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Chris Hedges Interviews Noam Chomsky: The System Is Radically Anti-Democratic

July 24, 2014

Prof. Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and activist. (photo: The Real News Network)
Prof. Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and activist. (photo: The Real News Network)

By Chris Hedges, The Real News Network

24 July 14


A fascinating, wide-ranging interview on major issues facing the public.

et’s begin with a classic paradigm which is throughout the Industrial Revolution, which has been cited by theorists from Marx to Kropotkin to Proudhon and to yourself, that you build a consciousness among workers within the manufacturing class, and eventually you lead to a kind of autonomous position where workers can control their own production.

We now live in a system, a globalized system, where most of the working class in industrial countries like the United States are service workers. We have reverted to a Dickensian system where those who actually produced live in conditions that begin to replicate almost slave labor–and, I think, as you have written, in places like southern China in fact are slave [labor]. What’s the new paradigm for resistance? You know, how do we learn from the old and confront the new?

NOAM CHOMSKY, LINGUIST AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think we can draw many very good lessons from the early period of the Industrial Revolution. It was, of course, earlier in England, but let’s take here in the United States. The Industrial Revolution took off right around here, eastern Massachusetts, mid 19th century. This was a period when independent farmers were being driven into the industrial system–men and women, incidentally, women from the farms, so-called factory girls–and they bitterly resented it. It was a period of a very free press, the most in the history of the country. There was a wide variety of journals, ethnic, labor, or others. And when you read them, they’re pretty fascinating.

The people driven into the industrial system regarded it as an attack on their personal dignity, on their rights as human beings. They were free human beings who were being forced into what they called wage slavery, which they regarded as not very different from chattel slavery. In fact, this was such a popular view that it was actually a slogan of the Republican Party, that the only difference between working for a wage and being a slave is that working for a wage is supposedly temporary–pretty soon you’ll be free. Other than that, they’re not different.

And they bitterly resented the fact that the industrial system was even taking away their rich cultural life. And the cultural life was rich. You know, there are by now studies of the British working class and the American working class, and they were part of high culture of the day. Actually, I remembered this as late as the 1930s with my own family, you know, sort of unemployed working-class, and they said, this is being taken away from us, we’re being forced to be something like slaves. They argued that if you’re, say, a journeyman, a craftsman, and you sell your product, you’re selling what you produced. If you’re a wage earner, you’re selling yourself, which is deeply offensive. They condemned what they called the new spirit of the age: gain wealth, forgetting all but self. Sounds familiar.

And it was extremely radical. It was combined with the most radical democratic movement in American history, the early populist movement–radical farmers. It began in Texas, spread into the Midwest–enormous movement of farmers who wanted to free themselves from the domination by the Northeastern bankers and capitalists, guys that ran the markets, you know, sort of forced them to sell what they produced on credit and squeeze them with credit and so on. They went on to develop their own banks, their own cooperatives. They started to link up with the Knights of Labor–major labor movement which held that, as they put it, those who work in the mills ought to own them, that it should be a free, democratic society.

These were very powerful movements. By the 1890s, you know, workers were taking over towns and running them in Western Pennsylvania. Homestead was a famous case. Well, they were crushed by force. It took some time. Sort of the final blow was Woodrow Wilson’s red scare right after the First World War, which virtually crushed the labor movement.

At the same time, in the early 19th century, the business world recognized, both in England and the United States, that sufficient freedom had been won so that they could no longer control people just by violence. They had to turn to new means of control. The obvious ones were control of opinions and attitudes. That’s the origins of the massive public relations industry, which is explicitly dedicated to controlling minds and attitudes.

The first–it partly was government. The first government commission was the British Ministry of Information. This is long before Orwell–he didn’t have to invent it. So the Ministry of Information had as its goal to control the minds of the people of the world, but particularly the minds of American intellectuals, for a very good reason: they knew that if they can delude American intellectuals into supporting British policy, they could be very effective in imposing that on the population of the United States. The British, of course, were desperate to get the Americans into the war with a pacifist population. Woodrow Wilson won the 1916 election with the slogan “Peace without Victory”. And they had to drive a pacifist population into a population that bitterly hated all things German, wanted to tear the Germans apart. The Boston Symphony Orchestra couldn’t play Beethoven. You know. And they succeeded.

Wilson set up a counterpart to the Ministry of Information called the Committee on Public Information. You know, again, you can guess what it was. And they’ve at least felt, probably correctly, that they had succeeded in carrying out this massive change of opinion on the part of the population and driving the pacifist population into, you know, warmongering fanatics.

And the people on the commission learned a lesson. One of them was Edward Bernays, who went on to found–the main guru of the public relations industry. Another one was Walter Lippman, who was the leading progressive intellectual of the 20th century. And they both drew the same lessons, and said so.

The lessons were that we have what Lippmann called a “new art” in democracy, “manufacturing consent”. That’s where Ed Herman and I took the phrase from. For Bernays it was “engineering of consent”. The conception was that the intelligent minority, who of course is us, have to make sure that we can run the affairs of public affairs, affairs of state, the economy, and so on. We’re the only ones capable of doing it, of course. And we have to be–I’m quoting–“free of the trampling and the roar of the bewildered herd”, the “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders”–the general public. They have a role. Their role is to be “spectators”, not participants. And every couple of years they’re permitted to choose among one of the “responsible men”, us.

And the John Dewey circle took the same view. Dewey changed his mind a couple of years later, to his credit, but at that time, Dewey and his circle were writing that–speaking of the First World War, that this was the first war in history that was not organized and manipulated by the military and the political figures and so on, but rather it was carefully planned by rational calculation of “the intelligent men of the community”, namely us, and we thought it through carefully and decided that this is the reasonable thing to do, for all kind of benevolent reasons.

And they were very proud of themselves.

There were people who disagreed. Like, Randolph Bourne disagreed. He was kicked out. He couldn’t write in the Deweyite journals. He wasn’t killed, you know, but he was just excluded.

And if you take a look around the world, it was pretty much the same. The intellectuals on all sides were passionately dedicated to the national cause–all sides, Germans, British, everywhere.

There were a few, a fringe of dissenters, like Bertrand Russell, who was in jail; Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, in jail; Randolph Bourne, marginalized; Eugene Debs, in jail for daring to question the magnificence of the war. In fact, Wilson hated him with such passion that when he finally declared an amnesty, Debs was left out, you know, had to wait for Warren Harding to release him. And he was the leading labor figure in the country. He was a candidate for president, Socialist Party, and so on.

But the lesson that came out is we believe you can and of course ought to control the public, and if we can’t do it by force, we’ll do it by manufacturing consent, by engineering of consent. Out of that comes the huge public relations industry, massive industry dedicated to this.

Incidentally, it’s also dedicated to undermining markets, a fact that’s rarely noticed but is quite obvious. Business hates markets. They don’t want to–and you can see it very clearly. Markets, if you take an economics course, are based on rational, informed consumers making rational choices. Turn on the television set and look at the first ad you see. It’s trying to create uninformed consumers making irrational choices. That’s the whole point of the huge advertising industry. But also to try to control and manipulate thought. And it takes various forms in different institutions. The media do it one way, the academic institutions do it another way, and the educational system is a crucial part of it.

This is not a new observation. There’s actually an interesting essay by–Orwell’s, which is not very well known because it wasn’t published. It’s the introduction to Animal Farm. In the introduction, he addresses himself to the people of England and he says, you shouldn’t feel too self-righteous reading this satire of the totalitarian enemy, because in free England, ideas can be suppressed without the use of force. And he doesn’t say much about it. He actually has two sentences. He says one reason is the press “is owned by wealthy men” who have every reason not to want certain ideas to be expressed.

But the second reason, and the more important one in my view, is a good education, so that if you’ve gone to all the good schools, you know, Oxford, Cambridge, and so on, you have instilled into you the understanding that there are certain things it wouldn’t do to say–and I don’t think he went far enough: wouldn’t do to think. And that’s very broad among the educated classes. That’s why overwhelmingly they tend to support state power and state violence, and maybe with some qualifications, like, say, Obama is regarded as a critic of the invasion of Iraq. Why? Because he thought it was a strategic blunder. That puts him on the same moral level as some Nazi general who thought that the second front was a strategic blunder–you should knock off England first. That’s called criticism.

And sometimes it’s kind of outlandish. For example, there was just a review in The New York Times Book Review of Glenn Greenwald’s new book by Michael Kinsley, and which bitterly condemned him as–mostly character assassination. Didn’t say anything substantive. But Kinsley did say that it’s ridiculous to think that there’s any repression in the media in the United States, ’cause we can write quite clearly and criticize anything. And he can, but then you have to look at what he says, and it’s quite interesting.

In the 1980s, when the major local news story was the massive U.S. atrocities in Central America–they were horrendous; I mean, it wasn’t presented that way, but that’s what was happening–Kinsley was the voice of the left on television. And there were interesting incidents. At one point, the U.S. Southern Command, which ran–you know, it was the overseer of these actions–gave instructions to the terrorist force that they were running in Nicaragua, called the Contras–and they were a terrorist force–they gave them orders to–they said “not to (…) duke it out with the Sandinistas”, meaning avoid the Nicaraguan army, and attack undefended targets like agricultural cooperatives and, you know, health clinics and so on. And they could do it, because they were the first guerrillas in history to have high-level communications equipment, you know, computers and so on. The U.S., the CIA, just controlled the air totally, so they could send instructions to the terrorist forces telling them how to avoid the Nicaraguan army detachments and attack undefended civilian targets.

