Part I: Solnit Dares to Hope, while NM Guv & Sierra Club Offer a Dangerous Fantasy: The Truth About Net Zero
Today we launch a two-part series by examining Rebecca Solnit’s take on why she has hope for mankind despite the snail’s pace progress in implementing needed changes. The second partt will then then shift focus to NM, examining what must be learned from the Energy Transition Act (ETA) and how an entirely uncritical process that refused examination or amendment created a law with terrible consequences. In part three we will examine “net zero,” the latest climate policy initiative offered up by the Governor and her coterie of environmental cheerleaders. Here we go again, a stampede to pass “net zero” legislation without examining the consequences of the act. ETA Redux. Have we learned nothing?
Before we hear from Rebecca Solnit and before we lay out our concerns about MLG’s net zero proposaI, I want to contextualize our concerns by acknowledging that there are no simple solutions out there for NM. We rely on gas and oil revenues to such an extent that shutting down the Permian Basin would cause significant loss of revenue to fund our early childhood programs, K-12 school systems, colleges and universities. Nonetheless, with the current volume of Permian Basin barrels produced and exported and the amount of methane emitted 24-7, we simply do not have the right to ignore the option of shutting down the Permian Basin ASAP, especially because we actually do have options for replacing a significant proportion of lost revenue. For more on the impact of the Permian Basin drilling, click here: the Permian Climate Bomb – describes how the Permian Basin could produce more oil, gas, and gas liquids in the next 30 years than it has in the past century.
So, the first step in developing a meaningful environmental policy should be to examine the implications of shutting the Permian down, as this would have far and away the biggest impact on greenhouse gas emissions of any strategy available to NM. Since revenue loss is the primary objection to shutting down the Permian, policy makers and advocates should explore revenue-generating strategies such as those proposed by NM Voices for Children that could replace a very significant proportion. of lost G&O revenue.
We can’t continue to claim “this is not the time to increase taxes on the rich” and close gaping holes in our corporate tax system while bemoaning our reliance on gas and oil revenue. Opponents of these tax changes are partly right about this not being the best time to reform the tax and revenue systems. The best time was ten or twenty years ago. The next best time is now. We can no longer be held hostage by gas and oil while viable options exist for replacing lost G&O revenue. We can’t buy into the false choice of continuing to drill the Permian or destroying our children’s services and education systems. This is akin to stating that in order to prepare our children for the future, we must destroy that future. And make no mistake about it, as you look at the chart below, note how the U.S. stands 4th in the world in per person emissions and, as such, we have no choice but to begin to make painful decisions. No state in the nation is better able to contribute to that effort than NM, as we will discuss a bit further on in this analysis. But for now, note that to achieve any global emissions reduction goals, the U.S. and NM need to reduce extraction and export of gas and oil.
Now that we have framed the challenge in NM economic realities, we turn to Rebecca Solnit, who explains why she is able to maintain hope for our future despite so many policy disappointments on the international scene. There is much in her analysis that can guide our discussion.
Three things matter for climate chaos and our response to it – the science reporting on current and potential conditions, the technology offering solutions, and the organizing which is shifting perspectives and policy. Each is advancing rapidly. The science mostly gives us terrifying news of more melting, more storms, more droughts, more fires, more famines. But the technological solutions and the success of the organizing to address this largest of all crises have likewise grown by leaps and bounds. For example, ideas put forth in the Green New Deal in 2019, seen as radical at the time, are now the kind of stuff President Biden routinely proposes in his infrastructure and jobs plans.
It’s not easy to see all the changes – you have to be a wonk to follow the details on new battery storage solutions or the growth of solar power in cheapness, proliferation, efficiency and possibility, or new understanding about agriculture and soil management to enhance carbon sequestration. You have to be a policy nerd to keep track of the countless new initiatives around the world. They include, recently, the UK committing to end overseas fossil fuel finance in December, the EU in January deciding to “discourage all further investments into fossil-fuel-based energy infrastructure projects in third countries”, and the US making a less comprehensive but meaningful effort this spring to curtail funding for overseas extraction. In April, oil-rich California made a commitment to end fossil fuel extraction altogether – if by a too-generous deadline. A lot of these policies have been deemed both good and not good enough. They do not get us to where we need to be, but they lay the foundation for further shifts, and like the Green New Deal many of them seemed unlikely a few years ago.
We have crossed barriers that seemed insurmountable at the end of the last millennium.From The Guardian: “Dare we hope? Here’s my cautious case for climate optimism“ by Rebecca Solnit
Interestingly, each of the advances touted by Solnit involves countries or states making changes that required substantive sacrifice — something that, to date, NM has refused to do.
- The UK committed to end overseas fossil fuel finance in December.
- The EU in January decided to “discourage all further investments into fossil-fuel-based energy infrastructure projects in third countries.”
- The US is making a less comprehensive but meaningful effort this spring to curtail funding for overseas extraction.
