We already know that coal is a dead man walking in the electricity generating business. It’s about to become extinct because of market pressures associated with renewable energy. Many fossil fuel advocates believe natural gas is the next thing to replace coal. They like to pretty it up as a “bridge fuel to the future,” but it’s not. The most that can be said for gas is that it burns cleaner than coal, but that’s like saying a diesel engine is more efficient than a gasoline engine. It’s true, but both kill people with their emissions.
On February 11, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his city is cancelling plans to spend billions of dollars to build three new gas-fired generating plants. Instead, it will invest that money in renewable energy resources, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“It’s the right thing to do for our health. It’s the right thing to do for our Earth. It’s the right thing to do for our economy,” Garcetti said. “And now is the time to start the beginning of the end of natural gas. This is the Green New Deal, not in concept, not in the future, but now.”
The city is under orders from the state of California to close several coastal gas-fired facilities because they use ocean water for cooling. One of the options was to rebuild the facilities using dry cooling technology, but that plan has faced fierce opposition, especially from Aura Vasquez, one of Garcetti’s appointees to the city’s Department of Water and Power.
Vasquez pressed utility staff to look beyond gas plants and embrace batteries and other new technologies as a means of providing reliable power. “We are in uncharted territories. I get it. We are in a new era. We are headed to renewables that some might view as unreliable,” Vasquez said. “I’m trying to figure out how to reinvent the way that we do business.”
Garcetti says his office concluded that Los Angeles would not have trouble keeping the lights on if those existing gas-fired plants were retired between now and 2029 so long as the DWP keeps investing in batteries and other clean energy technologies. He has asked DWP’s top managers to “shift their thinking.” Sounding a bit like JFK, Garcetti says, “Instead of saying all the reasons why not, get to a reason as to why.”
Another opponent of the gas plants is Alexandra Nagy, an organizer with Food and Water Watch. She says Garcetti is “showing the rest of the country what a Green New Deal can mean for our communities. We are hopeful that this is a first step to swiftly transition L.A. off fossil fuels and move the city to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. It’s time to clean up our air, prioritize healthy communities and green jobs, and usher in a clean energy revolution.”
S. David Freeman, a former DWP general manager who has led public power agencies across the country and advised presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter on energy, was the sharpest critic of all when it comes to investing in gas power. The 93 year old, who likes to wear cowboy hats in public, said the DWP was ignoring the real and growing costs of climate change.
“This is public power. You’re the voice of the people,” said Freeman, who now works with environmental groups to advocate for renewable energy. “And I think that any poll of the people of Los Angeles reveals that they want you to pay real, real good attention to the climate issue, and not be what I would call an ‘intelligent denier,’ which is what you are if you don’t take the actions that the climatologists say we must take. It’s not a question of wanting to or it being convenient. It’s just as important as keeping the lights on and keeping the rates down.”
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey have been pilloried by a range of political voices who claim the proposed legislation is psycho-babble or worse. But Bloomberg contributor Liam Denning thinks AOC is not nuts. In fact, she may be crazy like a fox.
“The GND is a set of sketched-out goals; a flag to rally support around for what its authors surely know will be a multi-year, and grinding, political battle. As ClearView Energy Partners put it in a report on the GND — coming as it does from a master of social media in our increasingly clickable political culture — this is about ‘counting likes (not votes).’ By marrying environmental objectives with issues related to economic insecurity, Ocasio-Cortez and Markey are attempting to recast the doom-laden threat of climate change as an opportunity for economic and national renewal — a stance that mixes FDR liberalism with dashes of America First populism,” Denning writes.
“We find ourselves perhaps less than two decades away from reaching a tipping point beyond which the planet faces possibly catastrophic impacts in terms of things like flooding, drought and wildfires (indeed, California’s getting a bitter taste of this already). It is from this that the urgency of efforts such as the GND spring. Delaying action for decades and then denouncing ambitious proposals to deal with the consequences of that in short order is, let’s be honest, not a good look.”
He concludes, “If the GND’s ambition is a testament to anything, it is that there are no easy solutions here. We have built our standard of living on forms of energy that we now know pose a threat to our very existence. That is a simple summation of a monumental challenge; one where time has eroded our margin for incremental action. No matter what you think of the specifics, or lack of them, this is a conversation that is long overdue — and necessarily begins with a shout, not a whisper.”
Denning’s remarks are congruent with my own thinking, which is that the Green New Deal is about building a bridge to the future — while there is still time.
What’s On Your Death Certificate?
No stronger proof can be found that the conversation is changing than the case of a lady who lives in London near the South Circular Road, where air pollution from vehicles is extremely high. Her daughter, Ella Kissi-Debrah, was 9 when she died in 2013. The cause of death was acute respiratory failure. After the death of her daughter, who suffered from crushing asthma attacks, Rosamund learned that air pollution can cause death. She wants her daughter’s death certificate amended to show that Ella died of air pollution, according to a report by the New York Times.
Air pollution has never been listed as the cause of death in the UK, but Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, the top legal adviser for England and Wales, is supporting her application. Her lawyer, Jocelyn Cockburn, is petitioning the country’s highest court to order the change. Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah may be channeling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She is now running for a seat on the London Assembly.
If her campaign is successful, it will have far-reaching legal and political consequences. The New York Times says, “Ultimately, the real answer, in Europe and beyond, is eliminating fossil fuels altogether — and reducing the number of cars on our roads by providing better alternatives, such as strengthened public transportation and denser development that makes biking and walking easier. And the science is clear. Cleaner air brings better health, and fewer deaths.”
There is a corollary to this story. The three gas-fired generating stations that Los Angeles has decided to close are all located in neighborhoods that are choked with air pollution. What if all the people who live there, who tend to be poor and disadvantaged, decided they want their death certificates to read “Cause of death: Air Pollution” — can you imagine the political consequences that would have?
Conservatives Are An Endangered Species
The nattering nabobs of negativism among
conservatives reactionaries will immediately start their hate speech about how government has no business making rules that impact the commercial sector, but if government cannot make rational regulations to keep its citizens from dying prematurely, what possible basis for any form of government exists?
The Fox News crowd and the woefully incompetent officials Donald Trump has installed in positions of power all preach that government is always the problem. But more and more, people are coming to realize unfettered private enterprise that cannot be held accountable for its actions is a scourge on humanity and may ultimately be the cause of a heating planet that makes life on Earth unsustainable. What can you say about people who would sacrifice the life of a 9 year old girl for their own economic gain?
From Eric Garcetti to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, the narrative is changing. People everywhere are opening their windows and shouting “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!” Donald Trump tapped into that rage in 2016, but now that he has been proven to be little more than a bombastic charlatan who bragged about a “big, beautiful wall” and got a small, ugly fence instead, his support is rapidly eroding.
As Bob Zimmerman said in a song 50 years ago, “There’s a battle outside and it’s raging. It will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls, for the times they are a’changing.” And that is what AOC and Ed Markey have wrought. Ignore them at your peril.