Here's the true destruction brought on by damming rivers

There's some good news amidst the grim global pandemic: At long last, the world's largest dam removal is finally happening.

This article first appeared on Truthout and was produced in partnership with Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The landmark agreement, which was finalized in November 2020 between farmers, tribes and dam owners, will finally bring down four aging, inefficient dams along the Klamath River in the Pacific Northwest. This is an important step in restoring historic salmon runs, which have drastically declined in recent years since the dams were constructed. It's also an incredible win for the Karuk and Yurok tribes, who for untold generations have relied on the salmon runs for both sustenance and spiritual well-being.

The tribes, supported by environmental activists, led a decades-long effort to broker an agreement. They faced vehement opposition from some farmers and owners of lakeside properties, but in 2010, they managed what had seemed impossible: PacifiCorp, the operator of the dams, signed a dam removal agreement, along with 40 other signatories that included the tribes and the state governments of Oregon and California. Unfortunately, progress stalled for years when questions arose around who would pay for the dam removals.

The dam removal project is a sign of the decline of the hydropower industry, whose fortunes have fallen as the troubling cost-benefit ratio of dams has become clear over the years. The rise of more cost-effective and sustainable energy sources (including wind and solar) has hastened this shift. This is exactly the type of progress envisioned by the World Commission on Dams (WCD), a global multi-stakeholder body that was established by the World Bank and International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1998 to investigate the effectiveness and performance of large dams around the world. The WCD released a damning landmark report in November 2000 on the enormous financial, environmental and human costs and the dismal performance of large dams. The commission spent two years analyzing the outcome of the trillions of dollars invested in dams, reviewing dozens of case studies and testimonies from over a thousand communities and individuals, before producing the report.

But despite this progress, we cannot take hydropower's decline as inevitable. As governments around the world plan for a post-pandemic recovery, hydropower companies sense an opportunity. The industry is eager to recast itself as climate-friendly (it's not) and secure precious stimulus funds to revive its dying industry—at the expense of people, the environment and a truly just, green recovery.

Hydropower's Troubling Record

The world's largest hydropower dam removal project on the Klamath River is a significant win for tribal communities. But while the Yurok and Karuk tribes suffered terribly from the decline of the Klamath's fisheries, they were by no means alone in that experience. The environmental catastrophe that occurred along the Klamath River has been replicated all over the world since the global boom in hydropower construction began early in the 20th century.

The rush to dam rivers has had huge consequences. After decades of rampant construction, only 37 percent of the world's rivers remain free-flowing, according to one study. River fragmentation has decimated freshwater habitats and fish stocks, threatening food security for millions of the world's most vulnerable people, and hastening the decline of other myriad freshwater species, including mammals, birds and reptiles.

The communities that experienced the most harm from dams—whether in Asia, Latin America or Africa—often lacked political power and access. But that didn't stop grassroots movements from organizing and growing to fight for their rights and livelihoods. The people affected by dams began raising their voices, sharing their experiences and forging alliances across borders. By the 1990s, the public outcry against large dams had grown so loud that it finally led to the establishment of the WCD.

What the WCD found was stunning. While large dam projects had brought some economic benefits, they had also forcibly displaced an estimated 40 to 80 million people in the 20th century alone. To put that number into perspective, it is more than the current population of present-day France or the United Kingdom. These people lost their lands and homes to dams, and often with no compensation.

Subsequent research has compounded that finding. A paper published in Water Alternatives revealed that globally, more than 470 million people living downstream from large dams have faced significant impacts to their lives and livelihoods—much of it due to disruptions in water supply, which in turn harm the complex web of life that depends on healthy, free-flowing rivers. The WCD's findings, released in 2000, identified the importance of restoring rivers, compensating communities for their losses, and finding better energy alternatives to save rivers and ecosystems.

Facing a New Crisis

Twenty years after the WCD uncovered a crisis along the world's rivers and recommended a new development path—one that advances community-driven development and protects freshwater resources—we find ourselves in the midst of another crisis. The global pandemic has hit us hard, with surging loss of life, unemployment and instability.

But as governments work to rebuild economies and create job opportunities in the coming years, we have a choice: Double down on the failed, outdated technologies that have harmed so many, or change course and use this transformative moment to rebuild our natural systems and uplift communities.

There are many reasons to fight for a green recovery. The climate is changing even faster than expected, and some dams—especially those with reservoirs in hot climates—have been found to emit more greenhouse gases than a fossil fuel power plant. Other estimates have put global reservoirs' human-made greenhouse gas emissions each year on par with Canada's total emissions.

Meanwhile, we now understand that healthy rivers and freshwater ecosystems play a critical role in regulating and storing carbon. And at a time when biodiversity loss is soaring, anything we can do to restore habitat is key. But with more than 3,700 major dams proposed or under construction in the world (primarily in the Global South, with over 500 of these in protected areas), according to a 2014 report—and the hydropower industry jockeying for scarce stimulus dollars—we must act urgently.

Signs of Hope

So what would a strong, resilient and equitable recovery look like in the 21st century? Let's consider one example in Southeast Asia.

Running through six countries, the Mekong River is the world's 12th-longest river, which is home to one of the world's most biodiverse regions, and includes the world's largest inland fishery. Around 80 percent of the nearly 65 million people who live in the Lower Mekong River Basin depend on the river for their livelihoods, according to the Mekong River Commission. In 1994, Thailand built the Pak Mun Dam on a Mekong tributary. Six years later, the WCD studied the dam's performance and submitted its conclusions and recommendations as part of its final report in 2000. According to the WCD report, the Pak Mun Dam did not deliver the peaking energy service it was designed for, and it physically blocked a critical migration route for a range of fish species that migrated annually to breeding grounds upstream in the Mun River Basin. Cut off from their customary habitat, fish stocks plummeted, and so did the livelihoods of the local people.

Neighboring Laos, instead of learning from this debacle, followed in Thailand's footsteps, constructing two dams on the river's mainstem, Xayaburi Dam, commissioned in 2019, and Don Sahong Dam, commissioned in 2020. But then a sign of hope appeared. In early 2020, just as the pandemic began to spread across the world, the Cambodian government reconsidered its plans to build more dams on the Mekong. The science was indisputable: A government-commissioned report showed that further dams would reduce the river's wild fisheries, threaten critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins and block nutrient-rich sediment from the delta's fertile agricultural lands.

Studies show that Cambodia didn't need to seek billions of dollars in loans to build more hydropower; instead, it could pursue more cost-effective solar and wind projects that would deliver needed electricity at a fraction of the cost—and without the ecological disasters to fisheries and the verdant Mekong delta. And, in a stunning reversal, Cambodia listened to the science—and to the people—and announced a 10-year moratorium on mainstream dams. Cambodia is now reconsidering its energy mix, recognizing that mainstream hydropower dams are too costly and undermine the economic and cultural values of its flagship river.

Toward a Green Recovery

Increasingly, governments, civil servants and the public at large are rethinking how we produce energy and are seeking to preserve and restore precious freshwater resources. Dam removals are increasing exponentially across North America and Europe, and movements advancing permanent river protection are growing across Latin America, Asia and Africa.

We must use the COVID-19 crisis to accelerate the trend. Rather than relying on old destructive technologies and industry claims of newfound "sustainable hydropower," the world requires a new paradigm for an economic recovery that is rooted both in climate and economic justice as well as river stewardship. Since December 2020, hundreds of groups and individuals from more than 80 countries have joined the Rivers4Recovery call for a better way forward for rivers and natural places. This paradigm will protect our rivers as critical lifelines—supporting fisheries, biodiversity, water supply, food production, Indigenous peoples and diverse populations around the world—rather than damming and polluting them.

The promise of the Klamath dam removals is one of restoration—a move that finally recognizes the immense value of free-flowing rivers and the key role they play in nourishing both the world's biodiversity and hundreds of millions of people. Healthy rivers—connected to watershed forests, floodplains, wetlands and deltas—are key partners in building resilience in the face of an accelerating climate crisis. But if we allow the hydropower industry to succeed in its cynical grab for stimulus funds, we'll only perpetuate the 20th century's legacy of suffering and environmental degradation.

We must put our money where our values are. Twenty years ago, the WCD pointed the way forward to a model of development that takes humans, wildlife and the environment into account, and in 2020, we saw that vision flower along the Klamath River. It's time to bring that promise of healing and restoration to more of the world's rivers.

Deborah Moore is a former commissioner of the World Commission on Dams.

Michael Simon was a member of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum.

Darryl Knudsen is the executive director of International Rivers

Chris Hedges: Ruling elites are 'architects of social murder' — 'they cannot claim ignorance, only indifference'

The two million deaths that have resulted from the ruling elites mishandling of the global pandemic will be dwarfed by what is to follow. The global catastrophe that awaits us, already baked into the ecosystem from the failure to curb the use of fossil fuels and animal agriculture, presage new, deadlier pandemics, mass migrations of billions of desperate people, plummeting crop yields, mass starvation and systems collapse.

This article originally appeared on ScheerPost.com.

The science that elucidates this social death is known to the ruling elites. The science that warned us of this pandemic, and others that will follow, is known to the ruling elites. The science that shows that a failure to halt carbon emissions will lead to a climate crisis and ultimately the extinction of the human species and most other species is known to the ruling elites. They cannot claim ignorance. Only indifference.

