The Fate of the Climate Hinges on This Election

Only one Presidential candidate promises to act on climate change. Here’s why it matters.

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Source: WSJ.

To put this article into context: I am generally against publicly commenting on the election; I prefer to discuss issues, not candidates. But on the issue of climate change, to ignore the 2016 election is to risk disaster by ignorance. In this post, I hope to explain to you — a U.S. voter — why your choice this November should be clear if you care about climate change.

The next four years will be critical to the global effort to take action on climate change.

Time is running out. Global temperatures continue to reach record-breaking highs. The impacts of climate change are already here, from drought to rising seas to prolonged heat waves. Earlier this week, a group of distinguished climate scientists revealed that we could blow past the 2°C global warming target.

On the other hand, the global economy stands on the brink of a low-carbon revolution. The Paris Agreement will almost certainly enter into force this November — years earlier than anybody expected. Efforts to reduce emissions are being made easier by extraordinary price drops for clean energy technologies. In the U.S., for example, cheap renewables and natural gas are propelling a rapid decline in coal as the electric grid becomes greener.

Whether a global low-carbon revolution actually happens depends a lot on the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election.

Here are four reasons why the 2016 election will determine the direction of global climate progress for years to come.

  1. The world looks to the U.S. for leadership on climate. As a major world power and one of its largest emitters, the U.S. sets an example for other countries. President Obama’s tireless advocacy was critical to the Paris Agreement’s success. Bilateral climate deals with China, India, and other global partners are essential to preserving international cohesion. The next U.S. president can continue to lead the global community on climate — or not.
  2. The next President and Congress will set U.S. climate policy, which will make or break the clean energy transition. The U.S. government plays a critical supporting role for efforts to deploy low-carbon technologies. A suite of Obama-era policies — the Clean Power Plan, methane regulations, vehicle fuel efficiency standards, and more — will further level the playing field for clean energy by making dirty fossil fuels more costly. The federal government can also help ensure the clean energy transition is fair and equitable, especially for coal industry workers and historically disadvantaged communities.
  3. The incoming President’s court appointments matter. A lot. Federal judges tend to split ideologically on questions of climate policy, with liberal-leaning judges more likely to support climate regulation. With several Obama-era climate rules facing lawsuits (the Clean Power Plan and EPA’s methane rule, to name two), all eyes have turned to the Supreme Court’s empty ninth seat. The justice the new President appoints to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia will upend the Court’s ideological balance, likely determining the fate of U.S. climate policy for years — if not decades — to come.
  4. Congress must act on climate. The Obama administration has made remarkable progress to usher in clean energy and reduce emissions, but the executive branch can only go so far. Stakeholders from stalwart climate activist Bill McKibben to major oil companies want a price on carbon and more — which Congress will likely have to enact. And currently, only the Democratic party seems inclined to act. This election is in many ways a referendum on Congress’s mandate to act on climate.

Here’s the truth: only Hillary Clinton will ensure climate progress.

Let’s set aside the scandals, the polls, and the rhetoric for now, and focus on the 2016 Presidential candidates’ policy proposals.

Hillary Clinton promises to defend the Obama administration’s climate policies, invest billions in clean energy infrastructure, and cut fossil fuel consumption. She has made environmental justice a priority. As an experienced diplomat, she will confidently assume President Obama’s mantle as a strong advocate for global climate action. She is expected to nominate a liberal-leaning justice to the vacant Supreme Court seat. And she will hopefully work with Congress to enact strong climate legislation.

Donald Trump would do essentially the opposite. He would attempt to undo President Obama’s suite of climate policies, expand U.S. fossil fuel production, undermine the Paris Agreement, and build a conservative Supreme Court.

Gary Johnson, meanwhile, seems to think the solution to climate change is to “inhabit other planets” — noting that in five billion years, “the sun will engulf the earth.” Not to mention Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight predicts Johnson has a “<0.1%” chance of winning in 2016.

There is zero uncertainty as to which candidate we should entrust with the planet’s future.

It’s Hillary Clinton.

But don’t forget about Congress: we need a Democratic Senate.

This year’s down-ticket races are also crucial for the climate in two major ways:

  1. The Senate plays a major role in confirming court appointees. With the Supreme Court divided 4–4 along ideological lines, the fate of lawsuits over President Obama’s climate policies remains uncertain. Advocates on all sides agree a 4–4 split decision on a major rule such as the Clean Power Plan could create unnecessary confusion. Yet even if Secretary Clinton wins the presidency and nominates a liberal Supreme Court justice, a Republican-controlled Senate could delay confirmation indefinitely, prolonging the Court’s 4–4 split. It’s crucial, then, that the Democratic Party regain at least a simple majority in November (to assume Senate leadership) to confirm a justice friendly to climate action.
  2. We need Congressional climate legislation. The need for Congress to act on climate change — such as by enacting a national carbon price — is becoming more and more urgent. Until GOP leadership gets on board — likely a long time coming — Democrats seem to be the go-to party for climate action. Of course, Congressional candidates take wildly different positions on many issues — this is not a blanket endorsement of any particular set of candidates. What is certain, though, is that paying attention to Congressional races is critical.