Well, this was mentioned; you know, it wasn’t publicized, but it was mentioned. And Americas Watch, which later became part of Human Rights Watch, made some protests. And Michael Kinsley responded. He condemned Americas Watch for their emotionalism. He said, we have to recognize that we have to accept a pragmatic criterion. We have to ask–something like this–he said, we have to compare the amount of blood and misery poured in with the success of the outcome in producing democracy–what we’ll call democracy. And if it meets the pragmatic criterion, then terrorist attacks against civilian targets are perfectly legitimate–which is not a surprising view in his case. He’s the editor of The New Republic. The New Republic, supposedly a liberal journal, was arguing that we should support Latin American fascists because there are more important things than human rights in El Salvador, where they were murdering tens of thousands of people.

That’s the liberals. And, yeah, they can get in the media no problem. And they’re praised for it, regarded with praise. All of this is part of the massive system of–you know, it’s not that anybody sits at the top and plans at all; it’s just exactly as Orwell said: it’s instilled into you. It’s part of a deep indoctrination system which leads to a certain way of looking at the world and looking at authority, which says, yes, we have to be subordinate to authority, we have to believe we’re very independent and free and proud of it. As long as we keep within the limits, we are. Try to go beyond those limits, you’re out.

HEDGES: But that system, of course, is constant. But what’s changed is that we don’t produce anything anymore. So what we define as our working class is a service sector class working in places like Walmart. And the effective forms of resistance–the sitdown strikes, you know, going back even further in the middle of the 19th century with the women in Lowell–I think that was–the Wobblies were behind those textile strikes. What are the mechanisms now? And I know you have written, as many anarchists have done, about the importance of the working class controlling the means of production, taking control, and you have a great quote about how, you know, Lenin and the Bolsheviks are right-wing deviants, I think, was the–which is, of course, exactly right, because it was centralized control, destroying the Soviets. Given the fact that production has moved to places like Bangladesh or southern China, what is going to be the paradigm now? And given, as you point out, the powerful forces of propaganda–and you touched upon now the security and surveillance state. We are the most monitored, watched, photographed, eavesdropped population in human history. And you cannot even use the world liberty when you eviscerate privacy. That’s whattotalitarian is. What is the road we take now, given the paradigm that we have, which is somewhat different from, you know, what this country was, certainly, in the first half of the 20th century?

NOAM CHOMSKY, LINGUIST AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it’s pretty much the same, frankly. The idea still should be that of the Knights of Labor: those who work in the mills should own them. And there’s plenty of manufacturing going on in the country, and probably there will be more, for unpleasant reasons. One thing that’s happening right now which is quite interesting is that energy prices are going down in the United States because of the massive exploitation of fossil fuels, which is going to destroy our grandchildren, but under the, you know, capitalist morality, the calculus is that profits tomorrow outweigh the existence of your grandchildren. It’s institutionally-based, so, yes, we’re getting lower energy prices. And if you look at the business press, they’re, you know, very enthusiastic about the fact that we can undercut manufacturing in Europe because we’ll have lower energy prices, and therefore manufacturing will come back here, and we can even undermine European efforts at developing sustainable energy because we’ll have this advantage.

Britain is saying the same thing. I was just in England recently. As I left the airport, I readThe Daily Telegraph, you know, I mean, newspaper. Big headline: England is going to begin fracking all of the country, even fracking under people’s homes without their permission. And that’ll allow us to destroy the environment even more quickly and will bring manufacturing back here.

The same is true with Asia. Manufacturing is moving back, to an extent, to Mexico, and even here, as wages increase in China, partly because of labor struggles. There’s massive labor struggles in China, huge, all over the place, and since we’re integrated with them, we can be supportive of them.

But manufacturing is coming back here. And both manufacturing and the service industries can move towards having those who do the work take over the management and ownership and control. In fact, it’s happening. In the old Rust Belt–you know, Indiana, Ohio, and so on–there’s a significant–not huge, but significant growth of worker-owned enterprises. They’re not huge, but they’re substantial around Cleveland and other places.

The background is interesting. In 1977, U.S. Steel, the, you know, multinational, decided to close down their mills in Youngstown, Ohio. Youngstown is a steel town, sort of built by the steelworkers, one of the main steel-producing areas. Well, the union tried to buy the plants from U.S. Steel. They objected–in my view, mostly on class lines. They might have even profited from it. But the idea of worker-owned industry doesn’t have much appeal to corporate leaders, which means bankers and so on. It went to the courts. Finally, the union lost in the courts. But with enough popular support, they could have won.

Well, the working class and the community did not give up. They couldn’t get the steel mills, but they began to develop small worker-owned enterprises. They’ve now spread throughout the region. They’re substantial. And it can happen more and more.

And the same thing happened in Walmarts. I mean, there’s massive efforts right now, significant ones, to organize the service workers–what they call associates–in the service industries. And these industries, remember, depend very heavily on taxpayer largess in all kinds of ways. I mean, for example, let’s take, say, Walmarts. They import goods produced in China, which are brought here on container ships which were designed and developed by the U.S. Navy. And point after point where you look, you find that the way the system–the system that we now have is one which is radically anticapitalist, radically so.

I mean, I mentioned one thing, the powerful effort to try to undermine markets for consumers, but there’s something much more striking. I mean, in a capitalist system, the basic principle is that, say, if you invest in something and, say, it’s a risky investment, so you put money into it for a long time, maybe decades, and finally after a long time something comes out that’s marketable for a profit, it’s supposed to go back to you. That’s not the way it works here. Take, say, computers, internet, lasers, microelectronics, containers, GPS, in fact the whole IT revolution. There was taxpayer investment in that for decades, literally decades, doing all the hard, creative, risky work. Does the taxpayer get any of the profit? None, because that’s not the way our system works. It’s radically anti-capitalist, just as it’s radically anti-democratic, opposed to markets, in favor of concentrating wealth and power.

But that doesn’t have to be accepted by the population. These are–all kinds of forms of resistance to this can be developed if people become aware of it.

HEDGES: Well, you could argue that in the election of 2008, Obama wasn’t accepted by the population. But what we see repeatedly is that once elected officials achieve power through, of course, corporate financing, the consent of the governed is a kind of cruel joke. It doesn’t, poll after poll. I mean, I sued Obama over the National Defense Authorization Act, in which you were coplaintiff, and the polling was 97 percent against this section of the NDAA. And yet the courts, which have become wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state, the elected officials, the executive branch, and the press, which largely ignored it–the only organ that responsibly covered the case was, ironically, The New York Times. We don’t have–it doesn’t matter what we want. It doesn’t–I mean, and I think, you know, that’s the question: how do we effect change when we have reached a point where we can no longer appeal to the traditional liberal institutions that, as Karl Popper said once, made incremental or piecemeal reform possible, to adjust the system–of course, to save capitalism? But now it can’t even adjust the system. You know, we see cutting welfare.

CHOMSKY: Yeah. I mean, it’s perfectly true that the population is mostly disenfranchised. In fact, that’s a leading theme even of academic political science. You take a look at the mainstream political science, so, for example, a recent paper that was just published out of Princeton by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, two of the leading analysts of these topics, what they point out is they went through a couple of thousand policy decisions and found what has long been known, that there was almost no–that the public attitudes had almost no effect. Public organizations that are–nonprofit organizations that are publicly based, no effect. The outcomes were determined by concentrated private power.

There’s a long record of that going way back. Thomas Ferguson, a political scientist near here, has shown very convincingly that something as simple as campaign spending is a very good predictor of policy. That goes back into the late 19th century, right through the New Deal, you know, right up till the present. And that’s only one element of it. And you take a look at the literature, about 70 percent of the population, what they believe has no effect on policy at all. You get a little more influence as you go up. When you get to the top, which is probably, like, a tenth of one percent, they basically write the legislation.

I mean, you see this all over. I mean, take these huge so-called trade agreements that are being negotiated, Trans-Pacific and Transatlantic–enormous agreements, kind of NAFTA-style agreements. They’re secret–almost. They’re not secret from the hundreds of corporate lawyers and lobbyists who are writing them. They know about it, which means that their bosses know about it. And the Obama administration and the press says, look, this has to be secret, otherwise we can’t defend our interests. Yeah, our interests means the interests of the corporate lawyers and lobbyists who are writing the legislation. Take the few pieces that have been leaked and you see that’s exactly what it is. Same with the others.

But it doesn’t mean you have to accept it. And there have been changes. So take, say–in the 1920s, the labor movement had been practically destroyed. There’s a famous book. One of the leading labor historians, David Montgomery, has a major book called something like The Fall of the House of Labor. He’s talking about the 1920s. It was done. There had been a very militant labor movement, very effective, farmers movement as well. Crushed in the 1920s. Almost nothing left. Well, in the 1930s it changed, and it changed because of popular activism.

HEDGES: But it also changed because of the breakdown of capitalism.

CHOMSKY: There was a circumstance that led to the opportunity to do something, but we’re living with that constantly. I mean, take the last 30 years. For the majority of the population it’s been stagnation or worse. That’s–it’s not exactly the deep Depression, but it’s kind of a permanent semi-depression for most of the population. That’s–there’s plenty of kindling out there which can be lighted.

And what happened in the ’30s is primarily CIO organizing, the militant actions like sit-down strikes. A sit-down strike’s very frightening. It’s a step before taking over the institution and saying, we don’t need the bosses. And that–there was a cooperative administration, Roosevelt administration, so there was some interaction. And significant legislation was passed–not radical, but significant, underestimated. And it happened again in the ’60s. It can happen again today. So I don’t think that one should abandon hope in chipping away at the more oppressive aspects of the society within the electoral system. But it’s only going to happen if there’s massive popular organization, which doesn’t have to stop at that. It can also be building the institutions of the future within the present society.

