Defending the Climate in the Age of Trump

Centre for Sustainable Economy’s Ted Gleichman says we need to see the fossil fuel industry as a rogue industry that can no longer be considered just another normal part of the economy

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KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown, in Baltimore.

We are at a moment when temperature records are being broken across the United States and, indeed, around the world. President Trump is proposing to slash a quarter of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s budget targeting climate change programs, and those designed to prevent air and water pollution.

And Congress continues its attack on climate science, and regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions. So, in response, the environmental movement appears to be gaining strength and broadening, to include a larger social justice component.

So, what is the way forward to safeguard both the planet, and the survival of the human species? And with us to outline his strategies and solutions to combat climate change, we are joined in studio, by Ted Gleichman, who serves as the policy advisor to the Climate Justice Program, at the Centre for Sustainable Economy. And he has been arrested twice for civil disobedience, at the White House, against the Keystone XL pipeline.

Ted has been working since 2008, to stop gas export pipelines, and terminals, from being built in Oregon. He’s one of the key leaders of the statewide coalition, Guiding the Fight Against Fracked Gas Export.

Ted, welcome to Baltimore. Thank you so much for joining us.

TED GLEICHMAN: My pleasure Kim. It’s good to be back with The Real News Network.

KIM BROWN: Well, we’re very glad to have you, Ted. And, you know, you’ve been working very diligently on this issue. You’ve been writing about it and you write that, “We have only three options: mitigation, adaptation, and suffering. And we will have to do all three.” That’s a quote from the former Obama science advisor, Dr. John Holdren, while a Professor at Harvard University. But, obviously you would prefer to do less suffering.

TED GLEICHMAN: That would be good.

KIM BROWN: That would be ideal, and more of the mitigation. But the question is, are we on a trajectory where suffering is really unavoidable at this point?

TED GLEICHMAN: There are literally billions of people around the world, predominantly people of color, of course, in areas where they’ve had almost nothing to do with creating the climate crisis, who are suffering now. Floods, droughts, heatwaves, the extreme weather, the slow motion catastrophe that climate change feels like, except when we have these catastrophic extreme weather events.

And so, it is happening. It is underway. And in the United States, there are communities in Louisiana that are in the process of being abandoned. There are villages on the coast of Alaska that are in the process of being abandoned, where shorelines and homes are washing away every year now.

So, it is here, and the question is, how do we proceed with the challenges of the Trump regime, and the fact that chemistry and physics don’t really care about politics?

KIM BROWN: That’s right. And you have an idea; you have a plan, a four-part framework to combat climate change. Tell us about that.

TED GLEICHMAN: Well, we’ve been working on a lot of different aspects of this, and with help from many people, and especially the leadership at The Centre for Sustainable Economy, and I work also as a member-activist with local and national Sierra Club.

Four aspects that we can frame this problem with, that I think can be helpful to people, beginning with, “keep it in the ground”, then moving to, “do no more harm, reduce the use”, and finally, “build the just transition”. And we’ll talk about those individually, in terms of how they fit together.

KIM BROWN: Well, let’s talk about “keep it in the ground”. So, keep what in the ground, exactly?

TED GLEICHMAN: So, coal, oil, gas, is the way that we think about it, as the big three products of the fossil fuels. And it’s all about fossil fuels. The changes in our atmosphere are all about fossil fuels. And they’ve been wonderful for us on one level; they’ve given us all of this. But, we’re past the tipping point now, where we can’t afford to keep on burning.

And there’s good news, when we get to the “just transition” opportunities, about how we’re ready to make things work properly for the future, and that’s happening increasingly. But now, the fossil fuels that are in the ground need to stay there, on something like an 80% level.

And that’s a huge financial issue for the fossil fuels companies. And so, they are working at warp speed, to try to push as much as they can out and into the economy. Because they know that, as the climate crisis worsens, the projects that will be stopped first, are those that haven’t actually started yet. They’re not climate deniers, they don’t say that this is not real, they ignore the fact that they know it’s real, for the sake of the money.

And it is up to us to push back on coal, oil, gas, and on unconventional resources, like oil shale, tar sands — there’s tar sands in the United States, not just in Alberta, Canada, in Utah, that’s being exploited now — terrible asphalt-like stuff, that has to be melted to turn it into a pseudo nasty, heavy oil. These are filled with pollutants, as well as polluting the atmosphere.

KIM BROWN: And those types of gases, or rather that tar sands, is transported via pipelines.

TED GLEICHMAN: And trains. Those are the primary methods. The liquid fuels–

KIM BROWN: Which are vulnerable, obviously, to rupturing, to breaking, to accidents, to derailment, which causes irreparable damage to the environment that’s surrounding the area.

