The Grand Canyon, brought to you by Budweiser. Verizon signs throughout Yellowstone. The thought of advertising in our national parks is nauseating. But it could happen.
Most high school science teachers across the country now teach climate change, but about a third explain it away as a natural phenomenon. Another third tell their students that it comes from both natural and human causes. Meanwhile California almost reached its average reservoir and snowpack levels as measured at the end of March, and reports from around the world say that the oceans keep rising faster than expected and that annual temperatures continue go up. Last year finished as the hottest yet, following a decade of record-breaking annual tallies.
As if this weren’t happening, the fossil fuel folks keep pressing ahead. Our state’s three major privately-owned utility companies filed applications for a rehearing at the Public Utilities Commission, seeking a rollback of its recent rules encouraging rooftop solar panels. The big guys never give up.
So is there any good news this spring?
While the media distract us with the shinier attractions of the presidential-candidate road shows, the dirty work of politics continues in the shadows. I do not mean to diminish the importance of who gets elected or even nominated, but the secret and behind-the-scenes work often makes for decisions that change public policy in favor of the rich and powerful. Those shifts impact our lives in a big way, as two recent examples in California illustrate.
Most recently, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) upended its mission to clean our air. First the old Democratic majority opposed its staff’s recommendation for tougher rules that would govern the fossil-fuel industry. They watered them down. Then two months later, and with an even more pro-business Republican majority, the board went into closed session and fired its long-time executive officer. Praised by environmentalists, even though they often disagreed with him, he had faithfully pursued the AQMD’s goals while balancing the impact on industry.
(The following talk was given last night by Robert Gottlieb at Pasadena’s ArtCenter College of Design.)
This is an interesting venue for my talk. If, historically, the school has been engaged in making the automobile a more attractive object for consumers and industry alike, then my talk seeks to do the opposite. Can we envision eliminating or at least reducing the automobile’s role in Los Angeles? And, if so, what would that mean for the ArtCenter College of Design and its long history with the automobile?
Let me start with a recent New York Times Sunday Business article on the design firm Ideo with its slogans of “slow becomes fast” “auotomobility” and “autonomous driving.” The headline for the piece was “Helping Ford Go Beyond the Car,” although it could have also been headlined “How to save the car while also capturing its alternatives.” Is this the route for the ArtCenter College of Design?
Last month my wife Susan and I drove to Phoenix to visit family. We had never spent much time there, and my relatives wanted us to see some sites they thought would interest us. They took us to two places where an ancient people had lived for about a thousand years, reaching their height of power and size between about 950 and 1350 C.E.
This society built water canal systems that, anthropologists estimate, ran for a thousand miles. From what is now downtown Phoenix they took water from the Salt River and distributed it for farming across the local valley. Further south another group did the same on the Gila River. The main channels can be up to 30 feet across and 10 feet deep, all dug by hand, and so well engineered that water planners use some of the same routes today.
Yesterday, state leaders scrapped a bill that would have made it easier for private corporations to buy municipal water and sewer utilities across the state. The bill, introduced at the request of a for-profit water company based in Pennsylvania, would have made it more difficult for Wisconsin residents to vote on who controls their water.
The evidence against privatization is plain as day. Customers of Wisconsin’s only privately owned system—which services the city of Superior—pay the highest rates in the state. On top of the costs of water and infrastructure maintenance, Superior’s residents pay an additional nine percent to cover their private operator’s profit margin and higher private-sector debt costs.
And Superior isn’t an outlier. A new report released on Tuesday by Food and Water Watch shows that,
For southwest Flint resident Qiana Dawson, it started when she was combing her 2-year-old daughter Rylan’s hair. Dawson was gently spraying water on the child’s head to ease the task, when Rylan started crying, as if she were in pain. She took her to a dermatologist.
And that was when her family discovered the problem with Flint’s water. “I don’t think you anticipate things like this,” Dawson said nearly two years later. “You take water for granted.” Even in hardscrabble Flint, drifting in and out of receivership since the last century, with a population that’s shrunk nearly 21 percent in 15 years and has one of the nation’s top crime rates — clean, healthy tap water seemed like a citizen’s basic right. Now Flint’s water is only safe for washing floors and flushing toilets. Dawson and her family of four have had to use bottled water for everything else—brushing teeth, cooking, washing vegetables,
Reversing climate change and addressing income inequality are the twin challenges of our time. Solving them both means a safer, more stable future for generations to come.
If we don’t stop and reverse climate change, our environment and our economy could collapse. If we don’t address the growing gap between rich and poor, our political structures and our economy will continue to fray, robbing us of both the funds and the political will to address climate change.
