THE 2016 DEMOCRAT PLATFORM’S FOREIGN AND NATIONAL SECURITY POSITIONS:
GLOBAL CLIMATE LEADERSHIP
Harry C. Blaney III
Our final look at the Democratic Platform foreign and national security issues focuses on Climate Change and other international environmental issues. This topic like nuclear weapons is one of global “existential” consequences and deserves the highest level of attention and resources. In our previous look at the Republican platform and statements of “climate denial,” support of the most dirty form of energy, and ignoring the health consequences also of our own citizens in the process their policies are a model of concerted deliberate obstruction of any real effort to deal with our warming climate and its horrific consequences. The question now is does the Democratic Platform and the statements of Hillary Clinton clearly reflect a significant path towards avoiding cataclysmic outcomes of doing too little too late.
TEXT OF 2016 DEMOCRATIC PLATFORM:
Global Climate Leadership
Climate change poses an urgent and severe threat to our national security, and Democrats believe it would be a grave mistake for the United States to wait for another nation to take the lead in combating the global climate emergency. According to the military, climate change is a threat multiplier that is already contributing to new conflicts over resources, catastrophic natural disasters, and the degradation of vital ecosystems across the globe. While Donald Trump says that climate change is a “hoax” created by and for the Chinese, Democrats recognize the catastrophic consequences facing our country, our planet, and civilization.
We believe the United States must lead in forging a robust global solution to the climate crisis. We are committed to a national mobilization, and to leading a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II. In the first 100 days of the next administration, the President will convene a summit of the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists, and indigenous communities to chart a course to solve the climate crisis. Our generation must lead the fight against climate change and we applaud President Obama’s leadership in forging the historic Paris climate change agreement. We will not only meet the goals we set in Paris, we will seek to exceed them and push other countries to do the same by slashing carbon pollution and rapidly driving down emissions of potent greenhouse gases like hydrofluorocarbons. We will support developing countries in their efforts to mitigate carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases, deploy more clean energy, and invest in climate resilience and adaptation.
As a proud Arctic nation, we are against putting the region at risk through drilling in the Arctic Ocean or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Instead, while protecting our strategic interests, we will seek collaborative, science-based approaches to be good stewards of the rapidly changing Arctic region.
There can be little doubt about the difference between the Trump/GOP stance on climate change, on environmental stewardship, and on the proactive stance towards dealing with it on a global scale and the Democratic Party’s perspective. But here there is not much in terms of specifics except the promise to exceed the Paris goals which indeed is necessary to stave off massive damage to life and economies, especially those with coastlines. The calling of a major conference in 100 days is fine but unless there is a willingness to put on the table major resources, work with others, and come away with hard commitments, too many meetings end without real follow-on. I say this as a person who worked hard in this area while in government to get binding treaties in these areas.
There are no pledges of specific levels of resources in the platform, or levels of Green House gasses that will be eliminated by transportation, burning of coal for energy nor of dealing with a harmful environmental trend in our oceans. Nor is there any specific indication of how to protect key rain forests that are important to getting C02 out of our atmosphere, and setting specific priorities in terms of slowing carbon emissions and how much to invest in clean energy. The media and citizens need to ask these specific questions of our candidates.
I know that Platforms are designed to make people feel something will be done and set general goals but not alienate some blocs of voters with narrow perspectives and interests with hard specifics as to how and at what cost. But after decades of debate the time has come to very much get to very specific programmatic promised actions.
But as noted, the differences here are choices between a party acting to address these challenges and the party of anti-science, pro-unlimited polluting of our environment no matter the health costs to our people and the deaths they cause, coupled with the pernicious interests of the “old” energy companies especially coal. We need to add the influence of what I call “bought ideologues” on the far right our wrongheaded advocates for doing nothing, along with conservative business interests and the pliant media who refuse to tell the truth on climate science. There is little doubt we need a party that is dedicated to some significant action and acknowledges the problem and wants to really fix it for the sake our on-coming generation and survival of a livable planet.
What will be interesting in the coming months is whether this topic will resonate in all the hubbub of this election season.