- In April, oil-rich California made a commitment to end fossil fuel extraction altogether.
California’s commitment is akin to MLG announcing that part of her net zero plan is to cease all NM G&O extraction by a specified date in the not too distant future. That does not appear to be part of her plan.
It is also worth noting the cautionary warning embedded in Solnit’s expression of hope: the degree to which it is becoming more and more difficult to tease out the merit of each of the dizzying number of new climate crisis initiatives, which of them can achieve their projected benefits and which may be destined to fall short. Or worse, which initiatives may be disingenuous policies framed as miracle solutions that cleverly allow business as usual while promising long-term salvation from unproven technological solutions. This challenge of distinguishing real transformative change from quixotic, false promises is one of the central themes of today’s post. But first, more from Solnit, who is not the only one expressing long-term optimism. She cites the usually dour, skeptical Carbon Tracker:
The organization Carbon Tracker, whose reports are usually somber reading, just put out a report so stunning the word encouraging is hardly adequate. In sum, current technology could produce a hundred times as much electricity from solar and wind as current global demand; prices on solar continue to drop rapidly and dramatically; and the land required to produce all this energy would take less than is currently given over to fossil fuels. It is a vision of a completely different planet, because if you change how we produce energy you change our geopolitics – for the better – and clean our air and renew our future. The report concludes: “The technical and economic barriers have been crossed and the only impediment to change is political.” Those barriers seemed insurmountable at the end of the last millennium.From The Guardian: “Dare we hope? Here’s my cautious case for climate optimism,” by Rebecca Solnit
While Carbon Tracker reports that “the only impediment to change is political,” to appreciate just how formidable the political impediment is, one only needs to examine the degree to which Sen. Manchin can edit out of existence any and all elements of Build Back Better that foster a transition from fossil fuels to renewables, despite the technological and economic advances that make this transition possible. And last time I checked, the Green New Deal was still being tagged as ‘socialism’ by a significant part of the US Congress. So politics is not just an afterthought, politics has been the primary barrier to progress on climate action for 30+ years.
Last week at the NM Climate Summit, policymakers spent two days high-fiving and patting themselves on the back, as if in passing the ETA and embracing net zero we had discovered the Holy Grail and solved climate change. In the second post in our series, we will address the limitations of the ETA and its remarkably uncritical path to becoming law and then follow that up with a third post devoted to the risks of relying on the net zero policy framework as the structure to frame climate action. But now, more from Solnit.
Despite the daunting difficulty posed by political obstacles, Solnit goes on to cite Christiana Figueres, chief author of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, who points out how, “this decade is a moment unlike any we have ever lived” because we are poised to meet those political challenges and that, given the stakes and the opportunity, “none of us has the right to give up.” Forgive me if I’ve read too many times before that this is our time, that this is not the time to give up. But clearly, we are approaching a decade where we can no longer afford to be lulled into inaction by promises of future technological miracles or accounting sleights of hand (net zero). We must begin taking seriously the sacrifice that is needed if we are to honestly respond to the looming crisis.
Christiana Figueres, who as executive secretary of the United Nations framework convention on climate change negotiated the Paris climate accords in 2015. As she recently declared: “This decade is a moment of choice unlike any we have ever lived. All of us alive right now share that responsibility and that opportunity… Many now believe it is impossible to cut global emissions in half in this decade. I say, we don’t have the right to give up or let up.” She speaks of how impossible a treaty like the one she negotiated seemed after the shambles at the end of the 2009 Copenhagen meeting.From The Guardian: “Dare we hope? Here’s my cautious case for climate optimism,” by Rebecca Solnit
Solnit then goes on to cite adrienne maree brown, who believes organizing is science fiction, as we shape the future in what she calls “an imagination battle.” Maree brown asserts that while we may not be able to see the future clearly, we can nonetheless forge that future, one step after another, without seeing the end point. We do not have to have imagined the full package of steps that will ultimately need to be taken, but in moving forward with positive actions, each action will make it easier to imagine and then implement what must come next.
The visionary organizer adrienne maree brown wrote not long ago: “I believe that all organizing is science fiction – that we are shaping the future we long for and have not yet experienced. I believe that we are in an imagination battle …..From The Guardian: “Dare we hope? Here’s my cautious case for climate optimism,” by Rebecca Solnit
That we cannot see all the way to the transformed society we need does not mean it is impossible. We will reach it by not one great leap but a long journey, step by step. If we see how impossible our current reality might have seemed 20 years ago – that solar would be so cheap, that Scotland would get 97% of its electricity from renewables, that fossil fuel corporations would be in freefall – we can trust that we could be moving toward an even more transformed and transformative future, and that it is not a set destination but, for better or worse, what we are making up as we go. Each shift makes more shifts possible. But only if we go actively toward the possibilities rather than passively into the collapse.
