The Energy 202: Climate conference shows divide among Democrats over how to counter global warming
SAN FRANCISCO — The organizers of a climate-change conference here in California wanted their three-day summit to be a repudiation of President Trump. And during many speeches, and commitments from cities and companies to reduce their impact on the environment, it was.
But at other times both in and outside the convention center in San Francisco, activists protested against the current Democratic approach. The clash marked a high-profile schism between the middle- and far-left segments of the Democratic coalition about how forcefully to address climate change.
The event was set up to show how the private sector and local governments are pressing ahead to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions even as the president promises to pull the United States out of the landmark Paris climate agreement.
The Global Climate Action Summit was organized by the state’s Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who just days earlier signed a bill committing California to getting 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045. He followed that up with an even more ambitious mandate, outlined in an executive order, to decarbonize California’s entire economy by that year too. And then on Thursday, he signed a bevy of 16 bills attempting to reduce the carbon footprint of California’s many automobiles by putting more electric cars on the road.
The climate summit saw a scattershot of plans and commitments by other states, cities and companies eager to push ahead on problems they believe Trump has turned his back on. Groups and companies announced plans on everything from rain forests to electric car charging stations.
Twelve cities, including Tokyo and Seoul, joined an initiative to slash emissions in city centers, making room on the roads for electric car fleets. And New York City announced it will invest $4 billion in pension funds for climate change initiatives in the next three years, doubling current investments. On the industry side, LeasePlan, a Dutch company that is one of the biggest fleet providers in world with 1.8 million vehicles, will step up purchases of electric vehicles. So will the French electricity giant EDF Energy, which has about 30,000 vehicles, organizers said.
Many other consumer-facing brands outside of heavy industries like oil and autos made their own moves. Starbucks said it plans to build 10,000 “greener stores” by 2025, attempting to save $50 million in utility costs over the next decade. Food-and-drink giant Unilever said it will certify 150,000 acres of palm oil plantations in Malaysia as sustainable.
It remains to be seem whether that constellation of commitments from cities and companies, none of which are legally binding, turns out to be just a wish list. But many of the more well-traveled attendees of climate conferences were encouraged.
“I’ve been to a lot of gatherings and conferences related to the climate crisis for many years now, and this is really top-notch,” former vice president Al Gore said in an interview. “The nature of the commitments being announced is extremely heartening.”
At times, the summit felt like a reunion of officials who served in the Barack Obama and Bill Clinton administrations. (Obama made an appearance, though only via prerecorded video.)
Yet it was Brown, more than anyone, who cemented his place as one of Trump’s chief foes on climate issues by hosting the summit and signing the carbon-free electricity bill. The California governor seemed to relish the role. When asked during a press conference how Trump will be remembered, Brown responded: “Liar, criminal, fool. Pick your choice.”
However, for the hundreds of activists outside George R. Moscone Convention Center, Brown was the antagonist. Waving signs addressed to Brown saying “Climate Leaders Don’t Drill,” many of the protestors wanted the governor to stop the expansion of oil production in California, which last year was the fourth largest producer of crude among U.S. states.
“You need keep-it-in-the-ground commitments,” Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, said in an interview. “People don’t know how big oil and gas development is in California.”
Broadly, the progressive climate wing wants to see end to the cozy relationship many of elected Democrats have with corporations.
That message made its way on stage when protesters interrupted a speech by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg by yelling “our air is not for sale.”
Back in front of the microphone, Bloomberg quipped in reply: “Only in America could you have environmentalists protesting an environmental conference.”
Steven Mufson contributed to this report.
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— Hurricane Florence’s made landfall shortly after 7 a.m. Friday in Wrightsville Beach, N.C. as a Category 1 storm, after pummeling the coast with wind and water overnight. Although it was downgraded, it’s still “bringing powerful winds along with warnings of ‘life-threatening’ storm surge and rainfall,” The Post’s Mark Berman, Antonia Noori Farzan and Kyle Swenson report. Nearly 5 million people in the Southeast are expected to receive at least 10 inches of rain in the coming days as the hurricane crawls inland, the National Weather Service has warned.
Emergency crews were already making high-water rescues for 150 residents on Friday morning awaiting help. And there were reports of collapsed roofs and structural damage in the Morehead City and New Bern areas of North Carolina
Florence’s landfall “will coincide with the most severe effects,” The Post’s Jason Samenow wrote Thursday. “Storm surge, the rise in seawater above normally dry land at the coast, could exceed a story high. On top of that, a disastrous amount of rain — 20 inches, possibly even as much as 40 inches in isolated areas — is expected to fall. The National Weather Service says nearly 5 million people could witness at least 10 inches of rain over the next five days as the slow-moving storm made little headway.”
The National Hurricane Center warned there would only be a gradual decrease in the storm’s intensity throughout the rest of the day. “It cannot be emphasized enough that the most serious hazard associated with slow-moving Florence is extremely heavy rainfall, which will cause disastrous flooding that will be spreading inland through the weekend,” the center’s 5 a.m. update read.
