The staggering costs of climate change are no longer speculative – they are unfolding with alarming frequency and drama. But it is the economic, political, and social implications of climate change that are starting to drive change.
The Center for Sustainable Economy (CSE) recognizes that, in order to slow climate change, we must both work to keep over two-thirds of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground, as analysts suggest, and simultaneously challenge the economic, political and social status quo. Together with environmental justice organizations, community groups, people of faith, indigenous peoples, labor allies, and civil society groups, we are taking action around the urgent moral imperative of rapidly reducing our collective carbon footprint while ensuring our land use is sustainable, with high value carbon sinks, such as old growth forests, bolstered and expanded as rapidly as possible. Our work is divided into three domains of change:
The climate crisis is a symptom of an economic system in crisis—a system that measures more oil spills, more climate-related property damages and more coal trains as a net “positive” for the economy, simply because these costs represent a growth in GDP. CSE is working to change this flawed economic metric to new economic indicators. These new indictors that move us beyond GDP, collectively called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), are now in place in the states of Maryland, Vermont, and Washington, with other states and countries exploring putting the GPI in place. CSE helped pioneer this new indicator and has played an active role in its implementation and operationalization at the state level. The GPI allows these states to more accurately count the costs and benefits of economic growth, and take action accordingly, while providing policy-makers with a new tool to enhance overall economic wellbeing and quantify the benefits of climate action. Among the indicators that are incorporated into the GPI is the cost of climate change.
CSE is also working to internalize the costs of climate change and other costs the fossil fuel industry imposes on all of us via a concept we call “climate risk bonds.” In coalition with cities and towns across the U.S., we are beginning to determine the feasibility of this novel concept. If successful, such bonds could both compensate communities at the point of extraction for costs now being borne by them and provide much-needed revenue for climate change adaptation globally, while forcing the fossil fuel industry to internalize the true costs of their extractive activity.
Climate risk bonds may also serve as a tool to level the playing field and spur sustainable development of energy conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy resources. Internalizing the true costs of fossil fuels with fair and accurate bonding may prevent many of the very worst projects from going forward.
CSE is also working to internalize the true costs of continued deforestation in the Pacific Northwest to our climate, encouraging policy-makers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from unsustainable timber harvesting practices.
And, finally, via litigation, CSE together with the Center for Policy Integrity, has been pushing the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to incorporate the true environmental costs–including climate change— into their cost-benefit analysis in reviewing the desirability and feasibility of offshore oil and gas drilling.
Our democratic system in the United States and around the world is currently under assault by moneyed interests. Our politics is increasingly controlled by the .01% richest members of our society. At CSE we are working in coalition with others to strengthen our democracy, particularly as it governs our energy future, to ensure that workers and communities have democratic control and oversight over their energy and transportation resources, infrastructure, and options, and that the rights of future generations are protected. Our work to enhance greater democratic control over our energy future spans from the global to the national to the local level. In all realms, and in collaboration with others, including the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network (formerly a project of the Institute for Policy Studies, and now a project of CSE), we have challenged undemocratic and unsustainable investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, with some significant victories.
In the Pacific Northwest, we are challenging the role of corporate money in politics, exposing the undue influence that the fossil fuel and timber industries play in distorting and corroding our democracy. With science-based education and outreach, including the world’s foremost website used by educational institutions to allow students to evaluate their ecological footprint, we are working to ensure people are educated and empowered to take action on climate change.
If the status quo is maintained, our climate will continue to spiral out of balance and the poorest among us, those least responsible for the climate crisis, will suffer the most. To stabilize our climate for the long term as we work to adapt to the new normal of cascading climate crises, we must ensure that equity, justice, and sustainability are key components of the new political and economic system we have to build. CSE is working with a particular focus on supporting and protecting the rights of Native Americans, future generations, and the communities on the front lines of the fossil fuel and timber extraction activity in tackling the climate challenge, with a geographic focus on the Pacific Northwest.
Thanks to hydro-fracturing, or “fracking,” U.S. oil and gas production is now the highest in the world. With much of this oil and gas originating in the Bakken oil and gas fields of North Dakota, coal originating in the the coal fields of Wyoming and Montana, and with bitumen originating in the Canadian tar sands, the Pacific Northwest is the planned gateway for more than two dozen massive fossil-fuel export projects that would ship unprecedented quantities of tar sands, oil, gas, and coal to Asia. According to recent reports, energy companies are trying to build a range of large fossil fuel infrastructure projects which, if successful, would carry as much carbon annually as five Keystone XL pipelines. If we are to avoid a dangerous rise in temperature, we must keep at least two-thirds and as much as four-fifths of all proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground. In the absence of political will in Washington, D.C., to act on this alarming information, CSE is working in coalition with a wide array of groups calling for a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest.
Given that the Pacific Northwest old growth forests have the potential to store more carbon per acre of soil than any other part of North America, we see protecting forest communities and their sustainable ways of life as a key component of our climate work, and are working with the newly formed Oregon Forest Communities Council on achieving this goal.
With oil and gas pipeline expansion under fire by activists and property owners, trains have now become the transportation option of last resort for liquid oil and gas as fracking accelerates in North America, carrying ever more explosive cargoes across thousands of miles of poorly maintained tracks. CSE is working in alliance with labor and whistleblower protection groups in calling for enhanced safety on our rails, stronger whistleblower protections, and a move toward more sustainable rail industries, such as high-speed maglev trains, and democratic ownership and control over our national rail system, to ensure that the Pacific Northwest maintains its leadership in a sustainable economy for generations to come.
A comprehensive approach to a safe, healthy national rail system is a critical component in a stable climate. Conversely, most coal, oil and gas by rail projects are something that neither front-line communities nor the global environment can afford.
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|OPINION EDITORIAL||Huffington Post, “Propane mega-bomb trains: what could go wrong,”
by Daphne Wysham