Last week ALEC, the free market acolyte organization, enjoyed a real experience in the power of market forces.  Two of its major financial backers, Google and Facebook, joined Microsoft in withdrawing their backing of ALEC because of the group’s opposition to clean energy policies and action on climate change.

ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) has set out to turn back decades of bipartisan progress at the state level on energy efficiency and wind and solar power. Bankrolled in part by the Koch brothers and some of the biggest polluters in the country, ALEC has most recently mobilized conservative state legislators in dozens of states to attack sensible and successful requirements for renewable electricity.  These standards were interfering with what the free market would do on its own, an intolerable offense according to ALEC.

ALEC has had mixed results with their pro-pollution agenda, losing attempts to repeal renewable energy standards in Kansas of all places, while winning a victory most recently in Ohio.  Where they exist, renewable electricity standards have been credited with creating jobs and reducing pollution, making them quite popular with the public. The fight for renewable energy in the states will continue.

But ALEC’s denial of the threat of climate change was finally too much for the free market titan Google, which cancelled its dues-paying membership.  Thereafter, ALEC offered an interesting denial of their denialism – they weren’t denying that climate change was happening per se, just disingenuously arguing that renewable energy as a solution should only be allowed to grow “according to consumer demand.”

If you believe that humans are contributing to climate change, it’s dumbfounding to think that letting the free market do whatever it wants could possibly be the answer.  That’s how we got in this situation to begin with.  It’s especially sad when a free market advocate gets a basic market principle like this so wrong.  In fact economic experts even have a term for when the market outcome it not the right one for society – it’s called a negative externality.

A negative externality occurs when one person makes money off of imposing the cost of that action on someone else. But don’t take my word for it.  Here’s how Investopedia, owned by Forbes, Inc., says in its definition of externality:

“Pollution emitted by a factory that spoils the environment and affects the health of nearby residents is an example of a negative externality.”

This is a free market outcome, but certainly not a desirable one.  Where pollution is concerned, letting industry freely decide what is the right amount to reduce is like leaving it up to kids to decide how many vegetables to eat.  Fortunately society can actually use market mechanisms such as tax credits or cap and trade programs to harness the market to provide solutions.  Setting renewable electricity standards is another way of fixing the polluting externalities of fossil fuels.

How can anyone trust the task of educating politicians about the free market to an organization that doesn’t understand freshman economics concepts?  Saying that every market outcomes is by definition the correct one is not a scientific position based in economic theory but is a political position based on self-interest.

Smart people are as dumb as they want to be, and ALEC has millions of dollars worth of reasons to play dumb on the need to act on climate change.  But saying there shouldn’t be action on climate because the free market doesn’t want to do it certainly qualifies as willful climate denial. Thank goodness some powerful business leaders have exercised their marketplace freedom of choice in calling out ALEC on this issue.


The Key Political Truth about Climate Change: It’s about Our Families

When my husband collapsed at a small gathering a few weeks ago, climate change was the farthest thing from my mind. I was too consumed with getting him to the hospital, holding his hand through the pain, and trying to appear calm when his legs stopped working. Later when doctors entered the room in protective gear, told us Don had meningitis, and said that it was often linked to West Nile Virus, the link still didn’t quite compute. I was trying to comfort him, reassure our young children that Daddy was going to be fine, and remind myself to breathe as I saw the strongest man I know cry because his head hurt so badly. A few days later when we finally were able to leave the ICU, I finally realized that climate change could be hitting home.

West Nile Virus is an infectious disease spread by mosquitoes. Scientists say that warmer temperatures and drier conditions brought on by climate change increase the risk of the virus.

Here in drought-stricken California, creeks and washes have turned into tiny puddles of standing water and brought infested birds and mosquitoes into closer contact.  Communities across the state are seeing more cases than ever before. As of last week, 181 Californians were diagnosed with the virus—a 79 percent increase compared to this time last year.

Most people sickened by West Nile recover quickly, but some develop serious complications, including meningitis, an infection of the brain lining. Although we still don’t have confirmation that West Nile caused Don’s meningitis, we do know that the young woman next door to him in the ICU had West Nile and was intubated because she was so sick. We are so incredibly thankful Don responded well to treatment. Though he is still dealing with excruciating headaches and intense fatigue, we know we are very, very fortunate.

We may never know for sure if Don’s meningitis was caused by West Nile Virus—blood tests are often inconclusive. But I do know this: climate change isn’t just about weather forecasts and computer models. It’s about our families.

It’s about families trying to keep asthmatic children safe during heat waves and dirty air days. It’s about families struggling to hold on to livelihoods in the midst of drought. It’s about families draining nest eggs to rebuild homes after fire, floods, and storm surges.

People are looking for answers, and leaders ignore them at their own peril.

