The climate crisis is here and already impacting New Jersey. Greenhouse gas emissions globally set an all-time high last year. Our oceans are warming 40 percent faster than previously believed. The IPCC has given us 12 years before the worst climate impacts will become irreversible.
Gov. Phil Murphy’s state Board of Public Utilities recently released its Draft Energy Master Plan dealing with many issues affecting climate change and green energy. There is a growing sense of urgency to do more in combating climate impacts, but the EMP does not address natural gas.
There are things to like in the draft EMP, especially in electrifying the transportation sector and dealing with home heating. There is also a lot that’s missing, including any mention of a moratorium on fossil fuel projects.
What’s really troubling is the plan redefines clean energy as carbon neutral. This is a cynical move with major consequences. Clean energy is usually defined as wind, solar, energy efficiency, hydro and geo-thermal. Carbon neutral, by contrast, means that carbon will still be released. The definition includes natural gas, fossil fuel plants with carbon sequestration, nuclear power plants, incinerators, biomass, carbon credits and offsets. Redefining clean energy as carbon neutral will include a lot of dirty fuels. This is an Orwellian approach that sells out renewable energy by promoting natural gas and nuclear power.
For the course I teach at Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey, Economics, Ecology, & Ethics, we studied the Green New Deal in the last third of the spring semester. We read and discussed articles and viewed videos about it, featuring both its fans and critics. This was after we had explored the course theme: how do we best put economics and the environment together, pulling in equity issues, while learning to identify economics ideas inconsistent with sustainability.
We find that your Resolution already is doing much that is right and is unusually admirable. It is extremely bold, because, as you have pointed out, it has to be to deal with the problem of climate change. It also boldly integrates economic and social issues with it. It is blunt. Its approach is unusual and very challenging, but consistent with tenets of the sustainability field that it invokes.
Much of this, though, has bought the Resolution a lot of criticism, both fairly and unfairly.
The eleven students and I aim to provide ideas to you, your staff and advisors that would build on its strengths, while providing responses to some of the criticisms. For example, as the Resolution has been criticized as “light on details,” this report provides more of these.
In any group report it is best not to assume that all contributors agree wholeheartedly with every point or recommendation, although no one expressed any reservations to anything in the report itself. As this was largely the students’ report, while I guided their exploration, for the most part I went with their views. The nuclear one was tricky. I concurred with it, partially because of the stakes, and the power of their arguments and those of some guest speakers we had. But I want to point out the necessity of the associated conditions with that recommendation discussed there for reluctantly “coming out” on the “pro-nuke” side. Another is the hope that the “new nuclear technologies” advocates cite really does result in less waste and potential for proliferation of plutonium, although I’m still not persuaded that the argument “nuclear waste is a political problem, not a technical one” gets us anywhere. But—still—as climate change is one of the biggest challenges for the next generation… there is that compelling “carbon-free” argument.
Montgomery County, the most populous county in Maryland, was recognized today – Day 1 of the International Decade for Emergency Climate Action – by President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Congress and the United Nations as the first Post Carbon(P-C) community in the United States and the largest jurisdiction on the planet to reduce its net Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions to zero, while also removing millions of tons of GHGs from the atmosphere.
The county government in partnership with its one million residents achieved this ‘moonshot’ goal through the transformation of its energy, transportation, building and agricultural systems, while strengthening the ability of its residents and businesses to withstand the increasingly frequent and severe physical and socio/economic shocks resulting from accelerating climate change.
The Green New Deal resolution introduced in Congress calls for a massive U.S. mobilization over 10 years to achieve the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions while creating millions of high-wage jobs and sustainable economic growth. Unfortunately, while the science and need for federal action on climate change are clear, we can’t expect serious policymaking on the topic to come out of Washington until 2021 at the earliest.
Fortunately, it’s a new day in Wisconsin and the state is well positioned to make headway on many of the goals and objectives as outlined in the Green New Deal. For example…
February 14, 2019: NJ’s new stormwater utility bill (A2694/S1073) authorizes municipalities to collect fees on parking lots and other impervious surfaces to fund improvements to failing stormwater systems. But it has many commercial property owners concerned that they will now face significant new charges on their property. If the legislature and the Murphy Administration want to address these concerns in a meaningful way, PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) is the obvious answer.
