Friday, March 31, 2017

The Trump Regime and the War on California

It was heartening for millions of Californians to hear Gov. Jerry Brown warn President Trump that he had just made a “colossal mistake” in gutting the federal government’s effort to combat climate change. On Tuesday of this week, the Los Angeles Times provided readers with the fuller story: “It defies science itself,” Brown said in a call to The Times shortly after Trump signed an executive order that aims to bring an abrupt halt to the United States’ leadership on global warming. Brown vowed, predicting Trump’s actions will mobilize environmentalists in a way President Obama never could. “I have met with many heads of state, ambassadors. This is a growing movement. President Trump’s outrageous move will galvanize the contrary force. Things have been a bit tepid [in climate activism]. But this conflict, this sharpening of the contradiction, will energize those who believe climate change is an existential threat.”
At this juncture I paused and re-read the passage once more about climate activists, "Things have been a bit tepid?" Perhaps Governor Brown was glossing over the not-so-small issue that U.S. climate policy have presented little to celebrate. For numerous of Californiaʻs activists and advocates, both U.S. climate policies and the Paris accords (COP 21) have been largely underwhelming. Letʻs review where U.S. policy stood in 2016. 

In his final state of the Union, President Obama noted that the country was already pursuing a more constructive project, based on the largest federal support in the nationʻs history: to combine wind and solar power with a transition away from ʻdirty energy.ʻ While he was able to pinpoint specific clean energy projects already deployed across the nation, dismantling of dirty energy was more aspirational than real. “I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.” But when were such costs imposed on energy companies and where did these appear in federal law or policy?
It may be that the President Obama considered his partisan opponents the least of his problems. Obama hinted that the nub of difficulty was located among corporate lobbyists who held sway in both houses of Congress; “None of this will happen overnight, and yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo. But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, and the planet we’ll preserve — that’s the kind of future our kids and grand kids deserve.” If the President expected Congress to embrace a program based on the needs of grand kids over immediate profits, we were indeed facing a world of trouble. For a public that had placed much trust in a presidential candidate promising “hope,” many citizens re-kindled a much older political adage: hope is not a strategy.
To be sure, the Republican Congress represents a major obstacle to achieving anything resembling evidence-based policies. Only weeks prior to Obamaʻs speech before Congress, emphasizing the urgency of climate change measures, the House voted to block provisions of the Clean Power Plan set to curb greenhouse gas emissions, via two actions; the first would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing rules aimed at cutting emissions from new power plants; the second would prevent the agency from enforcing rules targeted at existing power plants. The Congressional action included an action blocking the Presidentʻs Green Climate Fund, a $3 billion commitment to assist developing countries with adopting green energy systems.  
The actions of the 2016 Republican Congress to defeat even the most modest steps to address a deteriorating climate reflected more than a partisan difference of opinion. It was, rather, the product of yet another concerted effort led by a host of fossil fuel companies, to forge a business-friendly political climate. What citizens and their leader had expressed, time and time again as “hope,” remained far from reality. Moreover, various of Obama’s actions were fraught with contradictions in achieving these ends - particularly with respect to trade negotiations and provisions for undermining the strict regulatory programs that had made California a leader in environmental policies. As one observer noted, “The conservative revolution transformed our countries into authoritarian pro-business states, which are not just undemocratic but inherently anti-democratic. The last thing these people want is to give democratic power to a state that they cannot control, manipulate, make irrelevant or buy.” By the 21st century, the promotion of states dominated by corporations and their markets moved well beyond the realm of democratic institutions and toward an ascendant market state.
Returning to this past week, we find Californiaʻs Governor rallying citizens to counter the proposals of a President and Congress enthralled with the world of unleashed corporate power. “I see Washington declining in influence, but the momentum being maintained by California and other states aligned with China and those who are willing to do something,” said Brown, who will be traveling to China soon for meetings on climate. “There is a growing activism on the part of millions of people who will not stand by and let Donald Trump effectively tear up the Paris agreement and destroy America’s climate leadership and jeopardize the health and well-being of so many people.” But there is a slippery slope in this message; the principal policy linkage between California, China and the Paris agreement (COP 21) is what has been touted as the Golden Stateʻs celebrated solution to the climate crisis: emissions trading (aka cap-and-trade or AB 32). While California possesses a large portfolio of climate change related laws, emission trading scheme has served in recent years as its export model. And what do we make of this solution, especially in the context of the Trump regime and his Congressional enablers?
Let me take you back to December 2015 and the conference hall in Paris where Governor Brown was in the midst of discussing Californiaʻs virtuous leadership in the fight against climate change. On this same evening at the same conference, a group of California activists raised their voices challenging Governor Brownʻs ʻsolutionʻ to a worsening climate. Among those rising in protest was a young organizer from Los Angeles, Rossmery Zayas, who attending on behalf of Communities for a Better Environment, stated: "Weʻre from California and let us tell you the truth about whatʻs happening in our communities." The essence of the message delivered by various activists including Rossmery was that Californiaʻs so-called solution represented a failure, particularly from the perspective of those living in the midst of refineries, cement plants, and other large emission sources. What was going on? Why had activists from the Golden State traveled all of the way to Paris to publicly challenge Governor Brown?
The problem confronting Governor Brown is very similar to that which faced President Obama: how to navigate the fossil-fueled conflicts orchestrated by corporate interests? The ʻsolutionʻ to this tension written into law more than a decade ago in California was to provide fossil fuel interests a flexibility to circumvent more restrictive regulatory laws. It is precisely this regulatory flexibility that protestors voiced opposition to in Paris and others would characterize as the essential failure of a vaguely concluded COP 21. The path of regulatory flexibility forged by moderate Democrats in California now poses a threat undermining precisely the decisive measures urgently necessary to address what Governor Brown and many Californians recognize as the massively worsening destruction brought about by fossil fuel interests.

Please visit again on Monday as the story unfolds.

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