path toward extinction itself.

Environmental damage from oil production is also migrating into deeper water. Disturbing photographs of oil-drenched beaches have captured public attention since at least 1989, when the Exxon Valdez tanker crashed into a reef and leaked 11 million gallons into an Alaskan sound. It would remain the largest spill in U.S. water until 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon explosion spewed 210 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico. But a recent study revealed that the release of chemicals to disperse the spill was twice as toxic as the oil to animals living 3,000 feet below the surface.

Maybe the greatest alarm in recent years has followed the discovery of plastic floating in the ocean. Scientists estimate that 17 billion pounds of polymer are flushed into the ocean each year, and substantially more of it collects on the bottom than on the surface. Just as a bottle that falls from a picnic table will roll downhill to a gulch, trash on the seafloor gradually makes its way toward deepwater plains and hadal trenches. After his expedition to the trenches, Victor Vescovo returned with the news that garbage had beaten him there. He found a plastic bag at the bottom of one trench, a beverage can in another, and when he reached the deepest point in the Mariana, he watched an object with a large S on the side float past his window. Trash of all sorts is collecting in the hadal—Spam tins, Budweiser cans, rubber gloves, even a mannequin head.

Scientists are just beginning to understand the impact of trash on aquatic life. Fish and seabirds that mistake grocery bags for prey will glut their stomachs with debris that their digestive system can’t expel. When a young whale drifted ashore and died in the Philippines in 2019, an autopsy revealed that its belly was packed with 88 pounds of plastic bags, nylon rope, and netting. Two weeks later, another whale beached in Sardinia, its stomach crammed with 48 pounds of plastic dishes and tubing. Certain types of coral like to eat plastic more than food. They will gorge themselves like a kid on Twinkies instead of eating what they need to survive. Microbes that flourish on plastic have ballooned in number, replacing other species as their population explodes in a polymer ocean.

If it seems trivial to worry about the population statistics of bacteria in the ocean, you may be interested to know that ocean microbes are essential to human and planetary health. About a third of the carbon dioxide generated on land is absorbed by underwater organisms, including one species that was just discovered in the CCZ in 2018. The researchers who found that bacterium have no idea how it removes carbon from the environment, but their findings show that it may account for up to 10 percent of the volume that is sequestered by oceans every year.

Many of the things we do know about ocean microbes, we know thanks to Craig Venter, the genetic scientist most famous for starting a small company in the 1990s to compete with the Human Genome Project. The two-year race between his company and the international collaboration generated endless headlines and culminated in a joint announcement at the White House to declare a tie. But Venter’s interest wasn’t limited to human DNA. He wanted to learn the language of genetics in order to create synthetic microbes with practical features. After his work on the human genome, he spent two years sailing around the world, lowering bottles into the ocean to collect bacteria and viruses from the water. By the time he returned, he had discovered hundreds of thousands of new species, and his lab in Maryland proceeded to sequence their DNA—identifying more than 60 million unique genes, which is about 2,500 times the number in humans. Then he and his team began to scour those genes for properties they could use to make custom bugs.

Venter now lives in a hypermodern house on a bluff in Southern California. Chatting one evening on the sofa beside the door to his walk-in humidor and wine cellar, he described how saltwater microbes could help solve the most urgent problems of modern life. One of the bacteria he pulled from the ocean consumes carbon and excretes methane. Venter would like to integrate its genes into organisms designed to live in smokestacks and recycle emissions. “They could scrub the plant’s CO2 and convert it to methane that can be burned as fuel in the same plant,” he said.

Venter was also studying bacteria that could be useful in medicine. Microbes produce a variety of antibiotic compounds, which they deploy as weapons against their rivals. Many of those compounds can also be used to kill the pathogens that infect humans. Nearly all of the antibiotic drugs on the market were initially derived from microorganisms, but they are losing efficacy as pathogens evolve to resist them. “We have new drugs in development,” Matt McCarthy, an infectious-disease specialist at Weill Cornell Medical College, told me, “but most of them are slight variations on the ones we already had. The problem with that is, they’re easy for bacteria to resist, because they’re similar to something bacteria have developed resistance to in the past. What we need is an arsenal of new compounds.”