Her optimism that we will create the needed transformed future step by step presumes we will not be led down false paths to pursue disingenuous initiatives that sap our energy, waste valuable time, and worst of all, reduce our sense of urgency by creating the false impression we are making great progress. Again, we may have the technical capacity to create a transformed future, but that future seems ever barred by political obstacles like Manchin and our Governor who choose to advance policies that protect the fossil fuel industry, with grasstop environmental leaders serving as uncritical cheerleaders for whatever leadership proposes, rather than using their relationship to leadership to influence them to move in the right direction.
While there is much hope contained in Solnit’s article, I keep coming back to her cautionary tale. The complexity of the technologies and policies are difficult to comprehend and leadership, both political and environmental, can easily be misled and then mislead us to trust policies that are dressed in green ribbons that offer disingenuous promises. So while we must not give up, we must be very cautious about who we trust and which policies we support.
Stay tuned for parts II and III to come as we tease out what is wrong with the ETA and the process used to deliver it and then try to understand what can be learned from that process as we consider net zero, the next miraculous climate plan on NM’s horizon.
In solidarity and hope,
Paul & Roxanne
As promised in our Nov. 5 post, today we examine what must be learned from the Energy Transition Act and how the process that refused examination or amendment created a law with terrible consequences. We then examine Net Zero, the latest climate policy initiative offered up by our Governor, and one that was excoriated by indigenous representatives and climate activists at COP26. (originally, we planned yo do this series in three parts, but in the end, we felt that Parts 2 and 3 needed to be a single piece. So, Connecting the Dots, below, completes the series.
Part II: Connecting the Dots: COP26, NM’s ETA, Net Zero
BY PAULGIBSON51 on • ( )
Greenwashing in Glasgow & New Mexico
Before we begin, I want to alert you that this is a lengthy post with links to research and studies, plus video that is critical to understanding all that is at stake and the not-so-subtle forces that work to ensure that nothing proposed in Glasgow, Washington D.C, or New Mexico will upset the capitalist-imperialist hegemony that rules the world so tightly. We’re publishing this on Sunday as we thought that might give you more time to fully absorb the content. But just as there are no shortcuts to addressing the looming climate catastrophe, there are no shortcuts to grasping all that is in play in Glasgow, Washington, and NM. We tried to connect a ton of dots in this piece. Please pour a cup of coffee and take the time to absorb what follows. Happy Sunday.
Indigenous Perspective on COP26
The video below provides a very different view on what needs to result from COP26: Keep it in the ground. It begins with Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who spoke strongly against Net Zero at COP26. In the same clip, stay tuned for comments from Luis Arce, President of Bolivia, who labels COP26, “the polluters conference.” Following Arce is Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org. They set the table nicely for the second video below featuring Greta Thunberg and Ugandan Climate Activist Vanessa Nakate.
Greta Thunberg On COP26: “More Blah, Blah, Blah”
Amy Goodman offers a 30-second intro but quickly turns the mic over to Vanessa Nakate, Ugandan climate activist, followed by Greta Thunberg. Nakate is particularly powerful, but Thunberg offers one telling comment after another. With these two videos, we get a perspective seldom seen in mainstream news: voices from communities of color, the Global South, and indigenous people. Our legislators should view these videos. Very illuminating.
And In New Mexico
As we pointed out in our Nov. 5 post, there are no simple solutions out there for NM, and it is not unreasonable that the Governor, legislators, and some environmentalists seek any and all policy options for addressing the looming climate crisis while stalling the decision to shut down the Permian Basin. Without adequate steps to diversify our revenue, that decision would cause significant loss of revenue to fund our early childhood programs, K-12 school systems, colleges and universities. But during the NM Climate Summit in late October, rather than hearing presentations on how we must diversify our revenue base and how that could allow us to begin reducing Permian Basin drilling now, there was a ton of backslapping and high fives celebrating all we have done and cheering the Governor’s new net zero plan.
If you haven’t read it, it would be good to read our Nov. 5 post first, as we laid out how we stand at a moment in time throughout the world and here in NM when we must begin to make meaningful sacrifices and cease being seduced by the latest sleight-of-hand initiatives that offer a veneer of progress while not making the sacrifices that must be made. Again, with the current volume of Permian Basin barrels produced and exported and the amount of methane emitted 24-7, we simply do not have the right to ignore the option of shutting down the Permian Basin ASAP, especially because we actually do have options for replacing a significant proportion of lost revenue.
It is time to run toward sacrifice and stop looking for ways to run from it. We must not be deluded by bogus policy initiatives that run from sacrifice and toward a future that is only a mirage.
While there is much hope contained in Solnit’s article referenced in the Nov. 5 post, I keep coming back to her cautionary tale. She asserts that you need to be a policy wonk to assess the complexity of the technologies and policies being introduced, that many initiatives are difficult to comprehend, and that both political and environmental leaders can easily be misled and then mislead us to trust policies that are dressed in green ribbons and offer disingenuous promises. So while we must not give up, we must be very cautious about who we trust and which policies we support.