Already thinking about the next storm: In Outer Banks, N.C., which may seem to narrowly escape the brunt of Florence’s impact, the relief is only temporary, The Post’s Sarah Kaplan reports. “One of these hurricanes, many worry, will expose the Outer Banks for what they have always been: ‘Basically just a sand bar,’ in the words of John Trubich, who lives in the northern town of Kitty Hawk…. ‘Mother Nature made the Outer Banks just by pushing sand around. It’ll eventually be washed away,’ Trubich said. ‘Hopefully not in my lifetime.’”
And still thinking about the last storm: “As residents across North Carolina braced for the force of Hurricane Florence, many in the storm’s crosshairs are still recovering from her predecessor, Hurricane Matthew,” The Post’s Kaplan, Frances Stead Sellers and Katie Zezima report. “While many people have rebuilt, millions of dollars in recovery assistance remain caught up in toxic politics between the state’s Democratic governor and its Republican-led legislature. North Carolina received a fraction of the nearly $1 billion in federal disaster relief it requested from the Trump administration.”
North Carolina will need more help. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) on Thursday called on Trump to make another federal disaster declaration beyond what has already been declared to aid with what his office says will be “historic major damage.” “Cooper’s office says the current emergency declaration is helping state officials prepare for the storm,” the Associated Press reports. “It says the additional declaration would bring more federal help with debris removal, search and rescue teams, meals and generators, among other items. Cooper is seeking the new declaration so that federal funds and other assistance can be received as soon as possible.”
People were already starting to lose power. As of early Friday, more than 300,000 households in North Carolina had lost power. And Duke Energy Corp. temporarily shut down its 1,870-megawatt Brunswick nuclear power plant on the Cape Fear River about four miles from Southport, N.C. “The company said its procedures required closing the plants when facing a sustained period of 75 mph winds, even though the plants were designed to withstand winds of more than 200 mph,” The Post’s Steven Mufson reports. “The units are 20 feet above sea level, said Rita Sipe, a company spokeswoman. She said they were designed to withstand a storm surge of 22 feet.”
Here’s an updated city-by-city forecast for what some of the more than 15 million people under storm watches and warnings can expect from Florence as of Thursday, per Samenow and Matthew Cappucci.
More in Florence-related news:
- A “no brainer” that climate change made Florence worse: About six inches of the storm surge from the hurricane can be attributed to climate change, a result of sea level rise in the last 100 years, The Post’s Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis reports. “If you start with a higher sea level, the same surge obviously will go up higher than without that sea level rise,” climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf, a sea-level expert at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research told The Post. “It’s a no-brainer. The only question is how much.”
- There are a ton of internet hoaxes related to the dangerous storm, and The Post’s Abby Ohlheiser breaks them down here, including Florence’s very own shark meme and unhelpful preparedness tips.
— As Florence barreled toward the Carolinas, the president had created his own politico storm early Thursday, diverting “attention from the government’s preparations for the monster storm to his personal grievances over last year’s Hurricane Maria by falsely claiming a conspiracy to inflate the death toll in Puerto Rico,” The Post’s Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Josh Dawsey report, noting he drew “immediate rebukes from Democrats as well as some Republicans for denying a sweeping study, which was accepted by Puerto Rican authorities, estimating that there were 2,975 ‘excess deaths’ on the island in the six months after Maria made landfall.”
Two of the president’s top Republican allies in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis criticized Trump for questioning the death toll in Puerto Rico.
Scott tweeted that he disagreed with Trump:
I disagree with @POTUS– an independent study said thousands were lost and Gov. Rosselló agreed. I’ve been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand. The loss of any life is tragic; the extent of lives lost as a result of Maria is heart wrenching. I’ll continue to help PR
— Rick Scott (@ScottforFlorida) September 13, 2018
“Ron DeSantis is committed to standing with the Puerto Rican community, especially after such a tragic loss of life. He doesn’t believe any loss of life has been inflated,” DeSantis’s campaign said in a statement, per the AP.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) chided the president’s questioning of the death toll. “What kind of mind twists that statistic into, ‘Oh, fake news is trying to hurt my image’?” she told reporters, The Post’s John Wagner and Joel Achenbach report. “How can you be so self-centered and try to distort the truth so much? It’s mind-boggling.”
Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan (D-Wis.) didn’t outright criticize the president, but he did not dispute the George Washington University regarding the death toll. “This was a function of a devastating storm hitting an isolated island, and that is really no one’s fault,” Ryan said. “The casualties mounted for a long time, and I have no reason to dispute those numbers.”
Here’s how Trump ally Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) explained why the president seems unable to accept shortcomings: “I don’t think it’s bad to say we could’ve done better in Puerto Rico,” Graham said. “I don’t think you want to declare a success when people die. The point is: Did you do everything you could do within reason? I don’t know the answer to that question. There’s always mistakes in every hurricane.”
In this Q&A with The Post’s Gabriel Pogrund, Jenniffer González-Colón, the island’s only representative in Congress, rejected Trump’s false claim, but she also “accused Democrats of playing politics with the island ahead of the midterm elections and criticized the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, who has publicly clashed with Trump over his response.”