The facts are incontrovertible. Each of the last four decades have been hotter than the last. In 2018, the UN International Panel on Climate Change released a special report on the systemic effects of a 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) rise in temperatures. It makes for very grim reading. Soaring temperature rises — we are already at a 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.16 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels — are already baked into the system, meaning that even if we stopped all carbon emission today, we still face catastrophe. Anything above a temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius will render the earth unhabitable. The Arctic ice along with the Greenland ice sheet are now expected to melt regardless of how much we reduce carbon emissions. A seven-meter (23-foot) rise in sea level, which is what will take place once the ice is gone, means every town and city on a coast at sea level will have to be evacuated.

Roger Hallam, the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, whose nonviolent acts of mass civil disobedience offer the last, best chance to save ourselves, lays it out in this video:

As the climate crisis worsens, the political constrictions will tighten, making public resistance difficult. We do not live, yet, in the brutal Orwellian state that appears on the horizon, one where all dissidents will suffer the fate of Julian Assange. But this Orwellian state is not far away. This makes it imperative that we act now.

The ruling elites, despite the accelerating and tangible ecological collapse, mollify us, either by meaningless gestures or denial. They are the architects of social murder.

Social murder, as Friedrich Engels noted in his 1845 book "The Condition of the Working-Class in England," one of the most important works of social history, is built into the capitalist system. The ruling elites, Engels writes, those that hold "social and political control," were aware that the harsh working and living conditions during the industrial revolution doomed workers to "an early and unnatural death:"

"When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another such that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live — forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence — knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual; disguised, malicious murder, murder against which none can defend himself, which does not seem what it is, because no man sees the murderer, because the death of the victim seems a natural one, since the offence is more one of omission than of commission. But murder it remains."

— Friedrick Engels, "The Condition of the Working-Class in England"

The ruling class devotes tremendous resources to mask this social murder. They control the narrative in the press. They falsify science and data, as the fossil fuel industry has done for decades. They set up committees, commissions and international bodies, such as UN climate summits, to pretend to address the problem. Or they deny, despite the dramatically changing weather patterns, that the problem even exists.

Scientists have long warned that as global temperatures rise, increasing precipitation and heat waves in many parts of the world, infectious diseases spread by animals will plague populations year-round and expand into northern regions. Pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, which has killed approximately 36 million people, the Asian flu, which killed between one and four million, and COVID-19, which has already killed over 2.5 million, will ripple across the globe in ever more virulent strains, often mutating beyond our control. The misuse of antibiotics in the meat industry, which accounts for 80 percent of all antibiotic use, has produced strains of bacteria that are antibiotic resistant and fatal. A modern version of the Black Death, which in the 14th century killed between 75 and 200 million people, wiping out perhaps half of Europe's population, is probably inevitable as long as the pharmaceutical and medical industries are configured to make money rather than protect and save lives.

Even with vaccines, we lack the national infrastructure to distribute them efficiently because profit trumps health. And those in the global south are, as usual, abandoned, as if the diseases that kill them will never reach us. Israel's decision to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to as many as 19 countries while refusing to vaccinate the 5 million Palestinians living under its occupation is emblematic of the ruling elite's stunning myopia, not to mention immorality.

What is taking place is not neglect. It is not ineptitude. It is not policyfailure. It is murder. It is murder because it is premeditated. It is murder because a conscious choice was made by the global ruling classes to extinguish life rather than protect it. It is murder because profit, despite the hard statistics, the growing climate disruptions and the scientific modeling, is deemed more important than human life and human survival.

The elites thrive in this system, as long as they serve the dictates of what Lewis Mumford called the "megamachine," the convergence of science, economy, technics and political power unified into an integrated, bureaucratic structure whose sole goal is to perpetuate itself. This structure, Mumford noted, is antithetical to "life-enhancing values." But to challenge the megamachine, to name and condemn its death wish, is to be expelled from its inner sanctum. There are, no doubt, some within the megamachine who fear the future, who are perhaps even appalled by the social murder, but they do not want to lose their jobs and their social status to become pariahs.

The massive resources allocated to the military, which when the costs of the Veterans Administration are added to the Department of Defense budget come to $826 billion a year, are the most glaring example of our suicidal folly, symptomatic of all decaying civilizations that squander diminishing resources in institutions and projects that accelerate their decline.

The American military — which accounts for 38 percent of military spending worldwide — is incapable of combating the real existential crisis. The fighter jets, satellites, aircraft carriers, fleets of warships, nuclear submarines, missiles, tanks and vast arsenals of weaponry are useless against pandemics and the climate crisis. The war machine does nothing to mitigate the human suffering caused by degraded environments that sicken and poison populations or make life unsustainable. Air pollution already kills an estimated 200,000 Americans a year while children in decayed cities such as Flint, Michigan are damaged for life with lead contamination from drinking water.

The prosecution of endless and futile wars, costing anywhere from $5 to $7 trillion, the maintenance of some 800 military bases in over 70 countries, along with the endemic fraud, waste and mismanagement by the Pentagon at a time when the survival of the species is at stake is self-destructive. The Pentagon has spent more than $67 billion alone on a ballistic missile defense system that few believe will actually work and billions more on a series of dud weapons systems, including the $22 billion Zumwalt destroyer. And, on top of all this, the U.S. military emitted 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon emissions between 2001 and 2017, twice the annual output of the nation's passenger vehicles.

A decade from now we will look back at the current global ruling class as the most criminal in human history, willfully dooming millions upon millions of people to die, including those from this pandemic, which dwarf the murderous excesses of the killers of the past including the Europeans that carried out the genocide of the indigenous peoples in the Americas, the Nazis that exterminated some 12 million people, the Stalinists or Mao's Cultural Revolution. This is the largest crime against humanity ever committed. It is being committed in front of us. And, with few exceptions, we are willfully being herded like sheep to the slaughter.

It is not that most people have faith in the ruling elites. They know they are being betrayed. They feel vulnerable and afraid. They understand that their misery is unacknowledged and unimportant to the global elites, who have concentrated staggering amounts of wealth and power into the hands of a tiny cabal of rapacious oligarchs.

The rage many feel at being abandoned often expresses itself in a poisoned solidarity. This poisoned solidarity unites the disenfranchised around hate crimes, racism, inchoate acts of vengeance against scapegoats, religious and ethnic chauvinism and nihilistic violence. It fosters crisis cults, such as those built by the Christian fascists, and elevates demagogues such as Donald Trump.

Social divisions benefit the ruling class, which has built media silos that feed packaged hate to competing demographics. The greater the social antagonisms, the less the elites have to fear. If those gripped by poisoned solidarity become numerically superior — nearly half of the American electorate rejects the traditional ruling class and embraces conspiracy theories and a demagogue — the elites will accommodate the new power configuration, which will accelerate the social murder.

The Biden administration will not carry out the economic, political, social or environmental reforms that will save us. The fossil fuel industry will continue to extract oil. The wars will not end. Social inequality will grow. Government control, with its militarized police forces of internal occupation, wholesale surveillance and loss of civil liberties, will expand. New pandemics, along with droughts, wildfires, monster hurricanes, crippling heat waves and flooding, will lay waste to the country as well as a population burdened by a for-profit health care system that is not designed or equipped to deal with a national health crisis.

The evil that makes this social murder possible is collective. It is perpetrated by the colorless bureaucrats and technocrats churned out of business schools, law schools, management programs and elite universities. These systems managers carry out the incremental tasks that make vast, complicated systems of exploitation and death work. They collect, store and manipulate our personal data for digital monopolies and the security and surveillance state. They grease the wheels for ExxonMobil, BP and Goldman Sachs. They write the laws passed by the bought-and-paid-for political class. They pilot the aerial drones that terrorize the poor in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan. They profit from the endless wars. They are the corporate advertisers, public relations specialists and television pundits that flood the airwaves with lies. They run the banks. They oversee the prisons. They issue the forms. They process the papers. They deny food stamps and medical coverage to some and unemployment benefits to others. They carry out the evictions. They enforce the laws and the regulations. They do not ask questions. They live in an intellectual vacuum, a world of stultifying minutia. They are T.S. Eliot's "the hollow men," "the stuffed men." "Shape without form, shade without color," the poet writes. "Paralyzed force, gesture without motion."

These systems managers made possible the genocides of the past, from the extermination of Native Americans to the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians to the Nazi Holocaust to Stalin's liquidations. They kept the trains running. They filled out the paperwork. They seized the property and confiscated the bank accounts. They did the processing. They rationed the food. They administered the concentration camps and the gas chambers. They enforced the law. They did their jobs.

These systems managers, uneducated in all but their tiny technical specialty, lack the language and moral autonomy to question the reigning assumptions or structures.

Hannah Arendt in "Eichmann in Jerusalem" writes that Adolf Eichmann was motivated by "an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement." He joined the Nazi Party because it was a good career move. Arendt continued:

"The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.

The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such."

Hannah Arendt, "Eichmann in Jerusalem"

The Russian novelist Vasily Grossman in his book "Forever Flowing" observed that "the new state did not require holy apostles, fanatic, inspired builders, faithful, devout disciples. The new state did not even require servants — just clerks." This metaphysical ignorance fuels social murder.

We cannot emotionally absorb the magnitude of the looming catastrophe and therefore do not act.

