$500 million loss has left environmental groups struggling for alternative sources of funding
Environmental and community groups are looking for ways to replace the $500 million for energy conservation, transportation and other green programs that Gov. Jerry Brown persuaded the Legislature in mid-June to borrow to balance the state budget.
Photo by Steve Rhodes/San Francisco Public Press
When Brown announced his plan in May, 50 activists from a wide array of community organizations descended on the Capitol to decry the governor’s raid of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.
But their protests were to no avail. The Senate and the Assembly passed the state budget with the $500 million loan preserved.
The funds that had been promised were revenues from the state’s new cap-and-trade carbon market that launched in November. Hundreds of the state’s largest polluters buy credits to emit greenhouse gases, and the state sells some pollution allowances at each quarterly auction.
Now the funds are going into the general fund instead, with most of it going toward local education funding.
Brown said some environmental groups needed more time to develop effective programs, so the money could not be put to immediate use. The plan is now to repay the borrowed money to the fund next year, with interest.
“We think the governor’s position is shortsighted, because communities need help now to reduce pollution and increase jobs,” said Bill Magavern, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air, based in Los Angeles. “He’s increasing the wall of debt by having the general fund borrow this money from the greenhouse gas fund.”
“It’s terrible news,” said Mari Rose Taruc, director of the Oakland-based Asian Pacific Environmental Network. She said the loan fund would mean cutbacks for many community-based organizations that expected state funding over the next fiscal year.
Early this year, the California Air Resources Board sought public participation to decide the three-year investment priorities for the climate change fund.
Under the governor’s most recent draft, released in mid-May, at least 25 percent of funds must be allocated to projects that benefit disadvantaged communities. At least an additional 10 percent must go to projects located in those communities. These include low-carbon transportation and infrastructure and strategic planning for sustainable development (50 percent); efficiency programs and clean energy (30 percent) and natural resources and solid-waste …more
Pandora’s Promise is more hit job than conversation starter
Everybody loves a conversion story. With their mix of good-versus-evil and personal vulnerability, conversion stories appeal to the hope that each of us can change for the better. Filmmaker Robert Stone tries to tap into the power of the conversion archetype in his new nuclear power documentary, Pandora’s Promise. The film tells the story of five self-identified environmentalists and/or liberals who have come to reconsider their previous opposition to atomic energy. Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Rhodes, journalist and novelist Gwyneth Craven, Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand, British enviro writer Mark Lynas, and intellectual provocateur Michael Shellenberger all once believed that nuclear power was dangerous. But with greenhouse gas emissions continuing to rise, they have each come to embrace nuclear power as an essential strategy to keep the atmosphere in a semblance of stability. The director’s strategy is clear: There’s nothing like watching someone recant their beliefs to get you to question your own.
I’m not sure it worked – either as a storytelling device or as political provocation. The supposed profiles in courage don’t pass the bullshit test: I have a hard time believing the people followed in the film lost many (or any) friends just because they went from anti-nuclear to pro-nuclear. There’s no sense that these folks risked much by changing their minds – and since there’s not much at stake for the protagonists, the film is sapped of some of the force I think the filmmaker was counting on. Over at The Nation, enviro journalist Mark Herstgaard, in a conversation about the film with Terry Tempest Williams, concludes that the film falls into “self-regarding provocation.” Spot on, I would say.
The bigger problem with Pandora’s Promise is how the weakness in form undermines the film’s content. In their eagerness to show how they’ve changed their minds, Stone and his talking heads depict nuclear power critics as wooly headed nitwits. It works – the nuclear foes shown in Pandora’s Promise look like a bunch of whackos. But the caricature comes at a cost. As critics here, here and here have pointed out, Stone doesn’t make any space for reasonable and well-informed nuclear energy skeptics. The movie commits the same sins of elision, omission, and exaggeration that it accuses its targets of. Pandora’s Promise is open-minded, but only within a narrow frame, and …more
US Fish and Wildlife Service relies on taxonomical shenanigans to appease wolf haters
The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent announcement that it is beginning the process for removing gray wolves across the country from the protection of the Endangered Species Act surprised no one. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s mid-1990s reintroduction of gray wolves — a species virtually extirpated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries — into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho marked a triumph for conservationists and ranks as one of the most striking fulfillments of the Endangered Species Act. But as I have reported here and here, the wolves quickly met enemies.
Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service
By the early 2000s a loose coalition of hunters’ groups, outfitters, and ranchers — along with the many disaffected men embracing militia groups, local “sovereignty” and states rights, particularly rights to use public lands without federal regulation — coalesced around the idea that wolves represented icons of the hated federal government. The wolves, they all-but-screamed, constituted lethal threats to deer and elk, livestock, and ultimately, people. The long, bitter wolf war reached its climax in the summer of 2011, when Congress took the unprecedented act of removing the wolf populations of the Northern Rockies from the endangered species list. In May 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service, weary of the many problems involved in wolf management (or, rather, public relations management), delisted gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes states, where some 4,400 wolves resided. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming subsequently initiated hunts and the use of government marksmen to reduce wolf numbers from around 1,700 to a much lower level.
The FWS’s proposed delisting of gray wolves across the country is simply the continuation of the agency’s long retreat in the face of wolf hater intimidation. Still, it’s important to understand how the FWS legitimizes its abandonment of wolves. A close examination of the FWS’ proposed rule change is a case study in the politicization of science. The FWS report excels at cherry picking, choosing certain scientific studies while rejecting others. It’s also an excellent example of bureaucratic hand-waving, simply dismissing long established facts whenever they become inconvenient. The final result is like a weird game of …more
To save reefs we need to first fix the quality of our air and water
In June 2012 author and illustrator Liz Cunningham visited the Turks and Caicos Islands – a tiny crescent of windblown, handkerchief-sized coral islands just north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic – to research her upcoming book on ocean conservation, Ocean Country. While she was there, she witnessed a dramatic coral bleaching event in less than a week's time. That month NOAA documented record-breaking temperature highs for the North Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. This excerpt, from the chapter “The Truths of the Islands,” describes what Cunningham experienced.
I loved mornings, the metallic clank of dive gear being attached to aluminum tanks, the thwap-thwap air-bursts of regulators expelling air when tested, the roll call on the boat. Each diver’s named was called out, followed by a loud and bold answer, “Here!”
The dive boat chugged out into the sleek waters of Grace Bay to a site called Boneyard. Oh, I loved that place! I remembered how a year before, we’d motored out on a calm August day. The water was so crystal clear that when we leaned over the bow we could see the contours of the ocean bottom.
I sat on the upper deck of the boat and remembered the last time we were there, just the week before. It was a series of deep sand channels, densely populated with finger and staghorn coral. The finger coral were shaped like protruding stubby thumbs and the staghorn coral, like the large antlers of a deer. Hence its name, Boneyard.
The degree to which it teemed with life was staggering. Each cluster of coral colonies ranged from 20 to a 100 “thumbs” and “staghorns,” densely packed together. That coral armature gave the fish what seemed like infinite possibilities for spawning and resting and hiding. It was like some ancient and intricate Italian city, with streets that kept branching into smaller and smaller, narrower and narrower ones. And each street had its own intricate micro-life, a hidden bistro with no sign out front, a vespa-repair shop, an art gallery, a gelateria, a bustling grocery store, laundry strung across a narrow walkway.
It was hard sometimes to even fully see the coral mounds, because …more
Northern spotted owl and Pacific fisher succumbing to rat poison used by illegal marijuana farms
The story is what you could call, um, an evergreen: As folks have reported here, here and here, illegal marijuana farms on public lands in California often cause serious environmental damage. Tresspass growers, as they are called, have been known to clear cut forest groves, trash wild areas with irrigation equipment and human waste, and use large amounts of chemical pesticides. Now illegal pot growers are being blamed for another environmental impact – killing rare species like the Pacific fisher and the northern spotted owl through their indiscriminate use of rat poisons.
Marijuana growers who operate in remote areas have a serious pest problem. Rats and other rodents, it seems, like to eat cannabis plants, especially when they’re young and tender. Here’s how Terry Klemetson, the news director of Humboldt County’s KMUD radio, explains it: “When people grow weed, the baby plants are tasty and yummy for rats and they just try to eat them.” Growers who cultivate pot for the state’s legal medical marijuana dispensaries don’t have to worry about this as much, since their operations are usually secured behind fences. The illegal growers who operate in the backcountry, however, often have their plants out in the open. “In the wildlands and on public lands, the growers out there aren’t on private property, so there aren’t fences out there,” Klemetson says.
