Our Daily Planet's Bright Ideas

Bright Ideas is a weekly featured opinion piece authored by policymakers, thought leaders & experts highlighting steps we can take toward a more sustainable future brought to you by people that know these topics best.

Earth Day Starts in Your Own Back Yard

By Raleigh Kitchen, Membership and Outreach Manager, St. Simons Land Trust

Earth Day is usually associated with big demonstrations, laudable corporate commitments and remarks by national figures encouraging us to keep persevering in the fight for our planet. Those are all important actions, but we can’t forget that the most impactful things we can do to ensure a brighter future for planet Earth begin in our own communities.  Volunteering to build trails, cleaning up trash, and ensuring that wildlife habitats are protected are actions we can all take to bring large scale themes like climate change, biodiversity conservation, and sustainability to our own backyards.

The St. Simons Land Trust is an organization providing ways for people to do just that. Located on St. Simons Island, Georgia, our mission is to preserve the island’s natural and scenic character and enhance quality of life for present and future generations. We do this by acquiring highly developable or ecologically-vulnerable land, managing it with the utmost care, and providing passive recreation, educational outreach, and volunteer opportunities to the community.

The St. Simons Land Trust was founded in 2000 by a small but motivated group of community members. Their concern? Over-development. Who would ensure that wild maritime forests, natural green spaces, and historical and culturally significant properties would remain protected for their children and grandchildren? Over the last nineteen years, the Land Trust has protected more than 1,000 acres of land on an island rivaling the size of Manhattan. Our incredibly generous membership base of nearly 1,400 households and businesses, as well as those who have donated invaluable time and expertise, are who keep our mission moving forward and help us achieve our goals.

We cherish our precious barrier island and the unique wildlife and ecosystems that call it home. Part of our role is encouraging people who live and visit here to find a collective purpose in conserving St. Simons Island. Whether those people consider themselves conservationists or not, the notion that you and your neighbors have a shared bond through nature is a powerful thing.

This Earth Day we encourage you to start at home and join an effort in your community that is making a difference—and if one doesn’t exist, talk to your neighbors and start one! Or find a land trust like ours that is close to you. Volunteer opportunities are endless. It’s easy to see the big actions taking place around the globe and feel like there’s not much we can do. But sometimes the most impactful work involves each of us doing our part in our communities to ensure that the spirit of Earth Day lasts all year long.

Come take a virtual stroll through St. Simons:

Making the Green New Deal Real

Photo: Al Drago, Bloomberg

By Monica Medina

The hearing this week before the House Reform and Oversight Committee on the national security implications of climate change was an eye-opener.  The goal of the hearing was to be non-partisan, with one Republican and one Democrat witness – both former Senators and members of the National Security team.  But the Republicans on the Committee blew up the hearing, desperate to change the subject and preferring to use the Green New Deal as their target, rather than the two respected war heroes who came to testify.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did not shrink from the fight – indeed she challenged her Republican colleagues on the Committee to explain how they could misconstrue a fourteen-page resolution that was written in plain English so that any member of the public could know what it proposes.  She argued that her critics should read it before labeling it.  Indeed, if anything, the Green New Deal is susceptible to this type of mischaracterization because it is a broad and aspirational resolution.  It is an environmental Rorschach test.

Centrists are particularly worried by the Green New Deal and the fact that it is being labeled as socialist policy.  But in openly agonizing about it, they are falling into the trap laid by the Republicans. To fail to push back on that characterization would be a mistake because the Republicans can’t even agree on whether climate change exists, much less how to deal with it.  And as Friend of the Planet and former Republican strategist Kurt Bardella said in yesterday’s Our Daily Planet interview, the Republican Party’s position on climate change “is on the wrong side of history, and in this case the facts and the science, and that is not a tenable position to hold long-term.”

One way to move beyond this debilitating debate is to start to fill in the lines of the Green New Deal.  And some Democrats have begun to try to do just that.  This week, Representative Scott Peters urged Democrats to adopt a “Climate Playbook” saying that there are dozens of great legislative proposals already working their way through Congress.  But his “proposal” is only a list of bills, published on the web site Medium – it does not provide a game plan or even a blueprint for which ones we should do.  Others look to market mechanisms like taxing carbon or a carbon fee or want to focus merely on clean energy policy and forget the rest.  This is too narrow in my view.  We need to make other sectors more sustainable too, such as agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, construction, and we need to increase our capacity to adapt and mitigate climate impacts.