HEDGES: Would you say that the–you spoke about propaganda earlier and the Creel Commission and the rise of the public relations industry. The capacity to disseminate propaganda is something that now you virtually can’t escape it. I mean, it’s there in some electronic form, even in a hand-held device. Does that make that propaganda more effective?

CHOMSKY: Well, and it’s kind of an interesting question. Like a lot of people, I’ve written a lot about media and intellectual propaganda, but there’s another question which isn’t studied much: how effective is it? And that’s–when you brought up the polls, it’s a striking illustration. The propaganda is–you can see from the poll results that the propaganda has only limited effectiveness. I mean, it can drive a population into terror and fear and war hysteria, like before the Iraq invasion or 1917 and so on, but over time, public attitudes remain quite different. In fact, studies even of what’s called the right-wing, you know, people who say, get the government off my back, that kind of sector, they turn out to be kind of social democratic. They want more spending on health, more spending on education, more spending on, say, women with dependent children, but not welfare, no spending on welfare, because Reagan, who was an extreme racist, succeeded in demonizing the notion of welfare. So in people’s minds welfare means a rich black woman driving in her limousine to the welfare office to steal your money. Well, nobody wants that. But they want what welfare does.

Foreign aid is an interesting case. There’s an enormous propaganda against foreign aid, ’cause we’re giving everything to the undeserving people out there. You take a look at public attitudes. A lot of opposition to foreign aid. Very high. On the other hand, when you ask people, how much do we give in foreign aid? Way beyond what we give. When you ask what we should give in foreign aid, far above what we give.

And this runs across the board. Take, say taxes. There’ve been studies of attitudes towards taxes for 40 years. Overwhelmingly the population says taxes are much too low for the rich and the corporate sector. You’ve got to raise it. What happens? Well, the opposite.

It’s just exactly as Orwell said: it’s instilled into you. It’s part of a deep indoctrination system which leads to a certain way of looking at the world and looking at authority, which says, yes, we have to be subordinate to authority, we have to believe we’re very independent and free and proud of it. As long as we keep within the limits, we are. Try to go beyond those limits, you’re out.

HEDGES: Well, what was fascinating about–I mean, the point, just to buttress this point: when you took the major issues of the Occupy movement, they were a majoritarian movement. When you look back on the Occupy movement, what do you think its failings were, its importance were?

CHOMSKY: Well, I think it’s a little misleading to call it a movement. Occupy was a tactic, in fact a brilliant tactic. I mean, if I’d been asked a couple of months earlier whether they should take over public places, I would have said it’s crazy. But it worked extremely well, and it lit a spark which went all over the place. Hundreds and hundreds of places in the country, there were Occupy events. It was all over the world. I mean, I gave talks in Sydney, Australia, to the Occupy movement there. But it was a tactic, a very effective tactic. Changed public discourse, not policy. It brought issues to the forefront.

I think my own feeling is its most important contribution was just to break through the atomization of the society. I mean, it’s a very atomized society. There’s all sorts of efforts to separate people from one another, as if the ideal social unit is, you know, you and your TV set.

HEDGES: You know, Hannah Arendt raises atomization as one of the key components of totalitarianism.

CHOMSKY: Exactly. And the Occupy actions broke that down for a large part of the population. People could recognize that we can get together and do things for ourselves, we can have a common kitchen, we can have a place for public discourse, we can form our ideas and do something. Now, that’s an important attack on the core of the means by which the public is controlled. So you’re not just an individual trying to maximize your consumption, but there are other concerns in life, and you can do something about them. If those attitudes and associations and bonds can be sustained and move in other directions, that’ll be important.

But going back to Occupy, it’s a tactic. Tactics have a kind of a half-life. You can’t keep doing them, and certainly you can’t keep occupying public places for very long. And was very successful, but it was not in itself a movement. The question is: what happens to the people who were involved in it? Do they go on and develop, do they move into communities, pick up community issues? Do they organize?

Take, say, this business of, say, worker-owned industry. Right here in Massachusetts, not far from here, there was something similar. One of the multinationals decided to close down a fairly profitable small plant, which was producing aerospace equipment. High-skilled workers and so on, but it wasn’t profitable enough, so they were going to close it down. The union wanted to buy it. Company refused–usual class reasons, I think. If the Occupy efforts had been available at the time, they could have provided the public support for it.

This happened when Obama virtually nationalized the auto industry. There were choices. One choice was what he took, of course, was to rescue it, return it to essentially the same owners–different faces, but the same class basis–and send them back to doing what they had been doing in the past–producing automobiles. There were other choices, and if something like the Occupy movement had been around and sufficient, it could have driven the government into other choices, like, for example, turning the auto plants over to the working class and have them produce what the country needs.

I mean, we don’t need more cars. We need mass public transportation. The United States is an absolute scandal in this regard. I just came back from Europe–so you can see it dramatically. You get on a European train, you can go where you want to go in no time. Well, the train from Boston to New York, it may be, I don’t know, 20 minutes faster than when I took it 60 years ago. You go along the Connecticut Turnpike and the trucks are going faster than the train. Recently Japan offered the United States a low-interest loan to build high-speed rail from Washington to New York. It was turned down, of course. But what they were offering was to build the kind of train that I took in Japan 50 years ago. And this was a scandal all over the country.

Well, you know, a reconstituted auto industry could have turned in that direction under worker and community control. I don’t think these things are out of sight. And, incidentally, they even have so-called conservative support, because they’re within a broader what’s called capitalist framework (it’s not really capitalist). And those are directions that should be pressed.

Right now, for example, the Steelworkers union is trying to establish some kind of relations with Mondragon, the huge worker-owned conglomerate in the Basque country in Spain, which is very successful, in fact, and includes industry, manufacturing, banks, hospitals, living quarters. It’s very broad. It’s not impossible that that can be brought here, and it’s potentially radical. It’s creating the basis for quite a different society.

And I think with things like, say, Occupy, the timing wasn’t quite right. But if the timing had been a little better (and this goes on all the time, so it’s always possible), it could have provided a kind of an impetus to move significant parts of the socioeconomic system in a different direction. And once those things begin to take off and people can see the advantages of them, it can become quite significant.

There are kind of islands like that around the country. So take Chattanooga, Tennessee. It happens to have a publicly organized internet system. It’s by far the best in the country. Rapid internet access for broad parts of the population. I suspect the roots of it probably go back to the TVA and the New Deal initiatives. Well, if that can spread throughout the country (why not? it’s very efficient, very cheap, works very well), it could undermine the telecommunications industry and its oligopoly, which would be a very good thing. There are lots of possibilities like this.

HEDGES: I want to ask just two last questions. First, the fact that we have become a militarized society, something all of the predictions of the Anti-Imperialist League at the end of the 19th century, including Carnegie and Jane Addams–hard to think of them both in the same room. But you go back and read what they wrote, and they were right how militarized society has deformed us economically–Seymour Melman wrote about this quite well–and politically. And that is a hurdle that as we attempt to reform or reconfigure our society we have to cope with. And I wondered if you could address this military monstrosity that you have written about quite a bit.

CHOMSKY: Well, for one thing, the public doesn’t like it. What’s called isolationism or one or another bad word, as, you know, pacifism was, is just the public recognition that there’s something deeply wrong with our dedication to military force all over the world.

Now, of course, at the same time, the public is frightened into believing that we have to defend ourselves. And it’s not entirely false. Part of the military system is generating forces which will be harmful to us, say, Obama’s terrorist campaign, drone campaign, the biggest terrorist campaign in history. It’s generating potential terrorists faster than it’s killing suspects.

You can see it. It’s very striking what’s happening right now in Iraq. And the truth of the matter is very evident. Go back to the Nuremberg judgments. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but in Nuremberg aggression was defined as “the supreme international crime,” differing from other war crimes in that it includes, it encompasses all of the evil that follows. Well, the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq is a textbook case of aggression. By the standards of Nuremberg, they’d all be hanged. And one of the things it did, one of the crimes was to ignite a Sunni-Shiite conflict which hadn’t been going on. I mean, there was, you know, various kinds of tensions, but Iraqis didn’t believe there could ever be a conflict. They were intermarried, they lived in the same places, and so on. But the invasion set it off. Took off on its own. By now it’s inflaming the whole region. Now we’re at the point where Sunni jihadi forces are actually marching on Baghdad.

HEDGES: And the Iraqi army is collapsing.

CHOMSKY: The Iraqi army’s just giving away their arms. There obviously is a lot of collaboration going on.

And all of this is a U.S. crime if we believe in the validity of the judgments against the Nazis.

And it’s kind of interesting. Robert Jackson, the chief prosecutor, a U.S. justice, at the tribunal, addressed the tribunal, and he pointed out, as he put it, that we’re giving these defendants a “poisoned chalice”, and if we ever sip from it, we have to be treated the same way, or else the whole thing is a farce and we should recognize this as just victor’s justice.

HEDGES: But it’s not accidental that our security and surveillance apparatus is militarized. And you’re right, of course, that there is no broad popular support for this expanding military adventurism. And yet the question is if there is a serious effort to curtail their power and their budgets. They have mechanisms. And we even heard Nancy Pelosi echo this in terms of how they play dirty. I mean, they are monitoring all the elected officials as well.