In Claude Lanzmann's Holocaust documentary "Shoah," he interviews Filip Müller, a Czech Jew who survived the liquidations in Auschwitz as a member of the "special detail., "

"One day in 1943 when I was already in Crematorium 5, a train from Bialystok arrived. A prisoner on the 'special detail' saw a woman in the 'undressing room' who was the wife of a friend of his. He came right out and told her: 'You are going to be exterminated. In three hours, you'll be ashes.' The woman believed him because she knew him. She ran all over and warned to the other women. 'We're going to be killed. We're going to be gassed.' Mothers carrying their children on their shoulders didn't want to hear that. They decided the woman was crazy. They chased her away. So, she went to the men. To no avail. Not that they didn't believe her. They'd heard rumors in the Bialystok ghetto, or in Grodno, and elsewhere. But who wanted to hear that? When she saw that no one would listen, she scratched her whole face. Out of despair. In shock. And she started to scream. How do we resist? Why, if this social murder is inevitable, as I believe it is, do we even fight back? Why not give in to cynicism and despair? Why not withdraw and spend our lives attempting to satiate our private needs and desires? We are all complicit, paralyzed by the overwhelming force of the megamachine and bound to its destructive energy by our allotted slots within its massive machinery."

Filip Müller to Claude Lanzmann, "Shoah"

Yet, to fail to act, and this means carrying out mass, sustained acts of nonviolent civil disobedience in an attempt to smash the megamachine, is spiritual death. It is to succumb to the cynicism, hedonism and numbness that has turned the systems managers and technocrats that orchestrate this social murder into human cogs. It is to surrender our humanity. It is to become an accomplice.

Albert Camus writes that "one of the only coherent philosophical positions is revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his obscurity. It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it."

"A living man can be enslaved and reduced to the historic condition of an object," Camus warns. "But if he dies in refusing to be enslaved, he reaffirms the existence of another kind of human nature which refuses to be classified as an object."

The capacity to exercise moral autonomy, to refuse to cooperate, to wreck the megamachine, offers us the only possibility left to personal freedom and a life of meaning. Rebellion is its own justification. It erodes, however imperceptibly, the structures of oppression. It sustains the embers of empathy and compassion, as well as justice. These embers are not insignificant. They keep alive the capacity to be human. They keep alive the possibility, however dim, that the forces that are orchestrating our social murder can be stopped. Rebellion must be embraced, finally, not only for what it will achieve, but for what it will allow us to become. In that becoming we find hope.

An evangelical Christian explains why she fights climate change — and how her religion merged with the right

Texas-based Katharine Hayhoe is a rarity: a scientist who is heavily focused on climate change but is also an evangelical Christian. Scientists who go to church and believe in climate change are not unusual, but it's less common in her denomination. Climate change is actually Hayhoe's area of expertise, and journalist KK Ottesen discusses the politicization of climate change in a Q&A interview with Hayhoe published by the Washington Post this week.

Hayhoe, who serves as director of the Climate Center at Texas Tech University, told the Post, "Climate change is a casualty to the political polarization that has been emerging in the United States over the last few decades. And why are we becoming so politically polarized? There's a number of factors — the fact that we all have access to customized media today. So, we're all living in these echo chambers, or bubbles, where we just have our beliefs reinforced constantly. But it's my opinion, at least, that it stems from fear. The world is changing so fast."

Hayhoe, however, believes that those she describes as "really hardcore" climate change deniers comprise only 7% of the population in the United States.

"When I run into people who are very adamant about rejecting climate change," Hayhoe told the Post, "they're not that many. Only 7% of people are dismissive, but they're very loud about it…. And easily 90% of the time — probably more than that — climate change is just one of a package of issues: extreme nationalism, anti-immigration, right-wing politics. You know, whatever the current issue of the day is — COVID, school shooting — you can guarantee that whoever rejects climate change will also be adamantly defending the right of people to bear weapons and supporting COVID myths and disinformation. It all goes together."

During the interview, Hayhoe went on to explain why so many far-right evangelical Protestants are likely to be climate change deniers.

"In the United States," Hayhoe told the Post, "the word 'evangelical' has become synonymous with conservative politics. But it really wasn't until the '80s — when the Moral Majority gained force and began to say, 'How can we bring Christians around to supporting a single political party?' — that 'evangelical' and 'Republican' really became associated with each other."

According to Hayhoe, "The term 'evangelical' is now used in the United States for two very different types of people. One I would call political evangelicals, who base their statement of faith on their politics. And then, at the other end of the spectrum, are theological evangelicals, who base what they believe on the Bible…. When I connected the dots between poverty, hunger, disease, lack of access to clean water and education, and basic equity — and the fact that climate change is making all of those worse — that's what led me, personally, as a Christian, to become a climate scientist."

Lawsuit reveals new allegations against PG&E contractor accused of fraud after Camp Fire

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Series: Pollution Profiteers

Inside California's Toxic Hauling Industry

Utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric accused two of its former employees of accepting bribes to funnel business to a waste-hauling company after the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history.

This story was originally published by ProPublica.

One supervisor for PG&E allegedly had his driveway paved on the power company's dime. A subordinate is accused of having received a bribe in an unorthodox property transfer of a multimillion-dollar house in a wealthy suburb of San Francisco.

A new court filing by PG&E alleges that in exchange for these kickbacks, the employees provided lucrative clean-up jobs to Hayward-based Bay Area Concrete Recycling.

The allegations track closely with the results of an investigation last year by ProPublica and the Bay City News Foundation, which found that PG&E had overlooked numerous warning signs when it hired Bay Area Concrete. The company is owned and managed by the husband-wife team Yadwinder “Kevin" Singh and Preet Johal, according to local and state documents. The firm was tied to illegal dumping on federally protected wetlands and had engaged in a long conflict with regulators in the city of Hayward, where Bay Area Concrete operates a dump. Later, the news agencies revealed a suspicious real estate transaction that connected Singh and one of the PG&E employees. Singh did not respond to requests for comment.

PG&E's filing is in response to a breach of contract lawsuit filed against the utility in October by Bay Area Concrete. Dawn Sweatt, an attorney for Bay Area Concrete, said her clients “vehemently deny" the allegations by PG&E. “The allegations are patently false and not supported by the evidence," she said. “The litigation process will make this clear in time."

The accused PG&E employees, Ronald Huggins Jr. and Ryan Kooistra, did not respond to requests for comment. Huggins retired, and Kooistra sold his home and moved out of state after being confronted by PG&E investigators, the counterclaim by PG&E said.

In a statement, PG&E spokesperson James Noonan called the alleged actions of Bay Area Concrete “completely unacceptable."

“We will pursue every available action to remedy the situation and do right by those that we have the privilege to serve," Noonan said. “As we have stated previously, PG&E will continue to hold ourselves and those that do work on our behalf to the highest ethical standards."

The new court filings show that PG&E had a longer business relationship with Bay Area Concrete than previously known. PG&E first started disposing of waste in the company's Hayward yard in 2016, and the business expanded to include the cleanup of PG&E yards throughout Northern California.

That business grew substantially in November 2018, when a PG&E transmission line sparked a wildfire in Butte County that destroyed more than 18,000 structures and killed 85 people. PG&E hired Bay Area Concrete to dispose of waste from hydrovac trucks — special vacuum trucks that use pressurized water for precise excavation. Bay Area Concrete opened a dump in Paradise to take the waste from the cleanup.

In its suit, Bay Area Concrete alleged that it had saved PG&E millions of dollars by doing disposal work in Paradise more cheaply than a competitor. Bay Area Concrete also said that it continued to work for PG&E as other companies fled when the utility declared bankruptcy in January 2019. At the time, PG&E owed Bay Area Concrete nearly $4 million, according to bankruptcy filings. Bay Area Concrete stuck around and opened a new dump on PG&E property in Petaluma. According to the disposal company, it racked up $14 million in unpaid invoices. Bay Area Concrete has said that PG&E's accusations of fraud are false and the bankrupt utility was just trying to get out of paying its bills.

PG&E's counterclaim, filed earlier this month, names Bay Area Concrete, both former PG&E employees, Singh, Johal, several of their other companies and Bay Area Concrete CEO Kevin Olivero as defendants.

PG&E alleges that Kooistra and Huggins steered PG&E contracts to Bay Area Concrete and other companies controlled by Singh and Johal. As a result, the value of Bay Area Concrete's contracts with PG&E increased “exponentially" over a period of four years, the lawsuit said. Meanwhile, competing companies lost work with PG&E.

PG&E did not say how much the utility believes it was overcharged by Bay Area Concrete as it continues to investigate. Public records show that the company's income increased substantially, from $16.5 million to $43.5 million, after receiving a contract to dispose of waste in connection with the Paradise fire.

Here's how the scheme worked, according to PG&E's allegations in court filings. Bay Area Concrete overcharged for travel time while hauling and billed PG&E for work that was never done or was unnecessary. The complaint alleges that Huggins and Kooistra approved the overbilled work in exchange for kickbacks. The pair were careful to keep Bay Area Concrete's purchase orders low enough that Huggins would not have to seek approval from his supervisors.

To pay the bribes, Singh used a series of real estate transactions involving a 5,600-square-foot home in Saratoga to transfer money to Kooistra, PG&E alleges. The Bay City News Foundation and ProPublica first reported the exchange, which one expert described as possible money laundering.

PG&E's court filing alleges that Regal Rose LLC, a shell company established by Singh, was also in possession of a property in Arizona when it was transferred to Kooistra.