To protect their plants, the trespass growers rely on vast quantities of rodenticides. But the rats aren’t the only victims. Wildlife often ends up as collateral damage. According to an organization called Wildcare, the rodenticides also kill or sicken a long list of birds and beasts. Wild rodents such as opossums, skunks, and raccoons often take the bait and die. Raptors or other carnivores that prey on mice and rats often die from eating animals that have consumed anti-coagulant rat poisons. That list includes grey foxes, barn owls, Cooper’s hawks, red tail and red shouldered hawks, and great horned owls.
“This is super lethal stuff,” says Lisa Owens Viani, co-director of an Earth Island Institute-sponsored project called Raptors Are the Solution that is trying to bring attention to the dangers of anti-coagulant rat …more
Move indicates a growing understanding that cetaceans are ‘nonhuman persons’
The Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests’ decision to ban dolphin captivity within India has been making waves around the world. The unprecedented decision is particularly significant because it reflects an increasing global understanding that dolphins deserve better protections based on who – rather than what – they are.
The decision, outlined in a circular released by the Central Zoo Authority, states that because dolphins are by nature “highly intelligent and sensitive,” they ought to be seen as “nonhuman persons” and should have “their own specific rights.” It says that it is “morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purposes.”
"This opens up a whole new discourse of ethics in the animal protection movement in India," Puja Mitra from the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO), the group leading the campaign to ban dolphinariums in India, said after the environment ministry announced its decision last month. The move came after months of protests against a proposed dolphin park in the southern state of Kerala and plans for several other marine mammal parks in other parts of the country.
Animal welfare groups have long been arguing that dolphins ought to be considered nonhuman persons, but to many people the concept of personhood remains unclear. It is therefore useful to understand precisely what personhood implies, why it is featured so prominently in the Indian announcement of a ban on dolphinariums, and how it is increasingly relevant within discussions of cetacean welfare.
The concept of nonhuman personhood is grounded in the distinction between who and what. These two broad categories encompass everything on (and off) the planet – humans are persons (who), while things (what) include all nonhuman life and all inanimate objects, from bacteria to monkeys to stars.
As Dr. Thomas White explains in his book, In Defense of Dolphins (2007), for something to be classified as a person, it is recognized as having certain characteristics, such as self-awareness, emotions, cognitive complexity, and other attributes we associate with humans. Having these characteristics means that the organism has basic needs that must be satisfied in order for it to live a fulfilled, healthy life, and that when these needs are not met, it results in suffering. Society bestows certain rights unto persons in order …more
Greens can learn a lot from the successes of missionary religious movements
Since the early years of the environmental movement, some voices within the movement have pointed out that fighting power plants, dams, deforestation, mining, and roads is a game of defense, one that can never be won. As the late environmentalist Peter Berg used to say, such fights are “like running a battlefield aid station in a war against a killing machine that operates just beyond reach, and that shifts its ground after each seeming defeat.” In the 30 years since Berg uttered those words, this reality has only gotten worse. The killing machine has grown in size and power; meanwhile the environmental movement has mostly failed to evolve its tactics to go on the offensive.
It is time (long past time, in fact) to create a deeper environmentalism – one that can provide a vision of a sustainable future in which human well-being is achieved while restoring Earth’s biocapacity. This will mean an environmental movement that crafts a multi-century strategy, not just annual campaign goals; that doesn’t go hat-in-hand every year to foundations and affluent individuals whose wealth is derived from the very system that needs to be torn down; that builds community and fellowship among its supporters. We need a movement that can take some lessons from the most successful movements in history: missionary religious philosophical movements.
Missionary religions have rooted themselves across a variety of geographies, eras, and cultures, and today have billions of adherents. Religious philosophies offers something fundamental that the environmental movement has so far failed to provide: a way to understand the world and humans’ place in it, as well as how to behave in that world. Just as important, religious movements build committed communities of adherents – celebrating together, mourning together, sharing with and helping each other – and draw their resources and power directly from these communities.
Why haven’t environmentalists done the same? We need to create and then communicate ecophilosophies that offer humanity an ethical code to live by. We need to provide an explanation of suffering (theodicy in religious terms). And we must be able to …more