Green Government: Putting “False Balance” to Rest

Just the facts.

Let’s remember that when discussing how our towns should make decisions for our communities.

On Dec 3, the Frelinghuysen, NJ town council held discussions about continuing to participate in the voluntary, advisory and non-binding Sustainable Jersey program.

That’s a fair enough discussion. What’s not fair is that the town council members might have taken far-fetched, false concerns about Sustainable Jersey into their consideration.

Sustainable Jersey is all about helping NJ towns build stronger, healthier communities by sharing good ideas state-wide.

Things like saving money on town energy bills, building nature-friendly parks, and setting up safe bike paths for kids. Improvements that make a town a nicer place to live for everyone.

It has nothing whatsoever to do with a Tea Party-promoted conspiracy theory.  The United Nations is not plotting to take away Americans’ rights to personal property.

The council voted 3-2 to cut ties to Sustainable Jersey.

I blame false equivalency. In my opinion, there has been an erosion of fact-based public discourse in the past decade.

Somewhere along the line, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” morphed into “Every opinion deserves equal weight in public decision-making.”

(See also: Creationism in public school science classrooms and Climate Change denialism in the halls of Congress.)

It doesn’t. Governments need to make decisions based on facts. Not hopes, wishes, dreams, and especially not on paranoid delusions.

This fall, the New York Times redrew the rational thinking line in the sand. In a public editor statement, Margaret Sullivan wrote about the Times viewpoints on “false balance” when it comes to reporting on non-fact-based opinions or untruths.

He Said, She Said, and the Truth

“Recently, there’s been pressure to be more aggressive on fact-checking and truth-squading,” said Richard Stevenson, The Times’s political editor. “It’s one of the most positive trends in journalism that I can remember.”

It’s all a part of a movement — brought about, in part, by a more demanding public, fueled by media critics, bloggers and denizens of the social media world — to present the truth, not just conflicting arguments leading to confusion.

You’re entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts, goes the line from Daniel Patrick Moynihan, made current again on the PressThink blog by Jay Rosen of New York University, a media critic who has pressed the fact-checking argument.

Simply put, false balance is the journalistic practice of giving equal weight to both sides of a story, regardless of an established truth on one side. And many people are fed up with it. They don’t want to hear lies or half-truths given credence on one side, and shot down on the other. They want some real answers.

So maybe the tide as a whole is turning towards fact-based decision making.

But in Frelinghuysen NJ, perhaps, not.

Sullivan ends her Times comment with a statement I fully support: “The more news organizations can state established truths and stand by them, the better off the readership — and the democracy — will be.”

Green Government: Can We Talk About A Carbon Tax Now?

Who’s ready for a carbon tax?

The words that dared not speak before Nov. 5 can now be spoken.

Judging by the flood of news I’m seeing, get ready to hear a lot about a carbon tax as a two-in-one solution for both the fiscal cliff and climate change.

First, what’s a carbon tax?

As described by Wall St. Journal journalist Keith Johnson, “The idea of a carbon tax is simple: Put a price tag on the harmful emissions from fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, and use the revenues to fund clean-energy development, pay down the deficit or slash taxes. Proponents often describe it as a win-win-win policy, because carbon taxes would penalize things that are bad (pollution) and lower taxes on things that are good (labor and capital).”

For both economic and political reasons, a carbon tax has been a complete non-starter for Congress in recent years.

But maybe now, post-election, post-Sandy, and gratefully post-Athena, there might be more room to consider this idea?

No less than vehement anti-taxer Grover Norquist floated a tiny, carbon tax-filled balloon yesterday to see where the wind was blowing:

Via NationalJournal.com:

Norquist: Carbon-Tax Swap for Income-Tax Cut Wouldn’t Violate No-Tax-Hike Pledge

In a step that may help crack open the partisan impasse on climate change, Grover Norquist, the influential lobbyist who has bound hundreds of Republicans to a pledge never to raise taxes, told National Journal that a proposed “carbon tax swap”—taxing carbon pollution in exchange for cutting the income tax—would not violate his pledge.

Alas, Mr. Norquist abruptly and definitively yanked back his position back today.

Via thinkprogress.org

Grover Norquist Abruptly Changes Position On Carbon Tax After Facing Criticism From Koch-Backed Group

But one day later, after being criticized by the American Energy Alliance, the advocacy arm of a Koch-supported energy think tank devoted to promoting fossil fuel development, Norquist has completely reversed his statement, saying there virtually “no conceivable way” he could support a tax on carbon.

Well that was fun while it lasted. Cross him off the carbon-tax seating chart.

But seriously, the real reason we’re talking about a carbon tax today is that the conservative American Enterprise Institute is hosting a meeting about it.