Another shell company, CCI Management, was owned by Kooistra and acted as a subcontractor for Bay Area Concrete in Paradise. According to PG&E's complaint, CCI did hauling work for Bay Area Concrete, which would submit invoices directly to PG&E. PG&E paid CCI $150,000 over five weeks without knowing that the company was owned by Kooistra, a violation of PG&E employment and supplier policies. PG&E alleges that Huggins was aware of Kooista's actions and did not disclose them.

In late 2019, PG&E learned of the alleged fraud and launched an investigation. Kooistra was interviewed in January 2020 by PG&E investigators, who confronted him with evidence of his interest in companies connected to Bay Area Concrete. According to the countercomplaint, Kooistra denied any wrongdoing or having an interest in the companies, despite the interest being disclosed in public records. PG&E asked Kooistra to turn over his company-issued phone, which he did, but he refused to provide his passcode so investigators could access text messages and other data. Two days later, Kooistra quit his job, according to the complaint. He sold his home in Rocklin and moved to Arizona.

PG&E alleges that Huggins approved false invoices and concealed fraudulent charges throughout PG&E's contract with Bay Area Concrete. In exchange, the lawsuit alleges, a company linked to Johal and Singh repaved Huggins' driveway while they were supposed to be working on a PG&E job. When confronted by PG&E investigators, Huggins told the investigators he had paid the $16,750 bill in cash, which he happened to have on hand in his house. Four days later, he retired.

In February 2020, PG&E canceled Bay Area Concrete's contracts and publicly announced its belief that the waste company had committed fraud.

Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsey said last year that PG&E alerted his office to the allegations against Bay Area Concrete. Ramsey said in an email that he received no further information from PG&E but had determined that his office did not have jurisdiction in the case.

A new cold war risks a boiling planet

Slowing the pace of climate change and getting "tough" on China, especially over its human-rights abuses and unfair trade practices, are among the top priorities President Biden has announced for his new administration. Evidently, he believes that he can tame a rising China with harsh pressure tactics, while still gaining its cooperation in areas of concern to Washington. As he wrote in Foreign Affairs during the presidential election campaign, "The most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China's abusive behaviors and human rights violations, even as we seek to cooperate with Beijing on issues where our interests converge, such as climate change." If, however, our new president truly believes that he can build an international coalition to gang up on China and secure Beijing's cooperation on climate change, he's seriously deluded. Indeed, though he could succeed in provoking a new cold war, he won't prevent the planet from heating up unbearably in the process.

Biden is certainly aware of the dangers of global warming. In that same Foreign Affairs article, he labeled it nothing short of an "existential threat," one that imperils the survival of human civilization. Acknowledging the importance of relying on scientific expertise (unlike our previous president who repeatedly invented his own version of scientific reality), Biden affirmed the conclusion of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that warming must be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels or there will be hell to pay. He then pledged to "rejoin the Paris climate agreement on day one of a Biden administration," which he indeed did, and to "make massive, urgent investments at home that put the United States on track to have a clean energy economy with net-zero [greenhouse gas] emissions by 2050" — the target set by the IPCC.

Even such dramatic actions, he indicated, will not be sufficient. Other countries will have to join America in moving toward a global "net-zero" state in which any carbon emissions would be compensated for by equivalent carbon removals. "Because the United States creates only 15 percent of global emissions," he wrote, "I will leverage our economic and moral authority to push the world to determined action, rallying nations to raise their ambitions and push progress further and faster."

China, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases right now (although the U.S. remains number one historically), would obviously be Washington's natural partner in this effort. Here, though, Biden's antagonistic stance toward that country is likely to prove a significant impediment. Rather than prioritize collaboration with China on climate action, he chose to castigate Beijing for its continued reliance on coal. The Biden climate plan, he wrote in Foreign Affairs, "includes insisting that China… stop subsidizing coal exports and outsourcing pollution to other countries by financing billions of dollars' worth of dirty fossil-fuel energy projects through its Belt and Road Initiative." Then he went further by portraying the future effort to achieve a green economy as a potentially competitive, not collaborative, struggle with China, saying,

"I will make investment in research and development a cornerstone of my presidency, so that the United States is leading the charge in innovation. There is no reason we should be falling behind China or anyone else when it comes to clean energy."

Unfortunately, though he's not wrong on China's climate change challenges (similar, in many respects, to our own country's), you can't have it both ways. If climate change is an existential threat and international collaboration between the worst greenhouse gas emitters key to overcoming that peril, picking fights with China over its energy behavior is a self-defeating way to start. Whatever obstacles China does pose, its cooperation in achieving that 1.5-degree limit is critical. "If we don't get this right, nothing else will matter," Biden said of global efforts to deal with climate change. Sadly, his insistence on pummeling China on so many fronts (and appointing China hawks to his foreign policy team to do so) will ensure that he gets it wrong. The only way to avert catastrophic climate change is for the United States to avoid a new cold war with China by devising a cooperative set of plans with Beijing to speed the global transition to a green economy.

Why Cooperation Is Essential

With such cooperation in mind, let's review the basics on how those two countries affect world energy consumption and global carbon emissions: the United States and China are the world's two leading consumers of energy and its two main emitters of carbon dioxide, or CO2, the leading greenhouse gas. As a result, they exert an outsized influence on the global climate equation. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), China accounted for approximately 22% of world energy consumption in 2018; the U.S., 16%. And because both countries rely so heavily on fossil fuels for energy generation — China largely on coal, the U.S. more on oil and natural gas — their carbon-dioxide emissions account for an even larger share of the global total: China alone, nearly 29% in 2018; the U.S., 18%; and combined, an astonishing 46%.

It's what will happen in the future, though, that really matters. If the world is to keep global temperatures from rising above that 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold, every major economy should soon be on a downward-trending trajectory in terms of both fossil-fuel consumption and CO2 emissions (along with a compensating increase in renewable energy output). Horrifyingly enough, however, on their current trajectories, over the next two decades the combined fossil-fuel consumption and carbon emissions of China and the United States are still expected to rise, not fall, before stabilizing in the 2040s at a level far above net zero. According to the IEA, if the two countries stick to anything like their current courses, their combined fossil-fuel consumption would be approximately 17% higher in 2040 than in 2018, even if their CO2 emissions would rise by "only" 3%. Any increase of that kind over the next two decades would spell one simple word for humanity: D-O-O-M.

True, both countries are expected to substantially increase their investment in renewable energy during the next 20 years, even as places like India are expected to account for an ever-increasing share of global energy use and CO2 emissions. Still, as long as Beijing and Washington continue to lead the world in both categories, any effort to achieve net-zero and avert an almost unimaginable climate cataclysm will have to fall largely on their shoulders. This would, however, require a colossal reduction in fossil-fuel consumption and the ramping up of renewables on a scale unlike any engineering project this planet has ever seen.

The Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua University, an influential Chinese think tank, has calculated what might be involved in reshaping China's coal-dependent electrical power system to reach the goal of a 1.5-degree limit on global warming. Its researchers believe that, over the next three decades, this would require adding the equivalent of three times current global wind power capacity and four times that of solar power at the cost of approximately $20 trillion.

A similar transformation will be required in the United States, although with some differences: while this country relies far less on coal than China to generate electricity, it relies more on natural gas (a less potent emitter of CO2, but a fossil fuel nonetheless) and its electrical grid — as recent events in Texas have demonstrated — is woefully unprepared for climate change and will have to be substantially rebuilt at enormous cost.

And that represents only part of what needs to be done to avert planetary catastrophe. To eliminate carbon emissions from oil-powered vehicles, both countries will have to replace their entire fleets of cars, vans, trucks, and buses with electric-powered ones and develop alternative fuels for their trains, planes, and ships — an undertaking of equal magnitude and expense.

There are two ways all of this can be done: separately or together. Each country could devise its own blueprint for such a transition, developing its own green technologies and seeking financing wherever it could be found. As in the fight over fifth generation (5G) telecommunications, each could deny scientific knowledge and technical know-how to its rival and insist that allies buy only its equipment, whether or not it best suits their purposes — a stance taken by the Trump administration with respect to the Chinese company Huawei's 5G wireless technology. Alternatively, the U.S. and China could cooperate in developing green technologies, share information and know-how, and work together in disseminating them around the world.

On the question of which approach is more likely to achieve success, the answer is too obvious to belabor. Only those prepared to risk civilization's survival would choose the former — and yet that's the choice that both sides may indeed make.

Why a New Cold War Precludes Climate Salvation

Those in Washington who favor a tougher approach toward China and the bolstering of U.S. military forces in the Pacific claim that, under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist regime has become more authoritarian at home and more aggressive abroad, endangering key U.S. allies in the Pacific and threatening our vital interests. Certainly, when it comes to the increasing repression of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang Province or pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, there can be little doubt of Beijing's perfidy, though on other issues, there's room for debate. On another subject, though, there really should be no room for debate at all: the impact of a new cold war between the planet's two great powers on the chances for a successful global response to a rapidly warming planet.

There are several obvious reasons for this. First, increased hostility will ensure a competitive rather than collaborative search for vital solutions, resulting in wasted resources, inadequate financing, duplicative research, and the stalled international dissemination of advanced green technologies. A hint of such a future lies in the competitive rather than collaborative development of vaccines for Covid-19 and their distressingly chaotic distribution to Africa and the rest of the developing world, ensuring that the pandemic will have a life into 2022 or 2023 with an ever-rising death toll.

