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PennFuture's Climate for Change :: Climate news from around the state, country and world

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Guest post: Conservatives for climate change? It’s true. Read on.

This guest post was written by climate advocate Joy Bergey. Joy advocates for clean air, clean energy, and clean water from her base in suburban Philadelphia. Reach her on Facebook, or on Twitter @joybergey. The opinions expressed are her own.

The big news this week about unexpected voices speaking up for action on climate change is, of course, from Pope Francis’ encyclical.  

It’s hard to find a more influential voice than that of His Holiness. And yet, I’ve been hearing an encouraging array of calls for climate action from non-traditional allies, namely, the political right. I’ll share a few.

Conservative politicians and funders

Former member of Congress Bob Inglis now heads the Energy and Enterprise Initiative based at George Mason University. A personal hero of mine, Mr. Inglis famously called for Congress to act on climate when he was running for re-election in South Carolina back in 2010 and paid a steep political price for being ahead of the curve: he was “primaried,” that is to say, he lost his bid for re-election when a Republican to the right of him beat him in the primary election. But that hasn’t slowed Mr. Inglis one bit. Watch his comments (starting at about 24 minutes into the video) at a recent World Resources Institute webinar on pricing climate.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a declared candidate for President, is on record calling for his fellow Republicans to take action.  

Jay Faison, a Republican entrepreneur from North Carolina, recently announced he’s putting up $175 million of his own money to get this campaign message out there and put some heat on Republican candidates who haven’t yet seen the light like Sen. Graham. 

Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo, a Republican whose district includes the Everglades and the Keys, said this

This is an important step for conservatives on the climate; just to have a conversation and say, ‘well even though I am not a scientist I can look at very basic data and realize that there are some challenges that we are going to be faced with.’ Scientific American also wrote about his good work. 

Defense experts

Rear Admiral David W. Titley (Ret.), whose national security bona fides and expertise on climate can be questioned by none, is founding director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State University. We Pennsylvanians are lucky to have Adm. Titley as a tremendously important voice on the national security threats of climate. We ignore his message at our enormous collective peril. 

George Schultz, who served as Secretary of State under President Reagan, has strong views on the need to act and calls for a revenue-neutral carbon tax. 

Conservative economists

Hank Paulson served as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Paulson says bluntly of inaction on climate, “Doing nothing is radical risk taking.” Read more of his compelling statements, part of the Weather Channel’s exciting “Climate 25” series.

Jerry Taylor, libertarian economist of the Niskanen Center (and formerly of the Cato Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council) is calling for a carbon tax. His reasoning? It could obviate regulations conservatives find loathsome, plus it could lower taxes.

Even the American Enterprise Institute held a seminar on April 22 (Earth Day!) called “Implementing a Carbon Tax: Practicalities and Prospects.” Read Myron Ebell’s blog post. (The Institute itself does not take policy positions.)

* * * * * * * * *

I am always hopeful that we’ll soon reach the tipping point and decide as a nation to act on climate change. But after decades of pushing for meaningful action, at this point, it’s rare that I feel optimism. And yet, right now, with the eyes of the world on the Pope, and with conservative voices increasingly speaking out, I do feel optimism that we may be nearing broad consensus to #ActOnClimate.

Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment to be released June 18

Pope Francis’ long-awaited encyclical on the environment is slated for official release on Thursday, June 18. Pope Francis is the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide and considered one of the most influential people in the world. The Pope's encyclical is expected to be a call to moral action for Catholics (and global citizens alike) to embrace environmental stewardship, as the impacts of a changing climate disproportionately affect the world's most vulnerable citizens.

In anticipation of its release, we rounded up answers to basic questions about papal encyclicals and what to expect from “Laudato Si,” which translates as “Praised Be."

We’ve also shared portions of a pre-encyclical release blog post by our friends at Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light (PA IPL), a state affiliate of Interfaith Power and Light, “a national religious response to the threat of climate change.” PA IPL is comprised of hundreds of individuals and over 40 religious institutions across the Commonwealth, bringing people of diverse faith backgrounds together to act on climate. 