Via wsj.com:

Carbon Tax Idea Gains Wonkish Energy

With the fiscal cliff looming and parts of the U.S. still digging out from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, calls for the U.S. to adopt a carbon tax are gathering steam–even though there’s little sign of interest from Congress or the White House.

Today the conservative American Enterprise Institute is holding an all-day, on-the-record discussion of the idea. And the Brookings Institution is unveiling a slate of new measures meant to make the government more effective, including a carbon tax that could raise $1.5 trillion over ten years. All that follows a cascade of carbon-tax advocacy in recent days from the chattering classes and a slate of academic work over the summer (not to mention our own two cents).

“The time seems ripe for this discussion. The president is committed both to raising tax revenue and to dealing with climate change. A carbon tax kills two birds with one stone,” said Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard economist who advised the Romney campaign and has long pushed for more efficient taxation, including a carbon tax.

As Mr. Johnson notes in the links above, other voices are weighing in as well.

From the science community…

Via Nature.com:

America’s carbon compromise

As looming tax increases and budget cuts threaten to plunge the US economy back into recession, Congress should take a hard look at introducing a carbon tax as an important part of the solution.

And familiar, long-time political activists…

Via thehill.com:

Gore warns of ‘climate cliff,’ pushes carbon tax in ‘fiscal cliff’ talks

Former Vice President Al Gore called for a carbon tax to be part of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations in the lame-duck session of Congress.

“It will be difficult for sure but we can back away from the fiscal cliff and the climate cliff at the same time,” Gore said in an interview with The Guardian. “One way is with a carbon tax.”

Meantime, Slate.com columnist Matthew Yglesias dismisses the idea of a carbon tax getting passed as a “pipe dream.”

Via Slate.com:

A Sensible Grand Bargain Addresses Climate Change

I’m not one to go all gaga over grand bargains, but this [carbon tax] is the grand bargain that actually makes sense—a proposal that would divide both parties’ core coalitions.

Is this even remotely likely? No. It’s a pipe dream.

While I appreciate Mr. Yglesias’ perspective, I hope he’s wrong.

Just wait until the White House chimes in. Things are starting to get very interesting.

 

Green Government: (Climate) Change is in the Wind

Climate Change.

Superstorm Sandy’s hurricane force winds brought those words to the minds and hearts of many people last week.

And started a conversation.

NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg endorsed President Obama, citing Climate Change.

Non-partisan political pundits called Climate Change  the October surprise no one saw coming.

Global financial entities calculated the costs of insuring against future Sandy-strength events.

Millions of Americans found themselves personally affected.

Sustainability heavy-weight Andrew Winston blogged about the costs and consequences of Climate Change and Sandy for the Harvard Business Review.

And Businessweek chimed in with a front-page story headlined,  “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”

I’m glad that more people are talking about Climate Change, even as I am heartsick, from my front-row seat as a New Jersey native and resident, at so much devastating loss.

In the wake of Sandy’s destruction, here’s hoping that we can now begin working concretely, practically and steadfastly on Climate Change challenges.

(Climate) Change is truly in the wind.

 

 

Green Government: NYC Appoints New Green Boss

Sustainability is SOP.

At least in NYC.

The City’s government just appointed a new Sustainability Chief to oversee its ambitious plaNYC 2030 environmental agenda.

Via NYTimes.com:

A New Sustainability Chief for New York

In a few weeks Sergej Mahnovski, the current director of energy policy for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, will take over the sustainability office, which puts changes into effect related to the mayor’s PlaNYC environmental agenda.

This plan goes well beyond nice green spaces. The plaNYC agenda looks to fundamentally recreate how the city operates and meet the challenges of climate change, growing populations, unsettled economics, and an aging infrastructure.

NYC’s reputation as the Greatest City in the World has long rested on its grittiness. Now it’s being reinvented as a great place to live, work and place for its greenness.

Green Politics: The Word Not Spoken (Yet)

Climate Change. Hasn’t come up in the debates.

Via ScientificAmerican.com:

Climate Change a No-Show at Presidential Debate, but Candidates Clash on Energy

Three debates down and one to go, and climate change has still not been addressed by the presidential candidates and their running mates in face-to-face confrontations.

I’m hoping there’s a “yet” at the end of that sentence. Hasn’t come up in the debates yet.

There’s one more chance on Oct. 22 for the top men on the ticket to grab the reins.

Will climate change will become a top national energy and security focus, or not?

If I were going to handicap the bet, I’d put my money on President Obama.

The 2012 Republican platform doesn’t even include the words “climate changes.”  (In a sharp contrast to the 2008 platform.) Hard to discuss something you don’t acknowledge.

