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Lisa Hymas' Posts


Could Chuck Hagel, defense secretary nominee, turn out to be a climate hawk?

Chuck Hagel
Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
Chuck Hagel: Will his inner climate hawk defeat his inner climate skeptic?

Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee for secretary of defense, has long been confused about climate change ... and yet concerned about it too. He has a history of obstructing climate action, but also a record of elevating climate as a national security issue. If he's confirmed to head the Department of Defense, he might ultimately show himself to be a climate hawk -- though not one who hews to green orthodoxy or any party line.

Confused Chuck

On the one hand, Hagel -- a Republican senator from Nebraska from 1997 to 2008 and now co-chair of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board -- has professed many views you might associate with a climate denier.

In fact, his name is tied to the Senate's first high-profile repudiation of climate action: In 1997, he cosponsored the Byrd-Hagel resolution calling for rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that it would hurt the U.S. economy and should have required emissions cuts from developing countries. Five years later, he was still enthusiastically bashing the treaty:

The Kyoto Protocol would have eliminated millions of jobs in America. It would have driven our economy downward. It would have eliminated opportunities for investment, such as clean energy technology, in developing countries. It would have driven a stake through any hope of prosperity for America.

In 2001, at the start of the George W. Bush administration, Hagel and three other senators sent Bush a letter asking him to clarify his positions on Kyoto and on regulation of carbon dioxide. As Hagel explained later, "There was talk within this new administration that EPA had the power, through the Clean Air Act, to be able to enforce, in particular, carbon dioxide emissions. We didn't think that the EPA had that power." Bush wrote a letter in response saying that he didn't think the EPA had that power either, setting the course for his administration to do essentially nothing about climate change over its eight years.

In a 2005 interview with Grist, Hagel questioned the causes of climate change:


The hottest race of 2013: House climate hawk Markey is gunning for Kerry’s Senate seat

Ed Markey
Martha Coakley
Could Ed Markey be the Senate's newest climate hawk?

The Senate will lose an advocate for climate action when John Kerry becomes secretary of state (assuming he gets confirmed, which seems pretty darn safe to assume). But it could gain another senator who's just as climate-hawkish if Ed Markey wins the race for Kerry's soon-to-be-vacated seat.

Rep. Markey (D-Mass.) announced last week that he intends to run in the special election next spring or summer to fill Kerry's spot. He's not the only Democrat who's talking about a run, but he's the most senior and high-profile, so the establishment swiftly got behind him, hoping to avert a primary fight.

Kerry didn't outright endorse Markey, but he praised him effusively, calling him "the House’s leading, ardent, and thoughtful protector of the environment." Kerry continued: “He’s passionate about the issues that Ted Kennedy and I worked on as a team for decades, whether it’s health care or the environment and energy or education."

Markey is arguably the most passionate, outspoken climate advocate in the House. You might remember him from such legislation as the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill, which was passed by the House in 2009 and then died a slow and painful death in the Senate. Markey was the one and only chair of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming during its existence from 2007 to 2010. Though Republicans killed the committee when they took control of the House two years ago, that hasn't stopped Markey from pushing energy and climate issues into the spotlight -- and writing about his efforts on Grist.


Wind-energy tax credit would get extension under ‘fiscal cliff’ deal

wind turbine and American flag
Tennessee Valley Infrastructure Group Inc.

It appears that a deal in the works to avert the so-called fiscal cliff would extend a critical tax credit for the wind-power industry for one year.

"The potential agreement that's being talked about ... would extend tax credits for clean-energy companies that are creating jobs and reducing our dependence on foreign oil," President Obama said at a press conference today.

The production tax credit (PTC) for the wind industry expires today. With its status up in the air, wind companies across the country have been laying off workers and putting projects on hold. If the PTC isn't renewed, 37,000 jobs could be lost, according to the American Wind Energy Association.


It’s a sports dome and a hurricane shelter all in one

There's a lot of talk these days about the need to become more resilient and ruggedize our systems in order to better cope in a climate-changed world. It's nice to actually see a little action on this front -- in Texas, of all places.

Eagle Dome in Woodsboro, Texas
Jay Phagan
Texas' first "hurricane dome" in Woodsboro will do double duty as a gym and a shelter. We expect it'll look more appealing once the gale-force winds start blowing.

From the Associated Press:

Most of the time, the windowless building with the dome-shaped roof will be a typical high school gymnasium filled with cheering fans watching basketball and volleyball games.

But come hurricane season, the structure that resembles a miniature version of the famed Astrodome will double as a hurricane shelter, part of an ambitious storm-defense system that is taking shape along hundreds of miles of the Texas Gulf Coast.


Rebecca Tarbotton, head of Rainforest Action Network, dies at 39

The green movement has too few visionary leaders and too few women leaders and too few leaders under the age of 40. Tragically, this week it lost one leader who stood out in all three categories.

Rebecca Tarbotton
Rainforest Action Network

On Dec. 26, Rebecca Tarbotton, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network, died while vacationing along the west coast of Mexico, north of Puerto Vallarta. In a freak accident at the beach, she got tossed around in rough surf, took too much water into her lungs, and asphyxiated. She was 39 years old.