These challenges are irreversibly linked — and we can’t solve one without solving them both.
That’s why progressives, labor leaders and everyone who cares about addressing these twin threats should oppose the California Public Utilities Commission’s recently proposed decision to require poor utility customers to subsidize richer customers and the new Wall Street-funded quasi-utilities serving these wealthy customers.
The CPUC’s decision is on a technical issue called Net Energy Metering: the system that provides subsidies for the installation of residential solar systems by forcing utilities to buy surplus energy generated on rooftops at an artificially high price.
By now, many are familiar with the tragic details of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. But a key chapter in the story is being overlooked.
In February 2015, almost a full year before the news of widespread lead poisoning gained headlines, the world’s largest private water corporation, Veolia, deemed Flint’s water safe. It was hired by the city to assess water that many residents had been complaining about—a General Motors plant had even stopped using Flint’s water because it was rusting car parts.
Veolia, a French transnational corporation, declared Flint’s water to be “in compliance with State and Federal regulations.” While it recommended small changes to improve water color and quality, Veolia’s report didn’t mention lead.
Flint’s water system needs to be fixed today regardless of costs. But one thing should be completely off the table: privatization.
Four years ago, Robin Kutchai lost her husband to cancer. “We got the diagnosis that his body was full of tumors two weeks before he died,” she said, perched at the bar of the Woodland Hills Hilton, where she’s temporarily holed up. They had been married 10 weeks after they’d met, 35 years ago. Telling the story, her large, neatly made-up eyes welled with tears.
After her husband’s death, Kutchai sold their Simi Valley house and bought a townhouse in Porter Ranch, where she found a sense of belonging to help her through her grief. “It was always such a wonderful area,” she said. “It was a place where I felt safe being alone.”
That all changed dramatically this past autumn, when the air in the far northwestern San Fernando Valley community became saturated with the rotten-egg smell associated with natural gas — a consequence of a chemical added to the odorless gas to make it detectable.
Flint was a failure of government — but it didn’t have to be so. And government wasn’t the root of the problem. It was about the people, and ideas they advocate, who have taken control of governments across the country.
Water is a public good provided by public institutions — i.e. governments. It should be clear now that “running government like a business” (the privatizers trope) means you don’t invest in places that don’t have markets that can afford to buy your products. It didn’t work for Flint and it doesn’t work for America. Government needs to be run like a government — clear about its mission, run by competent people (yes, bureaucrats) committed passionately to the public good.
The tragedy of Flint should never have happened, but at this point, the evidence is undeniable and the suffering is real. Fixing Flint is an urgent priority. Fortunately,
Juan and Manuel Salvador Orozco Cadena, a pair of fishermen from Baja California, Mexico, pushed off from Punta Lobos on the morning of November 4, 2015. Earlier, the Orozcos had repaired the transmission of their outboard motor, but then it broke down again. As night closed in, the brothers floated helplessly in their open panga 30 miles off the Pacific Coast, making intermittent contact by cellphone, before being rescued by the Mexican coast guard.
At the same moment the Orozcos had first pushed off into the sea, Airbnb executives 1,200 miles away were celebrating the defeat of a San Francisco ballot initiative aimed at regulating the short-stay rental titan. What could possibly be the connection between two Mexican fishermen adrift in the ocean and a company valued by Wall Street estimates at $25.5 billion?
The answer is Chip Conley, a good-looking, 55 year-old fit guy with a shaved head and a charismatic smile whose official full-time job is Head of Global Hospitality for Airbnb.
Love. Joy. Peace. That’s the message of the season. From carols to holiday cards to street signs, even shopping mall windows. These words hover next to the pervasive images encouraging us to buy, but somehow they persist despite the maze of mercantile messages, because they are the deep longings of human beings.
“No justice, no peace!” is what workers and activists often chant on picket lines. It turns out that without climate justice, we will also have no world peace. A recent Los Angeles Times story on El Niño and its potential “long-distance” or “teleconnected” effects quoted researchers arguing that “it doubles the risk of war in much of the Third World.”
Peace activists have long identified war and the preparations for it as a major source of human-caused climate change.
Seven years ago local officials in Marin County, California organized to form a nonprofit electricity company with the noblest intentions. Buying and selling electricity allowed the group, Marin Clean Energy (MCE), to route around the local utility giant, Pacific Gas & Electric, which for years had resisted its customers’ pleas for cleaner, more reliable power, all the while “greenwashing” its image with marketing campaigns. “People wanted more of a sense of how their dollars were being invested,” Alex DiGiorgio, MCE’s community development manager, tells Capital & Main. “They wanted more access to competitively priced renewable energy.”
