Category Archives: #RatherBeInCourt

Backward

Florida’s legislature is currently in session, and I am saddened to share that a group of legislators are enthusiastically taking steps to diminish efforts to solve our climate crisis and protect our ever so fragile state. The Legislature has filed a set of bills, House Bill (HB) 1645 and Senate Bill (SB) 1624, that are designed to take our energy system backward by overtly diminishing the reality that climate change is increasingly having on Florida while protecting Florida’s ever so powerful utilities’ desire to embrace their antiquated, polluting investments in energy distribution rather than our environment and its citizens. It’s enough to make me sick and is something I would encourage every citizen of our state to learn about immediately.

The good news is (or was) that in 2006 Florida’s legislature had the foresight to implement Statute § 366.92, the Florida Renewable Energy Policy, which mandated an increase in the use of renewable energy as well as a reduction on our state’s dependence on fossil fuels for electrical production. In the nearly two decades that followed that law’s passage, no one bothered to create rules or goals to achieve its mandate until a group of concerned youth from all over Florida filled a Petition for Rulemaking in 2022. That petition, which I helped lead, sought to establish the actual rules, goals, and other steps needed to help utilities embrace the 2006 laws mandates and transition towards sustainability. The effort, which you can read about here, concluded with the State of Florida’s Office of Energy, part of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, implementing Administrative Rule 5O-5: Renewable Energy. For the first time in our state’s history Rule 5O-5 established goals to help Florida’s energy system transition to becoming 100% renewable energy based over the next few decades.

The bad news is that Florida politicians have recently introduced a pair of shameful bills that are making their way through the House & Senate which aim to take the state’s pollution generating energy system backward in time by protecting the powerful utilities. If passed, these bills would eliminate phrases within the current law such as “greenhouse gases,” ban wind generated energy and overtly protect natural gas, a significant (methane) source of pollution that is helping warm our climate. Such environmentally damaging steps can’t possibly be dreamed up by the politicians themselves and are clearly bought and scripted by the utilities that seek to continue their polluting ways by protecting their investments and investors.

You can read about what our elected officials are doing right now to take Florida’s environment backward in the following article by Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida that appeared online in Florida Trend (the red highlights are my own) or by clicking here.

Lawmakers ready to overhaul state energy laws

Jim Saunders | News Service of Florida | 2/20/2024

TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers are moving toward approving an overhaul of state energy laws, including eliminating references to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and imposing a ban on offshore wind-energy generation.

The Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved a revised bill (SB 1624) that sponsor Jay Collins, R-Tampa, said is now in line with a measure (HB 1645) ready to go to the full House.

The bills address numerous issues, ranging from natural gas pipelines to calling for a study of using “advanced” nuclear power technologies. Perhaps bigger picture, they would ditch parts of state law about reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

Collins said bill supporters are trying to “maintain our stability in the grid” and balance costs to taxpayers.

“There are things we’re taking off of the books. There are laws that we’re pulling out of there,” Collins told the Senate committee. “But it’s not because we don’t care about our environment. I think, if you look at what Florida’s doing, we do a very good job as stewards of our land, now and into the future. I think what it (the bill) does is it lets us look at this and do the things that actually have a functionable, repeatable benefit.”

But critics pointed to issues such as flooding caused by sea-level rise.

“I’m not sure how it became political to care about our environment,” Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said. “Florida is ground zero for climate disasters. We are surrounded by water, and the effects are showing.”

As an example, part of current state law says, “The Legislature finds that the state’s energy security can be increased by lessening dependence on foreign oil; that the impacts of global climate change can be reduced through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; and that the implementation of alternative energy technologies can be a source of new jobs and employment opportunities for many Floridians.”

Under the bills, that section of law would be deleted, and partly replaced by sentences that say, “The purpose of the state’s energy policy is to ensure an adequate, reliable, and cost-effective supply of energy for the state in a manner that promotes the health and welfare of the public and economic growth. The Legislature intends that governance of the state’s energy policy be efficiently directed toward achieving this purpose.”