Venter pointed out that ocean microbes produce radically different compounds from those on land. “There are more than a million microbes per milliliter of seawater,” he said, “so the chance of finding new antibiotics in the marine environment is high.” McCarthy agreed. “The next great drug may be hidden somewhere deep in the water,” he said. “We need to get to the deep-sea organisms, because they’re making compounds that we’ve never seen before. We may find drugs that could be used to treat gout, or rheumatoid arthritis, or all kinds of other conditions.”

Marine biologists have never conducted a comprehensive survey of microbes in the hadal trenches. The conventional tools of water sampling cannot function at extreme depth, and engineers are just beginning to develop tools that can. Microbial studies of the deepwater plains are slightly further along—and scientists have recently discovered that the CCZ is unusually flush with life. “It’s one of the most biodiverse areas that we’ve ever sampled on the abyssal plains,” a University of Hawaii oceanographer named Jeff Drazen told me. Most of those microbes, he said, live on the very same nodules that miners are planning to extract. “When you lift them off the seafloor, you’re removing a habitat that took 10 million years to grow.” Whether or not those microbes can be found in other parts of the ocean is unknown. “A lot of the less mobile organisms,” Drazen said, “may not be anywhere else.”

Drazen is an academic ecologist; Venter is not. Venter has been accused of trying to privatize the human genome, and many of his critics believe his effort to create new organisms is akin to playing God. He clearly doesn’t have an aversion to profit-driven science, and he’s not afraid to mess with nature—yet when I asked him about the prospect of mining in deep water, he flared with alarm. “We should be very careful about mining in the ocean,” he said. “These companies should be doing rigorous microbial surveys before they do anything else. We only know a fraction of the microbes down there, and it’s a terrible idea to screw with them before we know what they are and what they do.”

The Clarion-Clipperton Zone is a deepwater plain wider than the continental United States. When the Mining Code is approved, more than a dozen contractors could begin commercial extraction there. (La Tigre)

Mining executives insist that their work in the ocean is misunderstood. Some adopt a swaggering bravado and portray the industry as a romantic frontier adventure. As the manager of exploration at Nautilus Minerals, John Parianos, told me recently, “This is about every man and his dog filled with the excitement of the moon landing. It’s like Scott going to the South Pole, or the British expeditions who got entombed by ice.”

Nautilus occupies a curious place in the mining industry. It is one of the oldest companies at work on the seafloor, but also the most precarious. Although it has a permit from the government of Papua New Guinea to extract metal from offshore vents, many people on the nearby island of New Ireland oppose the project, which will destroy part of their marine habitat. Local and international activists have whipped up negative publicity, driving investors away and sending the company into financial ruin. Nautilus stock once traded for $4.45. It is now less than a penny per share.Parianos acknowledged that Nautilus was in crisis, but he dismissed the criticism as naive. Seabed minerals are no different from any other natural resource, he said, and the use of natural resources is fundamental to human progress. “Look around you: Everything that’s not grown is mined,” he told me. “That’s why they called it the Stone Age—because it’s when they started mining! And mining is what made our lives better than what they had before the Stone Age.” Parianos emphasized that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which created the International Seabed Authority, promised “to ensure effective protection for the marine environment” from the effects of mining. “It’s not like the Law of the Sea says: Go out and ravage the marine environment,” he said. “But it also doesn’t say that you can only explore the ocean for science, and not to make money.”The CEO of a company called DeepGreen spoke in loftier terms. DeepGreen is both a product of Nautilus Minerals and a reaction to it. The company was founded in 2011 by David Heydon, who had founded Nautilus a decade earlier, and its leadership is full of former Nautilus executives and investors. As a group, they have sought to position DeepGreen as a company whose primary interest in mining the ocean is saving the planet. They have produced a series of lavish brochures to explain the need for a new source of battery metals, and Gerard Barron, the CEO, speaks with animated fervor about the virtues of nodule extraction.