They also wanted to “catalyze local project development,” DiGiorgio says, to see their electricity bills go toward something more beneficial for the local community than large hydroelectric dams, polluting gas-fired power plants and a nuclear facility built over an earthquake fault.
But critics of the local-power movement say agencies like MCE — whose very reason for being was to stimulate renewable energy development — mostly support already extant renewable facilities.
As Governor Jerry Brown touted California’s environmental initiatives and prodded world leaders in Paris to embrace tougher environmental policies during the United Nations summit on climate change, it was instructive to look back at how one of Brown’s top environmental priorities suffered a major defeat in the California Legislature this year.
That priority was to establish a 50 percent reduction in petroleum usage in cars and trucks by 2030. Brown’s failure to win its passage in an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature clearly illustrates not only the influence of the fossil fuel lobby, but also the continued rise of a new breed of Democrats who are exceedingly attentive to big business, while tone-deaf toward their party’s traditional progressive base.
Petroleum reduction was a key part of a proposed law, introduced as Senate Bill 350, which also called for steps to increase energy efficiency in existing buildings and require that 50 percent of California’s energy come from renewable sources,
You have to hand it to libertarian writer John Tierney. He doesn’t give up easily. His long-winded 1996 article, “Recycling Is Garbage,” allegedly smashed the New York Times Magazine‘s hate-mail record. It covered the same ground as his recent New York Times op-ed, “The Reign of Recycling,” stating: “Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America: a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources.”
Is recycling really “the most wasteful activity in modern America?” That’s quite a charge. (What about all that Kardashian coverage?) But it may be true that it would be cheaper to put all our waste in a hole someplace and forget about it. Assuming, as Tierney does, that there are enough conveniently located holes. It would be even cheaper to use the medieval method of tossing it in the street.
The debate may be over in the scientific community about the threat of man-made climate change. But as world leaders continue negotiating in Paris this week at an international climate conference, many questions remain about what it will take to come up with a workable plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid catastrophic warming.
University of Massachusetts at Amherst economist Robert Pollin injects a note of optimism into the discussion with his recently published book, Greening the Global Economy (MIT Press). Pollin estimates that we need to invest about 1.5 percent of global GDP annually in clean energy and energy efficiency in order to slow warming enough to maintain a livable planet. The good news, he argues, is that we can decarbonize our economy without sacrificing economic growth and prosperity. Capital & Main interviewed Pollin while he was in New York on a book tour.
The story of Mary and Joseph leaving their small town for Bethlehem has spawned dramatizations, poems, carols and a lot more since it was first told in the late First Century CE. The Latin American enactment, called Las Posadas, runs for nine nights, from December 16 through Christmas Eve. Each night families make a procession through their communities, walking from one house to another, begging for space for the holy couple and a birthing place for the baby Jesus. At every home they are turned away – until one family welcomes these poor wayfarers, usually with warm drinks and sweets.
The festival reenacts the ancient commandment from the Jewish tradition that we should welcome the stranger, the foreigner, the immigrant – because at one time we were all newcomers to this land.
Most Americans have forgotten this and have instead become very fearful after the November Paris attacks. Even while 9,000 refugees from Syria,
On Thursday afternoon a fired-up, thousand-strong gathering of nurses and environmental activists packed into Los Angeles’ Pershing Square to voice their concerns about the bleak prospects of climate change, and to demand a global agreement that reduces greenhouse gas pollution. The rally was timed to coincide with the current United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris and other environmental justice protests taking place across the U.S.
Dubbed “The Climate Crisis Is a Public Health Crisis,” the event was organized by the National Nurses United (NNU), a labor union whose members were wrapping up a two-day convention at the downtown JW Marriott.
Rolanda Watson-Clark made the trip from Chicago, and told Capital & Main, “Nurses have always been at the front of social movements, so here we are.” She explained how, in the Windy City, inner city children are deeply affected by petroleum waste products in the air.
Today kicks off the start of VisionLA ’15, a Los Angeles arts festival performed to coincide with the United Nations’ Conference on Climate Change (COP 21) as it unfolds in Paris. Below are program notes from VisionLA ’15 – please refer to the group’s site for a complete schedule and more information.
November 30 @ 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.
2525 Michigan Ave., Building G1
Join us for a celebration of the Power of Art to Make Change at our Gala Opening party for the VisionLA ’15 Climate Action Arts Festival. This opening event will launch L.A.’s first citywide climate action arts festival and is also the opening gala for our wonderful ART MAKES CHANGE fine art exhibition,