Florida utilities during the past two decades have become heavily dependent on natural gas to fuel power plants, while largely ending the use of dirtier-burning coal. At the same time, utilities have built numerous solar-energy facilities, as costs have decreased and technology has improved.

The bills address a series of issues related to natural gas. As an example, gas pipelines within Florida that are 15 miles or longer currently need certification under a law known as the Natural Gas Transmission Pipeline Siting Act. Under the bills, the requirement would apply to pipelines 100 miles or longer.

Unlike some other parts of the country such as the Midwest, Florida does not rely on wind-generated power. But the bills would ban building or operating offshore wind turbines in Florida-controlled waters and on property within one mile of coastlines.

Collins said the proposed ban is designed to help protect wildlife and ecosystems and to prevent noise.

“Overall, the risk to our flora and fauna, our whales, the ecosystem around there, that’s concerning,” Collins said. “And then the tourism and noise aspect as well is also concerning.”

But Polsky and Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boca Raton, suggested the issue should be studied before a ban is imposed.

“We are stopping an industry,” Berman said. “We are supposedly the free state of Florida. It’s being done all along the Northeast (United States). They have wind turbines, and I haven’t seen any studies that (they) were causing (harm to) whales and extreme environmental damage in those areas.”

The Senate committee voted 6-3 to approve Collins’ bill, which needs to clear the Fiscal Policy Committee before it could go to the full Senate.

The future of Florida’s energy system must be powered by clean, sustainable power. Fossil fuel use, and that includes methane producing natural gas, must come to a sensible, well planned end over the next few decades. Taking the type of steps called for today in both SB 1624 and HB 1645 only serve to take Florida backward by embracing the pollution and polluters that are causing our climate to warm.

Good News. Bad News.

You’ve surely heard the phrase, “I have good news and bad news, which would you like first?” Growing up I always learned to get the bad out of the way first so as 2024 begins I have good news and bad news for you and, true to form, will start with the bad.

Bad News

As I have been predicting through much of last year, 2023 has now officially been anointed as the hottest year on record since global temperature records have been kept. It produced both the hottest summer on record in the Northern Hemisphere and the warmest winter on record in the Southern Hemisphere.

Simply leaving your home meant it was impossible to see a dramatic change in the weather and our climate. 25 disasters that struck the United States each caused over $1 billion in damage… a record. South California suffered its first tropical storm warning (in August) while Canadian wildfires turned New York City skies dark orange and sounded air quality alarms all over the East Coast as deadly tornadoes and devastating floods tortured the Midwest. And the weather-oriented disasters were not, of course, just limited to the United States. Tropical Cyclone Freddy was the longest cyclone in history and caused devastating flooding and landslides in many regions of Madagascar and Mozambique.

But nearly everywhere you went or lived last year the story was the heat. 2023’s global mean temperature was 1.48 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average, a figure perilously close to the 1.5 degree aspirational goal in 2015 during the United Nation’s COP21, in what is known as the Paris Agreement. In 2023 mankind produced the hottest June ever recorded. Then the hottest July, followed by the hottest August, the hottest September, the hottest October, the hottest November, and, sadly, also the hottest December. Seven straight months that each broke heat records as compared to the entire recorded history of such records.

In fact, every single day in 2023 was at least 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial times (1850 to 1900) when fossil fuels became prevalent and have since lead to causing our climate to heat and heat. Worse yet (yes, the bad news seems to keep getting worse and will until we eliminate fossil fuels) is that two days, November 17th and 18th, were the first to measure 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Keeping temperatures within 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels is critical to mankind avoiding the worst impacts of our climate crisis but an increase that’s 2 degrees or higher will have simply devastating impacts all over earth.

Here’s how the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and a host of other scientific agencies all over the world documented the record setting temperature, records that shattered historic results by, as the WMO said, a “huge margin.”

NASA, NOAA, and a host of other climate experts are predicting that 2024 could very well break last year’s record and, for that matter, break through the 1.5 degree level. So, yeah, “Happy” New Year with that prediction. It’s time every one of us get serious about eliminating mankind’s use of fossil fuels before it’s truly too late.