President Obama’s 2012 Democratic platform speaks the word, and loudly:

2012 Democratic Platform

We know that global climate change [emphasis mine] is one of the biggest threats of this generation—an economic, environmental, and national security catastrophe in the making. We affirm the science of climate change, commit to significantly reducing the pollution that causes climate change, and know we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits.

Not that the future-looking business world needs any convincing.

Among the sustainable business community, climate change is a top 3 priority.

Via Environmentalleader.com:

Climate Change Among Top Sustainability Priorities for Business, Poll Finds

Human rights, workers’ rights and climate change are the top three sustainability priorities for companies in the coming year, according to a poll of 500 business leaders.

Tens of thousands of citizens agree and want to hear the candidates talk about climate change at the last debate. This is one of the many petitions circulating on social media.

We can’t afford to wait anymore for government to fully partner with business and civil society on climate change.

There’s precious little time left for “yet.”

 

Green Business: NYC & NJ Sustainability Events

Mark your calendars.

Here are upcoming NYC & Northern NJ events centered on Business Sustainability, Corporate Responsibility, and Social Enterprise.

Sept. 21
“Springing beyond Rio+20: Toward a True Global Compact for Sustainable Development”
Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Institute for Sustainable Enterprise
Madison, NJ
view.fdu.edu/default.aspx?id=5033

Sept. 21
GoGreenNYC
NYC
newyork.gogreenconference.net/program
@gogreenconf

Sept. 24-30
Climate Week NYC
www.climateweeknyc.org
@ClimateWeekNYC

Oct 2-3
COMMIT!Forum 2012
CR Magazine
www.commitforum.com
@commitforum

Oct. 3
2012 Innovation Summit: “Sustainability through Innovation”
FDU’s Institute of Enterpreneurship/The Institute for Sustainable Enterprise
Madison, NJ
view.fdu.edu/default.aspx?id=3712

Oct. 5
2012 Social Enterprise Conference
Columbia Business School
NYC
www.columbiasocialenterprise.org/conference2012/
@SEProgram

Oct. 15-19
After Rio+20: Moving Beyond 2015:Peoples’ Sustainability Treaties in a Post Rio+20 Future
Ramapo College Masters Program in Sustainability Studies
Mahwah, NJ
afterrioplus20.eventbrite.com

Nov. 9
Global Conference for Social Change: Making the Business Case for Sustainability
NYC Stern School of Business/Foundation for Social Change
NYC
www.stern.nyu.edu/experience-stern/news-events/global-conference-change-2012
foundationchange.org
@FoundChange

 

Green Business: Frank Talk from Business Leaders on Climate Change

Shall we blame it on the rain?

Or maybe point at melting icecaps, rising ocean levels, tornadoes, tsunamis, and blistering drought?

Whatever the catalyst, many of the world’s biggest businesses are wide awake and moving on the climate change challenge.

They get that the world needs to slow down greenhouse gas emissions–pronto–or there won’t be nearly as nice a world for anyone who wants to run a business.

Not to mention live happily or raise kids.

That’s what I heard over and over yesterday from business leaders around the globe on Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) web conference.

CDP is a worldwide non-profit independent coalition of businesses committed to reporting and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sustainable water use.

The call was timed to coincide with CDP’s latest climate change report on its S&P 500 members:  “Accelerating Change to a Lower Carbon Future”.

Everyone on this web conference is fully on board that Sustainability progress is explicitly linked to business success.  So no surprises there. But what did surprise me was the candor with which they spoke about everything else.

There was frank talk about U.S. consumption patterns and foot-dragging on energy initiatives, the need for developing countries to be able to grow, and sobering data about how close we are to the 2-degrees point of no return.

One question really caught my attention was this: How do we enroll leaders for change at companies who don’t stand to benefit in the short term? (The question didn’t get any answers on the call, but I’m not sure there is one other than a combination of incentive carrots and regulatory sticks from government.)

A highlights video of the 2-hour call hasn’t been made available yet, but in the meantime, he’s an excellent write-up by BusinessWeek senior editor and content chief Diane Brady. She also ably moderated the call.

Via businessweek.com:

Climate Change Becomes a Business Reality

The takeaway from the discussions today with a mix of business leaders and investors at the CDP Global Climate Change Forum, which I moderated from New York, is that growing private-sector efforts to reduce greenhouse gases simply can’t move the needle on its own.What’s needed is government action to curb emissions through everything from taxes, carbon caps, and credits that can be traded, as well as incentives to invest in projects and products that may not pay off for years.

Businesses understand that climate change is real, that it is irrevocably changing our planet, and that they hold significant responsibility to make it better. Fewer emissions. Less water. Decreased pollution. Restored ecosystems. Healthier workplaces and homes.

