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Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)

Corporate net zero goals: solution or deception?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 16, 2021

Climate change superstar Mark Carney set off a media flurry in a video interview with Bloomberg Live on February 10, in which he claimed that Brookfield Asset Management is a “net zero” company because its renewables investments offset emissions from its other holdings. Carney reflects a new trend of corporate aspirational statements, for example: Jeff Bezos’ corporate network The Climate Pledge claimed in February that 53 companies across 18 industries have committed to working toward net-zero carbon in their worldwide businesses, most by 2050. Recent high profile examples include Royal Dutch Shell , Canada’s TD Bank  and Bank of Montreal, and FedEx , which on March 5 announced its goal to be carbon-neutral by 2040 as well as an initial investment of $2 billion to start electrifying its delivery fleet and $100 million to fund a new research centre for carbon capture at Yale University.

Will these corporate goals help to reach the Paris Agreement target? Many recent articles are skeptical, labelling them “sham”, “greenwash”, and “deception” which seeks to protect the status quo. Some examples:

The climate crisis can’t be solved by carbon accounting tricks” (The Guardian, March 3) which offers a concise explanation of why “Disaster looms if big finance is allowed to game the carbon offsetting markets to achieve ‘net zero’ emissions.”

Global oil companies have committed to ‘net zero’ emissions. It’s a sham” by Tzeporah Berman and Nathan Taft (The Guardian, March 3) – which instead advocates for an international Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Call the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Net-Zero Bluff” by Kate Aronoff in New Republic. She writes: “This isn’t the old denialism oil companies funded decades ago. … Instead of casting doubt on whether the climate is changing, this new messaging strategy casts doubt on the obvious answer to what should be done about it: i.e., rapidly scaling down production….. For now, it’s one part creative accounting and many parts a P.R. strategy of waving around shiny objects like biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage.”

Can the market save the planet? FedEx is the latest brand-name firm to say it’s trying” in the Washington Post , which quotes Yale Professor Paul Sabin, warning that “carbon capture research also should not become an excuse for doubling down on fossil fuel consumption, or delaying urgently needed policies to move away from fossil fuel consumption, including the electrification of transportation.”

Economic Development Policies to Enable Fairness for Workers and Communities in Transition

By Daniel Raimi, Wesley Look, Molly Robertson, and Jake Higdon - Resources for the Future, August 11, 2020

Communities that are heavily dependent on fossil fuel–related economic activity—including the production of coal, oil, and natural gas and the transformation and consumption of these fuels—would experience substantial effects of a societal shift away from such fuels. This report reviews a range of federal economic development policies and programs that may help affected workers and communities thrive in a low-emissions future. Future reports in this series will examine other tools (e.g., workforce development policy, energy and environmental policy, infrastructure policy) that can play a role in supporting affected workers and communities.

Here, we focus on programs and policies that explicitly seek to support local economic development. In particular, we examine programs led by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development, the Department of Interior’s Secure Rural Schools, the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, the Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment, and the Small Business Administration, plus emerging efforts in Colorado and New Mexico.

For ease of analysis, we group economic development programs into two broad categories: those that target local or regional economies historically driven by natural resource development (e.g., coal, agriculture, timber) and programs with a broader geographic and/or economic scope.

We identify three major mechanisms through which the federal government delivers support:

  • Capacity building involves programs that provide technical assistance, planning, or research to support local economic development efforts. Such programs can be effective tools to reduce knowledge gaps and increase human capital and productivity. In a concise summary, Wharton (1958) describes this approach as “helping people help themselves.”
  • Financial support to public and community organizations helps public or quasi-public organizations deliver local economic development programming. This support may be direct (e.g., grants or loans) or indirect (e.g., loan guarantees) and can enhance the human and physical capital stock (including infrastructure) in a community.
  • Financial support to private, for-profit firms may similarly be direct or indirect; the federal government may also offer tax credits, which are not applicable to public entities because they do not pay taxes. These programs are often intended to support small businesses that may struggle to access affordable borrowing, or to jump-start local businesses in sectors that policymakers believe hold promise for future prosperity.

Read the text (PDF).