Good News

As the new year starts all of the news, thankfully, is not bad. In fact, we start the new year with some incredibly great climate-oriented news here the United States. You see, 2023 saw the United States decrease (yes, you read that right, decrease) our fossil fuel pollution emissions by 1.9%, the largest decline since COVID19 led folks to stay inside, stop driving, working or traveling (and a time emissions declined an estimated 2.4%). Here’s a chart from the Rhodium Group that illustrates the correlation of results between economic growth (or decline) in recent years and green house gas emissions increase or decrease each year:

So, how did we actually reduce polluting emissions, much less do it in a year when the United States economy grew (+2.4%) robustly? Simply stated, coal use in the United States declined again last year and carbon emissions from coal, in turn, fell by 8%. And the warmer winter mentioned above led to emissions from things like natural gas, fuel, oil, and propane used to heat buildings to fall and polluting emissions from those fossil fuels fell by 4%.

Coal use continues to decline and that’s good news. In 2023 it’s estimated that just 17% of energy generated in the United States was derived from coal, the lowest such figure since 1969. Nuclear power, conversely, for the second year in a row moved ahead of coal as an American energy source.

Now, the news (sorry) here is not all good or great. Travel continuing to rebound meant that transportation emissions from airplanes increased 1.6%. Industrial emissions increased 1.2% as a result of an increase in oil and gas production.

While news of 2023’s record breaking temperatures should alarm all of us, the progress we are making by shifting away from coal shows that if mankind can muster the fortitude to eliminate fossil fuel use and shift to sustainable energy quickly we can, just maybe, avoid the worst impacts of our climate change crisis. But there’s not a day to wait.

For the United States to lead the world (as we should) towards fixing our climate crisis we need to reduce our polluting carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2030, a goal that means we must triple our emission reductions each year over the next six years so there’s no time to waste.

Not even one day.

Happy 2024 everyone. Here’s to hoping it’s a wonderful year for you and your loved ones that is filled with great health and happiness.

COP Out? The Dubai Document

Nearly 200 of the world’s nations gathered here in Dubai for the United Nation’s annual climate conference, COP28, and for at least a couple of days near the conclusion of our meetings, over half of those countries attempted to have the summit’s final guiding agreement include wording that called for the “phase out” of fossil fuels. In the end, half a day after its scheduled conclusion, what I will call The Dubai Document (which you can find here) and something that the UN calls its Global Stocktake (GST), failed to include any reference of either a “phase out” or a “phase down” of fossil fuels.

It will not come as a surprise to many that while some of COP28’s leadership will surely tout the document as an important, or even remarkable, step towards solving our climate crisis while patting themselves on the back, I would bill it and these two weeks as a “COP OUT” (pun intended) defined by wealthy oil producing nations (including our host country, the UAE) and corporations protecting their cash flow, profits, lifestyle, and most certainly the products and pollution that’s causing earth to warm in increasingly alarming ways.

That final document includes vague, nearly nonsensical, wording suggesting that the world’s nations should be transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.” Such wording allows oil rich countries to continue to actually, unbelievably, increase fossil fuel production for the foreseeable future.

The good news, and it should be seen as such especially coming from such a controversial summit as has taken place here in Dubai, is that the phrase “fossil fuels” actually made it into the final document. That’s a first as even many oil producing nations have publicly acknowledged that the days of fossil fuel production are limited and will, one day, largely come to an end. Now that the adults leading these talks have had the courage to actually say that fossil fuels are causing our climate crisis and include that phrase in the conference’s culminating document, the proverbial pollution genie has been released from its lamp. That is, in itself, historic and should provide us something to build upon between now and COP29 next year in Azerbaijan.

The GST Agreement saw the world’s nations also agreeing to include a number of voluntary steps towards sustainability, including tripling global capacity of renewable energy by 2030 (something China and the USA had touted in a separate agreement a few weeks ago), doubling the rate of energy savings from efficiency steps, and “rapidly phasing down unabated coal.” The final document also again includes the 1.5°C degree aspirational goal found in 2015’s Paris Agreement and delineates that reaching that goal would require 43% of emissions cut by 2030 and a 60% reduction by 2035 versus 2019 emission levels.