Tarbotton had been at the helm of RAN since August 2010, and had worked with the organization for almost six years. Under her leadership, RAN has focused on the intersections between forests, fossil fuels, and climate change, and run aggressive campaigns pushing corporations to change the way they do business. Most recently, Tarbotton helped convince entertainment giant Disney to adopt a major new policy that will eliminate the use of paper connected to the destruction of endangered forests.


Seattle mayor calls for city’s pension funds to dump oil stocks

Mike McGinn
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is no fan of fossil fuels.

Student groups at 192 colleges and universities are calling on their schools' endowments to sell off stocks in fossil-fuel companies, inspired by a campaign that we've reported on before. Now that campaign is spreading from campus to city hall, as Climate Progress reports:

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is now calling on his city to strip fossil fuels from its two main pension funds. According to the city’s finance director, Seattle has $17.6 million invested in Chevron and ExxonMobil, as well as smaller investments in other oil and gas companies. Mayor McGinn sent a letter to the city’s pension fund managers on Friday calling for them to move their money elsewhere.

McGinn is the first municipal leader to get on board with 350's campaign. As the mayor explains on his blog, he doesn't control the investment of pension funds, but he and his staff want to work with the city council and the pension board to help move toward divestment.

McGinn, a local Sierra Club leader before he was elected mayor in 2009, has also recently criticized proposals to send coal trains through Seattle to ports on Washington's coast. He's commissioning a study on the potential economic impacts of the trains and coal-export plans. “I’m not sure very many jobs are being created in Seattle, compared to impacts,” he said earlier this month.


Energy conservation gets gamified

young women with smartphones
OMG, I just saved way more energy than you.

Continuing its long tradition of reporting on trends long after they've become trendy, The New York Times has a big story today on gamification: "a business trend — some would say fad — that aims to infuse otherwise mundane activities with the excitement and instant feedback of video games."

[D]igital technologies like smartphones and cheap sensors have taken the phenomenon to a new level, especially among adults. Now, game concepts like points, badges and leader boards are so mainstream that they have become powerful motivators in many settings, even some incongruous ones. At a time when games are becoming ever more realistic, reality is becoming more gamelike.

A lot of gamification is aimed at getting us to buy junk. The BBC quotes one critic within the gaming industry:

Ian Bogost, co-founder of the game design company Persuasive Games, ... calls Gamification a “marketing gimmick”. And, in another blog post, took his critique one step further, describing it as "exploitationware" and “bullshit, invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is videogames and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business ..."

But some people are trying to harness the trend for good instead of evil. From the Times:


Marijuana growers endanger salmon, bears, and even dogs

marijuana plant
Pot: not so green.

We've written before about the environmental damage done by marijuana growers -- massive energy consumption, indiscriminate pesticide use, dead little forest critters, both cute and uncute. Now the L.A. Times reports that pot growers in California are also undermining salmon recovery efforts, poisoning bears, and even threatening our BFFs: dogs.

The marijuana boom that came with the sudden rise of medical cannabis in California has wreaked havoc on the fragile habitats of the North Coast and other parts of California. With little or no oversight, farmers have illegally mowed down timber, graded mountaintops flat for sprawling greenhouses, dispersed poisons and pesticides, drained streams and polluted watersheds.

Because marijuana is unregulated in California and illegal under federal law, most growers still operate in the shadows, and scientists have little hard data on their collective effect. But they are getting ever more ugly snapshots.

Here's the bad news about salmon:

Read more: Living


What would Secretary of State John Kerry do on climate and Keystone?

John Kerry
John Kerry, likely future secretary of state.

If Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) becomes secretary of state, as is expected, he'll be the most ardent climate hawk ever to hold the office. But how much will that matter?

Kerry has been pushing for national and international solutions to climate change for two decades, and he understands that it's a geopolitical problem, not just an environmental one. "Global climate change is a security issue on a planetary scale," Kerry told Grist in 2007. In a speech on the Senate floor this past June, he said, "Climate change is one of two or three of the most serious threats our country now faces, if not the most serious, and the silence that has enveloped a once robust debate is staggering for its irresponsibility." Just this week, Kerry introduced a bill that would help communities become more resilient so they can better withstand the weather disasters brought about by climate change.

"For climate hawks, having Kerry at the helm at State would be very good news," writes Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones. Climate Progress blogger Joe Romm argues that Kerry's nomination would be "the first serious indication Obama will focus on climate change in his second term." And Coral Davenport at National Journal writes that Kerry would "likely raise climate change to a top-tier priority":


Evangelical leader says we need family planning to help fight climate change

Richard Cizik
Rev. Richard Cizik.

Richard Cizik has a knack for irritating right-wing evangelicals. He knows just how to do it, being an evangelical himself, though no longer one with standard right-wing political views.

Cizik was a key leader of an evangelical Christian movement calling for climate action and "creation care" a few years ago, when he was vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. Some religious-right bigwigs tried unsuccessfully to force him out of that job in 2007 because of his environmental activism, and then ultimately succeeded in forcing him out in 2008 because he endorsed gay civil unions (oh the horror!). Cizik bounced back by founding the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, which advocates for social-justice causes including human rights, health-care access, and an end to war.

Cizik's latest campaign is sure to push right-wingers' buttons: He is advocating contraception as a means to combat climate change (as well as achieve lots of other worthy goals). "Family planning is a green technology," he told me during a recent conversation.

But though some conservative Christians will surely recoil in horror, Cizik believes he can convince open-minded evangelicals and other Christians of the rightness of his cause.