Second, a new cold war will make international diplomacy more difficult when it comes to ensuring worldwide compliance with the Paris climate agreement. Consider it a key lesson for the future that cooperation between President Barack Obama and Xi Jinping made the agreement possible in the first place, creating pressure on reluctant but vital powers like India and Russia to join as well. Once President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement, that space evaporated and global adherence withered. Only by recreating such a U.S.-China climate alliance will it be possible to corral other key players into full compliance. As suggested recently by Todd Stern, the lead American negotiator at the 2015 Paris climate summit, "There is simply no way to contain climate change worldwide without full-throttle engagement by both countries."

A cold war environment would make such cooperation a fantasy.

Third, such an atmosphere would ensure a massive increase in military expenditures on both sides, sopping up funds needed for the transition to a green-energy economy. In addition, as the pace of militarization accelerated, fossil-fuel use would undoubtedly increase, as the governments of both countries favored the mass production of gas-guzzling tanks, bombers, and warships.

Finally, there is no reason to assume a cold war will always remain cold. The current standoff between the U.S. and China in the Pacific is different from the one that existed between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in Europe during the historic Cold War. There is no longer anything like an "Iron Curtain" to define the boundaries between the two sides or keep their military forces from colliding with each another. While the risk of war in Europe was ever-present back then, each side knew that such a boundary-crossing assault might trigger a nuclear exchange and so prove suicidal. Today, however, the air and naval forces of China and the U.S. are constantly intermingling in the East and South China Seas, making a clash or collision possible at any time. So far, cooler heads have prevailed, preventing such encounters from sparking armed violence, but as tensions mount, a hot war between the U.S. and China cannot be ruled out.

Because American forces are poised to strike at vital targets on the Chinese mainland, it's impossible to preclude China's use of nuclear weapons or, if preparations for such use are detected, a preemptive U.S. nuclear strike. Any full-scale thermonuclear conflagration resulting from that would probably cause a nuclear winter and the death of billions of people, making the climate-change peril moot. But even if nuclear weapons are not employed, a war between the two powers could result in immense destruction in China's industrial heartland and to such key U.S. allies as Japan and South Korea. Fires ignited in the course of battle would, of course, add additional carbon to the atmosphere, while the subsequent breakdown in global economic activity would postpone by years any transition to a green economy.

An Alliance for Global Survival

If Joe Biden genuinely believes that climate change is an "existential threat" and that the United States "must lead the world," it's crucial that he stop the slide toward a new cold war with China and start working with Beijing to speed the transition to a green-energy economy focused on ensuring global compliance with the Paris climate agreement. This would not necessarily mean abandoning all efforts to pressure China on human rights and other contentious issues. It's possible to pursue human rights, trade equity, and planetary survival at the same time. Indeed, as both countries come to share the urgency of addressing the climate crisis, progress on other issues could become easier.

Assuming Biden truly means what he says about overcoming the climate threat and "getting it right," here are some of the steps he could take to achieve meaningful progress:

* Schedule a "climate summit" with Xi Jinping as soon as possible to discuss joint efforts to overcome global warming, including the initiation of bilateral programs to speed advances in areas like the spread of electric vehicles, the improvement of battery-storage capabilities, the creation of enhanced methods of carbon sequestration, and the development of alternative aviation fuels.

* At the conclusion of the summit, joint working groups on these and other matters should be established, made up of senior figures from both sides. Research centers and universities in each country should be designated as lead actors in key areas, with arrangements made for cooperative partnerships and the sharing of climate-related technical data.

* At the same time, presidents Biden and Xi should announce the establishment of an "Alliance for Global Survival," intended to mobilize international support for the Paris climate agreement and strict adherence to its tenets. As part of this effort, the two leaders should plan joint meetings with other world leaders to persuade them to replicate the measures that Biden and Xi have agreed to work on cooperatively. As needed, they could offer to provide financial aid and technical assistance to poorer states to launch the necessary energy transition.

* Presidents Biden and Xi should agree to reconvene annually to review progress in all these areas and designate surrogates to meet on a more regular basis. Both countries should publish an online "dashboard" exhibiting progress in every key area of climate mitigation.

So, Joe, if you really meant what you said about overcoming climate change, these are some of the things you should focus on to get it right. Choose this path and guarantee us all a fighting chance to avert civilizational collapse. Opt for the path of confrontation instead — the one your administration already appears headed down — and that hope is likely to disappear into an unbearable world of burning, flooding, famine, and extreme storms until the end of time. After all, without remarkable effort, a simple formula will rule all our lives: a new cold war = a scalding planet.

Copyright 2021 Michael T. Klare

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel Frostlands (the second in the Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is the five-college professor emeritus of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and a senior visiting fellow at the Arms Control Association. He is the author of 15 books, the latest of which is All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon's Perspective on Climate Change.

There's a deep historical irony in the Republican attacks on Interior nominee Deb Haaland

Indigenous communities across the United States are closely following the Senate confirmation hearings of Congressmember Deb Haaland, President Joe Biden's pick to lead the Interior Department, who would become the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary if she is confirmed. Haaland is a tribal citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, and the prospect of an Indigenous person leading the federal department with broad oversight of Native American affairs has galvanized support for her in Indian Country. Several Republican senators have grilled Haaland over her past comments opposing fracking, the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other fossil fuel projects, attempting to paint her as a "radical." Journalist Julian Brave NoiseCat says there is a deep irony in Republican attacks on Haaland. "As soon as we get the first-ever Native cabinet secretary nominated, conservatives act like we're going to take away their land and their way of life," he says.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show on Capitol Hill. President Biden's pick to head the Interior Department, New Mexico Congressmember Deb Haaland, is returning today for a second day of those confirmation hearings before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. If confirmed, she would become the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary in U.S. history.

At Tuesday's hearing, Republican senators grilled her about past comments opposing fracking, the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other fossil fuel projects. But she did have some Republican support. Republican Congressman Don Young of Alaska introduced Haaland before the committee and urged Republican senators to back her confirmation.

REP. DON YOUNG: In the House, I'm the oldest member of both bodies. I have served with 10 presidents and 15 secretaries of interior. There's not much I don't and have not seen. I have a theory, because I'm a mariner, that the captain of the ship has a right to choose who he has as his crew. I'm not always agreed with the secretaries of interior. But I will say that that's the responsibility of the president. President Biden has chosen Deb, and she is accepted. And I would suggest, respectfully, you will find out that she will listen to you. She may not change. Like, she and I do not agree on carbon fuels. You know that. We've said this before. But it's my job to try to convince her that she's not all right, and her job to convince me I'm not all right. That's the important part about the secretary. Also we keep in mind that another reason I'm supporting her, she is an American Indian. I am quite proud of that fact.

AMY GOODMAN: Republican Congressman Don Young of Alaska introducing New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland, President Biden's pick to head the Interior Department. Haaland began her opening statement by speaking in Keres, her Pueblo language.

REP. DEB HAALAND: Gu'wa'tsi Hau'ba. [continues in Keres]
Chairman Manchin, Ranking Member Barrasso, members of the committee, thank you so much for having me here today. I wouldn't be here without the love and support of my child, Somáh; my partner, Skip, who is with me this morning sitting behind me; my mom, Mary Toya, who's watching from Isleta Pueblo; my extended family; and generations of ancestors who have sacrificed so much so I could be here today. I acknowledge that we are on the ancestral homelands of the Nacotchtank, Anacostan and Piscataway people.
As many of you know, my story is unique. Although today I serve as a member of Congress and was the vice chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, if confirmed, I would be the first Native American to serve as cabinet secretary. This historic nature of my confirmation is not lost on me, but I will say it's not about me. Rather, I hope this nomination would be an inspiration for Americans moving forward together as one nation and creating opportunities for all of us.
As the daughter of a Pueblo woman, I was taught to value hard work. My mother is a Navy veteran, was a civil servant at the Bureau of Indian Education for 25 years, and she raised four kids as a military wife. My dad, the grandson of immigrants, was a 30-year career marine who served in Vietnam. He received the Silver Star and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. I spent summers in Mesita, our small village on Laguna Pueblo, the location of my grandparents' traditional home. It was there that I learned about my culture from my grandmother, by watching her cook and by participating in traditional feast days and ceremonies. It was in the cornfields with my grandfather where I learned the importance of water and protecting our resources, where I gained a deep respect for the Earth. …
I'm not a stranger to the struggles many families across America face today. I've lived most of my adult life paycheck to paycheck. I've pieced together healthcare for me and my child as a single mom, and at times relied on food stamps to put food on the table. It's because of these struggles that I fully understand the role interior must play in the president's plan to build back better, to responsibly manage our natural resources to protect them for future generations, so that we can continue to work, live, hunt, fish and pray among them. …
If confirmed, I will work my heart out for everyone, the families of fossil fuel workers who helped build our country, ranchers and farmers who care deeply for their lands, communities with legacies of toxic pollution, people of color whose stories deserve to be heard, and those who want jobs of the future. I vow to lead the Interior Department ethically and with honor and integrity. I will listen to and work with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. I will support interior's public servants and be a careful steward of taxpayer dollars. I will ensure that the Interior Department's decisions are based on science. I will honor the sovereignty of tribal nations and recognize their part in America's story, and I'll be a fierce advocate for our public lands.