I will share that the evolution of the final 2023 GST document has been a case study for me in how the UN’s climate negotiations take place as the attending nations strive for the UN’s desired consensus in the final wording. The proposed language released last Friday, for example, remarkably marked the first time in the three-decade long history of these negotiations that mention of eliminating fossil fuels by agreeing to phase out their use was ever put into writing and that rightfully garnered optimism amongst delegates that substantive progress just might be made at COP28. If mankind is to have a chance at limiting the worst aspects of our climate crisis, then it is essential that society begin an orderly transition away from using the fossil fuels that produce about 75% of earth’s warming.

“The Republic of the Marshall Islands did not come here to sign our death warrant.”

John Silk, Minister of Natural Resources and Commerce
Republic of the Marshall Island

The pushback to last Friday’s proposed “phase out” wording, however, from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and OPEC+ nations such as Saudi Arabia and Russia, along with India and China, was predictable, immediate, and fierce. In response to yet another new draft, one of many in recent weeks, that appeared late Monday with dramatically weakened wording called for reducing consumption and production of fossil fuels.” That revised wording was quickly deemed unacceptable and thus other drafts then followed on Tuesday and through the early morning hours here on Wednesday as negotiators attempted to do the impossible: appease everyone.

As they did last year in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia led the OPEC (Algeria, Angola, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates [COP28’s Host Nation], and Venezuela) and OPEC+ (Azerbaijan [next year’s COP29 recently announced host], Bahrain, Brunei, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Oman, Russia, South Sudan, and Sudan) oil nations in refusing to allow the final Conference’s guiding agreement to include any mention  of either “phasing down” or “out” fossil fuels.

Instead, the oil cartels insisted that the summit focus on emissions from burning fossil fuels rather than the fuels themselves. Those nations and many of the oil companies that harvest, distribute, and sell fossil fuels prefer to tout unproven fantastical ideas such as “carbon capture” technology that experts predict could be impossible to scale to sufficient size in time to make a difference. Carbon capture is increasingly touted at these COP sessions by the fossil fuel producers and polluters like a magical climate change solution, yet experts note that in addition to being ridiculously unproven, it has all sorts of logistical issues including questions over where “captured” carbon would be stored, where and how it would be transported, and how to pay for the truly exorbitant cost of such technology.  The United Nations, it should be noted, has explained that a small amount of carbon capture technology may be useful to achieving its goal of net zero polluting emissions, such as within the concrete industry, but that this technology will not replace the need to dramatically reduce fossil fuel use and replace it with sustainable energy options such as hydrogen, solar, and wind.

And yet, as I have noted in earlier posts, it should surprise no one that those whose countries and companies profit from oil and gas would fight the growing, now very public global focus to “phase down” or “out” the polluting products they broker. Their resistance is, of course, logical but the open display that unfolded here in Dubai including the grotesque number of oil industry lobbyists that were so vividly everywhere illustrates both their fear and what’s at stake not only for them but more importantly for the future of our environment and humanity. Here’s a picture of who the OPEC and OPEC+ nations are:

Following last Friday’s draft COP28 Agreement, the one including wording related to the “phase out” of fossil fuels, it’s interesting to note that a memo dated December 6th from OPEC’s head, Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais, surfaced and was quite the topic of conversation here in Dubai (yet another example of how this year’s meetings “evolved”). That memo told OPEC members that “the undue and disproportionate pressure against fossil fuels may reach a tipping point with irreversible consequences” and advised them to fiercely fight any wording related to “phasing down” or “out” fossil fuel. News of that memo immediately led to global outrage but also, perhaps for the first time in such a public way, makes clear that oil nations are the focus of those of us that are serious about bringing an end to the use of their polluting products and transitioning to sustainable energy solutions before it’s too late.

And while they are neither a member of OPEC or OPEC+, China was also again forceful at these meetings. A proposed statement calling for global emissions to peak by 2025 was, for example, removed from the final document after China objected to such wording, a curious position since some believe that country’s own emissions might peak by then.

