Late last week, moderate Democrat Joe Manchin basically said F*&% You to the most important aspect of Biden’s climate agenda in his $3.5T Build Back Better Plan, and with it any momentum the US hoped to carry into COP26 in less than 2 weeks.
This one hurts. There are many great levers in Biden and the Democrat’s $3.5T bill to address climate action, but the most critical of those is the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP). The issue in getting this cleared through the Senate is that Biden needs every Democrat vote given the Senate is split 50-50 and not one Republican is expected to support this spend (remember a pillar of conservative politics is less government and less spending), with VP Kamala Harris the tie breaking vote if needed, whom we can assume would vote yes.
Energy Innovation, a climate think tank, found that 1/3 of all emissions reductions in the entirety of the $3.5T bill can be attributed to the CEPP alone.
This is a big blow causing much fighting within the party, and Manchin specifically pointed at the $150B plan to decarbonize our electricity grid as one of his primary reasons for opposing. Let’s break down why this program is so pivotal and why Manchin is being a douchelord about this.
WHY THIS PROGRAM IS SO SO IMPORTANT
We have a lot of work to do in lowering our emissions and doing our part in helping the world reach it’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C (right now at about 1.1C). This included getting 80% of our electricity from zero-carbon sources (wind, solar, nuclear) by 2030 and 100% by 2035. For context, today we are at 40%.
Why is electricity so important? Well for 2 main reasons:
- About 25% of all global emissions come from electricity. And this is only going to rise as more things move electric (think transportation with electric cars and financial systems with cryptocurrency).
- Fully decarbonizing our electricity grid in some ways is more achievable on a quicker timeline than other large emission areas such as transportation overall, buildings, and food production
Up to this point, we’ve been hoping that tax incentives for utility companies to do the trick in getting them to prioritize renewables. But it clearly has not done enough. In the past 5 years, utility companies in the US increased their share of clean electricity by just 1.4% per year.
Proponents of this bill want to see that at a minimum of 4% per year. In order to do so, the CEPP would introduce serious financial penalties for utilities who fall below that threshold, and serious financial rewards beyond tax subsidies for those who go beyond it.
There is reason to believe that there’s little chance for the US to reach it’s Paris Accord Climate Goals without the CEPP.
“This is absolutely the most important climate policy in the package,” said Leah Stokes, an expert on climate policy, who has been advising Senate Democrats on how to craft the program. “We fundamentally need it to meet our climate goals. That’s just the reality. And now we can’t. So this is pretty sad.”
Enter Joe Manchin. He strongly opposes the CEPP under the grounds that it uses taxpayer dollars towards something already “underway” via the tax subsidies, albeit at a much slower pace, and that it will challenge the US ability of reaching energy independence, meaning we can provide all the energy we need for Americans without foreign purchases.
The latter is not true. We can absolutely do that via renewables just through a different path than Trump put us on with fossil fuels.
But the real story here is Manchin is a Senator from West Virginia. And West Virginia is the nation’s 2nd leading provider of coal and 7th leading provider of natural gas, 2 areas that would undoubtedly shrink (as they should) with the CEPP. Moreover, Manchin himself has millions of stock in a coal brokerage firm, Enersystems, that he helped start before we moved into public office.
Let’s put the personal conflict of interest aside for a second and give Manchin the benefit of the doubt that there is nothing unethical there. There is a worst case scenario here where Manchin is acting out of pure personal greed and a desire to maintain his power and Senate seat at any and all costs.
But there is also a scenario here where Manchin is not so much evil as much as he’s just not strong and courageous enough to violate what he sees as his oath of office. The West Virginia people elected him, and we have no doubt that the majority of his voters there don’t want to see the CEPP passed because it could take their jobs away, even though nationally over 60% of Americans support it. Manchin likely feels responsible to represent those people regardless of the bigger picture.
It sucks, and we don’t agree with it or like it, but that may be what’s happening here. And if you look at an old campaign video from Joe Manchin, nobody should be surprised he’s going to be on the wrong side of history on this one.
In the immediate term, we need a miracle. That means one of the Republicans breaking rank and supporting this bill, or rather 2 if Senator Sinema from AZ keeps holding out too. Or we need to break down the $3.5T bill into smaller pieces, one being the CEPP that might still not get Manchin’s vote but as part of a smaller bill could get other Republicans. Maybe.
But we also take some issue with how Biden and the Democrats are approaching this. If you remember back in January, we applauded Biden stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline 110%, but felt the shortcoming was that he did not also include providing subsidies and free training for the blue-collar workers losing their jobs on that pipeline to provide cover for new work. These are hard working, good people living paycheck to paycheck in most cases.
Same goes here. If we are going to move so aggressively in transitioning a system like our electricity grid – which we SHOULD and MUST do – we also need to take care of the working class people who will need a job transition of their own. Those things are hard and they need support. Had this been included, maybe Manchin could sell it into his base a bit easier. Imagine if he told folks at these coal plants, hey, you are gonna get 6 months of wages + free training to move into the renewable sector or other related areas.
