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The latest House climate hearing went about as well as you’d expect

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John Kerry deserves some kind of award (in addition to his Purple Hearts) for responding to a slew of truly dumb questions on Tuesday with his signature composure.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform held its first climate hearing on Tuesday and, hoo boy, it was a doozy. The former secretary of state, alongside former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagle, fielded questions from Republican and Democratic representatives — ostensibly on the subject of climate change and national security — for a good four hours. I know what you’re thinking: “Four hours of testimony? Count me out.” But this wasn’t your typical congressional snoozefest, I promise.

Despite some off-the-wall questions, Kerry only lost his cool (read: appeared vaguely exasperated) a few times. Exhibit A: when Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie asked a series of increasingly inane questions that culminated in: “Did geology stop when we got on the planet?”

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Rather than taking the time to explain that geological change is, in fact, ongoing, Kerry responded: “This is just not a serious conversation.” Zing!

Not to be outdone, Paul Gosar of Arizona — the same Republican representative who suggested that photosynthesis discredits climate change — asked Kerry whether he supports a ban on plastic straws. An important national security question!

“It would be great to provide a way to move to a biodegradable straw, frankly,” Kerry replied, bemused. Then, Gosar picked up a dark gray ball of what he described as “rare earth … from the Mojave Desert” as a prop to demonstrate his point that the U.S. needs to be more aggressive about mining rare earth metals if it wants to develop renewable technology.

Kerry described the stunt as “a five-minute presentation on all the reasons we can’t do this or that without any legitimate question or dialogue.” Another zinger!

On the Democratic side, representatives Ro Khanna of California and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York focused on the need for swift action, promoting the progressive climate proposal called the Green New Deal. Ocasio-Cortez asked the bipartisan committee to read the contents of the 14-page resolution, which she co-introduced in February, in full. “We don’t need CliffsNotes,” she quipped.

Now that Democrats are back in control of the House, there have been more and more climate change hearings happening. But after four hours of questioning on Tuesday, the committee didn’t have much to work with. That’s a hard pill to swallow, even with the aid of a biodegradable straw.

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The latest House climate hearing went about as well as you’d expect

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tears into Republicans painting Green New Deal as ‘elitist’

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This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (a Democrat from New York) on Tuesday delivered an impassioned defense of the Green New Deal, the ambitious Democratic proposal aimed at fighting climate change, after a Republican member of Congress attacked the resolution as an elitist plan he claimed had been created by out-of-touch “rich liberals from New York or California.”

“I think we should not focus on the rich, wealthy elites who will look at this and go ‘I love it, cause I’ve got big money in the bank. Everyone should do this!’” Representative Sean Duffy (a Republican from Wisconsin) said.

“It’s kind of like saying ‘I’ll sign onto the Green New Deal but I’ll take a private jet from D.C. to California — a private jet — or I’ll take my Uber SUV, I won’t take the train, or I’ll go to Davos and fly my private jet,’” he continued. “The hypocrisy!”

Ocasio-Cortez swiftly rejected the characterization. She also denounced the overall Republican strategy to portray climate change concerns as an issue of privilege.

“This is not an elitist issue, this is a quality of life issue,” Ocasio-Cortez responded, her voice rising in exasperation. “You want to tell people that their concern and their desire for clean air and clean water is elitist? Tell that to the kids in the south Bronx which are suffering from the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country. Tell that to the families in Flint.”

The fiery exchange came as the Senate blocked a measure to advance the Green New Deal. Republicans, who have so far offered no plans to combat climate change, repeatedly mocked the Democratic plan as unserious and “socialist” during Tuesday’s debate. Senator Mike Lee (a Republican from Utah) made a splash of his own by relying on various charts that included images of babies, Ronald Reagan, and cartoon sea creatures for his criticism.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tears into Republicans painting Green New Deal as ‘elitist’

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Can hamburgers survive the Green New Deal? The facts behind Trump and Ocasio-Cortez’s latest beef

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There’s been an awful lot of talk about cow farts and the Green New Deal, despite the fact that the resolution for a Green New Deal never mentions the word cow, nor fart (more’s the pity). It was President Donald Trump who made that connection.