So how do we make the Green New Deal real, without making it incremental and just plain dull?  Let’s start with five key building blocks – expanding on current programs with additional funding that have strong potential for bipartisan support.

  1. Double the funding for Conservation Programs just reauthorized in the overwhelmingly bipartisan 2018 Farm bill.  The bill’s two primary working lands conservation programs are the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).  But there are other “small but mighty” programs such as the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers  Program, Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP).   Cost = $3.5 billion.
  2. Instead of cutting the Energy Department’s Applied Energy R&D budget by $2 billion,  increase it by $2 billion.   Senate Republicans are already starting to get behind a similar proposal – there is currently talk of significantly increasing energy R&D spending. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is pushing for a “Manhattan Project for Clean Energy” that would double government spending on energy research.  And Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she is “all in” on Alexander’s proposal.  Democrats in the Senate would agree so this too could pass.  Cost = $2 billion.
  3. Increase funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund by $2.5 billion.  In 2018, the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund disbursed $2.5 billion for drinking water infrastructure to improve our nation’s public health.  This funding could be used specifically to address the widespread problem of PFAS chemicals found in water all over the country, which the Administration pledged to work on last February.  Cost = $2.5 billion.
  4. Double and make permanent the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the Quadruple the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC).  Congress reauthorized the LWCF last month, but they did not provide funds, much less make them permanent.  In addition, Congress could provide 100,000 jobs in conservation to young people and veterans by quadrupling the 21CSC that was reauthorized in March with wide bi-partisan support.  Cost =  $1 billion.
  5. Increase the Capacity of the National Weather Service to predict climate events and aid in adaptation efforts.   The National Weather Service is one of the government’s biggest bargains and with more funding could easily scale up its services and support to businesses and the public, particularly as we seem to be dealing with more extreme weather all the time. Even conservative Members of Congress like Republican Senator James Inhofe fight to ensure they do not lose critical weather services in their states.  Cost = $750 million.

While not the entire Green New Deal, these expenditures are a significant down payment, and would “prime the pump” for more.  Indeed, the price tag here is only $9.75 billion dollars — an incredible bargain.  It’s hardly $100 Trillion.  It’s much less than the cost of a useless border wall, and no one can call them socialism — Congress already has supported them in the last year, in fact.  And it would be worth every penny.   The Green New Deal could be very real right away, and at less than $10 billion in cost, it would be a steal.

The Blue New Deal  

There has been a great deal of discussion of the Green New Deal but there is little about the ocean in it.  Part of the reason why the ocean has not been factored in is that we don’t know much about what lies beneath the surface.  A Blue New Deal would need to help unlock the mysteries of the deep that will be the foundation of both healthy oceans that are free of plastic and full of life, and ensure the sustainable use of ocean resources for food and clean energy, etc.  We can’t be a green planet, without caring for the blue!

by RADM Jonathan W. White, USN (ret.), President and CEO,  Consortium for Ocean Leadership

This blog was originally published on April 1, 2019

I just heard from a longtime friend on the Hill that “soon” Congress will introduce a “Blue New Deal” in both chambers with support from the President and all ocean agencies. Congress and the Administration are joining forces to create a strategic, cost-loaded plan that will address ocean science and technology needs nationwide, bringing together federal agencies with their partners in academia, industry, state and local government, and NGOs to work on key common goals. I’m pleased that our nation’s leaders are taking these critical next steps to protect our ocean’s future and that they’re setting such an ambitious timeline — they plan to see these goals realized by the end of 2020.

Some highlights of the legislation will include:

  • Increased funding for ocean and coastal observing systems, with the ultimate goal of a fully integrated national ocean observing framework generating uninterrupted, 24/7 data.
  • Establishment of a unified (virtually or physically), secure ocean data portal and repository, which will make data from all ocean observations more widely accessible and understandable to scientists, decisionmakers, educators, and the public.
  • Federal support for K-12 ocean science courses and extracurricular activities that will expose more students (regardless of where they live) to ocean science and increase ocean literacy.
  • Creation of FISH ROE (Finding Integrated Solutions to Habitat Resiliency and the Ocean Economy), a revolutionary incubator connecting researchers and practitioners in traditional and new ocean industries with biologists and ecologists specializing in coastal and ocean ecosystems.
  • Introduction of the BAIT (Broad Aquaculture Innovative Testbed) project to build an environmentally responsible, integrated, multitrophic aquaculture system, rapidly moving transdisciplinary, cutting-edge aquaculture research into practice.
  • Initiatives at the national, regional, state, and local levels to create or update coastal infrastructure based on local sea level rise projections.
  • Pilot programs across the nation addressing fisheries health concerns with innovative management strategies tailored to regional and ocean-wide needs.
  • Several new programs dealing with marine debris and ocean plastic pollution, including research into collection technologies and new standards for waste-water management, such as microplastic catch filters. Included will be an initiative to dramatically increase the number of recycling centers nationwide and create a clear path to move more recycled materials into manufactured products.
  • A rejuvenation of the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP) to convene, plan, and manage the necessary interagency and public-private partnership programs to rapidly advance the above and many other sustainable initiatives toward an ocean that is well managed and prosperous, meeting the needs of humanity and all other life on our planet.

There’s just one hurdle thing that must be considered in all of this …


While there are certainly good intentions by many of our ocean champions, no such grand, sweeping effort exists (at least, not now). I think we would all love to see such an ambitious commitment to securing the health and future of our ocean, our nation, and the world we influence. I fear if we don’t, future generations may look at us as the real fools.

This blog first appeared in the President’s Corner of the Consortium For Ocean Leadership on April 1, 2019.  It’s reprinted here with Admiral White’s permission.  We wish it were true too!  But it’s a great vision for a Blue New Deal.  

Senator Tammy Duckworth on Climate Change and National Security

Senator Tammy Duckworth

Last week, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) became one of 10 members of the newly formed Senate Democrat Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. As a former Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army and a Purple Heart recipient, Senator Duckworth brings an important perspective to this committee: that climate change is a direct threat to our national security and to our troops serving around the world. Her staff was kind enough to share a transcript of her remarks during the press conference announcing the new committee. Thank you, Senator Duckworth, for your service and for your dedication to climate issues–you’re a true hero.

“Even from the perspective of someone who’s come under enemy fire, it’s clear to me that not all the biggest threats we’ll face over the next 30 years will take the shape of a weapons attack.

The truth is that climate change is real, and climate change is here.

We can’t ignore it any longer:

The Midwest is flooding and the West Coast is burning.

Coastlines are sinking while temperatures are soaring.

And worldwide, instability is rising as farmland keeps dying.

This isn’t just some partisan squabble. It’s a national and global security threat—something that military leaders and Trump’s own intelligence officials admit, as terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram use droughts to solidify their power in Syria and Nigeria. As storms ravage our military bases and rising sea levels threaten to swallow 100 more.

Tell me that won’t impact troop readiness. Tell me that that won’t make it harder for our servicemembers to do their job, or to get the training they need to protect the people we love.

Look, I know that Donald Trump never deigned to put on the uniform, but bone spurs didn’t stop me from serving.

So let me clear something up for him:

He and the GOP shouldn’t keep claiming to care about our national security, or our military, if they keep ignoring the crises that are sapping its strength and putting Americans at risk.

Enough. Our troops deserve better… and American families deserve to know that their leaders are doing everything they can to keep their loved ones safe and their nation strong. That’s one reason why this work is so important, and why I was so glad to join my colleagues on Wednesday to announce the Senate Democrats’ new Special Committee on the Climate Crisis.”

The True Cost of That “Instagram-able” Moment

Visitors take pictures in the middle of a poppy field (i.e. not on a trail) on a slope of Walker Canyon near Lake Elsinore. Photo: Etienne Laurent

By: Miro Korenha, Founder and Publisher of Our Daily Planet 

 The past two weeks have brought Southern California not only a migration of a billion butterflies but also a super bloom of poppies and other wildflowers that have set social media accounts abuzz. It’s understandable, these were both brilliant natural displays and worthy of the awe felt by those who experienced them. The irony is that both events were caused by an atmospheric river that brought unprecedented rainfall to California this winter – in other words, climate change played a role in all those social media “likes.”