TED GLEICHMAN: Yes. And with natural gas, which is actually a blend of multiple substances, mostly methane, which is the very first hydrocarbon. Our high school chemistry lesson for the day, CH4, one carbon, four hydrogen’s, it’s the tiniest hydrocarbon, the first one and the tiniest molecule, and it leaks constantly from the well, in distribution, where it’s being consumed.

And for people who want to export it, which they’re trying to do in Oregon, they are doing it from the Gulf; they’re working to do it from the east coast, then in those shipments as well. And methane, along with the carbon dioxide that pollutes the atmosphere, that we know about much more broadly, people talk about the carbon impact; methane is the other most important greenhouse gas. By the United Nations calculations, it’s 86 times more potent, not 86%, 86 times, more potent, than carbon dioxide, for global warming potential over a 20-year period in the atmosphere.

KIM BROWN: And we’ve seen an increase in the release of methane gas into the environment as part of the fracking movement–

TED GLEICHMAN: Absolutely.

KIM BROWN: …which has gone across the country, for the most part. So, we’re now releasing more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere as a result of this, not new necessarily, method of oil extraction, but trendy, I should say.

TED GLEICHMAN: It’s been developed really over just about the last 15 years. The industry likes to say that they’ve been fracking forever, since World War II. Because there have been some technologies, often called, “enhanced oil recovery”, of pumping fluids, muds down into conventional wells, and then pulling them back up, and bringing a little bit more fossil fuels with them.

But the kind of hydraulic fracturing that we know as fracking, that’s happening now, was developed in Texas — your tax dollars at work. A lot of federal funding that helped to make that possible, really just over the last 15 years, and so, it is a new animal. And it’s being touted, of course, as the salvation for the future, the bridge to the future. The leader of the Sierra Club says, “It’s not a bridge it’s a gangplank.” Because we now know that there is no fossil fuel solution to the fossil fuel crisis.

KIM BROWN: Ted, I wanted to get to the next part of your four-part framework, and it’s a variation of the physician’s Hippocratic Oath about do no harm. So, explain to us about do no harm.

TED GLEICHMAN: So, when you’re in a hole, and you don’t want to be there, stop digging.

KIM BROWN: That’s a commonsense solution, yeah.

TED GLEICHMAN: And that’s the challenge for what the industry is trying to do to us now, with all of these new projects. And pipelines, throughout the country, new drilling throughout North America, export terminals for coal, and oil now, and gas, everywhere they can possibly try to site one, to turn these things into global marketplaces. And so, it’s really vital that we protect our communities by not making it worse.

KIM BROWN: Indeed. And the next element of your plan is often overlooked, when we talk about transitioning to renewable energy. It’s about; “reduce the use”, as you put it. So, how can we reduce the use? You know, as a person who lives in a metropolitan area, who needs to commute to work, who has to go the grocery store to get food, I don’t have a garden. And obviously my food has to come via transport.

So, what can people who are very much in this American lifestyle, how can we reduce our use?

TED GLEICHMAN: So, the industry would like to make you think this is all your fault. And that is not true. There is a personal element here, but I like to think about this in three ways: personal, enterprise, and corporate. And enterprise is where we can have the most fast impact.

And that’s communities that we’re involved with, church communities, social organizations, schools, governments, everybody should get to know their city council member, because cities are on the cutting edge of what’s happening to try to reduce the use of fossil fuels. And, in fact, electricity demand has plateaued in the United States, which is one of the things that’s allowing renewable energy to grow.

So, there are enterprises of all types. And these are not corporate capitalism. I mean, the coffee shop on the corner, you can say to them, “You know, when you give me my lunch to go, could you put it in a compostable paper container, rather than Styrofoam, which has to come from fossil fuels?” And if three people say that to the owner, it starts to happen. And so, these little things do add up.

And on a personal level, my doctor wants me to walk more, I mean, what’s up with that? But it works, and I can take a little bit more time, and maybe reduce…. thank you for subsidizing my Medicare. Maybe I can reduce impact just a little bit as well, by not driving once in a while, taking the train. So, there is a personal aspect to this.

But the big one, and this is the ongoing challenge, is that third leg of this stool, and that’s the corporate. And the consumer companies are the most responsive, as we’ve seen with the social and environmental and economic justice fights, consumer companies that ran ads during the Super Bowl saying, “Hey. Immigrants are not the problem, from our point of view.” And that’s certainly the way the evolving environmental movement is feeling.