The resolution’s co-sponsor, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, recently clarified the point on Showtime’s Desus & Mero show: “It’s not to say you get rid of agriculture. It’s not to say we’re gonna force everybody to go vegan or anything crazy like that,” she said. “But it’s to say, ‘Listen, we gotta address factory farming. Maybe we shouldn’t be eating a hamburger for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

Politically, it makes sense to tell people that they can keep something popular, like eating (just a little less) beef, while promising to crack down on something unpopular like factory farms. But if you want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it’s a bit backwards. Get rid of factory farms, and we’d have to cut way, way back on the hamburgers.

As you can see in the graph below, the biggest climate problem with beef isn’t farting cows, it’s the space that grass-fed beef takes up.

World Resources Institute

Because feedlots, or “factory farming,” minimizes land use and shortens the time cattle need to grow to full size, feedlot beef often has a lower greenhouse gas footprint than pasture-raised variety. There are exceptions: A few studies have shown that, with the right management and conditions, pastures can suck up more carbon than the cattle belch out (yes, it’s mostly belching, not farting).

To be sure, there are other thorny issues surrounding cattle on feedlots, but none of them are clear cut. Whether you are talking about the environment, health, or animal welfare, it’s all complicated. One way or another, those champion carnivores known as Americans are going to have to eat a lot less beef if we want to reverse climate change.

It’s no surprise that Trump tweeted that the Green New Deal would “permanently eliminate” cows, and no surprise that Ocasio-Cortez attempted to deflect the criticism to factory farms. It’s the perfect provocation. Food isn’t just fuel, it’s the stuff of sensory memories, families gathering around the table. It’s a tool by which culture is transmitted through generations. Mess with someone’s food traditions and you are messing with their identity.

As the Chinese writer Lin Yutang asked: “What is patriotism but the love of food one ate as a child?”


Can hamburgers survive the Green New Deal? The facts behind Trump and Ocasio-Cortez’s latest beef

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Green New Deal leaves nuclear option on table

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The Green New Deal has been championed by advocates for getting the country running on purely renewable energy right away. Some 600 environmental groups had demanded the initiative set out to ban not just fossil fuels, but also nuclear, biomass power, and large-scale hydroelectricity. So when the resolution made its long-awaited debut on Thursday, it came as a surprise to some that the door was left open for nuclear power and even fossil fuels with carbon capture.

But it was likely the key to getting an impressive group of Democrats to get behind the deal. Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren have signed up as co-sponsors, and all of them just happen to be running for president in 2020.

So just like that, the most aggressive climate policy proposal we’ve seen in years has the de facto backing of the Democratic party.

The Green New Deal doesn’t mention ‘nukes,’ but it doesn’t use the words solar or wind, either. The non-binding resolution, unveiled by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York, and Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts, calls for “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” In wonk-speak, zero-emission is code for nuclear power or fossil fuels with carbon capture.

That conflicts with a factsheet found on Ocasio-Cortez’s website which says the deal “would not include creating new nuclear plants. It’s unclear if we will be able to decommission every nuclear plant within 10 years, but the plan is to transition off of nuclear and all fossil fuels as soon as possible.”

The factsheet disappeared from Ocasio-Cortez’s website on Thursday after the resolution was released.

This antinuclear stance might have been toned down to help get people who support nuclear into the coalition. Booker and Warren, for instance, have voted to fund research on advanced nuclear power.

The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that we will need to rely on a variety of energy sources to make deep cuts to carbon emissions. Every scenario plotted by Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change that keeps the world from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius requires nuclear energy, and most such scenarios require building a lot more of it. Hydropower — the most abundant source of renewable energy going — is important, too. Try to get rid of both nuclear and hydroelectricity, and good luck cutting emissions enough to avoid the worst climate change has to offer.

“The resolution is silent on any individual technology,” Senator Markey said during a press conference on Thursday. “We are open to whatever works.”

In spite of this agnostic stance, a wide range of green and lefty groups welcomed the resolution. Many mainstream environmental organizations had refrained from adding their signatures to the letter demanding the Green New Deal restrict energy options to wind and solar, so when it emerged Thursday, they praised it.

The loudest attacks appeared to come from the right. “It’s a socialist manifesto that lays out a laundry list of government giveaways, including guaranteed food, housing, college, and economic security even for those who refuse to work,” said Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming in a statement.