Social media has many benefits and allows us to stay connected to people and causes we care about but, when it comes to nature posts, there’s an alarming disconnect between the pretty photos people see and the real threats those places face. In fact, geotags have allowed scenic vistas and “Instagram-able” spots to become trashed, overly-crowded, and degraded. In Southern California’s Walker Canyon last week, Instagram influencers trying to snap a perfect picture of the super bloom ended up trampling the flowers and causing traffic jams to the point where the poppy fields had to be shut down. In their pursuit of the perfect picture, humans are destroying the very thing they are trying to capture.

This problem isn’t isolated to Southern California. Arizona’s Horseshoe Bend (a site near the Grand Canyon where the Colorado River makes a 180º twist) is losing its wild beauty as it has become an increasingly popular spot to post on Instagram. As the Outline explained, “Five years ago, Horseshoe Bend saw only a thousand visitors in a year. But this year, over 4,000 people a day have come to see the bend, take selfies at the rim, and dangle their feet over the exposed edge. All this traffic has put a lot of strain on the attraction.” Aside from the degradation to Horseshoe Bend, most people probably are ignorant of the reality that the Colorado River is evaporating due to a drastic decline that began in 2000 because of climate change. If the flow of the river declines by a possible 20-35%, that would not only make for a less striking Instagram post but will also threaten the drinking water of millions of Americans.

During the recent 35-day government shutdown, people spread trash all over Joshua Tree National Park and even vandalized the threatened Joshua trees. The park has more than 1 million geotags, but how many of these photo-op seekers know that Joshua trees and the moths that pollinate them are under threat from climate change? In fact, Joshua Tree National Park may no longer have any of its namesake trees by 2100 if we don’t act on climate change.

A growing group of explorer Instagram influencers have made the decision to stop geotagging in order to prevent the wild places they love from becoming overcrowded but this may not be enough. We must change our mentality when we see a stunning vista, a pristine beach, or a towering snowy peak on social media. Before we hit “like” and move on to the next image that strikes our fancy we need to stop and think about the factors that made that photo possible.  Human activity has affected every ecosystem on the planet (from Mt. Everest to the deepest trench in the ocean) and we seem to be using nature to convey status and accomplishment to our social networks rather than striving to be true stewards of our planet.

Nature photographers, such as #FriendOfThePlanet Brian Skerry, bring us stunning photos of places and animals that we would likely never experience ourselves but these professionals go out of their way to limit their impact on the nature they capture with their lenses. Next time you see an influencer post a photo, challenge that person to disclose the true making of that moment. Did they go off trail? Were they mindful of their presence in that environment? Did they research the history of their picturesque backdrop? Does their caption convey the true nature of what is happening to that place because of climate change?

When it comes to our parks and oceans, ignorance is not a luxury we can afford much longer. The only way we can preserve our natural landmarks is if we begin to hold one another accountable and collectively take action to protect nature. Pictures are nice, but if we’re not careful and mindful, they’ll be all we have left of these breathtaking places.

We Must Stand Up For Science

By Senator Brian Schatz

These are challenging, unprecedented times for science. This may not be the first time science has been under attack in the United States – climate denial has been alive and well for some time now – but from a historical perspective, we are in one of the worst moments, if not the worst moment, for science. Particularly government science.

Here is just one example. There are reports the president will create a White House panel to undermine government science on climate, and the person he will choose to lead this panel is the same man who compared climate science to Nazi propaganda.

Let that sink in.

When we can’t rely on our own federal government to protect science and research, we must turn to the people who have stood up to these attacks for decades. They are the scientists, researchers, and students who organized a walkout in 1969 to protest the government’s misuse of science. They are the people who sponsored teach-ins about the threat of nuclear war in 1981. They are the ones who rallied thousands of scientists to defend scientific integrity in government decision-making in 2004. And today, they are the people that continue to stand up for science and the public interest.

I am one of many members of Congress who count on them and appreciate their work. I worked closely with this community on a bill I introduced with Congressman Paul Tonko this week on scientific integrity. The Scientific Integrity Act (S.775) would protect government science from political interference. It would make data and findings off-limits for political appointees and managers, and make sure scientists follow careful processes for review.

This is one of many ways that we can answer the call of our times and stand up for science. As Thomas Jefferson put it, information is the currency of democracy. And government science is some of the most important information we can have in times like these.

