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Video: How cheap renewables and rising activism are shifting climate politics – MIT Technology Review

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The plummeting costs of renewables, the growing strength of the clean energy sector, and the rising influence of activists have begun to shift the politics of climate action in the US, panelists argued during MIT Technology Review’s annual EmTech conference last week.

Those forces allowed President Joe Biden to put climate change at the center of his campaign and helped build momentum behind the portfolio of clean energy policies and funding measures in the infrastructure and reconciliation packages under debate in the US Congress, said Bill McKibben, the climate author and founder of the environmental activist group 350.org, during the September 30 session.

You can view the full video of the session below:

The measures will mark the first major climate laws in the nation if they pass in something close to their current form. Most notably, they include the Clean Electricity Performance Program, which uses payments and penalties to encourage utilities to boost their share of electricity from carbon-free sources (read our earlier explainer here).

Other speakers on the panel, titled Cleaning Up the Power Sector, advised on the creation of that program. They included Leah Stokes, an associate professor focused on energy and climate policy at the University of California, Santa Barbara; and Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor and energy systems researcher at Princeton University.

“A writer, a political scientist, and an energy modeler walk into an MIT panel …”

Julian Brave Noisecat

They argued during the session that the legislation, designed to ensure that 80% of the nation’s electricity comes from clean sources by 2030, is more effective and politically feasible than competing approaches, including the carbon taxes favored by many economists.

“When … we say to people, ‘We’re going to make it more expensive for you to use an essential good, which is energy,’ that isn’t very popular,” Stokes said. “That theory of political change has run up against the reality of income inequality in this country.”

“The different paradigm is to say, ‘Rather than making it more expensive to use fossil fuels, let’s help make it cheaper to use the clean stuff,’” she added.

But it remains to be seen whether the clean electricity measure and the other climate provisions will pass, and in what form. Even some Democratic senators in the narrowly divided Congress have pushed back on what they portray as excessive spending in the bills.

For all the progress on climate issues, well-funded and politically influential utility and fossil-fuel interests continue to impede efforts to overhaul energy systems at the speed and scale required, stressed Julian Brave Noisecat, vice president of policy and strategy at Data for Progress, who moderated the session.

“These interests are remarkably entrenched and remain so despite significant grassroots opposition,” he said.

If legislators defang the key climate provisions, it will slow the shift to clean energy in the US and undermine the negotiating power of Biden’s climate czar, John Kerry, in the UN climate conference early next month, McKibben said. “Rest assured that will limit everybody else’s ambition, too,” he said.

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Doug Ford says Ontario opposition playing politics over his 'bang on' comments about immigrants – CTV Toronto

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he believes opposition parties are playing politics over his comments on immigrants and said he’s been told his remarks were “bang on.”

Ford was asked on Wednesday by Brampton East MPP Gurratan Singh in Question Period whether he is ready to apologize for the comments that “play into racist stereotypes about new Canadians.”

“Those comments were hurtful, divisive, and wrong,” Singh said.

Ford responded to Singh by saying he has been “inundated with messages from your community, the Sikh community, that said ‘You were bang on.'”

The comments about immigrants were made in Tecumseh while Ford was speaking to reporters about a labour shortage on Monday.

“We’re in such desperate need of people from around the world,” he said. 

The premier then specified that he only wanted “hard-working” people to come to Ontario.

“You come here like every other new Canadian. You work your tail off,” Ford said. “If you think you’re coming to collect the dole and sit around, it’s not going to happen. Go somewhere else.”

On Wednesday, Singh asked Ford if he was ready to apologize, adding the comments were “just plain wrong.”

“Stop playing politics and let’s speak the truth,” Ford responded to Singh. “You know the backbone of this province are great hard-working immigrants.”

“My phone is blowing up all night, all day, day before, from immigrants telling me their story … I’m the biggest pro-immigrant premier we’ve ever seen here.”

Ford told Singh he will “go to his community and door knock and see the response from the Sikh community.”

He said he’s been told already by the Sikh community that his comments were “bang on” and that he needs to “stay focused.”

Many Ontario politicians spoke out and demanded Ford apologize on Monday.

Ford was asked on Tuesday by the NDP to apologize for the “discriminatory” comments. He did not, and instead used the opportunity to say he is “pro-immigration.” 

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How green politics are changing Europe – BBC News

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The Greens

An ocean of conservative blue blankets the electoral map in Germany’s southern state of Bavaria.

And yet the conservative vote actually fell across Germany in last month’s federal vote, while the Greens achieved their biggest success yet,.

In an election dominated by climate change, a speck of green has made a ripple in Bavaria. For the first time a Greens candidate was directly elected to represent Bavaria in the federal parliament.

It is symbolic of the creeping rise in support for European green parties, from Hungary to Finland.

Bavaria's electoral map

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The new MP, Jamila Schäfer, beamed with satisfaction when she recalled her surprise victory in Munich-South, by a wafer-thin margin of 0.8%. Only once before had the CSU lost the constituency since 1976.

“This is a major sign of change,” Ms Schäfer told the BBC.

