The Climate Crisis: A Plea and a Path Forward

An Open Letter to Governor J.B. Pritzker and Illinois Lawmakers

See it published by The Chicago Tribune

A growing number of states are adopting sweeping new climate legislation that will result in eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by or before 2050. These states are California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington and New York. Political leaders in these states realize that because of the devastating impacts of climate change they must transform their entire economies to pollution-free renewable energy as soon as possible. 

Unfortunately, Illinois lags behind with only 8% of our electric energy coming from renewable sources and a goal of 25% renewable energy by 2025. As our new Governor, we know you understand that this is a major shortfall in prior political leadership in Illinois. The most recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC Special Report states that we have just 10 years to reduce our carbon emissions by 45% to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of global climate change. Recently, climate scien- tists announced that we must reduce our global carbon emissions by 7.6% every year for the next ten years to achieve the necessary reduced emissions targets. 

Given the magnitude of the problem, piecemeal efforts will not achieve the critical goals. We therefore ask for your leadership in developing an ambitious, holistic, and comprehensive plan for Illinois to reduce our carbon emissions while transitioning to renewable energy. 

The following summarizes the key components of such a holistic plan: 

Pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). This legislation will put Illinois on a path to electrifying the transportation sector, reducing our energy consumption, and will be an important first step in enabling our state to be powered with 100% renewable energy by 2050. It will also create thousands of new, well-paying jobs, particularly in disadvantaged communities. With your help, this legislation must be passed in this session of the legislature. We now have an added incentive to do so as a result of President Trump’s recent decision to increase renewable energy pricing on the Federal grid and provide a financial bailout to fossil fuels. As you know, CEJA contains a provision that allows Illinois to establish its own grid; this will enable Illinois to bypass these punitive price increases on renewable energy and nuclear power. 

Stop all further development of oil/gas pipelines in Illinois. Energy Transfer Partners has recently requested that the Illinois Commerce Commission, ICC, approve two new pumping stations that would allow double the volume of oil transported through existing pipelines. This means more risk of spills across Illinois land and waterways while promoting the sale of more fossil fuels that must be kept in the ground. We need policy to make clear that Illinois is not supportive of any further fossil fuel development. 

Divest fossil fuel holdings from our Illinois State Pension Plans. 350.org asserts that it is “a moral imperative” to divest from the dirty energy that is significantly degrading the climate, and to reinvest in climate solutions. Further, fossil fuel divestment is good investment strategy. Funds will benefit by switching from assets that will inevitably remain locked underground for new, state-of-the-art industries and technologies. 

De-carbonize using Illinois natural resources. We can ensure funding for our struggling forest preserves in Illinois which represent significant carbon sinks. According to the 2018 Illinois Forest Action Plan, Illinois forests sequester 343 million tons of carbon. Here in Cook County alone, we have 356 locations totaling 70 thousand acres of forest and wetland preserves that play an important role in decarbonization. And there are 16 such county preserves in Illinois. Investments in regenerative farming to ensure we take advantage of our vast agriculture acreage in Illinois is a great opportunity for us. The 2018 IPCC report states that our natural resources well managed can sequester 15 to 20% of our annual emissions. 

Establish a timetable to transition Illinois off nuclear power. We presently have 11 nuclear reactors operating in Illinois providing 52% of our electric energy. These reactors initially had a 40-year life expectancy. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, increased that life expectancy by 20 years. Half of these reactors are now in the expanded life expectancy stage. Maintenance costs continue to increase every year — a major reason why nuclear power is no longer cost competitive with renewable sources of energy. These aging reactors have also become more prone to serious failures as they get older, while at the same time they create more nuclear waste. The cost to replace these reactors is exorbitant (about $10 billion each) and it requires 12 to 15 years to bring one to market. Existing nuclear plants will of necessity be used to provide energy as we increase the renewable energy infrastructure. But we should not spend one more public dollar to maintain these plants for Exelon. The public deserves a logical timetable to phase them out one by one as they become less safe and as we have the renewable sources made available for Illinois. 