For this reason, it is important to examine the process and the results of the Energy Transition Act As this review reveals, the 2019 legislative process and the campaign to pass the ETA was an entirely uncritical process in which legislators and grasstops enviro groups pushed to pass the ETA without amendment, saying that any amendments to fix the ETA would have made PNM unhappy. So a flawed but fixable bill became NM law, law with disastrous consequences. We can’t afford to repeat the ETA process in relation to Net Zero, and there are signs that that is exactly what is coming. And so we must revisit the ETA and learn from our mistakes.
What We Must Learn from The Energy Transition ACT
The videos above deliver a strident call to meaningful action on the part of the Global North. We must examine the false promises and the rush to pass the ETA without serious consideration of what it would and wouldn’t do. We will look briefly at how almost none of those ETA promises are being kept, and then we will discuss the utterly uncritical process that allowed a bill to pass despite having so many flaws. Finally, we will examine how, similarly, the Net Zero initiative is being launched with more fanfare and uncritical acclaim than is warranted for a concept so roundly ridiculed in scientific research communities. First, the unfulfilled promises of the ETA.
We Were told the ETA Would Make NM a National Leader in the Pursuit of a 100% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)
While achieving 100% RPS may be possible, it is important to understand what RPS is, what it measures and, more importantly what it fails to measure. The ETA is utterly silent on the damage caused by the export of our gas and oil from the Permian Basin, Four Corners, and San Juan. The Renewable Portfolio Standard measure is simply not a legitimate indicator of NM’s contribution to addressing climate change. The RPS may fairly reflect the proportion of renewable energy NM consumes, but it conveniently externalizes the far greater impact of the gas and oil we produce and export. We fear that those same policymakers now organizing support for Net Zero will construct calculations in such a way that they do not include the impact on climate caused by the use of the millions of barrel of gas and oil we produce and export.
It would be very good indeed if Net Zero could push NM to have e-vehicles in every garage and perform state-of-the-art energy conservation in every NM community. These would be good things. But if we continue exporting billions of barrels of oil and contribute to huge downstream emissions that are not part of the calculation, achieving Net Zero is useless — worse than useless, as it would give leadership the opportunity to prance about, high-fiving their success, while we failed our children utterly.
Our children and grandchildren will recognize our dissembling and won’t forgive us.
We Were Promised the ETA Would Not Limit PRC Authority
We were promised that PNM would not be able to use the ETA to secure hundreds of millions of dollars from ratepayers to reward PNM for decades of imprudent decisions at Four Corners. Yet in recent PRC hearings, PNM attorneys have held up the ETA in their effort to recover costs once deemed imprudent by the PRC. From Searchlight: “Bad Energy: “The Energy Transition Act was supposed to get New Mexico away from coal, but PNM is using it to line its pockets.“
In 2016, utility regulators reviewed PNM’s continued investment in Four Corners — just as other utilities around the nation were pulling out of coal. In hearings at the time, PNM claimed that staying in Four Corners was the cheapest option. The hearing examiner found that the utility’s decision actually cost more.
The finding would have put PNM on the hook for all of its investments in the plant, a major blow to shareholders. But the utility’s regulator deferred a vote, leaving the decision hanging.
With the hammer ready to fall, PNM threw its support behind legislation that would give utilities automatic reimbursement when abandoning coal plants. The last of these bills was the ETA, which passed in 2019.
PNM claims that this law overrides the hearing examiner’s past decision and entitles the utility company to collect all its former investments in Four Corners by charging its customers.From Searchlight: “Bad Energy: The Energy Transition Act was supposed to get New Mexico away from coal, but PNM is using it to line its pockets.“
“It’s clear cut,” Ray Sandoval, a spokesman for PNM, said. “If the concerns [about Four Corners] were valid concerns, they should have been brought up in the legislative process.” Not to be a stickler, but concerns were raised repeatedly in the Roundhouse by New Energy Economy, Retake, Wild Earth Guardians, and other grassroots groups. And those concerns were repeatedly dismissed by Camilla Feibelman (Sierra Club), Noah Long (NRDC), Tom Solomon (350NM), Rep. Nathan Small, and other legislators supporting the legislation who were hell-bent on passing the ETA to achieve their revered 100% RPS, no matter what loopholes were created to allow PNM to run roughshod over the PRC.
We Were Promised That the ETA Would Not Allow Sustained Drilling at San Juan or Four Corners or Allow Natural Gas Production
PNM is actually using the ETA to enable drilling in Four Corners to continue until 2031.The ETA is also being used to promote and potentially fund sustained fossil fuel extraction. This was not how legislators and grasstops enviros described the ETA in 2019. From Searchlight:
But along with potentially handing PNM a windfall for abandoning Four Corners, the ETA has not delivered on many of its promises.
Four Corners, under current terms, won’t close until 2031. The San Juan Generating Station, set to close next year, may also continue running, though permits for that project have not yet been filed.