AMY GOODMAN: Interior secretary nominee Deb Haaland speaking at her confirmation hearing Tuesday. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that is holding the hearing. He has reportedly not yet decided whether he'll back Deb Haaland's confirmation. Manchin questioned her Tuesday.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN: In your opening statement, you noted that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come. So, my question would be: Do you believe that it's in our best interest to maintain our energy independence? And what role do you see fossil energy playing in that?
REP. DEB HAALAND: Thank you, Senator, Chairman, for that question. And yes, of course, we do — we absolutely need energy independence. And I believe President Biden agrees with that statement, as well. I know that we want to move forward with some clean energy. We want to get to net zero. And as the chairwoman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, yes, 25% of our carbon comes from our public lands. So, I think that as we move forward with the technology that you and I spoke about when we had our conversation, we want to move forward with innovation and all of this for our energy needs. So, I think that's not going to happen overnight. And so, we will absolutely rely on the fossil energy that you and the ranking member spoke about in your opening statements. But at the same time, I think we can move forward with the technology and innovation, as well.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN: Yeah. Well, I think you pretty much know my position on that. Basically, I'm totally committed to innovation, not elimination.

AMY GOODMAN: We're joined now by Julian Brave NoiseCat. He's an Indigenous journalist and vice president of policy and strategy at the think tank Data for Progress. His latest piece for Politico is "Native Americans Finally Have a Cabinet Nominee. Will an Adopted Tlingit Take Her Down?"

Julian, thanks so much for coming back to Democracy Now! Can you give us your takeaways from yesterday's hearing? Of course, Deb Haaland will continue today in her confirmation hearing, to make history, become the first Native American cabinet member.

JULIAN BRAVE NOISECAT: Well, first, thanks so much for having me on again, Amy. It's always a pleasure.

So, I have a few takeaways from yesterday's meeting — yesterday's hearing, excuse me. The first would be that, you know, Republicans on the committee were trying really hard to get the sort of charged exchange that plays well to their base and their audience on Hannity and Tucker Carlson. And I don't think that they got that kind of an exchange. I actually had Fox News on in the background last night while I was doing some writing. There was not a peep about Haaland's hearing. So I think the first thing I would say is that conservatives like Republican Steve Daines of Montana, you know, ranking member of the committee John Barrasso of Wyoming, all signaled that they were going to make this a fight and then took a number of swings at Secretary-designate Haaland and missed. It was a big whiff for them. So I think that they're going to be fishing for, essentially, some content for their viewers in today's hearing. And I'm going to be keenly watching to see if they end up landing any of those sort of punches.

You know, the second thing that I would point out is just that Congresswoman Haaland, I think, was very thoughtful in her responses and incredibly measured. I heard her say something to the effect of, after being grilled by some of these Republican senators, saying that "I look forward to working with you, and thank you for your questions," things like that. She must have said that nearly a dozen times in the hearing.

But I think that she came with a presence that made me very proud to be Native. She, of course, introduced herself in her language. She acknowledged the territory of the people on whose land the hearing was taking place. And when you juxtapose just her presence in that hearing with the history of interior, a department that was once led by man named Alexander Stuart, who described the Interior Department's role and the United States policy as needing to be one of civilizing or exterminating Native people — that's actually the quote that he used — you know, I think that it was a very, very powerful and important sort of moment for Indian Country. As you mentioned, Native people tuned in from across the country to watch that hearing in the middle of the day.

And then, lastly, I would say that there were some moments where I think that some of the exchanges actually really went really well for Congresswoman Haaland and Secretary-designate Haaland. There was one in particular where Senator Steve Daines, who's been kind of the leader of the charge against Haaland, asked her why she supported a bill that would protect grizzly bears in perpetuity, to which the secretary-designate responded, "I believe I was caring for the bears," which, you know, is just sort of a wonderful, very simple response. And immediately, with all the folks following on the internet, people started tweeting about that. You know, people were using #DebForInterior, which was trending that day. And then people started using #BearsForDeb, hashtag #BearsForDeb, on Twitter just to, like, sort of play on this kind of hilarious thing, where voting for protections for grizzlies was supposed to be a big conservative gotcha. And I think that, in that, you know, there is just a way in which Native people are incredibly well practiced in the art of poking fun at our antagonists. We've, of course, had to do this for hundreds of years. And I kind of liked how, actually, the tables kind of got turned back around on Republicans in terms of the narrative. So, I thought it was a good day, and I'll be watching very closely today.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Julian, I wanted to ask you — some of the critics of her nomination have pointed to her, one, relative lack of experience and also to her presence at Standing Rock and her support for the water protectors fighting the Dakota Access pipeline. But there was an op-ed piece by two former U.S. senators, Mark Udall and Tom Udall, former senators of Colorado, who also said that Ryan Zinke, President Trump's nominee, only had one term in Congress when he was named to the Department of Interior, and there was no big raising of criticism about his lack of experience then. I'm wondering how you feel these things may affect the vote in the Senate.

JULIAN BRAVE NOISECAT: Yeah, I thought that the Udall senators, former senators, Tom and Mark, made a really good — some really good points in that USA Today op-ed. Of course, Zinke actually got 68 votes for his confirmation in the Senate. And I don't think anybody anticipates Secretary-designate Haaland getting anywhere near that number of votes, which I think is both a testament to the amount of polarization in our political system right now, but also, I think, to something that the Udalls identified which is going under the surface here, which is that, you know, as soon as we get the first-ever Native cabinet secretary nominated, conservatives act like we're going to take away their land and their way of life and things like that. And they literally have used things like "way of life" in some of their quotes criticizing Secretary-designate Haaland. And listening to a number of Western politicians talk about how perhaps Native people are going to turn around and take away things from them strikes me as deeply ironic, perhaps even sort of a Freudian expression of the conservative id, if you will.

And, you know, of course, none of that actually matches reality. As you mentioned, yes, Secretary-designate Haaland comes with more experiences than any prior interior secretary — you know, the fact that she's a representative of the First Peoples of this land, the fact that she went to the camps erected in the path of the Dakota Access pipeline and cooked for the water protectors. Those are experiences that no other interior secretary can say that they have on their résumé. You know, she also has a very strong track record as a legislator. She rebuilt the New Mexico state Democratic Party in 2016, where they actually had a good year in what was an otherwise very bad year for Democrats.

And lastly, you know, I think what's really troubling to me about the way that conservatives are just coming at the secretary-designate is, if you look at her track record, actually, in Congress, of all House freshmen, she introduced the most bills with bipartisan support in the 116th Congress. So, on paper, she is one of the best legislators at reaching across the aisle. Yet Republicans in the media are trying to paint her as some sort of divisive partisan, when she has never been that. I mean, listen to what Congressman Young had to say about her.

AMY GOODMAN: I'd like to turn to Republican Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming questioning Congressmember Haaland.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: As a general matter, should the federal government continue to permit oil and gas wells in this country?
REP. DEB HAALAND: Yes, and I believe that's happening.
SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: And as a general matter, should the federal government continue to permit coal mines in this country?
REP. DEB HAALAND: Yes, since — Ranking Member, if I could just say, I know that coal mines were not a part of President Biden's executive order.
SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: As a coal — as a general matter, should the federal government continue to permit copper, lithium and other hard rock mines in this country?
REP. DEB HAALAND: Senator, I believe that if we do these things in a responsible manner and protect the health and safety of workers, I see us moving forward. The Earth is here to provide for us. And that's my belief.
SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: As a general matter, should the federal government continue to permit natural gas pipelines in this country?
REP. DEB HAALAND: Senator, as I mentioned in my opening statement, I believe this will go on for quite some time. And I know that President Biden is — he has put a pause on new leases, not existing ones.
SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: The question was on pipelines. So, as a general matter, should the federal government continue to permit oil pipelines in the country?
REP. DEB HAALAND: Senator, with respect to the Department of Interior, wherever pipelines fall under the authority of the Department of Interior, of course.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's the interior secretary nominee Deb Haaland responding to Senator John Barrasso, who is a doctor, who also criticized Haaland for once tweeting, "Republicans don't believe in science." He asked her about her tweet, and she responded, "If you're a doctor, I would assume that you believe in science," because he asked if she still believed this. Julian Brave NoiseCat, if you could respond to what Congressmember Haaland is saying, what her record is, and what you think needs to happen going forward?

JULIAN BRAVE NOISECAT: Well, firstly, I would just say that Ranking Member Barrasso's history of comments, actually, on climate change is quite notable for a doctor who believes in science. As recently as 2014, for example, he said that the science on climate change was not settled. So, I thought that that was an interesting line of questioning for someone whose statements of record are easily googleable. But nonetheless, that is the direction he chose to go.

You know, I think that, of course, the Interior Department, throughout its history, has — you know, essentially, under the surface here — right? — there is a real economic interest at stake. If you looked up the campaign contributions to the Republican members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee, you would find that among all of these senators, they're taking a lot of money from oil and gas interests, from mining interests. And if you total it all up, it would be in the millions of dollars kind of a figure per year for all of them together. And, you know, of course, on the one hand, I think it's reasonable to ask about impacts to industries that are significant in a state, but, on another level, I think it's reasonable to ask what the influence of all that money might be on the way that these senators legislate.

And so, you know, I think coming into an institution, both the Senate and Interior, which has for years, essentially, been selling off permits to lease and drill for oil and gas on public lands for pennies on the dollar, these are institutions that are very stuck in their ways, that are very wedded to the fossil fuel industry and economy as it has existed in this country, which has been through a large amount of subsidy and access to public land for many, many years. And, you know, to come in and change that, it's obvious, I think, that Secretary-designate Haaland is on the side of significant change. I mean, she did go to the camps in the path of the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock. But I think she has to work with the elected officials and the institutions that she has, which, I mean, in this instance, means getting through the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, getting 50 votes, at least, for her confirmation, and then working with the permitting and leasing processes, reviewing them and reforming them as necessary.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Julian, I wanted to ask you about President Biden's proposed Civilian Climate Corps, which was raised several times in the hearing, and your sense of how Secretary-designate Haaland would deal with that climate corps, and its impact, possibly, on her vote.