Pass the referendum for a Fair Tax in 2020. We are grateful for your leadership on moving the Fair Tax initiative and strongly support you in making this a top priority for Illinois. It takes substantial financial resources to implement and sustain a comprehensive renewable energy strategy. Passage of this Fair Tax Initiative will bring $3.4 billion dollars annually to Illinois, which will help fund our energy transformation. 

These collective actions would accelerate our transition to renewable sources of energy and reduce our annual emissions sooner rather than later. Piecemeal actions will not protect current and future generations from an increasingly storm-ridden, flood-and fire-prone world. With political will, Illinois can become a leader in addressing our climate crisis, a model for other states, and demonstrate accountable governing. We are all in this together, and look forward to working with you to make it happen. Thank you for your leadership. 

Sincerely,

Climate Update: The Opposition We Face and Recommendations on The Path Forward

CAPA Climate Logo long

Last year the growing impacts of climate change hit the United States hard. Wildfires scorched California and storms pounded the East Coast. The South saw record heat and the Midwest unprecedented flooding.

2019 was the second warmest year on record and the last five years were the warmest five years ever recorded.

2020 is starting off even worse particularly for Australia. Australians are experiencing a humanitarian catastrophic. Wild fires have already scorched nineteen million acres, killed over one billion of their native animals, destroyed over 5,000 homes and killed 30 people.

This should be the moment when governments finally begin urgent efforts to stave off the climate crisis. Unfortunately, that is not the rational response we are getting. In fact, the Australian anti-environmental government seems utterly unmoved, as environmental nightmares become reality.

In the United States we are seeing a similar reality. Instead of President Trump declaring a global climate emergency and calling on Congress to work together to establish an effective national climate strategy to address this crisis, he has continued his destructive actions to weaken our environment regulations. In the past 90 days there are three more shameful examples of these actions:  

  • On November 4th 2019, President Trump notified the international community that the United States will officially withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. This move will leave the country that is world’s second largest overall emitter of greenhouse gasses abandoning global efforts to combat climate change instead of taking a leadership role to address this global climate crisis.
  • On January 9th 2020, President Trump announced his most brazen action yet to reduce environmental regulations on clean air, water and the environment by revising the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act. The proposed revisions to this landmark legislation will impact nearly every major project that receives federal funding: pipelines, power plants, bridges and highways. The new rules would narrow the range of projects that require assessment and impose strict, new and shorter deadlines for completing these studies.

It is important to recall why this legislation was signed into law just over 50 years ago. Demands for greater oversight occurred when an oil tanker spilled three million gallons of crude oil off the coast of Santa Barbara California in 1969. We do not want to turn back the clock to pre-Santa Barbara.

  • On New Year’s eve, December 31st 2019 (a day when few people followed the news), President Trump directed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to introduce place a new rule that will require renewable energy (solar, wind) and nuclear power to be priced higher in the wholesale electricity market and to be removed from the grid.  This decision will ensure that highly polluting energy sources such as coal and natural gas that can bid at a lower price will replace carbon free energy.

This decision will undermine state initiatives to increase renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind as well as nuclear power.  It will also result in a consumer rate increase of $2.4 billion dollars per year nationally and cost the utility customers of Illinois a 60% increase in their utility rates.

These actions to weaken environmental regulations, divert accessibility of renewables, and increase pricing on clean renewable energy are just the latest in nearly 100 environmental rollbacks that Trump has announced in the past three years. Some of these include weakening protection for endangered species, lowering limits on the release of the highly potent methane greenhouse gas, loosening offshore drilling safety rules and canceling the automobile emissions standards that were put in place by the Obama administration. Unfortunately, there are many others.

Let’s be honest, prospects for a clean energy future are not looking good currently. However, giving up is not an option. So, what must we do?  We must find a path forward. 