Meanwhile, managers of fossil-fuel projects in the San Juan Basin are applying for ETA money.From Searchlight: “Bad Energy: The Energy Transition Act was supposed to get New Mexico away from coal, but PNM is using it to line its pockets.“
We Were Told that ETA Retraining Funds Would Be Used to Train Displaced Workers in Emerging Industries Like Wind and Solar Installation
Yet Capital & Main reports that “San Juan College School of Energy continues developing new programs to train students for jobs in natural gas production — both for export and for creating hydrogen fuel.” And San Juan College is aligning with other gas and oil advocates to vastly expand natural gas extraction and exportation. From the NM Political Report:
Western States and Tribal Nations Natural Gas Initiative’s (WSTN) has proposed establishing San Juan College’s School of Energy as a “Center of Excellence” for developing ESG standards for oil and natural gas produced in the region. It would also create an ESG fuels certification program at the college.
In the information it submitted, WSTN said this would focus on environmentally-friendly extraction and liquified natural gas (LNG) could be exported to Asia, which it claims would lead to a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions.
It would also provide high-paying jobs in an area with abundant natural gas. The submitted project proposal states that the program could lead to increased production of natural gas in the San Juan Basin. This would come through opening new markets for the sale of the commodity.
But opponents say it would extend the reliance on fossil fuels and is contrary to the Energy Transition Act, which provides a roadmap to a carbon-free energy future in New Mexico.
Itai Vardi, a research and communications specialist at the Energy and Policy Institute, said that studies have shown that LNG does not actually reduce emissions. Vardi highlighted a Natural Resources Defense Council study from December and another from the Environmental Integrity Project that was released in the fall.
Vardi said the Environmental Integrity Project study indicates that if all the proposed LNG facilities in the United States are approved, it would be equivalent to about ten new coal-fired power plants. He said there is an enormous amount of emissions throughout the process of extracting natural gas, exporting it abroad and then burning it in Asia.
The NRDC study states that if LNG grows as projected it will be nearly impossible to keep global temperatures from increasing above the 1.5 degrees Celsius point that scientists warn could lead to catastrophic climate impacts.NM Political Report: “Some energy transition funding project proposals include fossil fuels” by Hannah Grover
All of this points to the critical importance of examining the details in any climate legislation before endorsing it. The devil is in the details and the process must allow time for deliberation, with legislative leadership and Net Zero advocates receptive to genuinely incorporating input and criticism. This did not happen at all during the ETA process.
Not to beat a dead horse, but I can’t tell you how many times Sierra Club’s Camilla Feibelman and David Coss, supported by Noah Long (NRDC), promised me personally that the ETA would not allow continued drilling or production of natural gas and that the PRC’s authority was protected. Fast forward two years and the worst of what New Energy Economy, Retake and others predicted is all coming to pass.
A toxic environment during the 2019 legislative session was created in which honest input was treated as treasonous for undermining the Governor’s effort to shut down coal and deliver benefits to displaced workers and transitioning communities. Critics of the ETA were called “elitist” and unconcerned about displaced workers and impacted communities, instead of being respected and listened to.
Fortunately, the ever-vigilant Searchlight has taken a deep dive into the bowels of the ETA and exposed how PNM out-maneuvered the Governor, our legislators, and many grasstops “enviro” orgs like Sierra Club and CVNM. From Searchlight:
The Energy Transition Act was passed in 2019 to great fanfare from environmental groups. The law set a deadline for New Mexico to reach 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045 and created financial mechanisms designed to help utilities get out of coal quickly and to help communities transition their economies away from fossil fuel.
Wrapped in bureaucratic language, utility cases are little understood by the public. But the stakes in these proceedings are high for anyone who lives in New Mexico and they have a major impact on the future.
The abandonment proceedings have brought scrutiny from lawmakers and other supporters of the ETA. A final decision is pending and due by December. The Four Corners case is the latest obstacle in New Mexico’s transition to clean energy.
Rising costs have left Four Corners so expensive to operate that PNM, the state’s largest utility, wants out — and is asking its customers to pony up and pay for the more than $300 million in investments and other costs associated with the plant.
To justify that demand, the utility is invoking the Energy Transition Act, the 2019 law heralded by environmentalists as a road map for other states to move away from fossil fuels. The landmark legislation established financial tools for New Mexico to close its coal plants and help surrounding communities transition their economies.
But while PNM has laid claim to the financial incentives under the law, its abandonment proposal will not close Four Corners. Instead, the utility would transfer its shares to the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, an independent enterprise of the Navajo Nation, that has declared its intentions to keep the plant running as long as possible.
Environmental groups — most of which supported the passage of the ETA — have cried foul, arguing that PNM is misusing the law by failing to push for Four Corners’ retirement….Searchlight: The Energy Transition Act That Was Supposed To Get New Mexico Away From Coal Is Bringing In Big Money
PNM Is Using the Law to Line Its Pockets As It Abandons Four Corners Power Plant
The bitter truth with the ETA is that significant parts were written byor vetted by PNM, and whenever we pressed for changes we were told: “PNM would never sign off on that. The bill will die, Four Corners will remain open, and there will be no relief for workers or communities. If you care about displaced workers, you need to support the ETA.”