JULIAN BRAVE NOISECAT: So, the Civilian Climate Corps, I think, is a very interesting idea. It's actually one of the ideas that you can tie directly to the Green New Deal, and then, of course, echoes the New Deal before it. In the New Deal, there was the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was a public works project where we got unemployed people back to work building parks, protecting and cleaning up parks, protecting the environment. And there is now a similar idea that has been percolating in environmental policymaking circles about getting young Americans back to work through a new program called — which would be called the Civilian Climate Conservation Corps. And, you know, I think that this is a very exciting idea. I, personally, if I was just coming out of high school or college, I might have looked at something like that and been interested in getting some sort of job in it. And, you know, I think that, obviously, interior has the parks under its purview and a lot of other — about a fifth, actually, of the nation's lands. And so, a lot of that program will ultimately run through, hopefully, Secretary Haaland's executive authority.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Julian, we just have 30 seconds, but, clearly, Senator Manchin is a kingmaker right now in the Senate, the conservative Democrat determining whether Neera Tanden gets approved for OMB, questions about whether he'll support Deb Haaland. He comes from West Virginia, Big Coal senator. Your thoughts on his significance and the significance of the Republican, Murkowski? This all rests on them.

JULIAN BRAVE NOISECAT: Yes. So, Senator Murkowski is actually an adopted member of the Tlingit and won a, historically, election through write-in, with support of Native voters in 2010. So I think she knows that it would be unwise to offend Indian Country here. So I think that there is a decent chance that she votes to confirm Haaland. And I think, similarly, Manchin does not have that many Native voters in his state, but I think he understands the importance of this historic moment. And while I think he's going to ask some tough questions of Haaland, I am hopeful that he will also do the right thing here.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Julian Brave NoiseCat, we thank you so much for being with us, journalist and vice president of policy and strategy at the think tank Data for Progress. We'll link to your piece in Politico, "Native Americans Finally Have a Cabinet Nominee. Will an Adopted Tlingit Take Her Down?"

Next, we go to a refugee camp on the U.S.-Texas border, in Matamoros, Mexico, where asylum seekers have had to brave freezing weather while living in tents. And we'll look at the Biden reversal of Trump's "Remain in Mexico" policy. How is it working out? Stay with us.

Rep. Deb Haaland secures key vote for her nomination to lead Biden's Interior Department

Conservative Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin announced Wednesday that he will vote to confirm for President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Interior Department, Rep. Deb Haaland.

The West Virginia senator, who'd been under sustained pressure from progressives to back Haaland (D-N.M), said in a statement that "while we do not agree on every issue, she reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, addressing the diverse needs of our country, and maintaining our nation's energy independence."

Manchin's statement pointed to Haaland having "reiterated the position of the Biden administration that our country will continue to use fossil fuels for years to come, even as we transition to a cleaner energy future, through innovation not elimination."

"I look forward to working with her to protect our public lands and ensure the responsible use of all our natural resources in a bipartisan manner," said Manchin.

Haaland supports the Green New Deal and opposes fossil fuel drilling on public lands. A member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, Haaland would be the first-ever Native American cabinet secretary if confirmed for Interior secretary.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which Manchin chairs, held the second day of Haaland's confirmation hearing on Wednesday. Up to this point, Manchin's vote on Haaland was still unclear, making her confirmation uncertain in light of the chamber's narrow Democratic majority.

Manchin's statement appears to refer to Haaland's remarks Tuesday, when she told lawmakers: "There's no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come. I know how important oil and gas revenues are to fund critical services."

"But," she added, "we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed."

Hundreds of advocacy groups demanded Haaland's swift confirmation with a letter this month calling her the "right person to lead the charge against the existential threats of our time—tackling the climate, biodiversity, extinction, and Covid-19 crises, and racial justice inequities on our federal public lands and waters."

Naomi Klein reveals the real reason Republicans are afraid of the Green New Deal

Author and environmentalist Naomi Klein argued in a New York Times column Sunday that Republicans rushed to attack the Green New Deal as disaster struck in Texas because the popular push for a sweeping transformation of the U.S. energy system poses a genuine threat to the deregulated, fossil-fuel dependent status quo that left the Lone Star State vulnerable to extreme weather driven by the climate crisis.

"Texans are living through the collapse of a 40-year experiment in free-market fundamentalism, one that has also stood in the way of effective climate action," Klein wrote. "Fortunately, there's a way out—and that's precisely what Republican politicians in the state most fear."

Klein characterized the ongoing power, water, and food crises in Texas as the consequence of "an energy-market free-for-all" stemming from "a fateful series of decisions [that] were made in the late-'90s, when the now-defunct, scandal-plagued energy company Enron led a successful push to radically deregulate Texas' electricity sector."

"As a result, decisions about the generation and distribution of power were stripped from regulators and, in effect, handed over to private energy companies," Klein wrote. "Unsurprisingly, these companies prioritized short-term profit over costly investments to maintain the grid and build in redundancies for extreme weather. Today, Texans are at the mercy of regulation-allergic politicians who failed to require that energy companies plan for shocks or weatherize their infrastructure (renewables and fossil fuel alike)."

In the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri, ordinary Texans are beginning to see the direct impact of the deregulatory push on their material wellbeing as electric companies hit them with bills topping $17,000—"a consequence," Klein argued, "of leaving pricing to the whims of the market."

Alluding to her previous work on "the shock doctrine"—a term she coined to describe how the right has exploited past disasters to force through unpopular privatization and austerity agendas—Klein noted that "large-scale shocks... become ideal moments to smuggle in unpopular free-market policies that tend to enrich elites at everyone else's expense."

"I often quote a guru of the free market revolution, the late economist Milton Friedman," Klein wrote. "In 1982, he wrote about what he saw as the mission of right-wing economists like him: 'Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable."

The difference between past shocks such as the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2008 financial crisis and the current emergency in Texas, Klein argued, is that "Republican ideas are no longer lying around—they are lying in ruin."

Texas' Republican Gov. Greg Abbott attacked the Green New Deal—a proposal that has not even been implemented—in an appearance on Fox News last week because he knows its promise to "create millions of union jobs building out shock-resilient green energy infrastructure, transit, and affordable housing" is "extremely appealing" to Texans as they "suffer under the overlapping crises of unemployment, houselessness, racial injustice, crumbling public services, and extreme weather," Klein wrote.

"All that Texas' Republicans have to offer, in contrast," Klein added, "is continued oil and gas dependence—driving more climate disruption—alongside more privatizations and cuts to public services to pay for their state's mess, which we can expect them to push in the weeks and months ahead."

As The Houston Chronicle reported last week, Republican members of the Texas state legislature are already signaling that "one of the most immediate reforms they will push for is recalibrating the state's electricity grid to ensure more fossil fuels are in that mix and fewer renewables."

But Klein contended that "unlike when the Republican Party began deploying the shock doctrine, its free-market playbook is no longer novel."

"The horrors currently unfolding in Texas expose both the reality of the climate crisis and the extreme vulnerability of fossil fuel infrastructure in the face of that crisis," Klein wrote. "So of course the Green New Deal finds itself under fierce attack. Because for the first time in a long time, Republicans face the very thing that they claim to revere but never actually wanted: competition—in the battle of ideas."

In recent days, as Common Dreams has reported, progressive advocacy groups such as the youth-led Sunrise Movement and Greenpeace USA have made the case that—contrary to the GOP's bad-faith attacks—a Green New Deal is precisely what's needed to help Texas equitably recover from the present emergency and build the resilience necessary to withstand future climate-driven disasters.

"Many people across the country are realizing for the first time that fossil fuels are not only polluting, they are unstable. Millions of Texans are being let down by coal, oil, and gas right now," Greenpeace climate campaigner Ashley Thomson said last Thursday.

On Monday, activists with the Sunrise Movement of Texas are expected to rally at the state capitol in Austin to demand immediate relief for struggling Texans, the resignations of Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas.), and passage of a Green New Deal that would "make our state and country more resilient to future disasters, and create millions of good union jobs in the process of transforming these necessary structures."

"Texas is the perfect example of what happens when our politicians cater to fossil fuel executives instead of the young people who have been shouting from the rooftops for years, warning of an impending climate emergency like this," said Chante Davis, a 17-year-old Sunrise Movement leader and Houston resident.

"I've survived three once in a lifetime storms in my 17 years of life," added Davis, whose family moved to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. "We need change, and the Green New Deal is the obvious, urgent solution. As our communities come together to fill the void of our government, our leaders must invest in us to provide jobs that directly address the crises we face."

This 11-year-old boy died in the brutal Texas cold snap after his home lost power

The combination of freezing temperatures and widespread power blackouts has been deadly in Texas, where some residents of Houston, Abilene and other cities have been literally freezing to death in their homes. One of the tragedies occurred in Conroe, Texas, where an 11-year-old Honduran boy named Cristian Pavon died from what authorities believe to be hypothermia.

Pavon, who was born in Tela, Honduras, lived in a mobile home with his mother, Maria Elisa Piñeda. When their home lost power, they found themselves without heat in temperatures that fell as low as 9 degrees overnight in Conroe.