The Path Forward

As environmentally concerned citizens, we cannot realistically expect to meet the United Nations IPCC targets to reduce carbon emissions by a minimum of 45% by 2030 to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change as long as Donald Trump is president.  In November, we must elect a president who is a national and global champion of the environment to address this climate crisis. We must do whatever we can to achieve this objective.

  • While Trump has introduced over one hundred actions that would weaken our environmental regulations, it is important to note that 70 of these actions have been challenged with lawsuits in the courts. So far, the Trump Administration has won only four of them. 
    We fully expect a court challenge on Trump’s announcement to weaken regulations on the National Environmental Policy.  We must provide financial assistance whenever possible to the organizations or state agencies that are establishing these lawsuits. Some of these organizations include: Earth Justice, The Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and League of Conservation Voters (LCV).
  • We have some good news for the people of Illinois on the Trump Administration’s decision to remove renewable energy and nuclear power from the federal grid and by so doing significantly increase renewable energy and nuclear power pricing. We expect the Legislature in Springfield to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act in the first quarter of this year. It contains a provision that allows Illinois to establish its own energy grid that will be run by the Illinois IPA. We will no longer be using the federal energy grid and will not be subject to the punitive price increases imposed by Trump on renewable energy and nuclear power.  We will not be increasing our energy costs by 60%. We will be reviewing plans to pass this legislation with our elected representatives in the weeks ahead.
  • We must continue to stay engaged in monitoring the actions of our national political leaders on environmental actions. We must encourage the development and support of a comprehensive national environmental strategy like “The Green New Deal”.

We also need to challenge our political leaders when they have failed to stand up to the bullying tactics of President Trump, Mitch McConnell and Senator Inhofe who recently rejected the efforts of democratic leaders to include two significant renewable energy initiatives in the National Budget/ Defense Authorization Act for 2020.

  • Our primary focus during the coming months will be to get a comprehensive energy strategy passed in Springfield Illinois. We must then work to implement this strategy in the North Suburban communities of Chicago. We have outlined the details of this holistic state environmental strategy in the attached open letter to Governor Pritzker. We will give you more detailed information on how we can all work together in the weeks ahead to make Illinois one of the leading states in making the transformation to clean renewable energy.
  • Lawrence D. Fink, founder and chief executive of Black Rock, a $7 trillion investment firm, recently stated that his firm would make investment decisions solely with environmental sustainability as a core goal. In our divestment discussions with large financial banks, such as J. P. Morgan Chase, we will emphasize this important directive from Mr. Fink, as we encourage Chase and other financial institutions to divest from fossil fuels.

If you are interested in becoming more active in working with the CAPA Climate Group on these issues please email Catherine Buntin (mbuntin@yahoo.com) or Jack Kelly (kellyjack@comcast.net) Thank you.     

CAPA Climate Group
Catherine Buntin and Jack Kelly
Co-chairs

Join the Fight for a Green New Deal!

By: Jacopo De Marinis, CAPA Climate Fellow, Summer 2019

You might have heard about the 2018 report on climate change released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It found that, if we do not keep warming of global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees celsius above pre industrial temperatures, the worst effects of climate change will not be averted. This will cause a massive loss of human life, severely damage the biodiversity of our ecosystems, and damage vital economic infrastructure, costing the United States and other countries trillions of dollars annually.

These disastrous events induced by climate change will spark humanitarian disasters, forcing the dislocation of millions who will live in constant fear of the next climatic disaster. Undoubtedly, the upheaval caused by the impending climate crisis will generate immense social and political unrest as existing patterns of social and economic inequality are exacerbated by the devastating environmental changes that will grip the world. This future will soon be irreversible. 

But we must not lose hope. 