An Uncritical Process with No Willingness to Consider Concerns
So given how many committee hearings are part of the legislative process and how many opportunities there are to offer comment and amend a flawed bill, how did the ETA sail through without amendment?
Before the ETA had even been written, Sierra Club secured over two dozen supporting organizations and a large number of legislators as bill sponsors. The ink wasn’t dry on the ETA bill, yet the Governor and Sierra Club hosted an ETA lovefest at Temple Beth Shalom followed by an extended celebration of the ETA at the Roundhouse with Speaker Egolf, the Governor, and other legislators extolling the bill. Once introduced, efforts to offer input were rebuffed.
Organizations like New Energy Economy, Wild Earth Guardians, Retake Our Democracy, and a handful of grassroots indigenous organizations scoured ETA language and tried to warn legislators. But Sierra Club, CVNM, and 350NM were more interested in celebrating a huge win and nurturing their access to the Governor than fixing a badly flawed bill. Indeed, those pointing to ETA problems were criticized as being “elitist and unconcerned about the suffering of displaced workers and transitioning communities.”
We can’t abide another uncritical stampede to accept Net Zero, hydrogen production, and carbon swaps without substantive analysis of what these policies can deliver.
The stage is set for another uncritical rush to judgment with Net Zero, and since we can’t rely on corporate environmental groups to scrutinize the truth behind the window dressing, we need to do it ourselves.
While these corporate environmental orqanizations are now crying foul, claiming that PNM is misusing the ETA, in truth PNM is using the ETA exactly as it was intended: to line their pockets at ratepayer expense and to allow Four Corners to continue to operate. Earth be damned. But along with potentially handing PNM a windfall for abandoning Four Corners, the ETA is being manipulated in other ways.
Four Corners, under current terms, won’t close until 2031. The San Juan Generating Station, set to close next year, may also continue running, though permits for that project have not yet been filed.
Meanwhile, managers of fossil-fuel projects in the San Juan Basin are applying for ETA money.Searchlight: The Energy Transition Act That Was Supposed To Get New Mexico Away From Coal Is Bringing In Big Money
PNM Is Using the Law to Line Its Pockets As It Abandons Four Corners Power Plant
These are the kinds of unintended consequences that result when well-intentioned but close-minded leadership fails to consider input from advocates with a different perspective.
And now the PRC will attempt to exert its authority and hold PNM accountable, while PNM attorneys will use the ETA to argue that the law is the law and thus the PRC has no authority to protect ratepayers from PNM’s insatiable thirst for profit. No doubt, the suddenly ‘woke’ grasstops orgs will cry foul. Would that they had listened two years ago and fixed the bill before it was made law. Or even last year, when Sen. Sedillo Lopez tried to pass legislation to amend the ETA to restore the PRC’s authority. But to have reversed course and acknowledge the ETA needed revision in either 2019 or 2020 would have required those who had advanced the ETA to acknowledge that PNM attorneys had outsmarted them and that the ETA was badly flawed and in need of important fixes.
Resisting input and criticism insulates policymakers in their own world view and prevents learning from other perspectives and experience. We can’t manage the Net Zero debate in an environment governed by defensiveness and self-certainty.
Why Is It Important to Revisit the ETA Saga Now?
It is important because the same enviro orgs who advanced the ETA are now trying to celebrate the new false promise: Net Zero. Only here it isn’t just Retake and New Energy Economy sounding the alarm. Researchers around the world are also alarmed, as are Tom Goldtooth, Vanessa Nakate, Greta Thunberg, and Luis Arce in the videos at the top of this post. Not that this has caused the Sierra Club to raise concerns. In fact, they have taken the lead in celebrating another wolf in sheep’s clothing. We offer verbatim the Sierra Club’s rush to judgment email below, an entirely uncritical announcement, flags waving, email that paints Net Zero as the greatest thing since well, the ETA. Gulp.
