Cap and Trade and Die

If the political elite aren't already doing everything wrong when it comes to climate change, then I must be missing something.

Consider the current situation: the Democrats are pushing several bills in the House, all of which would establish some version of a national cap and trade scheme for CO2 emissions. The frontrunner, the American Clean Energy and Security Act - or, because all legislation needs a catchy brand name, “ACES” - would set a limit on the total carbon emitted by energy corporations and major industries. (Think coal and gas power plants, refineries, factories, etc.) Within this cap the government would auction, or possibly give away credits permitting a quantified amount of pollution by industry. Corporations meeting and exceeding mandatory reduction targets could sell their unused credits to those not meeting the targets. To put it simply, this would establish a market for buying and selling a limited number of carbon pollution allowances.

There is nothing remotely simple or straightforward about the Democrat's plan, however. The length of the ACES bill alone is a clue - it's more than 600 pages, first draft. It's all about complexity, obscurity, endless buying, selling, bundling and re-bundling of securitized pollution credits, possibly combined with “offsets” and even “grandfathered” allowances among other jargonistic economic mechanisms. All of this will theoretically reduce carbon emissions to levels capable of sustaining life on earth. However, don't expect many politicians to speak about it in these realistic terms. Congress and the talking heads it has summoned to testify so far have mostly been jabbering about mystifying concepts like “energy security,” and “economic competitiveness” in relation to the bill's merits and shortcomings. If only amphibians and migratory birds could talk, if only coral reefs held “expert” status in the Capitol....

In an unlikely moment of candor the CEO of ExxonMobil, of all people, expressed his disdain for cap and trade earlier this year saying that it, "inevitably introduces unnecessary cost and complexity.” While Rex Tillerson's motives are more than suspect, his appraisal of cap and trade is oddly right on the mark, even an understatement. Not only would a cap and trade regime introduce byzantine rules, regulations, and of course loopholes, it would also financialize the cause and supposed solution to climate change. This is in fact the centerpiece of cap and trade. Although the stated goal of the plan is to cap greenhouse gas emissions, the only assured result would be the creation of a financial playpen for wealthy securities traders who stand to make mouthwatering profits off of the buying and selling of capped quantities of ecocide.

You'd think that after the last year of Wall Street revelations it would be universally recognized that financialization is hardly a means to creating a stable and just economy. Is it really something the Democrats want to propose as the solution to impending planetary disaster?

Eschewing the Democratic version of cap and trade, and absolutely opposed to anything that would have the effect of transitioning society away from hydrocarbon-based energies, the Republicans, the political party of corporate-energy incarnate, are mobilizing behind their own strategies. The main GOP opposition to the Waxman-Markey bill seems to center on its ambitious aims. Republicans say it goes too far, imposing costs on energy corporations and major industries and reducing profits too much. Painting the Democrat's cap and trade plan as a “tax hike,” Republicans, led by Senator McCain, have alluded to a much more corporate-friendly cap and trade scheme that would give out pollution allowances gratis, instead of auctioning them.

Regardless, under any conceivable cap and trade scheme, government revenues are minimal and their redistribution is not clearly tied to a plan for transitioning society off carbon-based energy. Transfers of wealth and power would mostly occur within the tight and high circles of the financial oligarchy, the major energy companies, banks, brokers, and capital investment firms.

One of the more nefarious proposals that is likely to get bi-partisan support in the Congress is nuclear power. The Obama administration has already signaled its support for nuclear energy, especially with the appointment of University of California physicist Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy. Chu has said that fission-based power plants should “absolutely” become a larger part of the energy-producing portfolio. The main nuke lobby, the Nuclear Energy Institute has been hard at work in recent years to position its corporate members as the best solution to global warming. The NEI celebrated earth day this year with a PR campaign offering “emission-free electricity to the goals of blue skies, clear water and a clean planet.” The coming “nuclear renaissance” needs only two things to exploit the current crisis of ecological and political climates - a placid, demobilized American public, and billions in state subsidies to underwrite plant construction and insurance. That and a permanent waste depository for the toxic and radioactive sludge churned out by nuclear power plants.

Countless independent scientists and economists have weighed in negatively on cap and trade proposals and called for a much simpler, more effective alternative: a carbon tax. The most ardent proponent, NASA scientist James Hansen has proposed a substantial tax and 100% dividend. The dividend “can drive innovation and economic growth with a snowballing effect. Carbon emissions will plummet far faster than in top-down or Manhattan projects [i.e. cap and trade schemes or “clean coal” research]. A clean environment that supports all life on the planet can be restored.”