As supporters of the environment, we applaud Pope Francis for choosing an encyclical topic with implications for all citizens of this earth but we’d also like to elevate the voices of those for whom this text holds special meaning. As the encyclical is a religious text intended for a Catholic audience, we plan to share commentary from faith leaders in the days after its official release. Follow the hashtags #Encyclical, #OurCommonHome, and #AllAreCalled for the latest on social media.

What’s an encyclical?

From the Pew Research Center:

Encyclicals are papal letters – the word “encyclical” means “circular letter” – usually addressed to Catholic clergy and the laity and containing the pope’s views on church teachings and doctrine in a particular area.

While encyclicals do not set down new church doctrine (the Roman Catholic Church’s core beliefs), they are in essence official statements and are considered authoritative teaching, since popes speak for the church.

How have past popes addressed environmental issues?

From the New York Times:

Recent popes have made clear that human activity is largely to blame for the environmental degradation that is threatening the Earth's ecosystems. They have demanded urgent action by industrialized nations to change their ways and undergo an "ecological conversion" to prevent the poor from paying for the sins of the rich.

Some have even made their points in encyclicals, the most authoritative teaching document a pope can issue. 

Also from the New York Times:

And then there was Pope Benedict XVI, dubbed the "green pope" because he took concrete action to back up his strong ecological calls: Under his watch, the Vatican installed photovoltaic cells on the roof of its main auditorium, a solar cooling unit for its main cafeteria and joined a reforestation project aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions.

What do we expect will be included in Pope Francis’ encyclical?

From The Guardian:

The [leaked] draft is not a detailed scientific analysis of the global warming crisis. Instead, it is the pope’s reflection of humanity’s God-given responsibility as custodians of the Earth.

At the start of the draft essay, the pope wrote, the Earth “is protesting for the wrong that we are doing to her, because of the irresponsible use and abuse of the goods that God has placed on her. We have grown up thinking that we were her owners and dominators, authorised to loot her. The violence that exists in the human heart, wounded by sin, is also manifest in the symptoms of illness that we see in the Earth, the water, the air and in living things.”

He immediately makes clear, moreover, that unlike previous encyclicals, this one is directed to everyone, regardless of religion. “Faced with the global deterioration of the environment, I want to address every person who inhabits this planet,” the pope wrote. “In this encyclical, I especially propose to enter into discussion with everyone regarding our common home.”

According to the leaked document, the pope will praise the global ecological movement, which has “already travelled a long, rich road and has given rise to numerous groups of ordinary people that have inspired reflection”.

How is the environment an interfaith issue?

From Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light (PA IPL) Executive Director Cricket Hunter:

With this encyclical, Pope Francis is creating a beautiful opportunity; while meant for Catholics particularly, his instruction also opens space for all of us to reflect on climate justice, our values, and the teachings of our faiths–to hear the ways in which our diverse traditions speak in harmony and in unison on care of Creation. In this space, we have an opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, linked by our shared calls to care for the earth, care for the most vulnerable, and look together for solutions.

Katie Bartolotta is PennFuture's southeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The summer of reason: The G7 pledges to act on climate.

Global climate change is front and center this summer. Earlier this week, the Group of Seven (G7), comprised of leaders from seven of the world’s largest industrialized nations, convened in Germany for a two-day annual summit to discuss global economic challenges. 

As part of the summit, the G7 announced its commitment to phase out fossil fuels by the end of this century. A majority of the participating G7 countries have already set carbon emission reduction goals. For example, the United States has pledged an 83 percent reduction from its 2005 greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. But for countries that have been less proactive in this realm such as Canada and Japan, this agreement indicates a new and exciting commitment to address climate change. 

