Tag Archives: global warming

Big Greenwashing

Dartmouth College has announced a new, lavishly-funded institute to study energy issues. Or, as the PR bumpf puts it, the institute’s purpose is “ato advance the understanding and knowledge of a resource that powers modern life and is directly related to society’s standard of living and success.”

Great news, right?

Well, not everybody thinks so. As the Valley News reports, “environmentalists within the Dartmouth community described [the institute] as a ‘horrific’ example of influence-peddling.”

See, the full name of the new body is the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society. That’s “Irving” as in Irving Oil, one of New England’s leading distributors of fossil fuel. The Irving family donated $80 million — roughly half the estimated cost of the thing, including a shiny new building to be erected on campus — in exchange for the naming rights and, some fear, a measure of influence on what exactly is studied.

This is a growing trend on college and university campuses: rich people with axes to grind putting up scads of dough to establish “institutes” devoted to studying questions of their choosing. And churning out “research” that, mirabile dictu, supports conservative and pro-business points of view.

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Profiles In Courage, the Phil Scott Way!

Apparently, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott endorsed Marco Rubio for President yesterday.

I say “apparently” because he didn’t appear at the big endorsement extravaganza put on by top Republicans yesterday at the Statehouse. Nor has he released a statement of any kind.

This is pretty damn shameful. The details from VTDigger:

At a Statehouse news conference, GOP legislators touted what they called Rubio’s values-based campaign. Afterward, Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington, gave VTDigger a list of those backing Rubio, which included Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, 27 representatives and one senator.

Scott was not present or mentioned at the news conference. He could not be reached late Thursday afternoon for comment.

Holy Hiding In A Closet, Batman!

The strategery had an effect — and I have to infer it was the effect Scott wanted: very limited coverage. I assume that the Statehouse media corps were covering the Senate’s debate on marijuana legalization. As far as I can tell, VTDigger was the only media outlet to report on the endorsement.

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Foxy Grandpa snookers the rubes

The relief on their faces was palpable. “Finally,” they were obviously thinking, “a presidential candidate who’s not a complete bozo!”

The cream of Vermont’s Republican crop was on hand — and visibly on stage — for yeseterday’s Town Hall meeting for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. There’s a wonderful photo by the Burlington Free Press’ April Burbank, showing a handful of top Republicans gazing toward Kasich with the sort of giddiness usually seen on the face of a kid with cancer who’s meeting a star athlete through Make-A-Wish.

Can’t say I blame ‘em. The prospect of running on a ticket with the likes of Donald J. Trump or Ted X. Cruz has to give people like Phil Scott the heebie-jeebies. Kasich, unlike the rest of the Republican Clown Car, offers the image of a reasonable, moderate conservative willing to work with all parties and feeling genuine concern for society’s poor and unfortunate. Couple of problems, though.

First, they’re jumping onto a leaky lifeboat. On the very day of his triumphal visit to Vermont, Kasich was getting his butt handed to him in the South Carolina primary, coming in fifth place behind a guy who “suspended” his campaign as soon as the results were posted, and barely ahead of Dr. Sleepytime, Ben Carson.

How did Kasich characterize his own campaign?

Ohio Gov. John Kasich probably could have used a better phrase for his plan to consolidate establishment voters than “we’re going to keep struggling” in an appearance on Sunday’s “Face the Nation.”

So the VTGOP came out strong for a candidate who’s hanging on by his fingernails, hoping against hope that a first-place finish in Vermont or Massachusetts and maybe second in Michigan will keep his campaign out of the ICU for another week or so.

Second, there’s the Inconvenient Truth about Kasich’s actual record, as previously chronicled in this space. He is not a moderate; he is not, when the rubber hits the road, compassionate. He is one of a number of Republican governors who have advanced the ALEC/Koch Brothers agenda as often and as hard as they can.

And there’s no reason to believe that President John Kasich would be any different. Quite the opposite: his record suggests his current persona is a sham, a Foxy Grandpa act designed to snooker gullible centrists yearning for a candidate who’s not a complete embarrassment.