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By Harry C. Blaney III
A lot of credit must go to President Hollande, his team, President Obama, and Secretary Kerry as they all worked beyond human energy levels for a positive outcome at the COP21 conference especially at the ninth hour and beyond on Saturday night December 12th. Also, some great credit must go to the political and diplomatic leaders that led the way and overcame major obstacles. Having attended a number of major conferences throughout my career, getting consensus or at least lack of opposition is a hard lift, and in too many cases an impossible task. I have long argued that one of the great historical moments in human history would be the decision by the global community to decide to act effectively to address the looming, if not already present disaster that is climate change or global warming. It is an existential challenge, not just to the nations states but for the peoples of the entire planet.
A reminder, it is not just this accord in itself that is key, but rather, the will to actually work towards its goals that are important. That will still take political will and the strong backing and daily support of citizens around the world along with strong and determined leaders who will stand by their work and their successors.
Here are comments, analysis, and questions on some of the key points of the agreement:
TEMPERATURE INCREASE AT A 2.0 OR 1.5 CELSIUS CAP TARGETS:
We need to be frank on this difference. The developing countries wanted to get some commitment to the 1.5 C target and they got that but it will be difficult if not impossible to achieve even the 2.0 C goal. But better to put this on the table for future debate as this compromise helped to get some of the developing countries on board for the entire Paris package. A number of NGOs also thought this was necessary as many scientist believe that even at 2.00 C could bring about catastrophic impacts, especially on the poorer and vulnerable nations like the Island countries.
BURDEN SHARING OF COSTS WITH RESOURCES TO DEVELOPING NATIONS FROM DEVELOPED:
Here there again were trade-offs. There was acknowledgment on the part of the economically advanced nations that they had an obligation to support those with few resources to deal with and address local climate change making assistance much needed. But there were few hard commitments towards specific amounts. America pledged $800 million but it will be up to Congress to appropriate the money, or it will come out of other development aid accounts. Already Republican leaders in Congress have said the money will not be voted on.
ABSENCE OF “GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS NEUTRALITY” FROM PARIS PRIORITIES, IS IT REALLY DOABLE OR THE BEST PATH TO THE 1.6-2.0 TARGETS:
This is a tricky issue and one with much uncertainty. There are groups, many in the private sector, that are auguring for a “technological fix” or in other terms a “geo-engendering” of our planet on a mass scale. This, in effect, would employ new means to “capture” greenhouse gasses by storing them underground. Other technologies would include taking CO2 out of the air.
None of this has yet to be demonstrated as economically proven or on a mass scale feasible. The consensus was to informally embrace this concept especially since much of the funding for this approach will likely come from very rich persons who strongly believe that this is a key path to address warming since traditional approaches are not likely to work.
But others argue that messing with nature could have unforseen consequences. Final judgement: This approach is on the policy table but no new technology has proven to be a “quick fix” anytime soon. Finally, many experts believe that stopping deforestation, planting new trees, protecting the oceans, and letting photosynthesis do its job is a better, perhaps cheaper option, with many side benefits and within the capability of poorer large forested nations. The question is the money and the commitment on all sides there to make greening of the globe work.
OPTIMISM OR PESSIMISM BALANCE OF THE ACCORD AND ITS DO ABILITY:
The key answer is that the Paris accords taken together are a major advancement towards fully addressing climate change on the part of the entire globe –developed and developing nations – which in my view, is the absolute “sine que non” for a real chance to mitigate the catastrophic consequences within the lifetime of most on this planet. It is the necessary condition for a political and economic consensus going forward to build upon if future leaders recognize the dire alternative and are willing to pay the price for saving this planet.
THE DIVIDE BETWEEN DEVELOPED AND DEVELOPING NATIONS ON WAY FORWARD:
As noted above, the masterful diplomacy of president Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry in getting the truly key developing nations on board, namely India, China, and others, moved the conference away from confrontation, which was never absent from the meeting. This was a key element in getting the final almost complete consensus and ,even more important, a sense of momentum and a framework for future progress. The introduction of a 5 year review progress was also a necessary element to give some hope of holding nations pledges to the fire, getting them to think of ways to improve their own pledges, and provide needed greater transparency to the agreement. The benefit will be future actions that will undoubtedly be required as we learn more of the science and have better tools to make improvements.
