Whe We Won't Eat For Three Weeks

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"Offsets" are how polluters can continue polluting while giving some financial support to supposed clean energy or energy efficiency projects somewhere else in the world other than where their own company is polluting.

[Future Hope: On The Environment]

Tomorrow, April 20th, I and over 200 other people around the country and from several countries will be fasting.

We’ll be doing so to make a statement that it is long overdue that this country gets on the right side, gives concrete leadership, to the wide and deep clean energy revolution that is absolutely essential, and soon, if we’re to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

We’re doing this tomorrow because this is the day that the U.S. Congress returns from its spring recess. This week hearings will begin on a recently-released draft piece of climate legislation, the "American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009," in the key House Energy and Commerce Committee chaired by Henry Waxman. Over the next month it is expected that this committee will amend and vote on a final bill to send to the full House, which will then likely vote on it in June.

About a third of those fasting tomorrow will fast more than this one day. 15 people, myself included, are planning to fast 25-40 days or more: Jere Locke, Diane Wilson, Elliott Adams, Diane Lopez Hughes, Portia Odell, Cathy Luna, Juliana Lindh, Amy Lane, Steve Larrick, Vincent Pawlowski, Hetesh Patel, Howard Pederson, Sedinan Kinamo Christin Moyowasifza-Curry and, in Australia, Gary Stuard.

Why 25-40 days or more? Because we want to call attention to the need for the U.S. and other industrialized countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 (35-50% below today’s levels). This is a target adopted by climate negotiators from the nations of the world at a United Nations climate conference in Bali, Indonesia in December, 2007. It is a target that, if reached, would give the world some chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Our other major demands are for a moratorium on the building of any new coal plants and that there should be no giveaways to polluters in the climate legislation being drafted. As President Obama called for in his campaign and in his budget proposal to Congress less than two months ago, 100% of the permits to pollute under a carbon cap must be auctioned, or a substantial carbon fee must be enacted, to ensure that the shift from fossil fuels to renewables, efficiency and earth-friendly lifestyles happens rapidly.

In the context of what the world’s scientists are telling us about what is happening to our natural environment, these are not radical demands. They could be criticized as not being strong enough. I have heard from several people, for example, asking why we are not calling for what Al Gore has put forward: 100% clean electricity in the USA, essentially renewables, within 10 years, by 2018.

I love this demand, and there’s no question in my mind that it could be done if the political will to get it done existed within the U.S., particularly within the White House and Congress. But we’re nowhere close to that right now. Right now, Big Oil and King Coal have tremendous influence over Congress, at the same time that our newly-elected President continues to talk about "clean coal" as if it actually exists, which it doesn’t and never will.

We can see the polluters’ power by what is happening with the 648-page "American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009." Although there are certainly good parts to this bill, particularly its provisions in support of renewable energy, energy efficiency and taking action to prevent deforestation, there are a lot of bad parts. Chief among them is the provision for a tremendous number of problematic offsets. "Offsets" are how polluters can continue polluting while giving some financial support to supposed clean energy or energy efficiency projects somewhere else in the world other than where their own company is polluting. Experience with offsets within the Kyoto Protocol and the European Union carbon-trading system shows that many of them are fake, and many of them are socially unjust.

And over the last week or so it has become clear that, as of right now, the plan is to give away as many as 50%, maybe more, of the permits to burn carbon-based fuels to coal-burning utilities and other carbon emitters. This is truly outrageous.

These two provisions, for "offsets" and for giving free permits to polluters, would completely undercut the on-paper emission reduction targets under the cap of 7% below 1990 levels by 2020 (20% below current levels) and 80% below current levels by 2050. The 2020 reduction target is too low to begin with, conflicting with what the science says is necessary.

What will environmental, climate and progressive groups do about this looming debacle?

Some are working on two tracks. One is to do whatever can be done to mobilize grassroots pressure on House members to significantly correct and strengthen the Waxman committee bill. The other is to support a much simpler, more straightforward, fair and just approach to how we reduce carbon emissions: either a tax (or carbon fee) and dividend (http://www.carbontax.org) or cap and dividend (http://www.capanddividend.org). The House Ways and Means Committee has been seriously discussing these alternative approaches for the last couple of months and should be taking them up again when they return this week.

Peter Barnes, the originator and tireless advocate for years of the cap and dividend approach, wrote a few days ago (http://www.grist.org/article/why-two-climate-bills-are-better-than-one) about what is happening and what those who understand how serious our climate crisis is should be supporting:

"At the moment, there is heavy pressure from many quarters to abort the Ways and Means Committee’s work. The party line is that two bills would be a distraction, and that everyone needs to get behind the Waxman bill, whatever it turns out to be. In my view, this ‘my way or the highway’ approach is ill-advised. It is too soon to shut down a wider discussion of carbon pricing, and too soon to eliminate alternatives. The time will come when that discussion must end and a choice must be made, but that time is not yet.

"The approaches being considered by the two committees are significantly different. One would create a complex, opaque system that favors politically powerful corporations, the other would create a simple, transparent system that returns higher prices directly to the people. It is a good thing for Congress and the public to know that these two approaches are possible, and to discuss them for a while. Snuffing out that discussion before it happens would be a disservice to the democratic process, and ultimately to finding a durable climate solution."

This is logical. It is common sense. It is a democratic approach. But the question remains: what will environmental and other groups do this week and next, over the next month? Will they bend to the political science of "Washington," or will they speak out clearly and act as the climate science is telling us to act?

One way or the other, the decisions they make will be historic. For myself and my fellow fasters, we will be praying in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi that most of them, that most of us, will do the right thing.

More information on the "25-40 fast" and what you can do right now, whether fasting or not, can be found at www.fastingforourfuture.org

Glick is a long-time progressive and climate activist. More information and contact information can be found at www.tedglick.com


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