Another issue the world faces is that while ultimately over half of the countries here at COP28 (EU, the United States, Canada, Small Island Developing nations, and many others) openly supported the “phasing down” or “phasing out” of fossil fuel use in some fashion there are other countries such as certain African and the OPEC/OPEC+ nations that adamantly feel it is their right to profit from their natural resources, most certainly including harvesting fossil fuels despite the pollution it produces. During a closed-door session here in Dubai, for example, the developing nation of Bolivia explained that they “could not see space for targeting any sources of energy, that any phaseout or down or demand for action as a country is unacceptable to us.”

And despite the open disregard for the damage that the pollution many nations are producing, there were a growing number of nations in attendance for whom our climate crisis is literally going to be life or death. For those nations it’s clear that the climate crisis not only requires massive economic investment to try to become resilient by adapting to what’s happening to them, but that sea level rise realistically places their very survival and futures at dire risk.

“We weren’t in the room when this decision was gaveled. And that is shocking to us.”

Tina Stege, Climate Envoy
The Marshall Islands

It seems that you gaveled the decisions, and the small island developing states were not in the roomWe were working hard to coordinate the 39 small island developing states that are disproportionally affected by climate change and so we were delayed in coming here.”

Anne Rasmussen, Lead Negotiator
Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)

“As a Pacific Islander on the frontline of the climate crisis, I’m gutted by the outcome of COP28 and was shocked to see the GST text adopted so quickly. The final outcome falls short of what’s needed in terms of fossil fuel phase out and finance.”

Shiva Gounden, Delegation Head
Pacific at Greenpeace Australia Pacific

In my earlier post from Dubai, The Room Where It Happens, I noted the importance of being at these meetings, of being engaged in the debate, negotiations, and decisions. That post was fortuitous when we consider the comments that small island nations made immediately after today’s announcement of a final vote and the resulting GST document. I’ve written about these nations in the past, places that face similar futures to many regions in South Florida where I live, such as Miami Beach, the Everglades and Florida Keys, places that are literally at the risk of extinction from rising sea levels caused by the damage fossil fuels pollution is doing to our atmosphere and oceans.

The sense in Dubai, frankly, is that the seemingly lightning fast vote on the final wording that was approved this morning may have somehow been manipulated so as to exclude some of the nations such as the 39 Small Island members from debating the final wording. Some of the nations that have spent these past two weeks calling for the “phase out” of fossil fuels, appear to have been still discussing the most recent wording, a draft that was released just a couple of hours before today’s plenary began and thus were not even in attendance during what became the final vote. If that’s the case, if they were consciously excluded or their attendance somehow prevented, it would mark a sinister end to COP28.

Those nations are now arguing that noticeably absent from today’s plenary was the typical debate over the most recent proposed draft wording that precedes a vote. The Small Island nations believe that there was a rush to end the Conference and approve the most recent wording without public debate ever taking place nor they even being in the room when the gavel brought COP28 to an end. If their full participation was, in fact, manipulated or limited in any manner by the UAE’s COP leadership then that betrayal will serve as the darkest oil spot of many black marks and sketch events to define the meetings here in Dubai at what has been perhaps the most controversial COP in the three decades these meetings have been taking place. It is most certainly a story worth watching evolve.

And as I write this post, I am in the process of traveling the 7,500 miles from Dubai back to my home in Miami, Florida, a trip that will take about 19 hours of flight time, a four-hour layover in London, and a couple of rideshares to and from the various airports. All in all, it will take me a full day to get home and upon my arrival I must immediately turn my focus to studying for this semester’s law school final exams that will dominate my schedule over the next week.

 

sandclock-gif-7.gif — Are.na

Honestly, I am both exhausted and exhilarated. And yet, as I sit here and study legal concepts and cases on the plane my mind is full of thoughts from the UAE desert, of what I saw, heard, and learned at COP28. And the image that I can’t keep out of my mind is of an hourglass filled with sand, perhaps sand from the very desert that I visited a few days ago, and thinking that it represents the time that’s running out for the nations of the world to fix our climate crisis by eliminating fossil fuel use before it’s too late.

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