QUESTIONS FOR THE FUTURE:
Yes this was a historic achievement but the success, as always, rests in the hands of, we hope, wise leaders and wise and empowered global citizens. We need better and more resourced international institutions to help shape our global response to the high risks and challenges to our globe, and the key test of this new international capability will be climate change, and the other will be new efforts at dealing with nuclear-proliferation.
Within America we need to better educate our citizens, of which nearly a third are skeptical of climate change due to the power of true crazies, including Republicans running for president, those with massive amounts of money, from the coal and oil industries, and right-wing think tanks, along with the lack of our mass media to say the truth in front of those that argue nonsense about science like the current Chairman of the Senate environmental and Public Works Senate committee James M. Inhofe. He said that the Paris talks were “full of hot air.” The danger to our nation and world are people like Inhofe and the people behind him, as they undermine American values, and our real security and global leadership by their insanity, ignorance and greed.
We will need better leaders if our real national and global security is to be safeguarded and enhanced. We will examine in the future how the Paris agreements are implemented.
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“All local leaders, investors, economic and social actors, citizens, must understand that the things have changed.” –Hollande
“We are the first generation to feel climate change and the last that can do something about it.” –President Obama
Harry C. Blaney III
With the opening in Paris of the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) the ecological stakes are the highest, not just for dealing with the serious catastrophic impact of climate change, but also the ability of the international community to deal with high existential risks for the entire planet. As President Obama has noted, this generation is the last that can possibly make a difference. But frankly, if participating parties do not all contribute to mitigating the danger, and let bitterness and self-interest overcome the common peril, then we are doomed.
As a person who has held positions in government that dealt with global environmental issues, and wrote about climate change four decades ago as part of what I characterized then as a “world at risk,” we are still sadly debating the reality of this at home, and even abroad. There are strong moneyed groups that are not just “climate deniers” but actively working to destroy any effort to acknowledge the problem and above all do anything about it.
The hopes are that somehow an agreement can be reach and likely some document will emerge but will it be enough to really have people and nations and institutions and the world’s power brokers on board? That last question in not likely to be answered for another decade. But you will know when each country adds or does not add to the resources necessary to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gasses and adds to the technology that can replace fossil fuel, and our oceans and forests are protected and made whole.
To simplify, somewhat, a very complicated problem, can’t be solved by just one action like a carbon tax, or one country like China or America taking initiative. The path towards addressing climate change is doing globally a million things, doing them well, and doing them as quickly as possible.
The reason to care is very simple; we are at the 11th hour of acting and beyond that is total disaster from the analysis of the best minds in this field on the globe. Yet if one had to bet, it is now sadly possible that the Paris negotiations will fail as we see initially a repeat of some of the vindictive and inaction that took place in the last meeting in Copenhagen. People came to avoid action and accuse others, and did nothing themselves. But from the speeches and some early indication progress and perhaps compromise, may yet emerge. The earth has already paid a price in floods, droughts, hurricanes, heat waves, starvation, spread of disease, loss of forests, and habitat for the earth’s diverse species on land and in the ocean.
Yet, our global political and institutional system was not, and may not be up to the task of acting together and with the necessary political and economic commitment to get the job done. I’d first blame weak leaders and the corrosive and myopic politics back home, not only in America but in many other countries as well. But equally, one could attribute the blame then and now to the powerful forces of the “polluters,” corrupt politicians, and countries and companies that profit from dirty energy, the destruction of forests, and the plundering of the ocean’s resources.
Real progress will not be made unless we recognize and act in light of today’s realities of what is possible and what can be achieved via some compromise.
The second factor that needs to be highlighted is recognizing the absolute actions that are necessary to get the world community on a clear path towards sustainability, and “institutionalizing” the process of stewardship of the earth beyond words and pieces of paper.