We need to take care of people, even if they are working in jobs we know have to be phased out. Not the multi-million fossil fuel executives, like Manchin himself, but the working class folks that make up a majority of those jobs.
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BIODIVERSITY NEEDS MORE OF A SPOTLIGHT
You’re probably aware of the pending COP26 Climate Summit coming up in Glasgow. It’s taking all the headlines in the climate space and rightfully so. We are at a breaking point with global warming and emissions and this is the summit where the world hopes countries come together to take more serious action.
Lost in the news is what took place just last week, the COP15 Biodiversity Summit. While these two existential threats – the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis – often get lumped together and they absolutely have many interdependencies and causal overlaps, they are unique and different existential threats. Climate gets all the attention, but it’s about time we start giving more to the loss of biodiversity happening across this planet.
The summit took place in Kunming, China, and 196 countries attended. That includes the United States, although technically the United States is the only country not on the UN Global Biodiversity Treaty, and that’s due to the inability to get Republican Senators to join it, as to join a global treaty the Senate needs 67 votes, not the 51 majority. The only other entity not on the treaty – The Vatican. If you look around the room at the UN and see who is on your side on a social topic, and the only one left is The Vatican, you’re doing something wrong. We respect Christianity and all religions, but it’s safe to say The Vatican has not been lighting the way on climate action.
So why is biodiversity a separate threat from climate and what went down at the summit?
BIODIVERSITY & CLIMATE CHANGE – MISERY LOVES COMPANY
When we are talking about biodiversity we are talking about nature and all the different animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria that call it home. We are also talking about human beings. We are a critical part of biodiversity as well, although we tend to abuse our power a bit.
Over 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction right now. Biodiversity overall is down 20% since 1900. These things matter. The health of biodiversity and the natural world is critical to the health of our two best tools for sequestering carbon – the oceans and soil. This is an example of where the overlap is. Yet with the climate focus, a lot of emphasis is put on emissions, and rightfully so. With biodiversity, a lot of the emphasis is put on the state of the natural world, which again includes human health.
Think of a car with a flat tire and a dead battery. If you only fix one, that car isn’t going anywhere. That’s what we are framing here. If we lower emissions but continue to disintegrate biodiversity, we are not going to make it. And vice versa.
For example, let’s take the food supply. The collapse of wild pollinators and soil degradation is crushing our global food system. Climate change is viewed as a contributor to pollinator collapse, but pollinator collapse is not necessarily looked at as a contributor to climate change. But we need food to survive. This is why we need to be protecting biodiversity, including wild pollinators, and must put as much focus on this as we do climate.
What’s killing biodiversity above all are the following:
- Loss of habitat due to things like agriculture and mining
- Overfishing, causing massive long term damage to our oceans
- Pesticides/toxins and pollution that we continue to flow into our soil and water
By one estimate, globally we are spending $500B per year damaging biodiversity through things like subsidies for fossil fuels, and only $90B a year to protect it
Here’s a great video breaking down the biodiversity collapse and how climate change contributes to it.
One of the most promising things coming out of the summit was a much stronger commitment globally to the “30×30” program. Protecting 30% of our natural lands and oceans by 2030. Right now we are at 15% for lands and 7% for oceans, far off the mark.
And being off the mark for biodiversity goals is far too common. From the 20 targets set by this same summit in 2010, we’ve only partially achieved 6 of them. That’s terrible. And we’re getting tired of the all talk and little action mantra of these summits.
There were 3 key targets identified at the summit to protect biodiversity:
- Eat less meat – the amount of land we continue to use inefficiently for livestock and the overfishing we do to our oceans has to be addressed
- Bring nature into cities – we need to build green, natural spaces into our cities vs. just laying pavement everywhere we can
- Stop fossil fuels – here’s one that everyone at the COP26 Climate Summit will cheer on as well
And worth noting there was progress identified. 20 million farmers in China reduced their nitrogen fertilizer usage while increasing yields. Liberia and Gambia showed how they are cracking down on overfishing from non-locals.
Here are some other key targets:
- Reducing the rate of introducing invasive species by 50%
- Reducing pesticides to 2/3 of where they are today
- Putting more environmental rigor around where we choose to farm and mine
- Raise at least $200B per year to support developing countries in protecting biodiversity
If you look on our website – www.joinanimalia.com – you will see our purpose here at Animalia is to start discussions and share solutions around 2 primary topics:
- Reducing emissions and decarbonizing our lives
- Protecting biodiversity
It is so important we share focus across both. We believe the climate/emissions issues trump biodiversity because of economics. There is simply more money flowing in the energy space right now, particularly around startups and policy work. There is hardly anything in Biden’s $3.5T spending bill to protect our oceans and natural water bodies, for example, when compared to energy and warming.
These two things are separate but not opposed. They are two, deep, lifelong best friends who are getting beat up by the same bully – humans!