His case for seabed mining is straightforward. Barron believes that the world will not survive if we continue burning fossil fuels, and the transition to other forms of power will require a massive increase in battery production. He points to electric cars: the batteries for a single vehicle require 187 pounds of copper, 123 pounds of nickel, and 15 pounds each of manganese and cobalt. On a planet with 1 billion cars, the conversion to electric vehicles would require several times more metal than all existing land-based supplies—and harvesting that metal from existing sources already takes a human toll. Most of the world’s cobalt, for example, is mined in the southeastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where tens of thousands of young children work in labor camps, inhaling clouds of toxic dust during shifts up to 24 hours long. Terrestrial mines for nickel and copper have their own litany of environmental harms. Because the ISA is required to allocate some of the profits from seabed mining to developing countries, the industry will provide nations that rely on conventional mining with revenue that doesn’t inflict damage on their landscapes and people.

Whether DeepGreen represents a shift in the values of mining companies or merely a shift in marketing rhetoric is a valid question—but the company has done things that are difficult to dismiss. It has developed technology that returns sediment discharge to the seafloor with minimal disruption, and Barron is a regular presence at ISA meetings, where he advocates for regulations to mandate low-impact discharge. DeepGreen has also limited its operations to nodule mining, and Barron openly criticizes the effort by his friends at Nautilus to demolish a vent that is still partially active. “The guys at Nautilus, they’re doing their thing, but I don’t think it’s the right thing for the planet,” he told me. “We need to be doing things that have a low impact environmentally.”

By the time i sat down with Michael Lodge, the secretary general of the ISA, I had spent a lot of time thinking about the argument that executives like Barron are making. It seemed to me that seabed mining presents an epistemological problem. The harms of burning fossil fuels and the impact of land-based mining are beyond dispute, but the cost of plundering the ocean is impossible to know. What creatures are yet to be found on the seafloor? How many indispensable cures? Is there any way to calculate the value of a landscape we know virtually nothing about? The world is full of uncertain choices, of course, but the contrast between options is rarely so stark: the crisis of climate change and immiserated labor on the one hand, immeasurable risk and potential on the other.

I thought of the hadal zone. It may never be harmed by mining. Sediment from dredging on the abyssal plains could settle long before it reaches the edge of a trench—but the total obscurity of the hadal should remind us of how little we know. It extends from 20,000 feet below sea level to roughly 36,000 feet, leaving nearly half of the ocean’s depths beyond our reach. When I visited Timothy Shank at Woods Hole a few months ago, he showed me a prototype of his latest robot. He and his lead engineer, Casey Machado, had built it with foam donated by James Cameron and with support from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, whose engineers are hoping to send a vehicle to explore the aqueous moon of Jupiter. It was a tiny machine, known as Orpheus, that could steer through trenches, recording topography and taking samples, but little else. He would have no way to direct its movements or monitor its progress via a video feed. It occurred to me that if Shank had given up the dream of true exploration in the trenches, decades could pass before we know what the hadal zone contains.

Mining companies may promise to extract seabed metal with minimal damage to the surrounding environment, but to believe this requires faith. It collides with the force of human history, the law of unintended consequences, and the inevitability of mistakes. I wanted to understand from Michael Lodge how a UN agency had made the choice to accept that risk.

“Why is it necessary to mine the ocean?” I asked him.

He paused for a moment, furrowing his brow. “I don’t know why you use the word necessary,” he said. “Why is it ‘necessary’ to mine anywhere? You mine where you find metal.”

I reminded him that centuries of mining on land have exacted a devastating price: tropical islands denuded, mountaintops sheared off, groundwater contaminated, and species eradicated. Given the devastation of land-based mining, I asked, shouldn’t we hesitate to mine the sea?

“I don’t believe people should worry that much,” he said with a shrug. “There’s certainly an impact in the area that’s mined, because you are creating an environmental disturbance, but we can find ways to manage that.” I pointed out that the impact from sediment could travel far beyond the mining zone, and he responded, “Sure, that’s the other major environmental concern. There is a sediment plume, and we need to manage it. We need to understand how the plume operates, and there are experiments being done right now that will help us.” As he spoke, I realized that for Lodge, none of these questions warranted reflection—or anyway, he didn’t see reflection as part of his job. He was there to facilitate mining, not to question the wisdom of doing so.

We chatted for another 20 minutes, then I thanked him for his time and wandered back to the assembly room, where delegates were delivering canned speeches about marine conservation and the promise of battery technology. There was still some debate about certain details of the Mining Code—technical requirements, oversight procedures, the profit-sharing model—so the vote to ratify it would have to wait another year. I noticed a group of scientists watching from the back. They were members of the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative, which formed in 2013 to confront threats to the deepwater environment. One was Jeff Drazen. He’d flown in from Hawaii and looked tired. I sent him a text, and we stepped outside.