With today’s announcement, Gov. Lujan Grisham heads to the UN Climate Summit with deep climate commitments under her wings. By putting net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050 into law this coming year, New Mexico and the Governor will continue to lead the country toward a livable climate and a just transition. We know New Mexicans want bold, just climate solutions and 100% clean energy. We know our climate champions in the Legislature understand the climate emergency and the urgency to complete this critical work in the 30-day session,” said Camilla Feibelman, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter director.From Oct. 25, 2021 Sierra Club email supporting Net Zero
Notice how the Sierra Club’s language simply assumes that Net Zero is something climate champions will support, despite highly credible researchers who fear that the real intent of Net Zero is to allow the fossil fuel industry to continue unfettered, with their negative impacts balanced by fanciful, unproven technological advances such as those advanced at the much ballyhooed NM Climate Summit last month. Note how Feibelman assumes that the Governor’s Net Zero bill will pass in 2022. There isn’t a word that suggests the need for inquiry or debate, or even for more details about how NM’s Net Zero calculations will be designed. Yet there is ample reason to question Net Zero. From Physics.org:
James Dyke, Assistant Director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter, criticized net zero targets as a ‘great idea in principle’ but which ‘help perpetuate a belief in technological salvation and diminish the sense of urgency surrounding the need to curb emissions now….Net zero targets are a “fantasy” that often just protect “business as usual.”From Physics.org “Net zero policies are ’emperor’s new clothes,’ academics warn”
From Physics.org we hear concerns from serious scientific research, concerns that can be found all over the Internet. I am sure that Sierra Club et al have researchers who have found this and other articles expressing strong concerns about how Net Zero can be misused and abused to enable business as usual. How do they see this information and then write over-the-top euphoric emails announcing a policy that has been so roundly critiqued? We need a different kind of leadership from Sierra Club, leadership we can trust to stick to facts, research options, consider differing views, and as appropriate, challenge political leadership and question authority.
It would be good if the Governor’s office also looked more deeply into policies like this instead of rushing to embrace them. Details, facts, and research should hold greater sway than glossy brochures, false promises, and campaign contributions.
More from Physics.org citing Dr. Dyke, Wolfgang Knorr, and Professor Sir Robert Watson, who have written an entire book on the shortcomings of climate change policy, with several chapters devoted to Net Zero.
In a chapter titled “Why net zero policies do more harm than good,” Dr. Dyke and his co-authors Dr. Wolfgang Knorr and Professor Sir Robert Watson argue that the discourse around net zero hinges on deploying potentially dangerous ‘fairytale’ technologies such as carbon capture.
Their essay looks at how projecting a future with more trees was first used by the US to “in effect offset the burning of coal, oil and gas now.”From Physics.org “Net zero policies are ’emperor’s new clothes,’ academics warn”
In NM, just wait and see how we minimize our Permian Basin impacts by ignoring the greenhouse gas it emits once it is burned in the states and nations to whom we sell it, as if we can escape culpability for those impacts because they occur in other states and nations. It is one planet and we can’t operate in a world where the impact of our extraction ends at the NM border.
Achieving “net zero” requires that any carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas emissions are balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount of CO2 from the atmosphere — sometimes called negative emissions. More than 100 countries, including the biggest three emitters — China, the United States, and the European Union — have pledged to achieve net-zero targets in the coming decades. They are being applauded for finally getting a grip on climate change.
But while the net-zero strategy has united policymakers, it has divided climate scientists and activists. Some see the rush to make net-zero pledges in the run-up to Glasgow as a huge success for climate action. But in a blistering commentary last month, a former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Robert Watson, and two co-authors denounced net zero as a trap set by industrialists and governments to hoodwink the world and lambasted climate researchers for showing “cowardice” in not calling them out…
Watson and his colleagues admit to their own roles. “We admit that it deceived us,” he and fellow climate scientists James Dyke of Exeter University and Wolfgang Knorr of Lund University in Sweden wrote. But “the time has come to voice our fears and be honest with wider society… Current net zero policies will not keep warming to within 1.5 degrees, because they were never intended to. They were and still are driven by a need to protect business as usual.”
The International Energy Agency now says that meeting net zero requires an immediate worldwide end to approvals of new oil and gas fields — meaning all drilling for more oil or gas reserves should cease. This puts it at odds with oil giants that are promoting corporate net-zero strategies while continuing to search for more oil.Yale Environment 360: “Net-Zero Emissions: Winning Strategy or Destined for Failure? by Fred Pearce
Note the reference to how, instead of resting on faux Net Zero laurels, we need to cease continued exploration…the one thing that appears to be “off the table” in NM. Note also how easily Dr. Dyke acknowledges he had been misled but that the time has come to be honest with the public. It would be refreshing to hear our Governor say how much it pains her to continue, but that she has not found a way to do that without without decimating our children’s education and support systems. At least that would be honest.
They [Dr. Dyke et al] describe Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) as a “savior technology,” saying “the mere prospect of carbon capture and storage gave policy makers a way out of making the much-needed immediate cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.”From Physics.org “Net zero policies are ’emperor’s naw clothes,’ academics warn”
Rather than searching for a way out, NM should be facing the impacts of our Permian extraction head on, as it is described in the Permian Climate Bomb: the Permian Basin could produce more oil, gas, and gas liquids in the next 30 years than it has in the past century. Compared to emissions from the two power plants impacted by the vaunted ETA, emissions from the Permian are projected to equal 141 coal plants by 2030! Essentially, Net Zero policies could allow government to continue to do business as usual while making claims that they are substantially and meaningfully addressing the climate crisis.