Senator Schatz is the Senior Senator from Hawaii and serves as Senate Democrats’ Chief Deputy Whip, a leadership position that gives him a role in shaping policy and communications. This essay is adapted from remarks Senator Schatz delivered on March 14, 2019.

Scientific Integrity Act Summary

The Scientific Integrity Act will help prevent undue influence over federal science by establishing uniform standards at U.S. agencies to adopt or strengthen existing scientific integrity policies. These policies exist to prevent public research and findings from being distorted or shelved for political reasons. More than 20 federal agencies have developed some form of scientific integrity policy to-date but standards remain inconsistent.  The Scientific Integrity Act would:

  • Formalize and reinforce policies that require federal agencies that conduct or fund scientific research to maintain clear scientific integrity principles;
  • Affirm that science dictates policy, and that scientific research should be free from the pressure of politics, ideology, or financial influence; and
  • Hold public scientists to high standards and guarantee their rights and protections under the law.

Senator Schatz said upon introducing the bill, “President Trump has built a track record of distorting or suppressing science. In its first two years, the Trump Administration has buried reports on public health risks from perfluoroalkyl substances, falsified scientific claims to justify restrictions on birth control access, prohibited the Centers for Disease Control staff from using the words “evidence-based” and “science-based” in budget documents, and scrapped an EPA-recommended ban on chlorpyrifos, a pesticide proven to impair brain development in young children. Our bill would protect government science from political interference. It would make data and findings off-limits for political appointees and managers, and make sure scientists follow careful processes for review.”


Right Whales Are The Right Whale to Save – Just Ask Vineyard Wind

By Monica Medina

There are fewer than 415 North Atlantic Right Whales remaining, with only 100 females of breeding age left in the population. This is one of the most endangered species on the planet, thanks to man-made threats like ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. According to the U.S. Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Beth Allgood, “There may be only five years remaining to save these whales. This is one of the most pressing conservation challenges of our time.” But what did the Trump Administration do? They introduced yet another threat – they authorized five companies to conduct seismic testing along the eastern seaboard in order to look for oil and gas so that they could “drill, baby, drill” in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Trump Administration granted the exploration permits saying there would be no lasting impact to the whales, even though the Obama Administration had found the exact opposite to be true. How harmful are the tests? They involve the repeated firing of commercial air guns into the water every 10 seconds for months at a time.  These blasts are 16,000 times louder than a 120-decibel air horn, which when blasted in the halls of Congress, made many people noticeably jump. At a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee, Congressman Joe Cunningham of South Carolina demonstrated just how uncomfortably loud it is. It was Congressional oversight at its best – watch the video below to see for yourself. And even the Trump flack had to admit it was bad, but even more damning was his admission that he had no idea of the gravity of the harms to marine mammals that are caused by the seismic tests he approved.

It is a good thing that Members of the House of Representatives are empowered now to act – to hold hearings and to hold the Trump Administration accountable for their unpopular policies. Working with IFAW and other environmental groups, Democratic members also introduced two bills this past week to put government resources and research behind finding solutions to the Right Whale extinction threat. Despite this legislative pressure, however, the Trump Administration will no doubt continue to twist the science and dispute the facts and drill down on offshore drilling.   So environmental groups like Oceana have also taken to the courts to fight for the Right Whale – challenging the Trump Administration’s suspect determination that no animals would die as a result of the ear-splitting tests. Diane Hoskins, the campaign director at Oceana told the Washington Post, “This action is unlawful, and we’re going to stop it.”

But the best answer of all for the Right Whale is blowin’ in the wind – Vineyard Wind to be exact. Vineyard Wind is going to install a renewable wind farm of more than 80 turbines about 14 miles off the Massachusetts coast that will provide enough clean energy to power 400,000 homes.  Unlike the oil and gas companies who deny the environmental impacts of their testing on the whales, the renewable wind developer behind several wind projects has pledged to conduct its operations in a manner that will do everything possible to conserve the Right Whale. Vineyard Wind signed an agreement in January with the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and other environmental groups under which they will take historic steps in their first wind development off Massachusetts to (1) limit turbine construction to times of the year when right whales are least likely to be in the area; (2) use extensive shipboard, aerial, and acoustic monitoring to monitor whether right whales are nearby; (3) delay or suspend construction when whales are spotted until the whales have left the area; and (4) use noise-dampening technologies to avoid injury to right whales and make the turbine installation less disruptive.  This agreement will be the model for all future wind developments that could impact Right Whales.