Here are some key points the reader can look for that may indicate we have returned to some rationality:
– The first is to recognize what ,in reality, a country or a political leader can or cannot do and work to maximize what is possible. For example, President Obama will never get the Senate to ratify a binding Climate Change treaty. But what he can do, and is doing is by executive authority and regulatory power, and diplomacy is achieving significant reductions in greenhouse gasses. So some countries are trying to find a modality that will permit less than “legal” commitments to achieve the necessary reductions.
– The second reality is the need to go beyond the old destructive North-South divide and the useless blame game that some developing nations are playing to push the whole effort of solving climate change upon the “rich countries,” and absolving themselves thereby of doing nothing but asking for amounts of money they are not likely to get. And on the other hand, the need for the “rich” countries to recognize that real major support for the transition to a clean energy economy in the developing world will not take place without some external significant investment, probably from public and private sources, the EU, World Bank, and IMF. Sadly, it is unlikely that the Republican dominated climate denial Congress will add much to this effort and “other ways” will need to be found to contribute to a “global solution.” If both sides accept they ALL must make a concrete effort instead of throwing bricks at each other, and recognize that the developing world is most vulnerable, will we make real progress.
– The third outcome that one needs to look at is the acceptance of the need to reform or create new capabilities and responsibilities and resources on a broad international institutional scale that empowers old or new institutions to undertake major global commons repair and renewal. The creation of the most transparent and reliable organization to hold countries and institutions accountable for their actions or in-actions on a frequent basis, staffed by the most prestigious scientists, economists, and other experts, led by the highest profile hard headed global leader available, is also necessary.
There are clearly a thousand things that need to be done, like bring forth new clean technologies, restore denuded forests, invest in closing down dirty energy sources as quickly as possible, make cars and planes more efficient and less polluting, put in place more quickly and efficient machinery and conserving resources, making houses, buildings, and factories more conserving of energy, etc. Great strives have been made by London School of Economics scholars among others, in indicating that such efforts can be economic, grow our economies, and even save in the long run our earth and make our societies more sustainable.
In the coming days, the indicator of success and failure or in between, will emerge but in Pogo’s words “it is us” that must take responsibility if we are to save our next generation, and those that follow. Diplomacy and leadership is now key. Keep watch.
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SHUTDOWN AND DEBT CRISIS: A PAUSE FOR REFLECTION BOTH AT HOME AND ABROAD
By Harry C. Blaney III
While the end of the current shutdown and debt ceiling crisis is now over it has NOT ended. It has simply been postponed. Further, while some have been writing that the Tea Party faction has been chastened, the first reading is that they are mad and have no intention of backing down on their absurd goals which will only hurt America and hurt the majority of Americans. Not least, however, is that they have severely damaged America’s global image and brought into question the full faith and credit of the United States. Our friends and allies are still worried and our adversaries are taking advantage of our dysfunction.
The debt and shutdown fight uncovered and created added American vulnerabilities abroad. Other nations question more our reliability and soundness of our commitments. This includes in our negotiations of our new Atlantic and Pacific trade pacts, in pushing nations to do more against weapons of mass destruction, in our requests for help by other nations in reducing dangerous conflicts, and in cooperation to deal with our continued global economic and financial problems.
The major problem of our current governmental and political dysfunction continues as long as a minority of a minority can halt all legislation and tie in knots efforts at reasonable negotiations and seriously addressing our challenges at home and abroad. No one can deny that having a strong domestic economy, growing employment, better education of our children, taking care of our aged and poor, and improving our science and technology, providing health for all citizens, and rebuilding of our decrepit infrastructure, are key to our continued progress and global leadership.
Yet all of these goals the Republicans and especially the Tea Party faction are still opposed and so far they are backed by billionaire malevolent forces that seem more interested in keeping their billions than in moving the country forward. They also seem more interested in not addressing many of our key global interests like climate change, getting our national security balance and costs right, supporting arms control and non-proliferation, and least of all, helping the poorest nations and the growing gap between the very rich and the poor to change.