A campaign ‘close to the people’

The Greens won 14.8% of the vote nationwide, appealing beyond their eco-protest roots with Annalena Baerbock standing as candidate for chancellor. Now they are in talks to share power as part of a three-way coalition.

Greens co-leaders Angelina Baerbock (L) and Robert Habeck (R)

Getty Images

Ms Schäfer, 28, is the Greens’ deputy federal chairwoman and typifies a party that has undergone a national makeover after years of power-sharing in several German states (Länder).

She rose through the ranks of Green Youth, taking part in school strikes against education reforms, long before Swedish activist Greta Thunberg made her name by skipping classes for climate protests.

Climate change was consistently ranked as the most serious facing Germany in opinion polls ahead of the election.

Even so, Ms Schäfer targeted her “close-to-the-people” campaign in Munich-South on housing, pensions and taxes.

Green shoots of success

Once ridiculed by many as idealistic hippies, Green parties increased their vote share in 13 European countries at the most recent national elections. In six of those countries – Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg and Sweden – green parties have a share of power in coalition governments.

A map showing the countries where green parties hold power

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In all those cases, the Greens are pressing their partners to adopt more ambitious targets for lowering carbon emissions. Elsewhere, the green mayors of Amsterdam and Budapest are aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050 and 2030 respectively – to balance the greenhouse gases emitted and absorbed by their cities.

Despite last month’s election success for the German Greens, even co-leader Ms Baerbock admitted they had failed to live up to early opinion poll ratings: “We wanted more. We didn’t achieve that.”

Given the urgency of curbing emissions, what’s holding the Greens back?

Trust and fear of change

One explanation is that mainstream parties across Europe have elevated climate change to the top of their agendas.

“If you’re concerned about the climate, it doesn’t follow that you’re going to vote green,” Adam Fagan, a political scientist at King’s College, London, said. “It means you’re going to scrutinise the manifestos of the main parties for their green credentials.”

A map showing the percentage of votes for green parties in recent European elections

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Green parties tend to do better in countries with more proportional systems, as used by the European Union for its parliamentary elections. For example, the Greens/EFA bloc gained 25 seats with 10.8% of the vote in the 2019 election to the European Parliament.

“People think putting the Greens in power [in the EU] is less dangerous,” said Philippe Lamberts, co-president of the Greens/EFA.

“From the right and the left, there’s always a question hanging over us: can you really trust the Greens with the economy?”

National election results suggest the answer is no.

To reduce emissions, the Greens say big structural changes to the economy are needed. While those reforms are necessary, they scare people and put them off voting green, Ms Schäfer said.

“They’re worried they’ll be the losers of big transformation,” the MP said. “It’s a lack of control that people are afraid of. But we need to convince people that our politics is not about giving up control.”

‘Killing the planet’

It’s even more difficult in Southern and Eastern European countries, where support for green parties is fragmented or non-existent. Surveys show that climate change is far from a top priority in post-communist countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania.

Voters and political parties there are generally more concerned about economic development or migration, leaving environmental issues to civil society groups.

Mr Lamberts believes voters find the message that their country’s model is “killing the planet” unpalatable.

Unlike in many of the other former Soviet-bloc states, green parties have made inroads in Hungary.

Gergely Karácsony

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The green LMP party has won seats in three consecutive national elections since 2010, while Dialogue received 11.9% of the vote in an alliance with the Hungarian Socialists in 2018.

Dialogue’s success came under the leadership of Gergely Karacsony, who was elected mayor of Budapest in 2019.

He defeated the nationalist incumbent by rallying opposition parties behind his liberal platform, and promising solutions not only to environmental issues, but economic and social ones too.

“In Hungary today, there are three different crises. A democratic crisis, a social crisis and an environmental crisis,” Budapest’s mayor told the BBC. “The advantage of the green movement is that we have proposals for all three.”

He linked green policies such as urban foresting and carbon-free public transport to Hungary’s poor record on air quality and other environmental problems.

Particularly in post-Soviet countries, the mayor said, social justice must go hand in hand with the green transition.

“We cannot put the costs of sustainability on disadvantaged segments of society.”

Jamila Schäfer speaking at an event

Andreas Gregor

What worked in Budapest may not necessarily follow elsewhere, but green candidates have achieved electoral success where they have channelled voter discontent, united the opposition and diversified their offer beyond the environment.

If the Greens can build on these gains, there is a future for them in coalitions, Professor Fagan said.

“Green politics in Europe is getting bigger and stronger, and I’m sure it will grow in the coming years,” Ms Schäfer said.

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Biden says he’s concerned about Chinese hypersonic missiles

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U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he is concerned about Chinese hypersonic  missiles, days after a media report that Beijing had tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide weapon.

Asked by reporters as he was boarding Air Force One for a trip to Pennsylvania whether he was concerned about Chinese hypersonic missiles, Biden said, “Yes.”

The Financial Times said at the weekend that China had tested a weapon in August that flew through space and circled the globe before cruising down toward a target that it missed. China’s foreign ministry denied the report.

 

(Reporting by Nandita Bose; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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