Year in Climate Crisis: Fossil Fuels Expansion, Scary Science and Global Activism
The Real News Network's Steve Horn and Dimitri Lascaris talk about the 2019's biggest climate stories.
The Real News Network's Steve Horn and Dimitri Lascaris talk about the 2019's biggest climate stories.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Lisa Snowden-McCray.
The Real News is spending some time looking back over some of the most important issues we covered this year including Latin America, Israel and Palestine, U.S. politics, the criminal justice system, and the climate crisis.
2019 was a busy and scary year for climate news. Places all over the planet reached temperatures higher than ever recorded, warnings from scientists and activists reached a fevered pitch; teen activist Greta Thunberg sounded an alarm for people gathered at the International Climate Talks held in Madrid earlier this month, saying, quote, “We no longer have time to leave out the science.” Here at The Real News Network, we were on top of it all. We tackled the Green New Deal, environmental justice issues associated with oil drilling, and the power Big Oil maintains in Canada.
Today, I’m joined by Real News climate reporter and producer, Steve Horn, who’s been at the climate beat since 2010. Also joining us is Real News contributor Dimitri Lascaris, who is also a member of our board of directors. Dimitri focuses his coverage on climate politics and foreign policy. Thank you both for joining us.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Thank you, Lisa.
STEVE HORN: Good to be here.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Now, at the beginning of this year, actually at the beginning of your time here with us, Steve, we were wanting to do some reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, which is definitely a climate issue. Dimitri, you were actually on the ground there in Puerto Rico. Can you talk a little bit about what you saw?
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Yeah. So I was there in March of this year, so many months had gone by since Hurricane Maria had ravaged the island. And I could see signs of the devastation in quite a few places. There were a number of buildings that were destroyed, had not been demolished, or were in a state of disrepair. I drove from the north of the island to the south of the island, and as I crossed through forested areas, I saw large swaths of trees that had been stripped bare.
I visited a baseball stadium in San Juan where the municipality was giving out free supplies, in particular free fresh water because a lot of people still couldn’t access fresh water. So the island had been recovering very slowly, and it was clear that it was nowhere near a complete recovery at that time, and it was in that context when, thanks to some excellent investigative work by Steve, we discovered that [inaudible 00:02:34], rather than moving away from a fossil fuels-dependent energy system, was actually upping the ante with liquefied natural gas. And that’s something that I think Steve can talk about in some light.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Yeah, Steve, can you talk a little bit about that?
STEVE HORN: Yeah. I was following this issue in the Southeast United States where this capital investor kind of oligarch-type figure, Wes Edens, was building out LNG-by-rail down there. And of course, Florida being the closest state to Puerto Rico, and he was gearing that up to LNG-by-rail to export, I was wondering, where is that natural gas going?
So I started doing research, and when I found out that Dimitri was going to Puerto Rico, and I found out, “Okay, one of the places that’s targeted is Puerto Rico.” And so basically what I did from there is examined the exacts of how much is planned to go to Puerto Rico, and the… especially looking at what was happening on the United States side, with the broader LNG-by-rail; they needed to get a permit from the Trump administration, meaning Edens’ company, and there’s been several instances this year, I think there’s been… Edens has been sort of the connective tissue in a lot of natural gas-related issues. Like I said, LNG By Rail and others happening in the eastern United States.
And then the last thing I’ll say about that is, even going into the power politics of the Democratic Party in Milwaukee, Wes Edens… There are conventions in Milwaukee this year. Eden is on a host committee of the convention, same guy who owns the natural gas that’s going to… and also opening power plants in Puerto Rico and in that area of the world. And one of the questions that was being raised is, “Why is the Democratic Party not discussing climate change at its debates?” One of the answers may be, “Oh, well, Wes Edens is a huge player in the convention that ends all of these debates where the Democrats will announce their final nominee.” So yeah, there’s been many instances where he has popped up this year.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Yeah. I can see, as we move in, as the Democrats kind of narrow in on who their presidential candidate’s going to be, climate change could or possibly could not be one of the issues that we continue to discuss. Steve, I want to kind of keep going with you for a little bit. I know that you’re based out of California, which is always just a font of climate news for a variety of reasons, and you did a lot of reporting on cap and trade this year. Can you talk a little bit about that, and how that effects climate?
STEVE HORN: Yeah. Cap and trade is California’s climate policy; it’s what oversees not only everything that happens at the state level, but also at the local level when cities create climate action plans. So it’s really important to understand the basic question: is cap and trade actually working in a way that its proponents say it’s working? It’s been the policy of the state basically this entire decade, first signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, and now being carried out by our new governor, Gavin Newsom. So yeah, a lot of our coverage since I started right when Newsom started, it’s “what is Newsom doing in the aftermath of Brown?”Brown was seen as almost like a global figure in climate change and his leadership in the way that promoters say it. So that’s PR on their end. What we’re trying to do is answer the question: Is California actually a “climate leader” the way that it’s been hailed?
And basically, our reporting on the cap and trade system, and on another related issue called the tropical forest standard, has said, “Take a step back,” and actually seeing, well, not quite as much, you know? The emissions numbers aren’t as good as the proponents said they were going to be; there are serious questions on if those numbers can be met by 2030. And as that happens, oil and gas continue… sorry, oil in particular continues to be drilled in this state. There’s not a really whole lot of huge changes happening that would point to the fact that, “Oh, well, the emissions are going down.” So basically, it’s a question of, is cap and trade more of a scheme that’s being used to toy with the numbers? And, yeah, the emissions numbers tell a different story than what the proponents are saying that’s happening.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: I got to say, I’m not feeling too good with the things that you guys have told me so much about climate. It’s like, Puerto Rico’s still bad. This legislation’s not working.