CHOMSKY: Monitoring. But despite everything, it’s still a pretty free society, and the recognition by U.S. and British business back 100 years ago that they can no longer control the population by violence is correct. And control of attitude and opinion is pretty fragile, as is surveillance. It’s very different than sending in the storm troopers. You know, so there’s a lot of latitude, for people of relative privilege, at least, to do all sorts of things. I mean, it’s different if you’re a black kid in the ghetto. Yeah, then you’re subjected to state violence. But for a large part of the population, there’s plenty of opportunities which have not been available in the past.

HEDGES: But those people are essentially passive, virtually.

CHOMSKY: But they don’t have to be.

HEDGES: They don’t have to be, but Hannah Arendt, when she writes about the omnipotent policing were directed against the stateless, including ourself and France, said the problem of building omnipotent policing, which we have done in our marginal neighborhoods in targeting people of color–we can have their doors kicked in and stopped at random and thrown in jail for decades for crimes they didn’t commit–is that when you have a societal upheaval, you already have both a legal and a physical mechanism by which that omnipotent policing can be quickly inflicted.

CHOMSKY: I don’t think that’s true here. I think the time has passed when that can be done for increasing parts of the population, those who have almost any degree of privilege. The state may want to do it, but they don’t have the power to do it. They can carry out extensive surveillance, monitoring, they can be violent against parts of the population that can’t defend themselves–undocumented immigrants, black kids in the ghetto, and so on–but even that can be undercut. For example, one of the major scandals in the United States since Reagan is the huge incarceration program, which is a weapon against–it’s a race war. But it’s based on drugs. And there is finally cutting away at the source of this and the criminalization and the radical distortion of the way criminalization of drug use has worked. That can have an effect.

I mean, I think–look, there’s no doubt that the population is passive. There are lots of ways of keeping them passive. There’s lots of ways of marginalizing and atomizing them. But that’s different from storm troopers. It’s quite different. And it can be overcome, has been overcome in the past. And I think there are lots of initiatives, some of them being undertaken, others developing, which can be used to break down this system. I think it’s a very fragile system, including the militarism.

HEDGES: Let’s just close with climate change. Like, I read climate change reports, which–.

CHOMSKY: Well, unfortunately, that’s–may doom us all, and not in the long-distance future. That just overwhelms everything. It is the first time in human history when we not only–we have the capacity to destroy the conditions for a decent survival. And it’s already happening. I mean, just take a look at species destruction. Species destruction now is estimated to be at about the level of 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the earth and ended the period of the dinosaurs, wiped out huge numbers of species. Same level today, and we’re the asteroid. And you take a look at what’s happening in the world, I mean, anybody looking at this from outer space would be astonished.

I mean, there are sectors of the global population that are trying to impede the catastrophe. There are other sectors that are trying to accelerate it. And you take a look at who they are. Those who are trying to impede it are the ones we call backward: indigenous populations, the First Nations in Canada, you know, aboriginals from Australia, the tribal people in India, you know, all over the world, are trying to impede it. Who’s accelerating it? The most privileged, advanced–so-called advanced–educated populations in the world, U.S. and Canada right in the lead. And we know why.

There are also–. Here’s an interesting case of manufacture of consent and does it work?You take a look at international polls on global warming, Americans, who are the most propagandized on this–I mean, there’s huge propaganda efforts to make it believe it’s not happening–they’re a little below the norm, so there’s some effect of the propaganda. It’s stratified. If you take a look at Republicans, they’re way below the norm. But what’s happening in the Republican Party all across the spectrum is a very striking. So, for example, about two-thirds of Republicans believe that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and all sorts of other things. You know. So it’s stratified. But there’s some impact of the propaganda, but not overwhelming. Most of the population still regards it as a serious problem.

There’s actually an interesting article about this in the Columbia Journalism Reviewwhich just appeared, current issue, the lead critical review of journalism. They attribute this to what they call the doctrine of fairness in the media. Doctrine of fairness says that if you have an opinion piece by 95, 97 percent of the scientists, you have to pair it with an opinion piece by the energy corporations, ’cause that’d be fair and balanced. There isn’t any such doctrine. Like, if you have an opinion piece denouncing Putin as the new Hitler for annexing Crimea, you don’t have to balance it with an opinion piece saying that 100 years ago the United States took over southeastern Cuba at the point of a gun and is still holding it, though it has absolutely no justification other than to try to undermine Cuban development, whereas in contrast, whatever you think of Putin, there’s reasons. You don’t have to have that. And you have to have fair and balanced when it affects the concerns of private power, period. But try to get an article in the Columbia Journalism Review pointing that out, although it’s transparent.

So all those things are there, but they can be overcome, and they’d better be. This isn’t–you know, unless there’s a sharp reversal in policy, unless we here in the so-called advanced societies can gain the consciousness of the indigenous people of the world, we’re in deep trouble. Our grandchildren are going to suffer from it.

HEDGES: And I think you would agree that’s not going to come from the power elite.

CHOMSKY: It’s certainly not.

HEDGES: It’s up to us.

CHOMSKY: Absolutely. And it’s urgent.

HEDGES: It is. Thank you very much.


Last Hours

July 24, 2014
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Published on Sep 28, 2013


“Last Hours” is the first in a series of short films that explore the perils of climate change and the solutions to avert climate disaster. Each subsequent film will highlight fact-based challenges facing the human race, and offer solutions to ameliorate these crises. The initial short film series will culminate in a feature film to be presented prior to COP21, the 2015 UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris. An asset for the climate change movement, “Last Hours” will be disseminated globally to awaken modern culture worldwide about the various dangers associated with climate change. “Last Hours” describes a science-based climate scenario where a tipping point to runaway climate change is triggered by massive releases of frozen methane. Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, has already started to percolate into the open seas and atmosphere from methane hydrate deposits beneath melting arctic ice, from the warming northern-hemisphere tundra, and from worldwide continental-shelf undersea methane clathrate pools. Burning fossil fuels release carbon that, principally through greenhouse effect, heat the atmosphere and the seas. This is happening most rapidly at the polar extremes, and this heating has already begun the process of releasing methane. If we do not begin to significantly curtail the use of carbon-based fossil fuels, this freed methane threatens to radically accelerate the speed of global warming, potentially producing a disaster beyond the ability of the human species to adapt. This first video is designed to awaken people to the fact that the earth has experienced five major extinctions in the deep geologic past — times when more than half of all life on earth vanished — and that we are now entering a sixth extinction. Industrial civilization with its production of greenhouse gases has the ability to trigger a mass extinction; in the extreme, it could threaten not just human civilization, but the very existence of human life on this planet. The world community and global citizens urgently need to chart a path forward that greatly reduces green house gas emissions. To take action and follow the pathway to solutions to the climate crisis, you can explore this website and you can also sign-up for future updates. Thank you. “Last Hours” is presented and narrated by Thom Hartmann and directed by Leila Conners. Executive Producers are George DiCaprio and Earl Katz. Last Hours is produced by Mathew Schmid of Tree Media Foundation, and was written by Thom Hartmann, Sam Sacks, and Leila Conners. Music is composed and performed by Francesco Lupica.

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    5 Ways to Have a Climate-Friendly Fourth of July

    July 4, 2014

    We can lesson our carbon footprint on the 4th of July. (photo: Shutterstock)
    We can lesson our carbon footprint on the 4th of July. (photo: Shutterstock)

    By Emily Atkin, ThinkProgress

    04 July 14


    t’s July 4. It’s a Friday. It’s a Holiday. The last thing anyone wants is to be pestered about their carbon footprint and their contribution to global warming.

    The fact is, though, that Fourth of July barbecues across the country cause a considerable amount of carbon to be pumped into the air. It’s by no means a huge amount compared to how much carbon the United States emits collectively in one year — in fact, it’s relatively insignificant in comparison. But if you’re a conscientious person who cares about the environment, you deserve to know the impacts: It’s the number one most popular holiday for outdoor cooking, and more than two-thirds of Americans turn on their grills. The emissions from all those grills add up — at least 225,000 metric tons of carbon is released into the atmosphere on the Fourth alone, the annual emissions equivalent of 47,368 cars.

    Don’t worry about ditching the grill. But there are a few things you could do to reduce your emissions on that day — and the best part is, they’re all pretty simple. No pestering necessary.

    1. Use a propane grill instead of charcoal

    It’s no secret that propane grilling has a much lower carbon footprint than grilling with charcoal. According to a 2009 study published in Elsevier’s Environmental Impact Assessment Review, charcoal grilling produces three times more greenhouse gases than propane grilling on average, with each charcoal cookout having twice the carbon footprint of a propane cookout. Using propane also reduces how many times you have to drive to the store to buy fuel for your grill, cutting emissions from your car.

    The Department of Energy has estimated that, if all the charcoal grills in America were replaced with propane grills, carbon dioxide emissions on the Fourth of July could be reduced by about 26 percent, or about 59,000 metric tons. That’s the equivalent of taking 12,421 cars off the road for an entire year.

    2. If you do use charcoal, don’t use lighter fluid

    If you really can’t do without the flavor of using charcoal for grilling, or if you don’t have a propane grill, never fear. There is a more climate-friendly way to use charcoal — not using lighter fluid.

    Lighter fluid, according to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, is comprised entirely of volatile organic compounds (VOC) — dangerous air pollutants which form ozone gas. The EPA estimates that Americans release more than 14,000 tons of VOCs into the atmosphere every year from burning lighter fluid. When combusted, the VOCs in lighter fluid also form carbon dioxide and water vapor, both of which are emitted into the atmosphere.

    Instead, the EPA recommends using a chimney starter, or an electric charcoal starter.