A few tables and chairs were scattered in the courtyard, and we sat down to talk. I asked how he felt about the delay of the Mining Code—delegates are planning to review it again this summer, and large-scale mining could begin after that.

Drazen rolled his eyes and sighed. “There’s a Belgian team in the CCZ doing a component test right now,” he said. “They’re going to drive a vehicle around on the seafloor and spew a bunch of mud up. So these things are already happening. We’re about to make one of the biggest transformations that humans have ever made to the surface of the planet. We’re going to strip-mine a massive habitat, and once it’s gone, it isn’t coming back.”

 

[Wil S. Hylton is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine. He has published cover stories for many outlets including The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Harper’s, Details, New York, and Outside.]

Listen: The Green New Deal & What it Leaves Out: Reading Act V of Cory Morningstar’s Research

Listen: The Green New Deal & What it Leaves Out: Reading Act V of Cory Morningstar’s Research

Ghion Journal

November 4, 2019
“Listen: The Green New Deal & What it Leaves Out: Reading Act V of Cory Morningstar’s Research”

By Stephen Boni

 

Trojan Horse – The horses of Dali – Lithograph – Surrealist – 1983

For last week’s Words of Others podcast, I read Act V of investigative journalist Cory Morningstar’s ongoing series about the NGO Industrial Complex. It’s a lengthy piece titled For Consent: The Green New Deal is the Trojan Horse for the Financialization of Nature.

As is per usual for Morningstar, she wades through an exhaustive amount of research to demonstrate the contradictions between the prospect of a mass and state-mobilized systems-level transition away from a pollution- and fossil fuel-intensive economy and the planning and underpinnings of such a transition being directed from behind the scenes by groups of powerful people who have every financial and class interest in the world to make sure our current profit-driven way of life stays roughly the same.

This research finds Morningstar taking a deeper look at a variety of intersecting organizations that are both originators and marketers of the Green New Deal, including:

  • Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats
  • Grist Magazine
  • Climate Nexus
  • The Business and Sustainable Development Commission
  • The Blended Finance Taskforce
  • Data for Progress
  • The Sunrise Movement
  • World Resources Institute
  • The New Climate Economy Project
  • Natural Capital Coalition
  •  

    Through her research, Morningstar employs a line of thinking that I would position as “stands to reason”.

    What this means is that, instead of dissecting the text of the current Green New Deal proposal or seeking out direct interviews with key players in the above organizations, she focuses on each organization as an entity, digging into their respective missions, their communications, who finances them, and the ideological backgrounds of and connections between their various elite members.

    By doing this, Morningstar arrives at “stands to reason” conclusions—i.e., based on what she learns, it stands to reason that innovative but status quo-oriented capitalists, working in a loose collective through NGOs backed by multi-national corporations and finance capital, are not creating and marketing a Green New Deal that seeks to reimagine the U.S. economy and move away from consumption as a foundational lifestyle for citizens, or war as a foundational economic project of the state.

    Some readers may see the lack of direct interviews with people connected to the creation of the Green New Deal—and the fact that Morningstar doesn’t really analyze the text of the Green New Deal itself—as omissions to the process of investigative journalism. Indeed, it’s up to each reader to decide whether or not these omissions (and we should note that it’s entirely possible that key members of the above organizations may not want to be interviewed) invalidate Morningstar’s conclusions about the attempt by global elites to use global warming to solve a capitalism crisis rather than to mitigate a climate crisis.

    My own thinking notes these absences, but tends to be appreciative of Morningstar’s research and somewhat content with the belief that I can fill in at least some of these gaps myself. For instance, each one of us has the ability to read the Green New Deal proposal while keeping Morningstar’s research in mind.

    The Green New Deal’s Sins of Omission

    If you pull up the text of the Green New Deal and read through it, which doesn’t take all that long, the proposal actually reads pretty well. Some readers might even wonder, “What’s the problem here? Seems like a bunch of good ideas, overall”.