Much credit was given to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also known as the “climate chancellor,” for making climate change a priority in G7 planning. From The Guardian:

     [Jennifer] Morgan [of the World Resources Institute] praised the momentum that appears to be developing among the world’s leaders for climate action.

     “Politically, the most important shift is that chancellor Merkel is back on climate change. This was not an easy negotiation. She did not have to put climate change on the agenda here. But she did,” she said.

While the G7 agreement on de-carbonization by the century’s end is non-binding, this pledge by seven of the world’s major economies is expected to have the effect of driving investment away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy and energy efficiency. Also from the Guardian (emphasis added):

     [Tom Burke, environmental advisor to Shell,] said that outside the numbers, the G7’s primary function was to send signals to other countries and to markets and that the announcement today would shift things significantly. 

     “Everyone gets over focused on what the text of the treaty is. What really matters is what gets done in the real economy and the extent that the players in the real economy react to this signal. You’re going to shift the needle of interest in the investing community away from oil and gas and towards renewables, storage and energy efficiency. And I think that’s further than probably the oil companies had anticipated,” said Burke.

Other climate news to watch this summer:

  • Pope Francis’ much-anticipated encyclical on the environment will be released on Thursday, June 18.
  • A mid-July release is expected for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which will be the first federal standard on carbon pollution. 

Katie Bartolotta is PennFuture's southeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Pennsylvanians have reason to be ticked off about climate change

Memorial Day marked the unofficial start of summer, a time when Pennsylvanians take advantage of the many outdoor resources the Commonwealth has to offer. From hiking to fishing to camping, there are a range of activities in which outdoor enthusiasts and their families can engage.  

But here in Pennsylvania, our amazing outdoor resources are accompanied by a not-so-pleasant feature – the prevalence of ticks due to climate change. The black-legged tick, commonly known as the “deer tick,” transmits Lyme disease and poses a huge threat to outdoor recreation.

The threat of ticks isn’t new, but there is heightened concern this summer as warmer winters, caused by climate change, have allowed ticks to expand their habitable range. Increased exposure to ticks increases the risk of contracting Lyme disease, a serious threat to public health. Lyme disease can cause a variety of symptoms including fever, headaches, and chronic joint and nervous system impacts.

Not a pretty picture. 
In 2013, Pennsylvania reported nearly 5,000 cases of Lyme disease, more than any state in the country. Nationwide, the rate of reported cases has nearly doubled since 1991. It’s important to note that these figures only include reported cases – it’s possible that the actual number of cases is ten times greater than that. (Kudos to Senator Bob Casey for addressing the underreporting problem and advocating for better tracking of the disease and increased Center for Disease Control (CDC) funding.)

So how do we protect ourselves from these pests while also enjoying outdoor recreation activities? On an individual level, one should avoid piles of leaves and wear repellent containing DEET. One should also check their clothing and shower within two hours of visiting a tick-prone area. On a global level, taking action to combat the source of the problem – climate change due to carbon pollution – is critically important. This summer, it is expected that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will finalize its Clean Power Plan, a rule that will set limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

Outdoor enthusiasts should contact their federal and state elected officials and encourage them to support a robust and effective Clean Power Plan both on the national level as well as its implementation on the state level. Your voice is important in protecting the enjoyment of our natural resources for all!

For more information, check out National Wildlife Federation’s Climate Change Bites Fact Sheet.

Katie Bartolotta is southeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Garden for climate: Fighting climate change in your own back yard

For anyone paying attention to the California drought, you've noticed that climate change has altered the way that Californians garden. For example, homeowners now replace grass with drought-tolerant plants to reduce the frequency with which they water their gardens.

However, thinking critically about gardening in a changing climate is not limited to west coast gardeners. From unpredictable growing seasons to the spread of invasive species and pests, gardeners nationwide are experiencing the effects of climate change.