And thank God, it’s not just old white people anymore. It’s starting to spread in ways that really can include, and must include everybody. We are all in this together. We all breathe the same atmosphere. And what my generation has done to so many others, and what my ethnic and racial background has done to so many others, we still have some time to try to turn that around, and to transform ourselves, while we’re trying also to transform the economy.

And we need to push the corporations. The fossil fuel industry is a rogue industry. It cannot be considered just another normal part of the economy at this point.

KIM BROWN: Well, when we talk about the fossil fuel industry, and as we look at this current administration, Donald Trump has filled his cabinet with those who are sympathetic, let’s say to be nice, to the fossil fuel industry, most notably within his selection to be his Secretary of State, former CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson.

So, are these things that you’re talking about, Ted, are these things even possible under a Trump administration, which is discussing pulling out of the Paris climate agreements?

Which has also, in some ways, denied that climate change is happening. They have appointed Scott Pruitt to be the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who has had a very cozy relationship with the fossil fuel industry. Even, in fact, not doing much to protect his own home state of Oklahoma from earthquakes, that has been caused by fracking and fossil fuels.

TED GLEICHMAN: Absolutely.

KIM BROWN: So, what can be done in the age of Trump, in order to preserve and protect the environment?

TED GLEICHMAN: We need to think about these things as local, state, and federal, in terms of our governmental structure. And on the local level, there’s a tremendous amount happening. Some great things are going on all over the country, and much more can happen.

In terms of the fourth step, in this set of systemic solutions, “build the just transition.” There are communities all over the country where solar energy, and wind energy, is moving very, very quickly. And even on the state level that’s happening as well. Iowa now, which is at the moment a red state, is going to have 80% of its electricity generated by wind energy, in the very near future. Well over 50% now, because it makes sense economically. The prices of renewable energy have come down dramatically.

And in Portland, after the election, the city council passed a groundbreaking new zoning ordinance to prohibit new massive fossil fuel infrastructure, in storage tanks. Now we’re being sued by, unfortunately, a coalition of the building trades, who see all infrastructure as equal right now. I’m hopeful they’ll evolve beyond that, and look for a healthy infrastructure for a just transition to build.

And the Chamber of Commerce, big business, we’re not talking about the coffee shop on the corner. Again, those are normal folks, and then the petroleum industry itself. So, we’ll see how that lawsuit goes, and where we go with this. But cities can fight. And cities are where the majority of our people live, and they can fight the bad, and they can build the good. And they can do it in coalition, that’s based on environmental justice, social justice and economic justice. Those three things go together.

So, we can do a lot, even under the Trump regime. We have to defend what we can against their assaults. So, we’ll be playing defense against Trump. But we can make change happen simultaneously, on the local, and in many cases, the state level.

KIM BROWN: So, Ted, where can people find out more information about your plan, and all the work that you’ve been doing trying to fight this very benevolent fight on behalf of us all?

TED GLEICHMAN: So, let me say first, people should look around at their home communities. Because there are people everywhere working on these things. For me it’s a privilege to have the opportunity to work on this stuff. And the Center for Sustainable Economy, sustainable-economy.org, is a great non-profit that’s got folks in different parts of the country, headquartered in Portland. But I don’t want to take credit for all of this. I mean, these ideas have evolved from many people, and many, many people are working on them.

And I think that it’s very important that people try to look around. There’s a great Buddhist teacher in Portland, a woman named Barbara Ford. She was also arrested at the White House protesting Keystone XL, and she said once, “You know, people come to me all the time, I can’t handle it, because I can’t do everything.” Nobody can do everything, but almost everybody can do something.

And so, if we look around, build relationships, with our friends, neighbors, communities, and work together, we all bleed red. And unfortunately, under the Trump regime, in this situation, we have to be aware of all of that suffering that’s underway, we have to protect those who serve us in our communities, we are all immigrants.

KIM BROWN: Yes, we are.

TED GLEICHMAN: We all need to be so careful, and cautious, and gentle, and warm with each other now, under these assaults. And, yet, at the same time, prepare to fight back with a fierce determination for fairness and justice.

KIM BROWN: Well said. We’ve been joined with Ted Gleichman. Ted, we are so glad that you came to visit us here in Baltimore. We don’t get too many cowboys around these parts. So, thank you so much.

TED GLEICHMAN: You have an awesome studio. It’s really terrific here.

KIM BROWN: We’re so glad you were able to come and hang out with us for a bit. So, we appreciate you being here.

TED GLEICHMAN: Thank you for your work.

KIM BROWN: Thanks.

And thank you for watching The Real News Network.

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