As usual with these summits, a lot of the right talk, and some solid goals set, but no concrete definition on the actions in detail that everyone is going to take to get there. Nothing binding. Nothing truly at stake.
We can do better. We have to. But let’s start by acknowledging the biodiversity crisis and give it more attention.
|DECARBONIZING FOSSIL FUELS TED TALK|
|Recently the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell and Engine No.1 shared the TED stage with climate activist Lauren MacDonald. Fast forward to the 17:00 minute mark and enjoy watching Lauren just hand it to the Shell CEO.|
RE-EMERGENCE OF AFRICAN SWINE FEVER POINTS CONTINUED CHALLENGE OF LIVESTOCK INDUSTRY
Here at Animalia we have taken a different stance on veganism and include anyone who is cutting back what they can on traditional meat consumption, even 10%, to be in the vegan family. This is because it should not be so absolute in definition, but rather a movement to get us off the world of the destructive, factory farm livestock industry designed for pure scale and into a world of regenerative, livestock farming which would undoubtedly lead to less supply, and that means we need a little less demand.
If you are not convinced by the environmental reasons for doing so, and we just touched on more in the article above about biodiversity, well then let’s talk about zoonotic diseases. Many of the diseases that emirate from livestock due to their harsh, unethical conditions do affect humans – think Ebola, H1N1, and SARS, previous pandemics.
There are also those that affect only the animals themselves – in this case African Swine Fever – from a biological perspective, but they do end up crippling us from an economic and food supply perspective for how much we rely on the toxic end of this industry.
African Swine Fever (ASF) is rearing its ugly head again around the world, and it’s on the US doorstep for the first time since the 1980s, with cases in the Dominican and Haiti. It has already been contributing to the rising pork and bacon prices, but if it lands again in the US, expect catastrophic economic fallout.
HISTORY OF ASF
The disease was first discovered in Africa around 100 years ago and has been traveling the world ever since. It is incredibly transmissible, in ways that make COVID look like it’s not contagious at all. Not only can ASF survive and travel on clothing, farming equipment, and pig feed, it can even live in the pig meat after it’s been cooked and cured.
Pig meat happens to be the #1 most illegally seized item in US border crossings, but much goes undetected. So while humans are not infected by it, we sure as heck can transport it in more ways than one.
It’s devastating to pigs, causing internal bleeding and organ collapse. When outbreaks happen, the entire industry has to shut down. Millions of pigs potentially infected have to be slaughtered and disposed of. Which can destroy small farms, local economies, and lead to massive price hikes – all of which hurt working class people the most. ASF in the last couple years has ravaged China, the world’s largest pig producer, killing as much as 25-50% of all their pigs – which is contributing to the big price hikes you are seeing right now in something like bacon.
The problem in containing something like ASF is the way we raise and farm pigs. When we say factory farming livestock – we are referring to the really toxic end of the industry who is operating for pure scale. Animals living in massive, cramped pens, poor grain fed diets, hormone injections, land abuse…you name it. It’s bad for the animals and it’s bad for our health and it’s bad for the environment. There are plenty of more ethically and environmentally friendly ways to raise livestock, but not factory farming. Unfortunately in the US, 97% of our pigs are factory farmed.
And that style of farming also leads to more outbreaks and disease spread. Not just ASF, but diseases like H1N1 as well.
If ASF hits home again this fall or winter, as it very well may, it’s going to have major negative domino effects on our economy.
There are so many reasons to put an end to factory farming livestock and really no compelling reasons to keep it going. We have alternative food sources, people just don’t like to eat them. At some point, we are going to have to stop making cheap meat our #1 priority in life. We are going to have to accept that maybe meat should be a little pricier and eaten less frequently in order to ensure that it’s raised and harvested in the right way.
Proper, controlled rotational grazing of livestock can be a really critical part of regenerative agriculture. There is no clear reason to stand against that. Factory farming livestock is not that. In the case of pigs, this is essentially where all of it comes from.
Environmental and biodiversity concerns should lead the way here to stop this practice, but economic and public health concerns are very real as well. In the case of ASF, we are already seeing the economic impact with rising prices and if it hits home in the US as it seems it may, it’s going to get a lot worse. As for public health, while it’s still unproven if COVID-19 transferred to humans from an animal or from a lab, all other major outbreaks in the last 20-30 years have been animal derived. Many from unhealthy livestock kept in horrible conditions. And more are on their way.
Cell-based meats may be the solution long term, but they will take time to get to market and scale. If you are interested in hearing about that world, check out one of our previous podcasts below with Finless Foods founder and CEO Mike Seldin.
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Some related listening….
LAB GROWN MEAT IS IN YOUR FUTURE | WITH MICHAEL SELDON, CEO OF FINLESS FOODS
What if your favorite meat could be cultured in a lab and created with much less environmental harm? Would you be down?
We chat with CEO of Finless Foods, a company bringing sustainable, delicious seafood to the world, without having to farm or harvest live fish from our precious oceans by harnessing cellular biology.