America and Americans have a stark choice. We can either in these next three years help President Obama and our other leaders address our needs and our responsibilities at home and abroad or we can dither, decline, and become inured to the plight of our own people and their needs. And the Tea Party and many Republicans on the right would do the same to the growing danger signs abroad. They have no interest in addressing these issues despite a need at major a effort to rethink our national security instruments and policies and our international landscape.
All this cries out for leadership, added resources and greater cooperation with other nations and in strengthening and reforming the United Nations and other international institutions to address better issues like environmental decay, health care, increasing our capability of stopping conflicts and genocide, slavery, terrorism, hunger and working to advance human rights and democracy. The Tea party would walk away from a functioning U.S. government and they would walk equally away from America acting as a force for a more decent world as well.
So the struggle for America’s soul is not over. This was only the opening salvo and a great debate should ensue as to what America is about and what is our role in the 21st century to ensure we give to our children a safer more fair world so they don’t have to endure the stupidities that we have just gone through.
We welcome your comments!
The recent milestone of CO2 reaching 400 parts per million of our atmosphere is surely a wakeup call as are the many natural and ecological disasters that almost every part of our globe has experienced over the last decade. Carbon dioxide is the primary global warming pollutant and much of it has been injected into our air by human activities.
Scientists have known about this problem of climate change for decades. I devoted a whole chapter to the question in a book entitled Global Challenges: A World At Risk published in 1979, as did hundreds of scientists and other experts throughout the 60s, 70s, ands 80s. No one really paid much attention who had the power to actually do something meaningful. We got some global action via the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change but despite several other major global meetings resolute binding actions were not forthcoming. However,
Now after many disasters, the question of climate change has gathered the attention of some affected citizens, some in the media, and academics around the world. But neither the political will nor the public demand has driven nations and global institutions run by governments to act decisively to reduce the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses getting into our atmosphere.
First, the opposition has been of what one can call the “flat earth” types who for ignorance or political or economic interests are climate change “deniers.” The science is against them but facts and science have increasingly had little influence on those who profit from citizens’ ignorance. American opinion polls have shown hefty minorities who do not believe in climate change and man’s role in the CO2 increase.
Second, is the role that money increasingly plays in American politics has grown thanks in part to the Citizens United decision. Its influence and that of the very conservative rich elements have largely cornered the market on governmental decisions and media outlets, through control over Congressional action, state governments, and not least over the Supreme Court.
Third, the impact of the global economic and fiscal crisis abroad and at home brought on by greed and in some cases criminal acts by management of banks and financial institutions, brought about the resulting austerity policies in Europe. This was led by Germany’s counterproductive demands for slashing government spending, which causedmass unemployment in many EU countries. When you are experiencing a major recession that looks to many as a depression, you worry about putting food on the table, not about global warming and paying for necessary new remedial programs.
Fourth, has been the fundamental weakness of the international institutions and system of governance to address and deal with major global challenges. We have denied them the tools to act effectively and the blame rests with our governments and not with the institutions themselves. We have not given the resources or the authority to carry out actions that are required to fully address the crisis we are facing. Part of this fault has been the Republican war on international cooperation and institutions in America. This weakness was shown by the inability to agree to a binding global framework convention on global climate change. Global agreement was undercut by the diverse opposing positions: the developing world wanted the “rich nations” to act alone to deal with the problem or pay for any effort. Some key developed nations i.e. large polluters like China, America, Australia, etc. were driven by narrow economic influences and did not have the political will to sign up and in the end ratify a binding treaty.
So, in the face of these large obstacles what can be done?
The first action is to change our policies by changing our politics and legislative bodies, the education of our people, and scientists speaking out to inform our citizens of the impending dangers and proposing programs that will address global warming. A little courage by our politicians would help a lot also.
On a global level, as long as there is a series of intransigent national and international obstacles and weak leaders, we need to make smaller regional and sector matter agreements and initiatives that create a serious start to slow global warming and its impact on our fragile globe. The EU efforts to cap CO2 and develop clean renewable energy sources are an example. So are the actions by California to lower its energy use through conservation and efficiency programs, which
is spreading to other states and regions. President Obama’s push for rapid R&D and installation of solar energy is a key way to address the problem on a unilateral basis but has been fought tooth and nail by the Republicans and some Democrats in bed with the dirty energy barons.