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The Republicans? They got nothin’

On Wednesday, two of Vermont’s top Republicans took to the VPR airwaves to make their case to the people. And one of them said this about global warming, really, actually:

I think there’s science on both sides of the issue that both sides use against each other.

The Mystery Voice belonged to VTGOP Chair David Sunderland, who had just finished “explaining” how the VTGOP was different from the national Republican Party — more inclusive, less extreme. He doesn’t set a very good example, does he?

The occasion was VPR’s “Vermont Edition,” and neither Sunderland nor fellow guest Don Turner made much of an impression. They stuck to the standard Republican bromides: burdensome taxes and regulation; Vermont is a sucky place to live, work, and own a business; government is full of waste, but don’t ask us for specifics.

It was not a very inspiring performance. Next time, maybe they should send Phil Scott and Joe Benning instead.

The two men’s appearance consumed about 34 minutes of radio time, but I’ll focus on two key segments. Believe me, I’m not leaving out anything good — just the boring stuff, like their insistence that the VTGOP was a welcoming, inclusive, and diverse thing. Because, I guess, they’ve got a handful of young white men to go with their endless supply of older white men. Anyway, onward.

First, that great Republican bugaboo, out-of-control state spending. Sunderland and Turner performed a lovely bit of rhetorical contortionism, first saying that we can’t fix the budget right away:

Solving a budget deficit that’s been created over a period of four to six years is a tall task to take on in a single year, and I think it will take longer than a single year to overcome it.

And then immediately saying that we can balance the budget, no problem:

I think we need to look at what government programs are truly working and are truly efficient, weed out the waste and the abuse that’s in the current system, make our government more streamlined, get more effective in serving Vermonters. And I think by doing that, we’ll get a long way towards closing that gap and quite hopefully all the way.

The mic then passed to Turner, who first said this:

We have a committee working with our appropriations people, that started before the session began, and have started to scrub and comb through all areas of state government. We’ve initially focused on the high cost areas.

Wonderful! Surely all this scrubbing and combing produced a bumper crop of the “waste and abuse” that Sunderland believes is endemic in the public sector.

We believe that we need to keep spending level-funded. We go to each agency and say, Okay, you had this much money to spend last year, this is how much you’ve got to spend this year, how are you going to address that?

Oh, great Christ almighty. That old chestnut? You’ve been scrubbing and combing the budget, and all you can come up with is across-the-board cuts?

This is how it always goes with Republicans. They talk smack about wasteful government spending, but when asked for specifics, they offer broad generalities.

In other words, they can’t find the alleged “waste and abuse.”

Oh, I should slightly amend that. Turner did offer one specific budget cut, but it’s not a new item. He still wants us to kill Vermont Health Connect and go with the federal exchange. Funny thing, though: when he first announced the idea, he insisted we could save $20 million this year.

On Wednesday, he put the savings at between eight and ten million. Call it the Incredible Shrinking Budget Cut.

Now, let’s turn to a favorite talking point of our rebranded VTGOP: “We’re different from the national Republicans. Just don’t ask us how.” Mr. Turner?

I don’t know a lot about the national platform and I don’t participate in the national level, I participate very little in the national level. I think that’s the party’s role. What I’ve — I’m Don Turner, I represent Milton, and I am a much more moderate Republican than many maybe in Washington, and some in my caucus.

We in Vermont believe in helpin’ our neighbors, we believe in makin’ sure that the most vulnerable are addressed, we want to protect the environment, but we want to make sure people can afford to live here. Sometimes that means compromising on some of these issues, maybe more than we want to.

Yeah, another politician who starts droppin’ his G’s when he wants to be real folks. I am puzzled, though, by his lack of intellectual curiosity about his own party.

But if you thought that was weak, just wait till you get a load of Sunderland’s response:

Vermont is a unique place, Vermonters are a unique people within the nation. Likewise, the Vermont Republican Party is different than the national Republican Party.