Wind energy is on the rise now. Wind power is so much in demand that the right to develop the Vineyard Wind site — in the heart of whale country in the ocean waters south of Martha’s Vineyard – sold for a record-breaking $405 million. At the same time, drilling for oil and gas along the eastern seaboard is opposed by every governor and most other elected representatives up and down the coast. Residents of these states – north and south, red and blue – do not want to lose their precious whales or their pristine beaches to oil and gas drilling. I can relate – I spent much of my time at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) working to encourage, and even require better conservation of these majestic mammals.

No one in the government had to force Vineyard Wind to take these precautions – they did it because saving the Right Whale is the right thing to do. And this, along with Congressional action and meaningful litigation to keep the Trump Administration in check as much as possible, is reason for hope. As IFAW’s Allgood said, “If human activity has brought the right whale to this critical tipping point, then human proactivity, collaboration, and innovation can save it.”

To Go Deeper: Two short reads worthy of your time are this Op/Ed by Beth Allgood of IFAW on the threats facing Right Whales, and this blog by Priscilla Brooks of CLF on how Right Whales and wind farms in the ocean can co-exist.

This editorial has been updated to reflect that the Governor of Maine on February 25th announced the state’s opposition to offshore drilling.  H/T to Priscilla for letting us know!  Great news!

Fighting Climate Change Is Much More Than Just Hugging Trees

By Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

Governor Jay Inslee threw his hat into the ring for the Democratic nomination for President yesterday and pledged to center his entire campaign on the issue of climate change.  This is great news. He has taken the Green New Deal and thrust it into the conversation about who will be the most capable opponent to take on President Trump.  We can see it now – a sea of people wearing blue hats and t-shirts with the letters “MACA” for “Make America Cool Again” and a picture of the planet embroidered on them.  The double meaning of this slogan would be lost on some but not on most Americans. The majority of Americans acknowledge that climate change is real, people are causing it and more and more of us are beginning to feel its effects first hand.  Wouldn’t that be a great way to tee up a fight with the President on the single most important challenge we face today? We think so.

But immediately the skeptics pounced –from the right of course, but also from the left.  At the conservative CPAC conference, Vice President Pence, alluding to Governor Inslee’s failed carbon tax proposal, said the green in the Green New Deal stands for the money it will cost Americans in higher taxes and regulatory costs.  Additionally, Republican National Committee communications director Michael Ahrens said in a statement: “Jay Inslee’s chances of becoming president are exactly what he’s polling at: zero. His campaign will only force Democrats into embracing more extreme policies, like a carbon tax, which would kill jobs, raise energy prices, and disproportionately hurt working-class Americans.” It’s not clear where Ahrens gets his talking points as a future with increased renewable energy can bring energy prices down and the two fastest-growing jobs in America: solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians.

But far more disheartening was the reaction from the “liberal” media.  The entire lineup of MSNBC anchors was anxious to discuss and dismiss climate change as a fluffy, feel-good issue and hardly “meaty” enough to build a campaign around.  They seem to have forgotten all the news lately – the news that they read and report on a daily basis. How about the fact that the Black Friday Report on Climate Change dropped this bombshell – climate change has cost the U.S. economy $350 billion over the past decade.  Or the fact that NOAA reported that in 2018, there were 14 weather and climate disasters that cost a billion dollars or more and these resulted in a total of $91 billion in damages.  Or that our military and intelligence leaders consider climate change a top national security threat – even if the President is trying to rewrite that assessment with a bunch of non-experts from the White House.  Or that experts estimate (using EPA’s own statistics) that regulatory rollbacks, such as the clean car rule and the clean power plan, will cause thousands of premature deaths while leaving these rules in place would actually save $90 billion annually in human health costs.

A friend of ours wrote us and asked point blank  “Is Inslee’s campaign dead on arrival because it’s focusing on one issue?”  Inslee’s campaign will face an uphill battle because he is unknown outside of his home state of Washington.  But if anything, centering his campaign on climate change will give him an important plank – one that is a rallying cry for many on the left, just as building a border wall was for Trump supporters in 2016.