    3. Put a lot of food on the grill at once

    The more time you have food cooking on the grill, the more time your propane or charcoal is burning. The more time your propane or charcoal is burning, the more carbon is emitted into the air. What to do?

    One solution could be to cook less food, thereby reducing time on the grill. But what sounds just a little bit better is just making sure every bit of space on the grill is being used for cooking — really pushing those hot dogs against those kabobs. Efficiency is the name of the game.

    4. Eat a little more veggies, and a little less beef

    Not to say that burgers and all-beef hot dogs should be thrown out of the equation here, but out of all meats, beef has the second-highest carbon emissions, generating nearly of 60 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilo consumed, according to a study by theEnvironmental Working Group. That’s more than twice the emissions of pork, approximately four times the emissions of chicken, and more than 13 times those of beans, lentils and tofu.

    So instead of buying enough beef burgers for all 20 of the guests at your Fourth of July cookout, consider replacing some with alternatives — turkey burgers, chicken breasts, or pork sausages — all which contribute less greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. And maybe make some veggie and tofu kabobs, too, while you’re at it.

    5. Buy local food where possible

    This is a good rule to follow in general, but it also applies to the Fourth of July, a day when you’re probably using a good deal of tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and meats. Because locally-grown and raised foods take less time to get to your table, that means less fuel has been used to transport them, meaning less greenhouse gases have been emitted.

    There has been some debate about the importance of this. After all, only 11 percent of carbon emissions caused by food production comes from transportation. The majority of food’s emissions — 86 percent — comes from actual production of the food, meaning it’s important to look at the farm’s whole operation to really understand its energy consumption.

    But for the purposes of a carefree Fourth of July, buying locally really never hurts.


    Here’s What Climate Change Will Do To The American Economy In 7 Charts

    July 1, 2014

    BY JEFF SPROSS JUNE 27, 2014 AT 12:19 PM UPDATED: JUNE 27, 2014 AT 12:25 PM

    Here’s What Climate Change Will Do To The American Economy In 7 Charts


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    So just how hard will climate change hit the American economy?

    A big step toward answering that question happened Tuesday, with the release of “Risky Business.” Put together by a research team headed up by the likes of former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, “Risky Business” is a sweeping analysis of climate change’s economic impacts on the United States, broken down by region and sector. The report came with some dramatic numbers, including hundreds of billions of dollars in possible coastal damage, looming drops of 50 percent or more to crop production, and a quadrupling of extreme heat days by the end of the century.

    risky-business-pathwaysprospectus was also released, digging into the report’s methodology in much greater detail. It built the overall model of economic damage by looking at six major categories: coastal damage, agriculture, labor productivity, increased deaths, crime, and energy costs. The study also looked at multiple paths climate change could take as laid out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Called “Representative Concentration Pathways” (RCPs) they run the gamut from business-as-usual carbon emissions (RCP 8.5) to moderate cuts to carbon emissions (RCP 4.5) to really steep reductions (RCP 2.6). Basically the more the less carbon emitted, the lower the number. The differences in economic damage between the paths are all significant, particularly by 2100 — which shows that even if we failto keep global warming below 2°C there’s still a lot of damage we can avoid.

    Here are the best charts from the “Risky Business’ prospectus that show all the different body blows climate change will likely deliver to the U.S. economy:


    As climate change increases drought and heat waves and shifts precipitation patterns, it threatens to upend agricultural production in much of the country. According to the study, “likely” outcomes — which it defines as a two-thirds chance — go as high as 40 percent drops in crop production under business-as-usual by 2100. The kind of crop failures we currently see only once every 20 years would start occurring more than once every two years by the end of the century.

    Significantly, the poorest ten percent of the nation’s counties would be hit much harder than the other 90 percent — by mid-century alone, likely costs in the poorest counties go as high as $900 per person each year.



    Energy Costs

    Increased heat puts more demand on the electrical grid to keep buildings cool, so global warming will tend to drive up energy costs. With the exceptions of the Northeast and Northwest, those hikes would occur across the country, driving the likely national increase in energy expenditures as high as 25 percent by 2100. The likely per person costs of increased strain on the energy system could go as high as $287 each year — and could go over twice as high for poorest 10 percent of counties.



    Labor Productivity

    By increasing heat waves and humidity, which increase risk of exhaustion, heat stroke, and even death, climate change threatens to cut down significantly on the amount of productive work Americans can do outdoors. By 2100 under business-as-usual, the study projects likely losses to labor productivity of more than two percent (the colored rectangles) and one-chance-in-twenty losses of over three percent (the T-shaped bars). For comparison, the economic crisis in Greece since the 2008 recession involved a labor productivity drop of less than one percent.

    The average annual costs of declining labor productivity could reach $504 per person. And as with agriculture, the poorest 10 percent of counties see the worst hits, while the hardest-hit states are in the Southeast and the Great Plains.



    Violent Crime

    “A growing body of rigorous quantitative research across multiple disciplines has found that weather, and in particular temperature, affects the incidence of most types of violent and non-violent crime in American cities and rural areas alike” according to the study. The effect gets pronounced at days over 95°F — the frequency of which is likely to increase by as much as four times by the end of the century. Overall, crime is one of the lesser impacts, with likely per person costs only rising as high as $35 by 2100. And the increases in crime tend to be peppered across the entire country. But it’s an example of the subtle ways climate change’s effects can ripple through literally every conceivable aspect of human society.




    To put it bluntly, heat waves kill. Citing the study’s data, Dr. Alfred Sommer, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Epidemiology and International Health at John Hopkins, said, “There will be 10 to 20 times as many incremental deaths because of excess heat and humidity 100 years from now.” In pure economic terms, never mind the emotional and moral toll, the likely costs of those deaths could reach as high as $710 per person each year by the close of the century — or $1,736 according to the VSL methodology. The states in the southeast corner of the country suffer the worst.



    Coastal Damage

    Rising seas threaten to inundate developed areas along the coast while making flooding from storms more likely, and increased heat content in the oceans from global warming will make storms stronger as well. As a result, climate change threatens major economic damage to coastal areas around the world. Here in America, that mainly means the states in the Southeast and the Northeast. Thanks to the concentrated nature of the damage, the likely average per person costs of flooding and storm damage nationally will only go as high as $138 each year by 2100. But costs for those specific coastal areas will likely be many hundreds of dollars higher.



    The Economy

    Ultimately, combining the costs of coastal damage, lost agriculture, lost labor, higher mortality, more crime, and higher energy prices is complex. The “Risky Business” team ran several models using both direct costs and a more complex macroeconomic approach (which lowered the projected damage). They also used two different measures of mortality: “market” costs and “value of a statistical life” (VSL) costs. The first simply tallies up the wealth production the economy loses whenever someone dies prematurely, while the second judges how people actually value life by how much their willing to spend to mitigate the risk of death in other circumstances. Each approach has its strength and weaknesses, so the differences mainly amount to a “conceptual exercise” in the study’s words.

    However, relying on the direct costs model and the VSL value of mortality yielded a total likely hit to the economy of something between 1.5 to 5.9 percent by 2100 — but with a one-in-twenty chance that damage could reach nearly 10 percent.



    Another thing worth noting: two important concepts in the analysis are “risk aversion” and “inequality aversion.” What matters in risk management is not just the possible future costs of a risk, but how much you’re willing to pay to avoid those costs, which adds to the total future costs in weighing whether alternative sacrifices in the here-and-now are worth.



    “Risk aversion” and “inequality aversion” refer to the added amounts we’re willing to pay to avoid general risk and the risk of economically unjust outcomes, respectively.

    Using standard methodologies, the study concluded that combining risk and inequality aversion could add significantly to calculations of climate change’s damage to the economy. Combing the two added roughly 25 percent to the costs of the agricultural impacts at mid-range aversion, and 42 percent at the high-range. For the costs of increased deaths, those two aversions added around 100 percent at the mid-range and 200 percent at the high-range.


    * * * 

    The Risky Business analysis admittedly leaves out a good deal. Future technological innovations and adaptations that could reduce the damage are inherently hard-to-impossible to anticipate, for instance. The “Risky Business” team attempted a few limited thought experiments to account for that, though they only modestly reduced the economic damage projected in the models.

    The modeling also doesn’t include future economic damage fromwater scarcity, hits to labor productivity from increased disease, aggravations of international instability, or the impacts of ocean acidification on marine food supplies and industry — just to name a few caveats. The ways that different impacts can interact and strengthen one another also couldn’t be included in the modeling. And finally, there’s just the fact that GDP is an inherently poor measure of what we’re really interested in when it comes to the welfare of any society in concrete human terms.

    “For a parent,” the study notes, in a moment of massive understatement, “the welfare impact of losing a child to heat-related mortality is much greater than the net present value of that child’s expected future earnings.”

    Tom Steyer is a member of the Board of Directors at the Center for American Progress.

    Climate puts US at risk of multi-billion bill

    June 30, 2014

    Overheating: US crops such as cotton face a %20 drop in yield Image: Wars via Wikinmedia Commons
    Overheated economy: US crops such as cotton face a 20% drop in yield
    Image: Wars via Wikimedia Commons

    By Alex Kirby

    A study of the possible cost of climate change to the US economy warns government and business that billions of dollars could be at risk through damage to property, reduced harvests and workers incapacitated by extreme heat.

    LONDON, 29 June, 2014 − The sheer economic cost of climate change to Americans could be far greater than many realise, an influential study says.

    The study was commissioned by the Risky Business Project, a research organisation chaired by a bi-partisan panel and supported by several former US Treasury Secretaries.