In NM that means continuing our unwavering commitment to drilling the Permian Basin and relying on fanciful reductions in omissions purported to be generated elsewhere (e.g. hydrogen, carbon credits, etc.), to offset the damage done. Net Zero is more an accounting trick than a serious commitment to reducing omissions, and it is essential that New Mexicans are well informed in the technologies being advanced and how Net Zero calculations are used to gloss over NM’s real contribution to the climate crisis. If our leadership won’t be honest with us, we must become fully informed and then be honest and persistent with them.
We just held a Climate Summit in Santa Fe and instead of much hand-wringing about how much we are contributing to the looming climate catastrophe, we acted as if that impact did not exist. Where was the breakout: “Could we shut down the Permian Basin?”
As Dyke et al go on to describe, Net Zero advocates do not trouble themselves with the science of whether their technologies will work, they just ask the world to take a leap of faith to believe that they will work because, otherwise, we would have to face the inconvenient truth and do the more challenging work of actually cutting emissions by keeping oil where it needs to stay…in the ground. You can’t just wave off the impact of 141 coal plants with the stroke of a Net Zero pen.
“The argument appears to be that net zero technologies will work because they have to work,” they add. “But beyond fine words and glossy brochures there is nothing there. The emperor has no clothes.”From Physics.org “Net zero policies are ’emperor’s new clothes,’ academics warn”
If you don’t believe researchers’ on Net Zero, how about the Wall St. Journal:
As leaders prepare to gather in Glasgow for the United Nations climate-change conference, you may think the world has agreed to reduce and eventually eliminate its dependency on fossil fuels, stepping up its reliance on renewable energy. Even Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who won an election opposing costly climate policies, now proudly embraces net-zero emissions by 2050.
But the timeline for the transformation is entirely unrealistic. The politicians who make promises about how energy will be delivered within three decades can be fairly certain that they will be merely footnotes in history. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claims that all cars sold in Britain will be electric by 2030. But he doesn’t acknowledge that on current trend there won’t be enough electricity to power all of these cars.Wall St. Journal: Net Zero By 2050? Don’t Plan on It
Politicians promise an unrealistic transformation that would deny poor countries a chance to grow.
I have downloaded Negotiating Climate Change In Crisis, the book penned by Van Dyke et al, have begun reviewing it, and will continue to pour over it in the next week. In the interim, I ask that all of you resist the impulse to sign on for another fanciful, shortcut to a sustainable future and that many of you take some time to follow the links in this piece and become better informed and ready to press our enviro and political leaders to wrestle with the future of our children and our planet more authentically. As Solnit asserted, there is reason for hope. But to realize the future she sees as possible, we must keep our eyes and minds critical and not follow the lead of disingenuous leaders and their remarkably uncritical allies into rat holes that achieve nothing but offer comfort that you can drill and drill and still address climate crisis simultaneously and without sacrifice.
Van Dyke et al, in their book Negotiating Climate Change in Crisis, outline where we are headed if we do not confront the looming catastrophe authentically. It is not pretty.
It should now be getting clear where the journey is heading. As the mirage of each magical technical solution disappears, another equally unworkable alternative pops up to take its place. The next is already on the horizon—and it is even more ghastly. Once we realise net zero will not happen in time, or even at all, geoengineering—the deliberate and large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system—will probably be invoked as the solution to limit temperature increases. One of the most researched geoengineering ideas is solar radiation management—the injection of millions of tons of sulphuric acid into the stratosphere that will reflect some of the Sun’s energy away from the Earth (Reynolds 2019). It is a wild idea, but some academics and politicians are deadly serious about it, despite its significant risks. The US National Academies of Sciences, for example, has recommended allocating up to US$200million over the next five years to explore how geoengineering could be deployed and regulated. Funding and research in this area is sure to significantly increase.
It is astonishing how the continual absence of any credible carbon removal technology never seems to affect net zero policies. Whatever is thrown at it, net zero carries on without a dent in the fender. The argument appears to be that net zero technologies will work because they have to work. But beyond fine words and glossy brochures there is nothing there. The emperor has no clothes.Negotiating Climate Change in Crisis by Dyke et al
As with the ETA, the devil is in the details. Do you trust that those who uncritically brought us the ETA have done their homework on Net Zero? I hope you don’t.
Do you realize that if we don’t make sacrifices now, in 2-3 years when we’ve run out of options policymakers will begin promoting solar radiation technology as our only chance we have to maintain our way of life (i.e. sustain our gluttonous commitment to capitalist-driven consumption). And then we will really be rolling the dice with the future of the planet. We do have better options now, we just need the time and courage to make hard decisions and prudent sacrifices.
We will have more on Net Zero as the details of how NM plans to implement it become clearer. Stay tuned, but while we await more details, take some time to follow the links and watch the videos above. Then share this post with others. We can’t arrive at the 2022 legislative session unprepared or we will be flattened under the Sierra Club-MLG steamroller, fueled on false promises and unbridled optimism.
In solidarity and hope,
Paul & Roxanne