In February of 2019, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey introduced a resolution, an idea, that has the power to change everything. An idea that would even the playing field for millions of people by enhancing economic and social equality while ensuring that Earth will still sustain life for our children and grandchildren. An idea that would strengthen democracy and freedom for all citizens of the United States, no long held down by the wealthy elite and corrupt politicians. An idea that is exactly what we need: a Green New Deal (GND). And yes, it is a bold vision of a better world. Bold, but not unrealizable… 

The GND consists of three parts: 1) Ending the United States’ economy’s reliance on fossil fuel based energy sources, 2) transitioning to a renewable energy source based economy by 2050, and 3) using this transformational shift as an opportunity to enhance social and economic equality for everyone, especially the poor, people of color, and indigenous communities to ensure a just transition, led by those most affected. It is a bold vision, but many citizens of the United States have already stepped to spearhead the fight, including me. 

In Summer 2019, I participated in an advocacy internship program organized by Chicago Area Peace Action (CAPA). CAPA’s main goals are centered on foreign policy (such as ending the endless wars in the Middle East and throughout the world) and climate justice. This particular summer, the CAPA climate justice team was focused on promoting the GND. We, like many, were alarmed by the doomsday predictions put forth by the IPCC and were determined to do something about it. 

So, we drafted a letter to the Illinois Congressional Delegation urging our representatives to support the GND. And, to illustrate the strong societal support behind the GND, we started building a coalition of concerned organizations that had a stake in the GND. These organizations ranged from places of faith to refugee organizations to environmental advocacy groups… a diverse group reflective of the intersectional nature of this progressive, transformative initiative. 

While we recruited the majority of these organizations via computer, building a coalition for what might turn out to be the most significant push for a long-awaited change wasn’t as easy as just pushing a button and hoping for a signature; it required active campaigning. We went to networking events, attended by business owners, climate scientists, politicians, and social activists, always with a petition in hand, urging congressional leaders like Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi and Representative Sean Casten to cosponsor the GND. We made constituents aware of their representatives’ lack of support of the GND at town hall meetings, growing more knowledgeable about the urgent need for a GND. We met with experts and coalitions working for the same goal, and as a united front, attended forums on climate change. Leaders like Tom Skilling and Dick Durbin were there, but their support was still omitted for the comprehensive Green New Deal resolution. 

I would say that the most exciting event was a forum for Economic Development held in a local pizzeria. Aside from eating amazing Italian food, I was excited to get Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Cook County Commissioner for District 12 Bridget Degnen’s signatures in support of the Green New Deal! 

But it wasn’t easy. Some politicians, yes, even Democrats, were reluctant to lend their support to the GND due to concerns about the cost, as well as hesitancy to support such a “radical” resolution. And telling them that we DO have the money to finance a GND (after diverting some funds currently flowing into the pockets of defense contractors and the US’s oversized war machine) didn’t seem to make much a difference. One politician, Rodney Davis, representative of Illinois’ 13th Congressional District, still hasn’t responded to me about setting up a meeting, even with my having repeatedly contacted his office. 

Despite some disappointments, our perseverance bore fruit; we successfully compiled a list of 50 progressive organizations eager to sign onto our coalition letter which we will present to our Illinois Congressional Delegation. 

But there is still much to be done. 

The urgency of the problem is apparent in Greta Thunberg’s voice as she begs world leaders at the past UN Conference on Climate Change to treat the impending climate crisis as it is: a catastrophe. The world admires her boldness and courage for several days, and then it’s back to business as usual. While her determination helps motivate protests for environmental reform, nobody realizes how important it is that we all fight as Greta Thunberg is for environmental justice. She cannot bear the burden of saving the planet alone, and we all must find that inner courage to sacrifice for the common good as Greta has. 

All of us must take an active stance to force radical, but vital, climate reform, in any way possible. I believe that the GND is one of the best proposals yet put forth to combat climate change as its comprehensive goals tackle the underlying cause of climate change: the divisive, profit driven nature of the current economic system that has left so many behind. But in any way we choose to fight, we must fight like our lives depend on it. Because they do.