Now that it’s a becoming reality for the business world, we need to ensure that the U.S. government is on board as well. And in serious action.

That’s where we all come in as citizens.

Green Business: Obama Clears Energy Policy Roadblocks for Business Growth

Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Last night President Obama declared that tackling climate change is good for our country, our citizens, our economy and our planet.

Via the New York Times:

Obama Counterpunches “Climate Change is Not a Hoax”

“And, yes,” the president said, “my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet – because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children’s future. And in this election you can do something about it.”

Not that he’s been sitting around. In spite of–and despite–Congressional energy policy gridlock, the Executive branch has been moving forward on energy independence, security and job creation.

Like this Aug. 30 Executive Order to clear roadblocks that have held back private sector innovation and investment.

Via Whitehouse.gov:

Aug. 30 White House Executive Order Signed by President Obama to Accelerate Energy Efficiency

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to promote American manufacturing by helping to facilitate investments in energy efficiency at industrial facilities, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Read this Greenbiz.com article explaining the Executive Order:

White House Efficiency Plan Will Up Output, Curb Emissions
The Executive Order aims to help address persistent regulatory, policy, and institutional barriers that have long-prevented proven efficiency technologies from being more fully utilized in the United States.

It also facilitates increased industrial energy efficiency investment through interagency coordination and convening of national and regional stakeholders.

For their part, business leaders aren’t waiting around either.

Via Insideclimatenews.org:

Major Corporations Aren’t Waiting for Washington to Reduce Emissions and Save Money

While Congress has halted work on federal climate legislation, many U.S. business are stepping up to reduce emissions.

With climate policy paralyzed in Washington, a number of leading U.S. corporations are going it alone, squeezing big reductions of climate-changing emissions from their operations and supply chains. With stakeholder criticism and other pressures building, more and more are also releasing rigorous climate data in their financial reports and enlisting third-party firms to make sure it is accurate.

Strong governmental, scientific, and public sector collaboration are a winning strategy.

 

Green Government: Olympian Sustainability

London shows the world how to host a greener, more sustainable Olympics.

Via London2012.com:

Sustainability at the heart of the Games- ‘from brown to green’

From the outset of the project, the Olympic Park has set new standards in sustainability, including the delivery of lightweight venues, the recycling or reuse of waste materials, using concrete with a high recycled content, and delivering materials by rail or water. We have achieved new standards for a project of this size and scale and have raised the bar for the industry.

Via Environmental News Service:

London Olympics Clears Sustainability Hurdles

LONDON, UK, July 31, 2012 (ENS) – The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games has met the vast majority of its sustainability targets, says the United Nations official in charge of helping Olympic Games host cities produce events that protect the environment and make smart use of their resources.

Via TheTakeaway.org

London’s Temporary Olympic Stadium, Built for Change

The whole environmental sustainability agenda is incredibly important for these buildings,” [architect] Sheard says. Forty percent of the 80,000-seat venue’s concrete is recycled aggregate, and the stadium is one of the lightest of its size. “If you build less, you’ve got a smaller carbon footprint,” the architect says. Built with just over 10,000 tons of steel, the stadium is far lighter than similarly sized buildings, which normally require five to ten times as much.

 

Green Government: U.S. Plans Solar on Public Lands

Homegrown renewable, clean energy.

Without fracking, drilling, stripmining, or pipelining.

I didn’t know that the U.S. government was planning solar sites on public lands:

Obama Administration Releases Roadmap for Solar Energy Development on Public Lands

More via renewableenergyworld.com:

Western Solar Zones to Streamline Development on Public Lands

The document, released by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy, is the culmination of two years of dialogue between regulators, environmentalists, industry advocates and the public at large. On Tuesday, the DOI unveiled the much-awaited Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which sets a vision for development on public lands in six Western states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

The Interior has approved 17 zones for utility-scale solar energy projects on about 285,000 acres of public land with combined resources of nearly 32,000 megawatts (MW). It also sets up a process to allow development of what the DOI calls “well-sited projects” on 19 million acres outside those zones. PEIS estimates that the zones and the variance areas will eventually lead to about 23,700 MW of development.

The plan is being well-received by environmental groups and local stakeholders.

Via SustainableBusiness.com:

DOI Issues Well-Received Solar Plan for US West

Leading environmental and solar industry groups issued a press release endorsing the plan, including Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Audubon Society,  Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Solar Energy Industries Association, Southern California Edison, Vote Solar, First Solar, and Brightsource Solar.

U.S. public lands are our Commons. Deciding how to use, maintain and preserve  our country’s resources is a shared responsibility among all of us.