When House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) or Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) claim they can’t talk about climate change because they aren’t scientists, they reveal how out of touch they are with the many families coping with climate-related health problems and extreme weather.

Presidential hopeful Rand Paul (R-KY) showed his disregard when he criticized Hillary Clinton’s recent clean energy and climate speech. He said, “For her to be out there saying that the biggest threat to our safety and to our well-being is climate change, I think, goes to the heart of the matter of whether or not she has the wisdom to lead the country, which I think it’s obvious that she doesn’t.”

Paul is the one missing the obvious message here. An ABC News poll found that 7 in 10 Americans view climate change as a serious problem facing the nation and support federal measures to reduce greenhouse gases—even if it raises their energy costs, which NRDC analysis confirms it will not.

The majority of Americans favor climate action, because we want to shield our families from harm and create a better future. Smart candidates recognize this. They connect the dots between climate change and people’s daily lives. They vow to make communities more resilient by shoring up infrastructure and training medical staff to treat emerging threats such as West Nile Virus. They explain that the EPA’s proposal to limit carbon from power plants will create jobs.. And they win: voters favored clean energy and climate champions up and down the ticket in the 2012 elections.

We need to elect more champions this year, so our nation can finalize carbon pollution limits and take further climate action.  The stakes are so high. Climate change threatens our families’ health and well-being. And as I realized when Don collapsed, it can make its presence known in fast and painful ways. We can’t afford to lose more time to denial and disregard. We must act now.


5 Ways the Midterms Will Shape the Clean Energy and Climate Future

Now that Labor Day is behind us, the campaign season is about to heat up in earnest. Candidates, strategists, and pundits will vie for the spotlight from now until November 4. Yet try as they might, midterms never garner as much attention as presidential cycles.

This year’s election, though, matters more than most.

The outcome of the 2014 races could have a major impact on the air we breathe, the health of our families, and the intensity of the climate change outside our doors.

Victory could come for candidates who take millions of dollars for fossil fuel companies and ignore the climate threat—I call these folks the Dirty Denier$. Or environmental champions will triumph and expand clean energy and climate action to protect our health and create jobs.

The choices we make in the voting booth always carry weight, but they have even greater heft in a year when control of the Senate is up for grabs, when GOP leaders have promised to roll back decades-worth of public health and environmental safeguards, and when the threat of climate change grows more severe.

Here are five forces that could shape the outcome of the 2014 midterm.

Climate Denial Is Alive and Well in the GOP

Two weeks ago, Scott Brown was asked if “the theory of man-made climate change has been scientifically proven.” His reply: “Uh, no.” Yet when Brown was campaigning for Senator from Massachusetts in 2012, he said, “I absolutely believe that climate change is real and I believe there’s a combination between man-made and natural.” Now that he is running in New Hampshire, he backpedalled. Brown isn’t alone. Across the nation, Republicans either deny the existence of human-caused climate change or feign ignorance because they aren’t trained scientists. If these lawmakers gain a majority, they will try at every turn to stop the Obama Administration from fulfilling the President’s Climate Action Plan.

McConnell Would Use a Majority to Dismantle Safeguards

Since 2010, GOP lawmakers in the House have voted several hundred times to undermine public health and environmental protections. They haven’t just gone after measures associated with President Obama. They’ve dug deep and torn into the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and other bedrock laws that have held firm for four decades. The only thing stopping these radical bills from becoming law? A lack of support in the Senate. But Senator Mitch McConnell says if he wins a majority, he will launch his own attack, using bills and policy riders to strip away protections that keep our water clean and our air safe to breathe. He will also wage an assault on every effort to shield our communities from climate change. And he’s willing to even shut down the government to implement his radical agenda.

Fossil Fuel Companies Are Looking for Better Results

Oil and gas companies and their allies have spent more than $31 million on this election already. They favor lawmakers who put industry concerns before the public interest. Senator Marco Rubio, Representative Fred Upton, Senator Mitch McConnell and other Dirty Denier$ have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars each from the fossil fuel industry. They have also voted for oil and gas subsidies and tried to prevent the EPA from finalizing limits on climate change pollution from power plants—the nation’s largest source of carbon emissions. But industry investments don’t always pay off. The US Chamber of Commerce, known for its climate denial and fossil-fuel friendly policies, spent more than $32 million in the 2012 election but achieved less than 7 percent of desired outcomes.

Smart Candidates Are Running Clean

It turns out voters prefer leaders who stand up to polluters. In the 2012 cycle, candidates who supported clean energy and climate action won up and down the ticket, even in contested purple states. Recent polling shows that sentiment is growing.  More than two-thirds of voters in 11 battleground states say the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants, according to a March poll done by Harstad Strategic Research for the NRDC Action Fund. The poll was conducted in red and purple states, and still 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats supported carbon limits. Many 2014 candidates—including Michigan’s Gary Peters, Colorado’s Mark Udall, and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen—have recognized that running for office on a platform of protecting the environment, promoting clean sources of energy, and curbing climate change is a proven winner.