Conservatives have long feared that climate action was just a Trojan Horse for a bigger government with more social-welfare programs. Now, after voting for years to kill market-based climate policies, they’re getting a taste of just what they had feared.

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Green New Deal leaves nuclear option on table

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A bipartisan group of senators just agreed we need to break our addiction to carbon

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Leaving our fossil fuel-entrenched economy behind is looking more and more like a bipartisan goal. Case in point: A bipartisan Senate committee just apparently agreed that we need to decarbonize our energy system.

On Thursday, the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on how to innovate the energy sector, and it took a climate-friendly turn. While the group didn’t reach a consensus on how to achieve “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions,” as promised in the brand new Green New Deal resolution, the conversation was nevertheless encouraging.

Near the end of the hearing, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat of Nevada, asked the committee if anyone disagreed with looking into an energy portfolio with the “outcome of decarbonization.” The room was silent. A few seconds later, Cortez Masto concluded, “I think that’s why we’re here. That is where we could set our long-term mission and goal.”

Leading up to that, the committee found plenty to agree (and in a few instances, disagree) on.

“It is time to push hard to bring down the cost of clean energy technologies like renewables, advanced nuclear, next-generation energy storage, and carbon capture,” said Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, the chair of the committee, in her opening remarks.

Even Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia — a Democrat who just earlier this week applauded President Trump’s line about the U.S. being the world’s No. 1 oil producer during the State of the Union address — appeared to get behind the eventual goal of decarbonization. “Breakthrough technologies will help us reliably meet our energy needs in the future while decarbonizing our energy system,” he said.

Tellingly though, he called for a focus on new technologies to suck carbon out of the air. The coal-state senator from  made it clear that he wasn’t ready to kick dirty energy to the curb just yet: “We must acknowledge that fossil fuels will continue to play an integral role in our electric generation.”

He also expressed concern over the economic effects of a transition to renewables on West Virginia: “We don’t want to drink dirty water. We don’t want to breathe dirty air. We want our kids to have a future. We really do. But they also realize they have to have a job to sustain themselves.”

In response, Cortez pointed to her state of Nevada. “Ten years ago, Nevada was known for gambling, entertainment, and mining,” she said. “Now we are an innovation state.”

Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, also highlighted the promise of renewables. “There are 8,000 parts in a big wind turbine, and we’re prepared to make every single one of those [pieces] in Michigan,” she said. “You can do some in West Virginia, too,” she told Manchin.

But as Ernest Moniz, former Energy Secretary under Obama, said in his testimony to the committee, “Accelerating this transition will not be easy.”

Moniz urged the committee to make sure they’re not putting all their low-carbon eggs in one technology basket. “There is no single low-carbon, one-size-fits-all solution,” Moniz said. “What we need to do is have the full quiver of arrows for which low-carbon solutions can be fit to purpose in different regions of our country and in different countries.”

Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, emphasized the necessity of reaching zero emissions by mid-century while acknowledging the work that lies ahead. “With some reasonable success and failure,” Grumet said, “ I think we can actually provide a better future for our children, which has been the human tradition for 10,000 generations.”

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A bipartisan group of senators just agreed we need to break our addiction to carbon

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The Green New Deal is an opportunity for America to get right with the world

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There’s an inescapable truth when it comes to climate change: Through its historical emissions and political role throughout history, the United States is responsible for this problem more than any other country on Earth.

The unveiling of a sweeping Green New Deal resolution by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, along with several leading presidential candidates and dozens of other co-sponsors, is a legitimate effort to right those wrongs and repair our standing in the world on the biggest problem in human history.

The historical context for this moment should not be forgotten: After World War II, the U.S. normalized fossil fuel use on a massive scale, launching an explosive rise in carbon emissions that has continued largely unabated even after climate change was identified as a potentially existential problem decades ago. With 4 percent of the world’s population, the United States has produced 25 percent of all human-related greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution, twice that of China.

Beyond our direct emissions, U.S. politicians have a history of sabotaging global efforts to fight climate change, most notably American reluctance to keep its commitments to the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Accord. Even American climate champions have fallen short: Obama presided over the failure of cap-and-trade legislation, the botched global deal in Copenhagen, and the rise of the natural gas industry. And all along, American fossil fuel companies have funded a campaign of disinformation designed to promote the status quo — regardless of who held the presidency. Current U.S. policy is “critically insufficient” to address climate change.