    However, it’s the absences in the Green New Deal proposal that give the most pause. In a strange way, it brings to mind one of Robert Redford’s best political films from the 70s, The Candidate. In one climactic scene, Redford’s character, a vaguely countercultural type who’s been taking part in a sober debate with his opponent in the race for a California Senate seat, vocalizes how their entire debate has left out all of the important issues they desperately need to be discussing.

     

    While I won’t walk you through every inch of the text of the Green New Deal, here are some issues I noticed when reading it.

    1. At the very beginning of the resolution in section one, we see the use of a kind of linguistic misdirection that Morningstar noted in Act IV of her series. Here’s the quote from the text of the Green New Deal:

    “Resolved, it is the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal to 1) achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers.”

    This is a red flag. As Morningstar explained previously, seeking net-zero emissions does not mean radically reducing the amount of carbon the U.S. pumps into the atmosphere. It means using technology and other instruments to offset or capture the same amount of carbon our society is creating. This means that, as long as we do enough offsetting and enough carbon capturing, our emissions can be allowed to keep on growing. From a climate standpoint, that’s a fake solution.

    1. In section 2 of the text, it states one of the major objectives as meeting 100% of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources”.

    This sounds fairly standard unless you consider the assumptions that underlie the statement. One, that zero-emission energy sources are sufficient to meet current U.S. power demands (they’re not) and two, that the U.S. doesn’t need to reduce its power demands in the first place.

    The absence created by these two assumptions makes the “net-zero emissions” goal all the more relevant as an indicator that the necessity of growth within a capitalist economy won’t be questioned as those in power seek to deal with climate change, a phenomenon that’s been driven, in large part, by a belief that growth=economic health.

    1. While subsequent pieces of section 2—which get into issues of energy and water efficiency for power grids and buildings—can be seen to allay some of these fears, as one goes deeper into section 2, we have this:

    “…spurring massive growth in clean manufacturing in the United States and removing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and industry as much as is technologically feasible.”

    While we can dig into the available knowledge on whether or not “clean manufacturing” is real or merely something to conduct long-term research and development for, it can again be inferred that the creators of the Green New Deal don’t envision the need for a move away from a mass consumer economy, which requires boundless amounts of energy and waste to operate.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    I encourage readers to visit the text of the Green New Deal themselves. There is much that is worthy in the proposal, including language about mass transit, community decision-making power, public banks and other financial democratization ideas, as well as some basic ideas about changing farming practices and ensuring water quality.

    But, in conjunction with Morningstar’s research, the red flags are definitely there, as well as additional important absences.

    Just a few of these absences include the fact that:

  • There’s no mention of downsizing the U.S. military, which is one of the world’s most rabid users of fossil fuel energy, as well as a massive carbon emitter and creator of toxic pollution.
  • There’s no mention of ending current subsidies paid to fossil fuel companies, nor any mention of potential financial support to the clean energy sector or to households that can’t afford to refashion their use of energy (which, quite frankly, will be most of them).
  • There’s no mention of the environmental impact of the intensive mineral mining, resulting pollution and water use it will take to make all those solar panels, wind turbines and electric car batteries—not to mention the current way those materials are obtained (by exploiting impoverished workers and their children in developing nations).
  • There’s no mention of re-imagining how we use land (re-wilding, for instance) in a country that, after WWII, spread out and suburbanized on the back of the automobile, the airplane, the fast food restaurant and an ocean of plentiful cheap oil.
  • And, the largest issue of all, in many respects, there’s no language that challenges consumption as not only a lifestyle, but as the essential ingredient of a strong economy.
  • In even a cursory run-through of the Green New Deal proposal, it seems to me that any view of Morningstar’s work as simply purist, anti-capitalist, anti-establishment paranoia contains a determination not to see some very obvious issues that could have serious ramifications. All of which is to say, it makes sense to give her research full and attentive consideration.
  • As always, thanks for reading and listening.