However, climate change as a political issue is also much more significant than even most Democrats give it credit for.  It encompasses literally every other voting priority like jobs, economy, national security, healthcare, immigration, etc., etc. Dems have just never communicated it as such.  It can provide a unifying framework on which to hang many popular proposals. It can give the Democrats a platform that holds together thematically – and that is easy to communicate.  It is a much better vehicle to engage the public than a bunch of policy memos and wonky ideas that none of these candidates could make appealing.

Climate change, and its government response – the Green New Deal – is big and bold and will make us great again by moving the nation forward, rather taking us back.  Much like its namesake, President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, there’s something for everyone. It is about the economy, an energy revolution, national security, agriculture, immigration, public health, and enjoying the outdoors.  It is about making every sector of our economy work more efficiently and cost us less – pollution is nothing more than waste that someone else has to pay for – either through illness or blight or ravaging fires or storms. Corporate polluters have been given tax cuts for decades and regulatory rollbacks will cost millions of American lives.  They’ve also been responsible for spreading climate denial and perpetuating the false narrative that action on climate comes at the direct cost of the economy. It’s time that the health and safety of the American public are prioritized over the profits of fossil fuel companies.

So bring it on, Governor Inslee.  Keep talking about climate change. We need it.  And maybe if you keep it up, even the Democrats will see it for what it is – the fuel for a blue wave in 2020.  

Socialism and the Green New Deal

Image result for socialism green new deal

by Miro Korenha
Founder and Publisher, Our Daily Planet 

When the Green New Deal resolution was announced earlier this month, it was met with questions, applause, but also pushback from those who thought it was a “Trojan horse for socialism.” While this type of rhetoric is not a surprising reaction from the right and more conservative institutions like the Chamber of Commerce, it exposed the reality that most Americans don’t really know what socialism means. On the surface, the default American mentality towards socialism is to label it a scary word from the Cold War era that created an “Us vs Them” mentality.

The slogan better dead than red” is resurfacing in our political discourse as is the fear-mongering that somehow a government-driven program like the Green New Deal will put the United States on a fast track to mirroring Venezuela’s current government. These are inherited fears from our parents and grandparents that have been fundamentally manipulated to stroke distrust of government, support decreased regulation for corporate polluters, and ultimately chip away at the health of our democracy.

Spoiler alert: neither the government in Venezuela nor in the former Soviet Union were socialist, rather they are and were state capitalist economies claiming to be socialist. In a socialist economy workers own the means of production, distribution, and trade, and since the state had and has a stranglehold on all sectors of the economy in the former USSR and Venezuela, it’s a false equivalency to compare broad government policy in the United States to anything that has happened in those regimes.

The United States for its part is also not a pure capitalist society, if we were, there would be no public education, government regulation of food safety, police force, or even our largest government expenditure: our armed services. If you look at the history of the United States, it has been our democratic government that has stepped in to help overcome our biggest crises such as the Great Depression, the World Wars, the polio epidemic, and most recently the financial collapse of 2008. Challenges so great cannot be corrected by market forces or corporations, as the only established entity that solely serves the American people is our government.

Climate change will be added to the aforementioned list of our greatest challenges and we’re already starting to see its impacts. Right now the effects of a warming planet may still seem intangible to many, but Americans are beginning to take the threat more seriously and want their political leaders to take action. Climate change is complicated and the political mechanisms to combat it will also not be simple. What we do know, however, is that we have roughly a decade to get our emissions under control if we do not want to witness the worst ramifications of planetary warming.

This means that we will have to act more boldly than ever to transition away from our dependence on fossil fuels and rehaul our dirtiest sectors such as agriculture and transportation. And while a market-driven carbon tax can be part of that solution, it won’t be effective enough to get us to where we need to go. Plain and simple, we need the government to lead this transition and signal the urgency to the private sector. But in order to do that we need to counter the ideology and propaganda of socialism as the proverbial boogeyman.

The Green New Deal is not some battle royale of socialism vs. capitalism. In the United States, we are both. We have and will continue to rely upon both public and private resources to overcome challenges and meet our needs. We all benefit from services and assurances (like property rights!) from our government, yet the people that need government services the most are often the ones most susceptible to anti-government rhetoric. Also, nowhere in the Green New Deal does it state that all of its goals will be achieved by pure government expenditures. Even if it did, building low-carbon and climate adaptation infrastructure will require private firms to carry out the work–afterall, the U.S. government doesn’t own all the cement plants in our nation.