Gardeners are on the front lines of climate change and they’re taking action this May as part of the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) “Garden for Wildlife” month. As NWF’s state affiliate, we’re happy to share the following smart and simple gardening tips to help you fight climate change and protect wildlife in your own backyard:

  • Plant trees to absorb C02
  • Replace invasive plants with native species
  • Reduce water consumption in your garden 
  • Increase household energy efficiency and reduce use of gasoline-powered tools
  • Compost kitchen and garden waste
  • Recognize your yard as a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation

If you’re a resident of central Pennsylvania, there's a terrific event on the horizon that will bring these tips to life. On May 30, Ed Perry of the National Wildlife Federation is hosting an event titled, “Climate Solutions: Action to Reduce Energy Consumption and Help Pollinators and Wildlife.” Participants will learn how to make their homes more energy efficient and how to provide habitat for pollinators and wildlife. Following a presentation by a great slate of speakers, local homeowners will open their homes and gardens to participants to see these solutions in action!

What’s another tool for curbing carbon pollution and protecting wildlife and habitat? Urge Congress to protect gardens, communities, and wildlife by supporting the EPA Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. Contact me at PennFuture to learn how you can get involved.

Katie Bartolotta is southeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Pope provides welcome help on winning the climate battle

My post last week highlighted the role that the arts can play in winning the hearts and minds of those who resist accepting the science of climate change, for whatever reason.

So, let's look this week at another non-traditional voice helping to move the nation and the world forward: Pope Francis. His Holiness will this summer release an encyclical on climate change and environmental degradation. The encyclical will make the link between climate change and poverty, thus making the case that believers have a moral responsibility to act on climate.

The Pope, of course, is one of the most influential humans on the globe. And this has some conservatives in this country worried, according to the New York Times: The Heartland Institute says the pontiff is being "misled" by scientists. (Heartland lacks not for chutzpah.)

Pope Francis is getting much attention in Philadelphia these days thanks to his upcoming visit in September to host the World Meeting of Families in the city. While in the country, the pontiff will also meet with President Obama in Washington, and the President has already indicated that climate change is on the agenda.

The U.S. population is about 22 percent Catholic, and 29 percent of Pennsylvanians are Catholic. A significant number of Pennsylvania's members of Congress and the state legislature self-identify as Catholic. We're delighted that Catholic members of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation such as Senator Bob Casey and Rep. Mike Doyle are committed to action on climate. But I also wonder if this means that Senator Toomey and Rep. Tom Marino will heed the call of their spiritual and moral leader and commit to addressing climate change.

Let's hope (and dare I say pray?) that Pope Francis, like his eponym, St. Francis of Assisi, will use his moral authority to move our leaders to finally get serious about acting on climate.

Joy Bergey is PennFuture's federal policy manager and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @joybergey.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Climate change and the Chesapeake, through the eyes of an artist

My blog posts often contain facts and graphics from just-released reports that show the hard science warning of the threats of climate change. This week, I try something different: letting art tell the heart-breaking story of climate change.

A dear friend recently sent me a link to an award-winning art video, "The Ballad of Holland Island House" by artist Lynn Tomlinson. It's a poignant, beautifully artistic (and oh so sad) piece about the impact of rising sea levels on the Chesapeake Bay. It's told through folk songs and animated paintings from the point of view of a house on an island in the Bay -- a house that stands no more on an island sunken by the Bay's rising waters.

Tomlinson, a multimedia artist, describes making the video using a "clay-painting technique." She explains that she wanted the piece of art to show her concern for climate change-induced rising sea levels that have already taken their toll on the islands in the Chesapeake Bay.

The artist tells the story of an oak tree that became the boards that a fisherman used to build his house on Holland Island. He lived there with his family for years until the ever-rising tides forced the abandonment of all the houses on the island.

The story is true -- the house did indeed collapse into the Bay in 2010. Read the fascinating story, including recent attempts to save the house, in the Washington Post.

Joy Bergey is PennFuture's federal policy director. She is based in Philadelphia and tweets @joybergey .