A carbon tax could most easily be applied at the points of origin, where carbon is quite literally being mined and pumped out of the ground and smoke stacked into the biosphere. The government could quite easily tax every coal mine operator, oil and gas corporation, and electrical utility, etc. The tax revenues could then be plowed into the development and creation of truly sustainable, decentralized, democratic energy technologies and infrastructures. As climate and energy researcher Greg Mello has pointed out, the technologies we need to start using mostly already exist. Taxes on carbon emissions could be ramped up over time to eventually transition society away from carbon energy sources. According to Mello, “This would not 'crush the economy,' just change it radically, as it must if we are to have any economy at all." Mello sees the Waxman-Markey legislation as a potential disaster. "It would preempt the field and leave a sub-prime carbon bubble and ecological disaster in its wake.”

And yet cap and trade has all the momentum, in no small part because the American public is disengaged from the debate, and corporate America is so deeply invested in the outcome.

Barring any change of course, the Waxman-Markey bill will likely be combined with competing legislation, modified in no small ways by the Republicans, especially in the Senate, and become law within the year. Cap and trade even has the support of the biggest, most lavishly funded environmental NGOs like the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund. NRDC and EDF have even gone so far as to build a coalition of corporate CEOs representing Duke Energy and DuPont among others, escorting them before Congress to speak in favor of cap and trade legislation.

All of this is happening right now, as though completely oblivious to the steady stream of alarming research published everyday in the world's leading scientific journals. To sample but a random few;

  • A study published this year in the American Meteorological Society Journal of Climate reports that their survey of the flows of over 900 rivers worldwide for the past fifty years indicates major sources of freshwater are in precipitous decline. The culprit is double: dams and diversions as well as reduced precipitation from climate disruption.
  • A recent study led by the US Geological has concluded that the death rates of trees in western North America have doubled over the last three decades, rapidly exceeding the rates of new growth. Our forests are turning into carbon emitters as rising temperatures, dry skies, and associated stresses stand to destroy much of the continent's biodiversity, leaving rotting stumps where once stood thick stand of pine, fir, spruce, and juniper.
  • The journal Nature has published multiple studies on the most shocking phenomenon of ocean acidification, demonstrating the link between rising atmospheric carbon levels and a dropping ocean pH. One recent study concludes that, “if these trends continue, key marine organisms—such as corals and some plankton—will have difficulty maintaining their external calcium carbonate skeletons.”

In other words, life is coming undone all around us and because of us, because of our economy, and yet the best the US political leadership can offer is a scheme to commodify and trade the cause of this catastrophe?

Perhaps next they will propose capping the number of species, setting reduction targets, and establishing a market to trade in their extinction?


These Amazing Charter Schools....

Surf the following web site for the Sophie B. Wright Charter School.

Do you see what I see?

And this is the face of charter school success in New Orleans?



Obama's Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, came to New Orleans yesterday on his four stop tour to present a plan for energy development along the Outer Continental Shelf.

I found the meeting very disappointing for several reasons, some of which you can read here in my report: Interior Dept. Hearing - Opening vast new portions of the Gulf to oil and gas drilling.

My biggest problem with this whole process is what I see as the political strategy behind the Obama administration's listening tour. It appeared to me yesterday that Salazar is making the rounds to placate environmentalists who are rightfully concerned about expansion of oil and gas drilling along the OCS, but that this is in order to diffuse any possible opposition to so-called "renewable" energy developments.

Who on earth would be against wind farms and ocean current turbines, you ask? Well I am, but I'll get to this in a second. First the plan from Salazar as far as I can tell;

1. Embrace the lifting of the OCS ban, which occurred under Bush, in spite of the opposition of everyone from enviros to CA Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

2. Write up a rushed "study." Call it, "Survey of Available Data on OCS Resources and Identification of Data Gaps." In it, emphasize oil and gas, but also "renewables" such as wind, ocean current and tidal energy that can be harvested in OCS areas.

3. Go on a tour of each coast that will be affected by new raids of the OCS - Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast, West Coast, Alaska. Listen to the various "stakeholders."

4. Emphasize that "the administration is embracing a diverse portfolio of energy sources," from oil, gas, and coal - Salazar said yesterday that "clean coal... coal must have a seat at the table" - to nuclear energy. Of course so-called "green" energies like wind, solar, and biofuels are included. They are rhetorically prominent, but budgetary junior partners to the big boy hydrocarbons and nukes.

5. Scare the greens in New York and California with the prospect that their coast lines might be opened to oil and gas drilling.

6. With the East and Left Coast Liberals opposed to expanding oil and gas leases, offer instead vast wind farm, tidal generators, and current turbine projects along these OCS regions. Build these mega-projects to generate many gigawatts of electricity.