At this point he was interrupted by host Jane Lindholm, who asked for a specific difference.

I think in, in Vermont we’ve tried very hard over the last 15, 16 months or so to really broaden the base of the party, to be open to different ideas, ah different viewpoints, and to welcome people we may not agree with 100% of the time, but we would agree with 80% of the time. And I think as long as we can agree that the focus of our state right now needs to be on growing our economy and creating jobs, making Vermont more affordable, bringing balance back to the discussion in Montpelier, then there’s a place for you in the Vermont Republican Party.

Okay, so. Sunderland completely punts on specifics. And his idea of an “inclusive” party is one that only insists on 80% loyalty instead of 100%.

At this point, immediately after Sunderland’s previous response, Lindholm took a question from a caller, who wanted to know about the VTGOP’s stand on global warming. Turner was, again, an ostrich with his head in the dirt.

You know, I have not spent a lot of time on global warming. I understand that this is a big issue nationally and so on. Vermont is so far ahead of the rest of the country on measures to help with this issue that I don’t think it should be a tip-top issue for us when we have all these other problems.

Well, those who are actually serious about global warming would say that it’s an existential threat to our species, and deserves to be “tip-top” in any list of issues. But what do I know.

This is where Sunderland weighed in with his Koch Brothers-approved know-nothingism.

I think there’s science on both sides of the issue that both sides use against each other. What I think is most interesting is, regardless of your opinion about it, there certainly is a market that Vermont can and should be exploiting to create jobs and grow our economy to address those very issues. So I think regardless, there’s a variety of different opinions within the party and outside the other parties about global warming, man’s impact on climate change, but I would like to see us focus on how our economy and how our state here in Vemront can grow and reflect the values of Vermonters.

There’s a hot mess if I ever saw one. He won’t acknowledge the reality of climate change, but he wants us to somehow capitalize on it even though it might not exist. He then casts another coating of doubt on the science, and finishes with an appeal to “the values of Vermonters.”

Good grief. I’m not particularly happy with what the Democrats are doing these days — weaksauce incrementalism, failing to squarely face serious challenges, and squandering the political capital they’ve gained over the last six years. But the Republicans? Judging by that performance, they have precious little to offer beyond the usual twaddle.

Meet the new bird, not the same as the old bird

Oh, goodie.

[Vermont’s state bird, the] hermit thrush is just one of half of Vermont’s more than 200 nesting bird species threatened by rising temperatures that are reducing the breeding range of flyers that prefer cooler climates, according to a new National Audubon Society study.

“Every year migrating birds tell us that the seasons are changing,” says Jim Shallow, Audubon Vermont’s conservation and policy director.

… “The potential is there for about 50 percent of our birds in Vermont to see big shifts in their ranges,” Shallow says.

If we’re taking nominees for a replacement State Bird, how ’bout the flamingo?

Seriously, though. One of the arguments from the anti-renewables crowd is that we need to preserve Vermont as it is. Only problem is, that Vermont is under assault from climate change. If you think a few ridgeline wind farms will fundamentally change the character of Vermont, just wait till global warming starts kicking our ecological ass. If you don’t want to see any turbines in your viewing space, just wait till we lose all the maple trees and snow cover.

And then there’s the follow-on argument: We can’t affect the course of climate change because of China or tar sands or Al Gore’s travel schedule or NASCAR or Shumlin’s SUV, so why should we even try?

To which I say: (1) we have a moral obligation to do our best, (2) if we all think that way we’ll never get anything done, and (3) as with health care, Vermont can serve as a model for others to follow.

If we’re ever going to get a handle on carbon emissions, it’ll be through creating a fundamentally different system for energy generation and distribution — a smaller-scale, more broadly distributed system where the environmental footprint is much lighter because it’s spread evenly. That’ll require, among other things, a goodly helping of wind, solar, and hydro power — the resources Vermont can tap in abundance.

It might not be enough to save the hermit thrush, but it might help prevent its replacement by a bright pink bird that likes to stand on one foot.