— There’s a simple reason why the president’s theory is wrong, The Post’s Philip Bump reports. Part of why the Puerto Rican government accepted the estimates from George Washington research is because there’s no straightforward way to assess death tolls following such a catastrophe. “It assessed how many more deaths there were on the island relative to a normal year for the six months after the storm… It’s not a precise figure, instead representing the most likely value from a range of possible death tolls,” Bump writes. “This is also why Trump’s argument that those who died of old age were just ‘add[ed] onto the list’ is wrong. There is no list. There is a comparison between the number of deaths on the island in the period after Maria and the number of deaths during a normal equivalent period on the island.”
The Pinnocchio Test: The tweet earned the president four Pinocchios from Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler. “One might quibble with extending the period under investigation for that long, but few areas of the United States have suffered so long without electricity or drinking water in the aftermath of a natural disaster,” Kessler writes. “Moreover, in any part of the United States, 3,000 excess deaths in six months would be considered a crisis, worthy of an intensive investigation to find out what went wrong — rather than a tweetstorm that minimizes the problem. Even the most conservative estimate, looking just at the excess deaths through October, is above 1,000. Trump’s tweets are missing a few digits, and thus earn Four Pinocchios.”
Lawmakers release the receipts: Emails between first responders released by congressional Democrats Thursday appeared to “undermine the Trump administration’s public reporting of the human toll from Hurricane Maria last year,” Politico reports. “In one email, dated Sept. 29, 2017, a first responder — whose name has been redacted — describes ‘finding mass graves in mud slide areas,’ and requests counseling support for federal first responders in the area.”
FEMA facing mounting scrutiny: As the agency prepared to respond to Florence, it was also dealing with allegations of misconduct and the fallout from Trump’s revival of its controversial response to the devastation in Puerto Rico last year. FEMA administrator William “Brock” Long said despite distractions, the agency is “100 percent” focused on the Florence, The Post’s William Wan and Nick Miroff report. “Current and former FEMA officials said it was alarming to see the nation’s top officials engaged in political skirmishes as Florence was due to make landfall with the potential to displace millions of people and devastate swaths of the Southeast.”
Meanwhile: Trump’s aides told Rucker, Costa and Dawsey they have tried to keep the president’s attention on Florence, and that he’s been involved in daily briefings and calls to state officials. “Officials have brought large, colored charts and graphs into the Oval Office to illustrate Florence’s dangerous path for Trump, who is a visual learner,” they write. “And the president made a rare trip outside, to visit the staff of the National Security Council’s resilience office housed across the street in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. [Sen. Graham] said he received phone calls from the president and other officials in what he characterized as an unprecedented level of outreach. Trump seemed interested in how hurricanes work and how Florence would land, calling it ‘a really nasty one.’”
— From Russia with gas: Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Thursday the United States warned Russia it may sanction the construction of a the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is set to double Russia’s natural gas delivery capacity to Germany. During a joint news conference with Russian energy minister Alexander Novak, Perry said he urged Russia to be a “responsible supplier” and to stop using resources for “influence and disruption,” Bloomberg News reports.
— Oil-for-parks bill advances: The House Natural Resources Committee voted to approve bipartisan legislation that will direct money from oil production on federal land and offshore toward national parks and public land. The bill, introduced by chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), passed by a voice vote on Thursday, The Hill reports.
— The road ahead for Tesla: Earlier this month, when a woman in North Carolina got in her Tesla Model S to pick up her child, the car’s self-parking feature “Summon” led the car to crash backing out of the garage. “The car had failed disastrously, during the simplest of maneuvers, using one of the most basic features from the self-driving technology he and his family had trusted many times at higher speeds,” The Post’s Drew Harwell writes. “The crash is an embarrassing incident for a technology Tesla chief Elon Musk unveiled in 2016 to great fanfare, saying it would soon allow owners to hit a button and have their cars drive across the country to meet them, recharging along the way.”
— “It looked like Armageddon”: Deadly gas-line explosions north of Boston on Thursday set dozens of homes on fire and forced evacuations across three towns, leaving at least one person dead and 10 hospitalized. “Hours later — after a traumatic afternoon of fiery chaos turned into a night of eerie darkness with power shut off for thousands — officials were still unsure exactly what caused the blasts, or when it would be safe for the evacuated residents of Lawrence, North Andover and Andover to return home,” The Post’s Karen Weintraub, Deanna Paul , Taylor Telford and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. report. “State police received between 60 and 100 reports of structure fires and gas explosions in the three communities, and fire crews battled dozens of simultaneous blazes.”
- The American Bar Association holds a webinar on Brett M. Kavanaugh and his recent energy and environmental cases.
I remember initial numbers from Harvey were actually way too low — hopefully that’s not the case here. pic.twitter.com/Ymptl1bR3C
— Ryan Maue | weathermodels.com (@RyanMaue) September 12, 2018
— How much rain will North Carolina see over the next week? Meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com predicts the state will get 10 trillion gallons of rain over the next week from Florence, based on information from the National Weather Service Ocean Prediction Center.