Our media and schools and churches would help by not giving credence to bad and indeed wrong ideas such as so called “science” that denies climate change and its causes. But that requires honest and disinterested media which is a rarity in America. However, here again citizens and experts can speak up (too few do) and challenge the mindless and false views from Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation and their ilk. The problem, as Pogo said, is us.
As everyone knows the sequester has been a disaster for American growth, its modernization, and its built and social infrastructure. It has killed needed jobs. It has made the poor poorer, and it has made the middle class languish. Let’s be clear, this is the doing of the Republicans in Congress….not the Democrats and not the President. It can be repealed by a single sentence in a new law and a bit of common sense, decency, and patriotism by the Republicans and a very few conservative Democrats. It has especially impacted our scientific and technological base. Don’t hold you breath however. But remember it has huge implications for our national security and our ability to play a constructive role in world affairs.
A subset of this madness is some recent acts by House Republicans to attack, not “socialism” or “Obama,” but quality academic science and technology. Yes, sadly there are some of this group that are “flat earth” types, who think the world was formed 10,000 or so years ago, some even, according to polls, think the sun goes around the earth, and many more think that global change is not happening or like a recent failed presidential candidate that humans have had no role in the warming of the earth or build up of CO2 and that we should not do anything about it!
Let’s look at a couple of recent examples via actions in Congress by GOP members. The first is legislation being worked on by Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the new chair of the House of Representatives Committee of Science. Its aim is to destroy the professional peer review at the National Science Foundation (NSF). It would replace a system that has worked for decades and brought us superb research with new skewed funding criteria chosen politically by the right wingers in Congress. Further, it would also aim to establish a process to determine whether the same criteria should be adopted by other federal science agencies. Their attack is especially aimed at social sciences including economics; a field they clearly know nothing about based on their pushing for policies that would draw us into a deep depression.
The second insanity is led by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) who last month successfully (where were the Democrats?) attached language to the 2013 spending bill that prohibits NSF from funding any science research for the rest of the fiscal year unless its director certifies that it pertains to economic development or national security.
The proposed bill would force NSF to adopt three criteria in judging every grant. It would require the NSF director to post on NSF’s Web site, prior to any award, a declaration that certifies the research is:
1) “… in the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science”
2) “… the finest quality, is groundbreaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large”
3) “… not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies.”
NSF’s existing guidelines ask peer reviewers to consider the “intellectual merit” of a proposed research project as well as its “broader impacts” on the scientific community and society.
As another pernicious act Smith’s bill requires NSF’s oversight body, the National Science Board, to monitor the director’s actions and issue a report in a year. It also asks Presidential Science Advisor Holdren’s office to tell Congress how the principles laid down in the legislation “may be implemented in other Federal science agencies.”
The top Democrat on the science committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), according to ScienceInsider, sent a strong message to Smith:
“In the history of this committee, no chairman has ever put themselves forward as an expert in the science that underlies specific grant proposals funded by NSF,” Johnson wrote in a letter obtained by ScienceInsider. “I have never seen a chairman decide to go after specific grants simply because the chairman does not believe them to be of high value.”
Johnson warns Smith that “the moment you compromise both the merit review process and the basic research mission of NSF is the moment you undo everything that has enabled NSF to contribute so profoundly to our national health, prosperity, and welfare.” She asks him to “withdraw” his letter and offers to work with him “to identify a less destructive, but more effective, effort” to make sure NSF is meeting that mission.
Into this fray President Obama made a speech to the National Academy of Science (link to speech) defending the integrity of the scientific method and noting the importance of ensuring its resources, its independence, and taking on those that would insert their partisan ideology into our intellectual research and methods.
When one thinks you have seen just about every crazy action one can imagine, the Republicans in Congress add to the foolishness and now aim to hurt our nation’s efforts to advance our knowledge, gain key insights, and encourage unbiased science and research. Our national security is based on our economic strength and on our advanced and growing Science & Technology research. Playing with it and aiming to thwart the non-political unbiased intellectual development of our society is dangerous and shortsighted.