8 Unions Have a Plan for Climate Action—But It Doesn’t Mention Fighting the Fossil Fuel Industry

By Rachel M. Cohen - In These Times, August 26, 2019

On June 24, the BlueGreen Alliance — a national coalition which includes eight large labor unions and six influential environmental groups—released an eight-page document laying out its vision to curb climate change and reduce inequality. The report, dubbed Solidarity for Climate Action, marks a significant development in the world of environmental politics. It argues the needs of working people must be front-and-center as the U.S. responds to climate change, and rejects the ​“false choice” between economic security and a healthy planet.

While the report’s focus on public investment, good jobs and justice shares much in common with the federal Green New Deal resolution introduced in February, it also stands in tension with environmentalists who demand the U.S. work to transition more quickly away from oil, coal and natural gas. ​“We’d really like them to be stronger and more concise about what it means to move away from fossil fuels and transition to renewables,” said José Bravo, executive director of the Just Transition Alliance and speaking on behalf of the Climate Justice Alliance. Members of the BlueGreen Alliance say the ultimate goal should be to decarbonize the economy — to reduce CO2 emissions, but not necessarily end the fossil fuel industry itself, with its tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. Other climate groups say that won’t be enough, and humanity cannot afford to preserve industries that have caused so much environmental harm. This difference in vision will stand as one of the most fundamental political questions facing progressives in the next decade.

The report spells out a series of principles, including limiting warming to 1.5°C, expanding union jobs, modernizing infrastructure, bolstering environmental protections and rebuilding the nation’s manufacturing sector with green technologies. It also elevates the issue of equity, calling to ​“inject justice into our nation’s economy by ensuring that economic and environmental benefits of climate change solutions support the hardest hit workers and communities.” The BlueGreen Alliance emphasizes the disproportionate impact low-income workers and communities of color will face, and says those affected by the energy transition must receive ​“a just and viable transition” to new, high-quality union jobs.

(Read the rest here)

Solidarity for Climate Action

By staff - Blue Green Alliance, July 2019

Americans face the dual crises of climate change and increasing economic inequality, and for far too long, we’ve allowed the forces driving both crises to create a wedge between the need for economic security and a living environment. We know this is a false choice—we know that we can and must have both, and we need a bold plan to address both simultaneously.

Many solutions are already being put into place across the country. For example, tradespeople built the Block Island offshore wind project off the coast of Rhode Island, autoworkers are on the factory floors building cleaner cars and trucks in Michigan, and previously unemployed workers in St. Louis and Los Angeles are gaining access to high-skilled jobs in energy efficiency retrofitting, pipefitting, and transit manufacturing, while mine workers are extracting palladium to be used in catalytic converters. These are all good, union jobs building a clean energy and climate-resilient economy today.

At the same time, not enough of the new jobs that have been created or promised in the clean energy economy are high-quality, family-sustaining jobs, nor are these jobs in the same communities that have seen the loss of good-paying, union jobs.

Wildfires, hurricanes, heat waves, droughts, and sea-level rise driven by climate change are hurting communities across the country and will only worsen if we don’t take decisive action. Lower income workers and communities of color are hit the hardest and are less able to deal with these impacts as wages have fallen and their economic mobility and power in the workplace has declined.

It is critical that working people are front and center as we create a new economy: one that values our work, our families, our communities, and our environment. It is with that imperative that we call for a new plan to create jobs and protect the environment for the next generation. This plan must respond to the climate crisis on the scale that science demands, while simultaneously addressing inequality in all its forms.

Read the report (PDF).

The Clean Power Plan Is Not Worth Saving. Here Are Some Steps to Take Instead

By Dennis Higgins - Truthout, January 19, 2018

The Clean Power Plan (CPP) was proposed by President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2014 to mitigate human-caused factors in climate change. It focused principally on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The plan was much heralded by environmental groups. Not surprisingly, in October 2017, Trump's appointed EPA head, Scott Pruitt, signed a measure meant to repeal this plan. 

Several states attorneys general and many national environmental groups are pushing back. However, in censuring Trump's attack on the CPP, valid criticisms of the plan itself have been ignored. No one remembers to mention that promoting gas was always at the heart of the CPP.

The current US gas boom is due to hydraulic fracturing of shale beds. This extreme extraction mechanism jeopardizes human aquifers, uses millions of gallons of water per well, and produces toxic flowback whose disposal is linked to water contamination and earthquakes. The product of fracturing is often referred to as "fracked gas." In short, the CPP supports the use of "natural" (fracked) gas.