The bottom-line?

If you care about climate and all its impacts, the choice in November is clear. Vote Democrats for Congress (in general).

And vote Hillary Clinton for President.

P.S. Vote.

 

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We’re at a tipping point for the planet. What will you choose? (Cheng ‘Lily’ Li / Stanford University)
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Water is Life: In Solidarity with #NoDAPL

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Activists gathered in front of the White House on Tuesday in solidarity with the #NoDAPL movement against the Dakota Access pipeline. (All photos by Charlie Jiang)

Today, nothing less than the rights of Native people—and the future of our planet—are at stake.

The Dakota Access pipeline threatens important natural and cultural resources for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota. A leak could contaminate the Missouri River, a priceless water source for the tribe. Construction has already destroyed sacred burial sites. And the ongoing #NoDAPL protests have called attention to the very rights of Native people in the United States today.

Last Friday, the federal government temporarily paused construction of the pipeline near Standing Rock Sioux land, moments after a federal judge denied an injunction request brought by the tribe. The move was a big win for the thousands of indigenous and other folk who have gathered at Sacred Stone Camp to block the pipeline.

But it’s not over yet.

So yesterday, I joined hundreds of people in front of The White House to demand President Obama stop the Dakota Access pipeline for good. Simultaneous actions around the country attracted thousands more protesters.

We stood in solidarity with Sacred Stone Camp—the largest gathering of Native people in at least a century.

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Indigenous people, climate activists, and everyday citizens came together across the country chanting and singing and listening because it’s true: WATER IS LIFE.

The day of solidarity yesterday was just another moment in a critical and historic movement that began in April near Cannon Ball, North Dakota and is now sweeping the nation.

And a movement it shall be.

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We have an opportunity to stop the pipeline permanently. More importantly, we have a chance to change the very laws that created the injustice of Dakota Access in the first place. The federal government proposed consulting with tribes to revisit the permitting rules that allow pipelines like Dakota Access to be approved against the wishes of Native people. We, as witnesses and allies, should hold the Obama administration to their offer.

We must also not forget the most important part of this fight: yet again, Native voices have been silenced and ignored while a massive development project threatens their land, livelihoods, and heritage. That the pipeline will also allow more climate-disrupting pollution to be emitted—further threatening Native lands and culture—only adds insult to injury.

Fundamentally, this is a story about indigenous rights—about human rights—and that’s why it matters to all of us.

So get involved.

SIGN the petition. DONATE to support the brave people at Sacred Stone Camp. And SHARE the news far and wide, because silence is no longer enough.

In solidarity.
#NoDAPL #WaterIsLife

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Five Cheers for Environmental Justice

Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (left) helped spearhead a suite of new climate bills enacted in California last week. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

It’s been a wonderfully wild two weeks for environmental justice in California.

Last week, the California Legislature passed a pair of bills, SB 32 and AB 197, that add to the state’s already impressive record of climate action. The bills will extend the California’s ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, increase transparency of the agency that regulates air pollution, and direct the state to prioritize measures to reduce pollution in disadvantaged communities. (Read more here.)

Yesterday, the passage of three more climate bills, which will further strengthen climate action in disadvantaged communities, added to last week’s victories.

One requires more revenue from California’s cap-and-trade program to benefit low-income communities (AB 1550). Another, AB 2722, will create a new program to fund pollution-reducing projects in disadvantaged communities. The third (SB 1000) requires cities to plan for measures that improve health in disadvantaged communities.

Together, these five bills are a huge win for environmental justice (EJ): they will meaningfully address the disproportionate impacts of pollution and climate change that struggling communities face.

Yet to me, the bigger story is not what was accomplished, but how.

Power of the People

Until last week, the effort to strengthen California’s climate policy seemed poised to go down the usual route: if a bill passed at all, it would be butchered by the fossil fuel industry.

The fossil fuel industry’s power, fading in to the twilight. (Stephanie Barron)

That’s essentially what happened a year ago to SB 350. Although the bill did strengthen energy efficiency and renewable energy goals, a concerted campaign by the oil industry forced legislators to drop a provision to reduce gas consumption by half. The resulting bill was weakened; Big Oil had won.

As recently as July, the outlook for this year’s round of climate bills was similarly gloomy. SB 32 didn’t have enough support in the legislature. Governor Jerry Brown, a champion of climate action, was in closed-door talks with oil lobbyists.

But the environmental justice movement saved the day.

EJ advocates co-sponsored or helped craft many of the five bills that passed this week and last.

According to California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA) Co-Director Strela Cervas, EJ advocates including the Asian Pacific Environmental Network worked with Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia to introduce AB 197 and tie it to SB 32. By linking AB 197’s EJ provisions to SB 32’s emissions reductions goal, advocates were able to flip enough votes to save the bills.

EJ organizers then continued to campaign for the three bills that passed last night, riding a wave of momentum that clinched their success.