What do you see… I guess, based on your reporting, especially like these two pieces of legislation that you just talked about, is legislation the way forward? Is that going to be the thing that saves us?
DIMITRI LASCARIS: I think that the threshold question is, how are going to get that legislation? Because you indicated at the outset, you said that there has been, I think, a real shift in the public’s consciousness about this crisis in the West, and this is certainly the case in Canada. And this is a very positive development. You know, we’re seeing in Canada significant resistance on the ground to the government’s complacency about the climate emergency; Extinction Rebellion, which I believe was founded in Europe, has now migrated to Canada, it’s begun to stage acts of civil disobedience on the ground. A few months ago in Montreal, an estimated 500,000 people marched for the climate and listened to a powerful speech from Greta Thunberg. I was there, and it was extraordinary to see that many Canadians in the street. It was the largest protest in the history of the province of Quebec, which has seen a lot of big protests over the years.
Public concern over the climate crisis seems to have had an impact at the ballot box, as well, in Canada. In the federal election in October, Justin Trudeau was returned to power, but with a minority of seats rather than majority. And I think it’s fair to say he paid a price for the fact that he broke his promise to end fossil fuel subsidies. He bought this Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline from US energy giant, Kinder Morgan, for 4.5 billion dollars. His promise to spend billions more to expand it…
Canada’s existing plans will leave us about 80 million tons of CO2 shy of the existing 2030 goal of 513 megatons of CO2 in equivalence, and that goal is the weak goal of the prior conservative governor, Steven Harper, which Justin Trudeau criticized when he was in opposition. And so I think Canadian voters are grasping more than ever that when it comes to the climate emergency, there’s a huge disparity between the reality and the Trudeau government’s rhetoric. And this is happening in other countries, and the reaction has been one that gives me a great deal of hope. It’s been resistance and real demands for radical change.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Okay. I feel a little bit better. Does Trudeau have any things kind of planned to gain back some of that ground that he lost with a lot of voters?
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, he’s certainly talking the talk, but… He just had a meeting with the Premier of Alberta, which is where the fossil fuels industry in Canada is centered, and he emerged from that meeting, he issued a communique in which he said that the government remains as determined as ever to build the Trans Mountain Pipeline. I think really what would have sent an even more powerful message is if he had been removed from office entirely. He doesn’t seem to have grasped yet that he’s going to be expected by this electorate to begin to deliver on his promise to deal with the climate crisis. And I do think that that expectation is now real, and any politician who continues to ignore that expectation is going to pay a serious price at the ballot box.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Now, I feel like one of the things that we function to do here at Real News is to kind of be the ones helping ring the alarms, to let people know how serious things are, and one of the ways that you do that is with some of your climate science reporting. Are there any things that we really need to make sure that we have at the top of our list? What are the things that are kind of the things that are most jarring, the things that are going to be the most important, Dimitri… I guess in the past and going forward, what do you think we need to really keep it in mind?
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, I think what we’ve seen over and over again, Lisa, is that the scientific community is underestimating the severity and rapidity of climate change, and we just did a story at the Real News about a new climate model being developed by the Canadian government. This climate model showed or is predicting that if in a high-emissions scenario, the world will see between seven and eight degrees Celsius of warming by 2100. So that’s within the lifetime of children who are being born today.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Yeah.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: At that level, if we achieve that level of warming by 2100, I can’t imagine how we’re going to be able to avoid a civilizational collapse. It would be absolutely unmanageable and devastating for the human population. Even under this new model, even in a strong emissions reduction scenario, the model’s predicting 2.4 degrees Celsius of warming, and that’s significantly above the upper threshold stipulated by the Paris Climate Accord, which said, you know, we should be aiming to keep it under 1.5 and as much as possible, below two.
So we understand, based upon our investigation into this new modeling, that this is not just confined to this model, but that other newer, more sophisticated climate models are also yielding results that are more alarming than the prior generation of models. So this is something we have to watch very carefully, and as the science becomes more sophisticated, the results are becoming more concerning. So the political will has to catch up to the science, and it’s not yet doing that.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Okay. And while we’re kind of talking predictions, Steve, what do you have on your plate? What are some of the things that you think are super important as we move into 2020?
STEVE HORN: Well, I think that the… I mean, since we’re talking about movements, in the United States, the movement around the Green New Deal started really at the beginning of this year as almost a new thing. And it morphed into, there is now something called the select committee on the climate crisis, which was a compromise between the Pelosi wing of the party and, we’ll just say, the AOC wing, which was calling for a select committee on the Green New Deal…
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: The squad.
STEVE HORN: Yeah, the squad. Exactly. So in March, the select committee will be putting forward… by the end of March is the deadline to put forward its report on what it’s learned in the past year of hearings, and field reports and stuff that they’ve been doing. It’ll be interesting to see what that select committee puts forward and how that compares to the demand for the Green New Deal, which is happening now not only at the national level where it started; but has moved really to many states, to regions like in the South, which we’ve covered for The Real News.
There’s now a piece of legislation called The Green New Deal for Affordable Housing; that’s the first legislation, so it’ll be interesting to see how that’s discussed in the presidential cycle, and I will say, lastly, the Green New Deal has now gone global. The European Commission just announced its own Green New Deal, Jeremy Corbyn’s been talking about the Green New Deal. So this concept that was once just something that Green Party candidate Jill Stein was talking about on the campaign trail when she was running in the 2012 cycle, now has become something that really has… and really, was a fringe-ish idea back then, has become a global phenomenon. And that’s really interesting to watch in the months ahead, for sure.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: All right! Well, thank you Steve, thank you Dimitri for all your hard work . And thanks for coming on today.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Thank you, Lisa.
STEVE HORN: Thank you.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: I’m Lisa Snowden-McCray and you’ve been watching The Real News Network.