Environmental Champions Could Make Climate History

President Obama has called on the EPA to do the single most important thing the US can to fight climate change right now: limit carbon pollution from power plants. These plants kick out 40 percent of all carbon emissions in the country, and cleaning them up will help us defuse the climate threat. An environmental majority in Congress will help the EPA realize this goal. It would also help expand renewable power and strengthen environmental safeguards.  Lawmakers could point to these accomplishments and say: this is when America began combating climate change and building the clean energy future.



#DirtyDenier$ Day 20: Senator James Inhofe

James Inhofe

Though the winds often come sweeping down the plains in Oklahoma, they have not blown hard enough to clear away the misguided, misleading views of Senator James Inhofe. Inhofe is a top ranking Dirty Denier because of his campaign funding from dirty sources and his terrible votes against the environment.

In addition, Inhofe wrote the book, literally, on climate denialism (The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, published in 2012). His whacky views on climate change take a page from the playbook of the most conservative groups promoting dirty fossil fuels. And if Republicans take control of the Senate, Inhofe would be in line to be chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where he would have a stranglehold on environmental progress.

He has received an astounding $1,671,521 in contributions to his campaign committee and Leadership PAC from the oil & gas industry over the course of his political career, including $489,250 in the 2014 election cycle alone. Among his top contributors are individuals and political action committees associated with Koch Industries, the multinational corporation run by the libertarian oil baron Koch brothers and their cronies, and a leading funder of climate change denialism, and  Murray Energy, the largest underground coal mining company in America, which has sued the EPA multiple times and has an outspoken climate changer denier as CEO.

Oil companies ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy, Exxon Mobil, and OGE Energy are also among the top Inhofe contributors over the course of his career. Maybe they like Inhofe’s  outrageous claims, such as calling the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a “Gestapo bureaucracy”, and saying that “those individuals from the far left want us to believe it’s because we are contributing CO2 to the atmosphere, that’s causing global warming. It’s all about money.”

He has launched a full-on attack of the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan. Inhofe consistently votes against the environment: he has taken numerous votes against cleaning up carbon pollution, against cleaning up pollution in our air and water from power plants and industrial farms, and against funds for disaster relief and shoreline planning in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Yet he strongly supports subsidies for the oil, gas and coal industries despite their record profits and lower than average tax rate. This is why he has a lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters of only 5 percent, among the very worst in the Senate.

Our advice: While Senator Inhofe continues to deny humans are contributing to climate change, 67 percent of Oklahomans want “the government to step in and limit greenhouse gas emissions from industry.” Senator Inhofe needs to start aligning his votes with his constituents. It’s time for action to protect Oklahomans and Americans across the country from the health and environmental impacts of the dirty, old fossil fuels industry.

Dirty Denier$ Day 19: Congressman Fred Upton

Fred Upton

Today’s Dirty Denier$ is Rep. Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan and Chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Upton has used his leadership position to try to move the nation backward, and his record on clean air and climate change keeps getting worse.

Upton has been all over the map on the facts about climate change.  In 2011, he said he didn’t believe humans are contributing to global climate change. Since then, he’s been mostly silent on that basic issue, but he’s been loud in his opposition to doing anything about climate. He has used extreme rhetoric to characterize the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, calling it “an unconstitutional power grab that will kill millions of jobs” and a “train wreck.

And consider that one of the first bills that Upton sponsored upon assuming the chairmanship of the committee would have permanently blocked EPA from doing anything at all to address carbon pollution. Moreover, the bill would have increased America’s dependence on oil by undermining efficiency standards for motor vehicles, and cost consumers $58 billion. Upton has also given his blessing to multiple bills to undo various aspects of the Clean Air Act.

The dirty fuel interests that have given nearly $2 million in campaign contributions to Upton over the course of his career are no doubt pleased with his record. However, the same can’t be said for his constituents back home. According to recent polling from the NRDC Action Fund in key states including Michigan, overwhelming majorities of voters in that group of states support strong action to stop dangerous carbon pollution. This includes 53% of Republicans. Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder has said, “People may not agree about why climate change is happening, but it is certainly affecting Michigan.”

Michigan has a lot to gain from a clean energy policy. In 2013 alone, Michigan announced more than 1700 jobs in the renewable energy sector, placing it 12th in the country for new job creation. And in a signal that better days are ahead for both the economy and the environment, 380 of those jobs were in clean vehicle manufacturing.

Our advice: It’s time for Congressman Upton to once again reinvent himself. It’s time to stop being a Dirty Denier$ and start being a clean energy champion for his state.