7. The two OCS regions that really matter to the oil and gas lobbies get opened up and a new boom ensues - the Eastern Gulf near Florida which is currently closed, and parts of Alaska, areas with immense fossil fuel deposits. All of this happens with very little opposition from national environmental groups. Why? Because of the "balanced portfolio" with "green" projects being built in California, Oregon, D.C. and Boston. Voila!

The end result?

The result could very well be a worst case scenario. Not only will the most major oil and gas deposits be opened up to exploitation by oil and gas corporations, thus further feeding climate change, but massive "green" and "renewable" energy projects will rise along the East and West Coasts.

So how on earth is it that I'm opposed to "green" and "renewable" energy development? Why do I keep putting these words in quotation marks?

In truth there is nothing green about wind farm arrays and tidal generators the size and nature which of which are currently being designed and contemplated along the OCS. We're talking about huge industrial operations with major ocean bottom footprints, surface water footprints, and atmospheric footprints. These projects will undoubtedly have negative consequences for ocean life, from whales to plankton. There is nothing "green" about any of this except that these projects will, once in place, emit less carbon into the atmosphere than hydrocarbon projects.

Furthermore, these kinds of projects do nothing to address one of the most critical issues of energy: decentralization and localization. Without decentralizing the ways we produce energy, and relocating production closer to the point of consumption, we are simply carrying on the ecologically destructive and economically dangerous status quo. We're encouraging energy development by transnational corporations and investment banks for their profit instead of fostering community self-reliance and control over energy.

The kicker to Salazar's plan seems to be that the areas of the OCS where the major oil and gas actually does lie - Gulf of Mexico and Alaska - is where Interior will be moving ahead full steam to sign lease agreements. Drill baby, drill! So we're likely to get the worst possible solution. More carbon-based energy development plus pseudo-green projects that may simultaneously palliate the public and do great damage to marine ecosystems.

Salazar's next stop is Alaska. Then it's on to San Francisco:
When: Thursday, April 16, 2009
Doors open at 8 AM, event begins at 9 AM

Mission Bay Conference Center at UCSF
Robertson Auditorium
1675 Owens Street
San Francisco, CA
My advice to those who care to find a better solution? Oppose all oil and gas drilling in all federal OCS territories, not just your local coastline. And go much further; attack the idea that these "renewable" projects are appropriate in their size and design. If we are serious about dealing with the ecological crisis we have precipitated we should be withdrawing our destructive presence from the oceans, not expanding them. Demand a more decentralized and localized energy plan from the administration. This might mean moving away from the Interior Department as a broker of resources. The era of the US government selling off our sacred forests, mountains, rivers and oceans for corporations profit and consumer pleasure must end.


Most Ecocidal University

I co-wrote the following essay roughly 18 months ago, as a draft of a chapter in a forthcoming book on the role of modern research universities in developing the technical intellectual resources that enable global capitalist imperialism.

The book focuses particularly on the University of California and its relationship with the nuclear weapons development labs at Los Alamos, NM, and Livermore, CA. Our intention in publishing it at Indybay is to generate a greater level of critical reflection and discussion concerning the dominant role of the politics of “greening” and communitarian “collaboration-with-decision-makers” approaches that characterize campus-based environmental organizations as well as an increasing number of those in the greater American body politic. We hope that many activists read this essay.

Big ups to my writing partner, intellectual co-conspirator, and dearest friend Will Parrish - Boom!, there he is.

Adam Nossiter's parting shot

The New York Times recently announced that their one man bureau based here in N.O. will be leaving. South Louisiana is simply no longer a compelling story. The Times' man is taking up an assignment heading their west Africa bureau instead.

So Adam Nossiter, the reporter in question is skipping out on us. Mostly I'm indifferent to this news. Nossiter's record has been pretty mixed insofar as his reports on the state of post-Katrina New Orleans go. The good thing about his presence was the national attention his articles continued to garner for this troubled region, years after Katrina. The downside to his reporting... well.... was oftentimes the national attention his articles garnered. Quite a few of his missives were pretty poorly researched, thought out, and reported.

Here's some examples in what could be his last article. In today's issue of the Times, Nossiter has penned an unusually editorializing piece on Gov. Bobby Jindal's efforts to reject federal stimulus funds.

While I agree somewhat with the main premise in this article (Jindal is politicking, not governing), there's actually much to Nossiter's story that is partially wrong and downright omitted.

For instance, for the sake of word count or otherwise, Nossiter lumps all federal spending together, implying that it has had a mostly beneficent impact on New Orleans, helping the city to rebound since 2005.