Under Obama, the EPA, aided by the gas industry, declared "natural gas" to be "clean." Gas is mostly methane, and "fugitive methane" -- the gas that leaks by accident or through intentional venting, from well-head to delivery -- was discounted in the CPP. Noting the only factor in methane's favor (it generates less carbon dioxide on combustion than coal or oil), the field is tilted in favor of gas-burning power plants. In an article entitled, "Did the 'Clean Natural Gas' lobby help write EPA's Clean Power Plan?" Cornell scientist Robert Howarth points out a fundamental flaw in the CPP. The plan, "addresses only carbon dioxide emissions, and not emissions of methane... This failure to consider methane causes the Plan to promote a very poor policy -- replacing coal-burning power plants with plants run on natural gas ... "

Only at leakage rates lower than 1 to 3 percent (depending on usage) is gas cleaner than coal. But methane leaks at rates between 2 and 12 percent, and its climate impact -- or global warming potential (GWP) -- is 86 times that of CO2 over 20 years. (The GWP means a pound of methane in the atmosphere has the warming equivalent of 86 pounds of CO2 over 20 years. Of course, we're not talking about pounds here, but about millions of tons per year.) In a review of the CPP, Howarth said, "Converting to natural gas plants, which is what this latest rule is likely to do, will actually aggravate climate change, not make things better. It's well enough established to suggest the EPA is on the wrong side of the science."

It should be noted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Paris accord and New York State all use the year 1990 as a baseline from which to measure greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. But, perhaps disingenuously, Obama's EPA chose to use 2005, at which time recession had already achieved significant carbon reduction, rendering the plan's proposed cuts to CO2 even less significant.

In August 2015, James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for three decades and one of the first to sound the alarm about global warming, described the CPP as "almost worthless" in that it failed "to attack the fundamental problem." Hansen stated bluntly: "As long as fossil fuels are allowed to be the cheapest energy, someone will burn them." Of the steps the CPP claimed to be taking to address global warming, Hansen said, "It is not so much a matter of how far you go. It is a matter of whether you are going in the right direction." That same year, the US Energy Information Administration came to the same conclusion that others had: Under the CPP, the natural gas industry would benefit before renewables did.

Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University also examined the efficacy of the CPP. He told Truthout that instead of using the IPCC's global warming potential for methane of 86 pounds over 20 years, the CPP assessed methane's impact (GWP) at 25 pounds over 100 years. This factor, its failure to fully assess fugitive methane, as well as its curious 2005 baseline, mean that the projected 32 percent reduction in CO2 from power plants by 2030 would have the net effect of reducing those greenhouse gas emissions by only 11 percent. The CPP "more than compensates for the elimination of coal CO2 with additional CO2 and methane," according to Ingraffea. "If this is all we manage in the power sector in the next 13 years, we are screwed," he said.

Now Hiring: The Growth of America’s Clean Energy and Sustainability Jobs

By Eskedar Gessesse, et. al. - Blue Green Alliance, January 2017

The following text is by Elizabeth Perry, Work and Climate Change Report, February 3, 2017:

Following on the January 2017 report US Energy and Employment  from the U.S. Department of Energy, more evidence of the healthy growth of the clean energy industry comes in a report by the Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps and Meister consultants.  Now Hiring: The Growth of America’s Clean Energy and Sustainability Jobs compiles the latest statistics from diverse sources, and concludes that “sustainability” accounts for an estimated 4.5 million jobs (up from 3.4 million in 2011) in the U.S. in 2015. Sustainability jobs are defined as those in energy efficiency and renewable energy, as well as waste reduction, natural resources conservation and environmental education, vehicle manufacturing, public sector, and corporate sustainability jobs.

Statistics drill down to wages and working conditions – for example, average wages for energy efficiency jobs are almost $5,000 above the national median, and wages for solar workers are above the national median of $17.04 per hour. Comparing clean energy with the fossil fuel industry, the report states that the 1.4 million jobs in energy efficiency construction and installation alone is more than double the number of workers in fossil fuel mining, extraction and electric power generation combined. Now Hiring states that for every $1 million invested in building retrofits and industrial efficiency, 8 direct or indirect jobs are created; in comparison, 3 are created by a comparable investment in the fossil fuel industry. This final comparison of job multiplier effect is based on “Green versus brown: Comparing the employment impacts of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and fossil fuels using an input-output model” by Heidi Garrett Pelletier at PERI, and appears in the February 2017 issue of Economic Modelling.

