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Standing up for the least among us




Standing up for the least among us


What a roller coaster of a week it’s been! 

On the up side, a really inspiring speech on climate change, and today’s Supreme Court decisions to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and allow same-sex marriage in California.

On the down side, some pernicious rulings from that same court on civil rights and access to justice.

You may not think all these things are related.  But as usual, I think everything is related to everything. Read on…

First, the climate speech at Georgetown.  I live tweeted the speech and also did a giddy video response to it, and so I’m almost reactioned-out.  But here’s my overall takeaway:  President Obama doesn’t say things he doesn’t mean to say.  Every word that comes out of his mouth is deliberate (as opposed to, say, the Vice President). Meaning that when he decides to devote an entire speech to climate change, calling on all Americans to “invest, divest…[and] remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote,” you know he’s serious about the issue.

To me, the fact that the President stood up and made this a signature issue of his administration is almost more important than what was in the speech. It means he gave us all a standard to which to hold him and Washington accountable – and for which he will hold himself accountable. 

But the speech content was important, too.  (For those of you who like pictures better than words, here’s a great infographic from TckTckTck laying out the President’s promises.) The President put forward plans to lower carbon pollution in just about every area where he has power to act without Congress.  EPA rules on power plants, appliance and building standards, renewable energy on public lands, fuel economy standards on heavy-duty vehicles – all of these made it into the speech. 

So, surprisingly, did the Keystone XL pipeline.  In a much-discussed part of the speech, the President said the pipeline must “not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”  That’s a hard one to parse: what does “significant” mean? Who decides? But it directly connects the pipeline to the larger goal of taking action on climate change, which to my knowledge hasn’t happened in a White House speech before.

Taking a step backward, this was a speech about responsibility to future generations, and about American leadership. And that’s where the Supreme Court rulings come in.

Maybe it’s because of my background as an organizer, and a civil and consumer rights litigator after that, and a green jobs advocate after that – but I honestly don’t believe we can truly rise up and lead in the global fight against climate change if we can’t also rise up against inequality here at home.

Today’s decision to strike down key pieces of DOMA is a huge step toward equality. But yesterday’s decision on the Voting Rights Act, striking down the heart of the law and opening the door to racial discrimination in voting laws in key states, is a step backward.  So is Monday’s punt on affirmative action, a move that will ultimately make it harder for universities to use race or the general goal of diversity in making even the smallest admission decisions. So is last week’s heartbreaking case, from an economic justice perspective, that allows big companies to force small companies into arbitration even if doing so means the small companies can’t actually pursue their claims.

What do all these decisions have to do with climate change, you say?  Consider this: climate change is a global issue.  Its impacts are felt disproportionately around the world, falling most heavily on the poorest people and countries. Its solutions are found in innovative ideas that are often pioneered by small and scrappy companies, putting forward disruptive technologies that fly in the face of corporate conventional wisdom.

If our society denies rights to the poorest and most disadvantaged among us, and sets up structures that privilege the already-privileged, we will become less – not more – willing and able to take on the global fight against carbon pollution.

We can’t let it happen. 

Find more of Kate's Cliffnotes »



President Details Sweeping Climate Policies

A far-reaching plan to fight climate change detailed by President Barack Obama on Tuesday would profoundly reshape the way the U.S. produces and consumes electricity, though the resistance it is sure to encounter promises to sow uncertainty for an industry already buffeted by shifting rules and economics.
25/Jun » Wall Street Journal

Obama is announcing major new climate plans Tuesday. This chart explains why.

President Obama announced a couple major new steps to address global warming, including a plan to limit carbon-dioxide emissions from existing power plants. To put this all in context, take a look at this chart from the most recent Economic Report of the President, which shows the United States is nowhere near on pace to meet its short-term climate targets by 2020.
23/Jun » Washington Post

Obama Raises the Cost of Carbon Emissions 60 Percent

Amid the dry, technical language of the Obama administration’s new efficiency standards for microwave ovens, it’s easy to miss the significance of a few passages tucked into the regulation that show how the administration calculates the social cost of carbon at $38 per ton. This is an increase of 60% over what Michael Greenstone of MIT suggested the federal government should use. 
20/Jun » Bloomberg

Department of Energy opens new clean energy research center in Colorado

The Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) is a new renewable energy testing facility in Colorado, run by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The $135 million dollar testing and research center specializes in developing technology to integrate renewable energy production with the current electrical grid on an industrial scale. The facility is available to both private and public organizations looking to test new technology to bring renewable energy onto the nation's electrical grid.
22/Jun » iTech Post

This Map Shows California's Potential to Power Itself With Clean Energy

An Oklahoma firm Saxum, has produced a map showing the regional energy scenes across the United States, and the reveals that California is relatively rich in renewable energy potential. The foremost source is solar, represented on the map by the light yellow wash across the southern two-thirds of the state. 
19/Jun » KCET

Massive Mojave Desert Solar Project Canceled

The developer of a huge proposed solar power project that was once slated to cover 12.5 square miles of still-intact desert habitat has walked away from the idea. The Calico Solar Project, proposed for land north of Interstate 40 between the hamlets of Ludlow and Newberry Springs, attracted opposition even from die-hard supporters of desert solar projects.
21/Jun » KCET

Sunshine State: The University of California’s Solar Breakthroughs

Researchers at the University are so /convinced that the sun’s energy is tomorrow’s fuel that a multi-campus group has been set-up to investigate. UC Solar develops technologies that make power from the sun a cleaner and cheaper contender, and research everything from batteries, to solar windows and second-hand sunshine.
20/Jun » Slate Magazine

Viewpoints Q&A: How climate change may affect Californians

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, the ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, asked the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at UC Merced a series of questions about the effects of climate change on California as background for policy development. An exchange about the most serious threats climate changes poses to different parts of the state, its water supply, agriculture and other activities followed.
25/Jun » Sacramento Bee

Speed Bumps Remain for Electric Cars; Incentives Could Recharge Interest

Electric cars are beginning to post all sorts of impressive numbers. Recently the 100,000th plug-in vehicle was sold, and 440,000 with some kind of battery propulsion were sold last year. However, hybrids made up only 3% and electric cars only 0.3% of annual vehicle sales in the US. Many Americans are interested in hybrids and EVs this survey shows, but they have concerns about upfront costs and the range of EVs.
20/Jun » Sacramento Bee

Tax Programs to Finance Clean Energy Catch On

Over the years, as Rick Murphy helped expand his family’s auto business in Edina, Minn., he wanted to install solar panels to cut the electricity bills, but the upfront cost was too high. Then a developer made a proposal: Grandview Tire and Auto, using a new loan program, could borrow the $34,000 to install the system and pay it back over 10 years, but instead of making traditional loan payments, they would be made through his property taxes. Now, with 117 panels on one of his five stores, he is saving $3,600 a year.
21/Jun » New York Times

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