    The Militarisation & Marketisation of Nature: An Alternative Lens to ‘Climate-Conflict

    The Militarisation & Marketisation of Nature: An Alternative Lens to ‘Climate-Conflict

    November 2014

    “The Militarisation & Marketisation of Nature: An Alternative Lens to ‘Climate-Conflict”

    By ALEXANDER DUNLAP, Global Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK & JAMES FAIRHEAD, Anthropology, Justice and Violence Research Centre, International Development, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK

     

    “Policies addressing climate change are driving major transformations in access to global land, forests and water as they create new ‘green’ markets that reinforce, and attracts the financial grid and its speculators. This leads us to examine the rise of state violence and subsequent environmental policies in forests, transferring into both ‘fortress’ and ‘participatory’ conservation, enhancing this relationship with new environmental commodity markets. We go on to document how the new and intensifying commodification of the environment associated with climate change is manifest in conflicts linked to the UN-REDD+ programme, industrial tree plantations (ITPs), and land-use practices associated with conservation and biofuels. We trace conflicts to business practices associated with land acquisitions and mining practices which claim to address climate change and mitigate ecological crises. This paper thus grapples with systemic issues of the modern industrial economy and the mechanisms legitimising and advancing the militarisation and marketisation of nature.”

     

    Bolivia’s President Evo Morales who was forced to resign during a horrific coup d’état that took place on November 10, 2019. With an estimated 9,000,000 tons, Bolivia holds about 43% of the world’s known lithium reserves. Lithium is the backbone of a “Global Green New Deal – the popular term for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (as sought by World Economic Forum, now partnered w/ the UN) The Lithium ABC countries are — A-rgentina B-olivia & C-hile. Photographer: STR/AFP via Getty Images

    INTRODUCTION

    There is more to ‘climate and security’ than worrying whether people fight more in increasingly bad weather. Policies addressing climate change are driving major transformations in access to global land, forests and water as they create new commodities and markets for carbon, biofuels, biodiversity and climate-secure food. The emergence of these new ‘climate change commodities’ reinforces, and also attracts the financial grid and its speculators. What interests us in this paper is how the advent and expansion of these new commodities and their markets generate or prolong conflicts. ‘Climate conflicts’ become manifest in these new economic and political orders that, we argue, arise around these markets, driving ‘land grabs’, ‘water grabs’ and ‘green grabs’, and which are further animated by food and energy securitisation in the face of new climatic threats.

    It is our contention, then, that pressing links between climate change and security are to be perceived through these mitigation markets and the resource capture and militarisation associated with them. It is our worry that
    current discourses that ‘securitise’ climate change are actually part and parcel of these markets, and thus play a part in bringing about the very insecurities that they might purport to address. Moreover, these discourses nourish these new global ‘green’ markets that remain dependent on resource intensive structures and a military-industrial complex to police them. Climate Security, in the tradition of mainstream development, assumes the continuation of the industrial and financial economy as the implicit reason for mitigation and adaptation, and fails to address, or even acknowledge at times, the inherent environmental insecurity and widespread degradation built into this industrial economy. The popular and widespread belief that environmental  degradation and climate change directly induces and intensifies conflict, thus risks creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in a second way by extending and intensifying the existing political and industrial economic relationships dependent on growth imperatives and the subsequent consumption and usurpation of the natural environment.

    To proceed, we review literatures on climate-conflict/security to render visible the violence in land frontiers. We then examine the rise of state violence and subsequent environmental policies in forests and protected areas,
    and how these relationships transfer into both the ‘fortress’ and ‘participatory’ conservation, that are now enhanced by ‘green’ or environmental commodity markets. We go on to document how the new and  intensifying commodification of the environment associated with climate change is manifest in land conflicts linked to the UN-REDD+ programme, industrial tree plantations (ITPs), and land-use practices associated with conservation and ‘offsetting’.

    We trace conflicts to business practices associated with land acquisitions and mining practices which claim to address climate change and mitigate ecological crises – expanding our analysis to embrace such Orwellian concepts as ‘sustainable mining’ and ‘green uranium’. This paper thus grapples with systemic issues of the modern industrial economy and the mechanisms legitimising and advancing the militarisation and marketisation of nature.

    These concerns are generally pushed to the margins, if not neglected in their entirety by the climate conflict debate, requiring immediate reflection and thoughtful action.

  • Climate Conflict and the Problem of Political Economy
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  • COUNTERINSURGENCY AT THE CONJUNCTURE OF STATE AND NATURE: POLITICAL FORESTS
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  • With Devastation Comes (Market) Opportunity: ‘Green’ Markets and Land Control
  •  

  • Self-Fulfilling Climate-Conflict?
  •  

    Download the paper: The_Militarisation_and_Marketisation_of

     

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