Read the report (Link).

Senate Bill 4 Regs Will Expand Fracking in California

By Dan Bacher - IndyBay, July 2, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The Governor Jerry Brown administration, known for its subservience to Big Oil, is gearing up for a massive expansion of fracking and other extreme oil drilling techniques that will contaminate California's groundwater supplies, pollute rivers and streams, and devastate coastal ecosystems, including so-called "marine protected areas" implemented under his helm.

On July 1, anti-fracking, environmental and watchdog groups responded to the release of final fracking regulations developed under Senate Bill 4, pointing out that the rules promote more fracking and pollution of water supplies in the drought-plagued state.

Senate Bill 4, the green light for fracking bill, was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on September 20, 2013. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the California League of Conservation Voters, the Environmental Defense Fund and other corporate "environmental" NGOs provided green cover for the odious legislation. They backed the bill until the very last minute when they finally decided to withdraw support because of amendments from the Western States Petroleum Association and other Big Oil interests that further weakened the already weak legislation.

In a statement, Food and Water Watch said, "Today the Brown Administration finalized regulations on fracking and other dangerous oil extraction techniques that will allow oil and gas companies to continue to conduct these techniques at the expense of California’s water, air, agriculture and public health."

White House Solicits “Green” Sell-outs For Positive Statements on Trans-Pacific Partnership

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers - Global Research, April 08, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. 

The White House has published a handful of comments from “environmental groups” implying widespread support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other corporate trade agreements. Yet these cherry-picked comments from some of the most conservative, corporate-funded environmental groups actually reveal the administration’s desperation to find any support for such deals.

Indeed, the reality is that scores of major environmental organizations including Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, League of Conservation Voters, Defenders of Wildlife, Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, 350.org, and many others oppose fast-track for the TPP. Many recognize the TPP is a backward step for environmental protection that will help push the world over the tipping point for climate change.

The White House’s false image of environmental support for the TPP

The White House is having a hard time generating any momentum for fast-track trade authority for the TPP and other agreements. The Obama administration pushed to stop the Seattle City Council from opposing fast-track legislation and the TPP, but instead got a unanimous vote against them from a major port city that trades with Asia.

One of the key issues that has fostered opposition to the TPP is the impact of the agreement on the environment. In order to counter the reality of broad environmental opposition, the White House published an article seeking to spin reality. The White House carefully selected environmental groups that are heavily corporate-funded and then cherry-picked quotes inaccurately portraying their position. In fact, all the groups quoted by the White House have said they have not endorsed the TPP and are waiting to see what the agreement says.

In response to the White House effort Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesman for 350.org said:  “So many groups and organizations who care about climate change have repeatedly bashed this corporate giveaway — and suggesting otherwise is nothing short of misleading cynicism.” And, Jake Schmidt, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international program said: “The White House took some of their statements and spun them out. There are a large number of environmental groups that came out pretty clearly and said … ‘What we’ve seen on TPP doesn’t look good.’”

The Truth About Natural Gas: A ‘Green’ Bridge to Hell

By Naomi Oreskes - EcoWatch, July 28 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Albert Einstein is rumored to have said that one cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that led to it. Yet this is precisely what we are now trying to do with climate change policy. The Obama administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), many environmental groups, and the oil and gas industry all tell us that the way to solve the problem created by fossil fuels is with more fossils fuels. We can do this, they claim, by using more natural gas, which is touted as a “clean” fuel—even a “green” fuel.

Like most misleading arguments, this one starts from a kernel of truth. That truth is basic chemistry: when you burn natural gas, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced is, other things being equal, much less than when you burn an equivalent amount of coal or oil. It can be as much as 50 percent less compared with coal, and 20 percent to 30 percent less compared with diesel fuel, gasoline, or home heating oil. When it comes to a greenhouse gas (GHG) heading for the atmosphere, that’s a substantial difference. It means that if you replace oil or coal with gas without otherwise increasing your energy usage, you can significantly reduce your short-term carbon footprint.

Replacing coal gives you other benefits as well, such as reducing the sulfate pollution that causes acid rain, particulate emissions that cause lung disease, and mercury that causes brain damage. And if less coal is mined, then occupational death and disease can be reduced in coal miners and the destruction caused by damaging forms of mining, including the removal, in some parts of the country, of entire mountains can be reduced or halted.