In this country, socialism has come to mean whatever the person uttering the word wants it to mean. Many totalitarian regimes have claimed to be socialist but at its core the political and economic theory of socialism is about empowering workers not enabling the government to have undue control over our lives. And while the Green New Deal is full of progressive ideals it still calls on American ingenuity to help build a nation that is ready for the effects of climate change and the ways in which it will alter American lives. Think about it this way: if fossil fuel companies have been federally subsidized for decades to pollute and cause climate change then why can’t those same government resources be redirected toward cleaning up the mess they’ve made?


Putting the “Blue” into the Green New Deal

By Mark Spalding and Angel Braestrup

As we have written before (Roundtable DiscussionLooking at the Small DetailsThe New Blue EconomySustainable Blue Economy Conference), the (new) Blue Economy is the subset of the ocean economy’s activities that are positive for the ocean. A “true blue” economic perspective would limit large scale industrial activity in the ocean, from energy extraction to industrial fishing—and focus on reducing the biggest threats to ocean health: excess greenhouse gas emissions.

Broadly speaking, the Green New Deal similarly envisions a “massive program of investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure, meant to transform not just the energy sector, but the entire economy. It is meant both to decarbonize the economy and to make it fairer and more just.”  The devil is always in the details, but in our view, this Blue Economy vision should not be overlooked in developing the Green New Deal. The key elements within the framework of the Green New Deal should ensure an overall more sustainable Blue Economy that supports a healthy ocean and thus healthy human communities – with an emphasis on the shipping, energy production, and fisheries sectors.

Shipping: Transporting goods, raw materials, and even people by sea (and rivers) is by far the most energy efficient way to do so. Within the framework of the International Maritime Organization and other agreements, the shipping industry has been increasingly innovative in its response to demands for cleaner shipping through lower emissions, improved efficiency (new hybrid wind vessels and electric ferries are just two examples), and ballast water treatments that help reduce invasive species without dumping new toxins in coastal waterways.  It cannot be said that every shipping entity is already a forward-thinking actor—but the groundwork is being laid technologically and logistically to improve shipping at every level.

Energy Production: For a healthier ocean, energy production does need to shift away from the dirty, harmful work of exploring for, extracting and burning oil and gas—especially in the ocean. From seismic tests to drilling muds, the impact on ocean life and habitat is negative in both the short and long term—even without consideration of spills from platforms, pipelines, or ship groundings. The “blue elements” of a Green New Deal should focus on how and where to best site in-water energy production capacity (especially wind, currents, tidal, and wave energy) and how to increase island communities’ independence from oil and gas imports and improve their ability to restore electricity after storms.

Fisheries: Food security, like energy security, means that at least some portion of production must be decentralized. Where seafood is concerned, we must protect the rights to and supply of seafood for those who depend most on seafood for protein. Investing in small-scale fisheries’ capacity to store seafood safely can improve efficiency by reducing waste—from the net to the plate. A “true blue” fishery management scheme accepts that catch and export of high-value species must not occur at the expense of domestic need or economic activity, emphasizes monitoring and enforcement, and promotes greater domestic processing to improve per ton value of the product to the origin nation. True blue food security would also promote storm-safe, well-monitored onshore seafood production facilities to stabilize supply for processors and consumers alike, and one not so narrowly focused on the luxury market.  Moreover, investing in restoring and protecting seagrass meadows, mangroves, and coastal marshes can improve fishery reproduction and recovery. Restoration of these marine habitats has the added benefit of increasing carbon uptake and offering storm surge mitigation benefits while offering employment opportunities in coastal communities.

If we look at the Green New Deal as an opportunity to have a conversation about revitalizing and invigorating new areas of economic activity, and designing the framework of finance, policy, and enforcement to support such investment and growth, such a conversation must include the “blue” opportunities in the 71% of the ocean that is our planet and the 100% of us who depend on her health for our well-being.  So let’s roll up our sleeves, put our oars in the water, and launch into the sustainable Blue Economy.

Mark J. Spalding has been the President of The Ocean Foundation since its founding in 2002. Angel Braestrup, who is the Executive Director, The Curtis & Edith Munson Foundation, has been involved in ocean conservation funding for more than 20 years. A longer version of this blog appears on The Ocean Foundation’s website here.