The Burlington Free Press ignores an obvious contradiction, gives Mark Whitworth a free pass

Oh boy, another Monday morning, we’ve had a bare-bones staff all weekend and we’ve gotta have a local story to fill that big front-page hole.

I know! Let’s profile a sage Vermonter type and run a big photo of him in a stereotypical Vermont setting!

And there you have it, on page A1 of today’s Freeploid: Mark Whitworth staring manfully at the camera, with a big pile of firewood behind him.

Whitworth, for those just joining us, is the recently installed head of Energize Vermont, the benign-sounding advocacy group promoting the anti-wind cause. Whitworth took over from that carpetbaggin’ astroturfer, Luke Snelling, who’s gone to San Francisco to seek his fortune by greenwashing corporations with environmental image problems. Which is what he used to do out of the Massachusetts office of his ad agency. Hence “carpetbaggin'” — he may be a scion of a Vermont family, but he wasn’t living here when he fronted for Energize Vermont.

Anyway, on to Whitworth who, as the headline informs us, wants Vermont to “SLOW DOWN, ASK QUESTIONS” when it comes to our energy future. Seems we’re in a “rush” to implement renewable energy. Yeah, stupid, isn’t it? Just because global warming is a goddamn crisis doesn’t mean we should “rush” to build our homegrown renewable infrastructure.

The story treats his views with respect, which is not out of bounds for a softball profile of a public figure. But this one line caught my eye, not to mention my ire:

“I’m not pro- or con-wind,” he said.

Cough. Snort. Chuckle. BWAHAHAHAHAHA.

All righty then, Freeploid, riddle me this. This article is on page A6*. On the next page, A7, directly across from this article, is an over-the-top rant of an opinion piece by Whitworth that accuses Vermont’s environmental community of being corporate stooges, and repeats the tired arguments of the anti-wind crowd.

*In order to see the layout, you’ll have to access a print copy of the Monday edition or have subscriber access to the Freeploid’s online e-newspaper. The digital version includes the same content, but it’s scattered around the website. 

He’s “not pro- or con-wind,” eh? And reporter Joel Banner Baird didn’t challenge him on his obviously false and self-serving claim? And the editors didn’t think the article and opinion piece made for an uncomfortable juxtaposition?

He starts his opinion piece by comparing Vermont’s renewable strategy to President Bush’s conduct of the Iraq War. He paints the build-out of renewables a for-profit hustle by what he calls the “Big Green Alliance of Green Mountain Power, policians, and ‘environmentalists.”

Because Mark Whitworth and his allies are pure as the driven snow, and all others have been Assimilated by the Evil Utility Borg. Got that, Paul Burns? Brian Shupe? Jake Brown? Sandy Levine? Chris Kilian? You’re all corrupt. Unless you change your tune and agree with Mark Whitworth.

He accuses GMP and its co-conspirators of seeking to “put 500-foot-tall turbines and massive solar fields wherever we want — on sensitive ridgelines, in wetlands and on prime agricultural soils,” and “string transmission lines all over the place.”

Yeah, no. Nobody’s proposing anything like that. As I’ve written before, and as anyone who checks the public record can see, there are only a handful of places in Vermont where wind is economically viable. And I don’t think any utility, no matter how profit-hungry, would try to site energy projects on sensitive lands. Seeking profit involves knowing when and where to build, and sensible utilities know they have to be careful and appropriate with their decisions. If they aren’t, they’ll waste a lot of time and money on projects that will never be built.

Also, if you want “transmission lines all over the place,” look no farther than Energize Vermont’s own green-energy plan, which relies heavily on Hydro Quebec power from the far north. That’ll require a big fat buildout of high-tension power lines right across the Northeast Kingdom that Whitworth professes to love so much.

Whitworth is a True Believer. He sees himself and his allies as the defenders of Vermont’s sacred honor, and anyone who disagrees is a turncoat and a corporate lackey. He is entitled to his opinion, and I respect his commitment. But he shouldn’t get a free pass from Vermont’s Largest Newspaper.