In 2019, after decades of delay, the world finds itself at the brink of locking in irreversible changes to the biosphere, oceans, land, ice, and atmosphere of the planet. There is no more time left to wait.

“Even the solutions that we have considered big and bold are nowhere near the scale of the actual problem that climate change presents to us, to our country, and to the world,” Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview with NPR this morning. “If we want the United States to continue to be a global leader, then that means we need to lead on the solution of this issue.”

Today’s Green New Deal resolution acknowledges America’s unique climate legacy and its outsized responsibility in its second paragraph, concluding “the United States must take a leading role in reducing emissions through economic transformation.”

That call for historic, transformative change — at an emergency pace — could see the U.S. kickstart a new era of responsible climate policy, “a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II,” according to the resolution.

Simply put, the Green New Deal is a chance for the U.S. to make amends.

The resolution, which is non-binding, is designed to be a talking point in the upcoming presidential campaign and as a means gather support for a broad legislative push in the near term. Its 10-year plan would provide “100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources” and a “just transition for all communities and workers.” This is likely at the limits of technical feasibility, even with the hedge of “net-zero” emissions, which would allow for a slower complete phase-out of fossil fuels.

Most of the resolution isn’t so much a concrete plan to cut emissions so much as a manifesto for a restructuring of American society to thrive in the climate change era — and to serve as a model to the rest of the world. The Green New Deal would address “systemic injustices” head-on in “frontline and vulnerable communities” through a living wage job guarantee, public education, universal health care, universal housing, and “repairing historic oppression,” all the while promoting a resurgence in community-led democratic principles.

Paying for it, judging from separate statements by its supporters, would likely require massive tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans and trillions of dollars of deficit spending. Polling for earlier versions of the plan showed overwhelming support from the public, even among Republicans.

In the context of our ongoing planetary emergency and America’s long struggle to productively confront climate change, it’s impossible not to see this as an investment in the future of our country, an investment in the stability of the planet and the survival of human civilization.

“I think that this is a very special moment,” Ocasio-Cortez told NPR. “We have a responsibility to show what another America looks like.”


The Green New Deal is an opportunity for America to get right with the world

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What were Ocasio-Cortez and 150 young activists doing in Nancy Pelosi’s office?

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Democrats successfully flipped the House last week, and they’ve set their priorities for January: reforming voting, government ethics, and campaign finance laws. Surprise! Climate change isn’t on the list. Not exactly a shocker considering that Democrats don’t even have an economy-wide plan to tackle climate change yet.

Guess who does? Young people and newly elected Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A group of 150 youth activists held an hour-long sit-in in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office in D.C. on Tuesday. Their goal was to get Democrats to embrace a sweeping plan called the Green New Deal, and they came prepared with a draft resolution.

The protestors are members of a climate group called the Sunrise Movement and a progressive organization called the Justice Democrats. Two of Sunrise Movement’s leaders, Evan Weber and Varshini Prakash, have been on the Grist 50 — our annual list of up-and-coming changemakers. The activists were joined by Ocasio-Cortez, who voiced support for the Green New Deal — a plank of her campaign platform. But what is this “Green New Deal,” anyway? This video tells all:

It’s unlikely such legislation would fare well in the Republican-controlled Senate. Even some Democrats might hesitate to back it: After all, many of them are still taking oil money to try and win elections, as representative-elect Lizzie Fletcher did in Texas’ 7th District.

Nancy Pelosi was quick to respond to the protestors, saying that her office was “inspired” by their advocacy. Pelosi has indicated she intends to revive a committee on climate change that was established back in 2007 and disbanded in 2011. Unimpressed, the Sunrise Movement tweeted that Pelosi’s plan is akin to “bringing a squirt gun to a wildfire.”

There is new evidence that a Green New Deal would be embraced by voters, according to a new nationwide poll from survey group YouGov. As Alexander Kaufman of HuffPost reports, around half of folks who cast ballots in the midterms either “strongly” or “somewhat” support charging companies pollution fees and giving unemployed Americans green jobs.

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What were Ocasio-Cortez and 150 young activists doing in Nancy Pelosi’s office?

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