PACE can provide 100% long-term financing for projects designed to reduce stormwater runoff by building retention systems, green roofs, and permeable paving. These improvements add to the value of the property and allow the owner to avoid some or all of the fees likely to be charged by the new utilities. When coupled with other clean energy and resiliency improvements, PACE projects are typically cashflow positive from day one. The capital is invested in the property by private lenders, but is off-balance sheet to the property owner, and the interest and other costs can often be treated as operating expenses. There is no public money involved. The municipality simply makes the Special Assessment mechanism available to the property owner, and provides a pass-through for the repayments.
The idea of putting a broadly-applied price on carbon dioxide emissions from combustion of fossil fuels from all major sectors of the U.S. economy is gaining traction. Several national organizations are actively supporting a carbon tax, including Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the Climate Leadership Council, the Carbon Tax Center, and PUTAPRICEONIT.
A number of nations and other jurisdictions already have some form of carbon pricing. A group of Princeton University students, the Princeton Student Climate Initiative, is exploring ways to strengthen New Jersey’s effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions, including development of a state-level carbon tax.
While state-level programs to price carbon could be effective, carbon pricing approaches will be more effective if they are national and, ideally, international in scope.
We recently came across a series of podcasts by our personal Financial Advisor, Jim Cox. Jim focuses on sustainable investments, but we had no idea he was actively interviewing experts and activists from across the country on a variety of topics related to the emerging green economy. Jim writes, “Sometimes it feel like I’m a voice in the wilderness…” which led us to the idea of posting his podcasts for a wider audience.
James Cox is a financial advisor with FFG Advisors. He focuses on wealth and risk management for clients of the firm. He is on the board of several organizations. James joined FFG/DFP in January of 2012. Many of Mr. Cox’s clients are entrepreneurs and business owners. His practice helps individuals manage risk within their finances, even as they are striving toward creating successful companies. To learn more go to http://jamesacox.com.
The first one that came to our attention was the conversation with Janet Kirsch, a physician and public health specialist, who is devoting her life to climate mobilization.
Mobilizing for Climate Disruption (September 21, 2018)
Janet Kirsch is a physician and speaker with 350 Bay Area. We had initially talked days before hurricane Florence made landfall. We chat today about the need to approach climate disruption with increased vigor and commitment.
And here are some other selected podcasts from James Cox, available on iTunes and elsewhere.
Why are we not talking about the things we don’t usually talk about that need to be involving climate change? Why is it so hard to talk about or hear certain things like a carbon tax, a zero carbon emissions goal, or the many other steps we can or may have to take to address this immense problem, or it’s taking decades which we no longer have?
Mindset barriers or traps are a big part of the reason. They overlap to various degrees with many other concepts, such as world view, mental models, obsolete paradigms, cognitive biases, cognitive sticking points, blind spots or blinders, myths, ideology, stories, narratives, unquestioned assumptions, dogma, mantras, emotionalism, faith, group think, and certitudes. Some of these can have a positive or neutral side, or are necessary in some way.
We also can include unquestioned beliefs about business-as-usual practices—and not just in business, or “that’s just the way it is” shrugs. In certain contexts we can add references to someone’s “mentality,” “psychology,” “temperament,” or “the way the person is wired.” There are also language, framing, and communications issues.
The first two articles of this Series, see here and here, discussed ideas and gave recommendations about opportunities to address climate change about which we’re not hearing enough of in New Jersey. We continue to provide more of these in Part 3.
Two historians of science, Oreskes and Conway, responding recently to the latest IPCC report, and invoking the “transformation” concept, both discussed in Part 2, tell us that “Major transformations can happen in a generation. But not without government help.” So, we’re going to have to talk about State Government yet again, because it is that important.
They also rebut the conventional wisdom that the technological advancements many are counting on to address climate change are going to come solely from the private sector.