Nothing could be further from the truth when analyzing political-economy. Who gets what, when, and why is not something we should reduce so bluntly. Not all federal dollars are created equal, nor are the spent equally. The benefits accrue to some and harm is done to others. Some, probably a fraction of federal aid, has helped to rebuild affordable housing, created decent jobs, reopened good schools, and built back other city services desperately needed. Many federal dollars, however, have either gone to projects that have had a dubious impact on our community's welfare, or else they haven't even been spent yet.

One of the biggest failures of the so-called "stimulus" of the past four years that Nossiter is so proud of has been the form it arrived in - tax credits. Tax credits are only good for building housing and other necessities when matched with private capital that is willing and able to invest. Since the national and local economy hasn't been too hot, there's been billions unspent, billions delayed. (And people wonder why N.O. has an affordable housing crisis?) Furthermore, tax credit subsidized projects are only as profitable as the developer can make them, usually by cramming in as many luxury and market-rate housing and amenities as possible. So for all these dollars allocated down here we really haven't seen anything like a "stimulus" of the low-income housing market - easily one of the most needed developments in N.O.

Should I even address the issue of wages? Nossiter throws out the unemployment rate (LA's is lower than the national average) but doesn't address wage parity issues and how much of one's wages is spent on housing and other necessities. More people in N.O. might have jobs than in Cleveland, for example, but that don't mean we can afford to live.

That's just one example of the problem with throwing out dollar figures and other economic statistics, and vaguely stating that they are improving the condition of this city. Just because federal dollars are landing here through FEMA and the LRA doesn't mean most Louisianans are better off for it. Just ask the city's still enormous homeless population or the tens of thousands of renters who barely scrape by with housing vouchers (landlord subsidies via "stimulus").

It'd be nice if Nossiter did a little more research and added some complexity to his reporting. But that's clearly not this point of this parting-shot article. The point seems to be to blast Jindal and lobby for the Obama administration's plans. That brings me to the biggest mistake in Nossiter's reporting.

Charity Hospital.

According to Nossiter:
"even as Mr. Jindal has criticized the stimulus bill, his own subordinates have continued to request money from Washington, notably in replacing Charity Hospital, which for generations served the poor in downtown New Orleans. State health officials, disregarding restoration work at Charity done in the months immediately after Hurricane Katrina, say they need a brand-new hospital and an additional $500 million; the Federal Emergency Management Agency has balked and is offering only $150 million."
In his haste to blast the Republican Gov. for playing politics, Nossiter has tacitly endorssed the single most disastrous real estate power-play in post-Katrina New Orleans, save perhaps the demolition of public housing. What's dangerous here is that Nossiter has linked the Charity issue now to the federal stimulus funds, a link that doesn't necessarily exist. State officials and LSU Health Science Center big shots have been wrangling with the feds for over a year to get more funds from FEMA to build their "Taj-Mahospital" in Mid-City.

By linking this to the federal stimulus Nossiter is actually aiding Jindal (and everyone from LSU to Mayor Nagin and his nemsis City Council who are all united behind this project). Those reading Nossiter's article from their desks in D.C. are now increasingly likely to see the replacement of Charity as an uncontroversial project that will benefit New Orleans "in spite of that conservative Gov. in Baton Rouge."

Getting rid of Charity is a major goal of Jindal's, however. Building the new LSU hospital with the several hundred million in FEMA money the state doesn't have and shouldn't get is just what Jindal wants, and it won't be good for the people of New Orleans. What would have been good was the immediate reopening of Charity after the storm, and what would still be better would be the cheaper, smarter and much faster retrofitting of Big Charity.

Reporting like Nossiter's is politically expedient for folks in D.C. with their agenda. It's also politically helpful for the NY Times which has its own bone to pick, one closely linked to the Obama administration's. It's not politically helpful in any way for the people of New Orleans. Time and again Nossiter's work has shown these tendencies. In this respect he and his employer are just as guilty of the political machinations he's accusing Jindal of.

How about reporting on the real story?

Jindal and other Republican governors are not just refusing to accept stimulus money in a game of politics or to score points with their base. Rather, they're genuinely concerned about the strings that come attached with some of these funds. Jindal and others have made it clear on several occasions that they do not want to re-write state laws concerning unemployment benefits, health programs, and other welfare and worker compensation laws.

Why? Because they're the party of the bosses. Doing so would re-write the social contract in small ways that empower working class Americans. The Obama administration is trying to use the federal stimulus as a wedge to force these changes on many states. It's a good political strategy, but one that's replete with dangers. They could end up doing a lot of harm in the process, especially if they flatten and simplify local political issues in the name of expediency.