    It expects climate change to have varied impacts across different regions and industries.Rising sea levels, it says, could destroy many billion dollars’ worth of coastal properties by 2050, and warming temperatures, especially in the south, south-west and mid-west, could cut the productivity of people working outdoors by 3%.

    Without a change in crops, harvests in these regions could fall by 14%. But further north, in states such as North Dakota and Montana, winter temperatures will probably rise, reducing frost and cold-related deaths and lengthening the growing season for some crops.

    Kate Gordon, executive director of the Risky Business Project, said : “We still live in a single integrated national economy, so just because it’s not hot where you are doesn’t mean you won’t feel the heat of climate change.”

    Michael Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York, said: “Damages from storms, flooding, and heat waves are already costing local economies billions of dollars. We saw that firsthand in New York City with Hurricane Sandy.

    Costs of inaction

    “With the oceans rising and the climate changing, the Risky Business report details the costs of inaction in ways that are easy to understand in dollars and cents − and impossible to ignore.”

    Hank Paulson, a former Treasury Secretary and co-chair of the Risky Business Project, said the report shows us that “our economy is vulnerable to an overwhelming number of risks from climate change.

    “But if we act immediately, we can still avoid most of the worst impacts of climate change and significantly reduce the odds of catastrophic outcomes. But the investments we’re making today will determine our economic future.”

    In a section on short-term climate threats, the authors say: “The American economy is already beginning to feel the effects of climate change. These impacts will likely grow materially over the next 5 to 25 years…”

    “Just because it’s not hot where you are doesn’t mean
    you won’t feel the heat of climate change”

    They say there is a 1-in-20 chance of yield losses of more than 20% in corn, wheat, soya and cotton crops over that timespan.

    On energy, they say changes in temperature driven by greenhouse gases will probably mean a need to build roughly 200 average coal-fired or natural gas-fired power plants between 2020 and 2045, costing up to $12 billion per year.

    Climate impacts, the report says, are unusual because future risks are directly tied to present decisions. By failing to lower greenhouse gas emissions today, decision-makers put in place processes that increase overall risks tomorrow.

    By 2050, on present trends, $66bn-$106bn worth of existing coastal property will probably be below sea level nationwide, with $238-$507bn worth by 2100.

    By mid-century, the average American will probably see 27 to 50 days over 95°F (35°C) each year − two to more than three times the average annual number of such days seen over the last 30 years. By the end of the century, this number will probably average 45 to 96 days over 95°F each year.

    But the study says that the south-west, south-east, and upper mid-west will probably see several months of 95°F days annually.

    Human threshold

    In the longer term, extreme heat during parts of the year could pass the threshold at which the human body can no longer maintain a normal core temperature without air conditioning. At these times, anyone who has to work outdoors, or without access to air conditioning, will face severe health risks and possible death.

    The authors say they hope it will become standard practice for the American business and investment community to factor climate change into its decision-making process. They say: “We are already seeing this response from the agricultural and national security sectors; we are starting to see it from the bond markets and utilities as well.

    “But business still tends to respond only to the extent that these risks intersect with core short-term financial and planning decisions.”

    And the authors warn the government: “We also know that the private sector does not operate in a vacuum, and that the economy runs most smoothly when government sets a consistent policy and a regulatory framework within which business has the freedom to operate.

    “Right now, cities and businesses are scrambling to adapt to a changing climate without sufficient federal government support…” − Climate News Network

    Scientists Predict Increased Rain, Floods for Northeast

    June 22, 2014
    Sci Tech 6/21/2014 at 08:21:45

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    by Walter Brasch

    Persons in the Mid-Atlantic and New England states will experience increased rainfall and floods if data analysis by a Penn State meteorologist and long-term projections by a fisheries biologist, with a specialty in surface water pollution, are accurate.

    Paul Knight, senior lecturer in meteorology at Penn State, compiled rainfall data for Pennsylvania from 1895–when recordings were first made–to this year. He says there has been an increase of 10 percent of rainfall during the past century. Until the 1970s, the average rainfall throughout the state was about 42 inches. Beginning in the 1970s, the average began creeping up. “By the 1990s, the increase was noticeable,” he says. The three wettest years on record since 1895 were 2003, 2004, and 2011. The statewide average was 61.5 inches in 2011, the year of Tropical Storm Lee, which caused 18 deaths and about $1.6 billion in damage in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and devastating flooding in New York and Pennsylvania, especially along the Susquehanna River basin.

    Dr. Harvey Katz, of Montoursville, Pa., extended Knight’s data analysis for five decades. Dr. Katz predicts an average annual rainfall of about 55 inches, about 13 inches more than the period of 1895 to 1975. The increased rainfall isn’t limited to Pennsylvania, but extends throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New England states.

    Both Knight and Dr. Katz say floods will be more frequent. The industrialization and urbanization of America has led to more trees being cut down; the consequences are greater erosion and more open areas to allow rainwater to flow into streams and rivers. Waterway hazards, because of flooding and increased river flow, will cause additional problems. Heavy rains will cause increased pollution, washing off fertilizer on farmlands into the surface water supply, extending into the Chesapeake Bay. Sprays on plants and agricultural crops to reduce attacks by numerous insects, which would normally stay localized, will now be washed into streams and rivers, says Knight.


    Pollution will also disrupt the aquatic ecosystem, likely leading to a decrease in the fishing industry because of increased disease and death among fish and other marine mammals, says Dr. Katz.

    Another consequence of increased rainfall is a wider spread of pollution from fracking operations, especially in the Marcellus Shale.

    Most of the 1,000 chemicals that can be used in drilling operations, in the concentrations used, are toxic carcinogens; because of various geological factors, each company using horizontal fracturing can use a mixture of dozens of those chemicals at any one well site to drill as much as two miles deep into the earth.

    Last year, drilling companies created more than 300 billion gallons of flowback from fracking operations in the United States. (Each well requires an average of 3–5 million gallons of water, up to 100,000 gallons of chemicals, and as much as 10 tons of silica sand. Flowback is what is brought up after the initial destruction of the shale.) Most of that flowback, which once was placed in open air pits lined with plastic that can tear and leak, are now primarily placed into 22,000 gallon steel trailers, which can leak. In Pennsylvania, drillers are still allowed to mix up to 10 percent of the volume of large freshwater pits with flowback water.

    In March 2013, Carizo Oil and Gas was responsible for an accidental spill of 227,000 gallons of wastewater, leading to the evacuation of four homes in Wyoming County, Pa. Two months later, a malfunction at a well, also in Wyoming County, sent 9,000 gallons of flowback onto the farm and into the basement of a nearby resident.

    Rain, snow, and wind in the case of a spill can move that toxic soup into groundwater, streams, and rivers. In addition to any of dozens of toxic salts, metals, and dissolvable organic chemicals, flowback contains radioactive elements brought up from deep in the earth; among them are Uranium-238, Thorium-232, and radium, which decays into radon, one of the most radioactive and toxic gases. Radon is the second highest cause of lung cancer, after cigarettes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

    A U.S. Geological Survey analysis of well samples collected in Pennsylvania and New York between 2009 and 2011 revealed that 37 of the 52 samples had Radium-226 and Radium-228 levels that were 242 times higher than the standard for drinking water. One sample, from Tioga County, Pa., was 3,609 times the federal standard for safe drinking water, and 300 times the federal industrial standard.

    Radium-226, 200 times higher than acceptable background levels, was detected in Blacklick Creek, a 30-mile long tributary of the Conemaugh River near Johnstown, Pa. The radium, which had been embedded deep in the earth but was brought up in flowback waters, was part of a discharge from the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility, according to research published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology.

    Increased rainfall also increases the probability of pollution from spills from the nation’s decaying pipeline systems. About half of all oil and gas pipelines are at least a half-century old. There were more than 6,000 spills from pipelines last year. Among those spills were almost 300,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil from a pipe in Arkansas, and 100,000 gallons of oil and other chemicals in Colorado.

    Increased truck and train traffic to move oil and gas from the drilling fields to refineries along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts has led to increased accidents. Railroad accidents in the United States last year accounted for about 1.15 million gallons of spilled crude oil, more than all spills in the 40 years since the federal government began collecting data, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Many of the spills were in wetlands or into groundwater and streams.

    Next Page  1  |  2


    Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor of journalism emeritus. His current books are Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution America’s Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government’s Violation of Constitutional (more…)

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    Al Gore thinks there’s hope for humanity after all

    June 19, 2014

    Brentin Mock

    Read, black, and green

    al gore

    In the current rolling debate over whether we’re already the walking dead, given our presumptive too little, too late actions on climate change, Al Gore is boldly predicting victory in the latest issue of Rolling Stone.

    “The forward journey for human civilization will be difficult and dangerous, but it is now clear that we will ultimately prevail,” writes Gore in his article, “The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate.” “The truly catastrophic damages that have the potential for ending civilization as we know it can still — almost certainly — be avoided.”

    That’s a lot of clarity and certainty, especially for a magazine that just two years ago terrified us with an article by climate activist (and Grist board member) Bill McKibben called “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” That math pointed at fossil fuel companies as the primary culprits for coming destabilization. As for building a campaign against those companies, McKibben wrote, “we may have waited too long to start it.” Ezra Klein echoed these fears recently in his “7 reasons America will fail on climate change” treatise in Vox.

    But Gore pushes back against such notions, especially Klein’s argument that the global effort needed against climate change is “completely unprecedented,” which I dispelled as well.