Those are significant benefits. In part for these reasons, the Obama administration has made natural gas development a centerpiece of its energy policy, and environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund, have supported the increased use of gas. President Obama has gone as far as to endorse fracking—the controversial method of extracting natural gas from low permeability shales—on the grounds that the gas extracted can provide “a bridge” to a low carbon future and help fight climate change.

So if someone asks: “Is gas better than oil or coal?” the short answer seems to be yes. And when it comes to complicated issues that have science at their core, often the short answer is the (basically) correct one.

As a historian of science who studies global warming, I’ve often stressed that anthropogenic climate change is a matter of basic physics: CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which means it traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. So if you put additional CO2 into that atmosphere, above and beyond what’s naturally there, you have to expect the planet to warm. Basic physics.

And guess what? We’ve added a substantial amount of CO2 to the atmosphere, and the planet has become hotter. We can fuss about the details of natural variability, cloud feedbacks, ocean heat and CO2 uptake, El Niño cycles and the like, but the answer that you get from college-level physics—more CO2 means a hotter planet—has turned out to be correct. The details may affect the timing and mode of climate warming, but they won’t stop it.

In the case of gas, however, the short answer may not be the correct one.

Does the Environmental Movement Speak for You?

By Burkely Hermann - Originally published at State of Nature, Spring 2013; reposted by permission of the author.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

For years, I thought the big environmental organizations were on my side. Just look at the nice logo for the World Wildlife Fund which has a polar bear as its image and the Defenders of Wildlife with wolves howling in the background. However, as I entered my first year of college I had a rude awakening. In researching for a talk, I found that companies ranging from the worst polluters to health insurance firms had representatives on the boards of these organizations. Over two months later I followed up on this and my anger was even greater as I woke up to the reality. In 2008, when the anger over the Sierra Club partnering with Clorox spread nationwide, NBC News quoted Gwen Ruta, a vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund, as saying that “partnerships between businesses and advocacy groups can be good for the planet and a company’s bottom line.” I asked myself: are these huge environmental organizations corrupted by the business community and the two-party oligarchy?

Let us jump back to the Forward on Climate protest in DC on February 17th. I went to the protest on this very cold day and wrote something everyone should keep in mind. Looking back, I remember how the rally before the march on the White House seemed like an Obama rally, and a bit like a rock concert. While there were college students and people of all persuasions – races, genders and ethnicities – the rhetoric of the speakers deeply worried me. My friend, who was also equally critical of Obama, concurred. While there were some good speakers such as indigenous rights groups and 350.org founder Bill McKibben, there were also a number of Obamacrats, such as Sheldon Whitehouse, the sponsor of the internet censorship bill, SOPA, and Van Jones, who formerly worked as Obama’s “green jobs” czar. Also, there were some strange speakers like an investment banker, an actor on a reality TV show, a commentator who has a CNN show and the Sierra Club President. It seemed to me that this rally was trying to channel all of the people there to have one demand: end the Keystone XL pipeline. I still think that people were thinking for themselves, and the march itself was inspiring to see, but it seems a lot of people took in the pro-Obama rhetoric without questioning it. As a result, I now believe that the permitted and approved march was almost worthless, and was a waste of time because no sort of political change came, especially since these “pseudo-protests” were on a Sunday, when the federal government wasn’t in town, meaning they were not a threat.

You may wonder how this ties into the environmental movement. Major “partner organizations” of this the Forward on Climate protest included the National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club (a main sponsor), Environment America, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), National Wildlife Foundation (NWF), World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Wilderness Society. These organizations are part of what will be referred to throughout this article as “Gang Green,” (or Big Green) a moniker which represents the top ten groups in the mainstream environmental movement, all of which have huge staffs and a good number of lobbyists, and bring in millions each year. Journalist Naomi Klein recently wrote in The Nation about these groups, saying how the divestment campaign pushed by young activists has missed an important target: Big Green, which has

led the climate movement down various dead ends [including] carbon trading, carbon offsets, [and] natural gas as a “bridge fuel”… [because] the groups pushing hardest for these false solutions took donations, formed corporate partnerships with [or have stock in] the big emitters… [including] Conservation International… [the] Wildlife Conservation Society… WWF [World Wildlife Fund]… the National Wildlife Federation [and]… the Nature Conservancy.

As Klein says, “the message to Big Green is clear: cut your ties with the fossils, or become one yourself.”

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