How about reporting on this story in-depth? Oh, cause the New York Times and others couldn't score easy immediate political points of their own. It's too complex a story, and the "bad guys" are not just Republican leaders, they include much of corporate America and many powerful economic lobbies. Is that why?

Or are the press just too lazy?


Private Cops

The Maple Street neighborhood is voting for a second time on whether to implement a district security tax. Here's some wider context:

Quite a big deal has been made in recent years about private security corporations - mercenaries. Thanks to Jeremy Scahill's reporting, Blackwater has received an enormous dose of publicity, so much so that they've had to re-brand themselves as Xe.

Blackwater, Triple Canopy, ISI and other for-profit companies that have privatized war-fighting functions are mostly a product of the Iraq and Afghan wars. Although many of them existed before 2001, the "war on terror" has booseted their fortunes and profiles immensely.

This is partly why in 2005, when Katrina struck, when N.O. was flooded and later evacuated, and when several Uptown elites ordered the services of some of these infamous companies (and FEMA even hired Blackwater for its own security) many journalists were quick to write this up as an ominous and new turn of events. Mercenaries brandishing assault rifles in an American city? Lots of people thought it was new. Scahill wrote about it at the time:
"As business leaders and government officials talk openly of changing the demographics of what was one of the most culturally vibrant of America's cities, mercenaries from companies like DynCorp, Intercon, American Security Group, Blackhawk, Wackenhut and an Israeli company called Instinctive Shooting International (ISI) are fanning out to guard private businesses and homes, as well as government projects and institutions. Within two weeks of the hurricane, the number of private security companies registered in Louisiana jumped from 185 to 235. Some, like Blackwater, are under federal contract. Others have been hired by the wealthy elite, like F. Patrick Quinn III, who brought in private security to guard his $3 million private estate and his luxury hotels, which are under consideration for a lucrative federal contract to house FEMA workers."
True enough, the firepower these global mercenaries brought to New Orleans was new, but the advent of privatized policing and security isn't new at all in Louisiana. New Orleans has had dozens of private security companies for many years. The state has been at the cutting edge of private security for several decades.

As someone who walks through the Garden District a lot - I don't own a car - I've noticed that one of the main functions of these security companies is to stop and harass "suspicious characters." Suspicious in these contexts usually means young black folks walking or riding bikes through these lily white and very wealthy enclaves. In general, suspicious is anyone walking in these areas after dark, excepting the yuppies jogging their dogs and other obvious residents. If you don't look like a millionaire you're going to get eyed. If you're not driving a Lexus, you're suspect.

If you cruise around the "sliver by the river" you'll notice in short time that most every house in the well-to-do Uptown has a little lawn sign, usually placed conspicuously on near the front steps or driveway. These advertise the home owner's private security firm. The strangest company name I've yet seen is "Nuko" security. There's literally dozens of these companies in the metro area.

Privatized policing functions exist in N.O. through special district taxes that wealthier neighborhoods levy upon themselves. Raising upwards of several hundred thousand to several million dollars, many of these neighborhoods then hire firms like NOPP and Garden District Security to cruise their streets day and night. Supporters of this say it adds "security" and "reduces crime." Perhaps it does for them. What's interesting here is that the city's wealthy and middle class majority white communities have looked to private security corporations to seal their neighborhoods off from "criminals," instead of trying to build up the police budget and increase patrols. This is partly due to the distrust that all New Orleanians have for the police. It's also due to the fact that this city's wealthy simply do not want to share their tax dollars. Just as is with schooling, health care and housing, New Orleans' affluent, mostly white minority has for many decades horded their wealth into privatized vessels such as this.

Someday I'll write a short history of privatized policing in N.O.

In the meantime I remain a "suspicious pedestrian."


Funny how everything you said....

...is different now.

Civil Rights Lawyer Tracie Washington became the subject of public (mostly white folks) fury over her public records requests earlier this month; they said she was "racist" for only asking for the emails of the white city council members; they said she was in cahoots with Mayor Nagin to; they said she was reckless; someone even vandalized her home and she recieved quite a few anonymous threats.

To all this I can only say - http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/03/mayor_ray_nagins_ownership_of.html

Funny how everything they said looks now that Washington has just exposed an excellent example of official malfeasance by none other than Mayor Nagin. So white folks, where this conspiracy so many of you are sure there is?

Surely there's more shoes to drop, but I think Washington's actions speak louder than pundits words at this point. Gosh, I can't wait till this sucker is up and running - http://www.nolapublicrecords.org/

With muckrakers like Washington in the mix the battle between the Naginites and White League 2.0 is sure to get crazier.