    “There were many no’s before the emergence of a global consensus to abolish chattel slavery,” writes Gore, “before the consensus that women must have the right to vote, before the fever of the nuclear ­arms race was broken, before the quickening global recognition of gay and lesbian equality, and indeed before every forward advance toward social progress.”

    As a leading figure in climate talks in both the United Nations and among the private sector, Gore was able to point toward a number of hopeful signs in global climate negotiations worth highlighting:

    1. “The cost of electricity from photovoltaic, or PV, solar cells is now equal to or less than the cost of electricity from other sources powering electric grids in at least 79 countries. By 2020 — as the scale of deployments grows and the costs continue to decline — more than 80 percent of the world’s people will live in regions where solar will be competitive with electricity from other sources.”

    My main concern here is who that leftover 20 percent is. If they are, as I suspect, those living in poor countries across Africa, Asia, and South America, then I’m fearful of an energy apartheid regime. Gore must have felt my fear, though, because:

    2. “Bangladesh is installing nearly two new rooftop PV systems every minute — making it the most rapidly growing market for PVs in the world. In West and East Africa, solar-electric cells are beginning what is widely predicted to be a period of explosive growth.”

    I had to fact-check that last statement to make sure Gore wasn’t just padding the case for hope. I checked in with the homey Dayo Olopade, who spent much of last year in Africa researching this for her book The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa, released in March. Her prognosis on Gore’s “explosive growth” assessment: He’s “broadly accurate.” Solar sources are not only competitive and attractive throughout Africa, but already in wide use, Olopade told me. This can only be a good sign.

    3. “At the turn of the 21st century, some scoffed at projections that the world would be installing one gigawatt of new solar electricity per year by 2010. That goal was exceeded 17 times over; last year it was exceeded 39 times over; and this year the world is on pace to exceed that benchmark as much as 55 times over.”

    Gore says such growth is comparable to the industry boom of cellphones, which were predicted to only claim about 900,000 subscribers by the year 2000 when first introduced in the early 1980s. When the 20th century came to an end, there were over 109 million subscribers. Now there are 6.8 billion. And we have solar-powered cellphones.

    4. “China’s new president, Xi Jinping, has launched a pilot cap-and-trade system in two cities and five provinces as a model for a nationwide cap-and-trade program in the next few years. He has banned all new coal burning in several cities and required the reporting of CO2 emissions by all major industrial sources. China and the U.S. have jointly reached an important agreement to limit another potent source of global-warming pollution — the chemical compounds known as hydro-fluorocarbons, or HFCs.”

    Klein and others have scoffed at those who’ve feigned hope in the face of climate catastrophe, telling them — to quote Jay Z — “We don’t believe you, you need more people.” Or as rapper Jean Grae put it, “You don’t just need more people, you need China.” Well, now we have China.

    5. “Since 1980, the U.S. has reduced total energy intensity by 49 percent.”

    Reduce demand, and the trailer-loads of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel plants becomes less and less of a thing. End of story.

    It’s not all sweet, though. Gore presents a litany of bitter facts in his 5,000-plus word article that throw plenty of shade over his otherwise sunny analysis. Like the fact that global fossil fuel subsidies are 25 times larger than those for renewables. And that last April, the average carbon dioxide concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere exceeded 400 parts per million on a sustained basis for the first time in at least 800,000 years, and probably for the first time in at least 4.5 million years.

    Yes, we’ve already done a tremendous amount of damage, and for that we’ll pay the price. Lest you feel comforted that the U.S. will get off easy, climate experts have already rendered the Norfolk, Va. naval base — the world’s largest — a goner due to rising sea levels in the future. Rolling Stone, for its part, says we can kiss Miami goodbye.

    But if there’s one overarching theme to Gore’s appeal for hope, it’s that renewable energy is getting less expensive, while coal energy is becoming more of a liability for markets. People like new things, and cheap — especially Americans. So to prevent “game over,” we need only keep looking toward the sun.

    “There is indeed, literally, light at the end of the tunnel,” Gore concludes, “but there is a tunnel, and we are well into it.”

    Brentin Mock is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who writes regularly for Grist about environmental justice issues and the connections between environmental policy, race, and politics. Follow him on Twitter at @brentinmock.

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    7 Reasons America Should Succeed on Climate Change

    June 9, 2014

    Joe Romm
    Think Progress/News Report
    Published: Sunday 8 June 2014
    One of the country’s best wonks, Vox’s Ezra Klein, has gone defeatist on climate change with his piece, “7 reasons America will fail on climate change.” He invites a reply, and this is mine.
    Article image




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    One of the country’s best wonks, Vox’s Ezra Klein, has gone defeatist on climate change with his piece, “7 reasons America will fail on climate change.” He invites a reply, and this is mine.

    I have praised Vox’s recent climate coverage. But to see how pessimistic this story is, look at a few of the large-type, all caps, pull-out quotes:



    I asked one of the country’s top climatologists, Michael Mann, who criticized this story in atweet to comment. He wrote:

    Defeatist framing is not helpful and threatens serving as self-fulfilling prophecy. We all grew up reading the “The Little Engine that Could,” not “The Little Engine that Couldn’t.” The only real obstacle to averting dangerous climate change is lack of willpower and imagination. We must avoid messaging that seems to condone that, as the title of the Vox piece unfortunately does.

    Over the past 8 years of blogging at Climate Progress, I have tried to focus on what the science says we should do (slash CO2 ASAP to avoid catastrophe) and what technology says we could do (as much as we need to) and what economics suggests it would cost (not bloody much).

    Predictions of what America and the world “will” do in the future are essentially personal judgments on human nature and the national and global political system. I fully understand why some people would be pessimistic about that (and I have been myself, as readers know).

    But the science makes clear inaction is not a rational option and that technology/economics makes clear that action is super cheap. If those involved in the political process (or in influencing or changing it) decide not to act, that is their choice. But for a leading pundit to declare that he knows the future of this complex issue seems at the very least wildly premature and at the worst, as Dr. Mann says, a counterproductive self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Here are Klein’s 7 reasons America “will fail,” which I’ll then replace with my own:

    1) We’ve waited so long that what America needs to do is really, really hard — and maybe impossible
    2) The people most affected by climate change don’t get a vote
    3) We’re bad at sacrificing now to benefit later
    4) The effects of global warming are not easily reversible
    5) The Republican Party has gone off the rails on climate change
    6) The international cooperation required is unprecedented, and maybe impossible
    7) Geoengineering is nuts

    Here are mine:

    1. What America and the world needs to do is really, really cheap economically, as key clean technologies plummet in cost.

    In April, after an extensive review of the literature, the world’s scientists and governmentsconcluded that stabilizing at 2°C would have a net effect on growth of 0.06% per year — essentially no effect at all compared to the staggering amount of climate damages avoided.

    In May, the International Energy Agency (IEA) issued yet another major report, “Energy Technology Perspectives 2014,” that said keeping global warming below the dangerous threshold of 2°C (their 2DS scenario) would require investment in clean energy of only about 1% of global GDP per year — but be astoundingly cost-effective: “The $44 trillion additional investment needed to decarbonise the energy system in line with the 2DS by 2050 is more than offset by over $115 trillion in fuel savings – resulting in net savings of $71 trillion.”

    As the charts I’ve posted show, solar and wind and key enabling clean energy technologies have been dropping sharply in price, as their deployment rates have grown.

    In addition, the United States remains the Saudi Arabia of wasted energy, and so energy efficiency remains “The biggest low-carbon resource by far” — a truly limitless low-cost resource that never runs out.

    2. All of the people who get a vote are severely affected by climate change.

    It is I think one of the most widespread and dangerous myths that poor, “irrelevant” countries will suffer far more than everyone else. Yes, poor countries will suffer terribly — and all the more so because they lack the resources to “adapt.” But one only need look at Superstorm Sandy to realize that America, by virtue of being the richest country, has the most to lose in an absolute sense.

    We have trillions of dollars of wealth near sea level — some of it in areas like Southeast Florida where there are no obvious ways to protect cities like Miami.

    We are vulnerable to a wider diversity of harsh impacts than almost anyone else — not just sea level rise and worsening storm surge, but also to stronger hurricanes and bark beetle infestation and wildfires and Dust-Bowlification. The U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA)and recent studies makes clear that large parts of the Southwest and Great Plains face near permanent drought conditions on our current do-nothing path.

    Klein uses this map from a 2014 Standard & Poor’s analysis to make his case:


    I’m not sure Standard & Poor’s is a great source for climate analysis. What exactly will happen to U.S. creditworthiness when coastal property values collapse? America has the most invested in this unsustainable Ponzi scheme we call the global economic system — so we have the most to lose.

    Even using that map, you’ll see that India is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, and China isn’t far behind. Those two countries are very important to international climate talks — and China is as crucial to their success as we are.

    Thus, “all of the people who get a vote are severely affected by climate change.” This is nothing to cheer about, of course, but anyone who read the NCA knows that the United States has more than enough science-based motivation for action.

    3. We’re sometimes very good at sacrificing now to benefit later (and to benefit others).

    As I’m writing this, it’s the 70th anniversary of D-Day. If you watched the moving coverage on TV, then you know that in 1944, a lot of people knew they were risking the ultimate sacrifice for the chance of a better future — that is, a better future primarily for other people they didn’t even know! And that is separate from the economic sacrifices and hardships Americans as a whole had been making for years during the war effort.

    The “sacrifice” needed to avoid catastrophic warming is considerably smaller that what was needed to win WWII. Indeed, America could achieve 80% to 90% reduction in emissions by 2050 in a manner that resulted in a much higher income and quality of life.