The lesson? Ms. Cervas wrote it best:

“The historic victories [last] Wednesday demonstrate the truth to what environmental and climate justice groups have been saying for several years: to be successful, and to win on climate, we must address the impacts on communities of color. Environmental justice needs to be front and center.”

The Rising Tide

The 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City. (South Bend Voice / Flickr)

The wins in California do not stand alone, and are in fact the latest in a wave of recent victories for climate advocates in recent years. To name a few:

A protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, has been ongoing since April. (Daniella Zalcman / The New York Times)
  • An ongoing protest against the Dakota Access oil pipeline, led by members of the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes, halted construction on a section of the pipeline in North Dakota.
  • At the Paris climate talks last December, small and vulnerable island nations led the push for a warming target of 1.5 degrees to be included in the Paris Agreement for the first time.
  • In November 2015, President Obama finally rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, after a years-long campaign fueled in large part by tribal advocates and farmers and ranchers seeking to save their land.
  • Two years ago, the People’s Climate March brought 400,000 people together to call for stronger climate action for vulnerable communities.
  • In 2012, organizers in Chicago won a decade-long fight to shut down two coal plants in the predominately Latino neighborhoods of Little Village and Pilsen.
  • The list goes on.

I see two lessons to be learned from this rising tide of environmental justice — two lessons essential to understanding the path to victory for the climate movement.

  1. The climate movement is global, but the stories are local. Climate change is a global phenomenon, but the resolve to fight comes from people living in the communities most impacted by its harmful effects. In California, it was local organizers from the most polluted communities in the state whose advocacy helped these five (and hopefully more) climate laws succeed. In North Dakota, the will of a tribe fuels a months-long campaign that has grown into a national story with global implications. In Nebraska, a movement that started with a handful of landowners eventually stopped a pipeline worth billions of dollars.
  2. Justice is a requirement. The dozen votes needed to pass California’s new climate bills last week only materialized once environmental justice became a priority. The events in the Golden State echo those of last year’s climate conference in Paris (and every climate conference before), where the most vulnerable developing countries fought to put climate equity front and center. In political debates at every level, it has become clear that victory for the climate and environment will not come unless equity and justice are prioritized.

Imagining a Just Future

Climate justice is not just a strategic goal, but a huge opportunity. Low-income communities, people of color, and indigenous peoples — those generally hit hardest by pollution and the threat of climate change — already live on the margins of mainstream society. They are politically, economically, and socially disadvantaged in many ways.

The city of the future is just and sustainable. (Benson Kua / Flickr)

The climate movement could change all that.

The transition to a clean energy economy and climate-resilient communities is an opportunity to improve the lives of millions of disadvantaged people in the U.S. and around the world. It’s an opportunity to not just eliminate harmful pollution and protect vulnerable communities from climate change, but to correct many social injustices these communities face.

Community-owned clean energy can bring jobs and wealth to low-income families. Re-imagined cities can improve services and equity in struggling neighborhoods. The movement for climate justice can help fuel an even greater movement for justice of all kinds.

This is the vision of the future that guides me in my work. This vision shows me that fighting for justice in the climate movement is not just a smart approach to take.

It’s the right one.

Hello World

Hello! I’m glad to see you’ve found your way to my new blog. Here you’ll find my thoughts on the important issues on my mind — justice, sustainability, race in America, democracy, and more. I know it’s a big task, but I hope you’ll find my thoughts interesting. Maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two. That would be somethin’.

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I’m also a photographer, sometimes. (Photo by Chris Rodriguez)

A bit about me, then. My name is Charlie Jiang. I grew up in Hyde Park, a lovely, quaint, diverse, and insulated neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. My parents immigrated from China, in search of a deeper education and the American Dream. I just graduated from Stanford.

In other words, my life has been one of extraordinary privilege, and I know it affects the way I see the world. But I’m lucky to have known teachers and friends and colleagues far wiser than I am, who over many years helped me begin to comprehend our world’s innumerable complexities and infinite layers. The changing climate, which is already upending the lives of millions of vulnerable people worldwide. Our broken criminal justice system and corrupt policing culture: the latest incarnations of deadly racism in this country. A rising current of nationalism and fear that threatens to drown out decades of progress in bringing humanity closer together.

They showed me hope, too. The power of organizing, of bringing people together to fight not just against something, but for something: a better society that enables everyone to prosper. The beautiful relationship between teacher and student. Courage, of which my friends and classmates have plenty.

Simple truths, which nevertheless hold unimaginable power: Integrity. Compassion. Love.

I’m a 21-year-old, Asian-American guy fresh out of college. I’m learning more about the world every day, figuring who I am along the way. These are my thoughts…for now.  I hope you enjoy reading them.

By the way—I’d love to hear from you. Your ideas, your knowledge, your wisdom: they’re important to me. So drop me a line!

With love,
Charlie

P.S. For the time being, I’ll also be mirror-posting on my Medium page, if you prefer that platform.