Journalist Andrea Salcedo, in the Washington Post, reports that when Piñeda tried to get Pavon out of bed on Tuesday afternoon, he was unresponsive. The boy was later pronounced dead.

Piñeda told Univision in Spanish that when he went to bed on Monday night, Pavon — who was known for sleeping late — "was OK. He had dinner, he played, and he went to bed."

Sgt. Jeff Smith of the Conroe Police Department told the Houston Chronicle that on Thursday, an autopsy was performed on Pavon — and it could be several weeks before the cause of death is confirmed. Smith told the Chronicle, "By all other means, he was a normal, healthy child."

In 2019, Pavon traveled to Texas from Honduras to reunite with Piñeda, who he had not seen in over a year.

Piñeda told Univision that on Monday, "We were outside early. I took photos. Everything was OK. We were playing at night. I never imagined this was going to happen. ... I think he died from the cold because everything was OK."

A Republican's damning admission offers a dark preview of the future

As Texas battles a severe snowstorm and mass power outages this winter, Tim Boyd, the now-former Republican mayor of Colorado City, revealed his party's plan for the deadly extreme temperatures linked to climate change. In a lengthy Facebook post that was deleted soon after it went viral, then-Mayor Boyd told his residents that they were entirely on their own as the brutal winter weather caused mayhem and deaths across the Lone Star state.

His honesty was like catching a glimpse of a rare animal in the wild. "Sink or swim[,] it's your choice!" he wrote, without bothering to couch his words in euphemisms. Boyd added, "The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING!" For such an exhortation to come from the elected leader of a city—a man literally chosen by his people to ensure that local government works for them—was shocking.

Just as they pay their mayor, Colorado City's residents also pay authorities to provide them with basic necessities like electricity and water. But apparently, Boyd thought an expectation of services was out of line. He conjectured, "If you don't have electricity you step up and come up with a game plan to keep your family warm and safe." Many Texans have tried to do just that, running their car engine in their garage to warm their homes. So far in Harris County, there have been at least 50 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning and several people have died.

"If you have no water you deal without and think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family," posited Boyd, expecting Texans who were searching for ways to provide their own electricity to also deal with a lack of water as pipes froze in the plummeting temperatures.

Boyd's diatribe veered into familiar Republican territory as he blamed residents for their own plight by saying, "If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your (sic) lazy [it] is [a] direct result of your raising." It is a long-simmering idea among conservatives that Americans who depend on their government are simply lazy.

Generally, white conservatives have reserved the word "lazy" for people of color who are victims of systemic racial discrimination. Indeed, the weather-related blackouts in Texas impacted the residents of minority neighborhoods disproportionately. Boyd and those who share his views would likely assume this must have been a direct result of their laziness.

Hours after writing his screed, Boyd announced his resignation and apologized. But he qualified his apology by saying that he never meant to imply that the helpless elderly were the lazy ones—just everyone else. "I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout," he wrote in a manner that suggested he was "sorry, not sorry."

Most Republicans are not as overt as Boyd in their faith in social Darwinism. Take Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who instead of openly blaming Texans for their own suffering instead decided to blame climate-mitigating policies and renewable energy programs like wind power. Speaking on Fox News, Abbott railed against the "Green New Deal," claiming that a reliance on wind turbines was disastrous because the state's wind-generated power "thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis." For good measure, he added, "It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary."

The conservative Wall Street Journal, which has long been hostile to tackling climate change through renewable energy, repeated this claim in an editorial blaming "stricter emissions regulation" and the loss of coal-powered plants for widespread misery in the snow-blanketed South.

In fact, millions of Texans are going without power because of the Republican emphasis on cheap power over reliable power. Seeing electricity generation as a profit-making enterprise rather than the fulfillment of a public need, GOP policies in Texas have made the state vulnerable to such mass outages. Moreover, plenty of wintry areas successfully run wind turbines when properly prepared to do so. And, Abbott did not see fit to point out that harsh winter temperatures lead to frozen natural gas pipelines—the real culprit in the outages.

Even as a majority of Texans now believe that climate change is really happening, their governor in late January vowed to "protect the oil and gas industry from any type of hostile attack from Washington." Apparently protecting Texans from the ravages of the fossil fuel industry is not in his purview. This is hardly surprising given how much fossil fuel industry contributions have ensured Abbott's loyalty to oil and gas interests.

The conservative mindset can be counted on to prioritize private interests over public ones. In a Republican utopia, the rich are noble and deserving of basic necessities, comforts, and life itself. If they have rigged the system to benefit themselves, it means they are smart, not conniving. In the future that Republicans promise, "Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish (sic)," as per Boyd's post. In other words, our lives are expendable, and if we die, it is because we deserve it and were simply not smart enough to survive.

This was utterly predictable. Republicans have used this same approach on health care—think of all the Republican governors who backed lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act and opted their states out of the federal government's Medicaid program even though a majority of Americans support Obamacare. Even more Americans support the government nationalizing health care, but Republicans warn that if the program is expanded from Medicare for those over 65 to all Americans, it will suddenly become "socialism" and thus "evil." Their solution for health care is the status quo of a deregulated "Wild West" private insurance market.

Republicans have offered a similar approach to the coronavirus pandemic where any public safety standards set by the government are anathema to "personal freedoms," even though a majority of Americans support such precautions. It is also how Republicans have approached poverty and rising inequality: by opposing a federal government increase to the minimum wage even though most Americans want a floor of $15 an hour.

Interestingly, Republicans believe strongly in the idea of "big government" when it comes to regulating their pet social issues such as harsh anti-immigrant measures and attacks on abortion. (Meanwhile, most Americans support a pathway to legalization for the undocumented and a majority supports reproductive choice.)

As Americans are subject to the brutal impacts of inevitable climate change, we face a clear choice: strong government intervention to save our lives, or a "survival of the fittest" dystopia that contemporary conservatism promises. The Texas debacle is a preview of what is to come if the free-marketeers have their way while the climate changes. The nation's conservative party went from insisting that climate change does not exist (it is a "hoax!") to shrugging their shoulders and telling us, as Boyd did, that we're on our own when the consequences hit.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

'Simply laughable': How a lie about the Texas energy crisis dominated Fox's coverage

While millions of Texans were coping with freezing temperatures without heat, electricity or running water this week, right-wing media pundits repeatedly claimed that green energy was to blame. And although the lie was debunked, that didn't prevent pundits at Fox News and Fox Business from continuing to repeat it. According to analysis by Media Matters, Fox News and Fox Business, combined, promoted that lie 128 times during a two-day period.

The claim that wind turbines caused widespread blackouts in Texas during the recent cold snap is bogus for a number of reasons. First, only a fraction of Texas' energy system is green energy — the Lone Star State is much more reliant on fossil fuels. Second, Denmark and other countries in Northern Europe that are known for cold, snowy, icy winters use green energy extensively and have no problem keeping warm in January or February. The biggest problem is that none of Texas' energy grid was prepared for the cold weather and surge in demand, including fossil fuels like natural gas. The more Fox News' Tucker Carlson claimed that green energy is much too delicate to handle severe winter weather, the more uninformed he sounded to anyone who lives in Copenhagen and knows that wind turbines and 25F weather can be perfectly compatible.

Media Matters reporter Rob Savillo explains, "As a historic winter snowstorm devastated Texas, personalities and guests on Fox News and its sister network Fox Business went to bat for the fossil fuel industry by falsely blaming frozen wind turbines and green energy policies for statewide power outages a staggering 128 times since Monday evening. Fox has continued its false narrative even after other outlets already debunked the claim that renewable energy sources and green energy policies were solely or primarily the cause of the blackouts."

Savillo notes that on Monday, Carlson said, "It seems pretty clear that a reckless reliance on windmills is the cause of this disaster." And the following day, Pete Hegseth appeared on "Fox and Friends" and said that in Texas, "Wind turbines are frozen solid…. Is this what America would look like under the Green New Deal?" This week, Savillo notes, headlines like "Frozen Wind Turbines Cause Blackouts in Texas" have been common at Fox News.

"Overall, personalities and guests made such claims 104 times on Fox News and 24 times on Fox Business," Savillo reports. "The vast majority of those claims, 75%, came from journalists and pundits affiliated with either network."

Meanwhile, at liberal-leaning MSNBC this week, El Paso Democrat Beto O'Rourke laid out the real reasons why so many Texans have been shivering in freezing temperatures without heat. The former Texas congressman, appearing as a guest on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," explained to hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brezinski that Texas' power system in general was not properly winterized. Texas' problems, he stressed, weren't a matter of green energy versus fossil fuels, but rather, a matter of failing to adequately winterize its energy technology.

In Denmark, wind turbines cope with frigid temperatures well because they are properly winterized. Without that winterization, Demark's green energy would not cope well Scandinavian temperatures in January or February.

Savillo argues that when Fox News and Fox Business report on green energy, facts and actual research fall by the wayside.

"The effort by Fox networks to push false claims about frozen wind turbines and green energy policies is just the latest example in a long-running, fossil fuel industry-supported campaign to discredit emerging renewable energy technology and deny overwhelming climate science pointing to the warming of the planet," Savillo explains. "It's also just another attempt by Fox News to blame Democrats for any and every problem in America. Their argument that 'the left,' which has had no state-wide control in Texas in over a decade, and that the Green New Deal — which isn't official policy anywhere, let alone Texas — is to blame for Texas' power problems is simply laughable."

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