    4. There NEVER will be a time when aggressive climate action is not the best strategy for everyone.

    It’s true that the effects of global warming are not easily reversible. But as Klein himself notes near the end of his 3000-word piece:

    Climate change isn’t binary. There’s not a single state of success and a single state of failure. Warming the world by 2.5 degrees Celsius is a whole lot better than warming it by three degrees Celsius. Warming the world by three degrees Celsius is vastly less catastrophic than warming it by four degrees Celsius.”

    The choice is not between inaction now and inaction forever. Aggressive action will always be the best action. If we did it starting now, we could avoid the worst consequences. If we start 10 years from now, we’d be stuck with many serious consequences — but we could prevent even worse ones happening. And so on.

    But asserting “America will fail on climate change,” is to imply climate change is binary — and that we are headed for a single state of failure.

    5. The Republican Party has gone so far off the rails on climate change that it is triggering a backlash.

    No one can dispute that “The Republican Party has gone off the rails on climate change.” Certainly American politics writ large are no source of optimism.

    But the GOP has derailed so much that there’s now a backlash over climate denial, as Marco Rubio found out. And many progressives have finally realized what the polling and social science has been saying for years — campaigning on climate action is a political winner.

    It is probably true that if Tea-Party driven conservatives continue to hold decisive power and oppose all sensible action on climate for the next, say, quarter century or more, then, Kleinmay be right. But who can predict politics that far out? I’d argue that if they remain intransigent in the face of a climate reality that grows ever more painfully obvious to the public each year, conservatives will consign themselves to political oblivion long before then.

    6. The international cooperation required is unprecedented, but the key country for a treaty, China, is on a path toward capping its carbon emissions.

    There is no international climate treaty possible without the genuine participation of China, the biggest polluter and the biggest obstacle to a global treaty besides us.

    We reported earlier this week that a key academic advisor on climate to the Chinese government said that he and other experts were recommending a cap on carbon emissions. Even more important, a key leader on climate issues in the government has acknowledgedthe country is committed toward developing one:

    The world’s biggest producer of fossil fuel emissions has been studying for more than a year how and when it might be able to make its pollution levels peak and hopes to act as soon as possible, said Xie Zhenhua, China’s lead envoy to the United Nations global warming talks.

    “China will behave in a very responsible way for Chinese people and the world and we will try our utmost to peak as early as possible,” Xie said yesterday in an interview at the talks in Bonn….

    These remarks are especially significant because they come after Obama’s announcement of our own cap on electric utility carbon pollution.

    Melanie Hart, director of the China energy and climate policy program at the Center for American Progress, told me that the process going on in China to develop a genuine emissions cap is “amazing”:

    An emissions peak has legs. It’s not going to stop. Now it is an official process.

    This development is a genuine reason for optimism.

    7. Geoengineering is nuts.

    I agree with Klein here: “Not to be a killjoy, but it’s hard to believe that the consequences of the huge, unpredictable changes to the global climate can be safely reversed by further efforts to make huge, unpredictable changes to the climate.”

    The most commonly discussed efforts to geo-engineer our way out of catastrophe have fatal flaws that make them, at best, the chemotherapy of climate options. And I know of no geoengineering expert who believes that anyone of them could work meaningfully in the absence of very aggressive CO2 reduction.

    But I don’t agree this is a reason for pessimism. If people thought geoengineering could plausibly replace CO2 reduction, then it would kill the chances for action here. For better or worse, though, geoengineering can’t.

    BOTTOM LINE: I think it is important for climate and policy experts to be realistic. But as politically difficult as serious climate action may be, there’s no doubt it’s something we could do, and I don’t see how anyone can know we won’t. Klein ends his piece:

    There are manageable failures and there are unmanageable failures. We’re currently on track for an unmanageable failure. I think it’s possible that we can slowly, painfully pull ourselves towards a manageable failure, but I’m not willing to call that optimism.

    On climate change, the truth has gone from inconvenient to awful. Right now we’re failing our future. And we will be judged harshly for it.

    Well, even a “manageable failure” would be far better than rendering large parts of the planet uninhabitable and reducing the carrying capacity to far below 9 billion people, which is where we’re headed. But I think it’s possible and indeed likely that we will quickly and not-so-painfully pull ourselves into an even better outcome.

    But that better outcome would require the U.S. political establishment, opinion makers, and media to understand as much about climate science as Ezra Klein does — and as much about clean energy and climate economics as the IEA and world governments and top scientists do.

    Personally, conveying that information to readers strikes me as a better course of action than prejudging the whole matter as hopeless.

    Author pic

    Joe Romm is a Fellow at American Progress and is the editor of Climate Progress, which New York Timescolumnist Tom Friedman called “the indispensable blog” and Time magazine named one of the 25 “Best Blogs of 2010.″ In 2009, Rolling Stone put Romm #88 on its list of 100 “people who are reinventing America.” Time named him a “Hero of the Environment″ and “The Web’s most influential climate-change blogger.” Romm was acting assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy in 1997, where he oversaw $1 billion in R&D, demonstration, and deployment of low-carbon technology. He is a Senior Fellow at American Progress and holds a Ph.D. in physics from MIT.

    The Most Important Step Taken to Combat Climate Change in Our Country’s History

    June 4, 2014

    Al Gore testifies on Capitol Hill before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on global climate change. (photo: Susan Walsh/AP)
    Al Gore testifies on Capitol Hill before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on global climate change. (photo: Susan Walsh/AP)

    By Al Gore, Reader Supported News

    03 June 14


    oday’s announcement by the Obama administration to reduce our nation’s global warming pollution from power plants is the most important step taken to combat the climate crisis in our country’s history.

    We simply cannot continue to use the atmosphere as an open sewer for dirty and dangerous global warming pollution that endangers our health and makes storms, floods, mudslides and droughts much more dangerous and threatening — not only in the future, but here and now. As with the connection between tobacco and lung cancer, special interests have vehemently denied the linkage between carbon emissions and the climate crisis. But the reality of global warming is now much more apparent and many more people are beginning to demand action. These same special interests now recognize that change is inevitable, but continue to trot out misleading and false claims to spread confusion and delay action for as long as they can. However, it is now clear that further inaction would be extremely dangerous and destructive for America and the rest of the world.

    Fortunately, because of the innovation and hard work of America’s businesses, scientists and engineers, we now have clean energy solutions that are way more efficient, economically competitive and more widely available than ever before. Solar and wind power are already cheaper than the old dirty sources of energy in many areas, and are getting cheaper every year — the same way cellphones and computers did.

    Following years of stronger and more frequent storms, unprecedented flooding and killer mudslides, widespread drought and spreading wildfires — not to mention record-breaking heat waves, the need for bold action is obvious and urgent. President Obama has taken hold of the challenges we face through a series of critical actions, empowering the EPA to enforce limits on CO2 emissions for new power plants, accelerating the adoption of renewable energy and enforcing bold new standards for fuel economy, while continuing to raise awareness of the urgency of the climate crisis and reestablish American leadership on the global stage.

    Solving the climate crisis will no doubt be difficult, but — thanks to this action by President Obama and many others — we are now in a position to put ourselves on the path to a sustainable future.

    SEE ALSO: Elizabeth Kolbert | The Best Bad Climate Deal


    Forget saving the planet, driving an electric car will save your life

    May 28, 2014

    nissan leaf
    Dongliu / Shutterstock

    The failure to persuade a sizable percentage of Americans that climate change poses a clear and present danger is one of the great failures in marketing and the subject of considerable debate among scientists, academics and politicians. But there is one argument for taking action against global warming that has resonated: health.

    When the Koch brothers and two Texas oil companies bankrolled a California ballot initiative in 2010 to gut the state’s landmark global warming law, billionaire activists activist Tom Steyer and his allies defeated the measure in part by arguing not that it would lead to climate catastrophe but would harm Californians’ health by allowing petroleum giants to pollute while keeping smog-creating cars on the road.

    Now there are some hard numbers to back up those claims. A study released this week by the Environmental Defense Fund and the California chapter of the American Lung Association analyzed the impact of California’s cap-and-trade emissions program – which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 – as well as the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), which mandates a 10 percent reduction in the carbon intensity of transportation fuels by 2020.

    “By 2025, the health benefits of the LCFS and [cap-and-trade] will save $8.3 billion in pollution-related health costs such as avoided hospital visits and lost work days,” the report states. “In addition, these policies will prevent 38,000 asthma attacks as well as 600 heart attacks, 880 premature deaths, and almost 75,000 lost work days – all caused by air pollution.”

    An environmental consultant, Tetra Tech, analyzed the future emissions of California’s more than 30 million cars if the climate change laws were not in place as well as the reduction in emissions if the laws are fully implemented.

    The impact is considerable. Transportation accounts for nearly 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, with two-thirds of those carbon emissions from passenger cars. Vehicles are also responsible for 70 percent of the state’s smog, and as a result California still has some of the United States’s worst air pollution – 80 percent of the population lives in areas defined as having unhealthy air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    Click to embiggen.
    Click to embiggen.

    This chart shows the cost of doing nothing:

    Click to embiggen.
    Click to embiggen.

    And this chart represents the potential savings from California’s efforts:

    Click to embiggen.
    Click to embiggen.

    As impressive as those savings are, they’re based on a relatively small conversion – 11.3 percent to 18.8 percent – of California’s cars to run on carbon-free or low-polluting fuels.

    Now imagine if there were a Tesla in every garage.

    This story was produced by The Atlanticas part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

    Todd Woody is an environmental and technology journalist based in California who writes for The New York Times, Quartz, and other publications.


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